The Riki Rules – The Golden Ticket

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Tuesday, August 19th – I’m a little shell-shocked over the decision to cancel the Invitational. We all know the U.S. economy is in the toilet, and responsible companies need to look for measures to cut costs and keep afloat. Is Wizards of the Coast one of those companies? I’m not an economist, but I play one on TV, and the report is that Hasbro, the parent corporation of Wizards of the Coast, had a very good 2007…

A few weeks ago on the Magic Show, Jacob Van Lunen talked about a crazy idea I had at Nats: a Golden Ticket randomly distributed in booster packs that wins the lucky player an invite to the Invitational. It would be just like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Some lucky kid would open a pack and get to play in the Invitational! What fun!

I told a few people about this wacky idea. Generally, they liked it. Last year, the Invitational moved away from the All-Star Game model with the invite of two non-Pros in Evan Erwin and Steven Menendian. This move sparked a lot of debate in the community, but most people viewed it as a positive for Magic.

Giving away a random invite would be the next step in the evolution of the Invitational to make it more accessible to the ordinary Magic player. While Evan and Steve were not “Pros,” neither were they “Joes,” in that they were known Internet celebrities due to their successful columns here at SCG. Imagine the excitement if any Magic player in the world could go to the Invitational just by opening a pack with a Golden Ticket.

When I read Ben Bleiwiess’s article about adding value to packs, it really gelled with my wacky idea. Token cards are a nice bonus, but no one cracks open packs just to get a token, not even for the ultra rare, one-every-case Ajani Avatar token. World of Warcraft CCG has precisely such a bonus draw to their product with their loot cards that can be worth over one thousand dollars.

One big problem pointed out to me was the danger that the pack with the Golden Ticket might sit unopened in some warehouse. Another problem that could arise would be if the lucky player who opened the Golden Ticket decided to sell it on eBay. How much is a seat at the Invitational worth?

The possibility of the Golden Ticket being put up for auction or sale becomes even more of a danger when you consider just how many packs card stores open to stock their singles. What would happen if StarCityGames.com opened the Golden Ticket and put it in their store? If the Golden Ticket were on sale or auction, the most likely buyer would be a poker/Magic crossover star. Dave Williams, anyone? Or maybe some other geeky mogul would purchase it, say a Todd McFarlane, just for the poops and giggles. McFarlane would then hire a team of Magic experts to design the ultimate decks for him and train him to play with them. Romping his way through the Invitational field, McFarlane would secure his right to submit a Spawn card to R&D.

One small tweak to the concept would be to have the Golden Ticket be for an entrance into a drawing whose prize would be a seat at the Invitational. Then you would have dozens, maybe hundreds, of Golden Tickets in circulation, which would take away the “sitting on a shelf” problem. People would also be much more reluctant to buy a ticket that only gives them a chance at the coveted Invitational seat, taking away the McFarlane factor.

I’m sure there are other potential landmines with my idea, but the basic structure of it (give a truly ordinary player a chance at the Invitational) seems like a winner that both promotes the grandeur of the event and makes a connection with the types of players that Wizards of the Coast is trying to reach out to with their new OP policies. I thought I had a real chicken dinner of an idea. Then the announcement hit: no more Invitational. Frownasaurus Rex. I had actually suspected as much for about a month and heard an unconfirmed rumor about the death of the Invitational, so when MaRo’s article went live I shrugged and nodded my head having fully expected it, but not quite wanting to believe.

I guess I’m a little shell-shocked over the decision to cancel the Invitational. We all know the U.S. economy is in the toilet, and responsible companies need to look for measures to cut costs and keep afloat. Is Wizards of the Coast one of those companies? I’m not an economist, but I play one on TV, and the report is that Hasbro, the parent corporation of Wizards of the Coast, had a very good 2007, possibly even record-breaking due to the sales of Transformers-related merchandise. But money from Transformers doesn’t automatically get shunted into Magic. Hasbro’s success doesn’t necessarily translate to WotC’s success.

