Today’s article is something entirely different. Normally, I write about my newest deck. Sometimes I write about draft, sometimes I write about philosophy.
Today I'm going to talk about how to make your tournament experience more enjoyable by understanding how uncomfortable in-match social situations come about and how I think they can be avoided—shuffling and hand-shaking, specifically.
If you are an inexperienced tournament player this might help you avoid bothering opponents, and if you are an experienced tournament player this might help you avoid getting bothered by opponents. If you are just into psychology, you might find this interesting as well.
Let’s get to it!
Shuffling in Tournament Magic
After playing 16 rounds of tournament Magic last weekend I came to the realization that a lot of my opponents actually did not know what shuffling was or how to do it (totally fine). It even came up against my opponent in the quarterfinals. My opponent kicked off the final game by “not shuffling” under the guise of shuffling, as I prodded him to shuffle. The situation actually ended with a judge shuffling my opponent’s deck for him before the final game (totally fine).
I decided it would be productive to share my perspective on shuffling. I feel that it will be useful to save the less experienced tournament players from shuffling violations and awkward and unhappy opponents that may or may not say anything. I also feel that it will be useful to help the more experienced players deal with opponents who “don’t shuffle” under the guise of shuffling in front of us, as precious time slips off the clock.
What is Shuffling?
First of all, we need to know what shuffling is. We shuffle to break up patterns. We shuffle to hide the location of individual cards from either player. That’s about it.
Shuffling is not to break up clumps. Clumps are random. Clumps are unpredictable. We can expect clumps. Shuffling is not to spread lands out into an organized pattern. Patterns and knowledge of patterns is not shuffling—it is cheating.
So we shuffle to break up patterns and hide locations of cards. This shouldn’t take that long. Ten good riffle shuffles. I have no clue where any card is in my deck from last game and any patterns established from last game are gone. My deck is shuffled and I can present!
There’s no reason for this to take very long and there is no advantage to shuffling “extra.” A deck can’t be “more random.” The location of cards can’t be “more unknown.” So shuffle and present!
Pile Shuffling… err, Stack Counting
Before each game, tournament players will count their deck to make sure we have the right number of cards. One extra might mean we have one of our opponent’s creatures exiled by Oblivion Ring in our deck, and one too few might mean a card fell under the table. Either way is a problem.
So we do a stack count. Personally I stack count in 4 piles of 10 for Limited and 4 piles of 15 for Constructed. I do it very quickly, and once I confirm I have the right number I move on to shuffling.
There seems to be an incredible amount of confusion over this, and I admit to being confused myself for many years. The stack shuffle is not a shuffle. It is a count. It is a count and it is only a count. By the rules it is not a shuffle. You can stack count for hours and present your deck, and if you didn’t shuffle, that’s a violation.
A lot of this is as a consequence of cheaters abusing the stack count in the past to sort their deck into predictable patterns. This way they might have knowledge of the location of specific cards or might have confidence in always drawing the right combination of spells and lands.
You can stack count in piles of 7 and it is still not shuffling. It is not more or less predictable than piles of 4. By the rules it is a patterned movement of cards, and thus not a shuffle.
So for those of you who have been stack counting between every mulligan, you don't need to do that anymore. You already know you have 60 from the first stack count. There is a reason why your opponent is unhappy and discouraging you from stack counting inside of games. All you're doing is counting and bleeding precious time off the clock.
Shuffling Takes Time Off the Clock
In paper tournament Magic, shuffling takes time off the clock. Potentially a LOT of it. Excessive stack counting and waiting for our opponent to resolve their Rampant Growth could result in an eventual draw. I don't know about you, but I don't like unintentional draws. More often than not, a draw is something like a loss for BOTH players.
If you and I play against each other, I don't want us both to lose. I want us to play Magic and one of us (hopefully me) to win. Well, in ten years of tournament Magic, this hasn’t happened only a couple times, and I don’t remember a single unintentional draw in the past five years.
