Grand Prix: Minneapolis was last weekend. It was the third largest North American GP ever, and it ran very smoothly. I’m not going to talk a lot about the play itself — the coverage can do that. I’ll talk about everything else.
I would love to talk about matches, and give you lots of info on the Zendikar Sealed metagame. I won’t. As a judge, I see tiny snippets of individual games, typically as I walk by. I’ll look a game over, but I’m looking for illegal game states, life total disagreements, player confusion, or strange positioning of permanents, graveyards, libraries, etc. I am also watching players more than plays. In short, as a judge, I learn almost nothing about the metagame during a tournament.
There are two exceptions.
The first is when I am asked to watch for slow play. At that point, I will watch the remainder of the existing game, and any subsequent games. Zendikar is a pretty fast format, however, and I didn’t have any players ask me to watch.
The other situation happens when I am table judging a feature match, or — better yet — working with the ggslive.com folks. With GGS coverage, Rashad and guests are commenting on a match form a remote location (so the players don’t overhear). They have a camera aimed at the play mat, and a spotter — usually a judge — at the table IMing them life totals and so forth. It’s a fun job, because you get to just watch a game.
I did get to sit in on one match that way. What I learned can be summarized pretty easily: if you keep a sketchy hand, and don’t draw anything, you will lose quickly.
Frankly, I learned more about Zendikar Sealed in a couple of MTGO drafts than I did at the GP, so I’ll have to talk about something else.
The event was huge, but Steve Port’s Legion Events does huge pretty damn well.
We had just under 1,200 players in the main event. That filled almost the hall — we had tables for 1,300. It also meant that side events were delayed a bit, until the numbers dropped enough that we had room — and tables, and spare judges — to accommodate them. On the plus side, we had a tables and chairs for all the players, and the tables were set with three matches per 8′ table. It costs the TO a bit more in tables and space to go three matches per table instead of four, but — speaking as a player – the extra space is wonderful. I hate bumping elbows while I play.
The GP started at 10am. The judges arrived before 8am to set up the room and prepare product. Most of this went pretty smoothly, but there were a few snafus.
The first problem was that the shipping company that delivered the GP stuff from Wizards misdirected one case of supplies. As of early Saturday morning, the GP table numbers, the judge shirts, some of the banners and so forth were all in Arizona, or on the way back from there. It was inconvenient, but Steve had backups of everything, and the only noticeable impact was that the table numbers were hand-written on tent cards left over from the M10 prerelease and so forth. No biggie — they still went up to 650.
Distributing product can also be a big headache at major events like this. Legion Events had planned for this as well, and was giving away deck boxes with specially commissioned art for the event. They were a nice perk — but they were also a great way to handle distribution of product and swapping of card pools. Long before players were seated for deck construction, the judges had stuffed six Zendikar boosters into each deck box, and repacked those into boxes. It took close to two dozen judges over half an hour to open the 200+ boxes of booster packs and assemble the product, but it would have taken far longer to use paper bags or rubber bands. The deck boxes look a lot cooler, too.
We used a number of tricks to keep the registration, build, and rounds moving as fast as possible. One change was to put a stack of land on every table, instead of the more traditional land stations. Land stations — where all players come to collect their lands – are bottlenecks. Even if we had enough tables to have half a dozen land stations — which might have been problematic — the numbers are still against them. I’ve worked big events both ways, and land stations add 10-15 minutes to the build time.
Seriously, do the numbers. With six land stations, we would have had 200 players cycling through each lands station. Players take about a minute at the land station, and about four can be grabbing lands at any given moment. That would mean that players would be queuing at land stations for roughly 50 minutes. Unacceptable. With lands on tables, judges spent a lot more time passing lands out and collecting them again later, but the queues were (for the most part) absent.
They would have been totally absent had we had more Swamps.
Land was a problem throughout the event. Wizards includes a lot of land in the GP kit. However, the distribution is standard — an equal number of Plains, Islands, Swamps, Mountains, and Forests. In Zendikar Sealed, however, far more Swamps are played than Islands. We ran out of Swamps. Steve Port had brought extras, and then raided his local store of their complete supply. At the end of the event, we had thousands and thousands of spare Islands — boxes and boxes of them – plus a lot of extra Plains, but no Swamps. We ended up proxying some.
The number of lands used at an event like this is staggering. Assuming that everyone builds a deck with 18 lands, and often some more in the sideboard, the main event used something like 25,000 lands Day 1, plus 5,000 more on Day 2. Side event drafts used another 7,500 or so, and the Sealed Deck events used still more. We burned through more than 7,000 Swamps, and probably could have used 10,000.
For what it’s worth, a stack of 10,000 Swamps would be about 20 feet / 7 meters high.
43 New DCI Cards
Before any event, judges always get some of the most interesting questions of the day. Along with the inevitable “Are my sleeves okay?” (Answer: if you have to ask, probably not) and “How many rounds will it be?” are the interesting ones. Some players ask to confirm that combos work, or that cards really do what they say. Some are just strange, like “how do Thieves Auction and Confusion in the Ranks interact?” (Answer: badly. Just concede.)
About half an hour before the main event was to fire, I got two memorable questions. First, “Is this one of those tournaments where the player going first draws eight cards?” (As an answer, I explained playing first, drawing first, and mulliganning.) The second was “Is there just one round per match?” I explained best of two matches, etc.
I will admit to telling this story to other judges, and sharing a chuckle. Yes, they are nOOb questions: questions asked by players new to competitive Magic — or at new to DCI tournaments.
