Academy Blog: Let’s Check Some Decks

Hello and welcome to a brand new Policy-themed blog post! Possibly the most noticeable differences about Competitive REL tournaments are the requirements for decklist submission and deck checks. Today, we’re going to look at the range of activities that can satisfy these requirements and what we should be prioritizing when accomplishing these tasks. Let’s dive in!

What is Required

Sections 2.7 and 2.8 of the Magic Tournament Rules outline the requirements for Deck Registration and Deck Checks respectively. Section 2.7 is fairly straightforward, so we will be focusing on Section 2.8 in today’s discussion. One interesting thing to note from 2.7 is that decklists can be required for Regular REL tournaments at the discretion of the Head Judge.

The requirements for deck checks are as follows:

  • Deck checks must be performed at Competitive REL and Professional REL tournaments.
  • At least 10% of all decks should be checked over the course of the tournament.
  • A full deck check should not be performed if a player has drawn an opening hand and potentially made mulligan decisions.

That’s it. Those are the only requirements in the MTR for what a deck check must do. This offers us a wide range of options when it comes to performing deck checks, allowing us the flexibility to adapt our process to fit the circumstances.

The Swoop

Deck checks are best performed at the start of a round. The table can either be randomly selected or targeted. Once a table has been chosen, the judge in charge of collecting the decks (known as “swooping”) should position themselves near the table so they can be ready to grab the decks as soon as they are presented. Ideally, each player will finish shuffling their deck and will each present their deck to their opponent for shuffling and/or cutting. This is the moment where the judge steps in and informs the players that their table has been selected for a deck check. The judge instructs the players to put their decks into their deck boxes with their sideboards, notes which deck belongs to which player, then takes the decks to a private place to perform the check.

There can be some hiccups with this process. Sometimes, the judge gets distracted or delayed and the players have already drawn opening hands by the time the judge is able to swoop. If the table was randomly chosen, the judge can look for another match that has not yet presented and swoop that table instead. If the table was targeted, the check can still be performed with some important modifications. The players’ opening hands should be preserved during the entire deck check, as well as any cards that have been placed on the bottom of their deck due to mulligan decisions. If the players have performed any game actions, the deck check should be abandoned unless absolutely necessary.

Effective swooping is important for a number of reasons. Since we cannot possibly check every deck in most tournaments, we rely on the existence of deck checks to be a deterrent to players that might take advantage of their deck not being checked. This is sometimes phrased as “the most important part of checking decks is that players see judges checking decks.” This sentiment is reasonably accurate, since far more players will see judges checking decks than will actually have their deck checked. The specter of failing a deck check does more for tournament integrity than the performed deck checks do.


Effectively, the most basic deck check will verify that the deck matches the decklist and that the deck is legal for the format. Many judges will find it easiest to sort the deck in some fashion, usually by color. The cards are then verified against the decklist to ensure accuracy. Meanwhile, the judge should keep their eye out for any cards that are banned or illegal for the format being played. This process should be done as quickly as possible, but if the checking judge is also the only judge on the tournament, this can be interrupted by other duties. Further shortening the check time by only spot-checking a few cards is one option, as is only checking one of the two decks collected from the table. The players do not need to know the details of your deck check process, they only need to know the results of your check, whether any infractions were discovered, and the length of their time extension. “I found no errors” is an effective statement since it allows the possibility of finding an error in future if a previously un-checked deck is subsequently checked. If necessary, a deck check can be cut short and the decks returned to the players if the tournament requires your attention in other ways.


If a judge is especially swift at checking the deck and sideboard for legality, there are a number of other steps that a deck check can include. For example, the deck can be checked for any marked cards. Sleeves can be inspected for notches or splits that can mark the cards they contain. If double-faced cards are in the deck, then the sleeves can be checked for opacity. Also, if there are any concerns about shuffle-cheating or deck-stacking, the deck can be checked for those as well.


At larger tournaments with more staff, mid-round deck checks can be performed in addition to start-of-round checks. Mid-round checks follow a similar procedure, but the decks are likely to contain sideboard cards. These sideboarding decisions should be preserved while the decks are being checked and the players should NOT be allowed to alter their decisions once the decks are returned. Otherwise, mid-round deck checks are largely the same as other checks. It is common practice to only swoop on a mid-round check if there are at least 35 minutes left in the round. This helps ensure that checks are done on decks that are more likely to finish within the normal round timer instead of extending the length of the round.

Thank you for joining me for this discussion today! Do you have a good tip for performing deck checks faster? Have you seen a weird deck error in one of your tournaments? Continue the conversation on the Judge Academy Discord server!

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