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Worlds 2001: Head Judge Report

Mike Donais

Each year the World Championships seem to go more smoothly than in the previous year. I believe that judges worldwide are improving and organized play is more efficient than ever. This year, we had 300 players and approximately 35 judges participating in the main event on any given day. In total, there were over 50 judges working at Worlds on the main event and the side events. A copy of the Worlds judge schedule in an Excel file is here.

I am going to cover a number of different penalties from the DCI Penalty Guidelines and discuss how they came into play at worlds. I am also going to cover some procedures for things like deck checks, which are done constantly by judges, but for which there doesn't seem to be a written standard. I am going to go into a lot of detail on a few other topics that I have a lot to say about, such as slow play and the two disqualifications at Worlds.

Deck Checks

Because every delay affects 300 players, 50 judges, and countless spectators, I worked to eliminate unnecessary delays during the tournament and to minimize necessary delays. Maximizing tournament integrity while minimizing delays can sometimes be a challenging balance to achieve. Every round we deck checked between six and eight players. We had one judge per deck to minimize the time needed to do the deck checks. I would like a deck check to be done and returned to the player in 8 minutes if there are no serious problems. This ensures that the other 300 people in the tournament will not have to wait at the end of the round for one match that requires extra time. Sometimes it takes longer, and in those cases it is important to minimize that time. If a penalty is being given to a player, then it is okay to take slightly longer because a game loss or a match loss will shorten the amount of time needed to play.

Davide Bitteto, Damien Guillemard and Pierre Calendini perform deck checks.

Decks should be taken from the players after they have desideboarded, fully shuffled, and presented their decks to their opponents. The judge should wait off to the side so as not to give the players any indication that they are being deck checked until they present their decks. This is to catch a player who intends to presideboard or stack his or her deck.

The amount of extra time that should be given for a game should equal the amount of time it took to complete the deck check. If a deck is returned when the clock says 49 minutes, then 11 extra minutes should be given. The players then have 3 minutes to shuffle and present their decks as normal.

What to Look for in a Deck Check
Deck stacking (Check this first because the order will change during the deck check.)
Width and length of card sleeves
Marked cards or sleeves, including bent cards or premium cards
Deck and sideboard match the deck list
Legal decklist (no more than four copies of a card and no old or banned cards)
Legal sideboard list (60/15 in Constructed or 45 cards total in Draft)

Decklist problems comprise most of the penalties given at high-level events. Players should take care not to make any errors when recording their decks. One of the players in the Worlds team finals forgot to write down the four Rishadan Ports on his Standard decklist, and so had to play with basic lands in their places. This hurt not only his performance in Standard, but it also came back to hurt him in the team final, which uses the Standard decks.

To avoid penalties for marked sleeves with a pattern, it is advisable that players shuffle their decks or their sleeves before sleeving any deck. This reduces the chance that factory-production marks will appear on all the lands or all of the spells. Try to inform your players about this technique if they don't already know about it.

Collecting Decklists
Constructed Events

To collect decklists quickly, seat all the players in alphabetical order at the start of the day. This will not be the same as round 1 pairings. Collect the decklists carefully while keeping the decklists in alphabetical order. You can use several judges to collect them as long as they do it systematically and don't mix all the lists together.

One advantage of seating all players to collect decklists instead of just pairing up the players and collecting decklists is that if the players are paired up, they will know who their first opponents are-and that could affect what decklists they submit.

While collecting the decklists, the judges should quickly check to make sure the players did not forget to write down their names or sideboards. A brief glance is all that is necessary so as not to waste any time.

Give the deck check team an alphabetical list of players to make sure that everyone in the stack is on the list and all the names are readable. If anyone is missing or forgot to write a legible name, then you can use the list of players to easily fill in the blanks.

Limited Events

Decklist collection for Limited events is quite different than decklist collection for Constructed events. Before each draft, seat all players randomly. Do not seat them alphabetically because you will not collect the decklists (the players bring them up) and alphabetical seatings means that family members might be sitting together during deck construction, which would appear inappropriate.

The players sit down first at their tables and write their names on decklists. This helps them return to their seats after the draft. Having all the players move to the posted seatings with their decks would be disorganized and may increase opportunities to cheat.

All the judges.

I always announce several times during deck construction that the "total" and "used" columns on the decklists both need to be filled out in addition to the name. In Draft events, I tell the players that only the lands actually played need to be written down because more lands can be obtained at any time. Players should not use their own lands because they may be marked accidentally or intentionally. Even if they are mint-quality lands, they might have been printed at a different printer and be slightly lighter or darker than the cards in the rest of the deck.

After collecting the Limited decklists, judges should check for names and ensure that something is written in the "played" column, the "used" column, and somewhere in the land section of the sheet. The judge should do this with a very quick glance (don't count the columns or anything like that). If players use the wrong land column, that is fine-judges can easily figure that out if it is a simple mistake. If players record their entire decks in the "used" column instead of the "total" column, it is quickest just to change the column names instead of having a player rewrite his or her entire deck.

Time for Decklist Preparation

In Limited events, if a player does not have his or her decklist ready when the time for deck construction expires, I give a warning. After 2 minutes, I give them a game loss. It is not really fair to make hundreds of people wait for one person. In Constructed events, players have a lot more time to prepare decklists, and they cause a larger disturbance if their decks are not collected alphabetically. So I am in favor of givingthem a game loss if they are not ready when the judge comes around to collect their decklists.

