This weekend I spent a lot of time watching Magic coverage and following both GP Madrid and GP New Jersey on social media. There was one thing I noticed that really got to me: The amount of draws that players had over the course of the events. I'm not sure if it's because older formats are harder or players just don't have the experience with them that they do with Standard and Limited but I read a large number of posts that said things like "Finished Day 1 at 8-0-1," or "Ended the event at X-3-1 and missed the extra cash/pro point." Getting that draw can really hurt you at an event. It can mean not making Day 2 if you finish at 6-2-1 or not qualifying for the Pro Tour at 12-2-1. While those are respectable records, those draws were no better than losses.
I don't play much Legacy. I have played in Legacy Grand Prix here and there, but one that really sticks out in my memory is GP Providence 2011. It was a Grand Prix in my hometown and I really wanted to do well. I did tons of playtesting leading up to the event, attended every Legacy tournament I could and even held mock tournaments of my own. I eventually decided to run UWr Stone-Blade. I didn't have that much experience with it but I really liked how the deck played. I had only one bye and ended Day 1 at 6-1-2.
I failed to make Day 2 but was actually proud of myself that I only managed to lose once in a format in which I had close to zero experience. Whenever a friend asked how I did at the GP and I told them my record, their response was "wow, two draws? You must have played real slowly." I certainly didn't think I played slowly and blamed the draws on my opponents, but it really got me thinking every time I ended an event with an unintentional draw. Maybe I was playing slowly. Since then I tried to pick up my pace of play and today I'm going to share what I've learned with you. At this point in my career I do not consider myself a slow player and I don't even remember the last time I had an unintentional draw at a tournament.Know Your Deck
This is probably the biggest reason why people get draws at events. Unless you are a very skilled player, it's a bad idea to choose a deck that you have no experience with, especially if it's a highly interactive deck or a deck with a lot of decisions to make, like Melira Pod or Miracles. You may not know what order to play spells, what lands to lead with, or what your outs are in certain situations and all of these decisions will take extra time for you than it will for someone who knows what they're doing. Sometimes knowing how to play your deck isn't possible, especially when you have no time to playtest. In these situations I think it's best to play a style of deck that suits you or that you're comfortable with.Face the Clock
When I go to my seat each round I try to get to the table before my opponent does so that I can choose what side of the table I sit on. Facing the clock will allow you to periodically check the timer without taking your eyes off of the game. Having to turn around to check the time can really make you lose focus on what you're doing. If I am unable to take a seat facing the clock I will ask my opponent or a nearby judge how much time is left in the round. Generally I will always check the clock in between each game to make sure we are playing at an appropriate pace. If we have about 30 minutes after game one and 15 after game two then we are in good shape.Take Notes
Players sometimes take a lot of time during sideboarding. While sideboarding is not always cut and dry, I always have sideboard notes in my deckbox for the major matchups, especially when it's my first tournament playing with the deck. You'd be surprised how much time you will save when a piece of paper tells you what to do instead of your brain. Additionally, it goes without saying that you should take notes when you see your opponent's hand with Thoughtseize or Gitaxian Probe, but it's also a good idea to use abbreviations for cards. You'd be surprised how much extra time it takes to write out full names of cards. I always use P, I, M, S, and F to represent basic lands and use initials for other cards. However there were times where I wrote "T.S." for Thoughtseize and then looked back and had no idea what T.S. meant. Doing that actually didn't save me any time at all because it took me seconds to figure out what I wrote down! Now I usually use abbreviations like "Th Sze" or Brimaz instead of using full names.Think When it's Not Your Turn
Many players will start their turn and then spend time thinking about what they want to do. Instead of doing all of your thinking during your turn, it's better to do your thinking during "down time." There will be times where you will be shuffling your deck after cracking a fetch at your opponent's end step. This is a good time to be thinking how to tackle your next turn. While your opponent is thinking about whether or not to mulligan, you could be planning out the first couple of turns of the game. Of course each time you draw a card your plays may change, but they will not change by much. You should be able to evaluate how the new card in your hand will affect you, especially if you already had a plan of what to do to begin with. Sometimes the card may not change anything at all and sometimes it will change everything. If you already had a plan in mind, all you have to do is think about what this new card adds to your plan.Bluffing is Okay
Many players take time to think when they have nothing in hand as a means to bluff their opponent. This is okay and well within the rules of the game. It's always a good idea to think for a few seconds every time you draw a card for your turn. One thing to keep in mind about this is to try to spend the same amount of time thinking no matter what the card is that you draw. If you draw a game changer and spend 30 seconds thinking about what to do and then draw a land and immediately say "go," it will be pretty obvious to your opponent what you drew that turn. If you spend a couple of seconds for each card, it will keep your opponent guessing and you won't waste those 30 seconds thinking about the spell you're probably going to cast anyway.Don't Be Dramatic
You know what I'm talking about. We've all seen the players who will draw their card for the turn, look at it, and slide it slowly across the table and snap in into their hand. This started as a way to put a card in your hand without accidently drawing extra cards. Sometimes cards stick together and drawing a card in this way was a means to avoid that. Now, this is just a way to look "cool" while drawing a card and you will actually add minutes to your match if you do this for every draw step.
