The Riki Rules – Judging in Memphis

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Monday, December 29th – I don’t remember exactly when I decided to Judge at Worlds in Memphis. Given the pace I’ve been on this year, it might seem like a no-brainer to attend a domestic Pro Tour. (Is Worlds a Pro Tour or not? I’ve heard it go both ways.) But with Kyoto being the first Pro Tour of 2009 and me with some relatives that needed visiting in Japan, vacation days were looking tight.

I don’t remember exactly when I decided to Judge at Worlds in Memphis. Given the pace I’ve been on this year, it might seem like a no-brainer to attend a domestic Pro Tour. (Is Worlds a Pro Tour or not? I’ve heard it go both ways.) But with Kyoto being the first Pro Tour of 2009 and me with some relatives that needed visiting in Japan, vacation days were looking tight. But hey, it’s the World Championships so what the heck? Carpe diem, folks.

On Tuesday, I drove out to San Francisco, or more accurately Mountain View, to stay with L1 Eric Levine. We played some games of EDH with his roommates, Leo Garver. Leo didn’t have a deck yet so he rotated through some of my spares, while Eric unveiled his new concoction, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. Eric was calling him GA Four, but clearly the best nickname for him is Grand Theft Arbiter, ideally played with spells like Treachery and Blatant Thievery. We turned in early (ish) and flew out of SFO on Wednesday morning, passing through a snowbound Minneapolis on our way to Memphis, TN.

We got our first minor disappointment when I called Jeff Morrow and asked about the Player Party at Graceland. You see, for the first time in my PT experience, the Judges were invited to the Player Party, a nice touch given the cool location. Unfortunately, the party was BYOB, Bring Your Own Bus. The buses ferrying people from the hotel to Graceland were nothing more than shuttle vans rather than the full school bus sized vehicles they were expecting. Since the players needed to be at Graceland in order to register for the tournament, Judges were left with the short straw. A few still managed to make it out there, but the majority of us lounged around the hotel. There was some EDH, but I also had to give the “first-timer” seminar alongside Julien Winter from France (via England).

The next morning started bright and early. I managed to get my pink drink from Starbucks, although it was an adventure finding the place. We had a short briefing from the Head Judge, Toby Elliott, and then took the staff photo. Somehow I keep on ending up right next to the HJ in these photographs. It is definitely the type of thing that I would intentionally plan on doing, but in fact happens purely by accident. This time I started further in the back and kept on getting moved forward because I was too short.

The Flag Ceremony was pretty awesome to watch, and I was amazed that Rich Hagon came up with a little biographical tidbit on each National team. The ceremony did lead me to wonder if this wouldn’t have been a better spot for the “suit up” initiative that Raphael Levy led in Berlin. Watching the representatives carry the flags in wearing nothing more than typical gamer attire was rather disappointing.

Then again during the Hall of Fame ceremony wasn’t that Richard Garfield in a baseball cap? I guess when you’re the Jesus Christ of the game that’s being honored you can dress however you please. I have heard rumors that Dr. Garfield “pays a lot of money to look like that.” I can believe that in a world where people pay more money for jeans with pre-ripped knees.

And with that it was time to hit the floor. For Thursday I had a short shift (until 1pm) on the Main Event. One of my first rulings on the floor involved Zack Hall. The problem was that he had just played a Chameleon Colossus using a counter off a Vivid land. That made him realize that he had previously played another Chameleon Colossus off the same Vivid land several turns ago without removing a counter.

I gave Zack a penalty for a Game Rule Violation (Game Play Error and a Warning to his opponent for Failure to Maintain Game State)… and made him remove the second counter from the Vivid land. That was wrong, and oddly enough Zack actually pointed it out to me later in a conversation. Indeed, since the infraction had occurred several turns in the past I should have left the game state as it was.

I got a little turned around at the start of the ruling because I looked down and saw that they both had a Chameleon Colossus on their side of the board. Why was Zack telling me that he had played two Colossi when he only had one – oh, there’s a Sower of Temptation! Solving that problem sucked up too much of my brain power, or maybe I just sucked in that moment. Sorry, Zack. You should have had an extra Vivid counter on your land.

For a short shift there was plenty of excitement to go around. I gave a Slow Play Warning, which is a story I will tell in its own article on the subject. On one deck check, I discovered a deck with one marked card, an Unhinged Island that was warped with some serious water damage, as if someone had spilled their drink on it. This sparked a short discussion about whether one marked card is a pattern. What if instead of Island, the one card had been a good card like Bitterblossom, or a singleton in the deck?

Apparently this scenario actually happened with a Bitterblossom and sparked a secondary debate. Do you give a penalty there for Marked Cards (whether it be for Pattern or No Pattern), or do you return the deck with no penalty and watch to see if the player is manipulating their deck in a way to draw the marked card? And what do you do about the marked card once you determine that the player is not manipulating their deck? Opinions among Judges differed greatly on these subjects.

