Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #232 – Grand Prix: Indianapolis

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Thursday, June 26th – “It’s the largest Grand Prix ever held in North America, and you are on staff.” That can mean anything from “It was the game where he got the double hat trick, and you were there,” to “It was the largest airplane crash ever, and you were on board.” No matter what, it was going to be a long couple of days and a lot of work…

“It’s the largest Grand Prix ever held in North America, and you are on staff.” That can mean anything from “It was the game where he got the double hat trick, and you were there,” to “It was the largest airplane crash ever, and you were on board.” No matter what, it was going to be a long couple of days and a lot of work.


Rob McKenzie was hitching a ride with us, so we assembled, dropped the dogs at the kennel, and got on the road. The six-and-change hour drive was a perfect chance to prepare for the event — so we spent much of it swapping stories of old roleplaying campaigns and bad GMs. We actually did spend a few hours discussing issues we expected to deal with, recent changes to the penalty guidelines and floor rules and so forth, but the roleplaying stuff was more fun.

We arrived in Indy, checked into the hotel, and headed over to the venue. I don’t remember the room very well. I think I spent less time in the room than I have in any other room on any other trip I have ever taken.

We headed over to the venue to check it out, get oriented and see who was around. We met Pete, Ben, and Nick Sabin at the StarCityGames.com booth. Pete and Ben were working, but Nick was there to run a nearby WoW prerelease-equivalent the next day, so he was free for dinner. Ingrid, Nick, and I headed over to Steak ‘n’ Shake. It felt strange to be there… having been at a couple of GenCons in recent years, I’m used to Steak and Shake — and all of downtown Indy — being totally packed with gamers. Seeing an empty Steak ‘n’ Shake is almost as strange as seeing Chimney Imp in play in a Vintage tournament. All too soon, though, Ingrid and I were headed back to work.

On Friday evening, Ingrid and I presented the orientation seminar for judges new to big events. Jeff Morrow and I presented it at Worlds and Pro Tour: Hollywood, but since Jeff was not at GP: Indy, Ingrid stepped in. It went just fine.

After the seminar, I raced back to my room, got out of my judge stripes, grabbed my EDH decks, and headed back to the venue. Game 1 was nothing much. It was a six-player game. Three of us were land or color screwed early, and none of us could draw artifact or enchantment removal. The final player got Tolarian Academy, Helm of Awakening, Future Sight, and Sensei’s Divining Top in play. Helm, Top, and Future Sight means you can draw your library. He went off, and we could not stop him.

Game 2 was much more interesting. I was playing my Nicol Bolas deck, which has plenty of spells to steal other players’ stuff. Rob McKenzie had Momir Vig as a general, but his significant early plays were Awakening with Thawing Glaciers. (Awakening allows everyone to untap lands and creatures on every player’s turn. Rob could untap Thawing Glaciers on the first opponent’s turn, Thaw twice on the next, then replay the Thaw again on his turn.) Later in the game, he got Evolution Vat and Doubling Season in play. With Awakening and a ton of land, that combo was truly sick. One turn, he dropped a Mire Boa into play. By the time his next turn came around, the Mire Boa had over 250 counters on it. And I controlled it.

Rob had the game well in hand for a while. He made monsters while the three of us still alive battled to stay that way. The turning point, however, came when Rob made a Mindless Automaton. We killed it quickly, but he still drew 29 cards. However, when he finished discarding, he had pitched an Indrik Stomphowler. I had a Clone in hand and a (borrowed) Debtor’s Knell in play. The Knell brought back Stompie, which killed off the Evolution Vat, and Clone killed the Doubling Season. Nonetheless, Rob still had a bunch of stuff — including a couple of 100/100 or better creatures in play.

The first big swing came when one opponent (sorry — can’t remember who else I was playing at that point, except that his general was Teneb, the Harvester) cast Pernicious Deed, then wiped the board. He followed it up with Bitter Ordeal, which removed Rob’s entire library from the game. On the plus side, the Deed put my Anger into my graveyard. Prior to the Deed, Anger was unblockable — or, more precisely, no one was willing to risk killing it.

The game soon came down to me versus the Teneb player. I beat him to five, and he cast Teneb. I had Empress Galena in hand, and Anger in the graveyard. I cast the Empress, stole Teneb, and he conceded.

By that time, it was late and we all headed for bed. EDH, judge drafts, etc. never go really late until the tourney finishes. In this case, I was in bed by 12:30 or so.

Saturday & the Line

Ingrid was a team lead for Day 1, and I wasn’t. That meant she went to the team lead breakfast meeting, and I slept in. I did get to the venue 15 minutes or so before the judge meeting — but not quite early enough to get into the Type Four game.

I was assigned to the paper team for Saturday. Paper is an easy assignment at the start: we figure out where we will be hanging up the pairings and standings, make sure we have a paper cutter, and introduce ourselves to the scorekeeper. That’s about it, at least until the tournament starts.