Another thing that is a waste of time is when your opponent Thoughtseizes you and you slowly lay your hand on the table, one card at a time. What is the point of doing that? The Thoughtseize is resolving anyway, just fan your hand out on the table and let them look at it. A similar time-waster is Sensei's Divining Top. When you activate Top, do you pick up the cards with one hand and place them in the other hand one at a time? Or do you grab the top three cards from the deck quickly? Doing things like this very slowly and methodically will eat up tons of clock, especially when you are activating a Top thirty or more times in a match.Ask Your Opponent to Play Faster
There will be times when you are playing at a reasonable pace but your opponent is not. When you're in an intense match, this can be hard to notice. One rule of thumb that I have is if while your opponent is thinking about his play are you able to a) think about what possible plays your opponent has and b) know what your response will be to each of his potential plays? If so, it's likely that your opponent is playing too slowly. If you are getting bored while your opponent is thinking, it's a safe bet that he needs to pick up his pace.
At this point, you should ask your opponent to play faster. However sometimes doing this will cause you to look like a jerk. To avoid this, you can say things like "we need to play faster," "we really need to pick up the pace," or "we only have X minutes to finish game three." By putting an emphasis on "we," you are not putting the blame on your opponent but rather you are making it seem like you are both at fault (and you very well could be). If you explain to your opponent that a draw is will knock you both out of Day 2 or Top 8 contention, there is a good chance that he will pick up the pace.Call a Judge
If your opponent is still playing slowly, you will have to call a judge. This is something that many players hate doing for many reasons:
1) It makes you look like a jerk.2) By the time the judge comes over, you will have wasted more time than if you just kept playing.3) Judges don't do anything anyway.
As a level two judge, I can attest that determining slow play is one of the hardest things for judges to do. There is no clear-cut rule in the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide about what is or isn't slow play. It is always a judgment call and many judges fail to pull the trigger when it happens.
One thing you can do when you call a judge is to ask to step away from the table. Tell the judge in private that your opponent is playing very slowly and you'd like to have him watch and stay on the match for slow play. In my opinion, this is much better than raising your hand and saying "Can you watch for slow play," because this will usually result in the judge standing by the match and not really doing anything. His eyes might head over to the match next to you or he might take another judge call. If the judge takes a seat and actually watches the match, this may prompt the opponent to pick up his pace of play. If a judge is watching and your opponent is still playing slowly, I will just start counting in my head. If I get to 30, I will say to the judge that my opponent has spent over 30 seconds thinking about his play. At this point, the judge will usually prompt the opponent to make a play.
Remember, you can always ask for a time extension whenever you ask the judge a question. Judges will usually grant you a time extension when asked. At larger events, it may take 30 seconds or more for the judge to even get to you and in those situations a time extension is necessary.
You also have the right to appeal any rulings that are given by any non-head judge. You can even ask that the head judge watches your match, but there is no guarantee that the head judge will be available. Overall it is ultimately up to you to watch both you and your opponent for slow play and if you work on speeding up your own pace of play then your matches may not even come down to time. Fifty minutes is actually a lot of time to finish three games and if your matches are always going to time, then you are likely the problem, not your deck or your opponent.
Thanks for reading and if you have any tips for playing faster feel free to leave a comment.
Melissa DeTora@MelissaDeTora on twitterwww.facebook.com/melissa.detora on Facebook