It hit me on the taxi ride from the airport to the venue that I was finally in Berlin. Funny thing that. You would think that the fifteen plus hours of travel time plus all the German signs and announcements in the airport would have clued me in. Somehow it wasn’t until I was outside that it hit meâ€”the architecture, the signs advertising things I couldn’t identify, people driving on the right side of the roadâ€”this was a foreign country!
This is the story of my Pro Tour in Berlin. As I come close to finishing this article, I can tell that it will be the first of two or three on the tournament. This one will follow the tournament in a mostly linear fashion, hitting on some of the fun short storylines of that weekend. The follow-ups will be more thematic and in depth regarding “issues.”
My Pro Tour officially kicked off with a Q&A Judge seminar with Mark Gottlieb. A little under two dozen Judges sat down with the Rules Manager of R&D for about an hour and a half. I went in wanting just one burning question answered: What’s up with the creature type business? Over the past few years, Mark and his cronies have been systematically shuffling around creature types on older cards. Cyclopses have bounced back and forth from being Cyclopses to Giants to back to Cyclopses, even spending some time as creature type “Smurf” for a few months. Artifact creatures also underwent a drastic change as every single article creature now has a creature type, the most famous and head-scratching one being Arcbound Ravager the Beast.
I asked MaGo how consistent it was to go about changing all these old cards’ creature types while restoring a card like Time Vault to its original functionality. I thought I was going to get some BS corporate doublespeak answer, but Mark surprised me by admitting that those two policies weren’t consistent at all. In fact, they were, as I pointed out, working against each other.
Mark answered a few questions on specific cards and rules, but he also asked us questions. He wanted to know what cards and rules gave us as Judges trouble or could do with some revising. The whole Mindslaver/Wish interaction came up and we had a spirited discussion about what the best, or possibly least disruptive solution might be. Very briefly, the issue is that if you Mindslaver your opponent and make them play a Wish that isn’t Death Wish, you cannot look at their sideboard to select a card because looking at the SB is governed by tournament rules, not game rules. Weird.
The second Judge seminar of the evening was “Things We Wish They Had Told us Before Our First PT” by StarCityGames.com own Pete Jahn and… me? How did that happen?
Pete and Jeff Morrow had first conceived of this seminar, I believe, at Worlds last year. Since then, they’ve put it on together at PT Hollywood, U.S. Nationals, and GP: Denver to rave reviews. When I noticed that Pete was making the trek to Berlin without Jeff in tow, I contacted him to volunteer my services. I also talked to Jeff at our PTQ to get his insight on the seminar.
“Make them feel comfortable,” was the advice that Jeff gave me. “Let them know that everything is going to be okay.” Fair enough. Using Pete’s basic script for the seminar, I basically just blathered on about my thoughts on each subject as it came up without much forethought. That became quite clear when during a break in the action, HJ Sheldon Menery stopped by to ask the new recruits a question: “Why does Wizards of the Coast have Pro Tours?” The Judges gave a lot of the stock answers. To promote the game. To make stars. To set the standard for formats. All fine answers.
Sheldon must have seen “the look” on my face. It’s the look I get when I have something funny and quite possibly rather stupid to say. He motioned to me. “Riki, what’s your answer?”
“Well, I’ve never been to Berlin…”
Was I really about to say this?
“… and I’ve always wanted to come here…”
Yep. Here it comes. Just go with it. All the way.
“… so I think Wizards has the Pro Tour so I could come to Berlin.”
When it comes to making new Judges comfortable at their first major event, nothing says comfort like making the Head Judge laugh. So I laughed along and pretended it was a joke.
The third and final seminar of the evening was Kevin Desprez’s “State of the Format.” Kevin went over the major archetypes and more importantly what infractions and penalties we might to deal with per archetype. During the seminar, someone mentioned that the dealers were sold out of something called “Glimpse of Nature.” What the heck is that?
On Day 1, I was on the Main Event, which is always a thrill ride of fun and nervousness. Towards the end of round 1, I was wandering around looking to pick up an outstanding table or two when I stumbled across quite the shocker, Gerry Thompson versus Guillaume Wafo-tapa, not in the Feature Match area. As I did a slow circle around them, I noticed an icicle’s pace of play going on, so I honed in and started clock-watching. As soon as one of them passed thirty seconds in thinking time, I stepped in and gave a “I need you to make a play.” As it so happened, that player was Wafo-tapa. After the verbal prompt, things proceeded at a slightly less slow pace. Both players took their time in a fancy blue-on-blue dance, Gerry being just a few ticks faster on his decisions, but both moving at what I deemed to be an acceptable pace, and indeed they finished with just a minute or two left on the round clock (out of 60 minutes at the Pro Tour mind you). After the match, I leaned over to Rich Hagon, who had also gravitated to the power matchup to ask why this hadn’t been chosen as a Feature Match. He shrugged in agreement.
During a later round, my deck check partner, Ute Kronenburg swooped on former World Champion Makihito Mihara match, and when she came back with their decks she was a bit puzzled over the fact that Mihara had given his deck a quick side/riffle shuffle before putting it in his deck box and handing it over to her after he had already shuffled and presented. Indeed, that was a bit suspicious. A player might do this to hide the fact that he had stacked his deck. The odd thing about this sequence was that both Ute and I had been watching both players shuffle and we hadn’t seen anything close to stacking or any kind of illicit deck manipulation. Still, suspicious behavior is suspicious behavior and we reported it to deck checks Team Lead Nick Sephton. His solution was rather elegant.
Nick told me to take Mihara’s deck back to him and engage him in conversation in Japanese about the shuffling. Thus, Mihara would not have the option to use “Sorry. No English,” as an excuse to get out of a sticky situation and buy time to think up a convenient story while a translator was fetched.