While waiting, I did count the line (just over 180 players, half an hour before registration was scheduled to end — plus the 600+ who registered the night before, and the couple of hundred who had already registered that morning.) I ended up standing at the front of the line and pointing to the next available cashier. I don’t know if that speeds up the line very much, but just one second per player is a lot when the numbers are that big.

I also got involved in sorting the product. The boosters and tournament packs arrived in cases — 15+ cases of tournament packs and a dozen cases of booster boxes. A herd of judges gathered to rip open the cases and sort product into sets of one tournament pack and two boosters.

Eventually, all the product was sorted, registration was closed, the scorekeeper had entered 1124 players, and we could put up seatings for the players. The tournament had begun. Players got product, registered pools and gave them back to the judges, then they got new pools and started building decks.

The paper team does not have all that much to do before the rounds start. Once they have set up the banners on which they hang pairings, they basically stand near the main stage while one of their number stands near the scorekeeper and printer. When pairings come off the printer, that judge passes them out to the rest of the paper team, who head out to post the information. That judge then goes back to collect the match results slips and cut them apart.

The GP was large enough that we posted pairings in sections: names starting with A-B in one area, C-E in another, etc. We had six sections, and each section had 4-5 sheets of pairings. It was a big tournament.

Cut and stacked, the pile of match slips was close to six inches tall – and that was in round 1, when a lot of players still had byes (and, therefore, no match slips).

Once the match results slips are distributed, the paper team (and the logistics team, unless they have other duties) are handling the floor. The deck checks people are off doing their thing. This means that members of the paper team field a lot of questions.

Layers Upon Layers

A lot of the questions involved interaction of continuous effects; CR section 418.5 — better known as “layers.” Most involved Godhead of Awe. My favorite was the following — where the question was, basically, “what dies?”

The most complex question involved a Godhead of Awe, Drove of Elves enchanted with a Shield of the Oversoul and turned GW with Scuttlemutt, a -1/-1 counter, and a Barkshell Blessing with Convoke.

Power and toughness changing effects are all addressed in layer 6. Layer 6 has five sublayers. They are:

6a) effects from characteristic-defining abilities;
6b) all other effects not specifically applied in 6c, 6d, or 6e;
6c) changes from counters;
6d) effects from static abilities that modify power and/or toughness but don’t set power and/or toughness to a specific number or value; and
6e) effects that switch a creature’s power and toughness

This question had four of the five sublayers, and the only reason it missed 6e is probably because nothing in the set switches power and toughness.

The color addition (making the Drove GW) applies in layer 5.

In layer 6a, the Drove becomes a 4/4, because of the other Green permanents.

In layer 6b, the Godhead makes the Drove a 1/1, then Barkshell Blessing makes it a 5/5. (These are applied in timestamp order.)

In layer 6c, the -1/-1 counters makes the Drove a 4/4

In layer 6d, the Shield of the Oversoul makes the GW Drover a 6/6.

The Drove of Elves killed the Godhead of Awe.

One Fewer Rounds

The math for a PTQ and so forth is pretty straightforward. You play a certain number of rounds of Swiss — the number of rounds depends on the number of players — then cut to the Top 8. On a two-day event like a Grand Prix, you play a slightly lower number of rounds, then cut to the Top 64 (or 128, if there are enough players) for Day 2, play more rounds, then cut to the Top 8.

With the numbers we had, that math (apparently) said ten rounds of Swiss. The judge meeting started at eight in the morning. Registration opened at nine and closed at quarter to ten. We got the players seated, had the player meeting and started distributing product at around 10:30. Players registered their product, we collected it, then redistributed it and let them start building decks. By the middle of round 2, judges were starting to look at their watches and do some very depressing math. With many hundred players, rounds are always going to go into extra time, meaning that we would be very lucky to get the rounds turned around in under a hour. We would be very lucky to get done by midnight.

About then, however, someone remembered that, since we were going to cut to the Top 128 players, we needed one fewer rounds than if we had cut to 64. The tournament was certainly large enough to trigger the bigger cut, and the head judge announced, going into round 3, that we would only play nine rounds on Saturday.

Everyone cheered, and that included the judges.

Screwing Up

Over the weekend, I must have answered somewhere between one and two hundred rules questions. I remember the above question because it involved a lot of layers, and because I talked (bragged) about it with other judges on and off during the event. I remember another question because I screwed it up. All the other ones I got right — no memory at all. The one I blew I’ll remember for years.

The question: if a creature with Wither was removed from the game with damage on the stack, will that damage apply normally or as -1/-1 counters. Wither is a creature ability, and creature abilities exist while the creature is in play. That is why, for example, if you stack damage from a creature with Lifelink, then bounce the creature, Lifelink will not trigger when damage resolves. The creature is gone, the ability is gone. Since I was thinking of Wither as a replacement ability, which replaced damage with counters, that’s how I ruled. Nice reasoning, but wrong. If you actually read the comp. rules regarding Wither, you find that Wither is not a replacement ability. It is a property of the damage, like color, which remains even when the creature leave play. Last known information knew that the damage should apply in the form of -1/-1 counters — I should have known too.

