The Riki Rules – It’s Not Easy Being a Green Head Judge

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Tuesday, August 26th – Calling the draft at Nats was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my judging career. By all accounts, from players and judges alike, I did well. I got through my lines without making any flubs and my voice never made any awkward cracks.

Have you ever made a mistake so monumental that you know people will be talking about it for years to come? I did, while Head Judging my first PTQ. More on that later.

Being a Head Judge is a unique experience. Before this PTQ, I had only HJed two 2-HG flights at a Prerelease (4 rounds each) and the last two months of FNM (minus Fridays I was away). If anything, being a team lead at Nationals was a far closer approximation of the HJ experience in terms of working with other judges and coordinating tasks that needed to be done. I also read up on everything I could find on the Internet pertaining to the subject matter. Many high level judges have written tournament reports and guides about HJing GPs, PTs, Prereleases, and PTQs.

I also read a few great pieces on the public speaking aspect of HJing which were very helpful. One of the biggest differences between being a regular Floor Judge and being a Head Judge is addressing the entire tournament for various announcements. It’s important to speak clearly and enunciate. Luckily, the PTQ venue had a PA system, so I wouldn’t have to yell over the random chatter. But using a microphone opens a whole host of other problems with public speaking.

Seamus Campbell wrote an excellent piece on the subject of microphones and PAs right here in the Feature Friday space. He had been Pestermiting me to read it at Nationals because I was assigned to call the draft on Saturday. For those of who aren’t familiar with this phenomenon, drafts at premier level events do not follow a simple “pick and pass at your own pace” methodology. Instead, a caller will issue precise directions so that all the players are on the same page. “Pick up the cards. You have thirty seconds to pick. Five seconds. Draft. Lay out the cards.” So on and so forth for all 45 picks. The most important thing is consistency. Any sort of hiccup or change in what I say could disrupt dozens of drafters.

Calling the draft at Nats was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my judging career. By all accounts, from players and judges alike, I did well. I got through my lines without making any flubs and my voice never made any awkward cracks. Big ups to Jason Lems, who called the draft on Friday and gave me his script and a bunch of pointers. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Making announcements at the PTQ was a similarly mind-blowing experience. I tried to keep my opening announcements short and sweet. As a player, I remembered how after your first time you tended to not pay too close attention to what the judge was saying. And although I had written out a script of what I wanted to say, I didn’t just read from it. Unless you have some formal training in acting (I do not), reading a script can sound wooden and fake. Instead, I glanced at my notes to see what I needed to say next and paraphrased accordingly. There was a nice little moment when I introduced myself to the players and they gave me a round of applause. And by nice, I mean that I was totally embarrassed. Thanks to all the players for that special moment.

The tournament proceeded smoothly. I had a crack staff in L1s Brendan O’Connor, Brian McKay, and Eric Levine, plus Bryce Kaff volunteering as an L0 for his first PTQ ever as well. My goal for running this event was to be as hands off as possible, giving my judges the leeway to succeed or fail. It’s a credit to them that we were able to pull off a good event. I noticed plenty of things that I would have liked to have seen done differently, but as most of them did not impact the tournament at large, I let them slide.

The appeal is another one of those big changes when you step up and put on the red and black stripes (virtual in my case as they only issue the actual red and black for GP Head Judges or higher). On any Floor Judge’s ruling, players have the right to appeal to the Head Judge. For this reason, I tried to take as few judge calls as possible, giving players the full extent of their rights. I even refrained from answering the judge call where a player called for me by name.

I only had one appeal all day, which is probably an average sort of local event. I say local event because at the Sunday PTQ at GP: Denver there were probably about ten appeals in the first two rounds alone, completely overwhelming Head Judge (and California’s own) Jeff Morrow. One of those appeals was on one of my rulings, which I knew I had right, but the player had gotten a different ruling at his local PTQ. I had to resist the urge to say “Do you know who I am?” Not really, but it makes for a better story after the fact.

The ruling was fairly simple – I described it ever so briefly last week – Player A wanted to know what would happen when she pumped her Chameleon Colossus in response to Mirrorweave, namely would it remember the pump or would it revert to whatever was being copied. I say it’s fairly simple, but that’s mostly to judges. Between Mirrorweave, Mutavault, Figure of Destiny, and Snakeform, judges have been forced to become experts on layers. If you don’t know layers, you can’t judge this format.

They key to understanding Mirrorweave plus other effects is that copy effects, a family to which Mirrorweave belongs because it says “copy,” take effect in layer 1, the first or bottom layer. All other effects, including +1/+1 counters, Chameleon Colossus pumps, and Figure of Destiny “evolutions” will apply after you copy the target creature. Similarly, any additional bonuses and changes on the targeted creature will not be copied; basically you only copy the printed card.

