Final Judgement: Grand Prix Dallas Report

From the onset, this looks suspiciously like a tournament report (funny how titles do that), but I promise all of you rules junkies your weekly fix. That’s the great thing about tournament reports from Judges: it’s all about funky rules situations (plus some random stuff). I jetted to Dallas from San Antonio after spending a…

From the onset, this looks suspiciously like a tournament report (funny how titles do that), but I promise all of you rules junkies your weekly fix. That’s the great thing about tournament reports from Judges: it’s all about funky rules situations (plus some random stuff).

I jetted to Dallas from San Antonio after spending a week at a computer security conference. The $30 taxi ride from DFW to the Ramada Inn Texas Stadium was brief and thankfully not particularly smelly. The first person I saw at the hotel was none other than North American Organized Play manager Scott Larabee. He had already made my arrangements, so check-in was smooth. (Good Thing About Being Head Judge(tm) #1: You get your own room with a humungous bed.)

The hall wasn’t quite ready, so I went out for lunch with Scott and TO Tim Weissman. (GTABHJ(tm) #2: You don’t pay for any meals.) We had some Texas barbecue, discussed how we were going to attack the tournament, and just generally chatted. The lady at the barbecue place wouldn’t let Tim rest until he let her fill up his Coke (I swear she came by a dozen times before he relented). While Tim was fighting off the Coke-refill lady, I scanned the room. I was amazed at the raw size of some of the belt buckles.

I won’t bore you with the details of setup. I only wish something noteworthy had happened, like a large-scale industrial accident (with no injuries, of course) or Tim’s goatee turning orange; alas, it was not to be. To make a tedious story less tedious, we set up the site. I met the entire staff, including the ever-busy Alice Fox and Sheila Weissman (co-TO Ed Fox was off on business – I’m not quite sure where. What are Sandanistas, anyway?). Finally, I changed shirts, then went out to dinner with Scott and a friend of his. We had some steaks and talked about everything except Magic, although we did talk about some of the fun stuff that WotC is bringing out in the next year or so. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I’m not supposed to tell, so I’ll just let you know IT’S GONNA BE COOL!

On the way back, we stopped by Wal-Mart to pick up some electrical hardware. We went into the store, and I swear that the joint was juiced. There were long lines at the cash registers. Families were getting out of their cars and heading in – and it was 11:30 at night! What, you can’t get enough ceiling fans or low-priced Britney Spears records at decent hours? A voice came over the intercom and said, "Attention Wal-Mart shoppers…", which I interrupted with, "Go the hell home! It’s 11:30, for God’s sake!"

Saturday morning came far too early. My double-redundancy system of wake-up call and alarm clock failed. Come to find out my alarm clock didn’t work at all, but the "You have a message" light did. Unfortunately, it was on all weekend, and I didn’t have any messages. I digress. I’m starting to feel like Friggin’ Rizzo. (TheFerrett<—– That seems to be going around.) Anyway, I woke up at 8:20; I had scheduled a Judge meeting for 8:30. Fortunately, my clock was 20 minutes fast, so I had time to take a shower and get downstairs.

Aussie Fox did a great thing for the staff: they brought in food. Now, we’re not talking about shipping in sandwiches. They bought fresh bread, lunchmeat, fruits, et cetera, and made a little family-style setup in the break room. It wasn’t dinner at Spago’s, but gave a nice homey feel to the event.

Things started a little late, but once we got moving, the tournament rolled right along. For 300+ players, we were a little short on experienced Judges, so I instituted the Senior Judge system, with Jeff Zandi and The Mad Hatter (I swear that’s his real, legal name) heading up the Earp and Clanton teams, respectively. Hatter used to be a Level 3 but didn’t re-certify. If Jeff keeps it up, he’ll be a Level 3 sooner rather than later. These guys and the rest of the Judges (who are too numerous to mention) really kept me out of trouble all day. I handled a number of appeals, and I’m proud to say that I didn’t overturn a single ruling made by a Floor or Senior Judge. That speaks volumes about the quality of the Judging staff.

