Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #259 – Grand Prix: Los Angeles

Read Peter Jahn... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, January 23rd – I appreciated LA weather – or at least not being in the Madison weather – a bit more than usual. Thursday night in LA, we were eating outside in shirtsleeves, while Madison was somewhere around -20 degrees. In LA, I was walking on green grass. Well, in Madison, I could do that, too. Very faded grass – and only if I first scrapped off a couple feet of snow – but we have green grass down there somewhere.

I’m back from Grand Prix: LA. I’m almost caught up on sleep, and I have shoveled all the snow.

It is a bit warmer here, but I miss LA. GPs are over too fast.

I appreciated LA weather — or at least not being in the Madison weather — a bit more than usual. Thursday night in LA, we were eating outside in shirtsleeves, while Madison was somewhere around -20 degrees. In LA, I was walking on green grass. Well, in Madison, I could do that, too. Very faded grass — and only if I first scrapped off a couple feet of snow — but we have green grass down there somewhere.

Fine Dining

One of the perks I enjoy in travelling to PTs and GPs is that we get to eat well. Sometimes the dining is amazing (e.g. Worlds in Paris, PT: Berlin), often times varied and interesting (New York, New Orleans) — and sometimes we just end up at the local Fogo de Chao. Only rarely does it disappoint (e.g. Nats in Chicago — and then only because the good dinning was just a bit too far away to reach in the time available.)

LA — not so much.

We arrived late Wednesday night. The venue is very convenient to the airport — my room looked out on the runways — but not to anything else. The hotel concierge mentioned a few places “just 10 to 15 minutes away.” Of course, in LA, all times are by car, not on foot. LA does not believe in pedestrians. (They believe in right turn, no stop — no matter how many people may be in the crosswalk. I was nearly flattened several times, once by a bus.)

We ate at the hotel restaurant. Not the one advertised on posters in the elevators — the one the top floor of the hotel, with a great view of LA. That one was destroyed. The hotel was renovating. The top floor had nothing but plastic sheeting sealing off construction — and elevators. The elevators were a pain. One was newly rebuilt, with new controls. Two had old controls: on one the 5 and 9 buttons did not work, and on the other doors began closing as soon as they were fully open, regardless of whether anyone had boarded or not. The fourth elevator was not functioning — its controls were only partly replaced.

This isn’t a ding on the TO, by any means. TOs need to get the best venue they can get, and still make a profit. The venue was fine — but the elevators were the subjects of jokes and cursing all weekend.

Anyway, dinner at the main floor hotel restaurant was about what you expect in a hotel: large, fairly fancy, reasonably good and very expensive for what you got. The breakfast buffet was also pricy – $20 a person, with tax and tip — but it was reasonably tasty, right there and all you could eat, and we could always find a couple other judges to eat with. Exactly right for a GP, where lunchbreaks are often spread out, so you may not be able to eat until 2-3pm.

More on that later.

Judge Seminar

We headed out to a day early LA to participate in a Judge Training seminar put on by Sun Mesa events (the TO). I was asked to give the standard new judge orientation, and to prepare a seminar on deck checks. I put together my scripts, printed out all my decklists and handouts, and packed my 20 or so test decks into my very heavy carry-on luggage. Next time I’m packing marshmallows — sleeved decks are heavy.

As it turned out, a lot of store owners and small TOs showed up, and only a few judges. We had to modify the program a ton. A lot of good information was exchanged, but most of it covered basic judge certification, how to find judges, TO/judge relations, compensation, etc. My new judge orientation seminar happened, in a very modified manner, but the deck check seminar did not.

Maybe some other time — but maybe at an event I drive too. My shoulder is still sore from carrying that heavy a bag.

Fine Dining, Part II

After the judge seminar, the TOs were headed to a WotC mixer. We judges walked over to the local In-N-Out Burgers, which is a CA staple, I understand. It was okay — not Fogos by any means, but okay. The burgers were good burgers, and the fries were tasty. It was acceptable.


