With my recent Pro Tour Top 8 a few weeks ago, I was left in a bit of an awkward position. While I was ecstatic that I was now qualified for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, it meant that I was no longer allowed to play in PTQs. I had already made plans to attend a double PTQ weekend in my local area and even went as far as booking a hotel room. Since I was already committed to attending these PTQs, I figured why not help my local community and judge them?
Judging these PTQs after just competing in a Pro Tour gave me a completely different perspective on the game. I had gone from playing with the best and most accomplished players in the world to watching players who are not quite there yet. After the PTQs, I couldn't believe what kinds of things I saw some of these players do. Many of these players made some pretty bad, easily avoidable mistakes that most professional players would never make. Today I'm going to talk about what kinds of behaviors are common among PTQ players and how to avoid them. I'm not talking about things like “get enough rest before the tournament,” or “be sure to double check your decklist.” You should be doing these things anyway, and I shouldn't even have to mention those.
1. The Pregame
Did you know that a game of competitive Magic actually begins before your opponent even sits down? Yes, the second you sit down for the round, even if there is no player sitting across from you, you have started your match.
What side of the table do you sit on? Do you just sit down at whatever seat is more convenient? Does it even matter? It actually matters quite a bit. The best seat is the one in which you are facing the round clock. Being able to see the clock will give you a huge advantage in your match. You will be able to check how much time is left in between games, giving you a good idea if you are playing at a fast enough pace. Some players never even look at the clock during a match and when time is called, they're shocked that the round is already over. Facing the clock will help you manage your time more effectively.
One thing to be aware of is what you do while you are waiting for your opponent to sit down. For example, some players take their deck out of the box, look through the deck to make sure they've de-sideboarded, and then begin shuffling. While this seems fine, this is actually one of the worst habits that players can get themselves into. Remember, your opponent is trying to find his seat, and that seat is at the same table you're sitting at! There is a very good chance that your opponent will walk up to your table and see you checking your sideboard, which will give him information about what you are playing. Knowing what you're up against before you even sit down will give you a huge advantage, and it's really important to avoid giving your opponent that information for free. I've even heard of players who purposely waited for their opponents to sit down first, just to see if they can get a glimpse of what they were playing. Yes, this is shady, but if you have your deck and sideboard out in the open, there is no stopping anyone from looking over your shoulder. If you get to your seat first, be patient. Don't take out your deck until there is a player sitting across from you.
Another thing to keep in mind is your non-magic cards that you may need, such as tokens or your scorepad. If you are playing tokens, be sure not to take them out of your deck box and put them beside you. For example, if you have Wolf Tokens, that tells your opponent that you're playing either Huntmaster of the Fells or Garruk Relentless in your deck. While he doesn't know if you have Huntmaster, Garruk, or both, revealing that you are playing a green midrange deck will give your opponent a huge gain in the match, specifically what hands he should keep.
In one of the PTQs I judged over the weekend, I saw a player pull out his deck along with his Wolf tokens. Then as he put his deckbox down on the table, the box was slightly opened, revealing one of the cards in his sideboard. This mistake led to his opponent gaining some crucial information about the match. Be sure to avoid doing this before you begin your match!
You should also be aware of your scorepad. Be sure not to reveal your life totals and notes from the previous round. It's very easy to figure out what your opponent is playing by taking a look at his notes. For example, are there a bunch of tick marks on the paper? He's probably playing Storm or Eggs. Is his life total increasing by two a lot? He probably has Kitchen Finks in his deck. It's important not to reveal that kind of information to your opponent.
The final pregame procedure to be aware of is your shuffling. I'm sure you shuffle in a way to randomize your deck but you don't shuffle with the cards facing you. After all, if you know where certain cards are in your deck, you are cheating. However, do you shuffle in a way that the cards are facing your opponent?
At one of the PTQs last weekend, I received a judge call in which a player informed me that his opponent was looking at the cards in his deck as he shuffled. The opponent told me that he wasn't doing it purposely but it was just the way he was shuffling. I asked the player how he was shuffling his deck and sure enough, he was shuffling with his cards facing his opponent. There was not much I could do except tell the player to shuffle more carefully. While you're not allowed to peek at your opponent's deck as he's shuffling, if he is blatantly shuffling the deck towards you there is not much from stopping you. Be sure to shuffle in such a way where neither you nor your opponent can see the cards.
