The Justice League – Judges Gone Wild: An MTGO Event For Judges

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Thursday, July 1st – One of the tricky issues for the greater judge community is the subject of compensation and rewarding judges for their efforts. I think most people are aware that judges get boosters from the latest set when judging a prerelease or local PTQ. Slightly less well known is the fact that judges get special foil cards each year – judge foils.

One of the tricky issues for the greater judge community is the subject of compensation and rewarding judges for their efforts. I think most people are aware that judges get boosters from the latest set when judging a prerelease or local PTQ. Slightly less well known is the fact that judges get special foil cards each year – judge foils – which are given out as gifts at larger events like Grand Prix, StarCityGames.com Open Weekends, and Pro Tour events. These judge foils tend to be older cards which have been previously unavailable in foil, or perhaps have been given new artwork. Packs and foils are certainly very nice, but I sometimes think the judge community is missing an opportunity with the traditional emphasis on older cards. Now, you’ll never please all the people, all of the time, but even though I’ve been playing this game for over 10 years, I find a lot of the judge foils are cards from before I started playing.

While these cards will be loved by a great many established judges, these cards don’t always have any personal sentimental value for me if I’ve never played with them. Again, I want to stress that pleasing James Elliott should NOT be on anybody’s “to do list,” but as we try and recruit new judges, and that probably means younger judges, we’re likely talking about people who will tend to have less than 10 years of game experience. Therefore I feel these older cards are not going to appeal as much to potential new blood. It’s very rare to have a judge foil which is current enough to still be even Extended legal. Normally at best previous cards issued like Orim’s Chant appeared as a judge foil, just as it was about to rotate out of the format. Off hand, I can’t think of any recent judge foil that was still Standard legal the year it was released. My point being that I think the judge foils should at least in part try and entice new judges, and I think the way to do that needs a partial focus on formats like Standard because this is where newer players find most of the cards that they have a love and nostalgia for. After all, they’ve likely spent a lot of their Magic life playing with more recent cards produced in the last 5 years or less.

Now, if someone was insane enough to give me the power over judge foils for five minutes, my gut shortlist of cards would something look like this –

1. Kokusho, the Evening Star
2. Cruel Ultimatum
3. Mirrorweave
4. Elspeth, Knight-Errant
5. Noble Hierarch

Of course, this is just MY opinion, but I want you to think about the one clear, runaway winner in the judge foil stakes since the program started: Exalted Angel. First thing that strikes everyone is that the artwork for this judge foil was just freaking awesome (take heed, Dark Ritual — boo, hissss). However, I think the love for this card has almost as much do with how iconic and fun the card was when it came out in Onslaught block. Also, the card was still relatively tournament relevant (at least in Extended). If we really want to get new people excited about judging. then we need exciting judge foils. Remember that it’s okay to like shiny cool cards. While some people might enquire about judging with the wrong motivation (power, money, the beautiful girls that are attracted to judges, etc), I think these kind of people never stick it out because judging is hard work and takes true dedication for their community. People will take notice of cool shiny judge foils, but they’ll stay judges because of the larger scale of friendship and satisfaction they’ll develop from working a big event.

Ironically, I think the choices for Grand Prix foils given out to players in the last couple of years has been spot on, with Chrome Mox and Umezawa’s Jitte. However, judges who work these events do NOT receive a copy of these cards. I think that’s a shame, as judges would love to get one too!

Anyway, I don’t want you to think that things are terrible for a judge — far from it. I’ve been really impressed with some of the fresh thinking that’s been illustrated this year in the judge program. I was a very humble recipient of an uncut foil sheet of Zendikar this year for my efforts judging along with others after PT: San Diego. Last year at Gencon I was offered compensation in the form of MTGO product for the weekend (I didn’t take it, but I regretted that almost instantly). I’d like to see ‘digital comp’ become a lot more common in the future if possible. Just this weekend, I got to take part in an online tournament for judges only. It was the brainchild of L 4 judge Jason Lems and saw 178 judges pick up the gauntlet for 8 rounds of swiss using a Rise of the Eldrazi sealed format. Every judge who entered received an alternate artwork promo Scent of Cinder (not available for the rest of the MTGO universe until April 2011!). I’m told that the Top 8 on Saturday received a foil promo Orim’s Chant. The lucky winner received sponsorship to a Pro Tour of their choice to judge anywhere in the next year! There is already another judge sealed event planned for July 2nd this weekend at 5pm pacific coast time. All judges that registered their MTGO name but can’t play should receive some digital packs in a few weeks.

