The Justice League – GPs, Cons, and Video

Thursday, August 26th – Judging Magic can often feel like a second job. So while embarking on the long drives to GP: Columbus and GenCon the week after, I started to think about what kinds of things I could do for fun…

Hello everyone! As my last article hit the internet in July, I was just starting the long road to GP: Columbus. As often happens with the longer road trips which take me east, I made a pit stop in Louisville, KY for a Thursday night M11 draft at Bluegrass Magic with Brennan Moody’s crowd. In between rounds I was chatting with Brennan as the plans for the Kentucky Open were starting to come together. You can be sure I’ll be there, and so will StarCityGames.com, and Riki Hayashi as head judge for the weekend fun. I’m proud to say that I’ve had some input into the Kentucky Open HJ choice in the last few years (Jared Sylva and Eric Shukan being previous HJs on my suggestion), and Riki was my first choice when the subject came up again last January.

The next detour was a shorter one, to Indianapolis to pick up fellow judges Eman Palmeri and Phil McLaury. By the time we arrived in Columbus on Friday afternoon, I realized that I’d been made a team lead for Saturday on the main event. I usually try and avoid judging on the Friday grinders, as I’m far too interested in playing in some of them myself. It’s a good chance to relax before the madness starts, and it will probably be my only chance to play during the entire weekend. I know a lot of judges that will draft or play EDH to perhaps 3am, but I just need my sleep too much for that. So I occupied myself with some planning for my deck check team on Friday afternoon. This involved thinking about how I was going to pair the members of the team to do deck checks (preferably L2 with L1 or L0), what I planned to go over with the team at the first meeting of the day, and also jot down some ideas for quick team talks during the afternoon. At a busy GP like Columbus, it’s very easy to lose touch with the individual members of the team, and bringing the team together at the end of every other round to talk about a quick rules topic helps to keep everyone on board and involved in the team. For GP: Columbus, I lead talks on the steps in casting a spell, layers, new philosophy on drawing extra cards, and communications policy from the tournament rules. Satisfied that I was prepared, I then played FNM at the convention center before retiring for the night.

Saturday was my first chance to judge a Legacy event for quite some time. In fact, I think my last event was judging the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Indianapolis back in March. Interesting story about that one: I had no idea I was working that event, let alone HJing it, until I read an article about the launch of the expanded Open series plans on StarCityGames.com back in January which had my name on it (of course, not that I would have ever turned them down for bestowing such an honor, but it certainly surprised me as I read it!). Some of the more common calls for the day included the following:

Many people were packing Trinisphere in their sideboards to combat opponents playing variations on an Aluren deck. Yes, Trinisphere does trump it and force three mana to be paid (C.R. 601.2e).

Cards like Chalice of the Void and Counterbalance are waiting to trigger when a player casts a spell. A player activating an Isochron Scepter is indeed casting a copy, but the copy may or may not have a converted mana cost of two. It costs two mana to activate the Isochron Scepter, but its converted mana cost of the actual spell is still in the top right corner of the original card. That cmc will be one for cards like Lightning Bolt and Silence. Keep in mind that Conspire (C.R. 702.75), Gravestorm (C.R. 702.66) and Replicate (C.R. 702.53) are merely putting copies of the original casted spell on the stack, which are not being cast.

Vedalken Shackles cares about the power of the creature and the number of Islands you control on activation and resolution because it’s part of the targeting requirement. However, once it resolves, it doesn’t matter if the power changes (from say a Giant Growth) or the number or Islands changes, or even whether the creature is still a creature (say a Mutavault at the end of turn). The only things that will end the control effect are the Vedalken Shackles becoming untapped, its destruction, or it leaving the battlefield for any reason.

We also had some players turning up with altered art during the morning. While head judges have been more relaxed about this in the last year, the basic principle still holds that the card must still be recognizable from across the table. Therefore the artwork of the card plays a big part in that. One of the coolest cards I saw all weekend from this respect was a set of Tarmogoyfs that had been altered to look like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street!

