2004 Magic Worlds Judge Flunky Report

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I got to judge at the Magic World Championships. That means I have stories to tell – and at least two fellow judges responded to my stories with “people should post that sort of thing.”


Some background. I'm a Magic player, Magic writer and Magic judge, in that order. My US Nationals experience being less than brilliant, I wasn't qualified for Worlds. Then Ingrid, my wife and a serious judge, got sponsored for Worlds, so I tagged along as a volunteer. I'm just an L1, so I expected to do side events, straighten chairs and clean up trash all week, but Worlds is still Worlds...

I should also note that I have judged at a lot of low REL events, but few major ones. Our local TO – Steve Port – is blessed with a plethora of strong judges. His store had four sponsored for US Nationals, three with full sponsorship for Worlds, and has more L2s and L3s than he really needs for PTQs and GPTs. I generally only get to judge at prereleases, or something like Regionals if several of the regular judges have conflicts.

Worlds is a bit different from a prerelease.

Intro to Worlds:

I was working a Mirrodin block sealed event, and got a judge call. Player A was attacking with a trampler, and player B was blocking with a creature with double strike. Some prevention effects and a Predator's Strike were also involved. Okay – I've dealt with calls like that. One difference, though: Player A did not speak English, and did not speak Player B's language. Player B did not speak English either, and did not speak Player A's language. Neither spoke German, my only other language (albeit limited), and there are no interpreters for side events. Fortunately, we were able to sort it out using sign language and a bit of English – but it did wake me up. Unlike Worlds, Prereleases generally don't have players from four different continents in the same pod.

Main Event Intro to Worlds:

I expected to work side events for the five days of Worlds, but since side events didn't start until noon, Andy Heckt put me on the logistics group Thursday morning. That meant I got to sort land. I've done that a lot. Then I got to run a land station and collect deck lists – checking that the players put their names on the decklist and put something in the “played” columns. That's plenty familiar as well. Then I got to watch a table (second to last) at an REL5 booster draft.

That was new.

Actually, watching a table is pretty boring. Someone else announces the draft cadence, and you just watch for peeking, grabbing packs early, etc. No one at my table did anything like that, so the only challenge was avoiding watching what they picked. Since all the players were making a real effort at staring straight ahead and wearing their best deadpan expressions, it wasn't exciting.

I also worked as a floater at the main event. My first judge call came during deck presentation. A player noticed small markings on the back of some of the opponent's sleeves. I could easily see the marks, if the light was right, and checked for a pattern in the marked cards. There was none. I asked the player about the marks – and got another World's experience. The player spoke Portuguese – and only Portuguese. However, in the main event there are interpreters – so I hunted up Bruno. With Bruno translating, I asked the player to show me how he sleeved cards.

The player took a sleeve between thumb and forefinger, then pushed in opposite directions. This opens the top of the sleeve – but if you push too far, this can cause the sleeve material to fold slightly. This makes a small, half-moon mark on the back of the sleeve – exactly what I saw. It is more likely to happen with some brands of sleeves – including the ones this player had. I gave him a warning for marked cards – minor and had him play the rest of the match without sleeves.

I had two players ask me for the current wording on foreign cards. Having the current Oracle on my Palm is really helpful!

Pardon a slight digression, but my Palm also figured in the shortest ruling (other than “yes/no”) I ever gave. It was in a Type 1 tourney at Gencon. The players called me over. One was holding Goblin Grenade. The other was holding Mana Drain. One player asked “We're uncertain about how this resolves – how does Goblin Grenade read now?” I pulled out my Palm, called up Goblin Grenade, and read “As an add...” I hadn't even finished “additional” before the player said “okay,” grabbed the Grenade and a goblin put them in the graveyard (in the right order.)

Back to Worlds. I did not have many calls on the floor – two I did get were just players who knew the right answer, but were hoping that they had missed something subtle that would keep them alive. In those cases, they weren't trying to cheese a win – it really was a case of “Judge, this does work this way, doesn't it?” When I confirmed it, they conceded the games. There were far fewer judge calls during the main event than in sides – which is probably why those players were in the main event, and the others in the sides.