So is Magic itself floundering? At least in Northern California, PTQ attendance has been at record highs for the past year; we’ve routinely cleared 150 players. Grand Prix attendance has been off the charts as well. We’ve Michael Phelpsed The North American GP record twice in the past year. The European GP circuit has been equally healthy, routinely topping 1,000 players. To me it looks like the game is healthier than ever, and yet the Invitational follows States, Prereleases, and one Pro Tour stop as another casualty in the game, supposedly due to budget cuts and the need to “acquire” new players. How are we supposed to acquire new players when there aren’t any tournaments to play in and follow? And really how much did the Invitational cost the company? Maybe Ben can answer that last question in an upcoming article.

Blatant Thievery

It’s a fact that at any tournament of more than a hundred players something is going to get stolen. At GP Denver, a whole lot of somethings got stolen, far more than you would expect at such an event. At one point, someone posted a reward for the safe return of his bag “no questions asked” for the tidy sum of $1600, suggesting the actual retail value of the stolen product was much, much more. Throughout the day, more stories of grand theft backpack kept trickling in from the grapevine.

Eventually, I heard a very disturbing rumor about an e-mail threat/warning circulating before the event, meaning the random acts of thievery weren’t so much. A card mafia had made a very deliberate hit on this tournament.

The kicker was when Gerry Thompson won the GP he got his shiny trophy but lost his bag. Gerry T is a renowned Midwest celebrity in his own right, but with a GP trophy in his right hand, he had an almost hypnotic hold on the masses. Hunting parties of players, judges, and groupies set out to find the thieves. They knocked down doors, broke kneecaps, and drafted DI, but to no avail. Gerry T, GP Denver champion became just another casualty.

What can you do to protect yourself from thieves? There are a few basics. First, don’t leave your stuff unattended. This might seem fairly academic, but at one Prerelease I came across a backpack abandoned at a table. I was puzzling over what to do when the owner of the backpack came over from the adjacent table.

“That’s mine,” he said.

“Okay. Just be careful and make sure you keep your eye on it.”

I left to go take care of some judge-y business – putting up pairings or passing out match result slips – and a few minutes into the next round, I noticed the backpack still sitting there, still unattended. The player was again playing at the adjacent table.

When I went over to talk to him, he said, “Don’t worry. I’m keeping an eye on it.”

I looked at him dumbfounded for a few seconds. He definitely wasn’t keeping an eye on things. I could have run off with his pack very easily. I told him this, and forced him to grab his things and keep them close at hand.

As a judge, I have experiences like this at every tournament (okay, usually not that blatantly dumb). When I make my sweeps around the outer tables, I pick up trash and discarded food stuffs, but also come across more valuable things like dice, decks, and yes, sometimes even entire backpacks and binders. While walking the aisles behind matches in progress, I see all kinds of opportunities for theft. Binders and card boxes will be left on the ground, usually under the chair, but sometimes behind the chair. It would be very easy to bend over, pretend to tie your shoelace, and stand up with a brand new binder collection.

Even backpacks and duffel bags would be easy prey to the bend and grab method. Everyone’s eyes are on their own matches and standing up with a new backpack that you didn’t have a moment ago is hardly noteworthy.

Defending yourself again thieves is pretty simple. Don’t leave your stuff in a vulnerable position. That’s it. More specifically, do not leave your deck/binder/box on a table and walk away, even if it is for “just a moment.” Even leaving your things in the care of a friend isn’t enough because they don’t really have your best interests in mind. While they may promise to watch your things, an exciting game or a prospective trade will easily distract them. You should follow the same rules and guidelines for watching over your things as you do at an airport; never let your bags out of your sight because you never know when a terrorist could slip a bomb into your bag or take off with your Power 9. When it comes to backpacks under your chair, you should always close all the zippers and pouches and wrap a strap around a leg of your chair or your own leg. That will prevent thieves from doing a walk-by pick up. Pretty simple things, but clearly things that aren’t being done enough at tournaments.