Very beautiful, but completely unusable for a competitive tournament like day 1 of a GP!

I just want to quickly mention that players are still getting themselves into trouble for decklist problems! Illegal decklists are a game loss, and a really bad way to start Round 2 of your day. We gave a game loss to one guy who had written ‘Knights of Columbus’ instead of Knight of the Reliquary. However we did downgrade for another player who only wrote ‘Jitte’ for Umezawa’s Jitte. We’re allowed to do this because we can take into account the uniqueness of the name, and uniqueness specific to the format being played. There are no other cards with Jitte in any part of the card name. However, we absolutely do not try and analyze strategic importance of a card.

For example, if you were playing a Red/White deck and wrote Ajani Vengeant on the decklists but your deck actually contained Ajani Goldmane, you would not only receive a deck/decklist penalty and a game loss, but we would actually force you to play with the Ajani Vengeant. Assuming both Ajanis are legal for the format, it is not the judge’s job to make a strategy decision on how good/bad either Ajani Vengeant or Goldmane is for the deck — that’s your job! So if the decklists itself is legal, we’ll force you to change to Ajani Vengeant. Furthermore, even if your deck is Mono White, you’ll still have to play with Ajani Vengeant. Again, it’s not the judge’s job to make strategy-based decisions on whether there are ways to get a R/W card onto the battlefield with just White mana. This would result in judges of varied experience and knowledge of the card pool occasionally making different decisions.

Questions aside, the most awesome game I saw played on Day 1 was a deck that initially looked like a version of the old Madness decks from Odyssey block. He cast a Wild Mongrel on turn 2, discarded 3 Vengevine to the Mongrel, then discarded a Basking Rootwalla and cast it for its madness cost. Naturally he brought the three triggering Vengevines when their triggers resolved back and swung for 12!

48 hours later, I found myself driving home and thinking about the desire to find more opportunities to educate judges at big events. Having team meetings is all very nice and cosy, but they are not always practical or possible to manage alongside the needs of a big event. Even when the deck checks are finished for the round, you still have a responsibility to maintain floor coverage for areas of the GP. Also members of your team might be delegated to other tasks or be on their lunch break and it soon becomes difficult to get everyone in the same spot at the same time. So with GenCon around the corner I was looking forward to trying to implement some seminars during the weekend. However, as it came close to GenCon, it became clear that seminars were going to be a difficult pill to swallow. These are very long days for the judges, and unlike GPs, most of the judge staff are starting and finishing at very different times! So while I was catching up with things Magic-related on the Tuesday between GP: Columbus and GenCon, I started to think about ways of using video and the web. It wasn’t an entirely brand new thread of thought to me, as I’d been very impressed with the video work Ingrid Lind-Jahn and others had been doing for over a year. Also, at GP: Washington earlier this year I’d been chatting with Max Knowlan about the prospect of doing something with video as a training tool. Long story short, I hit upon the idea of trying to produce five-minute videos that break up and explain the infractions procedure guidelines (IPG). Many people still find the IPGs very daunting to read, and some video of individual infractions might open the detailed rules of the game up to a wider audience than ever before. So I armed myself with a camcorder and headed off to GenCon the next morning.

Trouble is, even just trying to get people together for a video shoot can be difficult at a big event. I almost had it happen on Saturday, but then things kept cropping up. I eventually managed to get John Alderfer and Jeff Morrow to take pity on me and give up their time on Sunday once things were winding down. My gratitude goes out to both gentlemen, but especially Jeff who wasn’t even involved in Magic that weekend. He was in another part of the hall promoting another game. However, at the DCI we’re really an extended family, and when the call goes out, the family come together!

