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By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Apr 10 2008 12:03pm
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Playing Magic without MTGO

In the time before Internet and the Magic Online Digital Object, people used to play Magic with pieces of cardboard - "cards," if you will.  I remember those days.  I'll tell you how playing with "cards" is done.  I'll also be talking about playing with cardboard at the offline equivalent of a PE, so I'll cover the weird mistakes that can get you a game or match loss, or even disqualified, simply because you are playing with cardboard.

To play with cardboard, you first have to build your deck.  If you are playing in a sealed event, or drafting, you will be given product wrapped in plastic.  Boosters packs come in single plastic packages.  Wizards has described the proper opening procedure for booster packs, and even prepared a short video

Tournament packs come in paper boxes, and both the box and the cards inside are wrapped in plastic originally designed to stop fighter jets that miss the arrester cables on aircraft carriers.  This plastic can best be opened with either a chainsaw or high explosives, but these are generally not allowed at most venues.  Knives and scimitars also work, but these are not legal in many formats, so it is best to check with a judge before you draw them.
Judge Unworthy

If you are drafting, you will need to open your first pack manually, choose a card, then set the rest down beside you - on your left, for the first and third packs, and on your right for the second pack.  Your neighbor on the other side should set down a pack there for your next pick.  You have to pick these up manually and fan them; they do not appear in front of you automatically.  Also, be careful to pick up just the packs being passed, not the cards your neighbor has already drafted.

If you are playing in a sealed tournament, you will probably need to register what you open.  This means opening all the product, sorting it by color and sorting each color alphabetically, then listing every card (except basic lands) on a decklist. Remember to write your name and DCI number on the decklist under "player registering deck," and to write the number of cards in the card pool in the "total" column.  Messing this up will result in penalties. 

Once the cards are registered, the judges will collect the cards and decklists, then redistribute them.  Roughly 10% of the players will get their own cards back; everyone else will get cards someone else opened.  This is to ensure that players don't add cards to their pools - an infraction which will get them disqualified.

Open and registering a limited card pool takes about 20 minutes.  That's 20 minutes of your life that you can never get back.

Once you have the cards that your have either drafted or received, it is time to build your deck.  Once again, this is a manual process:  you have to physically sort the cards by color and mana cost yourself.  You may have to get lands, and this usually involves getting up and heading to whereever they are stored. 

Once you finish building your deck, you will have to register the deck itself, in the "played" column on the decklist.  Write carefully and neatly: if the judges cannot read the numbers, they may penalize you.  Make sure you record the decklist completely and accurately - if you register too few cards, or register cards you are not playing, you will probably get a game loss. 

For constructed tournaments, you will need to assemble your deck in advance.  This requires finding the cards - and you must do this without any deck filters other than your memory.  The filters in MTGO v2.5 were marginal, but functional  (e.g. show only black faerie enchantments with a converted mana cost of 2.)  In the paper world, cards just sit in boxes or binders with no automated sorting devices of any kind, unless you have physically sorted or alphabetized them.    

It's barbaric.

It could be worse.  The ancient Sumerians had not invented cardboard, so they wrote on clay tablets.  Imagine sorting a collection of 2,000 cards if they were all engraved on clay tablets.  Imagine shuffling the tablets.

Moving on.

After you have assembled your deck, you need to sleeve it.  Seriously - cards wear and hands get sweaty, so if you are going to play more than two or three rounds with a deck, or if some cards are older or more worn, you will need sleeves.  Generally, non-reflective, opaque sleeves are okay, provided they have either no art or art that does not touch the edges.  You also want to make sure that the sleeves are not too worn.  In general, I recommend - and use - new sleeves for every major event. 

When you buy new sleeves, before you start sleeving your cards, riffle shuffle both the empty sleeves and the cards.  Sometimes sleeves have minor flaws or folds.  If you start sleeving, starting with sorted cards, and the first few sleeves do have marks, that can be a problem.  Classic example:  Zvi Mowshowitz got new sleeves, and the first couple had crumpled corners.  He started sleeving his deck, beginning with his four Rishadan Ports.  As a result, all four Ports were in sleeves with the same crease on the corners.  That is not only marked cards, it's marked with a pattern, and Zvi got a match loss. 

