I’m back from Paris. I ate well, lived well and had a blast. Every part of the trip — and of Worlds — was great, except maybe getting stuck at O’Hare airport for hours on the return trip. I won’t talk about that. I will talk about the metagame, judging and assorted memorable moments. Think tournament report, but from the other side of the table.
The start of most tournament reports covers getting up, traveling, breakfast, etc. They usually start “I got up early,” then ramble on from there.
I got up early — eight days early.
Ingrid and I decided that Paris was our Christmas present to each other this year. We arrived a week ahead of time, rented a little efficiency apartment and lived in Paris for eight days before Worlds.
It was just to make sure we were over our jet lag.
Paris was great. Locals told us it was the warmest November in 20 years. We were wandering the streets, sometimes in shirt sleeves, every day. One evening was partly cloudy — but just enough to set up the following sunset photo. This is from the foot of the Champs d’Elyssee, looking past the Eiffel Tower. The small white lights on the tower are the flashing Christmas lights.
Sux to be us, eh?
Paris totally lived up to the hype. The food was marvelous, the architecture fascinating and the romance palpable. I could spend several thousand words raving about it here, but that would have no Magic content — so let’s fast forward to Worlds 2006.
Wednesday: Worlds Begins
Our apartment was two blocks from the Louvre — and about eight blocks from the entrance to the tourney area. (The Louvre is big.) We picked up pain au chocolats (croissant-like bread with chocolate centers) from the local patisserie for breakfast, then entered the venue, which is a huge shopping center / exhibition hall attached to the Louvre museum. Wizards had rented the two smaller halls for Wednesday and Thursday, then those plus a third, larger hall for Friday through Sunday.
Big events begin with a judge meeting where the head judge gives out assignments, provides any special instructions and, generally, judges introduce themselves. At Worlds, with almost a hundred judges (including volunteer judges), we didn’t have time for introductions.
Ninety-odd judges may seem like a lot. It wasn’t. At any given time, some judges are handling administrative work, testing the judges seeking advancement, and doing other off-the-floor stuff. Others work side events, and the remainder work the main floor. At large, high level events, Wizards tries to have a team handling logistics, a team handling deck checks and a team handling pairings, slips, etc. — and still have enough judges to watch matches and answer questions promptly. That requires a lot of judges.
Judges also tend to switch jobs day to day. On Day 1, I was assigned to side events.
Day 1, sides is — typically — a lot of fun. Worlds starts with players carrying flags across the hall and onto the stage — followed by the welcome, introduction of the new Hall of Fame members, and so forth. That was all going to happen in the sides room, so we would have an excuse to watch the whole thing. Then we would begin running side events, and they would continue all day.
The only downside of working sides on Day 1 is that it can drag. At San Francisco, in 2004, Wednesday sides were almost dead. We had seating for a couple of hundred at that event, and most of the chairs were empty all day.
Remember me saying that Wizards had not rented the third hall for Wednesday? They had set up tables for about 200 — 250 players for Day 1. That would have been more than enough for San Francisco.
After the initial big judge meeting, the judges break up into their teams to discuss specific tasks and assignments. No more than two minutes into the sides team meeting, however, Jason Howlett — the Wizards side events manager — came over and said he needed us on the floor immediately.
When we got to the side event room, the line to sign up for the PTQ, the first big event, was stretched across the floor, through the room, and on out the door. The flag ceremony, which was to start in fifteen minutes, would have to cross the same section of floor. We had to move the line.
I did a quick count — and I counted about 600 people in line.
Seating for 250 people in the entire side events area. Six hundred in line, an hour and fifteen minutes before the event was due to start — and the line was growing.
Did I mention that, at the start of the day, we had a total of seven side event judges to run the PTQ, the other large side events, all the drafts, and all the standard, extended and legacy eight-man events? Reinforcements would be coming later, but weren’t there yet.
It was pretty clear that the attendance estimates were way, way off. At San Fran, in 2004, I don’t know if we got 750 people in side events during the whole five days. We looked to have more than that waiting to play in the very first side event, and we did not have tables and chairs for most of them.
We also had to move the line. We did that — although it was not as clean as we could have hoped. We had five judges, only two of whom spoke French, trying to back up a 600-person line that stretched around three corners in two different rooms — and inside a marble-walled conference hall with close to a thousand people. It was loud, and chaotic, and a mess. We did move the line, and very few people lost their spots or got skipped over — but if you did, we are sorry. We really tried. (We also discussed how to do this better, next time — but that cannot change the past.)