There was also a situation where a player was shuffling up and discovered that he had a 59-card deck… right after he had been deck checked. A quick look of the deck check area produced the missing card and everything was okay. But it brought up an interesting (and scary) scenario. What if the 59-card deck hadn’t been discovered until the middle of the game, say when he searched for the missing card? Technically the player would have an illegal deck, but it would be because of Judge error. Do you give the penalty because the player is ultimately responsible for the condition of his deck, or do you downgrade?

Another issue that came up for discussion was the token in the deck issue. What do you do if a player draws his opening hand and discovers a token from a previous game? The consensus was that you let them draw another card, and also check the rest of the deck to make sure there aren’t any other tokens mingled in. Things get more complicated (don’t they always?) when the token is in the same type of sleeve as the rest of the deck. Is it an illegal deck? Can you just remove the token? This issue hit the Judge List shortly after Worlds and got some interesting responses and variants.

After such an eventful short shift, I took my leave of the floor and did a bunch of fun things, including eating lunch, gunslinging with Matt Place (who was using Aaron Forsythe EDH deck), and chatting with some of the artists. In particular, I hit it off with Matt Cavotta. As I was looking through his binder of artist proofs to see what cards I had with me, I saw Copperhoof Vorrac and exclaimed “I love that card.” Matt looked up from signing a card and said, “I’ve never heard anyone say that about that card before.” We got into a discussion about the art (it looks more like a Coppertusk Vorrac), how I played the card (I once killed someone in one shot with it and Pandemonium in a big EDH game), and art appreciation.

I got really excited when Matt mentioned that he might have the original painting of Copperhoof Vorrac in his collection at home. He quoted me an estimated price and I told him I would definitely be interested.

I’ve mentioned how to schmooze with artists in the past. Buying proofs and prints is an important start. Buying original art is obviously a big upgrade on that concept. But the real key is to do these things out of a love for the art and not the card. While it’s great for an artist to get a piece that becomes an iconic card in the format (Matt did Goblin Piledriver, still one of his most signed cards), they are first and foremost artists. Take another close look at Copperhoof Vorrac and you gain an appreciation for the perspective of this giant beast about to trample you down.

On Thursday night, we had a 2HG Judge draft. But before that a group of us went out to find something to eat, which turned out to be quite the task in downtown freaking Memphis. Most of the stores and restaurants were closed at only 8pm, including the Subway that had closed at a jaw-dropping six o’clock. The little diner that our group of half a dozen Judges did wander into had just about the slowest service imaginable. John Shannon, the headmaster of the draft, walked by the place, apparently ate an entire meal, and walked back to the venue before we even got all of our food. Then when we did get our food, some of our orders were wrong. James Elliott, in particular, seemed to keep getting the short end of the stick in terms of service and was getting noticeably upset.

People started pairing up for the draft and I immediately went with Craig Gibson, who is not a Judge, but is nonetheless a fixture on the Pro Tour as Official Photographer. Some might question the wisdom of teaming up with Craig. If as the adage goes “Those who can’t play, judge,” then what of those who take photographs? I wanted to team up with Craig for two reasons. First, I like the guy. He’s always fun to chat with, and frankly a 2HG draft isn’t all about the winning. Second, it never hurts to get closer to the man who is taking all those photographs for event coverage. Hey, Craig, need any pictures of Judges? Heh, yes that’s totally Machiavellian.

Our first pick was a windmill slam, Feral Hydra, something that has to be among the best cards in 2HG. Our second pick from that pack was a simple yet solid Oblivion Ring. When we looked at our cards at the end of the first pack, we obviously had good cards in every color. Based on the way some of our better gold cards played out, it looked like one deck would be a Green-based aggro deck (either Naya or Jund) around Feral Hydra. The second deck wasn’t as clear yet, but it was some kind of Blue control concoction, I think Grixis at that point.

We only ended up with one Cancel; that was a card that I didn’t value high enough for what was shaping up to be my Blue control deck. As compensation, I picked up some Spell Snips (of which I played one, figuring that I had twice as many chances to catch someone with their pants down). One card that I felt was totally underrated was Call to Heel. In duels, Call to Heel is mediocre because sometimes you have to use it to bounce your opponent’s creature. In 2HG, you can leave Call up to save your teammate’s creatures.

Craig and I went back and forth on the exalted issue. In short, exalted sucks in 2HG. Exalted doesn’t trigger if you each attack with one creature because that’s not alone. And your exalted doesn’t trigger for your teammate’s creature attacking alone. At first we shunned all things exalted, but as the packs kept going around, we kept seeing things like Akrasan Squires and Waveskimmer Avens.

A moderately bomby Tower Gargoyle, Esper Battlemage, and a pair of Windwright Mages pushed my deck soundly into the Esper Shard, and I made up for the lack of Cancels with a Punish Ignorance. I also snatched a Kiss of the Amesha and plenty of Courier’s Capsules (plus a Sanctum Gargoyle and Protomatter Powder to draw two more).

Hissing Iguanar was pure Almond Joy every time we drew it. We should have picked up a second one. Craig ended up as Naya to take full advantage of his pair of Wild Nacatls.

