The Riki Rules – Regionals Ruled

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Tuesday, July 8th – Regionals has always been somewhat of a hurdle in the Magic season. And by hurdle, I mean that it is a flat out Great Wall of China, at least for me. The weather is hot and muggy, and the tournament always brings out tons of people, making for logistical and rulings hell. Things have actually gotten better recently, but let’s take a look back through the past few years of Regionals…

Regionals has always been somewhat of a hurdle in the Magic season. And by hurdle, I mean that it is a flat out Great Wall of China, at least for me. The weather is hot and muggy, and the tournament always brings out tons of people, making for logistical and rulings hell. Things have actually gotten better recently, but let’s take a look back through the past few years of Regionals.

Back then, Northern California was considered one region and Southern California another. This made a lot of sense in terms of geography – having States alternate between north and south meant that only half of the state was competing in any given year. But even split into two regions, California is a demographic monster, and this year our Regionals topped off at over 600 players and 11 rounds of Swiss. I actually played in this tournament, and got bounced and trounced with my Death Cloud deck. The correct deck choice was Ravanger Affinity, fully-powered in all its ridiculous glory with Ravager, Disciple, Clamp, and Vial. Yes, this was a Standard-legal deck once upon a time, and I chose not to play it. Where’s one of those Epic Fail montage videos when you need one?

The first of the split Regionals, one in Sacramento and one in the Bay Area. I judged in Sacramento along with TO Conan Blackwell and HJ Don Barkauskas. That was it. 3 versus 200, give or take a couple of dozen in either direction. Not only were the numerical odds stacked against us, but the main ballroom couldn’t hold all of the players, so there were several additional conference rooms worth of players down the hall. Announcements like round start and end times had to be relayed down the hall. We got some help partway through when Pete Manning dropped out to volunteer. Getting through this tournament still ranks as one of my top five judging moments.

I was taking a break from judging this year and the tournament scene in general as I took care of some life issues like getting a job. I did hear about this tournament though. Apparently the Sacramento site backed out at the last minute, and the venue was hastily moved to some card shop I had never heard of that was both too small and too non-air conditioned. In the early summer (or late spring) heat of Central California, that equals bad times. A lot of people complain about the stench of Magic players, but I say you put 200 cheerleaders in a hot room sitting elbow to elbow and smell as good they will not, mmm?

My triumphant return to judging Regionals was a fairly laid-back tournament. We experienced a snag at the beginning of the tournament trying to input the byes from the City Champs winners. And we did have to DQ two players for Bribery/Collusion. Sometimes it shocks me that people can come to these tournaments and not know that you can’t offer packs for a concession.

The two players had come to an agreement on a pre-match bribe. Without even knowing for sure if they would get paired up against each other (although it was likely given the layout of the points and previous pairings at that point), one player asked the other one to concede to him in exchange for some percentage of the pack prize. But after agreeing to this, one of the player’s friends said that he wasn’t sure if that was allowed, and to check with a judge. Well, check he did. Both players readily admitted to what they had agreed to, and also professed their ignorance to any wrongdoing.

There are areas of the Penalty Guidelines where the difference between intentional and unintentional wrongdoing makes a difference. For example, drawing extra cards (DQ or game loss respectively). Bribery isn’t one of these areas. The wrongdoing may be unintentional, but the act of bribery is always an intentional action. You don’t accidentally fall over and drop some packs in your opponent’s lap, and they don’t accidentally concede to you (although I imagine the latter has happened on MTGO).

Welcome to the present, or at least the recent past. Once again I headed out to judge Sacramento Regionals. The venue was Great Escape Games, a solid store that recently moved to a much larger location basically attached to a small warehouse that could comfortably seat over 200 players. We had nearly that many, surprisingly more than the Bay Area given the relative sizes of the metropolitan areas. But Sacramento had also drawn more players than SF for the PTQ during Extended season.

Having just moved into their new location a few months ago, GEG had an ad hoc set up which included no AC and no PA (although both will be installed in the near future). Being a warehouse, they were able to open the large service entrance door to let the air in, and also had three large floor fans to compensate, making things bearable.

The lack of a PA system meant that Head Judge Jeff Morrow had to shout his announcements. This is difficult enough for a room of nearly 200 Magic players who never get completely quiet when they’re supposed to. The roaring fans only exasperated the problem, and by the middle rounds Jeff had to pass off the task of making announcements to other judges. Despite the technical difficulties, the tournament ran incredibly smoothly.

Deck Registration Errors

I can only recall one singular tournament where we didn’t have to hand out at least one deck registration error. Normally we have about half a dozen deck reg errors, and each judge gets one, two decklists at most. For Regionals, we had over a dozen reg errors and Jeff had to pull out the secret Head Judge technique to give us a chance to get to all of them.

“This is the start of round 2. The following tables, do not start your match until a judge comes to see you (murmurs from the crowd)…” Around the fourth or fifth table, spontaneous snickers erupted as the players realized that a lot of people were in trouble. The snickers died down as Jeff kept going and going.

One of the players actually knew that he had mis-registered his deck. “Yep. I was expecting this,” he said to me as I pulled him away from the table. He told me that he had gotten to the site late and had rushed through registration from memory. Before you say that he should have taken his time, there’s a time limit to deck registration; players must be done by the time the judge comes by to pick them up. If you’re not done, it’s a game loss for tardiness, one of the lesser known applications of the tardiness penalty. So either way the player was looking at a game loss, the only question being whether it would be in round 1 for tardiness or round 2 for the deck reg error.

