Grand Prix Birmingham Judge Report

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The groupies are the best part of judging. They don’t tell you this until you are Level 3, of course, but some information can still be gathered. If you’re lucky, you may find out by the time you fill out the judging requirements for Level 3, at which time they’ll be forced to speedily promote you, so the exam becomes just a formality.

Anyhow, a little personal background is probably in order. I’ve played the game since 1993, a little bit after it came out, when I was still living in the States. We had a fairly large playing group with no real regard for the rules or tournaments. Product shortage was our biggest problem, and the Mox traded for Lord of the Pit in those times. Now THAT was the time I’ve had the most fun with Magic. But I still love the game much.

As it happened, I moved back to Russia and brought the cards I owned with me, teaching my newly acquired friends and forming a casual playing group. Still no DCI or tournaments happened. Somewhere around 1998 we’ve started to get some tournament action going, and the sanctioning followed. My casual group became one of the leading local tourney-oriented teams, but unfortunately by now only few of us still play. Family/kids and full-time jobs take their toll on the players. I’ve become a somewhat successful player, at least on a local scale, maintaining a decent rating and getting to play in Worlds, Euros, PTs, and a slew of GP’s, making the second day and some money at some of them.

Becoming a judge

After a time, I’ve decided to give a little something back to the community and decided to become a judge, partly to compensate for lack of good judges in Russia. As a player, I disagreed with some of the things that went on, especially considering the poor organizing of events and, following the paradigm of doing something yourself if you want it done, passed the test for Level 1 at PT: Houston. After that I’ve organized and judged a lot of events across all the formats, even getting some Team Rochester action going and felt I was ready for Level 2. I was happy when I applied for and received full sponsorship for GP: Prague, at which I passed the test and was ready to judge PTQ’s and other high-K events, of which I’ve done quite a fair share by now.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get international judging experience in Russia since we have no GP’s or PT’s nearby. It costs $300+ just to fly pretty much anywhere in Europe and if you add in the hotel and compare it to the average Russian salary ($200sh), it becomes a little out of reach. Luckily, I earn a bit more, which allows me to pay for my flight, therefore allowing me to apply for partial sponsorship (just the hotel), and I was granted one of those for GP: Birmingham. Getting to judge a big event is always a blessing and it’s necessary to advance, which I hope to do since we still don’t have a Level 3 over here, which hinders the progress of the local judges and places barriers on those who wish to get into judging.

If only England wasn’t so expensive…

The challenge of running a large event

Running a big event is always somewhat of a challenge. There are so many little things to keep track of. For example, consider that (for sealed eventxs) you have to have:

1) Enough deck registration sheets
2) Enough notebooks for registering people so the event starts at some foreseeable time
3) Enough judges (DCI takes care of that for GP’s, but still)
4) Enough numbered tables and chairs
5) Microphone and speakers
6) Pairings and standing boards or space (set up so the people can access them easily)
7) Spare pens, printer and scoring paper, printer cartridge, floppies, tape, rubber bands, table numbers and a slew of other little things, at least a couple of which will be forgotten

It’s certainly no easy task, and I’m glad that Darryl Tweedale, our head judge for Birmingham, with the help from other excellent judges and Wizards folks, of course, has managed to run the event smoothly and with no major problems. However, there are some things to point out for those who might be a little bit inexperienced with large events.

First of all, if you’re assigned to the floor, please try to make your presence felt. By that I mean not just basic roaming, but actively searching for those who might just want to call a judge over. Noticing the look of uncertainty on a player’s face is always a good bet that a judge needs to come over. Sometimes, a player looks around, and not really wanting to “disturb” the game or, being afraid to “harass” an opponent, just lets go in some situations where a judge would solve the problem he was having. If that player doesn’t see the judge in his immediate area, he may tend to keep playing, even though he has doubts about the cards or his opponent’s actions. This is especially true of the first day, when there are a lot of players who came “to have fun”. Sometimes, they fall easy prey to the sharks. The sharks are out there, and they’re swimming in circles, just hoping to get a new player and intimidate him, thereby getting an undeserved win. We need to watch. In an ideal world, the judge would be by every table, but we have to make do.

Secondly, please confirm the result of the match with the players. When you’re called over to sign the result entry slip, just say “John Smith loses 0-2?” and get a response before signing. (Note: it’s better to ask the losing player because if he actually won, he’d tend to notice). It gets rid of so many problems for the future rounds. Also, pass the slips to the scorekeeper when you get around ten of them, possibly gathering them all from the other judges on your way. That way, the results are entered throughout the round and the pairing for the next round can be posted almost immediately after the last table finishes playing.

Third major thing to note would be that when there are only a few minutes remaining in the round (less than five), ideally there should be a judge at every table that didn’t finish playing yet. Slow play and stalling can be rampant at that time if left unattended. If there are not enough judges, keep a close eye on a few tables in one general area, hopefully getting the full coverage of the floor with the other judges. Don’t hesitate to give out slow play warnings if you think that one of the players is taking much more time with their turn than the other, especially if it’s clear that the board position doesn’t warrant that. I find that after receiving a warning, most would-be stallers quit their tactics for fear of a penalty being upgraded, and trust me, most of those do know the rules well enough. Don’t forget, slow play also applies to the five extra turns and the fact that there only a few turns of the game left doesn’t allow the player to take ten minutes “thinking” about what to do while there are hundreds of other players and judges waiting for him.