The flag ceremony went off okay. I think. I was outside the hall, still working on crowd control and fielding complaints from what seemed like all the players in line.
The judges and Wizards folks were scrambling to cover all this time. Chairs and tables existed — but they were in various corners, side rooms and storage areas. The Wizards staff tore down the flag ceremony stage in record time, and we set up tables throughout that area. We also hauled tables and chairs into the mezzanine area, the outside lobby, and every other horizontal place we could find. Not perfect, but it was all we could do.
Early on, the judging staff discussed letting people play on the floor. It wasn’t going to happen. Imagine a getting a call where a spectator accidentally stepped on a game in progress, then walked away with a card stuck to his foot. How do you handle that? (Yes, that’s a “procedural” error. Puns are unfunny behavior – that’s a warning. Now go away.) Playing on the floor might be possible, if highly undesirable, at a prerelease, but not at a PTQ.
In the end, we capped the first PTQ at 256 players — and you can imagine how that went over. Wizards did create an additional PTQ, on Saturday, for everyone that was excluded, and gave them a draft set to boot, but it was still a mess.
I don’t remember a lot about the PTQ itself, except that Conflagrate seemed to be a cursed card. The first Conflagrate question I got involved Conflagrate and Kaervek the Merciless. That player had the eleven mana to cast Conflagrate — but he wanted to know if Kaervek’s ability would kill him as a result. It would. The other ruling involved a player who discarded six cards to flash back Conflagrate, only to have the opponent respond with Draining Whelk. Yes, the Whelk does get eleven counters.
By the time I left sides, about twelve hours after I arrived, I was dragging. We all were.
By the way, the previous record for a Worlds event was Berlin, in 2003. Berlin had just under 500 separate sanctioned tournaments, including eight man events. Paris had about 880 events. The highest preliminary attendance estimate was 2500 players — and we hit that number on Day 1.
Paris was the biggest Magic event ever. Period. It was way, way beyond anyone’s estimates. We did have to cancel or delay some events on Wednesday, but other than that, we pretty much handled it. A lot of judges worked a lot of extra shifts, as did Wizards staff, but the events ran.
A lot of players showed a ton of patience on Day 1, and I have to give them credit too. Conditions were suboptimal, but they played on.
I was not involved in the six DQs on Days 1 and 2. For a brief moment, I thought I might have one myself, but it was just a case of true player stupidity, not malicious intent. Judges were not looking for DQs, or being “stricter” — it is just a combination of judges being better trained, and some players being extra stupid.
Where possible, Worlds judges worked four of the five days, and had one day with a morning off, followed by training seminars. Thankfully, my morning off was Friday — and I slept through much of it. The seminars were interesting — at least to the sort of people who read Ask the Judge Feature Fridays — but I’ll skip the details.
The seminars started in the back corner of the mezzanine, next to a loudspeaker. That worked, except when announcements were being made. Later, as the players filled that area, we moved the seminars to a corner of the entrance hall. That also worked, for a while, until the venue staff started hammering.
A quick explanation: Wizards had rented two of the three exhibit halls on Thursday. Wizards had also erected this huge statue of Serra Angel in the entry hall. It was dramatic — and I didn’t get a picture.
Some other group rented the other exhibit hall for Thursday night. That group objected to the statue, so the hall management built a giant wood box around Serra, and hung the box with gold drapes. It hid her, but it involved several hours of construction — mainly hammering. Finally, the noise of the staple gun attaching the hangings drove the seminar out of the room.
I didn’t get a picture of the big box. Just image a cube, five meters on each side, covered by gold drapes. Ugly gold drapes.
The seminars ended up in the lobby of the judges’ hotel, which was a lot quieter than anywhere else. Also a pretty nice place — although I liked our apartment better.
Friday I was on the main floor, watching Extended decks in action. Round 1 I got to watch a lot of one deck in particular. It was piloted by a French player, and he had French cards. His opponent wanted translations, and since I had the Oracle on my PDA, I stayed nearby.
Yes, judges can provide Oracle wordings. It takes time, and we aren’t going to be too happy if you waste time asking for wordings on cards everyone should know (e.g. Plains.) However, when I did not recognize the card he was asking about, I knew I had to help him out. Fortunately, the deck’s pilot knew the English names of the cards.
Here’s the decklist. I believe all the French players were running this deck, or very close approximations.