First of all, if my opponent is going to stack count extra times I am going to say something. Not because I know more, not because I need to teach everyone, simply because I don’t want to run out of time because my opponent counted their deck all round. If my opponent is going to stack count after a mulligan in game 1, they are going to do the same in games 2 and 3 if I don’t say anything. And that GREATLY increases the chance of us not playing very much Magic and getting a draw.
Another common shuffling situation that eats all kinds of time is the use of cards like Misty Rainforest and Rampant Growth. I commonly see low clock situations where one player is shuffling their deck and the other player is impatiently waiting so that they can start their turn. This is the reason why they are in a low clock situation to begin with!
If I play a turn 2 Rampant Growth, I am going to shuffle while my opponent plays their next turn. There is no reason for them to wait (other than if we want to pick up unintentional draws). I will tell my opponent, “I am going to get a Mountain, and I am done after that.” By the time I am done shuffling it is my turn again. Sweet!
Similarly, if my opponent plays a turn 2 Rampant Growth I am going to play my turn while my opponent shuffles. I am not going to wait. “Are you done after that?” (Obviously you’re done after that!)
In general, shuffling can eat a lot of time off the clock if you aren’t conscious of that. If you are, it’s pretty easy to avoid unintentional draws, although it does require you to communicate with your opponent a bit.
Mana weaving is surprisingly common and comes up all the time. A lot of players do it and don’t understand what’s wrong with it, so hopefully this helps some of you out.
Mana weaving is going through your deck and distributing your lands and spells into predictable patterns. You could call this “unclumping.” Mana weaving is also done by pulling all the lands from your deck, separating them, and then stack counting. This distributes the mana perfectly throughout the deck to prevent mana-screw and flood. This is the point of the mana weave.
If the deck is presented at this point, it’s cheating. The thing is, variance is part of the game. Clumps are normal. They add to the unpredictable nature of the game. If your deck is patterned and you know it, you are trying to get an advantage over variance. This is cheating.
Now, if you mana weave, then you randomize, what’s the problem? My deck is now unpatterned, and I don’t know the location of a single card? So why is my opponent still bothered?
First of all, mana weaving sucks time off the clock. At best it does nothing and kills time. At BEST it increases you and your opponent’s chances of an unintentional draw.
Secondly, consider this analogy that I learned through esteemed judge Riki Hiyashi. This is what mana weaving would be in NASCAR: Imagine putting illegal fuel into your car. Then you empty out all the illegal fuel and put in legal fuel. My car is legal to race with, so why are people bothered? Well, people are going to be suspicious that you didn’t empty all the illegal fuel. If you didn’t seek an unfair advantage why would you put it in to begin with??
I think this is a good analogy to throw at the opponent when you find your opponent mana weaving against you. I mean, you could always call a judge and have them explain. You could also wait for them to present and then call a judge. You could get a match win out of it!
For me, I try to talk my opponent out of mana weaving.
SHAKE MY HAND!
If you’ve watched my stream much you know that I love to make fun of offering /receiving handshakes to end a match of Magic: the Gathering. I found discussing the subject to be incredibly divisive and emotionally stirring. It seemed that the majority of tournament players at some point had been in an awkward / hilarious / unpleasant handshake situation, and the conversation brought back all of those juice memories.
So I stopped talking about hand shakes and I started joking about them instead.
Here! Shake my hand!
I have been wanting to write about this for a while, and after 15 smooth handshakes in Oakland last weekend I decided now was the perfect time.
The first thing I want to make clear is that this conversation is NOT a value judgement on emotions. We are not going to call emotions good or bad. Emotions are emotions. They happen. If someone feels a certain way I can not tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way. They just DO. I don’t live inside their head, I don’t know what it feels like to be them, and I don’t know how they should feel in this particular situation.
As such, this is NOT the place to have a conversation about whether emotions are justified or not. I’m not going to be responding to any comments like this below and I discourage you from doing the same. Emotions are emotions. They are going to be felt.
This conversation is instead about WHY people feel a certain, WHY certain emotions are felt, and HOW we can use this information to be more gracious winners and losers. You in?
