Grand Archive Tournament Primer

Written by Ver

Created 27 July, 2023

Last updated 27 July, 2023

One aspect of trading card games that many players choose to partake in is tournament play. Local events may take the form of small tournaments with 3 or 4 rounds and can be a lower stakes introduction to competitive play. The jump from weekly locals to more competitive events, such as Store Championships, Regionals, or Ascent can be daunting, but with the right preparation can also be a fun and rewarding experience. This guide outlines what to expect of a larger tournament, particularly with Regionals or Ascent in mind although many aspects do also apply to Store Championships. 

Before the Event:

This is when you select the event you will attend and the deck you will play. For Regionals, Ascent and other large events, Tournament Organizers will require you submit your deck list, which can be found here. Decklists should be accurate and complete, with exact counts of each card and card names spelled out in full. It is best to fill out your deck list prior to the event, rather than on site the day of, and typed decklists are preferable for legibility. 

Without diving too deep into the reasons why one might select one deck over another, there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Larger tournaments become a “melting pot” of sorts, with a larger pool of players attending from a wider geographical area. Decks that are prevalent at your locals may not be common at other locals.

  • Every deck will have strengths and weaknesses; favorable and unfavorable matchups. 

  • Focus on your deck’s gameplan first, and then worry about shoring up any weaknesses, but don’t go overboard. Sometimes it's better to accept a bad matchup than spread your 60 cards too thin.

  • The “right deck” in the “wrong hands” is likely to underperform. Sometimes the best call is to play what you know. 

Another thing to consider is what gaming accessories and miscellaneous supplies you’ll need during the event. You will need counters (or dice) to keep track of the game state, and dice to use as a randomizer (more on that later). You will also need a notebook, lifepad, or paper and a pen to keep track of the damage your champion has taken. (Dice are not advised for this purpose, as they can easily be shifted or changed accidentally.) When using card sleeves, all main deck cards must be sleeved the same as each other and all material decks must also be sleeved identically; however, the sleeves can be different between main and material deck.  This can be handy for sorting your banished cards out when resetting for the next game. Card sleeves should be in good condition to avoid marked cards.  It is highly recommended that you have plenty of extras to account for damaged sleeves over the course of a tournament. Large tournaments are an all day or multi-day affair, and any sleeves that become marked through repeated shuffling will need to be replaced between rounds or even on-the-spot depending on judge determination. 

Due to the time commitment of larger events, you should plan for food and drink. You may need to check with venue rules to see what is allowed to be brought in and may have to purchase items on site between rounds. Light snacks as needed between rounds can help bridge the gap between meals. Tournament Organizers will announce when meal breaks are scheduled. Any necessary medications should be kept on your person or with a guardian, in appropriately labeled containers, so that they can be easily accessed as needed.

At the Event:

Once at the event, there will be a check-in period before the first round. Typically this is when you will provide your entry, proof of ID, and/or completed decklist. Judges will conduct any necessary deck checks. You should expect a player meeting before the first round, during which organizers and judges will explain the procedures for the tournament, such as where you will be able to find pairings, how many rounds will be played, when breaks will occur, how many slots are allotted for top cut, and what prizing is available. Rounds and top cut size are determined based on the number of players in attendance.  For Dawn of Ashes regionals and larger events, you should expect to play at least 6 rounds of swiss, plus top cut.

In a swiss paired tournament, all players play the same number of rounds (unless they elect to withdraw/”drop” from the tournament) and are matched each round against players with a similar tournament record. If there is an uneven number of players, or a player otherwise receives an exemption from playing that round (such as in certain invitational events), that player will receive a tournament bye, which is annotated as a round win with match record 2-0-0 (W-L-D) for the player. In tournaments with a top cut, n players at the top of the rankings after swiss will move to a single elimination bracket to determine the overall winner. The size of top cut is determined by the number of players. A top cut of 8 is fairly common, but larger events may cut to the top 16, 32, or even 64 players. Some events, such as Ascents, may even feature multiple days of swiss rounds with multiple top cuts before reaching the single elimination bracket. These details will be included in the player meeting at the start of an event so that all are aware of the tournament structure. 

