Home Events Archives Search Links Contact

Doomkaiser Dragon
Card# CSOC-EN043

Doomkaiser Dragon's effect isn't just for Zombie World duelists: remember that its effect can swipe copies of Plaguespreader Zombie, too!
Click here for more
Living the Metagame: Tough Love in Tournament Play
Dave Brent

Le sens commun n'est pas si commun.

“Common sense is not so common.”


Ian Estrin’s “
The Challenge: Organized Play Part 2, Premier Events” article outlines the Upper Deck Entertainment (UDE) organized play structure. Local events offer a more casual, fun play environment. However, premier events definitely raise the bar; this article will address many of the issues both players and judges face at a premier event.

Premier events are more competitive, and rules are applied more strictly. Those rules may be common sense to some. However, if you are new to the tournament scene or aren’t sure why certain things happened at your last tournament, then this article should provide you with the needed information to make you better prepared for your first or next premier event.

Remember, the head judge has final say in the matters covered in this article. However, I think you will find most head judges will agree with the points made here.

Constructed Tournaments

A tournament determines who the best duelist is, right? Well, depends on what you mean by "a duelist." If you mean who plays their cards the best in a match, then that is only partially right.

If the objective was to only determine who could play the cards best, then maybe everybody would be handed the same deck and would have as much time as they would like to play. I suppose you could have such a tournament format, but that’s not the one we use for serious competition.

A Constructed tournament, such as a City, State, Regional or National tournament, is designed to test your skill in three areas:
Deck construction
Dueling skill
Performance under time pressure

The relevant philosophy behind tournament policy and the penalty guidelines is really based on this broader view of a Constructed tournament. That’s the principle many players and newer judges miss. The objective behind the policy and penalty guidelines is to ensure fairness and prevent any player from gaining an unfair advantage over an opponent in each of the three areas.

Let’s look at each area in more detail.

Deck Construction: Since your deckbuilding skill is being challenged in a Constructed deck tournament, all players must follow the same rules to keep it fair. That’s why you are required to register your deck by filling out a decklist. That’s why there are deck checks to verify that your main deck, side deck, and fusion deck are legal and match your decklist. In serious play, one or two cards can make a difference, which is why the penalties can be steep for deck construction violations.

Dueling Skill: The rules are designed to prevent unfair advantage to a player. What’s an unfair advantage? Drawing or looking at cards when you are not supposed to, and knowing what cards you are going to draw because your deck is not random (you know what’s coming) are good examples. Dueling skill also includes playing “crisply”—clear communication, no misplayed cards, and so on. It’s more than just beating your opponent (although that might be particularly satisfying).

Time: There are no match draws—you play until one player wins two duels or time is called. At one Regional tournament, time was called, but two duelists continued to play. Basically, both players asserted that they had the "right" to keep playing the third duel of the match until it was over. It’s an interesting concept, I suppose, just not one that will get you very far with the judging staff. Here’s the way it works. If time is called before a clear winner of the match is determined (one win for each player, for example, and time is called in the third duel), then the player whose turn it is finishes his or her turn, and the player with the highest life points at the end of that turn wins the match. If life points are tied at that point, then play continues until a change of Life Points occurs. Occasionally, time will be called in between duels after each player has one win and the third duel had ended in a draw. In that case, you begin the fourth duel and play until the first change in life points.

The Responsibilities of the Players

The official UDE Tournament Policy expressly states a player’s responsibilities, a portion of which reads as follows:

UDE players are expected to do the following things, whether they are currently involved in a tournament or not:

--Know and follow the most current and applicable rules and tournament policy
--Follow instructions of any judge or tournament official
--Act in a sporting and respectful manner at all times
--Act responsibly and professionally in, or near, the tournament site
--Communicate very clearly each move that they make during game play
--Keep their hands and cards above the table during matches
--Notify an opponent if he or she fails to follow any game rules or incorrectly tracks game score or
   life totals during a match, regardless of whom the error benefits
--Avoid talking to any spectators during a match
--Avoid swearing or using inappropriate language or gestures
--Avoid wearing inappropriate or offensive clothing
--Avoid making offensive comments to any player or official
--Avoid insulting opponents or opponents' strategies, play skills, and so on

Yep, it’s a long list—this isn’t a pick up game in the schoolyard. Most of the problems at a tournament would be avoided if all players lived up to the responsibilities outlined above. The judges are there to provide impartial rulings in the case of a dispute and to make sure the players live up to those responsibilities. That’s why a judge can’t answer your questions about cards in your hand. Not only would it be giving you advice that ruins the judge’s impartiality, your responsibility as a player is to know how your cards work.


It is amazing how many players come to a premier tournament unprepared. You should bring a calculator, pencil, paper, coin, extra sleeves, identification, and a completed decklist to the tournament. If you have cards that rely on a die roll, then bring dice. It doesn’t hurt to have dice with you anyway, since you don’t want to have to wait for an unprepared opponent to find dice to use. I also recommend you bring doubles of as many cards in your main deck that you have. Why? What if you lose a card between rounds? What if a sleeve rips? Be prepared.

