I recently had the distinct pleasure of judging at the StarCityGames.com Open in Orlando, including head judging the Legacy event on Sunday. Here’s a bit of what happened.
As head judge, my work on an event like this starts weeks in advance. Some of this is logistics and planning, but a lot of the work is making sure I knew the format as well. In other words, it is another great excuse to play Magic, both Standard and Legacy. Part of my prep was also watching the coverage of prior SCG Open events. It was rough — I spent most of a rainy Sunday listening to coverage and drafting online.
Some of the work was actually work. I had to make sure I knew which judges were doing what, and solve a number of problems. I also discussed, via email, how we would be handling a number of issues, including slow play and end of round procedures. I also provided links to a lot of basic information on Legacy and typical questions legacy events produce.
Because of work requirements, etc., Ingrid and I flew down Friday morning. We got up at 3am to get to the airport for our 5am flight. Once there, I hung out with the SCG folks at the local FNM where they were holding preregistration, then went out with the SCG crew, plus Rashad Miller, Bill Stark and the coverage folks for a great dinner. I was back in bed about midnight — perfect prep for a long event.
Saturday, Ingrid was head judge of the Standard event. Suffice it to say that ten rounds, plus Top 8, meant that we finally made it to bed about 2am. Four and a half hours later, I was up, showered and eating a quick breakfast before getting back to the venue for the judge meeting.
Sleep is tech. Fortunately for me, on Sunday we had just under the magic 128 cut-off for eight rounds. Seven rounds plus top 8 is a whole lot easier. We were actually packed up and done before the restaurants all closed. Sweet.
Note: if you are looking for decklists, etc., look here. I’m just going to hit some highlights.
Walls and Goblins
In round one, half the judges are busy counting decklists, and the other half are out on the floor handling calls. Early on, I had a judge bring me a decklist and as “what do we do with this?” I took a look.
The player had listed cards in the column for main deck, and for lands. Both columns were completely filled. He had also crossed out the word “sideboard” and continued to list cards in that area. And in the margins. And, when I turned the sheet over, he had continued to list cards on the back. The list was almost endless. It was Red and Green, and featured a ton of Walls and hasty creatures, mainly goblins. I looked under lands, read “81 Mountain” and quit there.
So — what to do? Time to train the judge who brought me the list. I asked him If he had skimmed the list. He had. So I asked him if the list was legal. The criteria for a legal (Constructed) list are:
1) At least 60 cards main deck.
2) Either 15 or zero cards in the sideboard.
3) No cards that are not legal in the format.
4) No more than 4 of any card other than basic lands.
With 81 Mountains, the list clearly met criteria number one. I told the judge he did not need to count the deck — it was enough to know that the deck was that big. (I did make a point of walking past that player and checking that he did, indeed, have a pile of cards that large in front of him. He did.)
It appeared that the player had no sideboard, which is fine under criteria number two, but I asked the judge to verify this with the player. That’s standard practice — if the player does not list a sideboard, we check whether the player had no sideboard, or simply forgot to list one. Wherever possible, judges check stuff like that after the game or match has ended, not while play is ongoing. It is not important enough to interrupt game play for — there is always time afterwards.
We had both glanced over the decklist and hadn’t seen anything that looked like 5 copies or anything banned in Legacy. I told the judge that it wasn’t worth taking the time to count or closely read the list. I also told the judges that, if that player was ever chosen for a random deck check, to simply chose another table.
Yes, that is not standard operating procedure. Beginning of round deck checks are generally random, or targeted at a particular player if judges want to check something in particular. However, seeing a 300-400 card deck is also not standard, so I decided to make that player immune to deck checks, at least for the first several rounds. If he had stayed at the top tables, or made Top 8, I might have revised that ruling.
Before deciding to tell my judges to exempt him form a deck check, I had to convince myself that it would not, in any way, harm the integrity of the tournament.
On the plus side, any deck check involving 400 or so cards is not going to be done in seven minutes. Seven minutes is the goal, since seven minutes, plus three minutes for shuffling afterwards, is about as long a time extension as you ever want to give. A trained, practiced judge can check a 60 card deck in 3-4 minutes — but even the fastest around is going to be hard-pressed to sort and check 400 cards in under 20 minutes. Worse yet, a 20 minute time extension is almost inevitably mean that the round goes long, which means that the other players sit around. That’s bad for everyone.