Much EDH was played. My UW deck was being smacked around by a Spiritmonger and some other fatties, until I dropped Academy Rector. Since I occasionally annoy people, I managed to get an opponent to attack into it. After all, he said, how bad could it be. I got Humility. Then I found Glorious Anthem and Mobility — and so forth. My opponents had great trouble killing it — especially Sean, who was one Red mana short of Violent Ultimatum for turn after turn. He even resolved Sarkhan Vol, ran the counters up and produced a bunch of 1/1 non-flying dragons. He finally pulled the third Mountain and killed my Anthem, the Humility, and something an opponent had. At that point, he was attacking with more than lethal in all directions. I let Ingrid tap out, Capsizing as much as she could, then I tapped Winding Canyons and cast both Thistledown Liege and Godhead of Awe. Game.

In the other two games, we were playing against John Carter. His official title is too long to type, but one of his duties as judge manager is to decide who gets sponsorship for Pro Tours and so forth. We let him win, of course. (Truth be told, the fact that the three of us were relying on tricksy equipment, while Carter’s general was Karn had more to do with it. Karn makes equipment fall off, as well as being a pretty good blocker. Besides, we had some confusion over who the real threat was. People thought it might be me, just because I won the last game.)

Fine Dining, Part III

Friday evening a bunch of judges got together about 8pm and went looking for chow. We walked over to a highly recommended local place Paco’s Tacos. Apparently, it was good — the wait was well over an hour. Since many of us had skipped lunch, that didn’t fly. We ended up at a little storefront Thai place. Tasty, and the company was good.

I mentioned the breakfast buffet earlier. Along with artery- clogging standards like bacon, sausage and eggs, the buffet had lots of fruit, and corned beef hash. Hash is a personal favorite — something I learned to like while camping. It is chocked full of the four basic food groups: salt, calories, fat and carcinogens — and something I won’t make for myself because it is just too unhealthy.

I had two helpings every morning.

Lunch was sandwiches from Subway. It was the only place close enough. (Okay, someone could have walked to In-N-Out in about 15 minutes with a massive order, but since you can rarely eat immediately after the food arrives, that would have meant cold burgers and fries. Cold subs >> cold burgers.

The GP

The GP was big. We had room for about 700 in the main hall. We had 830+ sign up. Fortunately, a large portion of the players have byes in the early rounds, and players start dropping reasonably early, but even so we had to spill over to the public events room for rounds 3 through 5. That made logistics interesting, and we scrambled a bit, but it worked.

It also helped that we had a good crew of judges, and that the players were reasonably good about following instructions and finding their seats. A few had problems getting up and down the elevators in time, but overall it went well.

The worst problem was the logistics — especially the two rooms. Having players check standings, then having to travel to another room, meant round turn-arounds were not what we could have wished. Still, a crowd of players is much better than a small turnout.

Slaughtered By Pacts

Back to the GP. I had my first call no more than five minutes into the round. A player forgot to pay for Slaughter Pact. He had drawn, and started to play a land. Both players agreed that was what had happened.

Not recommended.

The Pacts are weird, in that I am awarding both a warning and a game loss at the same time. The infraction was a missed trigger: Slaughter Pact’s “pay or lose” effect triggers at the beginning of the player’s next upkeep. When a player forgets that, he has missed the trigger. The penalty for a missed trigger, at Competitive REL, is a warning. The remedy depends on the type of trigger. For a trigger like Slaughter Pact, with a default option (pay) and an alternative (die), you choose the default and apply it immediately.

The player immediately loses the game.

The default on Slaughter Pact is die. Here’s the Oracle wording for Slaughter Pact: Slaughter Pact is black. Destroy target nonblack creature. At the beginning of your next upkeep, pay 2B. If you don’t, you lose the game. Here’s the relevant quote from the Penalty Guidelines. “If the trigger has an instruction that specifies a default action associated with a choice (usually “If you don’t … “) resolve the default action immediately…” Harsh, but that’s the way the card is written.

I ended up awarding four warnings + game loses during Day 1 of the GP, and another to a player in the PTQ the following day.

One of those was ugly. The opponent believed that the Pact had been played on the previous turn. The player thought/said it had been played two turns ago, and that he had paid last turn.

