Slow Play and You

In my experience as a judge, I already encountered countless number of people who tends to play slow during tournaments, probably because they are thinking way too much or they just move really slow. I should probably share in this blog what “Slow Play” means, and how do you avoid this from happening.

But first, why do I want to discuss slow play?

For one, tournaments are set on to a time limit. DCI recommends that each round runs at least 50 minutes. If there are playoffs involved, then we are expecting the players to finish within 75 minutes (even if the matches don’t have the time limit). The faster the players finish, the faster the tournament ends. Everyone goes home early!

We can’t avoid players who really tend to play slow, so we often remind them to move up the pace of their game play. In casual games, players should train themselves to play fast, think fast. They should already know the deck that they are playing, and at least expect the match-ups that they will encounter. Often times, players build a new deck, test it, and see results. But what if there are some cards that are new to them? Interactions that they don’t know that exists, and often times they will pause the match just to look it up?

One good advice is that players should study their decks beforehand. Test them on casual games with a friend or a playgroup. If this is not applicable, Friday Night Magic or your local Standard tournament run at regular REL (rules enforcement level) should be adequate enough. In regular REL events, judges are more than happy to accommodate players with regards to their rules questions, without having to harshly penalize players for doing minor mistakes. Then players should get a hang of their decks, and they should be able to think faster. Of course, there are some matches that you won’t expect. So instead of pondering what the card does, immediately call a judge for your clarifications.

Now, back to the main discussion!

By definition in the Infraction Procedure Guide, slow play is defined as:

A player takes longer than is reasonably required to complete game actions. If a judge believes a player is intentionally playing slowly to take advantage of a time limit, the infraction is Unsporting Conduct — Stalling.

It is also slow play if a player continues to execute a loop without being able to provide an exact number of iterations and the expected resulting game state.

Let’s take some examples, shall we?

  • Arthur casts Farseek, but takes too much time deciding which land he should choose.
  • Nathan shuffles Arnold’s deck, but is taking too many shuffles in between before finally handing the deck to Arnold. And it took exactly 2 minutes to do so.
  • Amanda is having a hard time which creatures she should attack, and is then busy thinking about the outcome of the combat beforehand.
  • Newel repeatedly reviews his opponent’s graveyard without any significant change in game state. (taken from the IPG as an example)
  • A player gets up from his seat to look at standings or goes to the bathroom without permission of an official.

We are expecting players to play fast enough so that they can finish their games fast as well. Remember what I said before, that there is only 50 minutes (usually) during rounds, and consuming too much time sometimes put other players at a disadvantage. One player might be playing slow, and his opponent is finishing his actions at a reasonable pace. The other player could be consuming most of the time for himself, then his opponent, now at a crucial state of the game, has less time to think for an opening… all because there is 4 minutes left in the round.

Now, “Stalling” is a different infraction altogether, so I won’t discuss it here. What I will discuss now is how to prevent slow play from happening. I’ve already gave some of the remedies above, so as a judge’s viewpoint, here’s how I usually do it:

  • If you suspect one player is playing slow, approach them and ask the player, “I need you to play faster”.
  • If you already cautioned the player about playing faster, but is still playing slow, then you should probably give them the warning.

Don’t get intimidated by a warning. Warnings are given because players need to be more attentive than ever. It only means, “this is your last chance of improving yourself, and anymore after this warning, we’ll escalate it further”. As we don’t want penalizing players for their minor mistakes, but sometimes we need to in order to remind them that we are enforcing the rules. Take note that the things I mentioned above are done by judges, not players or spectators. Though players can usually ask their opponents to play a bit faster than usual, as it might get too disruptive later. If a player believes that his/her opponent is playing slow, then he/she should call a judge.

I recommend that players shouldn’t turn tournaments into play test areas. You have a lot of time to prepare for your next tournament, so testing in your local tournament should suffice (or your playgroup).

Above all, enjoy playing the game without having to disrupt the pace of everyone.

Special thanks to Christian Gawrilowicz, level 3 judge, for providing the Slow Play seminar.


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