Grand Prix Washington D.C: Head Judge Report (Part 2 the Tournament)

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Into the Fray: Day 1

The one thing that I emphasized and reemphasized in my pre-event emails was judge attire. Looking like a judge gives you immediate authority with players, which your skill can then build upon. Not looking like a judge turns every ruling into a battle for legitimacy. The standard attire is stripes (available onsite at GPs and PTs), black pants, a belt, and dark shoes. Jackets, hats, and torn or faded clothing are not to be worn. Come zero hour, I would find out if all our troops were in uniform or not. I was thrilled to note that 100% of the floor judges were 100% up to par for both days.

Zero hour for the judges was 07:15. Several of us arrived early and began setting of the table numbers. A quarter after seven we had the general meeting, at half past, the teams had their own meetings, and at 7:45 we opened the doors for registration-- fifteen minutes early. We were off to a good start, and I hoped to get rolling as soon as possible. Carter’s event nightmare #1 was about to occur-- a late start.

At 8:55 I was weaving to the front desk and event registration to close registration. I was waylaid by Laurel and informed that Pete’s survey of players indicated that they believed the event started at 10am like most Mid-Atlantic events. Additionally, there was a traffic problem of some sort that was causing delays. I bit my tongue, and we approached Reid, the WotC liaison, for his input. Sadly, starting on time-- or as nearly as possible-- lost out after Reid found out both TOs were insistent. We had pre-registered several decks already in case of late arrivals, but this did little to stay the TOs. However, we were doomed to start late anyway based on an oversight of my own. In talking with one of the computer people long before and in talking generally the day before, I expressed a desire for three people registering teams. The morning of the event I saw Cari and Reid doing team entry, and it didn’t even click that no one had set up a third computer on the stage for team entry. As is, we seated players as soon as the last team was entered anyway, but this was well after 9am. For the record, only a minimal amount of teams showed up after the 9am cut off. Had we sufficient entry people, the event would have been more than fine with starting anyway and using pre-registered product for the late comers. Thus concluded nightmare #1.

Decks went out in a reasonable fashion. During the master list and sealed deck distribution, I made the player meeting and deck registration announcements. Then we officially got under way. The boxes of decks were sealed with 16 baggies each the night before. (Sealed to make sure the counts stayed correct.) The rows were 10 tables-- twenty teams-- each. For the redistribution we adjusted the boxes from 16 to 20 so each judge could cover an entire row. For the build, another series of announcements was made as the double-sided player lists and the registered product was distributed. One team received miscut Mirrodin cards that were quickly replaced by pre-registered Mirrodin cards from the pre-reg pool. The master lists were on separate pages so teammates could record or verify separately. This made replacing just Mirrodin or just Darksteel very simple. Each page was a different color with no white pages to make it easy to spot unattended pages and to verify all five pages were received. I would have preferred a larger watermark on the pages, but they worked well enough. I had considered and mocked up highly modified decklists, but that idea was nixed at a higher level. All in all, the two builds were very smooth. I believed the not so veiled threat of game loses for teams if they took too long helped out in getting the build done quickly.

Opening announcements

The general nature of the announcements is actually one area where I would have rather done better. They weren’t bad per se, but I did occasionally pause while making them. The reason for this is simple-- I was reading announcements, and that wasn’t my style. The reason I was reading them was an acceptance of me versus the level of event. At PTQs and whatnot, I’m very fluid with announcements. I say everything that needs to be said, but I don’t have a strict way of doing it. Sometimes I throw in extra comments while doing so (like when I brought brownies for a PTQ on Valentine’s Day). However, A GP is not a PTQ, and I wouldn’t want to editorialize in some unfortunate way. Therefore, I spelled out every announcement for both days in detail. This took four typed pages to cover the whole event.

