I just got back from Grand Prix: Kansas City, and am packing for Pro Tour: Berlin. Since I’m judging, and not playing, my prep work has a zero tech factor. I can’t tell you about the new Extended, or whether using Obelisks to power out fatties beats speed rush decks in Shards Sealed. The best I can do is pull back the curtain a touch on how the big shows operate.
I’ll start with the little GP. The little GP was in Kansas City, and had about 800 players. The big GP was in Paris, and had about 1800. After hearing about the Paris numbers, I kept thinking: man, if I was there, I’d be a lot busier, and — at the end of the day — I’d be in Paris. It’s not that Overland Park, Kansas was not interesting, or that GP: KC wasn’t hard work in itself — but it wasn’t Paris.
Frankly, GP: Kansas was a bit boring, even in comparison to other GPs. On the other hand, this was the first event I have ever attended when the TO showed up in an armored car. Seriously: Steve Feral has a Ferret — an armored scout car — and he drove it to the venue. You can see it on the mothership’s coverage — it’s the big green thing behind the winner.
One reason GP: KC was boring — speaking as a judge — was the format. Shards Limited is interesting to play, skill intensive to draft and build, and reasonably cool, but judges find it pretty dull. From a rules perspective, the format is way to straight-forward. Lorwyn Block taught people about interaction of continuous effect (layers.) Time Spiral Block had two dozen different mechanics, if you counted all the Timeshifted stuff.
Shards — well — doesn’t.
In the first five rounds of the event I was asked nine questions. Five of those were “how many rounds?” Three were “where’s the bathroom?” The only rules question was “It’s my turn, and he is trying to cycle a creature. Can he do that?” Yes, he can.
From a rules perspective, the format is easy. All the judges noted the drop in questions. The flip side of that, of course, is that the judge calls you actually get are going to be either really simple (e.g. “Here’s my match results slip.”) or a pain (e.g. “He said blah-blah-blah, so I…” “No, I didn’t. I said …”). The latter questions — basically players failing to agree on reality — are always difficult. All too often there is no real evidence, and you simply have to decide which player is more credible. Often both are credible, and it could have happened either way, but you still have to choose.
From a rulings perspective, the event was dull. From any other perspective, the event was a lot of work. 800 players is a lot, so we spent a lot of time numbering tables, pushing in chairs, directing traffic, cleaning up trash, and watching matches as time expired. We also collected a lot of match results slips. At large events, like this one, judges collect the match results slips and verify the score and any drops. I caught three instances where players accidentally reversed the results (Tom won 2-1, but recorded it as 1-2), and saw two instances of a player accidentally marking the wrong drop box. That would have dropped the opponent — a very bad thing. That’s why we check.
If you have played any tournament Magic, you know how much fun it can be to try to get down the aisles when the aisle are narrow, a few large players are already seated and people have backpacks and so forth in the way. Now imagine trying to do that in a wheelchair, or on crutches. At KC, we had two players in wheelchairs.
Fortunately, DCI Reporter offers a way of handling that situation. It is possible to assign a player a fixed seat for the duration of the event. In KC, we put each wheelchair-bound player at the end of a row. Sometimes this generates questions, like “Hey, I’m 3-0, and suddenly I’m at table 150. Why did I get paired down?” The answer is that the player didn’t — they just got paired against another 3-0 with assigned seating.
We did have one minor screw-up though. In the late rounds, a lot of players had dropped. In round 7, we had only 297 players left in the event. That meant we had games at just 148 tables, leaving table 150 out of the mix. The scorekeeper had foreseen the problem and had changed the assigned seat, but no one had remembered to tell the player. Fortunately a judge spotted the issue and did some quick adjustments, and the round started on time.
We have had to do assigned seating for people in wheelchairs, on crutches, and to accommodate a player with a back injury who had to play standing. It takes a bit of effort, but we are glad to do it for someone with legitimate needs. I have also had players ask for assigned seating just because they didn’t want to get up between rounds. That request we did not accommodate. I just told those players that if they wanted to stay at the same table, their best option was to win every match until they ended up on table 1, then not lose a match from there on.
Getting Day 2 Off to a Good Start
Day 2 of a GP is — for judges — almost as long as Day 1. Day 1 ends late, you crawl into bed, then drag your ass out of bed long before daylight. You have to get up, shower, get dressed, drag yourself downstairs, and get into the stretch limo on time.
Yes, stretch limo. The TO arranged for rooms for the judges at an extended stay suite hotel nearby. The rooms were great, with cheap Internet access and kitchenettes, but the hotel had no restaurant. There was also nothing nearby. The TO’s solution was to get take all the judges together, ferry them to a restaurant a few miles away, and buy them all breakfast. The limo was a nice touch, even if most of us were way too sleepy to really appreciate it.
Stamped Product Nowadays
I was logistics team lead on Sunday. Part of the team’s duties on Day 2 is setting up the product for the drafts. At premier events, like Grand Prix and Pro Tours, the draft sets are all opened, the foils are removed and the cards specially stamped.
