I spent the weekend in Charlotte, at the StarCityGames.com $5K on Saturday and the PTQ on Sunday. My plan was to work the $5K, then qualify for Hollywood the day after. If you know how I play, you may guess how that worked out… but you’d be wrong.
Tournament reports always begin with stories about the trip down. Ingrid and I flew out of O’Hare, but nothing terrible happened. We got there, sat at the gate, sat on the plane, sat around waiting for luggage, then sat in a taxi. Exciting things failed to happen. We arrived in Charlotte about 3pm.
Some of the other judges had more interesting trips. Some just drove, but Eric Shukan got to tour most of the major airports in North America and arrived in the early hours of the morning. A couple of the judges could not make it at all.
Ingrid and I arrived a couple of hours before the other judges, so we ate a quick lunch, then wandered over to the tournament site. The walk was fine — Charlotte is a pretty city, but we were downtown in the financial district. Skyscrapers and multistory bank headquarters get dull pretty quickly.
The tournament venue was the Charlotte Convention Center. It was big — big enough for a lot of simultaneous events, including a ReMax convention and an RV trade show, in addition to the $5K. As a judge, I was reasonably pleased with the size, look, and lighting of the room, but what really had me excited was the carpeting.
Yes, judges have strange priorities.
Hey, as judges, we stand or walk almost the entire time. Saturday I arrived at the venue at 7m, and left after midnight. That can be hell on the feet. A carpeted venue is a godsend.
Slightly less exciting was the food situation. The convention center had vending machines selling $1.50 cans of soda, but they were not working by Saturday pm when I finally got desperate enough to try to buy one. The venue also had a cafeteria, but it was not open any of the times I checked.
Directly across the street was a pizza place which local residents claimed was totally bah-roken. During this weekend, it was just broken. It’s not just that really good pizza comes out of New York or Chicago, not Carolina. It wasn’t even bad pizza — what we got was pretty tasty. It’s just hard to understand how someone can turn an order for four Caesar Salads and two Supreme pizzas into three BBQ chickens and a couple cheese pizzas. It wasn’t just a switched order — they had the name and credit card number we called in with right.
Whatever — it was food, we ate it. We had no time to send someone back and get it fixed.
The rest of the judges arrived later in the evening Friday. Those who got there earliest were able to meet up for dinner. Afterwards, those who got there early or late got together for some EDH. Those who got there earliest of all smashed all opposing generals. Ingrid finished second — and I won.
As it should be.
Even with EDH, we got to bed not that long after midnight. We got up again a few hours later, and were at the venue by 7am. Even when the convention center staff has set up the tables and chairs, it takes a long time and a lot of work to get a major tournament set up and running. I was heading Logistics, so I was busy setting up the registration area, feature match area, getting tables numbered and finding areas for deck checks, and so forth.
It could have been worse. I could see the StarCityGames.com store folk pulling cart after cart loaded with cards and display cases into the area. Set-up for them takes hours.
Even with a few judges missing, we were set up and ready in plenty of time. However, with a lot of players, and fewer than optimal judges, Ingrid (the head judge) made a few quick adjustments. One major one was to start collecting decklists early. The original plan was to seat all players alphabetically, then collect decklists. That puts the decklists in alpha order — and with 400 or so players, that is a huge timesaver — especially when you need to find decklists (for deck checks, etc.) later in the day. However, while getting the lists into alpha order is important, getting all the decklists counted and verified (is every card legal? Are they playing three Leylines of the Void maindeck and two more in the sideboard? etc.) before the beginning of round 2 is critical. It is really important that all decklist penalties be assigned at the same time, as early as possible.
It happened. Five judges counted almost continuously for two hours, while several more chipped in whenever they could. The lists got counted.
The Magic Show
Evan Erwin was doing video coverage of the event, and his plan was to follow three players through the early rounds and hopefully into the Top 8. I had already talked with him about what he wanted in the feature match area, but finding room was going to be an issue. We didn’t want to put the feature matches — and the crowd that they would attract — in high traffic areas, or too close to critical areas like the judge station, exits, or card sales. We also were not certain whether we could spare chairs, since if attendance was pushing the limits, we might need them all.
Eventually, we put feature matches in the hallway, directly outside the event room. When registration closed, my judges and I moved tables, barriers and chairs and had feature matches ready to go for round 1.
About that time, Evan arrived, leading his entourage of guides, assistants, and native bearers. He had cameras, mikes, computers and more — and quickly assembled a mini-TV studio. The Magic Show is easy to watch, but Evan and his assistants work pretty damn hard to put it together. Evan was pretty much stuck at his table, working, from 9am or so to midnight, when the convention center staff kicked us out.