The idea was that by reading over the list, I wouldn’t miss anything, and I wouldn’t stray off topic. For me, this was not a good idea. Because I like making eye contact while communicating, I kept darting from the crowd to the paper. This meant there were pauses during the announcements. They weren’t awful, but the overall result could have been better. By the time we reached the second build, I had accepted that some things just can’t be caged and used the printout only as a slight reference point. It would have been better to use only one or two word bullets as reminders and let me be me on the announcements rather than trying to force a style that doesn’t fit.

Prize split policy

One of the big announcements was about prize split policy. It’s quite simple-- they are not allowed after the beginning of the first round. StarCity’s website mentions this policy, and I posted many fluorescent signs informing players. On the page, it was item #7 during the first announcements. Some people like it, some don’t. Because GPs are so public, I did ask the DCI about the policy before including it in the GP. They accepted it, and I expect they’re paying attention to the feedback about the event in regards to the effect on players. I will note that I have never had to DQ anyone because of the policy. It’s a very strict interpretation of UTR 25, and it seems that when players realize you’re not kidding, they don’t get into unfortunate situations where what might have been an honest split crosses a line and becomes a DQ for bribery. And of course, splits before the event starts are fine, but no event should have players talking about money and tiebreakers rather than playing.

In the end announcements went well though. Several new and returning players said that by paying attention during announcements they had no trouble knowing what to do. This is especially important at open events such as GPs or Regionals. The original room design did call for six speakers instead of two though, and some of the players in the middle had difficulty hearing because of the speaker arrangement missing the middle speakers.

Teams who wanted to drop

Originally, the TOs and I planned for teams who finished the fourth round and wanted to drop to take their product for the second build, leave it sealed, and then drop. I had seen the idea in use at the team GP in Pittsburgh last year, and it seemed to go well. This would mean a minimal amount of no-shows for round five, and teams who played through four rounds would get the second build’s product as part of their event. However, the DCI policy manager nixed that idea saying that players could not get product for nothing. After some discussion, the sticking points were 1) taking home sealed product and 2) not losing points. As it was presented, the player did not pay for 4 starters and 8 boosters, they paid for two builds. Builds meant cracking and registering. I spent round four looking for a happy medium. Teams that wanted product but did not care about playing were given a different solution. Everyone in the second build had to open and register cards. After decks were collected and swapped, teams that did not want to build could indicate their desire to leave by writing “Loss” across their sheets after putting their names on them, and turn them in immediately. (I originally thought of using “Drop” as the word, but changed to “Loss” to make sure the players knew their points would be affected.) In total, about a dozen or so teams decided to take the non-build loss.


Appeal? What, you don’t trust us?

Rulings were handled in a very specific way. The judge who first arrived at the table was to give the ruling. If a floor judge wanted advice, they were told to ask their team leader. However, at no time should a team leader take over a ruling-- no matter how contentious. Additionally, appeals would (of course) only go directly to the head judge. I was very clear with the judges ahead of time and more so with the team leads that each judge must be responsible for his or her own rulings. Given that sort of empowerment, I must say that the staff did admirably. If there were tough rulings or sticky situations, then they stood their ground and delivered their answer. Given the size of the event, I received a relatively small amount of appeals. Early in day a floor judge did come up to the stage to ask about a ruling still in progress, but other than that one incident I heard of no cases where a judge didn’t complete his or her answer. This shows that they were being assertive enough to produce answers and that the players were respecting them enough to listen before asking for an appeal.

During the first and fifth rounds, lists were counted and sorted. The master lists were filed by team. The individual lists were sorted by player in a separate accordion file. For the first build, there was something in the mid-thirties for decklist errors in a field of 573. Deck counting and checks ran smoothly all day. We did add one spin on the normal checks. Each round a match was checked during game #2. This let us look for people adding cards to their pool who might slide them in between games thinking that deck check only occur for game #1.

