The Riki Rules – Head Again

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Monday, October 27th – Head Judging a PTQ. Didn’t I say that I wasn’t going to do this again? Despite, the rhetoric that I may spout at times, I did enjoy my first turn as a PTQ Head Judge and am always looking for opportunities to further my experience and give Jeff “Judge of Currents” Morrow a break, especially from having to make the drive from Oakland to Sacramento.

Head Judging a PTQ. Didn’t I say that I wasn’t going to do this again? Despite, the rhetoric that I may spout at times, I did enjoy my first turn as a PTQ Head Judge and am always looking for opportunities to further my experience and give Jeff “Judge of Currents” Morrow a break, especially from having to make the drive from Oakland to Sacramento.

Speaking of the drive, the day started out pretty laid back for me as well. It’s always a relief when we have tournaments in Sacramento instead of San Francisco/ San Jose because I get to sleep in an extra hour. I went to Starbucks and got my traditional “Pink Drink” – hopefully they have Starbucks in Berlin because I haven’t started a tournament without one of these things this year – and a bagel dog from Noah’s Bagels. I’m very much a creature of habit and routine.

On the floor I had three able judges. Daniel Lee is an L2 from Stockton who has been a veteran in these parts for as long as I can remember. Daniel still likes to play the occasional PTQ, especially Extended, which has allowed me to leapfrog him for Head Judging rights at PTQs, but I’ve worked under him at Prereleases and been very happy with his leadership. Over the past two years, he’s been an invaluable part of our community in pushing judges to learn the layering system. I remember thinking around this time last year “Who needs to know these layers?” Wow. Was the game ever that simple?

Brian McKay (L1 South San Francisco) is my avatar of hustle. He is always the first to jump on judge calls when everyone is occupied up their neck with a task like counting decklists or doing deck checks. In fact, the one defining moment was when Brian put his lunch down and answered a call. That is dedication in a Subway sandwich, my friends.

And finally Eric Levine (L1 Mountain View). At GP: Denver, I introduced Eric Levine to Grand Prix veteran Adam Shaw (L3) as “the next great Northern California judge,” or conversely “the next Riki Hayashi.” He even tried to get a writing gig at another website, but that fell through. I could say something like “they’ll regret not hiring him,” but I will reserve judgment until I see who got the new position.

With these three in tow, we got things underway for what was our first Sealed PTQ in a year. And coincidentally, I have also managed to miss all of the Limited GPs this year. Okay, maybe it hasn’t been all coincidence as I hate counting Limited decklists. Constructed decklists are a lesson in finding shortcuts, like taking groups of 3, 3, 4 and quickly putting them together as a 10 in your head. Limited decklists are just a chore in counting to 40 and 75 by 1 and 2. Oh, except we’re only counting to 73 now for the full card pool because the two booster packs come with a basic land each. And for some reason I seem to have a very easy time missing a card or two in various short columns and end up having to count over again.

While counting decklists, we came across an inordinate number of problem lists. I guess the players were feeling the effects of one year off from Sealed PTQs as well, being a little out of practice with building and registering Sealed decks. I noticed that the veterans all seemed to build quickly, or at least at the usual pace, but a vast majority of the room went to time.

The most common deck registration error is the 39 card deck. For some people this is likely the result of picking that “23rd card” at the last minute and forgetting to register it. Very occasionally players will register even fewer cards like 36 or 37. This is most likely a result of missing an entire column or color. Then there is the “no basics” crowd. Most of the judges I’ve worked with make a point of making several announcements during deck construction and decklist collection to register the basic lands played in the deck. Despite this, there is always at least one player who leaves the column blank, again most likely a result of rushing at the end of construction time.

I think that deck registration is a completely ignored field when it comes to getting better at Magic. It might not be as flashy as other subjects, but clearly the ability to register a deck quickly can impact decision-making, and it’s something that more people need to practice so that they aren’t rushing into suboptimal choices or Game Losses. Just something to think about for those of you who are constantly up against the clock.

In the end, we had over a dozen errors and potential Game Losses to hand out. To solve the problem, I used a trick I learned from my Finnish twin, Johanna Virtanen. When we printed the pairings for round 2, I had Eric use a red pen to underline all of the players with deck registration errors. Then when I announced that the pairings were up, I told people with underlined names to report directly to the judge station. A small crowd formed at the judge station, causing a bit of a traffic jam. But overall, I was pleased with the way the system worked and it seems like a feasible plan anytime the number of registration errors to judges exceeds a three-to-one ratio.

On a random deck check, Eric came across a Forest that had “Maindeck” written in the text box. A quick inspection of the sideboard found an Island. It seemed like the two cards were meant to be swapped out for one another and the writing was clearly a note. This was a few weeks ago, right at the beginning of all the GerryT stuff, so I was just getting intimate with the fine details of Outside Assistance, but writing on a card is just about as open and shut as it gets: don’t do it. Craig asked me about a few corner cases of this. While I need to do some research on various artistic modifications, any writing other than signatures is expressly prohibited (From the Universal Tournament Rules: “Cards used in a tournament may not have writing on their faces other than signatures or artistic modifications.”)

