The Justice League – British Nationals and Grand Prix: Brighton

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Tuesday, August 25th – British Nationals and Grand Prix: Brighton were, for me, a single event, as I was one of the relatively few judges on staff for four consecutive days. I had a great deal of fun there, and this is my tournament report.

British Nationals and Grand Prix: Brighton were, for me, a single event, as I was one of the relatively few judges on staff for four consecutive days. I had a great deal of fun there, and this is my tournament report.

It starts on the Wednesday, LCQ day for some, but a rest day for me. The schedulers decided that no-one working both Nationals and the GP should be required to work for all five days. However, that didn’t mean that I didn’t have work to do. Somehow I had booked my train to Brighton without ever really considering what I was meant to do once I got there, and when I got there, my mobile phone was dead.

Still, after swinging by one of the many mobile phone shops I found myself a charger, and headed to the sea front. I guessed at the Holiday Inn near the venue as being the judge hotel. To be fair I was only a few hundred metres off, but stopping at the business centre let me spend £1 on 10 minutes of Internet to find the address of the place I was really staying. Whilst there I noticed an unused plug, so took the opportunity to charge my phone.

I scoped out the venue; a quick count showed it could be laid out for 800 or so players, which would be big for a British GP but still small for mainland Europe. I tried to pick up some final missing cards for a friend’s deck, but with the Great Sable Stag hitting £20 in the dealer’s folders I left it there. Thankfully one of my judging friends had his whole Standard collection in the boot of his car and was more than willing to let me borrow a card or 6. No Stags of course, but amusingly, there was a playset of Baneslayer Angel. How lucky!

I had two important jobs for that evening – get to the Team Leader meeting and the ‘regular’ judge briefing. I was to be Team Lead for the logistics team. It’s fairly tricky to say what a logistics team does, but essentially there are usually three types of team on the floor: logistics, paper, and deck checks. It’s probably pretty obvious what the deck check team does. The paper team take care of everything else that involves paper (i.e. posting standings and pairings, chopping and distributing results slips, etc.). Logistics are then the gap-fillers. They get the other jobs done which get the tournament going. At the start of the round, deck checks and paper are usually busy, so they’re on top of floor coverage, but for Nationals, logistics had very important tasks — the booster drafts.

I was scared of the Nationals format from the off. Day 1 was to include three rounds of Standard, followed by a Shards of Alara block draft, followed by three rounds of play, followed by another Shards of Alara block draft, followed by one round of play. Seven rounds of play with two draft/deck-building portions in between sounded quite tricky, but I needn’t have worried. Of course, Day 2 of the GP was to include nine rounds of play from three drafts! However, GP Day 2 starts earlier in the day, and for a lot of people this would be their first Nationals.

I have to say, by Thursday morning I still didn’t have a totally clear idea of how the drafts would work, but I had three rounds of Standard in which to figure it out. We didn’t have anything particularly useful for marking out draft pods, so I handed Jeff Brennan a bunch of blank table numbers, the numbers 1-24 printed twice in as large a font size as would fit on A4 paper, and some Sellotape. When I came back, I had 24 highly visible pod numbers. Congratulations Jeff! I received feedback over the course of the tournament that no player had to stop and ask where pod X was, so my hat is off to you for making the most highly visible pod numbers yet!

Seating and product distribution was also going to be tricky – we had no specialist draft pod tables, i.e. round tables, so we had to use the rectangular ones we had. We weren’t allowed to move them, nor the seats around them. So, here’s what I did – I gave every judge I could get my hands on a slip of paper with their name on, and the number of two draft pods to which they would distribute product. The numbering wasn’t obvious as the pod numbers snaked throughout the hall. For instance, pods 1 and 8 were next to each other, and so were pods 4 and 5, and there weren’t enough judges to give one to each pod.

So, after the end of Round 4, we did not call an extra player meeting – we simply posted sheets directing players to their pods. When they arrived at their pods, a smaller sheet of paper was there to tell the players which seat to take at the pod. Or, at least, it would have been – the players were a little too quick for us this time! Thankfully we learned our lesson by the time the second draft pod rolled around – the paper team got the within-pod seating printed and cut first before delivering the pod assignments, meaning the players arrived at a pod which already contained all necessary information.