Stamp Checks

It is important that the head judge of any event that uses stamps be able to quickly do a stamp check on a deck. We did several stamp checks at Worlds, and I hope the judges on the deck check team during the draft day learned about stamp checking. It takes a lot of time to do stamp checks, so we decided not to do them on all checked decks. Twice during the tournament it was beneficial for me to be able to do a very fast stamp check to fix a problem in the draft. Stamp checks are different for a six-person draft than they are for an eight-person draft, so keep that in mind in case you have done only one or the other. I am not going to go into detail on how to do stamp checks in this report.

Slow Play

It is important not to confuse slow play with stalling. Stalling is intentional and has a much more severe penalty than slow play. Often, when given a penalty for slow play, the player will defend himself or herself by saying that it was not intentional. It might help to indicate the difference between slow play and stalling at that point.

Nick Hable and Christian Sieber receive instructions from head judge Mike Donais. Adrian Teh and Gordon Culp are in the background.

During the judges meeting at Worlds, we made it clear to judges that, depending on the severity of slow play, warnings and game losses would be given for slow play at Worlds. Cautions would not be given. If someone were warned a second time for slow play, then a game loss would be given. During the course of the tournament, we issued several warnings and game losses for slow play. One player was given a warning for the first offense, game losses for the second and third offenses, and match losses for the fourth and fifth offenses. After this, I informed him that his next warning for slow play would be accompanied by disqualification. Normally, I follow the guidelines for multiple occurrences of the same infraction by upgrading the penalty each time, but I felt that a game loss was enough of a penalty to make the point. The point of this penalty is to increase the speed of play of the player. By the end of the tournament, the player in question was playing significantly faster. I think that a second warning should be upgraded to game loss-if a player doesn't at least receive a game loss, then he or she may not take the warnings seriously.

Exceeding the 3-Minute Pregame Time Limit

This penalty was given a few times by judges. In one instance, the player took almost 4 minutes to shuffle and sideboard. In one feature match, the judge informed the players at the start that they had 3 minutes to shuffle and sideboard. He again reminded them when they had 2 minutes and again when they had 1 minute left. After 3 minutes and 20 seconds, the players were still in the middle of pile shuffling, so he gave both players a warning.

The purpose of this penalty is to make sure players don't stall between games. When the time limit is almost done, I recommend to all judges that they inform their players. A reminder at 1 minute and at 15 seconds is best so that the players can shuffle and present on time. It is not the judge's responsibility, but it is the spirit of the rule, and if you are watching the clock, it is nice to help the players.

I always give a 15-second warning before giving this penalty unless I believe a player is stalling intentionally. Often a player will be reminding his opponent and waiting impatiently for several minutes. I consider this when penalizing for this infraction.


This is usually the most difficult part of judging. You always want to be sure before you disqualify someone. Everyone always wants the full details when a disqualification happens, but it is difficult to convey all of the details because the results of interviewing all the people involved can never be fully articulated. In addition, exact details are often hard to describe, like how much a card is marked or how much you value the data of the other judges involved (assuming that other judges were involved).

The first disqualification at Worlds 2001 occurred in the very first round. A spectator watched as a player activated a Rebel searcher and looked through his library. During the Rebel-searching process, he placed Teferi's Response on the bottom of his library. He then used a fairly simple shuffle to move it to the top of his library. The opponent did not cut the deck. The spectator immediately ran to a judge and told the judge what had happened and that the player in question would draw a Teferi's Response during his next turn. The judge watched as the player drew the Teferi's Response. The judge then came over and told me the situation. I went over immediately and stopped the game. I was surprised that the judge did not stop the game, but it didn't matter. I took each of the players aside and talked to each them alone out of earshot of anyone else. After discussing the situation with the other judges involved and checking the player's records, I determined that the player should be disqualified without prize for deck manipulation (cheating).

Watch for decks that have groups of cards that can be identified from the side or back, like the deck in the lower right of this photo.

The second disqualification occurred twenty-two rounds later, in the quarterfinals. A player cut his deck three times, and each time the top card was Accumulated Knowledge. The one time that his opponent shuffled his deck and he did not cut, an Accumulated Knowledge was already near the top. A deck check verified that the Accumulated Knowledges in the deck were bent in a manner so they noticeably stood out from the rest of the deck. They could be identified when looking at one side of the deck (the side that was facing towards the player but was obscured from the opponent). We took pictures of the deck and talked with the player involved as well as the judges who witnessed the deck manipulation. The player did not have a reasonable explanation for the marked cards of for not cutting during the one game when the marked cards were already at the top of the deck. The markings allowed the player to cut his deck into a section heavy with Accumulated Knowledge. I determined that the player should be disqualified without prize for deck manipulation much like in the first DQ. I don't like having to DQ someone in the Top 8 because of how it affects the tournament (like giving someone a bye into the semifinals), but sometimes there is no other choice. Since the day of the event, additional information gathered shows that the player may have done the same thing during the Swiss portion of the tournament. This type of cheating is not unique to high-level events and judges should watch to prevent it from happening at their events.


From a Magic-tournament perspective, I believe that Worlds 2001 was the best Worlds yet. The tournament suffered no significant delays, and the penalties were consistent for everyone. The DCI Tournament Rules and the DCI Penalty Guidelines improve each year, and the judges improve with each event. I learned a lot and enjoyed working with all the other judges, and even had an opportunity to meet some judges that I had not met before. I saw a lot of judges perform very well and tried to give as much experience to as many judges as possible. We collected around 100 judge feedback forms and will use that information to help determine whom we should be watching for advancement, and I was able to observe several good judges in action. This was important because we are constantly watching for top judges to promote to higher levels.

Mike Donais

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