How to Avoid Slow Play

I was at the Nordic Judge Conference this weekend and slow play was one of the topics raised most often. Its a difficult area and there are no hard lines you can follow. PV wrote an excellent article on the subject of the inherent problems (with very good examples), so I’m not going go deeper into that, but I’ll offer my ideas on how to avoid going into time.

This has been a problem of late in FNMs as well. With all the shuffling and the calculations required by Aristocrats decks, most rounds take longer than usual. For this reason, it was decided that rounds for this Standard would be just 45 minutes, which as a solution has its own problems, but solves more immediate ones.

I hardly ever go into time, but I have an unintentional draw from this format, so I get why something needs to be done, but as the Judge or the TO, its still difficult, because so much of this is dependent on the players. So, as a player, what can you do?


I’m guessing this is the big one right now. People shuffle way too much, because of all the fetches being used. On the other hand, its not slow in Modern or Legacy. So, its probably the inexperience of the players.

Remember that you can do things out of sequence, as long as it doesn’t affect the game. For example, when I fetch a land to play [scryfall]Nissa, Vastwood Seer[/scryfall], I ask my opponent whether its alright if I get the Forest at the same time. Saves me at least one shuffle. I also fetch and cast the spell while I’m searching for the land, so that I can pass the turn and shuffle during my opponents turn.

Of course, you need to be clearer about what’s going on in REL Competitive, so that there’s no room for errors or mistakes that can lead to rules violations or opportunistic cheating or anything, but just remember to follow what your opponent is doing.

Also, even if you do usually shuffle your opponents deck after he shuffles in game, consider just cutting it. Stacking the deck in that timeframe is pretty much inconceivable, so I wouldn’t worry too much.

One more important thing, which relates to the following points: Its much quicker if you know beforehand what you want to get.

There Actually Isn’t Any Downtime

Don’t stop following the game. There’s always something going on and even your opponents reactions can be important. Many people don’t actively plan ahead. Since time is a resource, you should be using your opponents time as well as you can. If you have removal in your hand, you can think about when are you going to use it. If you are going to fetch, think about what you’ll get. Of course, you need to be ready to change your plans, when the situation changes or something unexpected happens, but you’ll often be one step ahead of your opponents if you’ve thought about how to use your resources beforehand.

You are actually required to keep a mental map of the situation during play. This will help you, when you need to make decisions, because you don’t have to evaluate the game state after every game action.

Cutting Lines of Play

In many situations, you have a lot of choices. Many of them need to be evaluated when making decisions, but you probably also know from previous experience that there are plenty of options which are not good and can thus be cut from your decision tree.

Also, if you’ve evaluated a line of play on the previous turn and clearly not much has changed, you don’t need to go through it again. If you’ve calculated the damage an alpha attack would do, why not keep a mental note of it and make some rules of thumb for possible attacks in the future, such as “if my opponent gets one more blocker, I’ll deal three damage less”.

This is where testing and playing the same deck over and over helps. You accumulate knowledge and can therefore instinctively cut many lines of play and focus on the better ones. Although, in a game of variance with a lot of options, you might miss some line, unless you’re Paul Rietzl, but you can live with that. Time is a resource and you need to conserve it.

Be on Time

You can’t start a game before the clock starts running, but where does the game actually start? According to the rules, a game starts with shuffling the decks, but according tournament rules that’s actually part of the pregame procedures, which you can complete before the round time starts. Actually, there’s a lot you can do:

Pregame Procedures

The following steps must be performed in a timely manner before each game begins:
1. If game actions were taken during a previous game of the match, players may exchange cards in their decks for cards in their sideboards. Players may not sideboard during games that have been restarted.
2. Players shuffle their decks. Steps 1 and 2 may be repeated.
3. Players present their decks to their opponents for additional shuffling. The sideboard (if any) is also presented at this time.
4. After the first or subsequent game of the match, the relevant player must decide whether to play first or second at this point, if he or she hasn’t done so already. If that player doesn’t choose before looking at the cards in his or her hand, then he or she is considered to have chosen to play first.
5. Each player draws seven cards. Optionally, these cards may be dealt face down on the table.
6. Each player, in turn order, decides whether to mulligan. (Rules on mulligans can be found in the Magic Comprehensive Rules, rule 103.4)

If a player mulligans, they repeat the shuffling and presentation process described above.
The game is considered to have begun once all players have completed their mulligans. Pregame procedures may be performed before timefor the match has officially begun.

So, according to this, if a player has a scry because of mulliganing, that is the first game action. You can do plenty of stuff that will often take minutes (well, you obviously don’t sideboard before the first game, but many players use up a lot of time shuffling). Of course, this is highly dependent on your opponent, who (especially in GPs) have a tendency to be there right on time, rather than as soon as they can (at least that’s how it often seems to me).

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