I have a theory on the avalanche of appeals at GP: Denver. It certainly wasn’t the case that the judges were incompetent. I got my ruling right, and as far I know Jeff only had to overturn one Floor Judge. GP: Denver and its bastard PTQ had a top notch staff, but the players didn’t know that per se. What players saw was a staff of judges that they were unfamiliar with, and there is a certain bond of trust behind players and judges. You see it all the time at the local level, and you actually see it at the Pro Tour when these two sides see each other over and over again. GPs fall somewhere in between. You have a competitive cadre of semi-local players that doesn’t necessarily travel all over the world or the country, and a group of judges that is maybe half local and half traveling circus of judges. There is also a solid core of ultra-competitive players, pros who didn’t make Day 2 and need to win the PTQ to stay on the coveted train. With the raised stakes, tension is much higher, leading to the appeal-fest.

Back to my PTQ and the appeal. It wasn’t for Mirrorweave, or Snakeform, or any card actually. Brendan had given a player a game loss for successive slow play warnings. I spoke to Brendan away from the players and had him describe what had happened. He told that me that he had stopped to watch the match during extra turns and Player A was taking an excessive amount of time on his turn to think, counting creatures and/or damage over and over. At that point, Brendan gave him a verbal prompt “I need you to make a play.” This is basically a caution and is primarily used to let a player know that a judge is watching and an official warning could be forthcoming if a play is not made in a reasonable amount of time.

What “a reasonable amount of time” is depends on the judge in question. Having the measure of time be completely subjective might be somewhat terrifying for players, but I don’t know of a single judge that jumps the gun on this. Most judges wait way too long to issue the warning, and there is an axiom amongst judges: “if you are thinking of issuing a warning for slow play, it’s already too late.”

After issuing his verbal caution, Brendan counted to ten, a very slow ten that was more like twenty in clock time, before giving Player A an official warning. At this point, Player A got a little confrontational over the warning. Player A passed the turn and Player B proceeded to take a long time as well, although not quite as long as Player A.

The turn was passed back to Player A, and he went into the tank again. Brendan counted off another long ten and stepped in gave Player A a second warning for slow play, which got upgraded to a game loss, at which point I entered the drama on the appeal.

I got the Cliff’s Notes story from Brendan, including the useful information about how long he counted. I returned to the table and asked Player A for his story. It had most of the same elements as Brendan’s, but was tinged with some typical player misunderstandings of slow play and what judges look for.

At first, he tried to explain that they were in extra turns. This has no bearing whatsoever on slow play. In fact, judges can and will give slow play warnings in untimed single-elimination rounds like the Top 8. Sam Black, U.S. Nationals runner up, was one warning away from getting a game loss with the trophy on the line.

The normal company line for punishing slow play is to prevent one player from gaining too much of an advantage by taking a majority of the time in the round. That no longer becomes a consideration in the untimed rounds; at that point, it isn’t the players’ time, but the tournament’s time. In extra turns you could have the entire tournament waiting on the outcome of one match, or in the Top 8 of Nationals you might have a room full of eager fans awaiting their National Champion.

Player A also mentioned that he had a complicated board position to think about, and that the judge should have looked at his hand to determine the relative complexity and how much time he needed to think about things. This simply isn’t a consideration for judges. As I’ve said before, judges need to remain as impartial as possible, especially in strategic matters. This is what led to judges not answering questions regarding the size of Tarmogoyf. With regards to slow play, judges are simply watching for acceptable pace of play. One term that judges use to counteract the “complex board position” argument is “evolving game state.” Unless a crazy spell like Living Death or Warp World resolves, the typical “complex board position” has taken several turns to develop. One player plays a creature, then the other, back and forth until the current standoff has been reached. After each new development, a player should be reevaluating the board, thinking about potential attacks, and making calculations of damage.

In the end, I upheld the game loss. Brendan had given Player A ample warnings that his pace of play was unacceptable. The fact that the match had gone to time, and was one of the last two matches to finish in extra turns even before the appeal were further indications to me that the pace of play had been slow throughout. Not only had Player A basically ignored Brendan’s initial instruction to make play, he grew hostile and argumentative when the penalty was issued, instead of making a play. I explained as much of this as I could to the player after we got the next round started. I guess I over-explained things; the TO said I talked to him for over fifteen minutes, which is too long to tie down the Head Judge on any one issue, especially since I had already upheld the ruling.

The only snag I ran into during the day was when I announced the Top 8. I got cute and read the Top 8 names “in no particular order.” I had seen other judges do this, I believe to prevent pre-emptive scouting of opponents. Disaster struck for me when Eric whispered to me from the scorekeeping computer, “Riki… pss… the first name you read… Joshua Bacon… he was ninth.”


I looked down, and indeed he was. Wow. What a punt. I sheepishly apologized and announced that Joshua Bacon was actually ninth, eliciting some groans. And then I was so flustered that I didn’t read off all the names of the actual Top 8. One confused player wandered over and said, “I didn’t make it?” He was much happier with my error.

When Joshua came up to collect his prize for ninth place, I personally apologized to him and gave him one of my judge foils for the error. He and his friends were good natured about it, even before my bribe for forgiveness. Ultimately, the mistake didn’t impact the tournament in a huge way. Josh was a little disappointed at first, but he quickly put on a smile and said “Hey, I was in the Top 8 for a minute,” and everyone went home with a story to tell. I’ve already heard it referred to as “the Bacon Incident” and “did you hear about that guy who got dreamcrushed by the judge?” I’m also considering starting a website and publishing company called Top9Magic.

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

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