During the draft, the paper team replaced the small piece of paper which had pod seating on with another small piece of paper letting each player know where they were to sit for deck-building. This was a fantastic move; instead of requiring each player to find a pairings board and get back to their deck-building seat, they could just go directly to their deck-building seat. This worked so well that we used the exact same system for the GP Day 2.

I don’t think there’s anything much more interesting to say about Nationals Day 1. I got a decent lie-in for the next day – I was put in charge of the GPT ‘grinders’ which were due to kick of at 12:30, so I wasn’t needed until 11:30. Now, I’d like to say I took the opportunity to catch some parts of Brighton that I’d otherwise missed, but I did not. I slept. I was tired already, and knowing there were still three days to go kept me on the straight and narrow. It’s a shame, because I did not get that great a chance to socialize with the British judges who would only judge the Nationals before going home, but it benefitted me in the long run professionally.

Day 2 of Nationals gave we more work than I was expecting. I honestly did not expect 32-man single elimination sealed deck flights to be that popular, but the byes must have been important enough to enough people as five 32-man flights and one 16-man flight did indeed fire by the end of the day. The altered prize structure probably helped; the winner took a three-round bye and seven boosters, the runner up got a two-round bye and 7 boosters, 3rd and 4th got a one-round bye and seven boosters. 3rd round losers got 3 boosters each, and 2nd round losers got 1 booster each. Still, 4 out of 32 players getting some byes was a nice touch.

My most important call came during this day, but not from the Grand Prix Trials: a player intentionally mana-weaved his deck, deliberately positioning the cards land-spell-spell, land-spell-spell, then gave the deck a half-hearted shuffle before presenting. I quickly came to the conclusion that the player in question was being sloppy rather than deliberately malicious, and issued a Game Loss for Insufficient Randomization, rather than a disqualification for Cheating – Manipulation of Game Materials. I did this by investigating the player for intent. I asked him to demonstrate exactly what he had done, and why he was doing it. He indicated that his mana-weaving was something that he did every time, he certainly made no attempt to lie to me during the investigation, and he demonstrated his shuffling post mana-weave. Through his actions I believe he intended to shuffle his deck thoroughly after the weaving, which would be perfectly legal, but this time we happened to see him shuffle less than necessary.

Unfortunately I was unable to locate a copy of the MIPG at the time, and had I been able to see it in print, I would have seen the following line – “Any manipulation, weaving, or stacking prior to randomization is acceptable, as long as the deck is thoroughly randomized afterwards. Doing so and not sufficiently randomizing afterwards is defined as Cheating — Manipulation of Game Materials.” It seems that I, by definition, gave an inappropriate penalty, and should have disqualified the player. There’s a lesson to be learnt here – no matter how good your memory, it’s always worth reading the sections on infraction philosophy if you’re ever unsure of which infraction applies.

Managing six simultaneous flights, and being the Head Judge of all of them, is no mean feat, but as long as you’ve remembered to find a way to get all of your judges to have a break, then it’s usually plain sailing. In fact there comes a point where the task is mainly about team co-ordination and break strategy, only interrupted every now and again for a pesky Magic ruling. I swear that you could transplant the entire judge staff for Magic Nationals and have them run Yu Gi Oh Nationals or World of Warcraft Nationals instead, just so long as each judge got a small briefing on the rules, and was introduced to the rules guru for the game in question.

The end of Nationals Day 2 was my hardest task: some higher up judges who shall remain nameless dismissed most of my late shift without realising that they had essentially left me two judges with which to tidy the room and renumber tables for the GP the following morning. I was fortunate enough to have access to a number of off-duty staff who were playing EDH who were very gracious in helping with the clean-up job. Their massive efforts certainly did not go unnoticed by the GP crew the following day.

