Judging Duel Masters

Posted in NEWS on November 16, 2005

By Wizards of the Coast

As organized play becomes more developed for different Wizards of the Coast games, you may find your role as a DCI certified judge expanding to include games other than Magic. When you studied for certification you reviewed the Universal Tournament Rules and the Penalty Guidelines, so you already have a foundation upon which to build. This article is the first in a series that will address judging other Wizards of the Coast games.

So, you've been asked to judge Duel Masters -- what's next?

If you have never judged any games except Magic, then Duel Masters is a great next step. It shares many common terms and mechanics with Magic, but is not as complex. We will provide an outline of the game mechanics and then we will present judging concerns.

Learning the Game

If you know some people who play it, or a local store that hosts events, that's a great learning opportunity. There is also an on-line demo available. Don't worry about becoming an expert; you just want to be comfortable in the environment so that questions you are asked will make sense to you. The time investment required to learn how to play Duel Masters is modest. When we demo this game we can teach people the basics in ten minutes. Once you have played through a sample game, read the basic rulebook, which is far more streamlined than Magic's Comprehensive Rules, at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=duelmasters/rules/rulebook.

The object of the game: To break all your opponent's shield cards and then attack him or her one more time to win the game.
The play area consists of a mana zone (for each player), a Shield zone (for each player), and a battle zone between the two players. Each player starts the game with five shields. When you break all of your opponent's shields, you attack one more time to win.
There is no maximum hand size. When you draw the last card in your deck, you lose.


  1. Shuffle your deck. Present your deck to your opponent for them to shuffle/cut. If they shuffle, you can cut.
  2. The players use some random method to decide who goes first and use the play/draw rule. (Whoever plays first does not draw a card.)
  3. You put the top five cards from your deck face down into the Shield zone (you do not look at these cards). (Your opponent does the same.)
  4. Each player draws five cards.

Turn Structure: Each turn has six steps

Step one: Untap any tapped cards.
Step two: Draw one card.
Step three: Put one card into your mana zone (optional) -- any card can be played as mana
Step four: Play spells and/or summon creatures, in any order. You pay for this by tapping mana.

  • There are two types of cards: creatures and spells (spells function like Magic sorceries). These cards can be played only during this step, after you have drawn and before you attack. Shield triggers are the only way to play cards during your opponent's turn
  • There are five civilizations (colors). Water (blue), Nature (green), Light (yellow), Darkness (black), Fire (red). At least one of the mana tapped to pay for a creature or spell must be of the same civilization (color) as the creature/spell.

Step five: Attack with your creatures.

  • "Summoning Sickness" functions similarly to Magic. Creatures that you play cannot attack or use tap abilities on that turn. Speed Attacker in Duel Masters = Haste in Magic.
  • Attacking: A creature can attack a tapped creature or the opponent. When the creature attacks, you announce what it is attacking and you tap it. You attack with one creature at a time, letting that attack resolve, before attacking with the next creature. It’s almost like having multiple combat phases -- each attack (and block) is dealt with completely before the next attack begins.
  • Blocking: If a creature has the keyword “blocker” AND it is untapped, it can block attacking creatures. When it blocks, tap it; summoning sickness does not prevent blocking.
  • If a creature attacks the opponent and is not blocked, you select a shield to break. If the creature is a double-breaker, you then select a second shield to break. (If the first shield broken by a double-breaker is your opponent’s only shield, the second “break” is ignored. You will still need to attack with another unblocked creature to win the game.)

Step six: End your turn.
(Note: Unlike Magic, there is no “second main phase.”)

What helps to make this simpler to learn than Magic is that you do not have to keep track of life, there are no targets, there is no stack, and there are only creatures and spells (sorceries).

Shields and shield triggers

Duel Masters has shields and shield triggers. When a shield is broken, that shield returns to your hand. If a shield that is broken has "Shield Trigger" on it, then you can play that shield trigger when the shield is broken without paying the cost of the card. If you don't want to play the shield trigger, then the card just returns to your hand.

