The Riki Rules – Grand Prix: Atlanta

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Monday, December 1st – There was a DQ in the last round of Day 1 involving noted Brazilian Pro Willy Edel and a local player. The issue at hand was that his opponent claimed he had dealt damage to Willy with Exuberant Firestoker, something that Willy denied. Enter a Judge, and in fact, enter Head Judge Seamus Campbell as the dispute got that big and convoluted…

As Luis wrote last week, he and I were on the same flight to Atlanta, a sun-riser that left Sacramento at 6am. We didn’t find out we were on the same flight until the night before, when I happened to log onto AIM while watching some NBA hoops. LeBron James has no regard for human life.

After ascertaining that we were on the same flight, LSV looked to mise a ride to the airport, but I had to draw the line at picking him up at his place. “Dr. Hayashi isn’t having any of that,” I said, referring to my dad. Luis found this infinitely amusing because the current fad is to call various Magic players “Dr. So-and-so,” and he loved the fact that my dad was an actual doctor (P.h.D. in Statistics).

Flying east from California is a pain. We left at 6am and, between a layover and an emergency stop in Dallas to unload someone with medical problems, we got out of Atlanta airport around 6pm local time. An entire day wasted on travel and time zones. Last week, Kyle Sanchez pulled out the big bottle of whine over the 2009 GP schedule, citing its unfriendliness to Midwesterners. I have news for you, Kyle. Everything is travel-unfriendly to the West Coast. Even my flight to Chicago for Nationals pretty much killed an entire day.

Atlanta was a kind of milestone for me, marking the one-year anniversary since I set upon my journey to take my Judging to the next level. It was a full circle in many ways as the start of my journey was GP: Daytona Beach in November of 2007, a South Eastern GP ran by Unity Entertainment.

I’ve read a few complaints about how Unity conducts their business, but it’s the kind of gripe that players make about almost every organizer. At the same time, plenty of players key in on the good things that TOs do. As a Judge, I get to see a lot of the fine details that a TO does to craft a good event. A lot of this is taking care of the staff’s needs, and in that regard Jeff Williams and Unity really go all out. We got rooms at the Airport Marriot, which had by far the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in, a sentiment echoed by many other Judges and players who stayed there. On site, the staff area had ample amounts of food and drink throughout the day, starting with sandwich fixings on Friday night to doughnuts and coffee Saturday morning and regular resupplies of fried chicken and pizza. It’s a huge bonus for Judges when we don’t have to walk offsite to get lunch, meal stipend or not.

The tournament was a lot of fun for me in many ways. For one, this was my first chance to work closely with our own Ask the Judge Feature Friday writer Seamus Campbell. We’ve worked together before, shared meals, and had good philosophical Judge talks. But this was my first good look at Seamus in full action as the man (in red and black). In that regard, it was a fantastic weekend. I learned a lot from him, and a lot about him. While I considered him to be a friend on and off the floor before Atlanta, this event really solidified us in both departments.

I also want to briefly mention a great Judge I got to work closely with: Jason Reedy. Jason is an up-and-comer in the StarCityGames.com system, a system that has produced some of my favorite Judges (Jared Sylva and my Atlanta roommate, Nick Sabin). Jason “shadowed” me for parts of Day 1, and I had a great time mentoring him and getting to know him in general. Recently, I’ve decided to try to get to know a few Judges better at each event, rather than spread myself thin and get to know everyone just a little. Working with Jason was a huge step in that direction, and I think it was a success in many regards.

On to some business.

There was a DQ in the last round of Day 1 involving noted Brazilian Pro Willy Edel and a local player. The issue at hand was that his opponent claimed he had dealt damage to Willy with Exuberant Firestoker, something that Willy denied. Enter a Judge, and in fact, enter Head Judge Seamus Campbell as the dispute got that big and convoluted. You can find a full, if somewhat one-sided account here. The end result was that the local player was DQed. I’ve heard accounts from both the Floor Judge involved and from Seamus, but I don’t have enough of the details to give you a satisfactory account of why a DQ arose out of this situation. My hope is the Seamus will write a little bit about his thought process after the official DCI investigation is over and done.

What I do want to address is the insinuation in the thread that the Judges favored the name Pro, Willy Edel simply because he was a Pro. Simply ridiculous. First off, we can dismiss any kind of personal relationship between Willy and Seamus or any of the other Judges involved. In fact, one of the Judges involved had no idea who Willy was until it came up in discussion later. I’ve seen Willy at a few events and he mostly keeps to himself and his countrymen, not fraternizing as much with foreign players (let alone Judges) as Paulo Vitor, who is basically the Brazilian version of Austin Powers when it comes to people he knows.

Discounting personal bias, the accusation seems to be that there is some kind of secret agreement between Pros and Judges. Again, patently false. Sure, there are Judges who like to see name players win, as it adds to the fun and mystique of the game. At the same time there are Judges who like to root for the unknown underdogs to topple the big names. There’s no consensus rhyme or reason to it. And more importantly, there is no bias on rulings as a result of who we are rooting for in our hearts. I have several big name friends on the Pro Tour. I also have many friends who play in the local PTQs I Judge. Clearly I want to see my friends do well, but I would never alter a ruling in their favor to help them. In fact, I have made several rulings against friends. In some cases, those friends have appealed my ruling to the Head Judge, something I encourage them to do if they find reason to disagree with my ruling in any way.

If anything, Pros like Willy do have an advantage in situations like this, but it has more to do with the experience of being involved in contentious situations on the Pro Tour and interacting with Judges on a regular basis. In general, I think Pros have a much better idea of how to explain their side of the story to Judges and know what game-state facts are relevant to making a ruling.