One call I'm not sure I made correctly – a player was asking whether a creature's mana ability was an activated ability he could respond to. I said “no.” Now I spend a lot of time teaching Magic, or judging REL1 events, where I would explain what an activated ability is, what a mana ability is, and that mana abilities do not use the stack. I'm prone to teaching – so I try hard to avoid coaching when giving an answer at higher RELs. Maybe too hard. I'm still not certain whether I should have said “It is an activated ability, but you cannot respond to it.”

I also got to sign a lot of results slips (the single most common activity for judges on the main event floor, apparently), but soon enough side events started up and I was back there.

Giving Richard Garfield a Game Loss:

On Sunday, side events drafts were filling slowly – until they announced a draft with Richard Garfield. People literally ran to get into that one. I was handling all (okay “all” was just four at that point) of the drafts that morning, so I got to “judge” it. Since Richard had invented a different style of drafting (“Let's Make a Deal”) “judging” meant watching parts of the draft, and recording results.

Eventually, the draft ended and play began. At the midpoint of Dr. Garfield's first draft, he was called away to do some commentary for the main event broadcasts, with the match stalled at 1 game each.

We waited, and he didn't return.

We waited some more, and he didn't return some more.

About an hour later, the other bracket had played out the first and second rounds, and everyone was waiting for the results of this match. I asked the side events manager if she could locate Dr. Garfield, but her radio was dead. Then I headed over to the info booth, looking for someone with a radio. I found a radio, but no one could locate my missing player. The Wizards staffer suggested I give him a match loss and continue the draft. I headed back, explained to the other players, and picked up his slip – then took one last look around the venue. I spotted Dr. Garfield across the hall, hurrying back.

Like in college, you wait a few minutes for fellow students, 10 minutes for a teaching assistant, and longer for a full professor. He is Dr. Garfield, so he avoided the penalty and finished the draft.

A side note: there is an urban legend in the Magic Community that if Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic, modifies a Magic card, that card is playable in the modified form. I can attest that this is true. Sunday, about midday, we had run short of Mountains. The event crew were digging for an additional box of lands, but we ended up writing “M” on some spare islands and using those in drafts. Dr. Garfield wrote an “M” on an island for me – and it became a Mountain.

Yes, I still have it.

I had one penalty in a side draft worth discussing. A kid had some of his cards reversed, and was playing without sleeves. All the lands were upside down – practically everything else was right side up. I talked to the kid, and I don't think he was deliberately cheating, but I gave him a GL. Later, the kid came over and explained what he thought happened: he built his deck, got his lands, put the deck on top of the lands – reversed – and shuffled up. He didn't notice that the lands were reversed. That could be true – but we watched him pretty closely the rest of the weekend. We didn't see any other problems.

Five Cursed Drafts

I spent a good chunk of my Worlds running side events drafts. It wasn't very busy – I rarely had more than 4 or 5 drafts in progress at once. On Friday, however, I seemed to be cursed – five of my drafts had problems.

A quick note on how I run side event drafts: I announce that I will not be calling cadence, but that people can draft at their own pace – just not to let the packs stack up. I also don't let people look at the cards they have drafted during a pack – partly because the rules say so, but mainly because people are less likely to mess up the draft if they don't touch their drafted cards until the pack ends. Beyond that, I generally follow the procedure Chris Richter wrote about. Most of my drafts went without a hitch, but then there were these...

Cursed Draft #1: It was a Japanese Mirrodin block draft, and when I ask the obligatory “has everyone here drafted before,” someone said “No.” Okay, someone always says “no” – but they are usually joking. This person, a young girl, wasn't – and when I asked if she knew the cards, she said “no” to that one, too. So did two others. The girl at least had a plan – namely, if it had a gold symbol, take it, and if the rare was gone, take foils and uncommons. The other two people had drafted before, but expected me to translate foreign cards for them. News flash, people, if you don't know at least most of the cards by sight, you probably don't belong in a foreign language draft.

