No UST this week. I was at GenCon most of last week, and I didn’t get time to play that tournament of history. I had too many modern tournaments to run and play in. This week I want to take time out to talk about GenCon, the DQ at Grand Prix: Columbus and my Hall of Fame ballot.
If you haven’t been, go. GenCon is fantastic.
When I left the trading card hall late Saturday night, I passed hundreds of players slinging spells, then dozens of miniatures games. I walked past maybe a dozen tables where game designers were demoing their games — and lots of players trying them out. I passed at least eight pick-up Werewolf games in session, and a drum circle with belly dancers. I saw Princess Leia (*4), a perfect Peter Davidson Dr. Who talking with a Cybernman, and a host of Stormtroopers. I walked past Cardhalla — where people were using spare commons to make houses of cards ten feet tall, and covering a space of a couple hundred square feet. I saw board gamers and cheese weasels, and the auction hall in full swing.
It was midnight. It’s busier during the day.
Some notable moments…
It wasn’t my call, but a fellow judge had this discussion:
I also had two players call me over because they could not decide which dice to roll to start the game. Both players were adamant, so I gave them a coin.
Cedric Phillips called me over, during the Legacy Championships. He shuffled up, presented, drew his seven — and realized that he had his Standard deck. That’s one heck of a deck/decklist mismatch. We downgraded it to a warning, and the instruction not to do it again.
While I’m thinking of it, here’s a bit of advice. Here are two objects.
The one on the left is a tent card. It tells you the table number. The one on the right is a trash can. You put trash in it. It seems difficult to confuse the two, but Magic players are stupid. I spent a lot of time at GenCon pulling trash out of tent cards.
Here’s an example of judge humor. A riddle:
Judge: What’s the difference between a trash can and a tent card?
Player: I don’t know.
I know — don’t quit my day job.
Hall of Fame — Vintage
I was judging the Vintage World Championships. Bob Maher, Jr. is playing. He says hi, and we chat. He’s in town on business, but he managed to get a day free and borrowed a deck.
I watch his opening play. Turn 2 he plays land; Mox; Mana Crypt; Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Then he picks it up and reads it, saying, “This is my first sanctioned match in three years. I have to figure out what this thing does.” A little later, I wander by and see him beating down with two Dark Confidants, with a full grip and lots of permanents on the board. He wins the match easily.
I have talked my way into doing the feature match this round. Judging at GenCon involves walking and standing endlessly, on concrete, for 12+ hours a day for four straight days. Covering feature matches involves sitting at the table, radioing life total changes and what card Pithing Needle named to the ggslive.com folks. Sitting is judge tech. I volunteer for feature matches whenever I can.
The first part of doing feature matches is carrying a list of the pairings by table over to the ggslive folks, so they can pick a feature match. I scan the list and notice that I don’t recognize any names on the top tables, but Bob Maher is undefeated on table 6. I tell them, and Bob’s got a feature match.
Game 1, Bob won the die roll and opened with Underground Sea, Black Lotus, blow Lotus, Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, Ancestral Recall. Seems good. He was winning that pretty handily, until he flipped Inkwell Leviathan to Dark Confident mid game. It dropped him to five, so Bob immediately tutored for Jace and Brainstormed his draws for the rest of the game.
I got to watch Bob in the quarterfinals and semifinals. In both matches, he was paired against Workshop / Smokestack decks. The Workshop decks did most of what they were supposed to do, and Bob was mana short most of each game. The games were long — well over an hour for each match. I remember watching Bob back in 2002/2003, and his technically precise and accurate play. Despite having hundreds of triggers and dozens of effects applying on and off all game, I spotted two missed triggers, one forgotten draw and maybe two flat out mistakes (like casting Sol Ring with Chalice of the Void at one in play. ) For any seasoned Vintage player in games that long and complex, that level of mistakes would have been low to average. For someone who has not played a sanctioned match in three years, it’s incredible. But I have been playing Magic next to and against Bob since 1999, and he’s always been incredible.
Bob lost in the finals against Owen Turtenwald, who, along with David Williams, built the decks they were both playing. Which seems appropriate.
Legacy and Vintage
I judged both the Legacy and Vintage World Championships, including the Top 8 for both. I was impressed by both formats. Of the two, though, Legacy seemed faster. I saw more Control and longer matches in Vintage, and more turn 1 kills in Legacy. You would think that it would be the reverse, but no.
I may write another article about this later, but for now I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoy both formats. After this weekend, I really want to see Power in MED IV, so we can all play online Vintage, even if we have problems getting sanctioned matches to fire in the paper world.