We played seven rounds, with a 50-minute time limit. There’s some discussion about adding 10 minutes to Limited rounds. If you have an opinion on it, either email me at [email protected] or Jeff Donais at [email protected] (GTABHJ(tm) #3: The little remote control that gives you all the power over the clock. It starts, it stops, it resets. I felt like a 1960s Batman villain. I was The TimeMaster, with complete control over when things started and stopped! Or was I Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode?)

Now comes time to talk about the site – what a mess. Apparently, Ramada Inn Texas Stadium has been used before by Aussie Fox to run large tournaments. The site was booked six months in advance. Unfortunately, by the time this report sees publication, it will have been closed down. There were multiple instances of dripping roofs. The staircase up to the tournament hall was a slalom of buckets. We had to rearrange tables and cordon off areas due to indoor precipitation. (And this is an unfortunate event that it’s now closed? – The Ferrett) Multiple horror stories about rooms came from players; the best was from David Price, whose sink had no gooseneck. He ran water, and it spilled out onto the floor. I’m just wondering what kind of whacko steals pipe joints from crappy hotels. The only available food was at a Jack-in-the-Box about 100 yards off site, across a busy intersection. The hotel had promised an open restaurant, but never delivered.

It was moderately late on Saturday evening when Scott and I headed out for a bite. There’s this megaplex of restaurants not far from the site, so we just picked at random. We walked into the Chili’s, hid from the gaggle of Magic players that had already gathered there, and had a bite. We patted ourselves on the back about how smoothly the event was going, then moved on to important subjects like baseball, and the ravishing black-haired beauty that was unfortunately not waiting on us.

Sunday morning, I gave up about half my Judges to Side Events. The Top 64 was slated to be Rochester Draft, so I only needed enough to lay out cards for eight tables. Scott called the draft, and I floated around warning people for being silly. Sometimes I felt like a first grade teacher. "Remove everything from your tables. Mr. Wise, could you stop talking please? Yes, you may go to the bathroom. Does anyone else have to go?"

After a little initial confusion, the draft went right along. We went with a scheme of thirty seconds to review the pack and four seconds to draft. Many top players consider this too short a time to digest all the information in Invasion’s rather complex draft environment. They believe that five seconds would be better. The draft involved dodging a few raindrops, but went rather smoothly otherwise. The second draft was more of the same.

The Top 8 was long (from the start of the Top 8 draft to the finish of the tournament took nearly five hours), was moderately tedious, and almost without incident. There were a few tense moments when Dan Clegg exceeded the bounds of slow play and was duly warned. To his credit, without complaint Mr. Clegg increased the pace of his play sufficiently. For a Judge, there’s a fine line between wanting the game to come to its natural conclusion and allowing one player to simply try to wear down another by taking advantage of the fact that there are no time limits. A player sitting and thinking for seven to ten minutes over a relatively simple situation with only two cards in hand is excessive. This is why it helps for Judges to be good players as well; one can see the possibilities and know when a player is just dragging out the time. Due congratulations to Matt Vienneau, who led wire-to-wire, for winning the whole thing. What’s $2400 US, Matt-like $10,000 Canadian?

By now, I know all you rules chihuahuas are yapping about the rulings. There weren’t all that many complicated or frequent ones, but here goes.

1. Yes, you may play Cauldron Dance without a creature in your hand. No, you may not play it without a creature in your graveyard, because it targets a card in your graveyard. If you have a creature card in your hand, you must fulfill Cauldron Dance’s requirements. In tournament play, if your opponent tells you he doesn’t have a creature in his hand, ask a Judge to verify. If he tells you he doesn’t have a creature and he does, he’s in a lot of trouble.

2. The targets and how to affect them are both chosen during announcement of Barrin’s Spite. That means the player of Barrin’s Spite chooses the two target creatures, and the chosen player decides which one will be bounced and which one will be sacrificed immediately afterward, before any payments (of mana, tapping, etc.). This is due to rule 409.1d (and clarified in D’Angelo’s T.4.2.g. and 4.3): If one target is gone upon resolution, the other is still affected as chosen.