On the downside, exempting that player from deck checks *could* provide an opportunity for shenanigans. No one should ever consider themselves immune from deck checks.
I tried to imagine what possible advantage a player could get by using a 400 card deck, no sideboard, or what sort of cheat we would or could catch on a deck check that a 400 card deck could use. I could not think of anything that could possibly justify playing 81 Mountains. I decided that the player was almost certainly a casual player, playing his big deck for fun, and the best policy was to let him play. Wasting judge and player time trying to deck check him was pointless (unless something actually made us suspicious, of course.)
I did tell the judge to check with him to make sure he was not playing with a sideboard, and watch him shuffling to make sure he actually randomized his deck. I had, when I scanned the decklist, looked for tutors. He didn’t appear to be playing any, which was good. Shuffling 400 cards is tough, and tutors mean he would have to do it more often — not to mention searching for one card in 400 takes a lot of time.
When the judge checked on sideboard, later, we got another surprise. The player had indeed crossed out “sideboard,” but had written “cards minused” there. We got an explanation of that — they were the cards in the main decklist that the player had taken out. He had started by registering his complete deck, which he had sleeved in a variety of different colored sleeves. At some point, before registration ended, he realized or was told that many different colors of sleeves would not work. He de-sleeved. Once his cards were desleeved, however, he realized that some of his cards were worn to the point of being marked, so he took them out. Then, with too little time to recopy the decklist, he just listed the cards he had removed as “cards minused.”
The judge who had discovered this came to me to ask what to do. Generally, I prefer that my judges make their own ruling, or consult with another floor judge, if necessary, before coming to the head judge, but this was different. I had never seen anything like this, either. So we talked.
Was this the way we wanted the decklist filled out? Of course not. The ideal is a decklist that uses Arabic numerals (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 — not check marks, hash marks or roman numbers, like “IV”.) With a name. And legible. This had a name, and was reasonably legible.
Next question: was this bad enough to penalize for illegal decklist? Well, if you do the math, the decklist is correct. I asked my judge if this felt more like a player who uses hash marks on a decklist or an illegal decklist. The judge said that 4-1 felt more like hash marks that anything illegal. I agreed — it’s what I was aiming for. Using hash marks falls under Section 8.3 of the Infraction Procedure Guide — namely “being a typical stupid player” – and we just educate, not penalize, for that sort of mix-up. In this case, a player did his best to create a reasonable decklist, and making him rewrite the whole thing would have been pointless and cruel. Sometimes, “no harm, no foul — but do it right next time” is the right answer to strange happenings.
That said — please don’t do this. Certainly don’t knowingly use bizarre notation on your decklist. At best, it will just make more work for the judges. At worst, a penalty is by no means unreasonable. In this case, the player had done a strange, but explainable and reasonable thing to fix a problem. If, on the other hand, someone shows up at my tournament in Madison with the card numbers written out in Greek, Sanskrit – or Binary notation or Klingon, for that matter – I’m not going to accept that. The player and I will have a talk about jerking our chains and proper behavior.
A further note — head judges often make an announcement about how decklists should be completed. If your head judge does make such an announcement, and you still use some other notation, you could also get penalized for “Failure to Follow Official Announcements.” More importantly, this whole thing falls under the “don’t be a d*ck” rule.
I had a really excellent judge staff, which made my life a lot easier. Even with over 120 players in round one, and over half my staff counting decklists, players didn’t have to wait for a judge, and all I had to do was wander around and keep watch. I answered a few calls when I was much closer to a call than anyone else, but that was rare.
Most of being a head judge is making sure your team leaders are doing their jobs, and getting breaks, making some announcements, plus answering player questions and keeping the scorekeeper happy.
The questions are usually pretty straightforward. Sometimes someone wants to know whether cards with modified or full art are legal. Some modifications are, some are not. I did not allow full art cards, since the full art sometimes is done to cover gold borders on illegal cards. Other players want to ask about sleeves. (Short answer: if you have to ask, get new sleeves. See my other articles for the 500 word version.)
Another job for the head judge is to handle appeals of rulings made by other judges. At a small event, like this one was, you can often tell when rulings or questions are simple, when something is complex, and when players are upset or confused. In most cases, my judges had little trouble calming upset players or addressing the confusion, but I generally stayed nearby. Every so often, something would come up, and I would get involved.
