Judging Two-Headed Giant

Posted in NEWS on September 7, 2005

By Wizards of the Coast

Two-Headed Giant is the latest DCI sanctioned format. For a brief introduction to the format, I'd check out the Two-Headed Giant FAQ. I had the privilege of head judging the very first sanctioned event at this year's Gen Con. We had 52 teams competing for $5,000 in prize in this Standard event.

Since this was a new format, I decided longer initial announcements were in order, and prepared a list in advance. The following highlights of these announcements are suggestions for judges making their own announcements, as well as a guide to judges and players on ruling.

Short Metagame Analysis

Before describing the judging details of the event, I want to talk a little about the format a bit from a player perspective. Why? Well, I had planned to do this so it “forced” me to examine the tournament from a player perspective somewhat. Additionally, there has been a lot of encouragement for judges to play in tournaments. This is something I rarely do outside of Magic Online, in part because I find judging much more fun, in part because most tournaments are several hours away, and in part because I'm not very good. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't work on this where I can, so, here goes.

The most common strategy seemed to be to make one deck capable of winning the game fairly easily once it goes off – sometimes, but not always, a combo deck. Tooth and Nail was a popular choice, given its success in normal Standard. Then, the other deck was often mono-blue or some deck that was designed to do mostly nothing except counter the opposing team's spells. Erayo and Rule of Law is another powerful combination. It's not too hard to get Erayo flipped when there are four players able to play spells instead of only two (especially when two people want it to flip), and that's able to happen as soon as turn 2. Rule of Law means each player only can play one spell, and Erayo will counter each teammate's first spell. Ouch.

Overall, however, and probably most importantly, almost all the players seemed to enjoy it. Having a partner to actually play and discuss strategy with, instead of playing separate matches next to each other, as in previous team formats, is a new direction for sanctioned Magic that the players seemed to like.

Table Numbering and Setup

Being at a convention hall, we didn't want any number duplication among all the tables in the Wizards of the Coast area. We did have the advantage of being at table 1. Initially, it seemed that we were only going to be able to print pairings by match or by team name, and not by player. This would have required us to renumber so there was one table for every match (4 players per table). Fortunately, between DCI Program Manager Scott Larabee and scorekeeper Jason Bencik, we were able to print pairings with table numbers next to players’ names. The one disadvantage I was afraid of is that it would tell people to sit on the wrong side (left or right); depending on which side of the table they were on. Fortunately, an announcement to switch seats with your teammate prevented this problem.


Mulligans: Mulligan procedures are somewhat complex in Two-Headed Giant. They proceed as follows:

  1. Determine which team is playing first and which team is drawing first. Remember that neither player on the team playing first gets to draw a card on their first turn.
  2. Each player draws his or her initial hand of seven cards. Each player may view both his or her own hand and his or her teammate's hand at this, or any other, time.
  3. Remember that, unlike normal Magic, each player's first mulligan (if he or she chooses to mulligan) is to seven cards. After that, the next mulligan is to 6, then to 5, and so forth.
  4. The player on the right of the team that is playing first may now takes any and all mulligans. Then his or her teammate takes any and all mulligans. The other team then does the same, beginning likewise with the player on the right.
  5. Teammates may discuss mulligan decisions with each other before making a decision.
  6. Once one player has decided to keep his or her opening hand and allow other players to mulligan, that player can no longer mulligan.

Table Talk: Players may use any non-written communication with their teammate to decide actions. However, play still must occur at a reasonable place. Judges may issue penalties for slow play if players take too long to make a decision. In the event teammates cannot agree, the team's player on the right side decides.

(I emphasized to my judging staff that I wanted to be lenient with this however, given that only one game is played and it is a new format. But I did not want to give players the impression that they could take a long time to make decisions)

End of Game Procedure: The active team finishes its turn, and then there are five additional turns. This parallels the two player game procedure.

Combat: If a creature can't attack either player on the defending team, it can't attack the team. A creature can block an attacking creature controlled by either attacking player as long as the block is legal. Finally, each unblocked attacking creature assigns its damage to one of the two defending players.

“You”: If a card refers to “you”, it means only its controller. It does not apply to its controller's teammate. A teammate is another player, but is not an opponent.

Decklists and Deck Checks

Now it was time to start checking decklists. Aside from checking for the minimum 60 cards main deck and no sideboards (since there is only one game), I also asked judges to check to make sure teams were following the Unified Deck Construction rule. This means that, with the exception of basic land cards, a team’s combined decks may not contain more than four of any individual card. One team had seven total copies of Sensei's Divining Top, 4 in one deck and 3 in the other.

