The Justice League – LA Revisited

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Thursday, February 5th – I have the honor of kick starting a regular series of judge articles on StarCityGames.com, bringing to you, the reader, opinions and thoughts from the dark recesses of a judge’s brain. I hope I can bring something of worth, but also something that can give people a glimpse of how rewarding and fun judging is for me.

Greetings! I have the honor of kick starting a regular series of judge articles on StarCityGames.com, bringing to you, the reader, opinions and thoughts from the dark recesses of a judge’s brain. I hope I can bring something of worth, but also something that can give people a glimpse of how rewarding and fun judging is for me.

On weekdays I teach organic chemistry at college, and on weekends I travel up to 350 miles in all directions to help run Magic events in the Midwest.

I’m originally from Stirling in Scotland (near Glasgow), and I have been living in the Midwest for seven years now. My musical tastes include Yes, Rush and Peter Gabriel. I love ice hockey and real football. And I’d sooner have a strawberry milkshake than alcohol.

I thought I’d start things off with my big trip to Grand Prix: Los Angeles last month….

Friday 16th January at 6am, and it’s time start my day! However, before I can worry about the first American Grand Prix of the year, I’ve got three hours of organic chemistry to teach. I’m out by two in the afternoon, and jump straight into the car to head to St Louis and Lambert airport for my flight at 6pm. This is the comparatively short leg of the journey to LA, as it’s only about 100 miles to St Louis. The plane trip is fairly uneventful, although I’m about an hour into the flight when I’m interrupted from my refresh reading of the penalty guidelines for my first judge call… from about six rows back on the 767 jet. They have a problem with Eternal Dragon, and want to know if they can pay the 3WW to return it to their hand if their draw for the turn is lousy. However, the steps of the beginning phase are untap, upkeep, and then draw… it’s already too late to pay the 3WW if you draw your card for the turn.

I arrive in fairly good condition at around 8pm local time, and I am pleasantly surprised by how warm and comfortable the night is, especially compared to the Midwest at this time of year. The hotel room seems fine, and I make my way to the event hall to see how things are shaping up. I say hello to a few friendly faces, including Ray Mertz, Wes Humenczuk, and Rashad Miller (playing this weekend). It seems that business has been good so far. An aggressive campaign to get people registered early has resulted in (allegedly) 650 players signed up on Friday night. At this rate, we could be approaching 1,000 players for round 1 tomorrow! I spy the usual judge suspects playing EDH in the corner of the venue, but to my shame I’m probably the only judge in LA who doesn’t have an EDH deck with him. If you’ve never heard of it, then I strongly recommend you check out the rules. It’s a very distinctive twist to Constructed, and one of the most fun ways to gel with fellow judges at bigger events (although I hear whispers of some very fearsome decks run by Duncan McGregor from Toronto). I head off to bed and am pleasantly surprised by the fact that it only takes me fifteen minutes to take the ride to the 14th floor in the elevator (I don’t want to dwell on it, but the elevator at GP: LA has become legendary).

Next morning I head down to the restaurant at 7am for breakfast on my own. However, this doesn’t last for long on the GP circuit, as I’m quickly joined by Peter Jahn, Ben Bowers, Tony Mayer, Sean Catanese, and Dan Wu! There are many reasons for judging, but above all others, for me personally, is the people you meet and the enormous number of friends you make in a short space of time. Where else can you fly alone, half way across America, and still end up with a shortage of room at the breakfast table? Quite soon after this, Toby Elliott, John Carter, and Scott Marshall show up and stare at my cheese omelet before heading off to prepare for the day.

I fight with the hotel elevator, once more but make it down at 8am sharp, as all eyes turn towards our glorious leader for the weekend, Level 4 Head Judge Scott Marshall. I have to say that I have an enormous amount of respect for Scott. He’s a very honest, warm, and commanding figure on the floor of any Magic event. He allocates duties for the day (I’m on Deck Checks 2 with Level 4 John Carter and others), outlines his expectations, and gives us a heads up on rulings we can probably expect for the weekend, e.g. Blood Moon versus Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

The short answer is that Blood Moon wins. The longer answer is that Blood Moon and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth have type-changing effects in Layer 4, but Urborg is dependent on Blood Moon, since applying Blood Moon first removes the ability from Urborg (a Mountain’s only inherent ability is to tap for Red mana). This changes what Urborg does (stops the Urborg adding Swamp to each land’s type).