We’re playing for Top 8 and we really want this one. We’ve prepared hard for this tournament and we’ve come a long way.
Our last opponent is a bit of a noob with a stock net deck. They haven’t played in many tournaments before and this is obvious. Their play is a bit sloppy and their conventions are also a bit weird. For example, they pile count their deck unnecessarily—between mulligans and land fetches, and it bleeds time off the clock.
The match is a combination of mana problems and urging the opponent to play faster to avoid a draw. It is a reminder that as much as we have control, we are also blowing in the wind.
The third game is especially brutal. We mulligan a no-lander and keep a reasonable two-lander, although we really need to hit our third land to have much of a chance. We miss on draws and miss our crucial third land drop. Our opponent immediately starts to play their spell without drawing a card. We remind them that they have to draw a card for the turn, and they do.
We miss for several more turns before finally discarding. Our opponent’s board slowly grows out of control as we watch. Eventually, we take lethal damage. We scoop up our board and graveyard in the left hand and scoop up our deck in the right hand. Our hands are full.
And then it comes.
“Good games! No… GREAT GAMES!”
Our opponent’s hand is in our face. Our hands are still full.
“SHAKE MY HAND!! SHAKE IT!!”
I can’t say too much about this situation other than “lol.” It is something I personally want to avoid. I mean, you can do whatever the hell you want in this situation and I wouldn't fault you. You feel the way you feel. Your emotions are yours and they're legit. They aren't good, they aren't bad, they just are.
So for me personally, I try to avoid this situation at all costs. And it’s very easy to do. Here’s how it works.
“Oh, I’m taking lethal damage?” Here, I will extend my hand! Yes, I extend my hand as a sign of concession.
This is pretty much the norm for experienced players. If you watch much coverage you know what I mean—“extends the hand” is synonymous with concession.
It is a graceful way out. It minimizes the feel-bad for all parties and, most importantly to me, avoids the unpleasant situation above by preempting the handshake.
We are playing for Top 8 in our SECOND tournament ever! Yeehaw!! We prepared for this tournament by picking the Jund list from last week’s
Open and playing some games last night. We read several articles on the subject from top players and we made sure to write down the sideboard plans for the most common matchups.
It’s very important to not get mana-screwed this match so we shuffle especially hard—gotta break up those clumps! Our opponent isn’t as serious about this. They rush us to shuffle faster/less but hey, we’re not the one having mana problems. Maybe our opponent should have shuffled a bit longer!
We make several nice plays this match—reading the opponent on having an instant and playing in a particular way to save our important cards for later.
The last game we curve out perfectly while our opponent stumbles. Couldn’t have scripted it better than that. We are so excited to make our plays that we actually forget to draw our card at one point, but it didn’t matter anyways… we still had all these!
After attacking for lethal damage it sinks in. We’re going to Top 8! Our preparation this week is paying off!
“Good games!” We tell our opponent, and we really mean it. This was a solid player and one tough match, but we shuffled hard and played perfectly and we earned it!
Our hand is hanging over the battlefield. Our opponent only looks at us and says, “those weren’t good games.”
YIKES! Yes, again this is a situation I want to avoid. And again, I am not going to make a value judgement on my opponent’s emotions. They don’t feel good, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong in feeling that. It doesn’t mean they are a sore loser. They just feel, and I understand that, and I can use that understanding to avoid the situation.
So what do I do here? Well, I hope my opponent offers a handshake as a sign of concession. They may or may not. If they don’t, I respect that they had a rough match. They lost. It doesn’t feel good. And the games might not have been good. They might have been rained on by variance.
So I wait. But before I get up to leave I tell my opponent “thanks for the games.” I extend the hand. They shake. I tell them “good luck” and I leave.
Winning and Losing with Grace
Again I will reiterate that this is not the place to justify another human being's emotions. This is all about acknowledging why humans feel, and how to use this information to be more graceful winners and losers.
This approach has allowed me to have many friendly handshakes to end my matches while consistently avoiding unpleasant circumstances. This works for me and I hope it is useful to you!