Sometimes an article just doesn’t come together in time. Such was the case with the legendary “chess clock article” that I have been talking about for quite some time. Unfortunately, unlike most of my articles, I can’t just sit down at home and do some research online, or come home from a tournament with some good stories.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to schedule some time to get some friends to play some chess clock games with me for research purposes. Unfortunately, real life is never quite so accommodating. Even going into this past weekend, a three-day weekend no less, the great bicyclist Lance Armstrong ruined my efforts by coming to town for a race and shutting down the downtown area.
Less one article topic for the month, I was forced to resort to the old inbox. However, this isn’t one of those “mailbag” articles, or at least it isn’t a multi-topical article that answers a bunch of e-mails. I probably could get a decent article like that out of my inbox every few months, but I prefer answering all of my e-mails individually, and just reproducing those answers as an article seems a little phony.
Once in a while, I do get a message that catches my attention. This one was from “baddotcom,” also know as Lucas Siow, a local PTQ winner and first time PT competitor. Lucas also made in appearance in several GP LA as a “local ringer” and associate of LSV. Going into his first PT, Lucas wanted to know about the differences between a PTQ and a PT. What are the differences in playing Magic at a Professional REL event?
Good to know. Moving on… okay, it’s not that simple. On the one hand, Magic is Magic. Whether you are playing at FNM or the Top 8 of PT: Kyoto, the fundamentals of the game remain the same. The differences in the REL and the Penalty Guide are all cosmetic. If you play your game and make no mistakes, you might not even notice the difference.
Aaron Hamer, L3 from Portland, sent me an e-mail a few weeks ago asking me if in an ideal world play should decide match outcomes rather than penalties. I agreed with this statement without really knowing the context he was asking it to me in. Perhaps I said something in my article that made him question which side of this debate I was on and wanted some clarification. Or maybe he’s taking some kind of general consensus survey for some project.
No matter how much idealizing we do, we don’t live in that kind of world. In my response to Aaron I compared it to police. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need the police to investigate and punish people for crimes because there wouldn’t be any crimes. But since we do live in a world with crimes, aren’t we a lot better off with police? The same applies to Magic, or at least tournament Magic.
Do the differences between Competitive and Professional REL matter to the average player? They shouldn’t because there are very few tangible differences. Looking over the Penalty Guidelines, there is only one infraction that carries a different penalty between Comp and Prof REL, Draft Procedure Violation. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you didn’t even know that such an infraction existed. I’ve certainly never had the occasion to give one out, although looking it over, I probably should have.
Tournament Error — Draft Procedure Violation is defined as “A player commits a technical error during a draft. This does not cover any attempts to view or reveal cards that are hidden, which is handled by Cheating — Hidden Information Violation.” Technical errors range from mixing up packs (more likely to happen when players pass more than pack at a time, so not at the PT) to changing your mind about a pick and picking it back up from your pile. I’ve seen all of these things happen, and then some.
Here’s a quick and easy tip for what to do during a professional draft: do what the Judge calling the draft tells you to do and absolutely nothing else. Players get themselves into trouble when they pick a card early, before the Judge says “draft” or “pick,” putting the card face down in their pile before it is time. Once you put a card down you’re done with that pack, which is why you should wait to select a card until the appropriate time. The reason this is a violation is because of the potential for cheating, drafting a good card, “changing your mind” and putting a different card back into your pack and then selecting the second-best card from the pack for your deck.
Another thing you should do is keep your cards in a single pile. One of the skills being tested in a draft is memory. How well do you remember all of your picks? You are only allowed to pick up your drafted cards and look at them in between packs. Called drafts have a one minute review period precisely for this purpose. To get around this restriction I’ve seen players resort to many little pre-sorting patterns, piling their cards by mana cost, color, or who knows what.
None of these piling techniques are allowed. You must put your drafted cards into one face down pile. Having extra piles can make things very confusing with the worst case scenario being a player accidentally picking up one of the piles and trying to draft from it! I’ve never actually seen this happen, but the possibility of it scares the beegees out of me.
Knowing the facts about how to draft properly is as important to picking the right constructed deck. Okay, maybe not quite as important, but it can play a role in you drafting a better deck. I’ve seen players, especially those who make day two of a GP, crumble under the pressure of a professionally called draft, focusing too much on the procedure and not on the cards. This is why at PTQs that I Head Judge, I ask one of my Judges to call the draft. Not only is it good practice for the Judge, but it is the same for the players, at least one of whom will be moving on to the PT to do similar drafts.
Something else that bothered Lucas was the beginning of game procedure. In particular, the timing of declaring whether you wish to play or draw. Most players do it as soon as they lose the previous game, or shortly thereafter during sideboarding. And really, for Constructed there isn’t really a question. However, in the eventuality that someone does want to be on the draw after losing, you have the option of waiting until just before you look at your opening hand to announce this. This means that you can sideboard, shuffle, shuffle your opponent’s deck, and cut your own deck before making your decision. If it is your choice and you look at your hand before deciding, it is assumed that you had chosen to be on the play.