Time to change gears.
Why the DCI Takes a Hard Line on Gambling
This is about the Drew Levin DQ at GP: Columbus. First, a disclaimer. Ingrid, my wife, was the head judge at GP Columbus. She made the decision. I am, of course, pro Ingrid on this, as in most other things, but I wasn’t there. I am not privy to the DQ report or full details, and Ingrid cannot provide information, even to me, on pending investigations like this. However, much of the information is public — published in articles, etc. Mr. Levin’s own report of the event is here.
The basic facts are not really in dispute. After winning his final match, and earning a record that would put him in Top 8, Mr. Levin stated that he had made a bet with a friend that he would Top 8: $10 at 50-1. That statement as overheard by his opponent, several spectators, and at least one judge.
According to the statement, odds were offered and a dollar figure stated. That sounds like a bet. It was also announced publicly, and heard by many. That does not leave a lot of options. The language on gambling, including betting on a game, match, or outcome, is really unequivocal: doing it is grounds for a DQ. Other sections of the penalty guidelines — back when regular REL was included — allowed the HJ to downgrading a DQ for things like rolling a die to decide a match if the players really didn’t realize what they were doing was illegal. The wagering DQ has never had such language. Wagering has always required a DQ.
Several times over my career as a judge, I have heard officials say “Wizards has a zero tolerance policy on gambling,” or words to that effect. I have heard that from Wizards employees, TOs, and senior judges. At major events, judges are supposed to take action if they see money (or obvious equivalents) on the table during casual drafts, and to get the TO or Wizards employees if we see anyone playing poker or the like. I have even been asked by senior Wizards folks to tell players to stop using poker chips as counters.
Wizards does not like gambling.
Another disclaimer — I am not speaking for Wizards, and I have deliberately not talked to anyone at Wizards about this. I want to be able to say things directly, and more bluntly than any company could. If I had spoken to company representatives, odds are that I would have to limit what I say. I have been dealing professionally with company reps and attorneys for over twenty years, so I pretty much know what they will say, and what they won’t say publicly.
Wizards wants to make sure that their game is not associated with gambling in any way. As Drew Levin noted in his article, we are playing cards for money — and that sounds like poker. There is a difference, though: Magic is a game of skill played for prizes, like bridge or chess. Wizards works hard to define and defend that difference.
I think the reasons for doing that are four-fold.
1) Access to venues: Magic is played in a lot of different places. Many of these are public places: Magic is played in convention centers, in schools, in libraries, in local stores, and in churches. Many, probably most, of those locations do not allow organized gambling on the premises. Think you could get permission to run a poker tournament in your local high school? Even stores would have problems. I would bet — that’s just a figure of speech, by the way — that most store leases include a clause forbidding gambling on the premises. If Magic were legal to be classified as gambling, a lot of venues would have to stop offering tournaments.
2) Access to customers: A lot of Magic packs are sold to kids, or to parents to give to kids. If Magic were considered gambling, a lot of those kids would be unable to buy packs, and a lot of those parents would probably push their kids into other games or other activities. If Magic = gambling, the customer pool shrinks.
3) Regulation: The Nevada Gaming Board does not regulate Scrabbleâ”¢. They do, however, regulate gambling in Nevada, and their authority and oversight is no joke. I have worked in a regulatory agency for over two decades, and I have to say that even minimal regulation adds rules, costs, and complexities. In general, the regulations governing gambling are rarely minimalist. Complying with the regulations of just one state would be non-trivial, and Wizards sells Magic worldwide, in hundreds of countries, plus states, provinces, districts, parishes, etc. — in short, in thousands and thousands of jurisdictions, all of whom have their own gambling laws and regulations.
4) Taxation: In many jurisdictions, gambling is covered by “sin taxes,” like alcohol and tobacco products. Generally, sin taxes are really high, and designed to suppress demand. For example, cigarettes are somewhere around five bucks a pack, and most of that cost is tax. Likewise, the price of a bottle of booze is half tax. Indian casinos pay millions and millions of dollars into Wisconsin government coffers, and the Indian tribes are sovereign governments. In other words — if Magic were considered gambling, we could easily be paying $8.99 per pack for cards, and five bucks of that amount would be going to the government.
Think that’s unreasonable? My state government is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red, and they are looking hard for any other source of revenue.
