Statistically speaking, it’s safe to say that most of you have never played in a Pro Tour. Even more likely, very few of you have judged in a PT. I’ve never done the former, but now that I’ve joined the ranks of the latter, boy do I have stories to tell. I’ve been telling people that judging Pro Tour: Hollywood was the best weekend of my life. That’s a tall claim, and for it to be true it either means I’ve led a boring life or the PT was that damn awesome.
What makes judging at a PT so special? For a partial glimpse into our world, be sure to check out Peter Jahn article last week. Yes, I did go to Fogo de Chao. My portion of the bill was just under $100, and it was worth every Andrew Jackson. Let’s say that your run of the mill combo meal at a fast food joint costs $5. Would you rather eat twenty lame combo meals or one super meal where they haul out an unlimited amount of meat on giant skewers?
As the Hillshire Farms commercial says, “Go Meat!”
Welcome to the PT, noob
My first ruling on the floor of the main event was appealed. Figures. You would almost think that they would do that to first-timers as a hazing ritual. The situation was thus:
In the upkeep of Player A’s turn, an Ancestral Visions came off suspend and Player B played a Spellstutter Sprite to counter it. Player A wanted to counter back with a Spellstutter Sprite of his own, but Player B claimed that he had already placed the Visions in his graveyard indicating that it had been countered.
From my perspective, there were a few relevant pieces of information that I gathered through questioning the two players. First, there was no graveyard, or more correctly, there were no cards to designate a graveyard at the time. When I questioned Player A about the supposed action of moving the card to the graveyard, he said that he had moved the Visions right after removing the last suspend counter and playing the spell. What he showed me was a very small move – although he didn’t explicitly say so – similar to what happens on MTGO when a card comes off of suspend.
The second relevant piece of information was that no words were exchanged to indicate the game state. No “Resolves,” “Countered?” or “Hold on.” Given the lack of verbal communication, and the ambiguity of the card’s movement to the “graveyard,” I elected to return the game to the point where both players agreed on what was happening, the point where both Visions and Spellstutter were on the stack. This was the game state that Player A wanted, allowing him to counter back with his own Spellstutter Sprite.
Given the ambiguity of a communication-type ruling, it was rather inevitable that Player B would appeal. What wasn’t inevitable was the ten minute delay due to three or four other appeals in the queue. I guess they were hazing all the other new judges too.
When I finally got my time with Head Judge Sheldon Menery, I briefed him on the situation largely as I have laid out for you here. The whole time I was talking to Sheldon my knees were shaking and I was garbling words (unsurprisingly I had the most trouble with Spellstutter Sprite). After getting the facts form me, Sheldon spoke to the players, and upheld my ruling.
What can players learn from this situation? As always, there are a few lessons bubbling under the surface. First, if you are unsure about a Floor Judge’s ruling, you should always appeal to the Head Judge. Technically, you have the right to appeal any Floor Judge’s ruling, but because the HJ’s time is valuable, you should really only do so when you actually think the FJ is wrong, or there is some ambiguity.
There’s a common misconception that an appeal is an insult to a judge because you are saying, “Hey, you suck, I want a second opinion.” At least from my perspective, I welcome the chance to have my ruling confirmed and right or wrong it is a great opportunity to learn something from a more experienced judge.
The other major issue from a player’s perspective is communication. I’ll be talking about this issue a lot more in the coming weeks, but for now the key is to be clear on what is going on. In this case some quick verbal communication could have prevented any confusion. Player B may have wanted the Visions to be countered and go to the graveyard, but without any cards to indicate what area was the actual graveyard and no verbal confirmation of the spell being countered, there was no choice but to return to the point where both players were clear on what the heck was going on.
Actually, my second major ruling on the floor was appealed as well, although this one was my fault as I initially got the ruling wrong, and only after a funny look and a “That’s not right,” from the players did I actually read the card and reverse course on myself. Of course, once you give two conflicting answers, you’re almost guaranteed to get appealed.
The situation: Player A played a Mistbind Clique during Player B’s upkeep. These were, of course, not the same Players A and B from above – well, they might have been, but they most likely weren’t. Player B Terrored the Mistbind Clique in response to the champion ability, and Player A wanted to know if he could still champion a Faerie and get the Mana Short effect. I initially ruled in the affirmative (that would be “yes” to the less pretentious), but after getting a funny look I decided to actually, you know, read the card.
Whoops! For some reason, I thought that the Mana Short ability and the champion ability were linked, as in the same triggered ability. RTFC, dummy! Doing so, it was clear that they were two separate triggered abilities, and the second one could not trigger if the Clique was no longer in play (i.e. dead). I retracted my previous ruling, explained the interaction of the abilities, and did my best Regis Philbin to deliver “my final ruling.”
After explaining that I initially got the ruling wrong, but eventually corrected the course, Sheldon upheld my final ruling, and I left the table with a quick apology for the confusion. In the end, the most important thing was that the correct ruling had been delivered.