(The match loss was an indication that the judges believed that this was accidental.  Had they believed that he had marked them deliberately, he would have been disquailifed.)

Okay, it is time to play.  Find your table and opponent - and remember that this is also not automated.   You will probably have to check a paper list posted soemwhere in the venue.

Now it is time to shuffle up.  Whole articles have been written on proper shuffling techniques, and doctoral theses have been written on how many perfect or imperfect riffles and pile shuflles would be necessary to completely randomize a deck, but I'll keep it simple.  Practically, several riffles shuffles, some side shuffles and a pile shuffle or three are a pretty close approximation of a random assortment - something MTGO does automatically in a fraction of a second. 

A note - some players like to "mana weave" their decks - stack them spell, spell, land.  This is not technically illegal - just like writing the card name on the sleeve is not technically illegal - provided you shuffle / erase enough to completely eliminate all traces that this was done.  Since you only have three minutes at the start of match to shuffle up and present your decks, mana weaving - or writing on your sleeves - is stupid.  I want to repeat that this stuff is not illegal provided that it is completely undone before presenting.  However, if you present your deck to an opponent when it is even partly stacked (which is what mana weaved decks are considered) or marked (which is what traces of writing would constitute) then you have committed a "really bad thing" which  will get you disqualified from the tournament and possibly suspended from all Magic for some period of time.

Once you have presented your deck, and your opponent has presented his/hers, you will want to shuffle your opponents deck.  If fact, shuffling your opponent's deck is required at higher levels of play.  MTGO takes care of this automatically, of course.

Now you can start playing, after each player has resolved his/her mulligans.  Mulliganning works the same way - but remember to shuffle thoroughly after each mulligan.  Then begin playing - but remember that you may have to tell your opponent when things are happening, or if you want to interrupt.  There are "stops" in paper Magic, but they are mainly verbal, ainly in the form of an  interruption. 

Remember that cardboard Magic does not do anything automatically, or even prompt you to do things.  When a creature dies, you have to manually put it in the graveyard.  When Tarmogoyf is in play, you have to calculate it's power and toughness.  If a creature is supposed to come into play with counters, you need to put them on the creature manually.  If you forget counters or to record a life total change, it does not happen.  Failing to do this things is a penalty.  These penalties are generally going to be verbal reprimands (technically a caution or a warning) from the judge.  If you do it repeatedly, judges may upgrade the penalties. 

A quick note:  in cardboard Magic, tournaments have judges.  They are present mainly to handle questions and fix problems - e.g. when someone messes up on the rules.  In cardboard Magic, both players are required to watch for errors, and if they see one, to call a judge.  The judge will then fix the error and assign the approrpiate penalty.   For example, if you put a creature hit with Swords to Plowshares in the graveyard, instead of removing it from the game, your opponent should call a judge and you will likely get a warning for Game Play Error - Game Rule Violation.

Another difference between MTGO and cardboard Magic is that cardboard Magic does not prompt you when something triggers.  What this means is that if you have a Leaf-Crowned Elder in play, you have to remember the trigger yourself.  If you forget, that's a Game Play Error - Missed Trigger.   If you miss a trigger, and it is a you-may-do-this effect, then the assumption is that you just decided not to do it.  That is even a reasonable shortcut, sometimes.  For example, assume that you attack with Order of the Golden Cricket and your opponent has no blockers.  It is perfectly reasonable to just ignore the "give ~this~ flying" trigger, since it is a may ability and it is obvious that giving the cricket flying just wastes mana.  