The deck’s main idea is to play out a lot of eggs, or other card drawing artifacts; sacrifice to draw cards; then play Second Sunrise to bring them all back. The deck can deal infinite damage with Pyrite Spellbomb, or it can deck people with Brain Freeze or recursive Cephalid Coliseums.
What was really amazing was how explosive the deck was. Several times during the day, I saw a pilot go off facing death on the next turn, and starting with almost nothing in play. The wins really came out of nowhere — in one case, the player started the turn with two lands and a Conjurer’s Bauble in play, and still won.
On the flip side, the reason I saw so much of this deck was that I was often watching in extra turns. It is a very complex deck, and it is not fast. It plays like the old Yawgmoth’s Bargain decks — it may win on one big turn five, but that turn five takes a long, long time, and it requires a lot of math. It is also a very complex deck to play. If you want to try it, practice a lot — and play fast.
I’m not sure about this on MTGO. You will need to be a fast player, but MTGO will keep track of a lot of stuff for you. Even so, a thirty-minute chess clock is not your friend — and Orim’s Chants cost a ton online.
It was certainly more fun to watch than Boros.
Worlds is the last refuge of an archaic species — three-person team Rochester drafting. It is, indeed, a very skill intensive format. It is also a royal pain to judge. Set-up is tricky, and players keep messing up on the pick order.
At Worlds, we had a judge watching every table, and I think every judge I talked to had to correct at least one mispick.
I volunteered for the bottom tables — meaning I was watching the lower rated and less skilled players. Those tables are generally busier. Indeed, in draft 1, I am not sure that one team had ever done a team Rochester before. They had no idea that picks changed direction on the bounce, and they were worried that some players got more cards than others. (Fifteen cards per booster. Six players. It does not come out evenly — at least not pack by pack. Over the whole draft, however, it should — and did. It just took some effort to keep things on track.)
Setting up for team drafts, handling product, pairings, finding space for builds — everything is a mess in team drafts, at least from a judging perspective. From a player perspective, however, it is still Worlds. A lot of teams had home-country press coverage: one team — I’m not sure which — had a quintet of reporters in tow.
The best part about the revised multiplayer rules is that verbal communication is now allowed. In the past, talking at team events could get teams penalized — and enforcing the “no talking” rule was a major pain for both judges and players. Now, talking is allowed. One result is that players make a lot more noise when boosters are opened. I could tell when one team opened a bomb — there was glee on one side, and collective groans on the other.
In the later drafts, once players were better able to handle team Rochester (and once the size of side events had drawn away a couple more judges), I ended up watching a couple matches simultaneously. I was mainly concerned with making sure everyone picked in the right order (and picking for them if they didn’t choose a card before time was called), but I was also listening to reactions and comments. That’s why I was surprised to hear cheers and teeth gnashing for a pack that, when I checked it out, had one Strangling Soot and junk. The rare was Flagstones of Trokair. First pick — the Flagstones!
Yes, the team was rare-drafting Worlds.
After watching that team’s opponent, with a U/G aggro deck, take a fourth pick Pandemonium, I realized both teams were rare drafting. Well — why not? These teams were well out of contention at that point.
At the end of the day, I talked with one of the teams. They had a three broad swathes of cards spread out on the table: Rares, Timeshifted cards, and uncommons — and they must have had a couple hundred cards on the table, including two Flagstones of Trokair. It may not have paid for their trip, but it probably didn’t hurt.
Other than monitoring the drafts, checking decklists and a few deck checks, the day was pretty boring. The only strange event was that a spectator called me over, saying he thought he saw players cast Cloudchaser Kestrel, but fail to destroy an in-play enchantment. I investigated, and he was right. I straightened it out, handed out the appropriate penalties, thanked the spectator, then moved on. At that point, it happened again: another Kestrel, another table, another enchantment. And again. I had no other spectator calls all week, and few other, similar problems — but for that hour, in that room, no one seemed to know how Cloudchaser Kestrel worked.
Except, apparently, spectators.
Sunday: Push Tool
On Sunday, I got to perform one of the more interesting jobs at big events — I was running the “push tool.” Wizards does a live webcast of the Top 8 matches. The Wizards site sends out a video stream showing the play, along with commentary by Randy Buehler and BDM. At the same time, Wizards sends a more static page with scores, notes, and an image of cards currently being discussed. The “push tool” maintains the score, adds the comments and pushes out the images.
