Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #206 – Worlds 2007

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I went. I participated. I lost a total of two matches in five days. That would have been amazing, if I had been a competitor. I was a judge. Let me tell you about that. I’ll even explain how I became Lithuanian for an hour, and about the single best job a judge can have. Oh, and some people played Magic. I may mention that, too.

I went. I participated. I lost a total of two matches in five days. That would have been amazing, if I had been a competitor. I was a judge. Let me tell you about that. I’ll even explain how I became Lithuanian for an hour, and about the single best job a judge can have. Oh, and some people played Magic. I may mention that, too.

Ingrid and I got to New York a day ahead of time. We spent Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning doing tourist stuff — which basically means walking around gawking until your neck aches. Manhattan is tall: I remember noting some interesting architectural features on one small building — then realizing the “small” building was 20-odd stories high.

Wednesday afternoon, we started meeting other judges, and even a few players. Wizards was not paying for my hotel, so we found a really cheap (okay — cheap for NYC) hotel reasonably close to the venue. It turns out that it was also the official staff hotel, which surprised me a bit. Our room was small. The closet door was only about 25″ / 60cm wide, and even then it brushed the bed when open. I have only twice been in smaller quarters — at a MicroTel and in a sleeper on a train. Still, it had a bed and a bathroom and I wasn’t going to be spending much time in it anyway.

As I said, we started meeting judges, Wizards folks, and players that afternoon, and spent the afternoon catching up.

The venue opened at 5pm. About half the judges showed up and judge drafts started springing up. We were about halfway through the first pack, however, when the Wizards staff started calling for all available judges. We briefly discussed whether we were “available,” but ended up putting our packs in pockets and heading on over.

Wizards was getting ready to rehearse the flag ceremony. In Paris, last year, the flag ceremony was Day 1, and ran through side events. You can read about that fiasco here. They learned — this time they held it on the evening before. The problem was that not all the players had arrived yet, so judges were filling in. I suddenly became a member of the Lithuanian team and carried the yellow, red, and green flag through the rehearsals. Fortunately, for them, a real Lithuanian arrived just before the ceremony, otherwise they might have had me playing in the 2HG events. I don’t speak Lithuanian.

Ingrid was four different nationalities in a period of half an hour. She does get around.

We eventually finished the draft — and it went pretty well. I got a pretty good Merfolk / Kithkin deck, with triple Judge the Currents, a trio of Cloudgoat Rangers (I played two), and a reasonable selection of removal. And two Mulldrifters.

We played a couple rounds, then decided food was a much better idea than finishing the draft. I also had to get back to meet with Jeff Morrow. Jeff and I were scheduled to present a seminar for judges who were attending their first big event (or close thereto) and we had to give it a final polish. Jeff got into town around 9pm, and we ended up talking until well after midnight.

I also noted that Jeff’s room, compared to mine, looked like the big hall at Grand Central Terminal. The hotel is remodeling, and Wizards had put Jeff in one of the remodeled rooms. True, Jeff was sharing the room with another judge, but so am I. At least Jeff didn’t have to step into the bathroom if both residents wanted to inhale at the same time.

Thursday was a mixed bag. I was scheduled to do the seminar, to work the main floor, and to do some other miscellaneous stuff. We had the opening judge meeting, and about halfway through round one Jeff and I started setting up for our seminar. The participants heard, basically, everything we wished someone had told us when we got to our first big event. Some of it was practical (bringing a change of shoes, and switching halfway through the day, can save you some pain on concrete floors.) Some of it was basic judging skills (here’s the standard format for recording a penalty on the match slips.) Some was just informational (That’s Randy Buehler. That’s Scott Larabee.) The participants also got to do a deck check.

Overall, the seminar went well, and staff discussed running it again for some of the other judges that were not yet on sight Thursday morning, but we could never get everyone together at once. Worlds is hectic.

I would like to describe more of the Standard play on Thursday, but I really can’t. The seminar ate a round and a half. A dozen other, less exciting problems came up, and I ended up watching maybe a half hour’s worth of Magic scattered throughout a three hour period.

Feature Matches

Friday was somewhat better from the perspective of watching Magic — I had feature matches. Over time, feature match judging has evolved from table judging individual matches to watching over several matches at once. The job of “feature match judge” has also changed. A couple years ago, I was feature match judge, which basically meant I spent the entire day at the feature match location and had no real interaction with other judges. Frankly, it was boring.

To keep things fresh, now the feature match judge works a round or two, then recruits a new judge off the floor every round. Before the round starts, the feature match judge trains that new judge in what to do in the feature match area (names are here, you record scores like this, reporters may need…, etc.) Then the feature match judge does the other judge’s job for a round. For example, round 3 I stole Ben off the deck check team, then I did deck checks for the rest of the round.

