Grand Prix Washington D.C: Head Judge Report (Part 1 Preparation )

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Event: Grand Prix Washington, D.C.
Dates: April 17th - 18th, 2004
Location: Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, Virginia
Staff: John Carter as head judge, seventeen certified floor judges (see staff photo with caption), Sheldon Menery as certification judge and observer, Cari Foreman and Reid Schmadeka on DCI Reporter.

The GPDC judges: (L to R) Paul Morris, Severino Alvarez, Ray Merz, Seth Levy, Daniel Wong, Sheldon Menery, Scott Nerlino, Mike Patton, John Carter, Jon Webb, Micjael Canu, Jeff Vondruska, Jeremy Smith, Brian Schenck, Tom Fowler, Cheng-Ming Chow, Jeremy Cook (John Grant and Suzy Life not pictured).


  • Black pants, belt, dark shoes
  • Preparing for an event means making sure your people are prepared too
  • Steal good ideas
  • Know your own style and trust in your own ability to adapt
  • Trained staff is trustworthy staff
  • Read Saturday School
  • A forceful presence can save you from having to actually use force
  • Big thanks to all the GPDC ninjudges


Grand Prix DC was my first GP as head judge. While this is a great honor, it is not without its drawbacks. For instance, the format was to be the dreaded team limited, and rather than one TO, I had two to work with-- who had only run one GP prior to GPDC. Simply put, I was diving in head first along a rocky shore. Luckily, as the head judge for Philadelphia and DC area PTQs, I know those waters pretty well.

Because I believe in educating judges as often as possible, I’m going to write this report not just as a review of the event, but as a timeline of the decision making processes that set up the event as well as an event review. The very first milestone would actually be just after Regionals 2003. After that event, Laurel Chiat, the DC area TO and owner of Dream Wizards, was pleased with improvements in staff performance. I had been driving in from Philly to train staff for a year and half by then and had been the DC HJ for right at a year. She asked when I thought the area staff would be able to handle running a GP. I told her it’d take a year to a year and a half.

Near the end of 2003 there were rumors that DC was going to get a GP. By early 2004, the DC was a fact, though the HJ job was unfilled. In February I got the official invitation to head judge GP DC. I had two months to formulate and prepare a final staff for the event. Because this would be my first time as a GP HJ, I would also have a veteran on at the event as my observer. This provides a safety net if I were to hit a problem I couldn’t handle and as a replacement if I was unable to perform my duties. Sheldon Menery was that observer and also acted as the certification judge. This provided an interesting mirror-- at GP Atlanta last summer I was his certification judge and had observed the event to see what I did and didn’t like were I ever in his position.

The official GP info page went up in early 2004, and people began requesting spots on the GP. Even my closest judges were told to officially ask. The overall response was so great that once I was official made HJ the TOs gave me a list more than three times the length of the final floor staff. The first cut was simple-- names that the TOs included but had not specifically asked. The second was easy-- uncertified judges. This gave me a staff that had asked for the rigors ahead and had received some level of training to prepare for them. The only problem was a total lack of L3s in the remaining pool.

Meanwhile, Laurel, Cari, and I went to the site. We would basically be in a warehouse type building. There we sketched out the floor plan. Having been to multiple GPs, I laid out the overall plan with a few adjustments based on dealer space and room considerations. Essentially, we used the stage, judge area, and other non-playing tables to border a long rectangle of tables that would then be used for the event itself. One alcove became the artist area; one became the judge area. A system of six speakers was drawn out that could communicate with the whole event or with each half (main and sides) as needed. And the infinite hardness of the concrete floor was noted. The best part about the site was that the hotel and a half-dozen fast food places were all in the same parking lot. This arrangement meant that once someone was onsite cars would be unnecessary in general and that players and staff could stay well fed (in so much as fast food makes that possible).

I asked all staff to confirm their schedules for the event. Two dropped out for other commitments, and alternates filled in. Additionally, John Grant from WotC was going to be in the area, and he was interested in working the event. Always a fan at letting the DCI administrators find out what it’s like in the trenches, I added him next to Sheldon on the schedule as a floating judge. Otherwise, each judge was assigned to one of three teams. Based on the pool I had narrowed down to, this would be three teams of six each with Sheldon, John, and a third judge floating.

There were multiple factors involved not only in assigning team leads, but in assigning every team member. Team leads were based on L2s who I believed had the ability to effectively lead but also who would be able to use the experience to improve and advance. Thus, I avoided new L2s who would be coming up to speed on L2 duties and looked at the veteran L2s. For D1, I used L2s who I did not normally work with as team leads. For each of them, I split up my most trusted local judges in case of emergencies and as reference points for the TLs. I applied a third layer of redundancy and then sprinkled in the remaining staff so the teams looked even

None of the judges was guaranteed a spot on the day 2 roster. This is based on my personal belief that your certification can only get you in the door, but your effort is what demonstrates your value. Thus, the people that shine only day 1 will make day 2-- assuming there’s not an issue with day 2 ancillary events that needs your attention (such as mentoring a judge on his first PTQ HJ). Over the course of the weekend, our staff had judges from ten states, and all of the five team leads came from different states.

Over the six weeks before the event I sent a little over six emails to all the floor judges. The first of the educational emails arrived at the same time as the daily judge digest, and the digest was smaller. When this was pointed out, one floor judge joked that the digest was probably 80% my writing, too-- I’m surrounded by jokers. In total, the emails were designed to do two things. First, they were written to tell these largely new L1s and L2s that the event was going to go well and that they could do it without needing anyone else’s help. Secondly, the emails detailed ahead of time the event layout and procedures. This gave people an early chance to ask questions. It also meant everyone knew what was expected of everyone else. In the week leading up to the event I informed the group of the team divisions and finalized the meeting schedule.