In pack two, we grabbed Where Ancients Tread and Mighty Emergence, but we had a shortage of Fives to trigger them. Incurable Ogre to the rescue! Don’t laugh. A 7/3 Ogre definitely won us a game in conjunction with Soul’s Fire.

We ended up 3-0ing the draft. I’m not quite sure if we deserved it based on our decks. Our first opponents got mana screwed. In 2HG you should take more aggressive mulligans, especially your “free” one. Our second game was tense and our opponents claimed that they had us on the ropes if only they had drawn a third Mountain for Predator Dragon. I, of course, had been sandbagging Resounding Wave the entire time, waiting for a good time to cycle it for value.

Friday was a pretty busy day for me. I was on the Feature Match Team for a full day shift, although the way the team was structured I only patrolled the Feature Match area for half the day. Let me say briefly that I hated the way the Feature Match area was set up. It was five matches arranged in colored (or possibly Shard-based) areas completely separate from each other with these large lighted pillars obscuring the players from the outside. So you might hear a “Judge!” but the Fortress of Solitude pillars would keep you from knowing which Shard it was coming from until a spectator poked his head out and waved you over, or you walked around in a circle until you found the right match. There was also a small colored rock garden around each of the pillar setups. At least once per round someone would go crunching through the rock garden and everyone would stop and stare. Spending money to make things look cool is fine and all, but I’m a fan of the simpler setup of PTs where one Judge can watch more than one match without having to walk to a different Shard zone. And the rock garden thing was just a disaster that they eventually had to fence off to keep people from tromping through.

On Friday, I also had an encounter with an uncooperative spectator. I was making the rounds at the end of deck construction after draft #2 on the Main Event. I came across an odd situation with a spectator standing behind Patrick Chapin with his camera phone, apparently taking photographs or possibly recording his deck construction. I assumed that this was some project of his and that it wasn’t a spy, but the spectator didn’t have a press pass, so I asked him to please leave the player area. He kind of puffed up his chest and said, “Excuse me?” so I again politely told him that he needed to exit the player area. He gave me a “So you’re telling me to get out of here?” This went back and forth a few times, and I started to wonder what I was going to have to do if this man didn’t leave. I remained polite the whole time, although I did start to use a more forceful tone, and I refrained from putting my hands on him. Finally, the spectator gave me a “Whatever, fine,” and walked out.

I leaned over to Chapin and asked him whether that was a friend of his and what that was all about, and he told me “Yeah, I know him. That’s Mike Long.” That was all he seemingly needed to say about that. Later on that evening, Mike came up to me and apologized, saying that he had been out of line. He went on to explain “Of course, you know who I am” and said that he had past troubles with authority figures in the game and sometimes got belligerent with them as a result. I thanked him for apologizing and shook his hand. It was an interesting contrast in the two situations, and it only got more interesting when I told the story to some veterans of the DCI and they gave me a “Yep. That’s Mike Long for you.” Apparently the man’s MO is to challenge people and try to get them to back down, and if they don’t, be nice and contrite with them. I said, “If Mike Long wants to be polite to me, I am all for that. I am certainly willing to be polite to him. It doesn’t mean I’ll let him get away with anything in the future.” Still, I could see how his technique might work, and it certainly spoke to the rumors about him as a very charismatic man who could cheat you in a game and turn around and be your best friend afterwards.

Friday night a large group of Judges went out for dinner at Texas de Brazil, basically the Memphis equivalent of Fogo, the famous “meat on swords” restaurant that has become a PT fixture. You’ve heard the stories of pure carnivorous decadence before. This dinner had a much more international flavor than past ones. I sat right in the midst of the French contingent of Kevin Desprez, Lois Jacquet, and Julien Winter, which was pure gas. You see, French L4 David Vogin started a little joke at the PT Berlin Judge Dinner where he would say “Do you know Riki Hayashi? He writes for Star City Games,” to every Judge who stopped by our table to chat. Since then, he’s spread his little joke to all of the French Judges who refer to me as “the famous Riki Hayashi from Star City Games.” (Don’t forget to imagine the French accent.)

I also had some fun with Gustavo Montangie from Argentina as we continued the grand tradition of taking photographs with beautiful waitresses. Frank Iramian from Puerto Rico bought me a second drink, which people familiar with me will tell you is one and half drinks too many, and certainly contributed to my drunken request to our server, Daiane (yes, with extra vowels). I believe this was my third event with Frank (U.S. Nationals and PT: Berlin), but I can’t really pinpoint the moment when we met. There is no “Nice to meet you” moment that sticks out in my memory. He’s just kind of been there all along and has been one of the best friends you could ask for on the Tour. The walk back to the hotel was pure fun as I served as translator between the Japanese Judges, Mitsunori Makino and Naoki Umesaki, and Frank and Ben Bowers (who spoke a smattering of Japanese). The classic culture shock line of that walk was when Naoki said, “If we were not with them we would be mugged.”

I’ve always wondered how these Pro Tour and Worlds reports last for two weeks. Lo and behold I’ve only gotten through Friday and it’s already time to say goodbye, adieu, adios, sayonara.

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

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