A Magic: The Gathering Beginners Guide To Competitive Play, by Mark Pinder

Magic The Gathering Game Store FNM Owner
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A Beginners Guide to Magic: The Gathering Competitive Play

Recently several friends and I were at the MTG SCG Invitational which was the first time I’d entered something truly competitive in about twelve months, on the whole I was fine and was happy with my day but I observed a few things. With Grand Prix London on the horizon I thought I’d jot down some pointers for the weekend to be a guide to those attending their first major event, these tips can be used just as well with any higher level event.

When you play at your local event many things may be ignored, penalties commuted or some things are not encountered locally so become first time experiences. There is one thing that should remain constant, make sure you enjoy yourself!


Sealed Deck 

Now you’ve probably played in your local pre-release and have a good idea how to build you deck and enjoy the challenge of the limited environment but there are going to be a few things you need to know.

Pool Registration – The cards you open are not your own, you become part of the admin team and will record all the cards in the pool presented to you on a check list.

Deck Swap – The Pool will now move around the table and in all probability arrive with someone else to play.

Deck List – You then not only have to build your deck but you have to record it on the check sheet. Unlike your pre-release whilst you may change it between games, game one of each match needs to be the same as what you registered on your check list.


Game Play

Whilst the game of Magic is still the same, the way it is played is slightly different, you are in a less forgiving environment and when the rules enforcement level increases so can the penalties.

Triggers –  Better people than I have tried to explain the policy on missed triggers and I’m not going to cover it in depth. What I will say is that you are not responsible for your opponent’s triggers and should not mention a trigger that has been missed whilst being a spectator.

Spectating – You have to tread a fine line, what you say could effect the game so you need to not speak or make gestures that may help a player, you should also report known issues to a Judge. To illustrate this I’ll give an example from an event I took part in:

Game one had finished and my opponent sighs and comments “I should not have kept the hand with only one land”, the player next to her innocently comments “Well you never keep a one land hand !”. I politely inform them they shouldn’t say that as it may influence my opponent’s mulligan choices over the match, his opponent then intercedes and suggests we call a judge to resolve the issue.

The judge comes over, listens to what has happened and then over comes the head judge and asks us to go over again what happened. The result was the player who made the comment got a game loss in his current match for coaching, and it could have been more serious if he’d shown intent.

Communication – Always be clear when announcing your decision. You also have to be aware that saying “OK” means exactly that, you cannot change your mind and you have accepted the opponents play.  You also need to be aware that if you make a mistake your opponent is less likely to let you change your mind, take backs are much less frequent at higher levels.

Notes – Players can take notes during a game,  this is okay. However, you shouldn’t make notes as a spectator.

Scoring – Try not to use dice, you should be prepared to use a pen and paper to record all changes, it also helps if you can track those changes e.g. -2 TG (Temple Garden coming into play untapped). If there is a discrepancy on life totals a judge is more likely to believe you if you have an evidence trail to support your case.

Judges – You may have the impression that Judges are there to enforce the game rules, they are not, but they will uphold the game rules so everyone has a fair play experience. Judges are on the whole are as dedicated to Magic as you are, in fact they are probably more so as they give up their free time so you can play.

Do not be afraid to call a Judge over as your opponent hasn’t always got your best interests at heart. Also, don’t forget a Judge is human too, they can make a mistake and never be afraid to appeal their decision with the Head Judge.

Sleeves – Have a good look at your sleeves, they should all be in good condition and also be colour matched. Sleeves are checked and key things to look for are grease marks, dings and the corners.

Constructed Play

Whilst GP London will be Sealed, there are going to be side events with big prizes and the current Pro Tour Qualifier format is Modern Constructed.

Deck List – You will be expected to write out a deck list, it is also likely that your deck will be checked to this list. Several players each round can be expected to be checked and not just the top tables and the check may even take place mid match to see if any cards from outside the deck have been slipped in.

Metagame – Whilst your deck may be the fiend of your local FNM it may well not be as well positioned to win you a blue envelope inviting you to play on foreign shores. You will need to study whether your deck can defeat those that are very popular at larger events all over world that are covered on the internet.

Testing – Very few people can just pick up a deck and play it well, you should test how well you play your deck to be optimal on your choices and also test it against decks from the metagame above.

Foils – Be very careful when using foils, whilst they are legal to use they are prone to bending so consequently could be construed as being a marked deck if they can be cut to automatically. It is best that a spread of foils are used between creatures, spells and lands. There was a case recently where a player had a play set of Delver of Secrets double sleeved but no other cards double sleeved, the player was disqualified as they could be reliably cut to creating a marked deck.


And Finally – A few other things to be aware of

Watch Your Stuff – Whilst your local shop may be considered a safe environment and that you are all friends, this may well not be the case at the bigger events, like all parts of society there are those who are less noble. I had a friend who went to GP Milan, had his bag with him but whilst he was playing someone managed to acquire his bag complete with a pair of Standard Decks.

It can also be advisable to only take what you need, if you will not be taking part in any Legacy event you may wish to leave your deck at home, likewise one Commander deck is really all you need and certainly do not bring your whole collection. Take your trade folders but don’t let them leave your sight!

Money – Make sure you have enough money with you to enjoy yourself, check what the event fees are going to be so you can budget your weekend but take some extra money along as the trade stands may be tempting you with offers e.g. that missing foil Commander card, a new play mat, artwork sleeves or some foreign boosters.

Prizes – Whilst your FNM may well be everyone wins a prize, larger events skew the prizes towards those that do well and you may even find there are no entrance prizes.

Thank you for reading,

Mark Pinder

A Magic: The Gathering Beginners Guide To Competitive Play, by Mark Pinder
When you play at your local event many things may be ignored, penalties commuted or some things are not encountered locally so become first time experiences. There is one thing that should remain constant, make sure you enjoy yourself !

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Mark Pinder
I have competed twice at GB nationals in 2010/2008, was Runner Up at Senior Nationals 2010, Won a Grand Prix Trial which took me to Paris 2009. My love of the game was such that I did previously win a writing competition on MTG Twincast which led to me being a Feature Writer for around a year until the Sponsor sold up but still did the occasional article. There is also a verb "To Pinder"colloquially used in northern magic communities which means "to gain life", I was a solid fan of Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth combo and many players have heard those fateful words, Sacrifice Martyr of Sands, gain 21 life against me to see the game go out of their reach with lethal damage available to them next turn.