I’m sure Wizards knows that. I’m also sure that they would never publicly state that they did not want to pay more taxes, or fall under additional regulations, etc. A company, if asked, will say that it will do its duty, and is perfectly willing to under any reasonable regulation — provided, of course, that such regulations apply equally to all companies, and so forth. That’s why I want to be clear that I am not speaking for them. I can be a lot blunter. I can say that having to pay massive additional taxes on booster packs would suck, and it would hurt Magic.
That’s why Wizards, in my opinion, has to make it very clear that Magic is not gambling. It needs to say that Magic may involve cards, and prizes, but it DOES NOT involve ante, or betting, or any other form of gambling. Wizards also has to show that it is not just paying lip service to that idea — it has to show that it actively forbids such things.
It has to disqualify players that bet on themselves.
Wizards has to be consistent in this matter. They have to take a hard line about gambling all the time. If they make exceptions, or just pay lip service to the policy in some situations, a judge might rule that they are not serious, and that could lead to regulation and problems and taxes. It’s similar to protecting copyrights — a company has to protect the copyright all the time, or it can lose it. That includes taking action even in the trivial cases.
We all realize that a lot of pro players like to gamble, and many bet on anything and everything. My first thought was that it is like speeding — but that’s not a perfect analogy. A better one is cheating on your taxes. Some people do. Others don’t. However, if you do, you probably should not talk about it during your tax audit.
Hall of Fame Ballot
I am once again on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame. I appreciate the honor. I looked back over my ballot for last year, and have been talking to other judges and players.
There are so many deserving people.
I have five votes. Moreover, players now need 40% of the votes to qualify, so voting for personal or local favorites can actually hurt other player’s chances. Because of that, I want to start with the obvious choices.
Obv. He is a great player. He is honest. His stats are great — actually, they are beyond great. They are in the same category as other Hall of Fame players — and almost no one else.
Hell, everyone else has written volumes about why he is an auto-include. What they said.
Last year, I did not vote for Kibler. I talked about his positives — and his white suit. In the end, though, I didn’t vote for him. My conclusion: Brian Kibler: The suit — and the numbers — are not quite enough. However, if he keeps making Top 8s, that might change.
He has. He’s won a Pro Tour, and a GP, and done well at others. He continues to write must-read articles. He has now earned my vote.
I had very similar comments about Patrick Chapin last year. Patrick is continuing to be a very positive influence on the game, but he needs a breakout year before I can vote for him. If he has a run like Kibler’s, I’d be happy to vote for him next year. I hope I do.
Brian Kibler is flamboyant personality. He’s a flashy dresser who dominates a room. Bram, well, isn’t.
What Bram does have, however, is numbers. He has been playing on the Pro Tour pretty much forever. He doesn’t always win, but he did Top 4 the last Worlds — and he has a number of prior strong finishes. His numbers, taken as a whole, are very, very good. However, I was looking for something above and beyond just good stats. Now I know that Bram’s home country is pushing for him, so I didn’t want to ask the Dutchies, but I did want to talk to people who know more about the European Magic scene. Fortunately, some of them were on Facebook, and we could chat. Here are a few responses:
He’s very honest (he always calls a judge when he makes even a little mistake). When we need the players’ point of view, Bram is always available to give his detailed opinion
Riccardo Tessitori, L5, Italy
He’s been around forever, he judges (was on my team at a GP earlier this year), he’s a pillar of the Dutch community, and he friggin’ certified Jaap and Gis. [L5 Judge Emeriti and TOs in Europe] Nobody wears a Pro Tour player shirt like Bram.
Johanna Virtanen L3 and TO, Finland.
With the best long-term player stats of anyone and an exceptional reputation in the European player and judge communities, I have to give him my vote.
Last year, I wrote:
I still have that five-player limit, but maybe it’s time to honor one of the old-time great Limited players. It looks like the community is pushing for some make-up votes, and Steve OMS seems like a consensus favorite. Other, smaller pushes are happening for Eugene Harvey, Alex Shvartsman, Justin Gary, etc., but Steve’s seems best organized. I’ll jump on that bandwagon.
I’m conflicted about this, but I think my fifth vote will be for Saito. He’s been a power for a while. He’s a former Player of the Year. He’s still winning — he won the most recent GP. He’s a noted deck designer. He also appears to be an important part of his community.
The downside is that Saito has a slightly shady reputation, and some past suspensions. I haven’t decided whether that will knock him off my ballot or not. I need to talk more with judges, and others, who know him.
It’s not like taking him off my ballot will leave me short of options.
“one million words” on MTGO