Two areas for judging alertness are:

  • When a shield is broken, if it is a shield trigger, the player must decide to use the shield trigger before putting the card into his or her hand. Please tell the players to keep the shield clearly separate from their hands until they decide that they are not using the shield trigger. If the shield touches a card in their hands, they can no longer use the shield trigger. If the player has no other cards in hand, then an “unreasonable delay” or any game action will be interpreted as not using the shield trigger.
  • Shields that have been manipulated need to be marked with counters, dice or something similar. (Some players use the convention of tapping a shield to mark it, which is acceptable.) For example, if a shield is replaced, this shield needs to be marked. If shields are added to the original five shields, then these new shields should be added to the side of the original shields (not filling in gaps from shields previously broken). Players may not rearrange shields -- even those that have been revealed.

Judging Concerns

Time: Each match in the Swiss section is the best two out of three with 50-minute rounds. When time is called, the active player will finish his or her turn and five additional turns will be taken. The single-elimination finals have no time limit.

Deck Construction: Duel Masters constructed decks are 40 or more cards. There is no sideboard. No more than four of the same card is allowed. If non-local language cards are used, a local language equivalent needs to be available outside of your deck. There are no banned or restricted cards. However, only cards released in the United States are allowed in Nationals. (There are some sets that have not yet been released in the United States.) Duel Masters limited events are either Sealed deck with five boosters, or booster draft using four boosters. For Duel Masters limited events, the minimum deck size is 30 cards.

General tips: Since there are a lot of younger Duel Masters players, the problems caused by sloppy play, shortcuts, and playing too fast are noticeable.

  • Read the cards first when asked a question. Most of the playing mistakes that we have seen come because the players do not read the cards carefully. At this time, there are no cards that have received errata.
  • Remind the players to clearly tap the mana for each card as it is played! As you need at least one mana of the card's civilization to pay for that card, it can be very important which mana are tapped
  • Remind players to untap each turn. Untapping is required and must be done, even if they forgot (and already drew their card).
  • Each action (step) can only take place at a specific time. See the steps outlined above. For example: the player cannot play a mana after he or she has attacked.
  • Remind the players to attack with one creature at a time. For creatures that are double-breakers, the first shield is selected (and any shield triggers played), before the second shield is selected. If more than one card is put back on top of its owner's library at the same time, then the owner chooses the order. For example, if a player has a creature in play that is an evolution (made up of the basic creature and at least one evolution creature, of the same creature type, on top of it), and the creature is put on top of the owner's deck, the owner can choose the order in which the cards are put on the library. An evolution creature is treated as one object. If an evolution is returned to its owner's hand, all cards return to the hand. If the evolution is destroyed, all creatures are put in the graveyard. If an effect puts an evolution into your mana zone, all cards are put in the mana zone as individual mana. An evolution won’t have summoning sickness, even if the base creature did.
  • When a spell is played, the player does what it says in the text box. If the player cannot do everything, her or she should do as much as possible.
    Searing Wave says:
    Destroy all your opponent's creatures that have power 3000 or less
    Choose one of your shields and put it into your graveyard.
    A common question: Can Searing Wave be played if the player does not have any shields?
    Answer: Yes. You just do as much as you can, since you do not have any shields, you cannot put one in your graveyard.
  • There is no “stack.” If two abilities trigger at the same time, the Active Player’s ability resolves first and then the Non-Active Player’s ability resolves

Documents to Review

There is an FAQ for each set of cards, as well as one for the rules themselves. http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=duelmasters/rules/questions

There are floor rules specific to Duel Masters that you should review (they are short).
After reading rules specific to Duel Masters, re-read the Penalty Guidelines and Universal Tournament Rules, with this new game in mind. What's relevant, what isn't? (For example, if the new game doesn't use sideboards, then Illegal Sideboard isn't a relevant penalty.) Is there anything that doesn't quite make sense, in this new context? (For example, Duel Masters has nothing like "basic resources", so to correct an Illegal Main Decklist, we will allow the player to add any single-colored non-shield trigger spell -- not a creature -- that is not already in their deck. The Head Judge will then mark out the spell text to indicate the card is only useable as for mana – i.e., a “basic resource”.”)

Be sure to print out the Floor Rules and the FAQs to have on hand for easy reference.

The first Nationals for Duel Masters is being held in Los Angeles, Oct 29 – Oct 30, 2005 in conjunction with the Los Angeles Magic Pro Tour. We are looking forward to welcoming many Magic judges into the realm of Duel Masters.

Dorian Redburn & Scott Marshall