Once Legacy started, however, I spent most of my time in the feature match area. I had the Oracle on my Palm, and I spent a lot of time showing players the current wording for Nomads en-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist. Besides, I really wanted to watch the first games of a brand new Legacy format, and with four matches ongoing, we were busy enough to justify two judges.

Actually, judging feature matches is a mix of periods of boredom, flashes of fear, and constant torture.

The boredom and torture are both come from the same problem — how you have to watch matches as a judge. It is not the same as the way you watch matches as a player or reporter.

Here’s an example: a player is with the Spinerock Knoll / Dragonstorm deck and has three burn spells in hand, plus two Knolls with cards under them. As a player or reporter, I will want to count mana, think about what the opponent can do and wonder what cards are under the Knolls. As a judge, I shouldn’t be doing that — I should be watching for mistakes and misplays, and keeping an eye on the other matches.

This is worst when you are “watching” a brand new combo deck, and wondering what the win condition will be, or how the player will find it. It is so tempting to watch the match play out, and sheer torture to turn away to check out the other matches.

The boredom comes in when you are watching games and matches with nothing much happening. For example, you have to watch players sideboarding and shuffling, because you won’t see anything strange if you are not watching, but it is really pretty dull.

The terror sets in when you see something you don’t understand, and have to decide whether to intervene. Remember, you are under the lights, often in front of a reporter and spectators, and you are never certain that whether you, or the player, is making the mistake. Keep in mind that the players in the feature match area are generally not nOObs or idiots — which means it could easily be you making the mistake.

Sometimes it is easy to know the player made the mistake. I saw a player target a creature with Swords to Plowshares. The opponent said okay, picked up the creature and put it in his graveyard. Quick check: no sacrifice outlets, etc. It sure looked like a mistake, so I confirmed the screw up, RFGed the creature, checked whether the player had done it before and issued the Warnings. (Game Play Error — Game Rule Violation for the mistake, Game Play Error — Failure to Maintain Game State on the opponent for not noticing.)

Yes, even the best do screw up.

Sometimes it is a bit more complex. Here’s another example — what would you do?

You turn back to a match. As you turn, a player drops Mox Diamond into play, then picks up a tapped Forest and throws it into the graveyard. The opponent has no visible reaction.

I had my Palm, so I did a really quick check on the current Oracle wording of Mox Diamond. It’s “As an additional cost to play Mox Diamond, discard a land card. T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool.”

Sacrificing a Forest is not the same as discarding one.

There were both name players, of the caliber that you would expect to be competing for Top 8 in round 17 at Worlds. In other words, the odds that both of them screwed up so strangely, rather than I simply missed something, are pretty low. Still, ya gotta ask.

I point to the Mox Diamond, and ask what happened. There’s some confusion, but I soon get an explanation. The Mox Diamond was not played — it was brought into play via Goblin Welder. The card being Welded out was a Sundering Titan, and the Forest was sacrificed to the Titan’s leaves play ability (the opponent had no non-basics or duals in play.) I apologized for interrupting, gave them a one-minute time extension and slunk away.

Actually, spotting errors or non-errors is really rare. Rulings only happen occasionally. The torture was the most common experience: knowing Zvi was playing something on the far left table, a cool combo deck was going off on the far right one, and I was stuck on a middle table explaining some weird interactions.

Watching a cool match is far greater than explaining something at a table with nothing (except listening) going on.

Whining aside, doing feature matches is fun. You get to watch more Magic than while doing other judge jobs, like deck checks.


Saturday, I worked side events. Sides was a bit hectic.

Nearly every judge at an event like Worlds works side event. (The exceptions are people like the main event head judges.) All those judges are needed. Over four times as many players played in sides as in the main event.

Judges on sides work one of three overlapping shifts at sides, and all the shifts run ten hours plus. Judges tend to get shifted from event to event, often at short notice. I started out helping with a PTQ, then a Standard event, then a 2HG Vroom!! Qualifier, and finished the day as head judge of a Legacy event.

Sometimes sides is chaotic. I got pulled off another event to help another judge. The conversation was short:

Other judge: Pete, can you put out these table numbers?
Me: Sure — where?
Oj: Start by that pole.
Me: How many players?
Oj: maybe 50

So I start numbering tables. “Numbering tables” means putting up the table numbers, telling players sitting there to finish their games / trades because they will have vacate shortly, and later clearing trash and rearranging chairs.

A bit later the other judge comes over with an update.

Oj: Someone miscounted. We will have a hundred or so.
Me: I only have numbers 1 to 50 — I’ll have to get more if we go over 100.
Oj: Okay — we are at 87 teams right now.
Me: What!! Teams! What sort of tournament am I setting up for?
Oj: Didn’t I say? 2HG.
Me: I numbered per player, not for teams. Will they be printing pairings by player or team?
Oj: It’s okay — it’s by player, not team.