We split up into our teams, and John Carter takes us through what he expects from us to make the day go smoothly. If they ever used John for a new Magic card, it would undoubtedly be legendary. Once the team meeting is over, I take the opportunity to try and pump John for information. You see, your friendly neighborhood DCI judge is getting a face lift from PT: Kyoto onwards, with the release of a new judge shirt. Black and white zebra stripes are being phased out! However, I can’t get John to tell me what the new color-scheme will be. I suspect he could tell me, but he’d have to kill me. His only official comment is to say that the new judge shirts will lend themselves to being worn in a more casual setting. While John moves to coordinate with the other team leads, I get the chance to catch up with some more friends who weren’t around last night. As I move around, I overhear that registration is up to 830 players — a strong showing for the first GP of the year, and a great credit to the hard work of TO Glenn Goddard.

I can’t talk about the GP without quickly mentioning a few things players can do to help judges at a big event.

1. One of the major concerns of any big event is a quick turnaround and keeping the event ‘live.’ And the people with the greatest influence on that are the players. Extra turns do not mean slow down, but rather, “We’d like to start the next round, please give us a hand in this.” Next time you’re in extra turns, ask yourself, “can either of us really win in 5 turns?” If you both agree the answer is “No,” why not just shake hands and sign the match slip? Sure, fight it out if there is even an outside chance of victory, but you don’t have to play 5 turns if it obviously isn’t going to achieve anything.
2. At competitive and professional level events, you must be extra careful to sufficiently randomize your deck after card search effect. A couple of quick riffles are not enough. Shuffling the deck face up and having the potential to see a card achieves nothing towards the randomization of the deck. The deck is assumed to be non-random if you could know the position of even just one card. Knowledge of the position of cards in your deck can be abused. I’ve never heard or seen a judge ‘look pleased’ to have given a player a game loss for insufficient randomization. Judges love the game, and love nothing better than to see games decided on skill, so please take more care.
3. Communicate better! The hardest decisions are almost always because players get confused about what is happening in the game. By the time a judge is called, it’s often already a mess. We don’t have video footage of your match, nor do we have lie detector tests. Try and use more eye contact when talking to your opponent, and if you don’t hear/understand what your opponent just said, don’t assume they have done something to benefit your position (I’m amazed at players who don’t question the logic of thinking that their opponent had just Giant Growthed their creature).

Okay back to the GP…

The first three rounds are quite frantic, with lots of questions from GP newbies and veterans alike. Some early answers required on Day 1 included —

Pithing Needle
As Pithing Needle comes into play, name a card.
Activated abilities of sources with the chosen name can’t be played unless they’re mana abilities.

Pithing Needle will stop activated abilities of the named card from any zone, e.g. it stops unearth from the graveyard and cycling from your hand.

Molten Rain
Destroy target land. If that land was nonbasic, Molten Rain deals 2 damage to the land’s controller.

If Blood Moon is in play, it’s only changing the sub-type of the land. Changing a sub-type does not affect a super-type like Non-Basic, so the opponent is still going to take two damage.

Vedalken Shackles
You may choose not to untap Vedalken Shackles during your untap step.
2, TAP: Gain control of target creature with power less than or equal to the number of Islands you control as long as Vedalken Shackles remains tapped.

Animated lands like Treetop Village and Multavault will remain under the control of the Shackles when they stop being creatures at the end of turn. If a creature has been Shackled, and then Shackled again by a second copy, the creature will revert back to control of the first Shackles if the second is destroyed or becomes untapped (assuming Shackles #1 is still in play and tapped).

Chain of Plasma
Chain of Plasma deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Then that player or that creature’s controller may discard a card. If the player does, he or she may copy this spell and may choose a new target for that copy.

