The Art Of (Keeping) Score

Northwest US Regional Coordinator Riki Hayashi gives you some insight into a part of running a Magic tournament that doesn’t get much press: scorekeeping.

These days at a tournament you’re just as likely to find me behind a computer as on the floor giving rulings. That’s because in addition to being a Level 3 Judge I am also a Level 5 Scorekeeper. Okay, there aren’t actually any Level distinctions for Scorekeepers (SK for short), but I’m one of the Top 5 in the world in my own humble opinion. As I was SKing Grand Prix Calgary, I made the following Tweet:

It got an interesting range of responses, and it brought to light that SK issues don’t get addressed as much in the community and they especially don’t get written about. This is understandable because most players do not have as many interactions with SKs as they do with judges. However, those interactions can be very important for running smooth, efficient events.

The Scorekeeper is the most important person for running the tournament. Yes, even more than the Head Judge. (The Tournament Organizer is a separate issue. He or she is integral for making the event happen, but once the tournament starts, they are often a VIP spectator.) If a Head Judge suffers some kind of mishap that doesn’t allow him or her to continue with their duties, there is probably a Floor Judge who can step up and fill that spot. While the HJ of the event has most likely been chosen for their expertise and is the best qualified person for the job, most large tournaments should have an adequate replacement. Technically, if you have a staff of ten Floor Judges, you have ten potential replacements for your Head Judge down the line of succession.

Finding a replacement for a Scorekeeper isn’t such an easy task. In terms that you might understand, let’s examine the command structure of the USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-D (aka Next Generation). Think of the number of people who have sat in the Captain’s chair: Jean-Luc Picard, Will Riker, Data, Geordi LaForge, Beverly Crusher, Worf, and Deanna Troi of all people. SKs are more like the Chief Engineer of the tournament, a specialized and highly technical position. Now think of how many people have been Chief Engineer. Geordi LaForge, Reginald Barclay, Miles O’Brien (and whoever that guy was in season 1 before Geordi took over).

At a typical tournament, there may only be one or two potential replacements for a main event SK, and depending on the tournament size and location, options may be even more bleak. Especially when you start talking about Grand Prix-sized events over one thousand players, there are probably only a dozen people in the world who can SK at that level. That’s comparable to the number of L4 and 5s in the world, but again, there are many L3s that could step up and HJ a GP. Why just a few weeks ago, L3 Abe Corson HJed the 955-player Standard Open in Somerset, New Jersey. Meanwhile, the number of people who could have replaced SK Jennifer Dery (from SCG’s own Organized Play department and Level 5 World of Warcraft TCG Judge) scales very poorly.

While preregistration is rapidly becoming a regular part of the landscape, most registration is going to happen on site. Sometimes people wonder why most Magic events are cash only onsite. It’s largely a matter of saving time. As convenient as those Square contraptions are, swiping a card, hitting “confirm,” then signing a touch screen takes time, maybe ten seconds. That’s a lot more time than it takes to hand someone some bills. While it may seem weird to quibble over a few seconds, you have to remember that these events need to register hundreds of players, so we’re potentially quibbling over as much as ten extra minutes per hundred players registered. Factoring in the poor cellular reception of many convention centers could easily double that time. Ugh.

Dealing with these hundreds of players, you can see why SKs might become, shall we say, a little curt with people. If you don’t have your money out when you get to the front of the registration line (or if you pull out your credit card expectantly), that’s another five seconds lost waiting for the player to fumble with his or her wallet. And five seconds times several hundred players is . . .

Having your cash in hand is one of several best practices for getting through registration quickly, and your Scorekeepers will appreciate the time you save them. Another good tip is to memorize your DCI number. If you don’t know it, someone on the stage will have to look it up, a process that could take twenty or thirty seconds. And twenty or thirty seconds times twenty players is . . .

If you haven’t reached the point where your DCI number comes as easily to you as the lyrics to “Call Me Maybe,” then you should make sure to have it written down somewhere. [Editor’s Note: I just met you, and this is crazy.] Your original DCI card is an excellent choice for this, but those last about as long as the popularity of, well, Carly Rae Jepsen. This is where your smartphone comes in. DCI numbers are ten digits long, just like phone numbers. So here’s my number. Put it into your phone as a contact named “DCI.” (It just so happens that this can also be a great way for us to figure out who a phone belongs to when it gets turned into lost and found. It certainly beats the embarrassment of us calling your mom.)

These days there’s a healthy split in how TOs take player registration. For example, the StarCityGames.com Open Series favors players typing in their own DCI number into a keypad that feeds directly into a tournament registration file. Other TOs like to have players fill out a paper registration slip with their name and DCI number. If this is the case, memorizing your number is less essential for maintaining efficiency.

The most important thing to do here is to write legibly. Print your name and DCI number very clearly. Do not write your name in cursive. If your name ends up misspelled in the tournament files, it is most likely that the Scorekeeper could not decipher your handwriting. Writing your DCI number indecipherably can be bad too, but the combination pretty much makes you impossible to correctly register into the tournament. You’ll either end up as a “Joe” (player with no DCI number listed) or with the wrong name, which might make it hard for you to find your seat.