Judges just love “failure to agree on reality” penalties like this.

Of course, both players wanted to explain and argue, and kept trying to interrupt each other. Once I had an overview of the complaint, I asked each player to explain what happened, as he understood it, over the last two turns. A firm “wait — you will get your turn” ended the interruptions, and both players gave me narratives. Both narratives were reasonably plausible, but one was more coherent, was more complete, had fewer internal contradictions, and was more consistent with the order of cards in the graveyard. I say more consistent, because neither story was perfect — never are — and there were a lot of cards in the graveyard since the player had been cycling, dredging and so forth to find an answer.

In that case, I also granted a time extension, because sorting out the mess took a couple minutes. Or would have — except that this turned out to be game 2, and the offending player had already lost game 1.

Which leads me to another oft-repeated point: the complaint that game losses should not end matches. Players should not think of a game loss in game two as a match loss. A better way of thinking about it is that, in a normal match, you lose the match if you let your opponent win two games. With a GL penalty, you lose if you let your opponent win any games. It doesn’t make it fell any better, but it might stop people from complaining that their error resulted in a “match loss” when they only received a game loss.

Tracking Warnings

At the judge meeting at the beginning of Day 1, HJ Scott Marshall’s first question to the group was “When assigning a warning for any infraction, what is your first question?” The answer is “have you had a warning before in this tournament?” Repeated infractions can result in upgrades, so we track these things. At this event, we had an alphabetical list of all players, and whenever a judge issued a warning, they marked the list accordingly.

I am pretty sure we didn’t have anyone lie about getting warnings. Lying to a judge is a DQ offense, and I suspect I would have heard about that happening. (Although I probably would not have had all the details, since they are confidential, even to judges, I would have noticed the DQ process, and I expect the HJ would have mentioned it in the end of day wrap up.)

I did have one player with a second warning. For most penalties, a second offense — absent extenuating circumstances — is upgraded. However, the player that made the second mistake missed a trigger. Missed trigger penalties are in the game play error category, and the upgrade path for GPEs is warning — warning — game loss…

If you are wondering whether forgetting about a Pact for the third time would be one game loss or two — just one. The penalty for a third Missed Trigger is a game loss. The “resolve trigger now” (or other options, depending on the type of trigger and when it was missed) is the “fix” used to continue a game after a trigger has been missed. Since a Game Loss ends the game, no fix is necessary.


I had a player call me over and ask if he could — after his opponent had finished shuffling his deck — look at the bottom card.

Me: *blink blink* “What?”

Him: “After he finishes shuffling that pile, can I look at the bottom card to check how it is oriented?”

Me, after pointing at the pile of cards the opponent is shuffling: “Is that your deck?”

Him: “Yes. And that, and that” — pointing at other piles of cards scattered around the table. “I want to make sure that cards don’t get reversed.”

Me: “Ah — I understand.” I almost said “Battle of Wits,” but choked it off. Giving his opponent any info — even something that obvious — is a bad thing. I did say something banal like “Oh, he’s shuffling in sections .” The ruling: “No, you cannot look at any part of your deck unless an ability / effect / spell / etc. calls for it. If you think a pile is about to be reversed, call a judge and have him/her check.”

Opponent: “I’m being careful about orientation — and I can feel the tops of the sleeves.”

Battle of Wits. Cool. I did wander past the deck checks team, and share the good news that they had a 1 in 417 chance of having a really bad deck check day. (The math: we had 833 players, and you swoop in and grab two decks at a time to check. If I were swooping, and I got a 250+ card deck, I would probably sort it myself. There are very few judges I hate enough to shaft with that sort of thing. Maybe two. Oh — and Riki Hayashi, not because I hate him, but because doing the deck check would give him more material for his articles, and I would feel bad depriving him of that. Of course, if he were swooping, I’m sure he’d return the favor.)