Key Tournament Issues

A lot of people ask about penalty “rulings.” The Penalty Guidelines are just that – guidelines. They are not rulings as much as a framework for ensuring fundamental fairness for all players. You should read the guidelines carefully (see Resources Section below). However, I can summarize them based on the common sense of tournament play.
The purpose of the guidelines is to ensure basic fairness in tournament play, penalize conduct that results in an unfair advantage to one player, and ensure sporting conduct. Here’s an analogy that many of you can relate to. Let’s say you are stopped by a police officer for speeding. You explain that it was unintentional because you did not see the speed limit sign and you just got your license. He checks your driving record, and it is your first offense. You are polite, apologetic, and calm. You will most likely either get a warning or a ticket, depending on how far you were over the limit. Even if you truly did not mean to speed, you may still get a ticket because you created an unsafe driving condition. hat do think will happen if you are rude, obnoxious, loud, and insist that it was no big deal? Does it get you anywhere to insist that it is a stupid law? Now, it’s the same scenario, except it is your third speeding ticket in three months. Does it matter that you really did not mean to speed?

Tournament policy and penalties work in much the same way. Even if you didn’t intend to do something wrong or didn’t know the rule, you may still get a penalty, usually a warning. I always give players the benefit of the doubt for first offenses that result from something unintentional. Even so, a second violation will result in a game loss, and the third will usually result in a match loss.
That being said, the Penalty Guidelines shouldn’t be used to dole out punishment that gives an advantage to the opponent. Rather, the judge should use them as a way to correct sloppy play and keep things fair.

Sleeves: Sleeves should be clean, with no scratches, marks, creases or bends that might be interpreted as marking the cards. The condition of your sleeves is very important and carefully checked by the judging staff. On more than one occasion I have had the following discussion:

Judge: “You have five cards that have an odd mark on the sleeve. Please replace those sleeves.”
Player: “I don’t have any extra sleeves”
Judge: “What about your side deck?”
Player: “They are a different color.”
Judge: “They sell sleeves here”
Player: “I don’t have any money.”
Judge: “You can remove all the sleeves then.”
Player: “Some of my cards have writing on the back.”
Judge: “You’ll have to replace those cards.”
Player: “ I don’t have any other cards.”

That player didn’t get to play that day. The moral of the story: You have to come prepared.

Side Deck: The side deck should be an important part of your strategy, as discussed in my side deck article. It must be exactly fifteen cards. In one event, I checked the side decks of twenty duelists in line prior to the tournament while collecting deck registration sheets. Six had either more or less than fifteen cards, even though the deck registration sheet showed exactly fifteen—bad, very bad.
You can have different color sleeves on your side deck cards, but you will have to swap sleeves when you use your side deck. However, you only have three minutes in between duels to use your side deck and shuffle. You will waste a lot of time if you have to change over your sleeves.
Fusion Deck: Unlike the side deck, the fusion deck is part of the duel and must be on the field during play. You can have up to twenty different Fusion monster cards (three of each) in your Fusion deck. You can use different color sleeves for your Fusion deck if you want to avoid accidentally mixing them into your main deck.

Shuffle and Cut: There are many debates over how and when to shuffle, but there shouldn’t be since it is really simple. Every time you start a duel you must shuffle your deck so that it is completely random, which means you have no clue what order the cards are in. Also, every time you search for a card that must meet a specific condition, you must show it to your opponent. You must then shuffle your deck.

You cannot sort your deck and then shuffle. If your deck is shuffled thoroughly, then the deck will be random. If you try to do anything to change the deck from being completely random, then you are violating the rules.

You must offer your opponent your deck to cut any time you shuffle. Remember, this means your opponent may shuffle your deck if he or she chooses to do so.

Top Four Penalties

I give around ten warnings, three game losses, and one match loss on average at every Regional tournament. Sadly, all such penalties could be avoided by being a little more careful. Here is my personal list of the top four common, serious mistakes:

1. Failure to “de-side deck:” You must reset your main deck and side deck to their original state (as listed on your deck registration sheet) at the beginning of every match. Remember, your skill as a deck builder is being tested in a tournament, so that’s why you do not get to change main deck cards in the middle of the tournament. I usually announce that you must reset your main deck at the beginning of the tournament. I also announce it before each round (“Don’t forget to reset your main deck and side deck!”). Regardless, at almost every tournament, somebody gets caught during a random deck check. Reasons include that the duelist forgot which cards were in his or her side deck, didn’t hear me, forgot, or didn’t know the rule. None of those excuses will prevent you from getting hit with a game loss.

Tip #1: Type up your decklist on a computer and print two copies. If you make last minute changes before the tournament begins, then change both lists. Before each round, count your cards in both your main deck and your side deck. Then check your side deck contents against the copy of your deck list.

2. Drawing/picking up too many cards: If you pick up too many cards for Cyber Jar, Morphing Jar #2, or a card of that type, you get a warning the first time. It’s sloppy play, and if you do it again you take a game loss. However, if you draw too many cards and added them to your hand, you take a game loss the first time. Why? Because you have messed the game up. It may have been an accident, but you still changed the game, because now we can’t be sure which was the extra card. Players get really upset over getting a game loss because of this. My advice is to keep your sleeves clean, and don’t eat cheese fries while dueling since your cards are guaranteed to be glued together.

