Getting Ahead Part 1 - Taking Notes at Tournaments

Magic is a hard game to master. When the top pro players only manage to win 69% of their matches in open tournaments, you know that edges in win percentage are hard to come by. Learn how to increase your chance of winning with taking notes during tournaments in Andifeated's latest article.

Magic is a wonderful game full of decisions and information. The way you use the available information and which decisions you take play a huge role in whether you'll win or lose a match in tournament. In this article series, I will focus on things you can do to improve your results at tournaments. Since this topic is very big and I've got a lot to say about ways to increase your win-rate, I will release multiple episodes on this subject. Today, I will focus on how to use available information through a method you learned in school – note taking.

Let's have a look at the official Magic tournament rules on the subject first:

Rules Lawyer


Taking Notes

"Players are allowed to take written notes during a match and may refer to those notes while that match is in progress. At the beginning of a match, each player's note sheet must be empty and must remain visible throughout the match. Players do not have to explain or reveal notes to other players. Judges may ask to see a player's notes and/or request that the player explain his or her notes. Players may not refer to other notes, including notes from previous matches, during games. Between games, players may refer to a brief set of notes made before the match. They are not required to reveal these notes to their opponents. These notes must be removed from the play area before the beginning of the next game. Excessive quantities of notes (more than a sheet or two) are not allowed and may be penalized as slow play. Players and spectators (exception: authorized press) may not make notes while drafting. Players may not reference any outside notes during drafting, card pool registration, or deckbuilding. Players may refer to Oracle text, either electronically or in paper form, at any time. They must do so publicly and in a format (such as, other official Wizards of the Coast sources, or printouts of their sources) which contains no other strategic information. If a player wishes to view Oracle text in private, he or she must ask a judge."

Artistic modifications to cards that indirectly provide minor strategic information are acceptable. The Head Judge is the final arbiter on what cards and notes are acceptable for a tournament.

Section 2.11 from the official Magic Tournament Rules

So, what does that mean for us as tournament players?

There are different takeaways from this information so let's go through them step by step.

1) Bring a blank notepad and a pen to each match.

Wipe Clean

Today, you can use a plethora of different methods for tracking your and your opponent's life total but I highly recommend you bring your own pen and paper to tournaments and use a blank notepad in every match. The reason you should keep it clean is not only because it could contain sensitive information like sideboarding plans or your opponent's decklist, but because you could unwillingly give away information about your deck. For example, if my opponent sits down in a modern tournament with his lifepad from the previous round and his life total was reduced in instances of 7 and he gained 11 life a couple of times to lose 7 right after, then he is most likely playing the Grishoalbrand Deck. Writing down the life totals is also the most reliable way to track them since you can prove to a judge why you think the current life total is as you say when it comes to a discrepancy. life total discrepancies are an easy way to cheat so write down life totals all the time and announce changes verbally to confirm with your opponent. Cheaters will abuse misunderstandings or poor communication to align life totals in their favor. 

2) If you see your opponent's hand, write it down.


If I cast a spell like Thoughtseize and get to see my opponent's hand, the first thing I will do is to write down the content of his hand. When I'm finished doing so, I start to think what I will discard with my spell. When my opponent plays some cards I know were in his hand, or they leave his hand another way, I always make sure to cross them from my notes. Notes are useful but if you confuse yourself by thinking your opponent is holding a card he actually isn't anymore, that's more harm than good to your gameplay. So, make sure to be very accurate with your notes!

3) Scouting and Sideboarding Plans

Scout's Warning

You may bring a piece of paper to a tournament that contains information like sideboard plans. This is very useful in constructed tournaments if you're trying a new deck and use a list from an accomplished player that has put out his sideboard plans. Please be aware though, that you only may use the information you wrote down outside of the match during sideboarding or between games. 

Don't sit down for your match and start looking at your sideboard guide because you happen to know what your opponent is on - that's illegal. The same is true for scouting (scouting means to write down people's deck choices or limited bombs between rounds during a tournament). While nobody can do a thing about you finding your pairing and using your scouting and sideboard notes before you sit down for the round it's still a gray area and not good sports. Personally, I don't scout because being paired against a random deck on every round of a tournament makes Magic more fun for me. Also, I don't like the process of being stressed between rounds and collecting data like a Laboratory Maniac - I need that time to relax and refresh. 

4) Creating decklists of your opponent's deck during limited games.

Arcane Encyclopedia

When I play in a limited tournament, I use to write down a decklist of my opponent's cards. I know almost nobody does this and there are arguments to not do it, but I think it's very useful and increases my win rate. Essentially, when the game starts, I will have a blank paper and a pen at the ready and write down every card my opponent plays. If there happens to be a game three, I usually have access to a list that contains 66 % to 100 % of their deck. This is not only useful for sideboarding purposes (They have 5 different fliers, I should bring in my Plummet!), but it also helps me to play around their instant speed cards and to know which creatures I should trade for when deciding blocks or figuring out how long to hold onto removal spells. The main argument against this technique is that it requires a lot of time and can distract you. I advise that you only use this if you're a very fast-paced player who can play most game states at autopilot and only write down cards in "downtime" when your opponent is committing game actions and you have nothing to do physically. Otherwise, this will consume too much match time which is unfair to your opponent.

5) Cheatsheets


Don't worry, I'm not going to teach you how to cheat. A Cheatsheet is a piece of paper where you write down all the relevant instant-speed cards in a limited environment. You can sort them by color and mana cost, to make the information easier to digest and faster to access. When a new set is spoiled, I immediately write down one of those and use it when I play online or simply to learn the new cards. You can bring this cheat sheet to tournaments as well and look at it between games to remember which instants your opponent's Gruul Draft Deck has access to, in theory.

I used to bring a new cheat sheet to every important Draft Tournament so that I'm able to mark all the instants that I have passed during the draft, as well as their numbers. That way, I know that it's pretty likely my Simic Opponent has access to 2 copies of Applied Biomancy since I passed them in his direction. I will use that information to play around that card more heavily if I'm paired against him later. This applies only if you're playing a Draft where you're paired within your Pod and only if you can manage to remember all the important cards that have been passed around. Since it's very important to train to remember the cards that are passed around it's a nice training for your Draft skill anyway. I usually sit down and mark the cards on my cheat sheet when the memory is fresh, so directly after the Draft portion has concluded is a perfect time. This also means that you've got less time for deckbuilding but most Draft Decks don't need much time to build and register anyway – you should still balance this process with your available time.

I hope that you've learned something today you can incorporate into your own tournament habits which will increase your chance of winning. Tell me in the comments which methods and habits you've developed for tournaments or what you think about my tips.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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Andifeated(2019-02-07 09:10)

@Capuchat: Thank you so much, I'm already excited for writing the next episode. :)

@Ragham: Thank you for letting me know my article was useful for you, that kind of feedback really helps and motivates me. :)

Capuchat(2019-02-06 23:31)

Great idea of articles. Waiting for next episode!

Ragham(2019-02-04 19:16)

That is very useful, I will keep this in mind. Thank you very much ! :)