Each round will have a time limit and consist of a best-of-three match. The official GA tournament rules and guidelines recommend 60 minute rounds with 5 minutes / 3 turns, whichever comes first, of overtime. When time in the round is called, the current turn player is turn 0 and their opponent will begin turn 1. Judges can, at their discretion, add up to 5 minutes of time to a match to accommodate for any time spent on judge calls. 

Once the tournament begins, round 1 pairings will be posted/announced in the manner described during the player meeting. Typically this will involve the organizer and/or tournament staff posting pairing printouts in one or more designated locations. You can check this list to find the name of your opponent and which table to sit at. After heading to the table you should await your opponent. Once you are both at the table, introduce yourself and verify that you are both at the correct table and paired. 

Once seated, prepare your deck and any necessary materials to play your match (dice, pen & paper, etc) and await the announcement of start of time. Upon the start of time, players begin the match by shuffling their decks, presenting them to their opponent for a shuffle or cut, and placing them in the appropriate zones. The 1st turn player is determined by random means (dice roll, coin toss, etc), and the winner of that determination begins their first turn by placing their Lv 0 spirit into play. 

During the game, you should track game status (your champion damage and your opponents) with pen and paper. The game state must be kept clear, all types and numbers of counters clearly stated and known, all cards clearly ‘awake’ or ‘rested’ by 90 degree rotations (no half-tapped lands here!). Any plays should be clearly communicated and any gameplay shortcuts should be well understood by both players. Players must also track the triggers of their own cards.

After the first game of the match, the board is cleared and players may sideboard by swapping cards from their sideboard to their main deck and material deck. Cards moved between Main/Material and Sideboard must be done in a manner as to not result in an illegal deck, meaning you must have at least 60 cards in main, no more than 12 cards in material, and no more than 8 cards in your sideboard, and may not have more than 4 copies of a main deck card or more than 1 of a material deck card. Your deck must also obey any other rules, such as the Divine Relic rule (no more than 1 card with the Divine Relic keyword is allowed in your material deck). 

Before the start of game 2, the player who lost game 1 decides if they will go first or second. This should be done immediately after sideboarding, but no penalties will be issued if a player announces their decision before or during sideboarding. This decision must be declared before the player presents their deck to their opponent to shuffle or cut, otherwise it is implied that the player who lost game one has elected to go first. 

After game 2, if one player has 2 game wins, they have won the match. Otherwise, a third and final game must be played, following the same procedures as before, with the loser of game 2 deciding who goes first in game three. At the end of game 3, whoever has won 2 games is declared the winner of the match.

If time runs out during the round and the match is not yet decided, overtime procedures begin. No new games can begin. Players will have 5 minutes or 3 turns to determine a game winner. The player who is currently taking a turn when time is called is designated as turn 0, and when they end their turn, their opponent begins turn 1. After 5 minutes or 3 turns, whichever comes first, if no player has won the game, the game is deemed a draw. The player with more game wins is declared the winner of the match. If neither player has won more games, the match is a draw. (Game tiebreaks only apply in timed single elimination rounds, and are not covered here, please see the official tournament rules and regulations for information on tiebreakers).

Once a match result is determined, players must report that result to the tournament organizer or staff. Most large tournaments will require players to annotate and sign a match slip, which is then turned in at a designated location. Once all matches are recorded, the next round will be paired and the tournament continues! Be sure to return your deck to its pre-sideboard state before the next round. 


As a player in a tournament, you agree to abide by the rules of the game, any rules established by the TO and any rules of the venue. You also agree to uphold the spirit of the game and competitive integrity. You should be respectful of all players and other persons involved with the event, so let’s talk some specifics!

  • When reaching your table, introduce yourself to your opponent. A handshake, first bump, courteous nod or other such gesture is typically appropriate when beginning and ending a match.

  • Use clear and polite communication at all times. 

  • Be gracious in victory and in defeat, each and every round.

  • Keep personal items within a reasonable space and maintain them in orderly fashion.

  • Do not distract or disrupt the other competitors. You should not use offensive words or have offensive gear. As a general rule of thumb, stick to official GA accessories and/or plain colored accessories. If you have custom gear, check with a judge (and be prepared just in case with a backup).  