We still had to change a lot of numbers, because the rows had an odd number of seats per row and you can’t really have a team split between rows. We also had to scramble for room, because we ended up with close to 125 teams, and there simply were not enough tables and chairs.

By now, we had a couple more judges helping out: moving table numbers, fetching chairs, picking up trash, not to mention the constant effort of keeping players from starting drafts on the tables on which we are going to be using for the tournament. That last is like shoveling water upstream — a constant job that never, ever finishes.

That was not the cleanest tournament start I have ever seen, but we got the event going. We just shuffled some stuff around and found room.

A lot of things got shuffled around a bit. Even the judge dinner, which is basically a chance for almost all of the judges to get together and talk — at Wizards’ expense — was shuffled around. It was supposed to start late — 10pm — to let as many judges as possible attend. Apparently a 10pm start for a party of around 75 created some logistical problems, because we were not told where the dinner would be until late Friday – and then it turned out to be the diner next to the judge hotel.

My shift ran 10am to 8pm, which was fine. Plenty of time to get to the dinner. However, I met up with Jeff Morrow, who had just passed his L3 exam. He was working late sides, meaning that he would miss the judge dinner. He also had a history of working during the judge dinner, to the extent that he had never been able to attend one. (And I thought my luck was bad.) I dragged him over to the judge manager, explained that I would be taking Jeff’s shift once mine ended, and pretty much threw Jeff out of the hall.

Sure, I was doing Jeff a favor — one that most other judges would also have done, in the circumstances — but I knew it wasn’t likely to that great a sacrifice. I had eaten at that diner already, and had pretty low expectations of the food — and of the service. Sure enough, my event finished about 11:30, and by the time I got to the diner, almost no one had received their food. What was surprising was that someone actually took my order, and that my food arrived almost simultaneously with everyone else’s.

Sunday was not too bad. Did I mention I got the very best judge job available?

I was working push tool.

“Push Tool” is a software application that sends card images to accompany the live web broadcast. The card images actually show up in the launcher, during the match. Working push tool means choosing card images and hitting send.

Sitting behind the scenes, watching the video and listening to Randy Buehler and BDM’s commentary, trying to anticipate which card is going to be played: hell of a job, isn’t it?

There are a few other tasks to do, some prep, and have to know the slang. For example, the coverage team was referring to Spinerock Knoll as Gassy Knoll — and it’s worse when Flores is doing commentary. Or, for an older example, when the coverage team talked about “Sky Swallower,” you had to know it was better to push this image:

than this one:

That mistake actually happened.

It wasn’t me.

About the only problem was that the display being sent out from push tool is lagged the click by 5-7 seconds, plus the time to fill buffers the first time an individual card image is sent. In San Diego, where they delayed the main feed about 10 seconds, that was perfect. I could listen live, and have the images arrive simultaneously with the webcast. In NYC, they delayed the feed by 30 seconds. I could not really wait 20 seconds to send, so I just had to do the best I could listening to the delayed feed.

I could also hear the roar of the crowd in the background, and see he live video feed. It was a lot of fun to watch, and I found myself splitting my attention. The matches had drama — especially Chapin’s match against Nassif. If you have not watched the video, go watch it now.

Nassif is going to go off next turn. Nassif is at nine life, with Rite of Flame, Grapeshot, and Ignite Memories in hand. Chapin gets off Ignite Memories, with a storm count of five.

I had already pushed Ignite Memories, so I could just sit there and watch it play out.

Man, I love this job.

Another big advantage to push tool at Worlds was that the coverage did not start until noon — meaning that I was able to get into a draft when sides opened. I had a really solid deck — and eventually lost to an insane Merfolk deck. Coverage — and the push tool job – also ended early, so I got to play a bunch of EDH afterwards.

My EDH decks did very well over the weekend. I even won matches with the Stark of Rath deck, which is really supposed to be just for fun. Somehow, I’m not sure how, the deck built around the concept of “everyone should play with my cards” and the card Sizzle has won the last three multiplayer matches I have played it in. Now that EDH is coming to MTGO — at least, that’s the rumor — I may have to write about the format.

A note: Walking through the hall Sunday afternoon, I passed Sam Black. It was the first chance I had had to talk to Sam, and I asked if he was having a good weekend. He said he was.

Sam has good weekends. A year ago, he went to GenCon, won a PTQ, then played in and won the Dreamblade 50k event — without bothering to sleep in between. This year, Sam finished 4-2 in a tournament — winning packs — then won an iPhone tournament, a PTQ, and the car.

Yeah, he had a good weekend.

Me too.