Birds of Paradise
Magic: the Gathering blog, top decks, strategy, and more.
February 8, 2014

Running a Swiss Tournament

I recently had the opportunity to draft my cube with seven other players. We set up after work in a conference room and had a great time. As the "tournament organizer", if you dare call it that, I figured we'd just do three rounds of Swiss. I googled a bit and learned the basics, but as we played through a few rounds I realized I didn't fully understand all of the details. We managed to figure it out for the most part, but I decided to learn more so I'd be better prepared for next time. The sources I found online were actually pretty confusing, but the basic concept really isn't. I thought it would be useful to document my findings on the site.

First, very briefly, why use Swiss? The first time I drafted my cube it was just me and my three closest allies. With four players you can just round-robin; each player plays every other player in three rounds. With eight (or six), that would take too long. Also, in many cases, you don't want a single-elimination/bracket system so that everyone can continue playing. Swiss lets everyone play three rounds, or more if you like, while providing a meaningful ranking at the end.

One more thing before I get to the rules. This is a slight simplification. If you're running a serious tournament you're going to want to consult the experts and/or use software to do this for you, but if you are looking to set up a small, friendly tournament, you're in the right place.

The basic concept is very simple. Start by pairing players up randomly, then match winners with winners and losers with losers for subsequent rounds. After three rounds, rank the players by number of match wins.

Now a few more details. First of all, each match is best two out of three games. If a player wins two in a row then you don't play the third (at least not officially).

Secondly, each match has a time limit. The recommended time limit is 50 minutes. If no player wins the match within the time limit then you record the match as a tie.

To account for ties you award 3 match points for a win and 1 match point for a tie. Update each player's match point total after each round and continue to pair players with the same match points against each other randomly. You may have to round as necessary. For example, in a six man tournament, after the first round, if no one ties, you'll end up with the following match totals: 3, 3, 3, 0, 0, 0. Randomly chose one of the winners to play one of the losers. In general, match players with more points first.

No player is paired up with the same opponent twice. This rule trumps matching players with equal points. Match as close as you can without matching the same players twice.

Rank players by match points after three rounds to determine standings.

Now, there is one remaining item: tiebreakers. If two or more players finish the tournament with equal match point totals then you use tiebreakers to determine rank. The official tiebreakers are as follows

Calculating this can get complicated. Consult the official documentation for the details if you must.

For my tournaments I'll be using the following simplified tiebreaks:

As long as each player plays the same number of matches "cumulative opponent's match points" is essentially the same as "opponent's match-win percentage". For each player in the tiebreak just add up the match points for all three of his or her opponents. Note you will need to keep track of game records, "2-1" or "2-0" for example, for tiebreak #3.

That's it! Now go find 7 friends and battle it out!

Category: Misc. Previous: Most Valuable Sets

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