Once the tournament begins, your primary way of interacting with the Scorekeeper is via match result slips, and this can be another area of frustration for your beleaguered SK. When you get on an airplane, there will be an announcement or video about safety features on the plane. One of them mentions the smoke detector in the lavatory with, “Do not tamper with, disable, or destroy the smoke detector.” This is exactly how I feel about match result slips. Do not do anything to them other than write the result and sign it. Some examples of things you should not do:

Do not fold or crumple your match result slip.

Do not spill coffee or other liquids on your match result slip. As for how you don’t spill something, which by definition is an accident, just keep your food and drinks off the table. That way when they do spill, you’re spilling on the floor. In other words, I don’t want players to turn in any match result sips.

Do not make extraneous marks on your match result slip. If you have any questions about how to fill out your slip, ask a judge. On the front of the slip, extraneous marks that are close to the drop column may be interpreted unfavorably by the SK, and you may be accidentally dropped. I’ve seen player signatures that had too big of a flourish get interpreted as a drop marking. Definitely do not use the back of the slip to record life totals. The back of the slip is for judges to mark down infractions and penalties. Using up that space for life totals can cause problems for judges, and seeing markings through the slip will most likely cause the SK to flip over the slip expecting to find said infractions.


“Don’t do that.”

Do not put your result slip into your pocket or backpack. This often results in match result slips walking out of the hall with you on your smoke/restroom/lunch break, and the inevitable announcement for the two players in the match to come up to the stage to report the result. It’s just another potential time sink that we cannot afford. If you must leave for the bathroom immediately, go ahead and hand your slip to a judge or ask your opponent to take up the slip.

It’s important to keep your Scorekeeper happy on this front. At a Grand Prix, your SK has to enter hundreds of results per round. Hundreds of iterations of rapid-fire ten-key typing and mouse clicking. It can be a monotonous and soul-sucking endeavor that leaves the best of us drained from “just sitting there behind a computer.” Part of the reason for this is that the tournament software program DCI Reporter (or DCI-R) is the spawn of Satan and Elesh Norn. It does terrible things, sometimes seemingly at random. Some of the worst of the worst problems:

There is a screen where SKs enter infractions and penalties. There is a text entry field on this screen where you can type in a brief description of what the player did, like “cast spell with wrong mana,” or “registered 59-card deck.” The backspace button does not work in this entry field. If you mistype something and want to delete it, you have to use the back arrow or point and click to an earlier point and use the delete button to “forwardspace.” For someone (everyone) who has spent a lifetime using backspace to erase mistakes, the loss of this functionality is shockingly relevant. Even more frustrating is that this is a standard feature on computers and it seems like the programmer would have had to intentionally disable this functionality for this entry field. WTF!


Scorekeeping can be hazardous to your sanity.

After you enter the last result for a round, the program takes a few seconds to recalculate everyone’s points. Depending on the size of your event and how much processing power your livestream of the Pro Tour coverage is taking up, this could take a few seconds. If you pair the next round before this process runs to completion, the program will pair the next round . . . with last round’s point totals. This is suboptimal and the primary reason you see frantic repairing at events. TL;DR sometimes you can be faster than DCI-R, and it punishes you for your insolence.

Two-Headed Giant. That is all.

Oh, you want to hear more? Well, 2HG (and more recently Team Trios) tournaments are their own special version of confusion. Sometimes the tournament will just disappear/ eat entire past rounds. If your tournament is small enough, it is possible to recover from this gaffe, but there is one legendary problem that is irrevocably bad. Normally, it is a relatively simple matter to reenter a player after they have dropped and the next round has been paired. Yes, it takes some know how to be able to manipulate pairings, but it is possible.

If you try to do this in 2HG or Teams, it will work maybe half the time. The other half the time, your tournament will just explode in a bloody splatter of guts and booster packs. This happened to me at a Prerelease once, and we had to run the last two rounds via the old index cards method that dinosaurs like me like to tell the younger judges about. We also had to walk back to our hotel through the snow uphill both ways.

With these quirks and traps lurking in the weeds, Scorekeepers are always on edge. The fewer problems you cause for them the better. Write neatly, know your DCI number, don’t mutilate your result slip, listen to announcements, and read all the signs that are posted. It might not be a “stupid question,” but if it’s something that is asked frequently, it is likely that there is some signage up that answers your question. For example, many TOs will have their side events schedule and prize payout posted in multiple places. Another frequent artifact of the event stage is the “Drop Sheet.” If you want to drop from the event after your match result slip has been turned in, this is an excellent piece of paper to neatly print your name on.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bouncing around the StarCityGames.com Salt Lake City Open Series, a weekend of fun and games in Minneapolis during Gen Con week, the Baltimore Open, and then a Judge Conference in Bozeman, Montana alongside a StarCityGames.com Super IQ. And I’ll see you all here in this space in two weeks.