The Riki Rules – From the Mailbag

Read Riki Hayashi every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Tuesday, July 1st – I’ve been asked by a few people, in person and online, to write about some of the recent changes in Magic. First up is Shards of Alara, which brings us two related changes, mythic rares and smaller sets. I think a lot of the focus of the community – too much in fact – has been on the potential negative effects of mythic rares.

You know you’ve been judging too many tournaments when…

I received two e-mails last week. Well, I received more than two, but two of them were pertinent to the above statement. The first one was from the DCI. Luckily I wasn’t disbarred (dis-striped?) for giving away all of our secrets in my column. It turns out that… well, it is short so let me just copy and paste it here:

Hello DCI Magic player,

We have noticed that you have not played in a Magic sanctioned event for some time now.

The DCI policy is that after one year of not playing in a Magic sanctioned event, a player is automatically removed from the rankings (They still keep their ratings and match history).

If you would like to remain in the Magic Rankings, you can simply participate in any sanctioned Magic event in your area (for DCI Number 22518915). You can find tournaments at our tournament locator www.thedci.com

Thanks for your interest in our games.

The DCI Staff.

Frankly, I don’t even remember the last sanctioned event I played. Probably some random draft that I got recruited for to make it an even eight. The second e-mail was far more cryptic, but equally fascinating.

Hey, it’s Megan,

I’m not sure if you remember me. I’ve seen you at most of the big events I’ve been to in the last year and had looked forward to seeing you in Indy, but I didn’t see you there. Did I somehow miss you or were you not there? Congrats on the Star City stuff, by the way. What are your plans in terms of events for the rest of the year?

Now don’t get your sleeves all in a bunch; Megan is all well and accounted for, romantically speaking. In fact, she was one of the participants in the “girlfriend tutorial” that I ran at Grand Prix: Daytona Beach. This was a rather interesting idea that I was asked to do, as if I needed an excuse to get away from the testosterone and sit down with a dozen women. Megan was the most experienced of the bunch, and I saw her again at GP: Philadelphia, although that tournament was so busy that my memory of it is still under quarantine. Now suddenly I’m some kind of Grand Prix mainstay, and I’m expected to be at every single event. Life, I’m afraid, isn’t kind enough to me that I can be some kind of wandering judge who shows up to help the innocent like Kane from Kung Fu: the Legend Continues. For Megan and any other people looking for me, here is where I plan on being for the rest of the year.

U.S. Nationals is already confirmed. GP: Denver is about 75% certain. I probably have to choose one of GP: Kansas City or Atlanta, as these cross country flights are absolute hell on scheduling vacation days. It’s impossible for me to judge these east coast GPs without missing both the Friday and following Monday of work. Worlds in Memphis is a long way away (calendar wise), but I definitely want to do it, so we’ll see how things look. PT: Berlin is a long way away (distance wise), so that’s another wait and see.

Is that a Magic card in your pocket or…

Here’s another letter I received recently. Is it kosher to call it a “letter” even though it’s an e-mail? Is it kosher to use the word “kosher” for things other than Jewish food?

I’ve been reading your columns, and I find them very interesting. I try to play a tight game, and every story I read about miscommunication etc will help me focus on aspects of the game that I usually don’t focus on in playtesting (or on MTGO, where most of my playing is done these days).

Anyway, I thought I’d share a story from GP: Prague 2003.

We’re in the last round of Day 1, and a friend of mine (Alexander Dahl), who’s playing one of his first GPs, is playing for Day 2. They play a couple of games, and get ready to play the decider. This is when one of the spectators discretely withdraws and contacts a floor judge. Apparently, he spotted Alex’s opponent switch cards from his opening hand with cards hidden under his thigh. The floor judge chooses not to approach the situation, and instead contacts Rune Horvik. Rune walks over to the table and asks the player in question to “stand up.” The player refuses. Again, Rune asks him to stand up, and again he refuses. When Rune tells him to “stand up right now, or I will DQ you,” the player scoops up his cards and says “okay,” but remains seated. Alex is rewarded the match win, makes Day 2, and the other player is disqualified. Funny thing is, he still refuses to stand up. A judge is then appointed to stand watch right by the player’s chair… the judge watching, the player just sitting there.

