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The Magic Tournament Rules specifically state 'For the first game of a match, the winner of a random method (such as a die roll or coin toss) chooses either to play first or play second'. My method of choice has often been Rock-Paper-Scissors, but it never occurred to me until recently that this might not be considered a valid method under the rules. Obviously this question is more hypothetical than not; if my opponent disagrees with my method of randomization then a different option, or a judge, would be called for. But at least in theory, spectators or judges watching our match could complain, so the question holds: is RPS (likely to be) considered a 'random method' for determining play/draw under the tournament rules?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

My understanding is that it's really up to the judge.

The tournament rules just say this:

For the first game of a match, the winner of a random method (such as a die roll or coin toss) chooses either to play first or to play second.

They don't really specify a more detailed criterion for "random." (For example, cutting to a random card of each other's decks and then comparing their mana costs is a method players use some times. It's random, but it's not actually fair: the CMC of various cards in your deck skews the results.)

My first assumption was no rock-paper-scissors, since RPS is a game that permits some level of psychological skill. However, here's a quote from an old tournament report:

The both of them shuffled up and scanned about for a way to figure out who went first; turns out neither of them had dice. "That's the problem with being up here," deadpanned Jensen. "You play against a random? They always have a die."

It was suggested that perhaps the two of them play rock, paper, scissors to decide who would go first, but Jensen said that it wasn't random enough. "Rock, paper, scissors is strategy," he said earnestly. "I think I could psych someone out at rock, paper, scissors." Eventually, someone donated not only a twenty, but a twelve-sider and a ten-sider, and they rolled all three and added them up to see who went first. Jensen snagged it with a 22.

Note that it was the opponent who decided RPS was insufficient, not a judge. This implies that RPS might've been acceptable if both players were fine with it.

In practice, I would expect low-level events not to care about the exact quality of the method you use as long as it's mutually agreeable to both parties (which is all the comp rules really call for), unless they've had to set up a specific system due to previous issues with cheating.

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If you cut to highest CMC of the same deck, I think it would be fair. But then you'd gain some knowledge of that person's deck. I think the odds of not having a coin or die available are fairly slim… :) –  ghoppe Feb 26 '12 at 5:28
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@ghoppe Cutting even like that isn't really fair either. If I cut to some card I only have one of, then I now know its position in my deck and that could affect my mulligan decision. Or, if we cut before we shuffle, the cut may not be truly random if I have my deck stacked. We could shuffle, then cut, then shuffle again, but that's a lot of work. A better method: Get a random card (could be from one of the decks, I suppose), and then ask your opponent if the Collector Number printed at the bottom of the card is odd or even. If they get it right, they can go first. –  Cory G. Feb 27 '12 at 16:32
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@Pwngulator An interesting idea, but are the collector numbers randomly distributed? That is, are there the same number of odd collector number common cards as even? What pool is the card being drawn from? Popular sideboard cards may have 60% odd collector numbers, for examle… I realize of course, this is pedantic to the extreme and the person choosing odd or even is unlikely to make such considerations. –  ghoppe Feb 27 '12 at 17:22
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@ghoppe Don't underestimate how far people will go for a small edge. A tournament regular was recently banned (in part) for drawing 8 cards in his initial hand when he was on the draw and then skipping his first-turn draw to conceal it. All this cheat affords you is one card of additional information for making mulligan decisions, yet he still felt it was worth the risk. –  Alex P Feb 27 '12 at 17:53
    
Oh, I definitely don't expect low-level events to care about the method used - I was more curious about the theoretical implications here. :-) Still, this earns the check mark... –  Steven Stadnicki Feb 27 '12 at 18:15
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