I decided to make this team the deck check for round 2. I had previously decided that, given my floor staff (early in the event, about 6 floor judges, but at conventions you constantly have judges rotating in and out of events) size, there would be one deck check each round, but all 4 decks would be checked, using four judges for the deck check. If you have a smaller staff, it may only be possible to check two decks. If this is the case, be sure to check one person from each team.

This particular deck check showed that the illegal decks matched the illegal lists. Naturally, the remedy is that they need to go down to four Sensei's Divining Tops, and replace the other three with basic land. Which three? The Penalty Guidelines – written for two player matches – were silent on the issue. I decided the fairest thing to do was let the team decide. They said they were unaware of the Unified Deck Construction rule, and were surprised that they didn't have more cards in common between their two decks. I felt this was likely the truth.

Now, the penalty for an illegal decklist is, of course, a game loss. The problem I have with giving a game loss is that it's a match loss at Two-Headed Giant. Some other judges argued that this was irrelevant. I disagree. An effective match loss was too severe, in my opinion. I opted to give the team a warning, with the understanding that I could have issued a loss.

Game Loss: Round “Down” to Warning or Round “Up” to Match Loss?

I want to highlight one other interesting ruling before moving on to some of the rules-based questions (and, of course, their answers) that I received. A player who had the same color of sleeves as his teammate accidentally had one of his teammate's cards in his deck. He called a judge after taking a mulligan and having the card show up in his hand. After confirming what happened, I realized that, like the decklist situation, I basically had two options: give them a game loss (which is really a match loss), or shuffle the card back into its owner's library (and correct mulligans appropriately). What “appropriately” means in the latter case is unclear, and there are several options, which varying degrees of fairness to each. I chose the harsher, but, in the end, what I felt was the best approach and issued the game loss. The team was disappointed and understood the ruling. They also said they would be sure to get different colored sleeves in future Two-Headed Giant events. I chose this ruling because the decks had been presented illegally, and making up mulligan accommodations to restart the game seemed like it would be without precedent and fairly arbitrary. Despite this, the ruling still seemed harsh.

Overall, I feel that warnings are probably best when in doubt. Given the choice between the warning and the match loss when the penalty should be a game loss, I feel it's best to give the match loss if the game state is irreparable, but if you can repair the situation and issue the warning, I recommend doing so, especially at low RELs.


I want to close with a list of rules questions and answers that were asked by players (or, in some cases, other judges).

Q: How does Mindslaver work in Two-Headed Giant?

A: You get to control the entire player's next turn, choosing game actions for both players.

Q: How does Worship work in Two-Headed Giant?

A: If you control Worship and a creature, then damage cannot reduce your team's life total below 1 life. This is because Worship's wording doesn't care if you are the player actually dealt the damage, only that it affects your life total. Therefore damage can't reduce your life total (e.g. the team's life total divided by two rounded up) below 1, which means the lowest the team's life total could be is 1.

Q: Can my opponents just attack my teammate to get around my Ghostly Prison?

A: No. A restriction preventing attacking either player also applies to attacking the team. Note also that you attack the defending team, not an individual player. It's only when you get to the Combat Damage Step, where unblocked attacking creatures assign their damage to one of the two players.

Q: My creature has an ability that triggers when it deals combat damage to a player. Can I assign some of its damage to each player, so it will trigger twice?

A: No. Each attacking creature that assigns damage to the defending team assigns all of its damage to one player or another. You can't split it up. If you have two creatures like this, each creature can assign damage to different players, however.

Q: If we're at 25 life and an effect doubles our life do we go to 26 or 38? The rulebook says 26, but the FAQ says 38.

A: As the FAQ says, 606.9c in the Comprehensive Rulebook has been reversed. The FAQ is correct. Your team’s life total will be 38.

Q: Can I use a Rewind to untap my teammate’s lands? Or a Shifting Borders to exchange control of lands between my teammate and a player on the other team?

A: Yes and yes. Neither effect specifies that you have to control anything. Finding new uses for such cards is one of the exciting things about Two-Headed Giant format!

I hope you enjoy your own Two-Headed Giant tournaments, whether playing or judging. Don't forget that prereleases (including the Ravnica: City of Guilds prerelease) will feature Two-Headed Giant Sealed as a format. Enjoy!

Lee Sharpe
lee (dot) sharpe (at) gmail (dot) com
DCI Level 3 Judge
LeeSharpe or Lee_Work on EFnet's #mtgjudge