The stamps are small shapes, stamped in various places on the card. The stamps make it easy to identify any cards being added to limited pools, and can allow judges to determine whether someone tried to swap their 14th pick form booster one with an extra card from booster two.
The foils are all replaced with a random, non-foil common, so that every pack has exactly one rare, three uncommon, and ten commons: no one gets the advantage of opening a pack with two rares (one foil, one not.) Removing the foils also eliminates the uneven bending that can result from playing unsleeved foils in humid areas.
The other change was that the lands were removed from the packs, so everyone was drafting with 14 card packs. I think the main reason there was to avoid having to stamp 1,500 basic lands. That is not a trivial undertaking.
Don’t like drafting basic lands? Just make Day 2 at a big event, and you won’t have to. On the other hand, if you like drafting basic lands, you should have been at KC. The public events featured a Beta draft. The players opened 24 packs of original Beta boosters. The first pack had a Mox Jet. The downside was that the pack also had a half-dozen basic lands.
Calling a Draft
The removal of the basic lands also raised another minor issue — the DCI Unified Tournament Rules (UTR) have very precise instructions for the timing of booster drafts, and those timing rules assume players will be opening 15 card packs. That required a minor adjustment — which was easy because the judges had checked a few packs beforehand and discovered that the packs had 14 cards. It would have been more awkward to discover that as the draft began.
Draft caller: “Players, open your first booster pack. Count the pack face down. You should have 15 cards.”
Everyone: “I only have 14 cards…”
Not so good.
At high level drafts, draft rules and procedures are strictly enforced. Drafts are called, and everyone acts in unison. It is probably the least “fun” draft environment ever — but “fun” isn’t the object. A fair and organized draft is.
After the initial instructions (“No peeking! No talking! No sighing or grunting! Put your cards in a single pile. Listen to instructions.” Etc.), the draft is called by a judge. During that time, that judge should be the only person talking.
(We tried to have the judge call the draft from inside the armored car, but the microphone cord would not reach that far.)
The standard instructions are some variant on these:
“Count your pack face down. You should have
15 14 cards.” At this point, the players are just verifying the number of cards. They are not looking at them, yet.
“Pick up your pack. You have 35 seconds.” The players are reviewing pack 1 – which has 14 cards / zero basic lands.
“5 seconds.” This serves to notify players they need to choose imminently.
“Draft.” The players have to choose a card, if they haven’t already done it. A couple of seconds later the caller gives the next instruction.
“Lay out the pack. You should have 13 cards.” The players need to fan out the pack they are passing, so that the recipient (and any watching judges) can easily count the cards.
“Pick up 13 cards. You have 35 seconds.”
“Lay out the pack. You should have 12 cards.”
And so on. The time periods for review keep dropping. For the fourth through sixth picks, players get 25 seconds, then 20 seconds, then ten, then five. At the end of each booster pack, players get 60 seconds to review their picks.
Calling a draft can be tricky. You have to keep one eye on a clock or stopwatch and another on the time sequence – and you have to remember where you are. Telling players that they should pick up ten cards, when they actually have eight, is a bad thing.
Ingrid Lind-Jahn (yes, a relation) and Jason Ness (the HJ) came up with a good solution: they wrote the script for each pick on a different card, then Ingrid just ran through the stack as the draft progressed.
It’s a pretty simple solution, but a good one. Calling a big draft is something you really do not want to mess up.
Will 7-1-1 Make Day 2?
Here’s a question I am often asked at events — even PTQs. I can’t answer it — at least not with a “yes’ or “no.”
Actually, I have two answers — the flippant one, and the real one. The flippant one is “if I could do math like that, I’d be playing, not judging.” The serious one is “I can’t answer that. If I gave advice like that, and you acted on it, what would we do if I got it wrong?” It is one thing for someone draw into ninth place on the advice of a friend or fellow player — it is something else entirely if that player was told that drawing would get them into Top 8, or Day 2.
You know who could answer that question? The same guys who will kill me for even suggesting it. The coverage guys. When choosing a feature match late in the event, they cannot simply choose the top pairing that haven’t already been featured: those players may simply ID into the Top 8, and the blow-by-blows on an ID makes for a very boring coverage.
States are back — saved by the TOs across America.
I’m not sure why they left, but I have heard some rumblings. Apparently, foreign TOs were asking where their own country “states” events were. This created some difficult line drawing problems. For example, France probably has enough of a player base to support tournaments in each region. It is less likely that Malaysia would have enough players to support state tournaments for Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and so forth. Since Wizards could not come up with a fair solution that fit all countries, they cut U.S. State Championships.
The U.S. TOs, who don’t have the same obligations to other countries, brought them back. The TOs have worked together to reestablish across the nation, and Wizards will sanction the events. TOs in other countries are welcome to do the same.
Personally, I will be at States in Madison, Wisconsin. I’m not sure whether I will be judging or playing, but that’s where I’ll be. States is, once again, a great time. Go to yours.