Eventually, the player picks up some of the cards from his deck, shuffles them around a bit, then stuffs them under his thigh. He waits a few seconds, then picks up the cards from under his thigh, gets up, and packs his cards away.

I dunno what eventually happened to the player in question, but this was the situation that really taught me to always pay attention to what my opponent is doing with cards not in play.


Øyvind Harding

Fantastic story, Oyvind. Err… I mean Øyvind. I have no idea how to type these European characters, so I’m reduced to copy/pasting Øyvind’s name every time. I can’t imagine this situation ended up as anything other than a DQ. The player may have thought he was being clever and obscuring the evidence by shuffling his cards around at the end stuffing them down his pants, but the DCI isn’t a court of law. We don’t need to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt. The player refusing to stand up seems like evidence enough that he was doing something shady with his cards underneath the table.

Ask the Judge (his or her name)

In addition to e-mails, I get a lot of people telling me judge stories in person. As you might guess, these are rarely good stories from the judge’s point of view. You see, players love to complain about judges. After manascrew, a botched judge call is probably the most common excuse given for why a player lost a match / didn’t make Top 8 / couldn’t get the girl. I’m not here to make excuses for my fellow zebras. Sometimes judges do blow calls, and sometimes the results are unfortunate.

What’s funny about all these stories is that when a player retells it to a judge, the first question out of the judge’s mouth is “Who was the judge [that blew the call]?” We want to know who is out there sullying our reputation. Then we want to send the secret DCI ninjas to go assassinate them.

No, that’s not it. Part of it is morbid curiosity. We want to know if it’s someone we’ve met, and maybe at the next big event we can give them a hard time (or correct the problem if there is one). Of course, this will never happen because the player never knows the judge’s name. Not that you should know every judge by name and DCI number (mine appears above!), but if you’re on the unfortunate end of one of these bad ruling stories, it is in your best interest to find out the judge’s name. No, you’re not going to plaster his or her name all over the Internet as “that awful judge.” That will get a swift visit from the aforementioned ninjas.

What you should be doing after a botched call is talking to the judge in question. Find the judge during the slow portion of a round (usually from the 40 to 10 minute mark) and have a talk about the ruling. Don’t open the conversation up with accusations and insults. Instead, try this: “My name is [your name]. What’s yours? Well [his or her name], I was hoping we could talk about the ruling you made. I disagree with it and I was hoping we could clear things up.”

Many times, if I make a ruling that one of the players is clearly unsatisfied with or confused about, I will offer to have this talk with them after their match is done. It’s an important part of judging, which is more about education than just dictating the rules. Some idiom about fishing and eating sushi applies here.

If you have a conversation with the judge, it is more than likely that either you or the judge will realize your mistake. Somewhere there was a misunderstanding, or someone forgot about a particular card interaction. Whatever. The point is that if the judge is the one who is wrong, you have an obligation to point out the mistake and educate them.

Another thing you can do with the judge’s name (other than finally tell me who these people are) is look them up at the Judge Center and leave a review (use the same password as the one to check you ratings history). These reviews are for the judge in question’s eyes only, so it’s not like getting ten bad reviews will get the judge booted. The idea again is education. You feel the judge made a bad call and maybe you were too mad to have a conversation about it at the tournament. Tell them so via a review. Just make sure that you explain the situation in detail and provide some evidence of your point of view, like a specific rule, so that you come off as more than just someone venting.

And of course, reviews can be positive as well. If you notice a judge do something that seems above and beyond, feel free to get their name and leave a glowing review. And feel free to introduce yourself to a striped one even if you don’t have anything particularly important to say. It turns out that we like Magic too so it’s likely that we will have something in common to talk about.

