Many of us play Magic: The Gathering at our local game stores. Some of us may even go to the occasional Friday Night Magic (FNM) to test our newest decks. There’s a world of tournaments outside of FNM, however, and today, I’d like to talk to you about some of these events and what you can expect from them.
You may have heard your local judge use the term “Rules Enforcement Level” (or “REL” for short) to talk about events. The REL system tells you how an event will be judged and how well you are expected to know Magic: The Gathering rules and tournament procedure. In my last article, I shared all the Magic rules documents with you. They are lengthy, and some judges have spent decades mastering them. You just need to know the basic rules of play – and, at the very least, have a good understanding of how the cards in your deck work. With that, you should have the groundwork for entering and playing in your area’s Magic: The Gathering events.
The most common Magic events are run at Regular REL. This includes FNM, Prerelease events for various Magic sets, and Game Day. You may have even played in one or more of these events, all of which are great ways to step into organized play and explore a much larger world of playing Magic.
At Regular REL events, you’re expected to have a basic understanding of the rules, and the judge will assist you by answering questions about your or your opponent’s cards and rectifying problems with the game state. It’s a format designed to allow players to have fun, learn the rules, and play at a less than competitive level. Come to these events with an expectation of fun, a willingness to learn about the rules, and perhaps you can walk away with some really cool promo cards.
Competitive (“Comp”) REL events include Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers (PPTQ’s), Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers (RPTQ’s), and Grand Prix Day 1 events. (We’ll touch on Day 2 in a moment.) The expectation is that you have a greater understanding of the rules than would be expected at Regular REL. The penalties are more rigid, and they escalate quickly. Attending a Comp REL event is something you should be prepared for – they are usually longer events, so you’ll want to plan your day around the tournament.
You’ll also be required to fill out a decklist for your deck at a Comp REL event, as the judge staff will be doing random deck checks throughout the event to verify decks are legal. It can be a little scary the first time your table gets selected for a deck check, but fear not – it’s one of the ways judges ensure that everyone is playing fairly. Here are some helpful tips for making sure you filled out your decklist correctly:
- Double check your list to ensure that it’s accurate and clearly written. Clerical errors are a lousy reason to get a game loss. Yes, problems with your deck list may result in a game loss!
- Make sure your deck box has nothing in it other than your deck, sideboard, tokens, extra sleeves, checklist cards and any promotional cards or materials that you received at the event. Keep everything else out of there, like cards you might have bought or traded for at the event.
- We recommend new sleeves for each event, but having consistent sleeves of all the same condition is important. Make sure your cards are all in the same sleeves. Having some double-sleeved and some single-sleeved is a no-no.
I would also recommend writing your life total down with a pen and paper at Comp REL events, if you aren’t in the habit of doing so already. There are many reasons for this, but the big one is that, should there be a life total discrepancy between you and your opponent, a judge is more likely to agree with the player who kept track of all the gains and losses. Judges try to recreate what happened in a match so we can understand how the game reached its present state, and we just can’t do that with dice.
I would also suggest buying the tokens you need for your deck. Having random things representing your token creatures is fine at FNM, but at competitive tournaments, it’s important to know how many creatures you have, what type they are, and whether they’re tapped or untapped. It’s a small expense to pay for accuracy!
Because Comp REL events often take a full day, it’s important to bring food with you or to have a plan to eat during the tournament. My recommendation is to eat a healthy-sized breakfast or early lunch, and then a big meal after the event is over to celebrate your accomplishments! These events do not have breaks, so finding time to leave the venue during an event long enough to eat is difficult if not impossible, as the penalty for tardiness at this level is high.
Comp REL events may seem daunting, but they are a great way to challenge yourself and improve at Magic. Higher REL events also come with higher prize payouts, and Comp REL events often have cash prizes, large store credit payouts, high end singles and other product, or even invites to larger events!
Professional REL events include Premier Events such as the World Championships, the Pro Tour, Grand Prix Day 2 events, and other invite-only Magic: The Gathering events. Very few people are invited to play at these events based on their performances at events throughout the year and ranking in the world of Magic: The Gathering. We’ll discuss judging at Professional REL a bit later on.
I hope this article has helped prepare you for success at each of these events. These tips come from some of the best judges in the world, all of whom want to make sure you have a good time at every event, win or lose. Remember, if you find yourself at an event and you have a question about what goes on at events, or any aspect of Magic, please ask a judge. We’re here for you!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header art: “Rule of Law” by Scott M. Fischer