FINAL JUDGEMENT: US Nationals Report

Okay, Sheldon didn’t play… But don’t you want to get the judge’s perspective? Sure you do.

From the chaotic Grinders to the final scoop, from Leiher to Price to McCarrel, the 2001 US Nationals at the Disney World Wide World of Sports Complex was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. As has become tradition with the event that selectsAmerica’s Team, each day of the Main Event started smoothly and ended with a bang.

I was at the event only by circumstance. Due to some scheduling difficulties with WotC staff, Lisa* had been chosen to run the always-interesting Side Events for the weekend. I effectively became a throw-in on the deal (to make a long story short, it was cheaper to send me than another Judge).

We took a red-eye out of Anchorage on Tuesday night, arriving in sweltering Orlando on Wednesday morning. After a series of snacks and naps, we met up with North American Event Manager Scott Larabee, his wife DeeDee, and the ever-effervescent Jamie West for a meal at Charley’s Steakery (currently ranked the #4 steakhouse in America — which they’ll be happy to repeat to you should you forget). Great meal, better company.


On Thursday I had the pleasure of Head Judging two of the Grinders, one a Sealed Deck and the other Standard. Both went off without too many difficulties. Everything was made smoother by the presence of an excellent staff which included include Michigan’s Glenn Cannon and Brazil’s (yep, Brazil’s) Rafael Dei Svaldi. The whole team of Grinder judges was great, keeping me from needing to do much more than rule on appeals. Not once did I overturn a floor Judge’s decision.

There were a few difficulties with the computer, however. Grinders are single-elimination events, with the top 4 qualifying. Especially in a Sealed event, players may win the first round but decide that their deck isn’t good enough to win the whole thing, so they’ll want to drop. From our perspective, no problem. DCI Reporter, however, didn’t like it. It couldn’t fathom why players in a single elimination event would want to drop after winning, so it started randomly changing the results of matches. Fortunately, the administrative team figured out how to get around the difficulty. They also contacted Reporter programmer Cecil Menzel, who had a patch ready and delivered in just a few hours. The day ran long due to the administrative hassles, but we eventually got out and gathered in the hotel bar for the traditional quaffing of spirits.


Head Judge Collin Jackson assigned me as one of the three Team Leaders (previously called Senior Judges), along with Thomas Pannell and Germany’s Justus Rönnau. My most excellent team consisted of David Welsh, Bruce Cline, Rafael Dei Svaldi, Deke Young, and Eric Mathis. Our team didn’t run into any particularly interesting Judge issues all day, but one incident of note occurred in the final round. 2000 US Team member Chris Benafel received a match loss for slow play. After the penalty was issued by Head Judge Collin Jackson, Benafel stormed from the hall, nearly drawing another penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Much has already been written about the incident, so I won’t repeat it here. I will say, however, that Mr. Benafel most certainly did not throw a chair or anything else (save perhaps a fit).


My team was nearly identical for the Standard portion, though we lost Deke and Eric to the JSS/Side Events. Again, the day was relatively quiet until the final round, when Pete Leiher allegedly stalled out his opponent in a match that decided the last position in the Top 8. The match ended in a draw, giving David Price a berth in the Top 8. A subsequent penalty upgrade to Leiher changed the result of the match to a win for Hegstad, granting him the final spot, dropping Price to 9th. You can read the entire report on the Sideboard, or Dave’s own report here on Star City.

The absolute highlight of the day was Live-Action Magic, featuring Dr. Richard Garfield and a lucky raffle winner going head-to-head a la Louis XIV, with real people representing the cards. It was a huge hit with the audience. The props department went all the way to provide costumes, which eventually adorned Gary Wise as Serra Angel and Zvi Mowshowitz as a Flametongue Kavu, among others. I was lucky enough to be the WWF-style referee for the match. When Dr. Garfiled bribed Lan D. Ho, in the guise of the Prodigal Sorcerer, over to his side, I had to allow it.

The Judges’ dinner with Jeff Donais is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the show. It’s good to be able to relax and swap stories of the day with folks I might not otherwise see because we’re on different events. If you ever get the chance to spend some off time with Jeff, do so. I won’t say that you won’t regret it, but I will say you won’t forget it.


Unlike previous days, Sunday had a bang right at the start. While I was busy getting a MLB Showdown demo from Chris Galvin (cool game—try it sometime), Casey McCarrel was disqualified for stacking his opponent’s deck, a considerable feat of manual dexterity (and putting David Price back into the Top 8 in the standings). Once again, the Sideboard’s coverage is impeccable. I table-Judged the Finals between Trevor Blackwell and Brian Hegstad, presiding over Hegstad’s fatal mulligans in Games 1 and 2, and Blackwell’s masterful play in Game 3.

Sunday even ended with some fireworks. Just as we were about to leave for dinner with the WotC Staff, lightning struck our hotel, damaging rooms on the 7th floor, and chasing JSS scorekeeper Cajus von Engelman and roommate Mark Rosewater from their room. We were all evacuated to the front of the hotel for half an hour or so, until the fire department declared the building safe. Emergency over, we headed off for a Japanese dinner, where I experienced Shabu-shabu and the Japanese David Copperfield for the first (and hopefully last) time.


To make a long story short, we wasted Monday afternoon at Universal Studios (at $48 a head!). King Kong was the most disappointing attraction of a disappointing day, mitigated only by the excellent company of the WotC Staff (and Laura Kilgore introducing me to Churros). T2 was okay, and Lisa reported that blasting aliens on the MiB ride was cool, but I left feeling like I had frittered away six hours at $101.74.

Monday’s saving grace was an excellent meal at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, complete with many pina coladas, followed by the incredible Cirque du Soleil. If you’re in Orlando or in Las Vegas, see these folks. You’ll be amazed.


In the company of the Larabees and Player Coordinator Andy and Ingrid Heckt, we spent Tuesday at Epcot, grazing our way from one end of the World Showcase to the other. Leave the Magic Kingdom to the kiddies, folks; Epcot has the goods. A super day closed with an outstanding Benihana-type meal at the Japan showcase, perhaps the best eats of the whole show. The only downside to the meal was our ennui-laden chef, who had obviously had his fill of pasty-fleshed tourists for one day.


An outstanding staff ran a superior event. From the Side Events to the JSS to the National Championship itself, everyone was on top of their respective game. I can’t say thanks enough to the WotC staff for helping Lisa and me to have a great time, both at the event and in the days afterward.

Most importantly, the people doing things they shouldn’t got their comeuppance.

And that’s my Final Judgement.

* – For you non-regulars, Lisa is my wife of eleven years, and a wizard with administration. She has years of experience running events in Europe. She may become a semi-regular on the PT circuit.