When Judges Err

Playing in Day 1 of GP Denver, Charles Gindy was not in a good position. The PT Hollywood champ was at 1 life with a Mistbind Clique championing a Bitterblossom. His opponent attacked and Gindy reluctantly blocked, knowing that whatever trick his opponent had would end game 1 when the Bitterblossom returned to play. However, the trick was Mirrorweave, making the Clique a copy of the attacking creature.

“Bitterblossom doesn’t come back because it’s no longer Mistbind Clique and it doesn’t have champion,” explained Gindy.

His opponent wasn’t so sure and called a judge to confirm. The responding Floor Judge didn’t give Gindy the answer he was looking for.

“Champion creates a delayed trigger, which will trigger when the permanent leaves play even if it isn’t Mistbind Clique at the time,” said the judge.

Unhappy with the answer, Gindy appealed to the Head Judge Riccardo Tessitori, but he confirmed the Floor Judge’s ruling. Delayed trigger. Doesn’t matter if it has champion at the time. Bitterblossom returns.

Gindy scooped up his cards.

Riccardo returned a few minutes later and told the players that he and the Floor Judge had been wrong. Champion did not create a delayed trigger, but actually added a second triggered ability: “When this leaves play, return that card to play.” A delayed trigger would have a specific time frame for triggering, like Astral Slide’s “return the removed card to play under its owner’s control at the end of turn.”
Gindy wasn’t happy about the incorrect ruling that had potentially cost him game 1. The good news is that he persevered and won the match despite the incorrect ruling.

That brings us to the heart of the matter. I heard about this ruling both from Riccardo, who told the judge staff about his mistake to educate all of us about the confusing ruling, and from Luis Scott-Vargas, who had been playing next to Gindy. Luis was pretty sure that the two judges were wrong about the champion ability, but didn’t say anything because he had his own match to play and he wasn’t sure what the proper procedure was for correcting a judge. Luis later asked Riccardo if he should have spoken up, and Riccardo’s answer was “Yes. You could have saved me!”

I agree. The last thing a judge wants to do is make an incorrect ruling, and we’ll take any help we can get whether it is from another judge, a player, or a spectator. However, that doesn’t mean that you should just blurt out “Judge, you’re wrong!” I had a neighboring player do precisely that at Denver when I was making a ruling on Mirroweave/Snakeform. In short, the target creature is a 1/1 Snake, but everything else becomes a copy of the original card, in this case a Wizened Cenn. I was right, and the neighbor was wrong, but him arguing with me undermined my ruling and led to an appeal. Riccardo upheld my ruling, and I later told the neighbor that he should have consulted me privately away from the table.

Just a simple “Judge, may I speak with you away from the table” should suffice. You should only do so after the judge has made a full ruling. He or she may yet figure things out, or the players might appeal. If there is no appeal, or if the incorrect ruling is being made on an appeal as was the case with Gindy, go ahead and wait for the judge to finish and ask to speak with him or her. If you have any concerns about the game state advancing too far while you explain you believe the judge is wrong, you can whisper, “I believe you are wrong. Could you please pause the match while I explain?” Make sure you have a sufficient knowledge base to be able to explain the situation to the judge. “I heard it worked this way” or “That’s what MODO does” are not sufficient. Another common one is “a judge at another tournament ruled differently.” I got this one when I explained Mirrorweave and Chameleon Colossus pumping in response (the Colossus retains the +4/+4 pump on top of whatever it copies). I was very tempted to say “that judge was wrong, and I’m right,” but instead I carefully went over the way layers work to both reassure the player and make sure I actually had things right.

Judges are only human (except for those of us who aren’t, like R. Jared Sylva). We make mistakes, and we appreciate whatever help you can provide in keeping those mistakes from affecting matches adversely.

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

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