We decided to shoot a video based on drawing extra cards, mainly because that’s one of the major changes to the rules this past summer. We talked a bit about where we wanted to go with this and who the target audience was. My feeling was that it should be something that someone new to the IPG would find useful and easy to follow, but I didn’t want it to be just a dry reading of the IPG either from a set of cue cards. So my plan was to have John and Jeff talk about things that were familiar, like Howling Mine interactions, but also things that would be new and perhaps freshen up the understanding of the infractions and force people to examine it from a slightly different angle than they are used to.

3.4. Game Play Error — Drawing Extra Cards
This infraction is committed when a player illegally puts one or more cards into their hand and, at the moment before he or she did so, no Game Rule Violation or Player Communication Violation had been committed.

Additionally, it is Drawing Extra Cards if a player has excess cards in their hand that he or she cannot account for.

Example 1: Howling Mine is destroyed, but during the next turn the player forgets this and draws a card and also a card for his normal turn. This is an example of drawing extra cards, since at the moment before the card is drawn (for the non-existent Howling Mine) there is no game rule violation or communications issue.

Example 2: This started out as a player casting Preordain and looking at the top two cards. He puts one card on the bottom and then the other card into his hand. Now, I had initially thought this would be a drawing extra cards penalty again, but Jeff Morrow correctly pointed out that what’s really happened here is that the player has taken a shortcut. Instead of putting one card on the bottom, one on the top, and then drawing, he’s used a shortcut to put that second card directly in his hand. So no penalty and the game moves on.

Example 2b: So this became a player who casts Preordain, looks at the top two, puts one on the bottom, one into his hand, and then draws another card straight away. Okay… clarity! The player has taken a shortcut, but forgets that he’s taken a shortcut and draws another card. So just before that second card draw happened, there was no game rule violation (accepting the use of the shortcut anyway) and no communication issue. Therefore it’s drawing extra cards and a game loss.

Example 3: A player has a Grizzly Bear on the battlefield and it’s targeted by a Lightning Bolt. When it resolves, the player puts the card into his hand instead of into his graveyard. Again, just before the card is put in the player’s hand there is no game rule violation or communications problem. Therefore it’s drawing extra cards and a game loss.

Example 4: Player casts Mulldrifter for its Evoke cost but uses Red mana instead of Blue. He lets the triggered ability of the Mulldrifter resolve and draws two cards. So here, just before the card draw, we do have a game rule violation in place. The player used the wrong color of mana for the payment of the Mulldrifter evoke cost. The infraction is therefore treated as a game rule violation, and we put the two cards back or two random cards if they can’t be identified clearly. The player receives a warning and the game moves on.

Example 5: This was another one we talked about and eventually changed before recording. I had planned to talk about Sign in Blood and the player mumbling something about the target of the spell and the opponent thinking it was him and drawing cards. We decided this was going to be difficult to explain. We almost called it a day there, until I came up with an acceptable alternative.

Example 5b: Player is taking his time on his turn and the opponent gets impatient and asks, “Is is my turn yet?” The active player responds “No”, but his opponent thinks he hears, “go” and draws a card for his turn. Here the game has broken down, because of imprecise communication between the two players. This is not drawing extra cards and not a game loss. We call it a communications violation and back up to when the game state was clear to both players.

Okay, so examples 1 and 3 speak to known territory from the IPG examples. Things got a bit more interesting when we got more adventurous!

Behold the final product of our fruits, dear reader…

Before I finish, I’d just like to mention that we’re going to be introducing a new face to the Justice League very shortly. Sadly, Max Knowlan has been pursuing other ideas, and is fast feeling that he’s short on time to write his articles. Max has been a fantastic member of the team, and has personally been a great resource for me to tap into at many a GP event over the past few years. So for about the last month, we’ve been looking for a suitable replacement. I’d had one name in mind when I heard Max was leaving, and as fate would have it, he was part of my deck check team for GP: Columbus a few weeks ago. So while I hate to see Max go, I’m very pleased to welcome L2 Abe Corson, currently from Washington DC, to the fold. Abe is an excellent L2 on the east coast, and is well respected by all who work with him. His first article should hit your monitor screens in two weeks!