Eric and I had a quick discussion to confirm that we were on the same page. We were, and Eric went back out with the decks to deliver the bad news. I followed close behind to try to observe his technique, but the table was at an awkward end of a row and I couldn’t get close enough to listen in.

A short while into it, Eric came back and said, “He wants to talk to you, Riki.” I figured something like this might happen because the player knew me. Of course, nowadays who doesn’t know me? To be more specific, this was a friend who I had roomed with at a GP. I asked Eric to go back and make sure this was a formal appeal to the HJ because I wasn’t just going to casually stop by to chat about the ruling. He did and it was, so I re-gathered some information on how Eric had delivered the news, found everything in order, and proceeded to the table.

The player was obviously upset, but not in a visibly angry way. He pleaded his case, saying that he had misbuilt his deck because the card pool he received hadn’t been sorted properly. Hence he was swapping out the lands for the “right” configuration in game 2, and didn’t know that the note on the card was not allowed. He also noted that I had the option to downgrade the penalty from the rather harsh OA Match Loss. I listened carefully, explained the philosophy behind the infraction, and upheld the ruling.

Beyond that, the most harrowing situation that arose was when I almost had to give a DQ. I announced the start of the round, and since all of the match results slips were not out yet, I noted which tables had empty seats. When the match slips were distributed, I returned to the tables to issue the Tardiness penalties. At one of the tables, the tardy opponent had shown up, so I decided to have a little conversation.

“Where were you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Where were you at the start of the round?”
“I was here.”
“You were here? Sitting in your seat?”
“And where were you before that?”
“I was checking the pairings. Before that I was talking to that guy, and I went to the bathroom.”
“And you were in your seat when the round started?”
“I think so. I might have been on my way.”
“Might have been on your way?”
“Yeah, I might have been on my way. I’m not sure. I thought I made in time, but maybe not.”

At this point, the opponent was looking up at me over his shoulder. A player in a neighboring match who knew me was also looking at me. They both had wide-eyed “Is this really happening?” looks on their faces. In fact, I asked myself the same question. It’s moments like these that can define a person as a judge. I’ve been involved in DQs. I’ve even been the Floor Judge that has initiated the investigation. However, in my very short stint at Head Judging, I have never performed a DQ, said action being at the sole discretion of the HJ.

So here I was with a player who had technically lied to me. He most certainly was not in his seat when the round started, which I confirmed both with my eyes, and with his opponent when I walked by the table. But was I comfortable with this? Was this going to be my first DQ? Was this the kind of thing I wanted to be DQing players for in the future?

“Okay, well, you definitely weren’t in your seat when the round started, so I’m giving you a Game Loss for tardiness, and in the future make you sure you tell the entire truth when you’re talking to a judge.”

And that goes for all of you out there as well. There was enough uncertainty in his story as he hemmed and hawed over whether he was actually in his seat at the start of the round that I did not feel that his initial statement was his “final answer.” When it comes to getting a player for lying to a judge, I feel that it’s important to have a certain amount of Mirandization involved. (Miranda Rights are the ones you hear all the time on cop dramas. You have the right to remain silent, etc.) When I first confronted him, my tone was very casual as I said, “So where were you?” (And I probably even dropped in a “ya” instead of “you.”) I’m not saying that a judge can only DQ a player for lying when they are under an “official investigation,” but I also don’t want players to not talk to judges for fear of saying something untrue and getting slammed. If the player had stuck to his “I was here” story to the end of our short conversation, I would have had to spring the DQ.

The tournament ran smoothly other than that. Between 8 rounds of Swiss, deck registration time, and the Top 8 with draft, we didn’t get out of there until about 11pm, which is just the way it goes with Sealed PTQs. Just another reason for me to prefer Constructed.

I leave for Berlin on Wednesday. Pretty much anyone I know has been asking me how I feel about the trip. My answer has been the same: I’m afraid.

It’s not that I’m afraid of the workload or messing up on the floor (at least any more than usual); I largely got over those “big stage” anxieties at PT: Hollywood, plus I’ve gained a lot of experience dealing with new and unexpected situations on the GP circuit. But Berlin brings a different angle to the equation. I’m going to be one of maybe half a dozen judges from the U.S., and with that comes a certain burden to be an ambassador of American judging. I imagine that I have many important tasks ahead of me, but none more important than exchanging ideas, techniques, and information on judging with my European friends. What I can give to them, and what I can take home from them will be the most important thing. It’s an important next step in the evolution of my judging, especially given how my “I speak Japanese” might not be the best meal ticket plan for getting to Pro Tour: Kyoto.

For me, judging is a lot like being Sylar from the TV show “Heroes.” I am always on the lookout for cool “powers” to steal. Technically, it’s more like Peter’s benign power-borrowing, but Peter is a wimp and I refuse to compare myself to him. Besides, it’s more fun to make tick-tock sounds, or pretend to cut people’s heads open with my finger. Um… I guess that sounds weird if you don’t watch the show!

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

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