Artifact Creature — Golem

If a spell or ability an opponent controls causes you to discard Dodecapod, put it into play with two +1/+1 counters on it instead of putting it into your graveyard.

If an opponent targets you with Plasma and you have a Dodecapod in hand, you can choose to discard the Dodecapod and put it straight into play with two counters on. It is still the opponent’s original spell that is resolving at this point, despite the fact that you are making the choice to discard it.

Chalice of the Void
Chalice of the Void comes into play with X charge counters on it.
Whenever a player plays a spell with converted mana cost equal to the number of charge counters on Chalice of the Void, counter that spell.

Chalice of the Void’s XX cost only has its original value when on the stack, and becomes zero when in play (important for things like Engineered Explosives). Converted mana costs are worked out from the mana symbols in the top right hand corner of the card, and Chalice does not count alternative costs like Flashback or additional costs like Kicker.

Towards the end of the first day, I was called over to a table where Shuuhei Nakamura was playing. His opponent explained that Shuuhei attacked for the turn and then scooped up his cards after damage resolved. Unfortunately, he hadn’t realized that his opponent was still alive and on two life. So, what to do?

For those of you whom have met me, you may have noticed that I have a bit of an accent. Considering how fragile Shuuhei’s English might be, I decided to get the help of a translator immediately. Step forward Riki Hayashi. Without boring people with the entire exchange that took place, it is pretty much accepted that ‘to scoop’ is to show a clear intention of leaving the current game. Both players agreed that Shuuhei’s hands came together with all his game permanents. While they did have a discrepancy in tracking life totals, Riki felt that the opponent was much clearer about these changes (while I had gone to arrange the appeal for which Shuuhei had asked). So if you scoop while your opponent is still alive and kicking, then you have just lost the game. For his part, I was pretty happy that Shuuhei’s opponent had not deliberately delayed trying to stop him scooping to gain an advantage. The appeal was eventually turned down after some discussion between Scott Marshall and Toby Elliott.

Let me just say that I believe that Shuuhei was being completely honest in his appraisal of the situation, but a play mistake like scooping too quickly is not grounds for ‘backing up.’ It’s a mistake and not a game rules violation, after all. I seem to remember that Shuuhei lost the next game in quick fashion, and went on to miss out on Day 2 on tiebreakers.

As the day started to wind down, so did the number of judge calls, but thanks to the efforts of judges like Ingrid Lind-Jahn, things were still interesting as the judges completed ‘bingo cards’ with questions from each of the team leads on the comprehensive rules and penalty guidelines.

Day 2 was much more sedate, but I’d like to thank Scott Marshall for allowing me to table judge Luis Scott-Vargas quarter final match on Sunday evening before I finished my shift. At this point I bumped into Eric Levine, who had been told by the Head Judge that his judge foil compensation had been adjusted to take into account his Team Lead’s appraisal of his efforts over the weekend. This was fine… until Eric opened up the pack to find nothing but basic land, much to everyone’s amusement.

I then spent about an hour washing down pizza and Mountain Dew with my room-mate Doug Montalvo before wandering out again to play a little EDH (I’d borrowed a deck at this point) with John Shannon and John Alderfer. John was sporting a rather unusual piece of metal headgear… it seems the intended Grand Prix trophy for LA was damaged in transit, and John grabbed the ‘scrap metal.’

Since LA, I’ve been down to Nashville for the prerelease, and I’m well into my plans for PTQs in Arkansas and Kentucky. I’ve also been exchanging some emails with Andrew Veen, and I should be up in St Louis for a PTQ in March. With so many weekend trips, the wife and my two cats complain they don’t see enough of me, and I feel guilty about leaving the cats alone. Also on the horizon is the not-so-small business of Grand Prix: Chicago. Pastimes ran an excellent Grand Prix: Indianapolis last year, which broke the North American record for attendance. I hope I’ll see as many people there as possible. Canadian Level 4 Jason Ness is Head Judging the event, and he’s an absolutely fantastic guy to work for.

Until next time, this is your DCI Road Warrior signing out.

James Elliott

PS: I wish I had a cool closing catchphrase like Riki…