For Limited, I could see this having some more relevance since this format’s five-color draft decks might wish to be on the draw to smooth out the mana issues. In fact, I’ve chosen to draw with several such decks in the past few weeks, the latest of which was a five-color domain deck “splashing” for Cruel Ultimatum. For both Limited and Constructed, players will often make sideboarding decisions based on whether they are on the play or draw. For example, a cumbersome counterspell like Punish Ignorance might be too slow on the draw. Taking away the knowledge of whether they are on the play or draw can deny your opponent some valuable information on how they should sideboard.
One more question regarding the pregame procedure is exactly how much time you have and how strictly this is enforced at a Pro Tour. From past discussions on this subject, we know that three minutes are allotted for the pregame procedure of any potential sideboarding and shuffling before you must present your deck. After that, any additional shuffling of your opponent’s deck and mulliganing decisions are handled separately. At a PTQ, the three minutes are rarely enforced (exceeding the time limit is considered Slow Play). This is mostly because the player to Judge ratio is too high to spare people for this duty, especially because so many Judges are invested in other tasks like handling no shows, deck checks, and handing out match result slips.
Results at a PT may vary; there are still a lot of Judges running around doing these various tasks. But there are even more Judges available to be watching matches at the beginning of the round. This is especially true of the Feature Matches where one or two Judges watch over just a few matches. If any match is going to be watched vigilantly for Slow Play on the pregame procedure, it is here, but that doesn’t mean that you yourself shouldn’t be watchful for it, just as you should for Slow Play at other times in a match.
Another important thing to do outside the scope of actual Magic-playing is to get enough rest. This is something that is emphasized to the judging staff constantly, but I rarely see it stressed among players. In fact, players are always partying it up, drafting until the wee hours of the morning, and doing anything but getting a good night’s sleep.
Losing sleep equals losing effectiveness. I still recall my one foray into Day 2 of a GP when I made multiple mistakes due to lack of sleep. The problem was not only that I had been playing Magic until 4am on Friday night, although to be fair it was one of the old school Swiss Trials, so the 3 byes were very important to me actually making Day 2. But it was also the fact that I had multiple roommates in my hotel room.
Lots of people in the same room can cause a lot of problems. For one thing it’s hard to regulate the temperature with so many people. Then there’s the snoring problem. Ah, yes, the snoring. One of the nights, I hardly got any sleep because of this, and the only reason I managed to sleep on the following night was because I went out and got some earplugs. Now I don’t leave home without a set of earplugs because they are the number one thing that ensures I get a good night’s sleep. I know I’ve roomed with some Judges that snore, and it hasn’t mattered a lick as I have slept quite soundly.
Then again, some players show up to these large tournaments without a plan for where they will be staying. This is another mistake. Usually these things tend to work out, as they did for me when my roommate situation dematerialized shortly before the event. I eventually hooked up with a group of Judges that had an extra half bed available for me.
How some people show up to these events with no plan whatsoever is quite beyond me. They just expect to find some piece of carpet or chair in someone’s room, I guess. Planning ahead of time and finding roommates gives you much more peace of mind when going to these events. Your costs are fixed, and although it might be more than the “show up and pray” method, if you can’t afford to split a hotel room four to six ways, maybe there are other things you should be worrying about than Magic.
Expecting not to make the Top 8 and booking your flight accordingly is another one of those brain scratchers to me. Why book a flight for the middle of the day on Sunday and have to pay a fee to get it switched when you miraculously make the Top 8? Just book your flight to leave Sunday night or Monday morning. In fact, if you don’t have a pressing need to be back home for something like work, go ahead and stay a few extra days to do some actual sightseeing. The fact is that I have seen far too little of the cities I have visited due to needing to save my vacation days at work to make all of this year’s fabulous PT stops.
For those of without job commitments or classes that you can’t afford to miss, taking a full day of no Magic to actually see the city should be a must, especially for a place as steeped in history as Kyoto. I would cite Rome, the site of Worlds, as another such historical marvel. Honolulu has its other merits for an extra day of leisure, and I suppose Austin must have something good to offer for the touristy types. That isn’t meant as a slight to Austin; it’s just that you are stacked up against some crazy cities this year in terms of wow factor.
I’ve been to Kyoto once before, and the most striking thing about the city was its age. Tokyo is a bustling metropolis, a modern day Godzilla stomping ground of flashing neon lights and busy streets. Kyoto, while fairly modern in places, still has a lot of that old world charm to it. If you have a chance to spend an extra day here to see the temples and castles and just take in the full flavor of it all, please do so, because you never know when you will be coming back.
So if you are going to be in Kyoto, as usual, feel free to give me a holler. I know that I’ve gotten some feedback that I “always look so busy.” That’s true enough, but in talks with past writers on this site like Sheldon and Seamus, I’ve learned the importance of talking to players. Go ahead and ask me, and if I am available, we can chat. If I am truly on something important that cannot wait, I will let you know, but will also make an effort to give you a time and place when I will be available.
Rikipedia at Gmail dot Kyoto
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