The only truly odd check problem (odd enough to get me involved) was in the eighth round. A player marked “2x Leaden Myr” instead of “2x Iron Myr”. The deck was mono-blue affinity. The marked color didn’t matter, though the color in the deck would explain one sideboarded Unforge. On the page, the two Myr are not far apart, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that there was a misrecording. The big thing wasn’t that list though-- it was the master ones. Evidently they couldn’t be found. Given that the staff was instructed to only collect all five sheets at once, having some lists, meant the others were somewhere in the accordion file-- perhaps misfiled due to bad handwriting or misplaced due to judge error. I was informed of the situation much later than I should have been (about 18 minutes into the round). Reviewing the players involved and the information we had, I instructed the checking judge to award a game loss. It is my strong belief that nothing inappropriate had occurred, just sloppiness. Our losing the master lists meant I couldn’t prove guilt, so I went with the more likely scenario: innocent but stupid.

When the ruling judge handled the issue with the players, I stayed by to make sure there were no issues. Because the ruling took so long, I expected some concern from the teams involved. Then I very publicly reminded the check judge to make sure they got their time extension so they could get down to the business of playing. This helped relieve the players of the pressure that built up while waiting, helped them focus back on the event, and let them know that we accept responsibility for the delay. In the end, the offending team won 3-0. So anything less than a DQ wouldn’t have changed the result, and I feel confident in the call.

There was one call that I must admit I got wrong. I mentioned it to Sheldon who reached the same conclusion, but we assumed too much. The issue in question is Quicksilver Elemental and the “unattach” equipment. Because equipment like Leonin Bola and Heartseeker give an activated ability to the equipped creature, the Elemental can copy those abilities. However, the sticking point was “can the Elemental unattach equipment that you do not own or control that is on some other creature.” The logical flaw that tripped my observer and me up is that equipment need not be attached to the creature unattaching it, just that it be attached somewhere. The correct ruling (which Rune posted in regards to Heartseeker in his Saturday School column) is that Quicksilver Elemental can use the ability so long as the related equipment is equipped somewhere. I give my apologies to the players in that match from day 1

After each day we had a judge meeting to discuss what was occurred that day. I asked the staff to sit while I stood as a token of recognition for their work on the event while I watched over them. For day 1, each judge contributed some sort of insight. Typical comments were things like:

  • Drawing with Molder Slug out before resolving the upkeep effect is a game loss assuming the drawn card cannot be verified by both parties-- this came up often but was handled consistently due to the judge meeting the night before.
  • A judge missed a ruling. When he realized the mistake, he corrected himself with and apologized to the players though it was after their match ended. (Much like I did moments ago.)
  • A judge gave a match loss to a teammate for excessive communication because he pointed out a mandatory effect to a teammate. On appeal I downgraded this to a game loss because the effect was mandatory and there was no attempt to actually coach. I let the judges know it was better that way than trying to downgrade known penalties (ML for improper team communication) themselves because this way it’s on the head judge’s shoulders not theirs, and the rulings stay consistent or are ones I was personally involved in.
  • A player thought Sword of Fire and Ice could be equipped as an instant because the text box ran out of room for the reminder text.
  • One of the deck errors involved giving match loses to every member on the team because all their lists were short.
  • The teams did a good job of covering for each over-- they were very fluid.
  • The teams did not always have good direction-- they were too fluid.

Constant improvement means putting in extra effort.

Those last two points are the most important statements from the day. The failing was that the team leads didn’t always direct their teams as closely as they should have. I believe having the teams “regroup” at a particular time in the round would have helped the team leads update their team on any new things and give them a time to sharpen their team focus. On the flip side, the fact that everyone had been trained for weeks on every job meant that if something needed to be done right away, anyone could do it. This meant that if a team was occupied or not as quick as could be, then other judges would fill in the gaps. So the general training of the staff proved vital to the success of day 1, but more time should be paid on the specific training of the team leads.