I don’t get a lot of time to play Magic these days, and even when I do, obviously I actually spend a lot of time judging. I caught up with some old friends during the tournament on Saturday and made some new friends as well. I must confess I haven’t touched MTGO for years, and was almost caught out by how much the game had changed visually and operationally. I hastily put together the following deck –

1 Joraga Treespeaker
1 Caravan Escort
2 Beastbreaker of Bala Ged
1 Lone Missionary
1 Knight of Cliffhaven
1 Nest Invader
1 Affa Guard Hound
1 Hedron-Field Purists
1 Daggerback Basilisk
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Kozilek’s Predator
1 Wildheart Invoker
1 Emrakul’s Hatcher
2 Ulamog’s Crusher
1 Flame Slash
1 Heat Ray
1 Guard Duty
2 Smite
1 Pennon Blade
1 Disaster Radius
4 Mountain
7 Plains
6 Forest

I don’t want to bore everyone with a blow by blow account of every round, but here are some of the highlights.

Round 1 I played Franco Vaca from Argentina. Early in game 1 I was swinging with two leveled up Beastbreaker of Bala Ged, until their demise. Just when I thought Franco’s Totem Armor powered Aura Gnarlid was going to rapidly kill me, I managed to find a Ulamog’s Crusher and smash through for victory in another 2 turns. Game 2 Franco had the jump on me and produced his own Ulamog’s Crusher first, but I was ready with a spawn token and Smite. I got through the rest of the game primarily thanks to a leveled up Knight of Cliffhaven that was being pumped each turn by a Wildheart invoker.

Round 2 I played Pierre Laquerre from France (being diplomatic I didn’t mention the World Cup and the rapid exit by France). Game 1 I was unable to get any Forests and therefore sat with an almost full hand for the game. And all the while Pierre used a pair of Vent Sentinels to whittle my life total down fast. Game 2 I made a much healthier start and was swinging with a leveled up Beastbreaker of Bala Ged again until Pierre stopped it with Narcolepsy. Things were looking ugly for me when Pierre brought out his Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief and started swinging, but I thought I had salvaged the situation next turn when I drew into Disaster Radius and cast it revealing a Emrakul’s Hatcher. However, Pierre crushed my hopes next turn with the introduction of a Conquering Manticore… he stole my Beastbreaker that was tapped down with Narcolepsy and killed me with it!

Round 3 I played Glenn Godard, Mr Sunmesa games himself from sunny California. I’ve worked a few events for Glenn out on the west coast (including GP: LA) and it’s always been a pleasure. Anyway, enough of that sentiment, because on MTGO this was war! Game 1 is a slow death for me as Glenn’s deck was evasion intensive with multiple Skywatcher Adept and Champion’s Drake. With some Merfolk Skyscouts in support and his Explosive Revelation hitting the mark, I was barely able to dent him before dying. Game 2 was a bit slow for both of us, but I thought I was back in the match when I got a Ulamog’s Crusher onto the battlefield on turn 6, thanks to a couple of spawn tokens. However, Glenn was ready with Narcolepsy. Glenn produced a Sphinx of Magosi, but thankfully I was ready with a Heat Ray. The game seem finely balanced for a couple of turns until the sky fell in on me when Glenn cast a Ulamog’s Crusher of his own, and then attached a Splinter Twin to it the following turn — yikes! Needless to say the game finished in rapid fashion, as my resources dwindled from the annihilator ability each turn. However, I did get one last attack on the message board as he swung for the kill.