As I walked back to the match with Mihara’s deck, I was going into inner monologue panic mode. Was this really happening? Was I really being tasked to investigate a former World Champion in potentially shady dealings? How was I going to uncover his deception? My experience with Judge investigations is limited enough, but to investigate in Japanese would be completely unprecedented.
I returned Mihara’s deck, while Ute gave his opponent his deck and had a brief chat with him on a completely unrelated matter regarding his name. On his decklist he had listed his name as Alex Sittner, but the computer had him as John Sittner (or possibly vice versa). As it turned out, his name was John Alex Sittner (or vice versa).
“Here’s your deck back. I was just wondering why you shuffled your deck when you put it in the box to hand to my partner,” I said, obviously in Japanese, and with a very casual curiosity so as not to spark suspicion that this was an INVESTIGATION.
“Shuffle? Did I shuffle my deck? I don’t remember doing that.”
“You definitely shuffled it. You were about to put it into your box and… you’re doing it right now.”
I gestured to Mihara’s hands. While talking to me, he had taken his deck out of his box and started shuffling it while looking at me the entire time. It was all very natural and completely reflexive on his part. Like a poker player who stacks his chips and does other little tricks, he simply had a habit of shuffling cards in his hands. Based on the speed and naturalness with which he had done it, I determined that there was no ill intention here, warned him to be careful about the habit, especially in situations where he wasn’t supposed to shuffle like when handing a deck over for a check.
We reported back to Nick and he was satisfied with the situation. I believe at this point Sheldon might have been in on the conversation as well, and he deemed it case closed when I told him how quickly he pulled the deck out and started shuffling while conversing with me.
On Saturday I was on Public Events, mostly running 8-man drafts. Very late in the day, I made my way upstairs to the Main Event area and someone told me that Luis Scott-Vargas had just lost in the second-to-last round and was out of the running for Top 8. Of course, some very unusual things happened in other matchups to conspire to put him into 8th place. I found this out much later when I ran across the “Super Team” plus the Northern California crew on their way to a celebratory dinner with promises of Luis paying for the meal. I had just eaten with some other Judges, but I decided to tag along and have a drink on Luis.
Dinner was one of those usual Magic affairs. We passed around the Top 8 decklists and tried to crack the matchups. At one point, the conversation turned to Patrick Chapin e-Bay auction for the Magic Boot Camp. I shook his hand and congratulated him on being the “Matthew Lesko of Magic.” All in good fun. And I really do admire Patrick’s entrepreneurial spirit. I wish I could make a couple of hundred dollars for some Judges to come have a sleepover with me. While I am dubious about the Boot Camp’s ability to make someone better at Magic (or at least better enough to be worth the money invested), I do agree that adding Patrick’s entertainment value could make such a weekend a plus. Then again, I got a dinner’s worth of Patrick Chapin entertainment for free, so I must be doing something right.
Throughout the day on Sunday (once again on Public Events mostly with the 2K Euro Draft Extravaganza), I caught snippets of Luis’s performance. Other Judges were doing more overt big screen watching, but I kept my head down. I guess it’s like when you really like that girl and all you do is avoid her, no eye contact, finding routes to your class that don’t go by her locker, the exact opposite of what you want to be doing. Being his friend, I didn’t want to get caught gawking on the job at his miraculous run.
When you interview a new Judge candidate, you’re supposed to ask the candidate questions about their motivations for judging. One of the “wrong” answers is “Because I want to hang out with my friends at tournaments.” Intrinsically, this makes a lot of sense. Judges don’t have a lot of free time to hang out, so that’s a bad motivation for Judging. And yet, this wrong answer has been one of my tertiary reasons for pursuing my Judging career at the PT level. Even if I only got thirty minutes to hang out with my player friends, it was all worth it to make those thirty minutes Luis’s crowning match of the tournament. That’s right. I was one of the gallery you can hear in the video coverage, although Cheon was by far the loudest. My workday ended just in time for me to sit down and watch my friend win a Pro Tour. It was the perfect ending to the story.
Once the match was finished, we all moved to the bottom of the stairs and waited… and waited. Rich Hagon had to do the trophy ceremony and giant checks had to be handed out. Matt showed up out of nowhere, and since Luis wasn’t there yet, we embraced in our own little Davis, CA “Got there.”
I think I know what the life-flashing-before-your-eyes thing must feel like because my relationship with Luis flashed before my eyes, back to the Onslaught block PTQ where I first remembered his name. I remember how he missed his first U.S. Nationals because his flight got delayed somewhere in the Midwest. He also missed playing in a PT he was qualified for (Charleston?) because he had a final.
We knew it was getting close to time for the champ to appear when photographer Craig Gibson showed up with Bill Stark in tow. To lighten the mood, I shouted “Hey, Bill. Does X-2 make the cut?” He gave me a dirty look.
Then he appeared, disappointingly looking just like good old Luis, except carrying a ridiculously large check and a trophy. I thought PT Champions were supposed to gain some kind of ethereal glow, or at least have people throwing flower petals in front of their every step. Something to consider for next year maybe, Wizards.
Craig told a couple of friends to tag along for the photos ,and you can see Paul and Matt holding the giant check up in the background of one of them. (Matt is cropped in the official photo, but you can see the full image if you are Craig’s Facebook friend.) I’m glad I didn’t tag along because cheering for your friend and holding up the giant check in the background of their championship photo are two completely different things, stripes or not.
For those of you who have never experienced the joy of winning a Pro Tour, I leave you with this image:
Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a judge.
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