On the other hand, if you miss a required trigger, then you are going to have to get a judge involved.  The penalty guidelines devote several paragraphs to explaining how to handle the different types of triggers.  For triggers with a default option (e.g. "sacrifice ~this~ unless..." and you did not do the unless, you sacrfice ~this~.)  For some other triggers, you resolve the trigger immediately, and the resolution may or may not use the stack.  The penalty quidelines also define when the game has progressed too far to resolve the trigger - if it was recent, it gets resolved, if it was missed a couple turns ago, too bad.

The judge will also assign penalties.  For the first and second offense, Game Play Error - Missed Trigger warrants a warning.  For the third offense, it is a game loss, and a match loss for the fifth.  The opponent is also required to watch for missed triggers, and if the opponent also missed the trigger, the opponent gets a warning for Failure to Maintain Game State.  Of course, if either player deliberately ignored the trigger, then doing so is cheating and that player should be disqualified. 

Another difference - in MTGO, whenever you are supposed to reveal a card - e.g. Mystical Tutor -  and you forget to reveal it, that is also a penalty, and generally a game loss.

I won't go through the entire penalty guidelines - they are too long.  The list of penalties isn't endless, but it is significant.   (Some examples / favorites:  153.  Cheating - Hidden Infromation Violation, 213 Card Drawing - Improper Drawing at Start of Game.)

Each match in a cardboard Magic tournament is generally best of three, just like on MTGO.   One big difference is that you have to manually remove your sideboard cards and restore your deck to original condition - something MTGO does automatically - after each match.  If you forget to desideboard, or miss a card, then you have committed penalty 112. Deck/Warband Error - Deck / Decklist Mismatch, and you will get a game loss. 

As you move around between matches and throughout the day, remember to keep track of your deck.  On MTGO,  it is pretty hard to lose your deck during a tournanment.  It is, unfortunately, not that hard to lose a cardboard deck at real-life events.  The same is true of your pen, paper, whatever you are using for tokens, your counters, your jacket, etc.  Remember - you are responsible for all that stuff as well. 

In conclusion, remember that you can always play cardboard Magic while the servers are down.  It may also be worth remembering, while we are struggling with new & awkward "feature" of MTGO v3.0, cardboard Magic has it's downside, too.

PRJ

Certified DCI Judge.

postscript:

Yes, the above is an elaborate joke. Paper Magic tournaments are really a lot of fun, and playing with paper cards is not all that hard.  I really am a judge, and the infraction and penalties are real - but I wrote about the level of rules enforcement that applies at "the offline equivalent of a PE."  By that, I mean at least Pro Tour Qualifer, State Championship or a Grand Prix.  Most tournaments are run at a far less restrictive level of rules enforcement, and penalties are really pretty rare.  I recently ran a ten round PTQ - at this level of rules enforcement - for 150 players, and I doubt we had more than two dozen actual penalties.  We also had a few more informal cautions:  things like "hey, take your trash along." 

Now, hopefully, the servers will be up quickly and we will all be enjoying MTGO v3.0 by late next week.  If not, however, I would strongly recommend that everyone head to their local Shadwomoor prerelease.  It's the first chance to play with actual Shadowmoor cards, and the rules enforcement level is very low.  As a judge, I am going to be spending most of my time explaining how cards work.  Most of my "penalties" are going to be verbal, along the lines of "understand how it works now?  Good.  Now don't mess it up again - and if you have more questions - call me."

Prereleases are a blast.  I'll probably be playing on Saturday and judging on Sunday.  Recommended.

9 Comments

mtgo vs mtg by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168 (not verified) at Tue, 09/16/2008 - 04:48
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168's picture

while mtgo is nice to play with due to the automatic features, the main element that gives mtg that certain flare is the level of intimacy involved between players, and that element is erased from the equation when playing online. i think when people play magic, they show a different side of who they are, a side you wouldn't see anywhere else, a side only other magic players see. it's quite difficult to explain unless you've experienced it first hand. 

i don't know what it's like playing in tournaments and such, and i can imagine it can be quite stressful for some people. i'm just a casual player though and i don't play the game to prove a point (as i feel the general attitude in tournaments is probably lays in the vein of a "i'm better than you" type of enviroment). i play it in real life to relax, have fun and be wowed by people who are way better than me - but of course the taste of victory even in relaxed games is always unquestionably sweet.

magic the gathering is one of the few things that still makes human beings congregate to match wits face to face these days. being in the age where most human interaction and communication is done through bits of data, it's refreshing to know you can go somewhere on friday nights (or whenever your league nights are) to sit down with a group of people who share a common interest and love for something as simple as cardboard cards. 