In a lot of ways, the aim of my column has been to bring this kind of information home to the regular folks. Through my articles, I try to give you the same access to the mindset of Judges, the things we look for, and the way to present information to us in a way that can “help us help you.” The fact is that many players are rather inarticulate when they talk to me. It might take me two or three tries to figure out the crux of the problem or question. In some cases, a player is clearly nervous or agitated about a Judge being involved. Again, normalizing relations between players and Judges has been one of my overarching goals in all of this. A Judge will tend to believe a player who can tell his story calmly, clearly, and with consistency. This is an acquired skill just like knowing how to sideboard properly.

I also want to address the suspicion that Willy’s friends somehow influenced the Judge’s decision by being in his ear. I’m not sure who exactly was there, but we’re potentially talking about guys like Paulo and former World Champ Carlos Romao. Again, these guys being famous Pros would not enter into the decision to believe their word or not. In fact, knowing that they are Willy’s friends might (might!) cause a Judge to discount their testimony as we prefer to find impartial witnesses. If they were talking to Judges, it is most likely that they were either a) being interviewed as witnesses, or b) a Judge set on crowd control was talking to them to keep the situation calm.

During one of my breaks, I had the pleasure of filming a short interview segment with Evan Erwin. He had a list of questions he had been asking Pros, but those were mostly irrelevant to me. Evan started me off with some firestarters, but mostly he just let me talk… and bobble my head. While several people told me it wasn’t that bad, the incessant movement of my head all over the screen was the very first thing I noticed. Then again, maybe it was because I knew what I was going to say and wasn’t really paying attention to the words. Regardless, my goal next time is to keep my head completely still.

It’s my hope that my friendship and collaborations with Evan will open the door for other Judge interviews. After my Atlanta cameo, there were some forum calls for James Elliott to make an appearance, something I encourage and will try to bring about at Worlds because his smooth Scottish accent will play much better on the Magic Show than my voice.

Nearing the end of Day 2, I was overdue for a break. As a Team Lead, I took the liberty of scheduling my break on the stack first (meaning it resolved last). This is actually a tradition among Judges. The higher up you are, the fewer breaks you take because the organization is made up of workaholic freaks. In fact, the first time Seamus Campbell Head Judged a GP in Vancouver, he somehow managed to avoid eating lunch, famously earning the ire of Toby Elliott.

As I finally wandered off to take my break, a spectator pulled me aside and told me that he had witnessed an illegal play. I hesitated for a moment – hey, I was on break – but decided to investigate. The spectator told me that a Cylian Elf was mistakenly put into the graveyard even though it should have survived combat due to a Resounding Roar.

I quickly ascertained that the described misplay had occurred. The players had already moved past that combat and into the opponent’s next turn. He had already drawn his card and was in the process of tapping his lands to play a spell. I went to Seamus to get permission and instructions on backing up the game state, which he granted, telling me to have the opponent put a random card from his hand on top of his library to simulate backing up past the drawn card.

I returned to the table and in my tired state and confusing things with the fix for Looking at Extra Cards, I told the player to shuffle a random card into his library. He was confused and a little agitated at this as it could be a huge strategic swing. I stopped the player just short of shuffling the card, went back to Seamus to reconfirm what he had told me, got the instructions right, and managed to not screw up the game state completely.

The end result was the correct one. The Cylian Elf was returned to play and I did not inexplicably force the player to shuffle a random card away. However, in reaching that result I made several mistakes. First and foremost was taking on that call in the first place. Being Day 2 of the GP, the Judge-to-player ratio was much denser and I could have easily passed the situation off to someone else. And I should have because I was going on break, and while my body stopped to listen to the spectator’s account, my mind kept on walking to the break room. While I am usually highly functional even when fatigue starts to settle in, in my mind I was already on break. I had checked out. It’s the same as when you decide that you can’t beat a particular matchup or player. A mental block forms that is just as destructive as the actual circumstances at hand.

In my addle- brained state I was also less direct and authoritative than I should have been. When the player complained about the initial “shuffle” fix, I let his complaining get out of hand before returning for clarification. As it so happened, SCG’s own Legacy writer Kevin Binswanger was on my team and watching this exchange. He later commented that I was kind of spacy-eyed and not in control of the situation. I have no doubt that the players left this exchange with a rather negative image of me and my abilities, as I came off as unsure and weak, the opposite image that a Judge should endeavor to project.

Talking about this incident with Seamus, he told me, “If that’s the worst mistake you made this weekend, you’re doing fine.” True words. In the grand scale of the tournament, this exchange didn’t matter. The correct ruling was made and the time extension I gave them did not impact the speed of the tournament. Perhaps the players left with a negative image of Judges. Then again, I did fix the situation and politely apologized for my mistake. It was not a fatal error, but it is something that I will think about and look to avoid and/or rectify in the future.

One final personal note about the GP. It seems like every big event brings a new twist to my popularity from this column. At Atlanta, I had plenty of the normal fans who wanted to say hello or compliment my writing. I also had an all too brief encounter with Vyolynce from the forums, a Judge and frequent contributor to the discussions that follow my articles. For the first time, I also had players ask me to sign things. I did have time to sign a pair of Warnings (I had no idea such a card existed), but was a little too busy to accommodate the gentleman with the playmat.

For future events, if you inexplicably want me to sign something, or want to have a conversation longer than “Hi, I like your articles,” my suggestion is to approach me at the end of the round, especially when I am idly milling about near the stage area. Usually at this time, there is ample Judge coverage on the few matches remaining, and the rest of the Judge staff takes some time for much needed rest, or to discuss interesting rulings from the last round. The exception to this is if I am Scorekeeping an event (usually local), when the end of the round is the only time not to approach me as I frantically enter results and get paperwork ready to go for the next round.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

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