Judge of Current Events

Speaking of which, I’ve been asked by a few people, in person and online, to write about some of the recent changes in Magic. First up is Shards of Alara, which brings us two related changes, mythic rares and smaller sets. I think a lot of the focus of the community – too much in fact – has been on the potential negative effects of mythic rares. True, a mythic Garruk Wildspeaker could be very expensive.

An aside on card prices. A lot of people have pointed out to the extreme prices on Tarmogoyf, Mutavault, and Bitterblossom and wondered what would happen if such a card were printed at mythic rarity. Would it hit $75? Maybe pass the century mark? I was at a Thursday night tournament last month talking to the store owner, and he laid out in plain and simple terms why cards prices have been so insane.

“The economy,” he told me. There you go, gamers and gentlemen. You can blame those fifty dollar Mutavaults on the weak American dollar. He elaborated that overseas sales were up in the past year as foreign players looked to take advantage of the weak dollar to buy up relatively cheaper cards from American online dealers. I heard a similar thing from the foreign judges at Hollywood. Most of them had set aside a few extra days for shopping in the States to pick up some random nick-nacks.

While I’m not an economist, I have to hope beyond hope that we’re at the bottom of the barrel in terms of the economy (and the price of gas). If things improve, overseas customers will stop buying, and the price of cards should experience a drop. Maybe we’ll see Standard chase rares drop back to the $20-25 level.

As I write this, it occurs to me that another factor in the price of cards may be the blurring of lines between Standard and Extended. Tarmogoyf has been a two-format monster for its entire existence. Factor in Block Constructed and Legacy, and you’ve got everyone clamoring for the card. Back when Extended was a larger format, newer cards in Standard rarely made an impact. Sure, decks like Goblins and Affinity became part of the metagame – heck, Affinity even won a Pro Tour – but these decks merely became a part of the metagame; they didn’t become the metagame.

The change in the Extended rotation policy, with one block rotating out every year instead of three every three years, means that Extended is going to look a lot more like Standard in the future. In the past, the larger card pools allowed for more esoteric combo decks to develop, and control decks had more options for dealing with aggro menaces. In the past few years, and for the foreseeable future, Extended looks like a lot of aggro and aggro control decks. I think this has been R&D’s long term goal, to make the red zone a relevant part of the game. Well, they’ve succeeded, but I for one would love to see some good combo and control decks get a little better because that if nothing else will hold down the cost of Tarmogoyf.

The other big announcement was what would be happening with the Shards of Alara Prerelease. Like the previous changes, it promises to shake things up quite a bit. The basic gist of it is that the days of the single regional Prerelease are over and they are being replaced by more Release Parties, small events at your local shops.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but this is very bad news for judges. I can’t speak for every metropolitan area out there, but here in Northern California the Prerelease is the largest event we get short of a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, usually with attendance topping four or five hundred on Saturday. For area judges it’s all hands on deck and we typically get double the staff of a typical PTQ. From a training and mentoring standpoint, the Prerelease is the perfect tournament.

Eventide will be the last hurrah for these Super Prereleases. They are to be replaced with possibly dozens of small, local FNM sized events. Not only do these small events not offer judges a chance to work together and learn from each other, but many of these stores don’t even utilize judges! In Sacramento, only one store has a DCI-sanctioned judge on staff for FNMs and that’s only because Sean specifically sought out certification to better serve the interests of his store and players.

All the other stores run their events without judges, deputizing store employees to officiate tournaments. This has pretty much the effect you would expect when you replace highly trained and experienced individuals with people who have not received such training. Most of the bad ruling stories I’ve heard in the past few years have been from these FNM trenches and the judges in question aren’t actual judges. The new Prerelease plan means more tournaments like this. I think that’s really bad for Prereleases because at some of the recent ones, we’ve gotten some weird rules interactions that have required full pow wows to figure out. I can’t even imagine what might happen without multiple Level 3s and other assorted rules guru types on hand to discuss these things. Yuck. So it looks like I’m out of a job for three more weekends out of the year, and I might be hearing a lot more bad judge stories next year.

Until next time, introduce yourself to a judge at your next tournament.

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