Speaking of which, the following day started off fairly tricky for me. Having left the hall after midnight, I was expected to be at the venue ready to head up public events for Day 1 of the GP at 7:30. I’ve seen worse scheduling, and was up to the task, but it didn’t make it any less painful! Half price drafting for the opening four or so hours meant that we actually fired 22 drafts by the time the queues closed, with the only real public event being a nicely sized 25-team 2HG tournament which for the most part was held in the casual atmosphere 2HG was intended for. There was one sticky point where a team attempted to cast Fireball for 7 damage, dividing the damage as 5 to one target and 2 to another. Of course, Fireball does not work this way, but have they announced Fireball legally? I think there are two ways to read this, and it depends on exactly what words the players used. It may be the case that they announced Fireball with X=7, which is a totally legal announcement, and then tried to divide the damage 5 and 2 on resolution. Policy dictates here that takebacks are not allowed, and the spell should resolve as written – i.e. dealing 3 damage to each of the two targets.

There is another interpretation – they could have announced the spell as “Fireball dealing 5 here and 2 here,” which could be interpreted as an illegal announcement of the spell, allowing the judge to back up to before the spell was cast. I was later informed that the ruling judge took this view and, on explaining the situation to both teams, allowed the offending team to change their targets now knowing how the spell worked. As this was a casual 2HG tournament at Regular REL, it seemed both in character for the tournament and a good example of great customer service, but I’m interested to hear your opinions on whether or not the judge should have done this.

There was one ruling from the floor that caused some confusion amongst the main event staff. Player A controls an Alluring Siren, which is activated, causing Player B’s Jackal Familiar to attack. Player B also controls a Runeclaw Bear that is able to attack. Now, Jackal Familiar cannot attack alone, so is Player B force to swing with the team or not?

The answer may be surprising to some – yes he is. There are 4 possible attacks you can make with those 2 creatures on the board:

a) No attacks
b) Jackal Familiar only attacks
c) Runeclaw Bear only attacks
d) Both Jackal Familiar and Runeclaw Bear attack.

B is illegal because it violates an attacking restriction: Jackal Familiar cannot attack alone. Of the remaining legal options, neither A nor C satisfy the attacking requirement of the Alluring Siren, but B does, and is therefore strictly better rules-wise. Therefore, attacking with the team is the only legal option.

Day 2 of the GP saw me on the paper team in what felt like a repeat of Nationals Day 1. Two drafts to get through, same system, similar tasks. I guess that’s a positive side effect of having the two tournaments run into each other. It did, however, have one final surprising twist for me. I have never been involved in a GP or Pro Tour Top 8 before, and asked Head Judge Kevin Desprez, who at this point had not published a Top 8 team, if I could be involved. Imagine my surprise when I was not only put in charge of the Top 8 team, but asked to create that team from the available judges on the floor! Many thanks to Claudia, Ray, and Pavel for creating a beautiful Top 8 Draft area for the players and spectators, to Andreas for calling the final draft, and to Kevin for giving me this opportunity. I really felt that I had taken the advice for taking breaks and staying on top of your health to heart, as I felt more energised than ever during the Top 8, despite it coming at the end of four days of hard work.

Two situations are worth reporting from the Top 8, both of which were in the Juza-Stone semi final. First, some bad news. There was an unfortunate mistake made in the match, where Juza had a 2/2 creature equipped with Gorgon Flail (making it a 3/3) attacking into a 2/4. Nothing untoward here, until Juza moved the Gorgon Flail to another creature, leaving in play a 2/2 which had taken two damage. From my distance outside the playing area I did not see the error, and by the time a spectator explained to me what had happened, the players were shuffling up for game 2. I have no idea if the mistake was pivotal in the ending of the game, but I decided the best course of action was to interrupt the players, confirm with them that the events as reported had occurred, and let them know that despite the error, the result of game 1 still stood. This understandably caused some distress to Juza’s opponent, but I’m convinced this was a better approach than letting the error go completely.

Second, Martin Juza certainly knows how a Fireball works, using one to great effect to take out an Illusionary Servant and deal damage to both his opponent and another creature. The trick? Fireball only divides its damage on resolution. As long as you pay the one to target the Illusionary Servant, when Fireball resolves, as the Servant is no longer in play, the damage is divided only amongst the remaining targets. His opponent expressed some surprise at the move, but the residing judge could do no more than shrug as if to say “Yeah, nice play!”