Glenn: My mastr plan is all coming together
Me: Unlike your spelling!
Glenn: LOL

About 5 minutes later he left a final riposte on my Facebook page which said, “Mwahahaha — I can spell that.” Touché sir, touché.

Round 4 was another tale of color mana screw woe, as I was unable to dig up a Forest while my opponent swung happily with a Vengevine. Game 2 I started with a Caravan Escort that I was able to quickly level up all the way, before seeing it die to a Corpsehatch. Meanwhile my opponent started smashing with an Arrogant Bloodlord with a Snake Umbra attached. An Overgrown Battlement briefly held the Bloodlord at bay, until it was dispensed by the introduction of a Bala Ged Scorpion. It looked like an Ulamog’s Crusher was about to come to my aid, but my opponent replied with a Pathrazer of Ulamog. When my Crusher swung next turn, it was inevitably blocked by the Pathrazer, but at least I was able to finish it off with a Heat Ray. I got a second Ulamog’s Crusher out the very next turn, but an Induce Despair, revealing Hand of Emrakul, retired it alongside his brother in the graveyard double quick. The return of Vengevine and a rapidly leveling Brimstone Mage won the day for the enemy.

Round 5. Part land screw and part suck caused my losing streak to roll merrily on. I saw my Linvala, Keeper of Silence for the first time, but it was locked down with Narcolepsy before I could blink. In game 2 my opponent starts with a Hada Spy Patrol and quickly starts to level up. By the time I could do something about Hada, he’s leveled up all the way and kills me before I can afford 7 mana for the Disaster Radius. Game 3 I just can’t handle all his flyers, as multiple Gloom Hunters and Cadaver Imps keep relentlessly pecking at me while I’m stuck with only 1 Plains and Linvala in hand.

Round 6, and my opponent proclaims to be a roommate from the Pro Tour but doesn’t reveal his identity straight away. His language suggests a Spaniard, but when I guess David de la Iglesia he claims that he’s far more handsome. Game 1 I’m being dominated by goblins, as a Battle Rattle-Shaman pumps Goblin Arsonist each turn as I struggle to draw creatures. A Rapacious One finishes a game without a single life loss to this mysterious stranger. Game 2 my early hopes with a Beastbreaker of Bala Ged are dashed by Vendetta. I try my best to stop a Brimstone Mage dominating the board by leveling my Hedron-Field Purists as quickly as possible. However, I’m really thin on creatures, and attacks from a Rapacious One being pumped with Battle Rattle-Shaman again quickly bring a Ulamog’s Crusher onto the battlefield for my opponent, now revealed as Adrian Estoup from Argentina (we first met at PT: San Diego a few years ago). I am able to Smite his Crusher, but Vendetta kills off my Hedron-Field Purists and threatens to let his Brimstone Mage run wild before I cast Disaster Radius by revealing an Ulamog’s Crusher of my own. Before I can stabilize and cast the Crusher, Adrian casts Akoum Boulderfoot and is able to finish the job.

Round 7 and 8. I finally get a flying start and play Joraga Treespeaker, Nest Invader, Kozilek’s Predator, and then Emrakul’s Hatcher on successive turns. And it’s to this perfect creature-fest board that I draw Pennon Blade, and the rest of the game is short. In game 2, an early introduction of Beastbreaker and Wildheart Invoker convince my opponent to concede on turn 6. For the final round, I had both Beastbreakers out early, and just allowed my opponent to swing with Tuktuk the Explorer. Game 2 was very similar, albeit that Tuktuk was being pumped by Battle-Rattle Shaman, and I eventually blocked but had a Heat Ray ready for the 5/5 token produced.

That’s about it for now, but I can honestly say I’ve found my itch for MTGO once more. It certainly cheered up my wife for a couple of seconds when I announced I was going to spend less time watching TV. Until next time, I hope everyone’s digital top deck is a lucky one.