3. Voracious Cobra kills any creature without First Strike that it blocks or is blocked by (assuming the damage isn’t prevented or redirected). When combat damage resolves, a trigger goes on the stack and is resolved before non-First Strike damage goes on the stack. We know this because at the end of the First Strike Combat Damage Step, there is a check for State-Based Effects (otherwise, creatures with lethal damage wouldn’t get carted away just yet). Implicitly, this means that a player is about to get priority. Ergo, there’s a window for triggers to go on the stack.

4. If an uncounterable spell (like Urza’s Rage) is targeted with a cantrip-Counterspell, the cantrip part still works. For example, Undermine says, "Counter target spell. Its controller loses 3 life." If Undermine targets Urza’s Rage, it resolves, and fails to do anything significant to the Urza’s Rage. It’s not countered by UR’s uncounterability, so the rest of the resolution continues, with the UR’s controller losing three life. Contrast this with a cantrip-like effect on a spell that counters itself due to an invalid target. If the spell is counters itself (like the creature it’s Zapping isn’t around on resolution), it’s just the same as a counterspell doing away with it-the remainder of its effect doesn’t happen.

5. The color of damage is the color of the source WHEN THE DAMAGE RESOLVES, not when the damage goes on the stack. This means that if you poke me with your Tim, it goes on the stack as blue damage. If I change the Tim to red in response, the damage is red. You can see all the whacky color-changing possibilities with Invasion.

6. Phyrexian Infiltrator may target a creature you control. I’ll quote right from D’Angelo:
It is possible to play this ability in response to itself and generate some odd combinations. For example, if you control this card and another creature, you can use this card’s ability and target the creature you control. You can then use this card’s ability again and target a creature your opponent controls. The second usage resolves first and you get your opponent’s creature in exchange for this one. The first usage then resolves and swaps your other creature for the Infiltrator so you get it back. The net effect is that you can swap any creature you have for any of theirs if you can pay this ability twice. Note that your opponent does get the chance to use the Infiltrator if they have the mana in between your two usages and can mess you up.

7. A player asked what was the converted mana cost of a Split Card while it was in his hand. Here’s the short version of this rule: "Effects that ask for a split card’s characteristic get both answers. Effects that ask if a split card’s characteristic matches a given value get only one answer." So, if you turn over Wax/Wane with Infernal Genesis, you put 2 tokens into play (1 plus 1). If you have to discard everything with a converted mana cost of 2, you don’t discard Wax/Wane.

8. Pulse of Llanowar makes lands provide mana of a color other than their normal color. A forest will produce everything but green. The key is "…instead of its normal type."

9. Kicker is announced before paying the cost of a spell. At REL 4, it is not implied by tapping enough mana to do so. If you’re paying Kicker, announce it clearly.

10. Urza’s Rage can’t be countered by spells or abilities, but it can be countered by the rules if its target is invalid on resolution. (As in, as I discovered recently, the target gains "Protection from Red" before the spell resolves – The Ferrett)

11. A player asked the following question. He had a 5/5 creature with 2 damage and a regeneration shield on it. Later in the turn, his opponent gave it -3/-3. Does the regeneration shield kick in? The answer is yes. It’s a 2/2 creature with 2 damage on it, so by SBE, it should go to the graveyard. Regeneration will replace this event, tapping the creature and removing all the damage.

I think I’ll start doing a the occasional column based on the questions folks send me. I get several a week; there has to be at least one monthly column there.

I want to say thanks to the players, who were for the most part well behaved. There were the normal few flare-ups, but nothing got out of hand. It was great to see some of the regular faces; I also got to meet a few folks that I hadn’t before, such as the irrepressible Lauren Passmore (hey, email me) and the effusive Ed "Aussie" Fox. I was encouraged to see more than the normal number of women in the tournament; perhaps things are indeed getting better.

Huge thanks to Scott Larabee for taking care of me all weekend and Jeff Donais for having the faith in me to give me a shot at HJ’ing such a large-scale event. I’m happy to do it any time.

And that’s my Final Judgement.

Sheldon K. Menery