Battle Lines Are Drawn: Day 0

The night before I left for DC, I swapped CDs in my alarm clock. Normally I wake up to Orff’s Carmina Burana. That day I woke up to Eminem’s Lose Yourself. The reason is simple; I’d spent a long time convincing a lot of people that my almost obsessive attention to detail and compulsive drive to teach and train judges could work. I’d been told that we were understaffed. I’d been told there was no way our staff would all show up dressed in proper judge attire. Either the event went well, and we all shined, or I crashed and burned along with my ideal judge notions.

I have a few personal worries for all my events, and especially for this event. The big worries are simple-- starting late and DCI Reporter crashing. However, for this event I was also concerned about not having enough room and about the draft calls going horribly awry. People had expressed concern for the staff and asked for about 24 floor judges, but I was confident that having a trained and focused 20 would be fine. Even when that number dropped through late changes to 17, I was still confident that this group was dedicated enough to bridge the gap. That did not, however, stop me from having nightmares about the venue being too small. You see, when I went to the venue in early March, there were dump trucks driving around inside it to clean up after a home show. Boulders and heavy machinery five weeks later plays havoc on the brain’s ability to mentally count tables. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I walked into the venue early that Friday and saw a sea of tables very spaciously laid out.

That was a sea of naked tables however. The early birds and the WotC guys got to work on setting up the site around 11:30. The pipes and drapes were done, but there were about 200 tables that needed covering. Stealing an idea from John Grant, we ran a giant green stripe down a field of black. The stage was also a little too far to one side compared to the final floor layout, so we figured out how to take the stage apart and slid it around leaving the edge of it lined up with the network cord dropping from the ceiling. Throw together the regular GP banners, signs, and accoutrements, and we’re done setting up before the doors open at 3pm.

The finished tables-- black with a giant green stripe

Several judges grabbed lunch (ah, Chik-fil-a!) and relaxed for a moment. But then it was time to start worrying about tomorrow. We sequestered ourselves away in a locked room with product for the event. The goal: to bag and count decks for tomorrow’s event. The guess: how many teams for tomorrow? We decided to bag somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 or so team's worth of product. We bagged the two tournament packs and four boosters in brown lunch sacks-- an idea shamelessly stolen from PES at GP Memphis ’99. Decklists would go around separately saving us from having to fold and risking nasty paper cuts. After giving product to the GP Trial, we had 25 sealed boxes of 16 teams each ready for tomorrow. With 440 bags, we would have to make more, if the count went over 220 and no one dropped, but one or two judges could do that if needed.

GP staff helped the GP Trial get rolling, and I ran around doing various minor event things until 8pm. At that time we had our first full judge meeting. This was the first big chance for the judges to meet each other. It also served as a Q&A session and a chance to go over things without time pressures and before we were tired from working the event. Because I knew who the staff was well in advance, I printed rosters with spaces for the judge name, DCI#, initials and signature. The name and DCI# printed out meant the DCIR person wouldn’t have to ask for them, and the initials and signature helped decipher warnings given by judges whose writing was not super legible. This was also where I passed out the judge supplies for the weekend. Those supplies were a fine-tipped Sharpie for making proxies, a high quality red pen for making highly visible notations as a judge, and a Penalty Guidelines decoder card.

The PG decoder card is an idea I shamelessly stole from Glenn Cannon based on a business card he made years ago. This version has the event logo, date, and my contact info on one side and on the flip side is the PG chart abbreviated and shrunk. It took more than a little tweaking the get the page to print both sides so the images lined up exactly. I cut, laminated, and trimmed each one as well. The chart side has lines for each penalty. Glenn’s original version alternated colors between lines. I switched this so the colors alternate between types of infraction (deck error vs. procedural errors, for example) which helps the readability. The final product was designed to be smaller than a credit card so storing it in your wallet would be easy. I did learn that MS Word is not your friend when doing highly specialized document layout, so if you’re tempted to make your own version of these, email me for the file I wound up with so you can save some time. I made a few versions on the front side in case others wanted to try other ideas or in case I wanted to use the idea for other events.

The GPDC PG Decoder Card with alternate face.

After the meeting, about half the staff retired to dinner. Two things had been arranged with the TOs for the judges’ benefit. The simple one was telling the TOs that GP floor judges couldn’t work on Friday any later than 10pm. The second was that all of the GP floor judges-- at two people per room-- got their hotel rooms paid for on Friday and Saturday. Kudos goes to Pete (StarCity Games) and Laurel (Dream Wizards) for doing the right thing when it comes to staff and rooms.

The GP Trial the night before went until 4am. Because both teams in the finals got byes, no draft was needed. As a courtesy to them as the last bye winners, I allowed those two teams to use two sets of judge registered product to build their decks immediately after the trial ended. Our staff retained the decks and decklists. Sean Marotta, the GPT head judge, went over the print out of announcements I’d pre-written for the GP with the teams so they could skip the player meeting, build and first two rounds. They were advised to show up at noon instead of 9am. This worked well, and caused no problems for the event. The time of noon was chosen because it would guarantee they wouldn’t be late.

..To be continued in Part 2 – Grand Prix Washington D.C. Day One
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