At the conclusion of the group meeting, I gave the assignments for day 2. Sometimes judges don’t have the insight to appreciate the values of follow-up meetings. Though this meeting did take a while to get through, it was important for analyzing and understanding the day’s happenings. It also provides a “cool down” period for staff to unwind after a long day’s workout on the event floor. By honestly reviewing ourselves, we can get better. A negative approach to chasing improvement would explain why some judges don’t seem to progress over time.

The Final Charge: Day 2

With a planned start time of 9am, the staff arrived between 8 and 8:15am. We went over who was on each of the two teams and what those teams would be doing that day. During day 1, the teams swapped functions just before the second build to get a change of pace. Because day 2 was only three Rochesters and then the top 4, each team would be handling the same things all day.

We went over the rules for Rochester and how to table judge a Rochester draft. The idea is simple: each judge is driving their table and keeping it on track with the draft. If the players are too slow, then that judge pushes the gas by hurrying the player. If players go too fast, then the judge taps the breaks to not get ahead. This allows the draft to smoothly roll along even if a table needs minor adjustments. If a judge needs to remind the players about something (“pick quickly”, “don’t pick up your pile while drafting”, “keep hand signals appropriate”), then he or she does that while a player is laying out the next booster. Should a table go too far off track, then a judge shouts to stop, and the table judges all queue up their own tables so everyone is restarting in the same place. On Day two teams were 6 people each by design-- this meant 10 judges were watching 10 drafts while the team leads observed and helped resolve errors.

We broke up our draft review meeting so that we could post pairings for the ninth round. And that’s when Carter’s event nightmare #2 came to life-- DCI Reporter was dead. Evidently GP Bochum had a similar issue, but they had it near the end of day 1 and reconstructed the event overnight. Our computer operator found out Bochum wasn’t a fluke fifteen minutes before players were to be seated. We bought some time by having the players fill out paperwork for WotC’s financial people, but DCIR stayed just as dead as ever. We shifted gears and ran all of day 2 on paper.

During the paperwork pause there was a disruption at a middle table. I became aware of this while watching DCIR give up the ghost when I heard someone shout “Head Judge!!!” Needless to say, this is not a normal outburst. As I’m walking toward the table in question, that table judge approaches me. It is my habit to always talk to the ruling judge about the situation before handling an appeal, and this let the table judge and I cover what was wrong before facing the player. However, within seconds after the briefing started, the disruptive player stood up and shouted that he want me to talk to him, not to the judge. I informed the player I would be there shortly and ordered him to retake his seat.

The gist of the problem was simple. A player took the table number out of the holder and positioned the holder where the draft would wheel around. The table judge-- being away from floor judging for a while-- was unfamiliar with this practice that is standard now at PTs and GPs. So the table judge put the number back in the holder. Repeat a few times, add in a warning for not listening to the judge, and soon enough you have people yelling. A quick word to the judge and the player should suffice.

However, once agitated, some players take more than correcting the issue to calm down. The player had some awfully warm words to say which were promptly crushed. Yes, the judge was excessive in his response, but that did not mean the player had a right to disrupt the event or call for the head judge. Even if a player is mad at a judge, the player has to ask that judge for the appeal. If that judge were to not bring me the appeal, then that judge would be the one going to the unhappy place. I apologized for the error, let the player know the judge would not make it again, and snuffed further attempts at complaining. When asked if their table could have a different judge, a well-cracked “No” ended the conversation.

Further disruption from the player would have forced me to remove him from the event. DQing a player first thing in the morning would have made for an unpleasant day. Given that the DCI Policy Manager was on hand, I doubt there would have been a delay in processing his removal. However, I am glad the situation turned before it went too far. Just before the draft the table judge did apologize for adding to the tension at the table, and everything progressed nicely for them.