As a judge, I am not going to translate during a draft. I have three reasons for this. First, I might get the card wrong. (Can you identify all the bad cards? Are you sure? And how do you fix the draft if you identify one incorrectly and a player picks on that basis?) Second, I was not sure that I could be absolutely neutral in all cases – if someone asks me to identify a foil Ravager, my reaction may be more positive than when I see Krark's Thumb. Third, identifying the card takes time, as does pulling up the Oracle wording on my Palm Pilot. Once people start asking what cards do, it will stall the draft.

Once play begins, of course, I provide current wordings whenever necessary. But not during the draft.

We got through the draft. The rare-drafter conceded in the first round. The other player with problems recognizing cards was playing a Japanese opponent – who was perfect willing to read cards for him, and did so honestly. I only had to translate a dozen or so cards – way fewer than I expected.

Cursed Draft #2: What you don't want to hear at the start of a draft: “I'm blind. Maybe you should tell the other players.” Yes, she was. She could read the cards – provided they were no more than an inch from her eyes. We got through it, but the draft was a bit slow. I just made everyone take the necessary time, and had to reiterate the warnings that people should not put a pack down until their neighbor picked up the previous one.

Cursed Draft #3: Mirrodin went fine, but in Darksteel a player – or possibly the person passing to him – put the entire pack of 11 cards on his drafted pile. I was busy with another problem, and no one else spotted it. Of course, when we got done, some players had 13 or 14 cards – and one had 25. He claimed he could identify the cards that he hadn't drafted – but the pile he was ready to give up had about nine 15th picks, and the stuff he “drafted” was too good to be true. I took one look and told him that wouldn't fly.

One advantage of working directly for Wizards – I went to the side events manager, explained what happened and got replacement Darksteel packs. I went back and told players to pick up all their Darksteel cards – and put them in a pocket or backpack. Those cards were out of the draft. Then I announced that we would run the rest of the draft just like the main event: no talking, pick up packs on my orders, draft, fan out the remaining cards to show how many were left, etc. Slow, dull and tedious, but we got through the rest of that draft without problems. It also made a point, and people in that draft were more careful in later drafts.

Cursed Draft #4: Steve mentioned that one player in my draft might be “slightly” drunk or stoned. Yup, and being in San Francisco for a week was “kinda” nice, and San Francisco Bay was “sorta” damp. The guy was swaying in his seat, and the player next to him had to point out the next pack of cards – every time. I had to tell him to hurry on the packs with 14 and 12 cards, and he nearly missed the table setting down the pack with ten cards left. With nine cards left, he selected one card, put it on the table in front of him, then selected two more and put them next to the first card. Then he passed the rest. I intervened and told him he had to choose one card. He said “of course – one card.” I pointed out the other cards, and asked which he wanted. He got (more) confused, and we had some discussions about how a draft went and about choosing cards. When he started ranting about some other players who had their drafted cards fanned out (so they could see how many had been drafted) I told him that was irrelevant – that he had to worry about his draft. It took a couple minutes to get him back on track.

He eventually drafted a card, but when he chose a card from the next pack, he set the rest of that pack on his drafted pile as well. I called him on it, he objected, so we threw him out. (The manager did give him a refund.) He threatened to tell Mark Rosewater about this, so I told him Mark was in the gun slinging area by the information desk. Since I doubted he could even see the information deck, I wasn't too worried. I did not assess an official penalty – I doubted he would understand, but I was sure he would argue. I didn't see any sense in wasting more of the other drafters' time arguing with him.

Anyway, after apologizing to the rest of the players, I continued the draft. I just pulled one random card from each pack passing the missing player's place for the rest of Mirrodin, then continued Darksteel and Fifth Dawn with just seven drafters. One player got a free win round one.

Cursed Draft #5: This was yet another draft that blew up during Darksteel. As always, I told everyone to open and count the cards in their pack, then draft at their own pace – but not let the packs stack up. Mirrodin went fine. With Darksteel, I again asked everyone to count their packs, and when everyone said they had 15 cards, I let them start drafting. A couple minutes later, someone said a pack was short a card. So I stopped the draft, and had everyone fan their packs and count the cards they had drafted.