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168 (not verified) at Tue, 09/16/2008 - 04:47
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168's picture

while mtgo is nice to play with due to the automatic features, the main element that gives mtg that certain flare is the level of intimacy involved between players, and that element is erased from the equation when playing online. i think when people play magic, they show a different side of who they are, a side you wouldn't see anywhere else, a side only other magic players see. it's quite difficult to explain unless you've experienced it first hand. 

i don't know what it's like playing in tournaments and such, and i can imagine it can be quite stressful for some people. i'm just a casual player though and i don't play the game to prove a point (as i feel the general attitude in tournaments is probably lays in the vein of a "i'm better than you" type of enviroment). i play it in real life to relax, have fun and be wowed by people who are way better than me - but of course the taste of victory even in relaxed games is always unquestionably sweet.

magic the gathering is one of the few things that still makes human beings congregate to match wits face to face these days. being in the age where most human interaction and communication is done through bits of data, it's refreshing to know you can go somewhere on friday nights (or whenever your league nights are) to sit down with a group of people who share a common interest and love for something as simple as cardboard cards. 

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168 (not verified) at Tue, 09/16/2008 - 04:47
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.106.44.168's picture

while mtgo is nice to play with due to the automatic features, the main element that gives mtg that certain flare is the level of intimacy involved between players, and that element is erased from the equation when playing online. i think when people play magic, they show a different side of who they are, a side you wouldn't see anywhere else, a side only other magic players see. it's quite difficult to explain unless you've experienced it first hand. 

i don't know what it's like playing in tournaments and such, and i can imagine it can be quite stressful for some people. i'm just a casual player though and i don't play the game to prove a point (as i feel the general attitude in tournaments is probably lays in the vein of a "i'm better than you" type of enviroment). i play it in real life to relax, have fun and be wowed by people who are way better than me - but of course the taste of victory even in relaxed games is always unquestionably sweet.

magic the gathering is one of the few things that still makes human beings congregate to match wits face to face these days. being in the age where most human interaction and communication is done through bits of data, it's refreshing to know you can go somewhere on friday nights (or whenever your league nights are) to sit down with a group of people who share a common interest and love for something as simple as cardboard cards. 

by 88spartans88 at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 15:34
88spartans88's picture

Very well written!   As much as the lag and crashes on MTGO v2.5 are annoying, all of the areas written about here are SO much easier on-line. 

Haha, liked it! by MirrorMage at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 16:05
MirrorMage's picture

Informative and humorous! I would love to have a deck of clay tablets...

woah! by frankie (Unregistered) 71.142.202.51 (not verified) at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 16:35
frankie (Unregistered) 71.142.202.51's picture

There are seriously some sanctioned drafts in which you play other peoples' selected card pools?  That's messed up.

ah, nm by frankie (Unregistered) 71.142.202.51 (not verified) at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 16:44
frankie (Unregistered) 71.142.202.51's picture

With sealed I understand this in full and wish that the events I've gone to did this step.

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 67.182.184.255 (not verified) at Thu, 04/10/2008 - 19:27
Anonymous (Unregistered) 67.182.184.255's picture

[quote]For example, if you put a creature hit with Swords to Plowshares in the graveyard, instead of removing it from the game, your opponent should call a judg[/quote]

my opponent would not wake up the next morning

magic by devin23 (not verified) at Thu, 03/05/2009 - 22:40
devin23's picture
3

magic rocks