A Learning Experience

I had one call where a player beat for near lethal damage, counted it up, adjusted life totals on his score card, then tried to go back to sacrifice his two Mogg Fanatics to deal the last two points. His opponent called me. It’s tough, but when you say “damage — take 6” and adjust life totals, that indicated that damage has resolved. At that point, state based effects are going to kill the blocked Mogg Fanatics before anyone gets priority. Miserable way to lose, but it is just like deciding not to block, only to discover that your opponent’s block is lethal (or that he has the pump spell.) It’s a mistake, and we don’t let you take those back.

I can sympathize, though. Losing to a mistake seems to hurt more than just losing.

Placing 129th

After round 9, we judges were not quite done. We had a short wrap-up meeting, and did the obligatory chair pushing, table straightening and trash pickup. That did get me close to a standings board, and I spent a few minutes looking for familiar names. I also checked out the bottom of the standings. I was curious about the effect of the new “all X-2s make it” rule, and wondered who missed the cut-off by one. Personally, since I have one more 9th place finish (four) than Top 8s at PTQs, I can sympathize.

The X-2 rule did not come into effect. Because the number of players was just over 800 (the cut for top 128 players, rather than top 64), we ended up with all the X-2 making it, and almost all the 6-3s. The 6-3 who didn’t — and the 129th place finisher — Rashad Miller. He’s not just a good player, he is also a judge. A lot of judges commiserated with him that night, but he got lucky. One player became ill, and was dropped (or possibly dropped before Day 1 final standings were official, stories vary), so Rashad squeaked in.

Fine Dining, Part IV

The big event issue also meant that we did not finish round 9, and the cleanup afterwards, until midnight or so. We went looking for something good to eat, but almost everything was closed. We did In-N-Out again.

Day Two:

Many of the judges working the main event on day two were ones who had not had that experience before. I’ve been there, done that. (Alternative theory — I suck. I could probably find out which reason applied, but I’m not going to.)

I got to run a sanctioned Vintage event, instead. We had 28 players — two more than the foreign Shards sealed event a couple hours later. I think that’s great — I like seeing sanctioned Vintage actually happening. I also appreciate seeing Beta and Alpha power being played, even though I can’t afford it.

Stephen Menendian wrote a wrap-up of recent Vintage events recently. The first place deck was what his article would lead you to expect: it was Tezzerator. The second deck was not — it was a GB deck with no power at all, and pretty much nothing off the restricted list except Demonic Tutor and a sideboard Necropotence. The Top 8 also featured an elf combo deck lifted almost completely from the main event, but spiced up with Skullclamp, Mox Emerald, and a Black Lotus. I don’t know if the deck also ran Fastbond — I didn’t see it.

With the Vintage event running five rounds plus Top 8, I didn’t get out for lunch. Someone made a Subway run, which might have been more appealing if I hadn’t heard a story of someone getting food poisoning, reputedly from Subway, earlier. Probably something else — none of us had any ill effects.

Mishandling the Trophy:

At the end of Day 2, I helped tear down the set, roll up the banners, and pack up the cords and printer. Part of the kit that goes to every GP is the trophy — the thing that you see LSV holding in the photo on the coverage main page.


Well, that’s over. The trophy was sitting on the stage during tear-down, and I dropped it. Hard.

It busted.

Okay, technically it was already cracked. It was the travelling trophy — a cheap mock-up that looks good on camera, and can be used event after event. The real trophy is better, gets inscribed with the event date, etc. I’ve seen some of the real trophies — they are a lot better than what we had.

The trophy was cracked and crooked — which is one reason why LSV is holding it carefully, with his hand cupped around the bottom, rather brandishing it in the more typical winner pose.

After the damage, Wizards thought that it might be better for all concerned if they got a new trophy. They didn’t want it back, if it was too badly damaged. We made sure it was.

Fine Dining, Part Last:

We got out of the hall late, again, and tried to head for dinner. We were headed for Paco’s Tacos, but they stopped serving at 10pm, and it was almost 10:30. We walked around a bit, looking for something — anything — to eat.

Everything was closed, except an IHOP on the corner. A group of players were sitting in the window, and watched us walk past headed east. Then they watched us walk past, again, going west. Then back to the corner and off to the north.

Then back to IHOP, because it was the only thing open.


“one million words” on MTGO