The following story comes courtesy of Level 3 Eric Shukan of Boston, notable for his innovation of mid-round deck checks.
During the end of round overtime period, Eric was watching a match in extra turns. Player A had a Kitchen Finks in play with a -1/-1 counter from persist. The counter was represented by a six-sided die set on the one. At the end of his opponent’s turn (turn 4 of 5), Player A played two Makeshift Mannequins, bringing back two more Finks. To represent the mannequin counters, Player A used the same type of dice, also set on the number one. Seeing the possibility for confusion, Eric stepped in and said “Mannequin counters,” putting his fingers on the two dice in question and pushing them further down the card to change the visual representation.
Player A untapped for turn 5, the final extra turn. He surveyed the board and concluded that he was one damage short of lethal. Still, he decided to attack with everything and hope for a miracle. He got it when Player B left a Kitchen Finks with a Mannequin counter on it (3/2) unblocked instead of the one with the -1/-1 counter (2/1). Player B confidently declared his blocks. It look Player A a few seconds of bewilderment before he said, “Uh… you’re dead.” Confused, Player B pointed to the unblocked Finks and said, “That’s a 2/1. I’m at one.”
When his opponent told him that it was in fact a 3/2 with a Mannequin counter, Player B looked to Eric for confirmation and got a shrug and a “I just told you they were Mannequin counters.” Player B dropped his head and signed the slip.
There was actually some healthy judge discussion about whether Eric had done the right thing in emphasizing the Mannequin counters. A judge’s role is to remain invisible until called upon. We don’t want anything we say or do to influence the outcome of the game in any way. With the Mannequin counters and the -1/-1 counter being represented by the same type of dice, there was some potential for confusion, but nothing indicated that there was any misunderstanding yet. The consensus was that Eric action was not too disruptive and was acceptable since he would be watching the entire rest of the match for the duration of the extra turns. Most of the judges agreed that had it been in the middle of the round, Eric should not have pointed out the difference, but instead should have watched the match for a turn or two just to make sure that both players were clear on the difference between the counters, and only step in if a mistake were made.
As it turned out, even with Eric pointing out the difference, Player B got it wrong and punted the match. Call it a brain fart of the biggest magnitude. At any time, Player B could have asked his opponent or Eric for confirmation on which creatures had Mannequin counters and which ones had -1/-1 counters.
This next story I actually had the pleasure of being involved in personally. There isn’t really much to learn from it, but it was probably the funniest incident I was involved in all weekend.
I was on the public events Extended tournament, with a box of some old set (one of the Urza’s I believe) as prize. I was counting the decklists (meaning making sure everyone is playing at least 60 and 15, 4-ofs, and format legality), when I came across one with 61 cards in the maindeck. 61 cards isn’t illegal, but judges sometimes like to flag them for possible mistakes. This was doubly the case because the player had written “60” in the little box, further evidence of a possibly deck/decklist mismatch. As I studied the decklist, I noticed a few… well, odd things.
For one, the one extra card was Bramble Elemental.
In an Extended tournament.
Not only that, but it was written in the second column of the decklist, while the other 60 cards fit comfortably in the first column with room spare. It was almost as if the Bramble Elemental had been added on as an afterthought… in different handwriting. Yes, different handwriting.
At the beginning of round 2, I pulled the player aside and did a quick scan of his deck. He was playing 60 cards and there was no Bramble Elemental in sight. I asked him if he might have been playing said Bramble Elemental (in Extended), which may rank as one of the stupidest things I’ve ever had to ask someone. Obviously he said no, so I proceeded to show him the decklist and asked him if he could explain the extra card.
He took one look at the decklist and put his hands to his head.
“Oh my god! I don’t believe it!” he said.
He went on to tell me about how he had gone to the bathroom before the tournament and when he got back his friends had told him to double check his decklist. As I went into my standard speech about the infraction (deck/decklist mismatch) and the penalty (game loss), Carlos Ho (L3 from Panama via Spain), who had been watching, stopped me.
“Let’s talk to the friend first,” said Carlos.
As it turned out, the friend was sitting just a few tables away from where we had sat down with the player. I asked him to step away from his table, and asked, “So did you do something to your friend’s decklist when he went to the bathroom?”
The friend’s eyes got real wide as he said, “Oh no! I can’t believe he didn’t change it.”
Yeah, nice practical joke, dude. I pow-wowed with Carlos and he told me that this was definitely the type of extenuating circumstance that warranted a penalty downgrade. We took the matter to Ray Gaieck (L2, San Diego), the Head Judge for this Extended tournament, and he agreed. We gave the player the good news, along with a stern lecture for his friend about the potential impact of such practical jokes. All in all, it was a satisfying resolution, and I’m glad that Carlos stopped me from going by the book.
Next week: Meet me at the DQ
There were no DQs in the main event, but there was at least one in public events. Plus, when is a block final?
Until then, have fun!