Evan’s video coverage is here. Check it out.
Usually, coverage people make fools of themselves trying to pick the top finishers before the tournament begins. Evan tried it anyway, and I was amazed at how well he did. He decided to follow three players throughout the tournament, and give all three feature matches every round. Two of those players made Top 8, where they met in the semi-finals. The winner of that match went on to win the event. One of Evan’s picks did take a couple of tough loses and dropped, but Evan replaced him with another player — Benjamin Peebles-Mundy — who also made Top 8. Nice calls.
Total attendance at the event was almost 400 players, just two less than GP: Vancouver. That meant nine rounds followed by a cut to Top 8. From a judge perspective – too many rounds, followed by a long wait for dinner.
By the time this goes up, StarCitygames.com should have the Top 16 decklists up on the sidebar [Yup… – Craig]. I have all the other decklists in my bag, and I may do a breakdown on all decks played. On the plus side, that sort of information is really useful and worth having. One the down side, reading, classifying and sorting 375 decklists is a ton of work. It may or may not happen.
Floor judging an event like the $5K is interesting. When you respond to a judge call, you never know what question you might get. On one end of the spectrum, I had a very complex and technical question about the Reveillark combo. On the other end of the spectrum, I had a player call me over to ask me whether Garruk Wildspeaker was a real card. His next question was “what does it do?” (No, that was not in the feature match area.)
My favorite questions: “If we have two Garruks in play, do they both die?” “Yes.” “Even if mine is shiny?”
I only spent about half my time in the feature match area. Most rounds, I appointed another judge to work the area, so I could split my time between feature matches and the rest of the venue. Logistics is always working various jobs around the venue — including making sure that players are not stealing table numbers. (We were successful: at the end if the event, we had them all, even 69.)
Side note: I live on the intersection of County Road A and Highway 69. They have stopped putting up signs for Highway 69 — they keep getting stolen.
Back to the tournament: the Top 16 decklists are up. Having watched a fair number of matches, the MVP of the tournament has to be Siege-Gang Commander. It won a ton of matches in the feature match area.
I don’t know what I would put in second place. I did see a fair number of Reveillark combo decks, but I think Extirpate — one primary reason for the Black splash in Chris Woltereck winning deck — might trump that. It certainly trumps the combo.
Overall, the tournament went very well. StarCityGames.com has considerable experience putting on events like this. It ran as well as most of the Pro Tours I have attended — and better than some Worlds (*cough* Paris side events *cough*). About the only downside was the food — that pizza place was incompetent, and the venue food was overpriced. All in all, though, it was very well run.
If StarCityGames.com runs a big event in your area, go. It’s worth it.
After the event ended, a couple of us judges went out in search of food. It was Saturday night in downtown Charlotte — and I have never seen more drunken women in evening dress falling off their high heels. The highlight was one blonde who not only tipped over, but lost a shoe — then proceeded to turn a sort of back somersault trying to put it back on.
We finally ended up at a bar. The waitress first spilled our drinks — just soda, but two big ones ended up in my lap — then ended up mixing up the order. Doesn’t Charlotte have any competent wait staff?
The Sunday PTQ
I had a lot of fun playing in the Denver PTQ, so when we booked flights to Charlotte, I made sure I could play. I was planning on playing pretty much the same Beasts Rock deck I played in Denver, with a few minor changes, including adding the Tops I somehow forgot last time. However, events conspired to prevent that happening.
This story starts the day before. Midway through the day, the head judge for the PTQ asked me if I would judge. I told him I preferred to play.
A few hours later, he asked me again. He had a few judge cancellations and needed help. I told him I really preferred to play.
An hour later he asked me again. Then he asked if I wanted to head judge, to add to my judging resume. I asked him if he was really that desperate. He was.
I could have slept in. The $5K finished a bit before midnight. By the time we had loaded up the truck with the laptops and the like, it was late. By the time we had found food, it was later still. By the time I finally got to bed, it was after 2am. Head judging meant that I was back on site, unloading the TO’s van, at 8am. (The TO was Jim Bailey of ShuffleCut — a thoroughly nice and professional TO, and a pleasure to work with — but had I played, I could have slept in until 10am.)
The PTQ itself was really pretty easy to HJ. The first hour or so is hectic, with making sure all the logistics work out, that the judges all know what they are doing and so forth. However, the TO had allowed plenty of time before the event — although we got there at 8am, registration wasn’t scheduled to close until 10:50 with the players meeting at 11. I also had a good crew of judges, and things went off pretty much without a hitch.