Fortunately, a spectator saw me make the ruling, asked the head judge whether that was correct, and got me straightened out. Unfortunately, the game state had progressed too far to back up to the point where I made my ruling.

The Judge Dinner

The original plan had the judge dinner happening after the end of the Swiss on Saturday. Once we passed 750 players, that clearly was not happening. Any place capable of serving sit-down dinners to 40 judges was not going to be serving after midnight. Instead, Alan Hochman (the TO), got Buca di Beppo to bring in food for us at some far more reasonable time. The food was good, reasonably warm, and everyone got fed.

We finished round nine about 11:30, and had the event cleared up, the judge meeting wrapped up, and had left the venue by about midnight.

Nick Sabin had returned from the WoW event. We had over 1,100 players. He had a few less. Ingrid, Nick, and I went out for a drink and some EDH afterwards. My Starke of Rath won, and we were in bed by a little after 1am.


I was up again at 5:45am.

I was logistics team lead on Sunday. That meant that I got a free breakfast, but it also meant I had to get up, shower, get dressed and get all packed up and ready to check out before that breakfast. Breakfast was at 7:00. Breakfast was good.

Ingrid got to sleep in. That would have been better.

The judge meeting started a bit after 8:15 and ended about 8:30. Players were due at 9am. Logistics needed to get the tables cleaned and straightened, table numbers out, the feature match set up, and pens and decklists distributed. We also had to get the tables to be used for drafting arranged, cleaned, and numbered, and the stamped product located and distributed. Once we had the draft tables set up, we also had to guard those tables and product — having the carefully stamped product stolen would have been a Bad Thing.

For those who don’t know, for high level events, like the Pro Tour or Day 2 of a Grand Prix, Wizards provides special boosters. These have all been opened, any foils removed and replaced with a random card — usually a common — to make sure that the booster has one rare, three uncommons, and eleven commons. The rules insert / token is also removed. The cards are then stamped with special symbols which would make it obvious if someone tried to substitute cards.

We got everything set up with plenty of time to spare. We even dealt with a minor problem: Wizards had not provided any spare stamped product. Normally, Wizards has a few extra sets of product ready, so that if a booster is wrong, damaged, or a player simply does something stupid, a judge can replace the booster. Part of the job of the Logistics crew is to carry those spares, and to get them to any judge that needs them during the draft. Since we had no spares, the best we could do was get a some spare boosters, rip them and remove the rule insert/token and check to make sure there was no foil. With more time, we might also have “stamped” them with a Sharpie and my initials, but we did not have time for the ink to dry.

As it turned out, we did have to replace two packs. One had fourteen cards, the other sixteen. Since someone had to open something like 750 packs, remove foils and tokens, stamp them and then reassemble packs, messing up two is not all that bad.

As the draft was finishing, a couple of members of the logistics team had to head back to the play tables to make sure that no one was occupying them, that the tablecloths were still straight, and to collect all the trash that magically appears on any table left alone for more than five minutes at a Magic event.

Logistics is also responsible for assembling and manning the land stations during the build portions of draft events. That means we have to get a pair of tables set up, get land spread out on them (we had sorted the land earlier that day), and get chairs in place. Then logistics folks take the decklists from players and verify that the players have written their names on them. Because the head judge was a nice guy, we also verified that the players had recorded at least some basic lands in the played column. (This is not universal — I have also judged at events where the players were simply given game losses for forgetting this “basic” action.)

Once play actually started, the logistics team is mainly just on the floor, handling judge calls and picking up match slips. During the second round of play, I let some of my staff go get some lunch. The rest had to wait, since we had to set up another draft during the latter half of round 3, and we were needed on the floor while the decks team counted decklists and handled decklist errors during the round immediately following each draft. (Note: the deck check team were really fast and efficient at this event.)

In the final round of Swiss, logistics was busy assembling the tables, location, and product for the final draft, then setting up an area for the Top 8. This required coordinating with the head judge, the TO, and — after they mentioned needing power for their laptops — the coverage team. I had to do some planning and negotiating, then round up a power cord and tape to hold it down, but we were all set up in plenty of time.

One of the weirder parts of having judged this event is that I cannot tell you much about the play or draft strategies of any of the players. Judge calls tend to involve the stranger cards in play, not the most common cards. (For example, no one asked about Silkbind Faerie all weekend.) I also watched two drafts, but I never saw the face of a single card. Judges watch packs, hands, and players’ eyes — not the individual cards being drafted.

I do know that two of my local Madison crew made Top 8. Ben and Gaudenis — nicely done. It’s just a shame they could not have both made the finals. The brackets were aligned correctly — the stars were not.