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Our family is just learning this game. We were wondering if each player typically announces which deck they are using beforehand. If yes, in how much detail?

I could not find anything in the rules about this but wondered if there's standard etiquette around this in casual play. In our starter games, one player sometimes feels surprised and annoyed the other player made changes to their deck without announcing it.

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Mostly no, but it depends.

First, here's a relevant quote from the tournament rules (section 2.7):

Generally, decklists are not public information and are not shared with other players during a tournament. At constructed-format, Professional REL tournaments (Pro Tour, World Magic Cup, Magic: The Gathering World Championship, and Grand Prix), copies of opponents’ decklists will be provided to players in the single-elimination playoffs.

Now for some personal experience: In draft events I have played, it is not normal (although it happens occasionally) to give information about your deck before playing. Many times someone will finish the first game (best of 3) without revealing one of their win conditions, and will keep it a secret until it actually comes out in play in the 2nd or 3rd game of the match.

Thirdly, some reasoning: In casual play I think it makes even more sense to change and keep a secret the content of your deck. I play more Android: Netrunner than Magic, so this reasoning draws on my experience there as well, but in general my goal in constructing a deck is to make one that will be resilient to surprises, and have a chance at winning against a variety of deck strategies. To that end, knowing the contents of my opponent's deck is a hindrance. I would rather we constantly surprise each other to try and polish off the rough edges of each other's decks.

That said, this way of thinking works very well among confident, competitive people, but might be harder to swallow for somebody still learning the mechanics of the game. Especially at the beginning, you might choose to help somebody along by explaining the changes you're making ahead of time, and why you think they'll make your deck better. Well, we've taken a turn into the highly subjective world of interpersonal relationships, so I'd better sign off before I get myself in trouble.

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    I think your next-to-last paragraph sounds more like competitive Magic, or at least casual with some competitive element. In my experience, it's not uncommon in casual Magic for a player to talk about their deck in advance. It's certainly not required, but sometimes it's fun for players to discuss deck tech even though they may be giving away a slight strategic advantage by doing so. – David Z Oct 6 '14 at 2:38
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    @DavidZ that's a good point, and my oversight of it is probably mostly explained by the fact that I tend to approach anything - even e.g. Candy Land - competitively, sometimes to my detriment. :) – Andrew Vandever Oct 6 '14 at 4:00
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There are no rules that require players to share with each other what cards are in their decks. Even in tournaments, where players are required to register a list of every card in their deck with tournament officials, that information is generally not shared with other players.

In my own experience with casual play, we knew what decks everyone was using by the color of the sleeves, and we didn't consider it a requirement to inform each other about deck changes.

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There is as far as I am aware of no standard ruling or custom for casual play. So I'll talk from what I've seen in live groups. More often among friends, people call deck changes between games, mostly in the form of "I'm using the Red/blue combo deck" or "I'm using the elf one". This is not a hard and fast rule but more courtesy to allow people to adjust before the game is underway, as a 4 men game can last for a long time. If you keep playing with the same people, they will eventually figure out the deck's strategy and win condition, so that just calling the colors is enough information. I've also seen many people directly explain how the deck can break apart, most of the time to break the illusion that a deck might be invincible or widely above the others.

That being said, I've found it is part of the fun to keep the secondary win condition untold. As it sometimes make for interesting reversal when they get into play. Remember that for groups of friend, the point is to have fun. So rules will be decided by the group, probably naturally to make everyone happy. That goes from house rules (as much as there are house rules in Magic) to mood.

When details can be kept secret

Some times where details are kept secret : As the level rises or when I'm playing with more-or-less-strangers, some people will sometime keep the deck secret for the opening game and not give info. Keep in mind that those are casual games in that they are not tournament worthy and loosely regulated, but the game is played competitively in this case. If you're playing with your family as you mention, it might not be your case.

When a deck has just been modified or is brand new, I'll see peopleplaying a game or two to show it off before really explaining it. I've also seen new decks who played the obfuscation game until someone could figure out how the deck work.

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With most of the people I have played, both casual and competative, it is common to at least give your opponent what color you are playing. However, it's not a rule. For instance, when i play with a group who knows my decks well, I usually don't tell them till they have also chosen a deck so that they can't choose a fitting counter deck.

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  • Of course, in the Commander format all players reveal their commander at the start of the game, which puts a limit on what colors are permitted in the deck. If you're playing with the optional sideboard rule, players may sideboard after commanders are revealed. That's a very specific ruling, though. – Brian S Oct 9 '14 at 13:56
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    Where do you play that it is common to tell your opponent what color you are playing in competitive matches? In Legacy, knowing your opponent's color(s) will often make the difference between winning and losing. In Standard, it has an impact on mulligans. – Rainbolt Oct 9 '14 at 15:18
  • It's not required, but the place I play at we usually at least tell what color we are playing. I've only done stadard competitively and you can't sideboard till the second match anyway, so it doesn't really affect much and I have played very few games where I wasn't asked at least what color I was playing. I'll admit it's been a while since I played standard. I usually just play casual magic. – psychoed42 Oct 9 '14 at 20:31

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