I’ve read it time and time again in tournament reports, and I’ll repeat it here for completeness’s sake: write out your decklist the day before the tournament. This will save you some valuable time in the morning when you are shaving minutes trying to get some breakfast or coffee. It will also prevent you from doing that last minute tinkering that never works, or flat out misregistering your cards due to haste. If you want, leave your sideboard blank, and fill that out on site based on what you think the field looks like that day, but you should keep your (hopefully) tuned maindeck the same because chances are that gut feeling 10 minutes before the tournament is wrong.

Most deck registration errors are errors of omission. Commonly, players forget to register that last set of cards, giving them 56 to 59 cards on their decklist. Other times it is the omission of words in a card name. Over the past few year, two very common ones I’ve seen are players listing “Venser” and “Akroma.” In these cases, the cards are not uniquely identifiable in the format (due to Venser’s Diffusion and the two Akromas). At Regionals, one sloppy player got lucky when he listed “Razorma.” His deck had Razormane Masticores, and that was the only card in the format with that particular prefix. He got off with a very stern lecture and a tale of how it could have been worse.

From a player’s perspective, it may seem obvious that any player listing “Venser” is obviously playing the Shaper Savant and not his Diffusion. That’s normally an area for the Head Judge to decide whether a downgraded penalty is in order. The specific passage from the PG is:

“Use of a truncated name that is not unique may be downgraded to a Warning at the Head Judge’s discretion if they believe that the intended card is obvious and the potential for abuse minimal. When determining if a name is ambiguous, judges may take into account the format being played.”

Based on this, the “Venser” situation could be downgraded at the HJ’s discretion, but an “Akroma” in a R/W deck will always be a game loss. And it could be argued that in older formats, “Akroma” is too ambiguous even in a straight White deck because of cards like Akroma’s Blessing and Akroma’s Vengeance, both of which have been played in Constructed. There’s always a lot of discussion amongst judges about this issue of how far we go in determining what is a reasonable card to play. I’m curious as to how players view this issue, so feel free to chime in on the topic in the forums.

Mistbind Clique and the Mysterious Floating Mana

Daniel Lee probably had the most interesting call of the day at Regionals, and you’ll see that it was a very boring day for the men in stripes.

Player A attacked with his team of creatures and Player B played a Mistbind Clique before declaring blockers. Player A dutifully tapped all of his lands, Player B made his blocks, then Player A tried to play a spell with his floated mana.

Floated mana? Where did that come from? Apparently, when he tapped all his lands to the Mistbind’s ability, Player A had said “Float” and Player B hadn’t heard him. That was understandable as these two were sitting right next to one of the large floor fans. This goes back to the communication issue. And especially because of the loud fan situation, it was pretty easy to miss a simple word like “float” so Daniel let Player A have the floated mana and play his spell.

This seemed like a reasonable solution, and would be how most judges would fix this problem. As we’ve seen, when there is ambiguity in player communication, the fix is to back up to when both players were clear about the game state. This works as long as there is no potential for abuse from extra information gained. I did ask Daniel a seemingly innocent, yet overwhelmingly important question as it turned out.

“What color mana did he float?”

He hadn’t specified, saying only the very ambiguous “float” while tapping all of his lands, some of which could produce more than one color of mana. In this particular case, because the player was planning on playing a spell in his hand (Daniel couldn’t remember the exact spell when I asked him to retell the story to me in more detail this past weekend), the color of mana being floated didn’t matter as much.

It’s always important to specify what mana you’re floating, but it becomes doubly important when a Mistbind Clique is played during your upkeep. With the mana floating until your draw step, you have to float the right amount and type of mana to be able to play a wide assortment of spells you might draw into. I was watching a Faerie mirror match a few weeks ago when both players were Mistbinding back and forth during each other’s upkeeps. Typically the floated mana would be three Blue and one Black, to allow for both Cryptic Command and Terror (this was in Standard).

This got me to thinking, which is always a bit dangerous. Often, when people play Mistbind Clique they say “Mana Short you” to represent the triggered ability. It’s a convenient shortcut, but is it an accurate shortcut? You see, Mana Short, a spell that many old school Psychatog players are familiar with, empties the player’s mana pool. That’s a significant difference from what Mistbind Clique does. Of course, there’s no spell that I know of that perfectly replicates Mistbind’s ability, and even if there were an obscure Portal card – let’s call it “Pirate’s Curse” – it would be a lot more ambiguous to say “I’ll Pirate’s Curse you” in reference to the land-tapping ability.

There is no perfect solution. Mana Short is as good as any at conveying the general gist of the ability, Mistbind Clique is well-known enough that players know that the ability is not actually Mana Short. At worst, they should be reading the card if they are unsure. Saying “Mana Short” has become an acceptable shortcut for this ability, but remember that if both players are not clear on what is being shortcut, we may need to back things up.

Next week, I’m going to cover some stuff from the Block PTQ I judged this past weekend. That’s a lot faster turnaround than this Regionals tinged article. I feel that there’s a need to cover Mirrorweave in depth given that we had at least half a dozen questions on this card in the first few rounds.

Until then, Mana Short you.

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