“Presenting” your Sideboard
Early on, a player finished game one of a match, then pulled out a 500 count box full of cards and starting digging for sideboard cards. The box was half full of card in his colors. The opponent called a judge, and the judge checked with me on whether to issue the deck/decklist mismatch. I agreed that the game loss was appropriate. The judge issued it, the player appealed and I upheld. More importantly, I also explained the situation. The player was upset, but we calmed him down.
Judges often debate issues involving sideboards. Technically, players are required to present their sideboards at the start of the game, at the same time they present their decks. Section 2.3 – Pregame Procedures — of the Magic Tournament Rules includes this: “Players present their decks to their opponents for additional shuffling. The sideboard (if any) is also presented at this time.” Ideally, players should set their sideboard cards on the table, separate from their deck, at the beginning of the game. Having the sideboard in a box on the table, separate from other cards, is usually good enough. (Note: purists can argue this one, but that’s another debate.)
Having your sideboard mixed in with other cards that are legal in the format is not acceptable. The definition of the Deck Error — Deck/Decklist Mismatch penalty includes “have additional cards with their sideboard.” In this case, having your sideboard mixed in a pile of a couple hundred other in-color cards in a box, with no indication at all of what is part of the sideboard and what is not, is clearly wrong. The player obviously didn’t know the requirement, but that does not mean we don’t penalize. In general, all the penalties in the Infraction Procedure Guide assume that the player made a mistake — except for those which are deliberate, and fall under the general heading Cheating.
Using Sideboard Cards as Tokens
You know the Monty Python Fish Slapping Dance (Google it if you don’t.) Sometime, a haddock just isn’t big enough — some players deserve to be hit with a whale shark.
I had one player call a judge because the Elvish Archdruid he was trying to search for with Nissa Revane was in his sideboard, not main deck. How did that happen? Well, he was using cards from his sideboard, and graveyard, as elf tokens. The Archdruid had died, gone to the graveyard, then been used as a token. The token died, and he put it in his sideboard.
This whole mess was like a clinic on why you don’t use cards as tokens.
PLAYERS: DO NOT USE SIDEBOARD CARD AS TOKENS!
First, the rules forbid it. That should be enough, but some players are so gawd dammed lazy that they do it anyway. They should not — and only partly because of messes like this. The player was penalized for game play error for putting a card in the wrong zone, but that’s the least of the problems.
Maybe this will work — players, don’t let your opponents do this. Here’s a really simple cheat — use a good card as a token, then just flip it when the opponent is not looking. Most likely to flip — lands. It gets a player out of mana screw, and it is hard to catch. Unless, of course, players actually use tokens, or coins, or anything else, as tokens.
Players, just don’t, okay?
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
A player had AEther Vial and several merfolk in on the battlefield. His opponent had The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale in play. At the beginning of his upkeep, he added a counter to the AEther Vial, then started to pay for the merfolk. His opponent called the judge, and argued that the player had missed the Tabernacle triggers. Triggers go on the stack in active player, then non-active player order, meaning that the non-active player’s trigger — The Tabernacle — should have resolved first.
Tabernacle is from Legends. Here’s what the card says “All creatures now require an upkeep cost of 1 in addition to any other upkeep costs they may have. If the upkeep cost for a creature is not paid, the creature is destroyed.” The player’s actual card was in Italian, though, so even this semi-helpful text was not available.
The current wording is “All creatures have “At the beginning of your upkeep, destroy this creature unless you pay 1.”
The non-active player controlled the Tabernacle, but the triggered upkeep abilities belong to the creatures (all creatures have…) so the Tabernacle-created triggers all belong to the creatures’ controller(s). That player can stack them however he wishes, so he can resolve the Vial first, the upkeep triggers first, etc. No triggers were missed, so no penalty. We just gave the players a time extension and moved on.
I would like to talk a lot more about the play, the decks and the strategy, but Bill Stark and the ggslive.com coverage folks did a far better job. They can actually watch the matches for game play, unlike us judges. Sorry.
I do want to thank my judges — Sam, Mike F., Ben, Mike M., Jason, Jeff, Casey, Nick, Jared — and of course Sheldon and Ingrid. Great job, everyone!
“one million words” on MTGO