Deck check strategies

When you are assigned to the deck checks, there are several tricks to it as well. If you’re the one to grab the decks, loiter around some other table, preferably three or so tables away and pretend to look at the table you’re at while observing their shuffling from the corner of an eye. That way they don’t see it coming and that’s very good for catching those who tend to “improve” their deck after discussing it with friends as well as for the other cheaters out there. Never stand by the table about to be checked and never look straight at it from a distance. It’s quite easy to get there when they do actually present the decks and cover them with the word “Deckcheck”. Don’t forget to grab their sideboards, too, and make sure they actually presented their sideboard. (It should be on the table). It’s Not a Good Thing (© Rune) if their sideboard is somewhere in their pocket or their bag, allowing them to pretty much put any card they want into the deck while sideboarding. (The way this happens is they have two starter boxes, one with the actual sideboard, and the other with a nice set of nice cards, and they present you with the first one if you check them and surprise their opponent with the second one if you don’t).

After grabbing the decks and sitting down for a check, the first thing you do is inspect the sleeves/card backs without changing the order of the cards. Second thing would be to look for mana weaving while looking through the deck. Only then is the time to actually take the deck apart and compare the cards to the list. If there are any doubts about the first or the second part, notify the head judge immediately and don’t change the order of the cards. Don’t forget to check the sideboard, even if casually. Naturally, checking every sideboard card against the list in Limited takes too much time, but quickly scanning and randomly comparing cards seems to work well. A good card in color or a good artifact that’s left in the sideboard should raise a red flag and should be checked against the list. Don’t forget to check the sideboardable cards for the marks or slightly different sleeves as well. Some people do mark their sideboard cards, especially in Constructed events (where the entire sideboard should be checked).

Running a Draft

Top eight draft at GP Birmingham

One more thing I’d like to note is the process of running a booster draft. There are disagreements on how it should be run, but I’ve found a set of key instructions that I say to my players that seem to work quite well. They are as follows:

0) If you have any problems or questions during the draft, raise your hand immediately and I will stop the draft

1) Open the booster, count the cards (facedown), there should be 15 cards
2) Put down the cards. You will be passing to your left (right)
3) Pick up the cards
4) Five seconds
5) Draft
6) Lay out the cards (in rows of three)
7) Pick up the cards

8) Pick up the last card, you now have one minute to review your cards
9) Ten seconds
10) Put down the cards (in a single pile)
11) Goto1

The more repetitive you are during the draft, the better. The phrases like “Pass the cards” seem unclear to me and do confuse many players. Did you mean to say to lay the cards on the table or to grab the cards from your neighbor? Also, try to run the draft from a place where you can see all the tables or at least all the table judges. That way, if a hand goes up, you stop the draft and don’t let the table go into some mess that might or might not be easy to solve.

If you are draft table judging, raise your hand after seeing a player that raised a hand and only then go over to him to see what the problem is. That way, the draft is stopped before going into the said mess.

Table Judging

The final thing that I’d like to stop on is table-judging, usually done in the top eight of a big event. The goal is to insure no Bad Things (© Rune) happen and to accurately track the life and the game state (whether or not the land was played or the card drawn). The way I do this is as following:

1) Draw the line down the middle of the paper, that’s your separate space for Player A and B. Write their names when they’re seated so each appears to the correct side of the paper
2) In each of those spaces, draw two lines (making two narrow columns) to a side, mark the D and L (for Draw and Land). Use this space to tick off the said action, use a 0 for the player who went first in the D column, mark M if the player took a mulligan. That way is easy to track the turns.
3) For each card played, note down its acronym (GW for Goblin Wagon, for example) in the white space next to the appropriate D and L ticks.
4) If a GW is attacking, note something like GW->, if it’s blocking, note down GW<- This is not necessary, but the more you note during the game, the easier it is to resolve a dispute or reconstruct the game in its whole if need be. I find that you have enough time for doing this.
5) For a life change, note the current life, if you have time note something like -5=15
6) If a card dies, put down GW- or something similar
7) For equipment or similar, put down B-GW (for Bonesplitter going onto Goblin Wagon)
8) Don’t bother to think too much or too quick. If you can’t catch up to the pace of the players, ask them to stop the game momentarily. If you’re unclear as to what is actually going on, ask immediately. That’s what you’re there for: to make sure nothing funny happens and you understand fully what goes on.
9) The matches are probably still timed! Better to clear that fully with the head judge, of course, but the slow play rules do still apply. Players should not take excessive time to perform their actions. Of course, some leeway is provided, but not unlimited time for the turn. That may be different at a PT top eight or anywhere where the match is untimed.

In conclusion

Overall, I feel it’s been a helpful experience for me, even though I feel that I’m quite an experienced judge. We all need reminders to keep our ego in check. I sure hope to get to judge more big international events. Hanging out with the other judges, talking, sharing experiences and just learning to walk again after two 12-hour on-foot days is always fun and exciting for the whole family. Best of luck with your judging and I hope to see you at the tournaments, whether as a player or as a judge. Feel free to contact me with any questions or if you feel that I’m wrong.

Alex Yatsenko
Level 2
Moscow, Russia (remove the NOSPAM part, of course)

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