  • Be Hygienic. This includes personal cleanliness and attire, but also things like not eating during a match. Drinks should be kept in sealable bottles. (And really, as boring as it is, you should only drink water at the table. Keep the Sodas, Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for between rounds. Cards and Red Bull don’t mix.)   

  • Handle others' property with respect. Ask permission before touching another player’s cards. Of course, you must be afforded the opportunity to cut or shuffle your opponent's deck at the start of each game and after search effects. When doing so, be gentle. A simple cut, series of cuts, or a few light mash shuffles are most appropriate. DO NOT handle your opponent's deck in a rough manner. 

  • When shuffling, avoid any possible glimpse of your own cards. If you see the face of any card, you must begin over. It’s best to look away from the board or watch your opponents shuffle while you shuffle to avoid any perceptions of (or actual) cheating. Practice shuffling without looking if you need to. 

  •  Rules exist to maintain the competitive integrity of the tournament. Don’t be afraid to request judge assistance when necessary, such as with ruling questions or to address inconsistencies or errors in the current game state. Rules are not there for you to twist to your advantage; don’t be a shark. 

  • Play at a reasonable pace. Bo3 matches are a lot to fit in 60 minutes. If your opponent is playing slowly, a polite reminder of time constraints may be appropriate. If you suspect genuine intentional slow play, call a judge. (Rude remarks or intimidating phrases such as “Annnnny day now….” and “Hurry it up!!!” are unsporting.)

  • No outside help or play advice during a match. Do not give or request it. 

  • No cheating. No bribes. The rules cover these, but the main thing to highlight is that making agreements with other players to intentionally draw or concede a match, based on current scores/standings and/or in exchange for any form of consideration (reward or incentive of a reward) will be seen as bribery. 

  • No betting on match or tournament outcomes. 

Tips, Tricks and Closing Thoughts:

  • Get a good night's rest before the tournament. Get those reps in during the weeks leading up to the event, not at midnight before the tournament!

  • Eat a filling and healthy breakfast. 

  • Bring snacks (venue permitting) and be sure to hydrate. 

  • Be ready for large crowds and a loud environment. 

  • Be prepared for a long day, a very long day. 

  • Expect there to be delays and hiccups. Be patient with the organizers, and instead of being frustrated by delays, think of them as a break before your next game. 

  • Bring. Extra. Sleeves. You should start with new ones and at a bare minimum keep the rest of the box. Better to bring a spare box from the same lot if possible. Inspect your cards between matches for marked cards. 

  • Travel light. Leave your extra decks & trade binder in the hotel room or at home. Use a reasonably small backpack. Venue space is at a premium and more belongings is just more things to misplace. 

  • Take notes during your games. Your note sheet must start blank each round.  You can’t refer to notes from prior rounds or before the event, but you can write notes to aid your memory. 

  • “Pile Shuffling” isn’t a shuffle. It doesn’t sufficiently randomize cards, as it is not a random process. However, (quickly) pile shuffling is useful for validating that you have all 60 of your main deck cards. 

  • “Should I call a judge?” Yes. If you are asking yourself this question, the answer is yes. Judges are there to help, be it to look up rulings on the index, aid with a complex interaction, correct gameplay errors, or address suspicious/inappropriate conduct. 

  • Stay Composed, stay Focused. Randomness is part of card games and losses are part of competition. Reset each round, don’t let yourself tilt out. Don’t defeat yourself. 

  • Play out your rounds. Unless you have a side event to join, or have started to tilt badly, or REALLY just need a break, you should play the rest of the tournament. Even if top cut is out of reach, it's good to practice playing in a competitive environment. 

  • Have Fun!

Hopefully this article is useful to both brand new competitors and old hands alike! Remember: Victory is never decided by deck performance alone, nor by the skill of the archivist alone. The result itself is the only truth! 

Here are a few additional resources you may wish to check out. While this article was written while referencing official GA documentation, I still highly recommend players review the Comprehensive Rules, Tournament Rules and Guidelines, Infractions and Penalties Guide and Regionals FAQ:

Comprehensive Rules

Regionals FAQ

Tournament Rules and Guidelines

Deck List Submission Form

Infractions and Penalties Guide

Six Prizes Top Cut Calculator (Please note this calculator is imperfect and does not take into account factors such as ties, drops, or double game losses, so the actual results are likely to vary.)

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