Tip #2: Always put the cards you draw face down in front of you, and count them carefully. If your cards have stuck together, there is no penalty since you did not look at the card(s) and can easily fix it by putting the last card(s) back on top of your deck.

3. Playing the wrong opponent: The cold hard fact is that if you play the wrong opponent, you get a match loss. The only exception might be if you catch it within the first ten minutes of the round, in which case it might be correctable (although you will still get a game loss). I remember one player being thrilled that he had just won his match. He handed me the results slip and noted that he had to cross out the one name on it because it was “wrong.” He was devastated when I told him he played the wrong opponent and that he lost his match by default.

Tip #3: Always ask your opponent his or her name and make sure that’s the person you are supposed to play. Double check the table number and the results sheet to make sure everything matches.

4. Late for the match: You get three minutes of grace. After three minutes, you take a game loss. After ten minutes, you take a match loss. I usually have someone argue that the clock at the fast food joint was slow, or something like that. Sorry, you have to be on time. You are in a major tournament and must act accordingly.

Tip #4: Invest in a watch. Ask the judge at the beginning of the tournament which clock is being used as the official time and set your watch to match that clock.

Top 4 Non-Events

Sometimes, players completely flip when the judge does not give more than a warning for certain actions. Here’s the deal—the judge should not issue a severe penalty for something that does not amount to a hill of beans for the first offense. The judge also should not issue a severe penalty for something that is the responsibility of both players. Here are the four such situations that I see most often:

1. Spell card played when Imperial Order is on the field: This is my personal favorite. Here’s the typical situation: It’s Player A’s turn, and Player A has Imperial Order active. Player A draws. Player A looks at his cards for a little bit and then plays Monster Reborn. Player B says it’s wasted. Player A wants to take it back.
Player B calls the judge and confidently states that by playing the spell card, Player A entered main phase 1, has to pay for Imperial Order, and Monster Reborn was activated but doesn’t get its effect since it is negated. Sound right? Sorry folks, we aren’t playing a guessing game here. The result is that Monster Reborn is returned to Player A’s hand, and then Player A must declare whether he is or is not paying for Imperial Order. Player A cannot leave his standby phase until he chooses to pay or not pay for Imperial Order. It really is up to both players to make sure that Player A does not try to leave his standby phase without paying. Since Player A did not clearly state his intentions, he is still in his standby phase. Therefore, Monster Reborn cannot be activated, and Player A must return it to his hand and will receive a warning for misplaying a card.

2. Fusion deck not on the field: Yes, the Fusion deck must be on the field during play. If it’s not, the player will get a warning for the first offense. It just does not make any sense to prevent the player from using the Fusion deck, since that is too severe a penalty for the typical situation.

That being said, I did have a situation where a player attacked and destroyed an opponent’s face up Mystic Tomato. The opponent then special summoned Magical Scientist through the effect of Mystic Tomato. The original player called me to “disqualify” the opponent’s Fusion deck since it was not on the field. The player claimed that he would “never” have attacked Mystic Tomato if he knew the opponent had a Fusion deck. My ruling: the opponent received a warning for failure to have his Fusion deck on the field, and the player whose turn it was got to replay the battle step. Interestingly, the player attacked Mystic Tomato anyway—so much for “never.”

3. Side deck in a deck box off to the side: In my opinion, that’s a good place for it. However, I’m amazed that players will ask the judge to not allow that player to use the side deck because it wasn’t in plain sight or something to that effect. Common sense folks—how is an opponent prejudiced by this? The simple answer is "not at all." If nobody gains an unfair advantage, then there is no reason to issue such a severe penalty. If you think something weird is going on, then count the cards in the side deck (face down) or ask the judge to verify the contents of the opponent’s side deck.

4. Misplayed card: If a player tries to activate a card when it can’t legally be played, then a warning is issued, and the card is returned to its original state. For example, if a player tries to activate a trap card with Jinzo on the field, the trap card is returned to its face down position.

Of course, a second offense of the same type will warrant a more severe penalty, typically a game loss.


Premier events can be exciting and challenging if you are prepared and understand your responsibilities. I hope the following checklist and a careful review of the additional resources listed below will make your first or next premier event a success!

Player Checklist

As stated in the UDE Tournament Policy, you must bring the following materials to a Constructed tournament:

A legal tournament deck that follows all deck construction rules
A pen or pencil to fill out match result slips
A method to track game scores and status (a calculator, life counter, pen and paper, or another reliable tracking method)
A copy of your personal nine-digit UDE membership number
Identification to present when registering for a tournament

As I noted previously, I recommend you bring the following as well:

Extra pen or pencils
Notepad or extra paper
Extra sleeves
Extra cards
Extra copy of your decklist

Additional Resources

The following links will provide you with current information to help you prepare for a tournament.

The official Restricted Card List can be reviewed at:


For official tournament policies, penalty guidelines, and a sample decklist form go to:


Also, the most current card rulings can be found at:


As always, any questions or comments for me can be sent to dbrent@metagame.com.

Top of Page
Metagame.com link