2. The Mid Game
During a game, it's crucial to pay attention to what your opponent is doing, and even read his cards if you have to. One thing that I see inexperienced players do all the time is ask their opponent what his cards do. There is this thing in Magic called “Derived Information.” Derived information is something that you actually need to figure out yourself, like what the power and toughness of Tarmogoyf is, for example. If you ask your opponent how big his Tarmogoyf is, he is not required to answer you (although most players usually do anyway). One thing to keep in mind about derived information is that you are not allowed to lie about it. If I ask you how big the Tarmogoyf is, and you tell me it's a 3/4 when it's actually a 4/5, and you are fully aware that it's a 4/5, that is cheating. Don't do that.
Last weekend, I watched a match involving a player who was playing Bogles. He had a Slippery Bogle in play with roughly a million enchantments on it. He attacked, and the opponent asked him “What is that guy?” The player started counting up his enchantments and said, “The Rancor gives it +2, the Daybreak Coronet gives is +3, and the Hyena Umbra gives it +1, so it's seven total power.” Now, this player stated all true facts. However, he did not mention what other abilities it had, such as lifelink, trample, or first strike. So when the opponent took seven damage and the player gained seven life, the opponent was a bit surprised. He then started complaining that if he knew it had lifelink he would have blocked and killed his blocker (but… trample?). Well, maybe that player should have read his opponent's cards instead of asking him “What is that guy?”
The other common mistake that many players make is asking rules questions to your opponent instead of calling a judge. Remember, your opponent wants to beat you. He is the last person you should be asking rules questions to. If you are unsure how something works, call a judge. That's why they're there.
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Last weekend a player had a Threads of Disloyalty in his hand and his opponent controlled a flipped Huntmaster of the Fells. The player asked him what the converted mana cost of the Huntmaster was. The opponent flipped it back over and said “Huntmaster? It's four.” Well, Huntmaster does have a converted mana cost of four, but Ravager of the Fells's converted mana cost is zero, and is a perfectly legal target for Threads. The player ended up not casting Threads and lost the game because of it. Had he just asked a judge if he was allowed to target the flipped Huntmaster of the Fells, the game could have gone in his favor.
Never give up too early. Many players tend to give up when they are behind, even when they have many outs to win the game. There was an Eggs player at the PTQ that I was watching for most of the day (I think Eggs is actually a fun deck to watch). Whenever the Eggs player started comboing off, the opponent usually conceded. I never understood why they did that, because the Eggs player was usually very far off from winning. Remember, Eggs is a deck that tends to go to time. Because it usually takes a while to actually deal lethal damage, Eggs players need to play fast. The faster they play, the more mistakes they are likely to make. Later in the tournament, I was watching the same Eggs player combo off, but this time his opponent made him play it out. A few Second Sunrises later, the player had practically his entire deck in his hand and only a couple of cards left in his library. The game was locked; he was going to win as long as he didn't mess up. Well, he ended up making one crucial mistake and ended up decking himself. It was a good thing his opponent didn't concede.
During a game, it is important to stay focused at all times, even when you're winning. There are so many times where I see one player mana screwed and falling farther and farther behind, and the other player, seeing that he is clearly winning, begins playing sloppily. Then when the player finally draws his land, suddenly he's back in the game. Now all of the mistakes and sloppy plays that the second player has made begin to catch up with him, and he is suddenly struggling to win. Basically, the point is this: You have not won a game until the game is actually over. Never lose focus, no matter how far ahead you are.
3. The End Game
The last part of a Magic match is what I'd like to call good sportsmanship. What do you do when your match is over? Do you say “Good Game?” Do you offer to shake your opponent's hand?
While many players have mixed feelings on whether or not to do those things, there is one thing that you should not do after your match, and that is complain to your opponent that you lost, how lucky he got, or how bad your draws were. Honestly, your opponent doesn't care, and you complaining will not change the result of your match.
A few months ago, I played in a Return to Ravnica Sealed PTQ. I was 5-0, and if I won the next round, I would be able to double draw into top 8. I did indeed win my next match, and let's just say that my opponent was not too pleased. “God, you are so lucky every time we play,” and “Obviously I get mana flooded in game three,” were just some of the things that my opponent had said to me. I understand that he was mad. If he beat me, he was locked for Top 8, and now he had another match to win. However, complaining about “how lucky” I got is not going to help him win his next match and is certainly not going to help him become a better player. He should have instead tried to figure out what mistakes he made in our match. There is a good chance that he could have avoided the loss had he just played better.
Mistakes are a part of Magic. Everyone makes them including the best players in the game. Figuring out what your mistakes are and learning from them is how you will become a better player. However, although mistakes are a part of the game, the things I've talked about today are not mistakes. They are all things that are easily avoidable and if any of these things are something you normally do, you should be aware of it and try to change your behavior. I hope you've learned something from this article and good luck at your next tournament!
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