As head judge, I spend most of my time waiting for crises. Sure, I spend some time wandering the floor and answering question, but generally the other judges get to those first. I also have to make sure that everything that is supposed to happen does, and what isn’t supposed to happen doesn’t, but I had an experienced crew and TO so that was pretty easy. Mainly, I wait for appeals — and we had very few of those.
I also had my laptop at the site, and had paid for a WIFI connection. I had Gatherer, IRC and other resources loaded. In an emergency, I had my cell phone, and Ingrid was working side events for the SCG crew, so I had other people to ask if I needed advice. That sort of thing is like a parachute — something you almost never need, but nice to have if the situation arises.
The most valuable resource, in the end, may be Gatherer. Questions and rulings fall into three main categories:
The first, and the most common, are the ones you just know. These include questions you may have answered it 100 times, or just interactions you understand. Those questions are simple.
The next category are questions that are somewhat complex, and depend on the wording of the card. The simple rule is to read the card. RTFC. Sheldon has a shirt that says RTFC. Ingrid wears a pendant that says RTFC. If you read the
The third category are questions involving complex interactions. They are the sort of things that you have to look up. However, quite often the Gatherer look-up window will include the answer in the Official Rulings section just below the card. Checking Gatherer makes answering a lot of the questions easier.
So, the next time you see the head judge sitting behind a laptop at a PTQ, you now know what they are doing. Serious judge stuff — definitely not MTGO, or WoW.
Really. Only TOs get to play games.
I got a couple dozen questions over the course of the tournament. I also had a couple players appeal judges’ rulings. In every case, the judge had got the ruling correct. That made my job a lot easier. I did have to talk to one player about his attitude and actions, but nothing serious.
Easy PTQ FTW!
Round 6 Bugaboo
Here’s a random bit of judge lore — the sixth round is cursed. If you can make it through the sixth round without a problem, things are often good. It may be because people are tired, or too many people are on the bubble, or the stars misalign, but I see far more problems in the sixth round of these events than in any other.
In my event, the sixth round was — once again — a time killer. We had been turning rounds around in 55 to 65 minutes, but round 7 did not start until almost an hour and a half after round 6 ended. As so often happens, we had an issue involving the last outstanding match. The match went into extra turns, and it was complex. Stuff happened. Judges were involved, and that turned into an appeal, and I had to investigate. By the time I had everything sorted out, the round had been over for twenty-odd minutes.
That can happen in any round, but round 6 of 8 seems to be the most common. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because that’s when people really start getting tired. Maybe it’s because after round 6, far fewer people have a shot at Top 8, so the intensity drops a bit. Maybe it’s because so many more rounds have outcomes that can obviously make or break a player’s chance at Top 8. Maybe it’s just my atypical experience. Whatever; I always breathe a sigh of relief when round 7 starts.
The last two rounds ran pretty well. We had no real problems, and even with the 11:00am start and the sixth round slowdown, we were still on track to be done by midnight. This was important, since the venue was closing at that point.
I did have one last-minute issue. After we posted final standings, a player came forward and told us that his point total was wrong. We checked, and found that our scorekeeper — or someone, a couple judges had entered results at various times — had made a mistake. The player’s round 3 results had been entered incorrectly. The match results slip showed the player in question had won, but we entered it as a loss.
Would you have corrected the problem?
We could certainly justify not changing anything. We posted pairings, which show point totals, every round. We also posted standings before rounds 7 and 8, and those also showed the point total. The player had had many opportunities to catch the error, but didn’t speak up for 4 rounds.
On the other hand, it was our error, not his. And neither the player nor his opponent were close to Top 8 contention.
What would you do?
My immediate reaction was to tell the scorekeeper not to change anything. It is perfectly possible to correct that result in DCI Reporter. However, that has the potential to significantly change the tiebreakers for other players — possibly including those who had made, or drawn into, Top 8. I was not about to risk having someone knocked out of Top 8 because I was retroactively changing the tiebreakers they had relied on in making decisions in rounds seven and eight.
I also decided that, if changing the player’s results would have made him prize eligible, I would have made sure he got the prize he would have earned had I corrected the results. That’s just good customer service, and I’m sure Jim would have provided the prizes, but I would have pulled some packs out of my compensation if he hadn’t. As it happened, the player was several match wins out of prize territory, so it did not matter.
All the matches were played out, and most went to three games. We barely made it out of the building by midnight. Finding food afterwards was a challenge: we ended up at a bar that was about to close — but at least the waiter was attentive, and did not spill anything on me.
Travel home happened.
I’m hoping to actually play in at least one more PTQ this season, so next time I will — hopefully — have some actual Magic content. Until then…