One pack was indeed short a card. A second pair of packs had, apparently, gotten reversed. Switching the reversed packs was easy, but the missing card was nowhere to be found. Not in draft piles, not on the floor – and no one would admit, at that stage, that they started with just 14 cards. Still, I bet that's what happened – someone counted the first 5 cards, saw something good, got distracted and stopped counting. Nothing to do but add a random bad common, so I prepared to restart the draft. This is pretty much exactly what I said and did:

“Okay, everyone, put the Darksteel cards you have drafted back on top of your drafted pile. Everyone done that?” I looked around the table, and everyone nodded.

“Okay, we'll resume drafting. Make sure you don't pass your library, and make sure you have taken just one card from each pack. Don't forget to take one if you did NOT take one before the pause – and don't take one if you did. Is everyone good with that?” Lots of nods. “Fine – draft.”

Less than 30 seconds later, a player calls me and shows me a seven card pack with amazing stuff: Echoing Decay, TWO non-foil Purges, Essence Drain, etc. I ask the player who passed that “pack” if he had looked through it – he said no, he just grabbed the Skullclamp!

“Okay, everyone stop! Put the packs down. Everyone, check the Darksteel cards you have drafted. Does everyone have everything they should have?” Everyone nods. “Please double check – it looks like someone passed their early picks. Does everyone have everything they should?” I make eye contact with everyone – and everyone nods. I look directly at the guy who probably passed the good stuff, and ask again “Did everyone check – are you sure? Look again.” He says he has his stuff.

“Okay,” I tell the guy with the amazing stuff, “Merry Christmas. Draft.” And around the cards go.

Then we get to the end of the pack, and I ask the question I was dreading: “Okay, count your cards. How many do you have?”

“32” “32” “31” “31”

“er – uh – 24.”

“Yup. I know what happened, but it is too late to fix it. Okay, everyone you can look through what you have drafted, but don't open Fifth Dawn. I will be right back.” I went over to the “draft leavings” box, grabbed a big handful of cards and returned. Then I went over the drafting instructions again. I had them open Fifth Dawn – and count the cards in the pack – while I fanned through the draft leavings. After Fifth Dawn was finished, I announced that one player had passed his first few picks from Darksteel, that I knew what he had drafted, and that I had found copies of two of those cards in the draft leavings box. I gave him those cards, and had them play it out. I did not award any additional penalty, beyond a private verbal caution – I figured that losing the Skullclamp and all the removal he had drafted was penalty enough. Amazingly, though, that guy still won the draft.

Winding Down

One of our local L3s passes out card sized copies of the penalty guidelines. I keep mine in a hard sleeve, with a copy of the Torment card “Stern Judge” in between as additional stiffener. John Carter was kind enough to sign that card. Now all I have to do is find some red and yellow transparent film – so I can do the soccer ref card thing.

Or maybe not.

Side events were fine – although I would like to meet the person at WotC that decided it was a good idea to schedule the sealed deck / Rochester draft GPT's to start at 6pm. I helped judge one of them. It ran until 4:45 am, and only ended then because the players decided not to play out the finals. That event aside, I was quite impressed by how well everything was run.

Richard Garfield hung around after the event to sign cards for the judges. That was really nice of him. He signed my Ancestral Recall – and my “Mountain.”

Sheldon Menery ran a multiplayer highlander event for judges at the end of the day Sunday. We played two games (in just under 4 hours). Game one I didn't manage to kill anyone, but I did annoy them so much that everyone else quit in disgust. Game two everyone started gunning for me, for some reason, but I managed to kill off all but two before Sheldon got me on a rules technicality. Something about state-based effects and me having zero life – and that came right after he said it was okay to attack with more creatures than I had blockers. That ruling seems kind of questionable to me, but he is an L4.

Sheldon is planning on running similar events at other big tourneys. Play in them if you can – it's good times.

Worlds was good times across the board. Thanks to Andy Heckt for finding me something to do, and everyone I met and worked with (Hector, Andy, John, Johanna, Ricky D, Bruno, Steve, Suzi, Graham, and everyone else) for the comradeship, advice and assistance.

Good Times!



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