On the down side, I was slaving over a computer back in the networking and logistics area, far away from players, judges or practically anyone else. One the plus side, I was listening to the commentary on headsets, and could see the play-by-play onscreen. I got to watch the matches a lot more closely than I ever could while judging — and I was specifically watching the play unfold, not looking for game state errors and cheating. Just watching the event this way was a whole lot more fun.
Some of the push tool work was done in advance. I spent several hours in the days before testing for — and finding — bugs in the software. (It was a brand new version. The bugs were minor stuff — like images not displaying, and all search functions, regardless of input, producing the same card. They got — pretty much — fixed.)
I was also able to write out a lot of the messages (e.g. “We’re on lunch break”, “Up next: Teams” and “Congrats Mihara”) in advance, then just paste them into the tool as needed. The actual messages were longer, and had some formatting and HTML tags embedded — enough so that doing them ahead of time was important.
Some of the logistics involved made the job a bit harder, however. The live video feeds are — like feeds for major sporting events — delayed by about ten to fifteen seconds. The audio feed I was listening to had that delay — but the video I could see onscreen was live.
Choosing the cards involved finding them on a pull-down menu or using a type and match tool, then selecting them and hitting an upload button. The cards were then pumped out by the Wizards server with variable delays — delays designed to minimize server overload. All of these various delays meant that I had to try to anticipate what Randy and BDM would be saying, and to fire off the cards just enough before they said it, so that the image would appear to viewer very shortly after their words, but not beforehand.
Just to keep things interesting, Gab Nassif’s deck was a Martyr of Sands control deck that could win v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Since the rounds were untimed, the production staff decided to scrap the original schedule and let Nassif’s matches continue in the background through lunch break and other events, if necessary. They also decided to start the next rounds while he played, and run the team event, if necessary. That reshuffle meant that I had to rebuild a lot of my messages on the fly.
So what? I got to watch the Top 8 matches. I think the videos themselves are still available on the Wizards site — although the push tool stuff is history.
In the quarters, the most dramatic moment has to be the end of Mihara’s match against Damo da Rosa. Mihara was nearly dead in game 5, and cast Sleight of Hand to dig for Dragonstorm. He found it, then started going off — and realized he was one mana short. After an amazing dramatic pause, he finally Repealed Da Rosa’s Savannah Lions, which drew him a Seething Song to get enough mana to go off and win. It was so close — and quite a moment.
I also enjoyed watching parts of Lovett’s match against Mori, but that is only briefly covered. Watching Tiago Chan almost pull off the impossible win against Nassif was cool — but that could be because I have grown up rooting for underdogs. I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan for as long as I can remember, but I’m not old enough to remember the Packers’ Glory Days under Vince Lombardi. My first memories were of when the Packers really sucked, like they do now.
For those of you who don’t follow American football, it’s like rooting for — Craig, help me out here. [Manchester City — Craig, happy to oblige.]
In the semi-finals, the big drama is, once again, the end of the Mihara / Nassif matchup. Nassif had exactly enough mana to activate Proclamation of Rebirth to return a Martyr of Sands to play — and he had a handful of White cards and Remands. The problem was that Proclamation activation occurs during upkeep. He could choose to either Proclaim or hold counter mana. He tapped out two turns in a row for the Proclamation, and Mihara managed to cast a Bogardan Hellkite the first turn, then combo out to exactly kill him the second turn. A lot of people were thinking that he made a mistake there, but if he had drawn a land on either turn, he would have been able to blow a Martyr to survive, then Wrath the board and win easily. At least, that’s what I was thinking as I watched the match play out — and I have played Martyrtron on MTGO.
The finals were a long, slow demonstration on how why Mihara’s sideboard contained extra storage lands. His strategy was all about building up counters on storage lands, test spelling on occasion, then tapping everything with Gigadrowse and winning. If you want a seminar on Gigadrowse, watch the finals — otherwise avoid that one. Mihara had all the inevitability of a glacier in that match — and about the same pace.
Okay — maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I had been working for over ten hours at that point. I would really have preferred a fast Boros mirror match to what became control on control, but that’s my problem. I imagine Ogura and Mihara were fine with being in the finals, although Ogura was probably less excited than Mihara.
The finals also show Mihara finding alternative ways to win against a control deck — alternatives to Dragonstorm for a ton, that is. He did that all day. In one game not shown in the coverage, he did twenty points to Nassif beating with Teferi. That game also, I believe, hinged on his stopping a Martyr activation with Trickbind.
All in all, it was virtuoso performance by the new World Champ.
Now I’m back to the States, and I’m going online. Two and a half weeks without MTGO is more than enough.