I keep getting warnings for "slow play" in Magic. Yet being an avid chess player I consider fast playing a crime.

Why does the Magic community have a problem with "slow play"? Looking back at chess, slower play with more thinking ahead is also good for spectators; long games typically have much more interesting plays.

So what is the reason to have such short games in Magic by default? Why not play fewer games but in more depth at things like Friday Night Magic?

And why does the game typically award "faster plays" by giving points per game instead of a true Elo?

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    This reads very much like a rant. I would recommend rewording your question to focus more on understanding the slow play rule/norm, and less on "this is dumb because chess does it differently".
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 19:52
  • I would recommend taking your own advice to heart and think before you post rants disguised as a question.
    – Hackworth
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:08
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    Regarding the close votes: I believe this question should stay open, with some edits. Even though it is a rant, it is also a valid question about the importance of a specific tournament rule.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 22:32
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    Magic is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike chess. Trying to compare their timing mechanisms is like asking why soccer isn't played in innings. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 6:42
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    I have tried to edit to make it less of a rant while still maintaining the spirit of the question.
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 6:50

1 Answer 1


The prohibition on "slow play" is more than just a community norm, it is a tournament rule described in section 5.5 of the tournament rulebook, and it says this:

Players must take their turns in a timely fashion regardless of the complexity of the play situation and adhere to time limits specified for the tournament. Players must maintain a pace to allow the match to be finished in the announced time limit. Stalling is not acceptable. Players may ask a judge to watch their game for slow play; such a request will be granted if feasible.

In other words, it is considered "slow play" if a player takes an unreasonable amount of time to take individual game actions or make individual game decisions. In most cases, the rule is only enforced if a player exhibits a pattern of playing like that. Stalling is the extreme limit of this, when a player clearly does not intend to do anything, but also does not allow their opponent to act, simply to run down the match clock.

Why is the "reasonable pace" so fast?

In Magic, most decisions should not require much time. You are working with a relatively limited set of information, and most of that information does not change much from turn to turn. In addition, any attempt to plan more than a turn or so ahead would be limited by the unknown information about the cards in your opponent's hand and both libraries.

Why is slow play a problem in tournaments?

In Magic tournament play, the match as a whole has a limited amount of time. This means that players using match time is essentially a zero-sum game: the more time one player uses to think while not acting and also not allowing the opponent to act, the less time the other player has to act when they get the opportunity. This means that a player gains an advantage by thinking through their moves during their own turn, instead of while their opponent is acting.

An unscrupulous player could abuse this fact by winning the first game, and then slowing down their pace of play in the second game enough to prevent their opponent from having an opportunity to make a comeback.

Why not play fewer games for longer?

The standard best-of-three structure is very important to Magic tournaments because it allows for "sideboarding", which is the ability to swap out cards with a pre-chosen sideboard in games after the first in order to counter your opponent's deck. Sideboarding is commonly considered to be integral to the depth of tournament-level Magic strategy, because it requires a deep understanding of the current metagame.

Why not play fewer matches for longer?

Generally, the goal of a Magic tournament is to find a winner among a large number of people, and to more generally rank the players by their performance in the tournament. In order to correctly determine a single winner based on match win rate alone, a tournament needs to contain at least log2(number of players) matches. Most tournaments do run approximately that many matches.

Why not make the whole tournament longer?

Magic exists in a larger context, and people have other things to do. If I go to play Magic at a Friday Night Magic event, I will likely not have the energy or inclination to stay for several hours and leave well after midnight.

Why does chess not have this problem?

The most important difference between chess and Magic that makes this problem virtually nonexistent in chess is the game clock. In chess, each player is timed separately, and a player loses if they spend too long on their own moves. In Magic tournaments, a game clock would be entirely infeasible, because control over the flow of the game switches between players much more frequently, and often in ways that are informal and shortcut in order to play at a reasonable pace.

In contrast, Magic: the Gathering Online does play with a real game clock, where each player's clock runs as long as they have priority or a decision to make, and in that game slow play is generally not considered a problem, entirely because in that case the player who plays slowly is the one who is disadvantaged by doing so.

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    The fundamental reason that people don't want to play multi hour games and week-long matches is that people have other shit to do. And honestly, one-on-one Magic games would rarely ever benefit from being that long. Almost all decisions in games are relatively simple, and you can't plan ahead much because of the large amount of hidden and random information. Also, what is this "guide" you are suggesting and how would it be different from the existing prohibition on slow play?
    – murgatroid99
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:48
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    In tournaments, everybody gets paired-up at the start of each round, after the previous round is concluded. When one match takes too long, it prevents everybody else in the building from starting their next match. This is especially a problem for larger tournaments with hundreds of participants when one slow player could theoretically delay hundreds of other people from playing. Many people travel to these events, and it would be very disruptive if they had to stay extra days and purchase another day's stay at a hotel. If you want to play a multi-day casual game with a friend, go ahead.
    – John
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 21:08
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    "Why not play fewer matches for longer? [..] A certain minimum number of matches is needed to accurately construct such a ranking." You didn't really give a solid reason for why more games are better. The core reason is that chess is close to 100% skill-based, and few matches are required to establish who the better player is. MtG has a much larger RNG component compared to chess, so to smooth out the inevitable strokes of good/bad luck of the draw, more games are necessary to lay bare the difference in individual skill at constructing and piloting a good deck.
    – Hackworth
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 9:38
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    @Hackworth That being said, in most magic tournaments I've been to (which is to say prereleases), the number of matches / rounds has been the minimum mathematically required to guarantee that at most one player has won all his / her matches and is therefore "indisputably" the best (which is log base 2 of the number of players, rounded up).
    – Arthur
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 13:45
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    @paul23 Let's say that we do two hours games, with matches spanning an entire week, and no slow play rules. I win the first game. Every subsequent game, I do nothing for two hours. At the end of the week, I win the match. Wouldn't that be frustrating? I'm not saying your suggestion for longer games is bad. I just think that longer games would also need slow play rules in order to be fair.
    – Rainbolt
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 23:08

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