That does not mean they are bad. Players are allowed to ask anything. If it relates to the tournament, judges will answer. If it doesn’t relate to the tournament, but we have time, we will answer. Ask away.
Yes, these players were probably playing at their first big event. The scorekeepers gave out 43 brand new DCI cards. That’s 43 new players, players who had probably never played in a sanctioned event before. Now they were playing at a GP.
And that’s great.
Grand Prix events — Day 1 at least — are open to the public. Anyone can play. All that is required is a desire to play, and the entry fee.
I have had some discussions with players, and other judges, about this. Some of them wanted the new players to stay home. They felt that, somehow, only players with a legitimate shot at winning should play. That’s wrong, on several levels.
First of all, when you get right down to it, of the 1,300 players in that room, the number of those likely to win was pretty small — maybe 100 or so. The rest should have stayed home. However, for a lot of the players, the point of coming wasn’t to win.
For some, the long shot odds of winning were justification to play. They couldn’t reasonably expect it, but a combination of an insanely good pool and some lucky drafts might get them there. It may not be likely, but that’s no reason to say they can’t play. After all, we let people play the lottery, and those odds are even worse.
Other people have different goals when they play. They may just want to make Top 8, and qualify for the Pro Tour. They may want to make Day 2, or just to finish Day 1 with a winning record.
Some players just want to have been there. “Dude, it was great. I played Brian Kibler! I almost won a game! It was awesome! Let me tell you about it…” Some players simply like the excitement of being part of a huge tournament. This is something you can’t get from your local FNM.
Some players may decide that getting 6 boosters worth of cards, a foil Chrome Mox, a Legion deck box and sleeves and nine rounds of Magic may be a better entertainment value than a large soda, a bucket of popcorn, a pack of SnoCaps and a chance to see GI Joe, the Movie.
Whatever reason a players has for attending the tournament is a good reason, and that player needs to be welcomed. Even the new ones. Wizards will keep holding events like this just as long as we keep attending, so I want everyone who attends to feel welcome.
Part of the job of a judge is making everyone feel welcome.
On the flip side, making a player feel welcome does not mean applying the rules any differently for the new player than we would for a pro or for someone with a four-digit DCI #. Judges need to apply the rules the same way to everyone. The Magic Infraction Procedure Guide is pretty clear on that point. Judges are not allowed to deviate from the rules “except in significant and exceptional circumstances.” Being new to the tournament scene is not a significant or unusual circumstance. It is true for everyone, at some point in time. The same expectations and penalties apply. I may explain a little more thoroughly, if one player is new / does not understand, but otherwise they get the same treatment.
Actually, we often end up explaining a lot, to both new and experienced players. I had one player ask me to confirm that “first strike and double strike cancel out, right?” He also asked “if my 2/2 double striker attacks into his 3/3 first striker, that’s okay because they’ll trade, right?” Well, I can’t answer a question with “is that okay,” but the opponent can provide any advice he wants too. The opponent explained that the 3/3 was going to kill the 2/2, which did answer the player’s question. Attacking was not a good idea.
Here’s another question that came up at the event: “Does my Scute Mob get counters while Exiled by Journey to Nowhere?” No, of course not. Static abilities of permanents function only while the permanent is in play, unless it specifically says otherwise. Duh!
A more interesting question is why the player asked at all.
It could be because the player really didn’t know, or thought it did. Maybe they played differently at home — but generally those players simply start adding counters, and their opponent calls them on it. The “don’t knows” are rare.
It could be that the player knew, but was hoping that the judge would just punt the ruling. Again, this is also rare. Deliberately misrepresenting the rules in order to get an advantage is cheating. Asking a judge to rule incorrectly is much more a borderline issue, but the risk / reward (or EV, if you prefer) of that gamble is not good. I don’t think this is very common either.
After seeing this fairly often, I think that the players think they know the correct ruling, but aren’t 100% sure. Asking has no risk — it’s what judges are here for, after all — and the upside of being wrong is pretty good. In this case, if the Scute Mob does not get counters, there’s no harm. If it does, the player is going to have a seriously huge Scute Mob when the Journey finally gets Disenchanted.
I don’t know. I’m just speculating, but that seems to fit best with my experiences.
But He Was About to Win!
One final issue that I discussed with some other judges at the GP… This is actually a training question I often ask, to initiate a discussion on rules policy.
“You walk past a game in a Standard side event. You see that a player is going to win the next turn. He has the burn spell in hand, and just has to untap. You also see that he is playing Snow-Covered Mountains. What do you do?”
This question raises a lot of issues, and lets me discuss any area in which the other judge may be weak. It tests whether they know what cards are legal in the format. It can test whether they know what infraction occurs, and penalty applies. (It’s deck / decklist mismatch, and the penalty is a game loss.)
Most importantly, it lets me discuss the issue of stopping a game that the player was about to win, to award a game loss. Yes, you do that. The game state is illegal — the player is playing cards that are not legal in the format.
Yes, players tend to be more upset when they were penalized when they are about to win. For that matter, judges are also unhappy about that situation, but that does not change it.
Would it be any different if the player — still playing in a Standard game – tapped some mana and played Cursed Scroll, then activated the Scroll naming Fireblast?
Illegal cards are illegal cards. It doesn’t matter if someone is playing Ancestral Recall or Chimney Imp in current Standard, both the good and the bad cards are not legal in current Standard. In either case, the judge has to stop the game, fix the deck, and award the game loss. It feels worse, for everyone, if the player is about to win, but that is simply more reason to find the problem sooner.
Fortunately, this specific situation did not come up this weekend. This weekend was pretty much all fun.
“one million words” on MTGO