And, as difficult as it is to imagine that four days of hard judging could go by in a flash, that was the end of my tournament.

For a bonus I’m going to go all “single card strategy” and take a really in-depth look at Harm’s Way. For an initially simple-sounding piece of rules text, this has to get the award for most interesting card of M2010, judge-wise.

The next 2 damage that a source of your choice would deal to you or a permanent you control this turn is dealt to target creature or player instead.

The proper way to cast Harm’s Way: On announcing the spell, you must announce what you are targeting with the spell. That means where will you be redirecting the damage to. When the spell resolves, then you must choose the source you will redirect damage from. Finally, when the damage happens, you may specify which 2 damage is redirected. I have it on good authority than you can really spook lesser players out just by announcing Harm’s Way properly!

Now for a close reading of the text:

“The next 2 damage” – Some spells deal more than 2 damage at once. For example, Volcanic Fallout with 2 Runeclaw Bears in play will deal 8 damage. 6 of that 8 damage satisfies the “to your or a creature you control” criteria, so you get to choose which two damage is redirected. Personally I’d choose one point from each of the Runeclaw Bears in most situations where my life total is healthy.

“that a source of your choice” – When the spell resolves, you must choose a source of damage. It must be something you can see, regardless of whether or not it is now dealing damage. A spell on the stack is a perfectly good choice, but so is any permanent in play, even in the upkeep. Even your opponent’s Mountain can be chosen as a damage source, despite the fact that it is a very slim possibility that the Mountain will ever deal damage.

“would deal to you or a permanent you control” – note that you don’t choose what damage to redirect until it actually happens. Also, Harm’s Way is picky about what damage you can redirect – you can’t redirect damage your opponent is about to do to himself, for instance. This is crucial when determining what to do when my opponent and I both play a Harm’s Way. As far as I know, Wizards haven’t yet printed a card that allows two players to control the same creature. Therefore, only my Harm’s Way or my opponent’s Harm’s Way can ever apply to any single point of damage. Of course, after I’ve applied my Harm’s Way, my opponent’s might become applicable, but never both at the same time.

“this turn” – Okay, there’s not much interesting going on here; the redirection shield has a time limit. And it really means “this turn,” as the shield goes away in the cleanup step.

“is dealt to target creature or player” – This is the only target in the spell, so that’s the only thing you must announce when casting the spell. This also makes it very easy to kill an Illusionary Servant with Harm’s Way.

“instead” – Finally, the signpost that this is really a redirection effect.

Note that no part of the spell claims responsibility for the damage. The original damage source is still the source of the damage. If a creature has protection from White, then it obviously cannot be targeted by Harm’s Way. However, a creature with protection from White can be chosen as a damage source to redirect. Finally, if you were to redirect damage from a Green source to a creature with protection from Green, which is a perfectly legal announcement of Harm’s Way, the damage will be redirected, but will fail to do anything.

Harm’s Way also doesn’t change the type of damage, so if you were to redirect combat damage, then it’s still combat damage. Ditto for Wither and Deathtouch. Combat damage in particular cannot be redirected to enemy Planeswalkers. In fact, if your opponent attacks you with a creature, there are 2 reasons why you cannot redirect the combat damage to his planeswalker – firstly combat damage cannot be redirected to a planeswalker, and secondly you cannot redirect damage from a source you do not control to a planeswalker.

I’ve edited this Harm’s Way section many times already, and I think it’s time to call it a night. Please please please let me know in the forums if you have any outstanding Harm’s Way questions, or if I’ve managed to confuse rather than clarify.

Before I go, I must give my congratulations to Peter Stephenson from Birmingham who made it to Level 2 this weekend, by my count bringing the worldwide total of Level 2+ judges to 352, and bringing the UK and Ireland count to 9. Peter was obviously a good choice to receive last year’s “Rising Star” award at the UK and Ireland Judge Conference!