One of my personal demons when it comes to GPs was calling drafts. At GP Boston I did a good job of fumbling a draft, and I’d wanted a chance to bury that particular memory. The problem at Boston was that I was asked to call the draft with little notice and should have taken more time to figure out the judge’s system before I actually called one myself. I’d called plenty of drafts for PTQs and local events, but doing so over the microphone when you can barely see the tables (if at all) in a very formal manner is a different animal. For Rochester, the key points are where the pack wheels around, so the extra “Take a card. Lay out the booster. There are x cards. Pick up the cards.” from a booster draft is not needed.

The system I devised to assist me was fifteen lands of three types. Six of one, then six of another, then three of a third made up a “booster”. When I switched land types, “Ready. Draft.” became “Ready. Draft again.” With only four seconds to make picks, saying the player would take too long. The secret tech is that four second intervals means “ready” and “draft” are two seconds apart. Thus, if you’re looking at your watch, you don’t need to do math, just say the next word on either the even or the odd numbers. With one hand I held the microphone and looked at my watch while the other flipped cards to keep pace with the tables. To the astute, I did forget the “again” on two wheels, and one pick was “~actually~ draft again”, but the process went smoothly, and we never had to stop.

With that demon buried, I offered some judges the chance to call the draft as well. Each round I sat with them and went over how the system worked. I encouraged them to go through on their own and asked them to let me know once they were ready. My intent was to call the top 4 and finals drafts myself, but a cranky voice meant the top 4 was called by a team leader. When I was geared up for the finals, one of the TOs handed me the foils for the event, so I did a quick handoff and spent that draft watching from the feature match table while figuring out the foil distribution. Though sometimes nervous, each draft caller hit stride in the first pack or two, and of the five drafts, they stopped only twice as I recall. I was standing by in case of emergency, but that proved unnecessary with this group.

With DCI Reporter down, round times could have gone long. However, we managed to actually finish one round under time and get the next draft started 62 minutes after the previous round began. And this was with doing pairings by hand and manually typing out the pairings for posting. In lieu of full fledged standings, we printed copies of the last standings before the DCIR problem (after R8). Next to that we added each round’s pairings with results manually indicated for the winner and game score. We built in a small delay for R11 so that we could get manual standing calculated, but after checking with our math wiz, they weren’t going to be done as soon as originally predicted. It seems calculating tiebreakers for eight rounds of team play is beyond tedious.

Since standings were going to take a bit longer, we launched the final draft of the Swiss rounds. Teams were dispersed to their building tables (one side stayed at the table, the other side went to ten more we set up around the edges of the area). As they were building, the manually calculated standings were plugged in and printed out. I had a copy delivered to every table before builds were complete. My thanks to the floor judges for maintaining a positive demeanor, and my thanks especially to Seth Levy who became our DCI Reporter for a day.

Throughout the day, the GP and the side events played dueling banjos over the speaker system. As noted before, there were only four speakers instead of six. This goes along with having only one speaker system instead of two. The TOs had decided that a second system was not necessary given the expense. After the first draft was called Sunday morning, they changed their minds. The GP got regular updates on the availability of side events, and the side events got mesmerizing “ready / draft” interludes. This conflict of announcements is the heart of why the two systems were requested

Finally over

The final draft and matches passed by quickly. Florida’s Thaaaat’s Me! faced New Jersey’s Shenanigans. A few reminders about chatter were the only thing of note that occurred as every match had a table judge to maintain integrity and pace of play. The staff that wasn’t working the last round or two winged around the room folding up the 200 table cloths put out a few days before and breaking down banners. The DC banner was left up for event coverage photos, and after a few quick pictures, Thaaaat’s Me walked out of the Dulles Expo Center as GP champs.

Of course, the judges had a wrap-up meeting. Considering the technical issues, the day went well, and everyone was rightfully proud of the results. Everyone was reminded (again) about the importance if judge review forms. In addition, as a token of affection, the staff all signed an Arabian Nights Jeweled Bird for their head judge who is also an avid 5-Color player. All ceremonies aside, we turned to face the toughest call of any event with this many judges-- where’s dinner?

John Carter,

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