This article is a report on the Vintage Championships in France from a floor judge’s perspective. It highlights how Vintage presents an interesting challenge for the judging staff due to the value of the cards, the obsolete text on many of the cards, and the variety of cards played. Some rules questions that came up are presented. The judging staff also was confronted with several organizational issues that contributed to player confusion and subsequent game or match losses.
When, in April, the first Vintage Championships in France were announced, it caused quite a stir, mainly because of the price structure which promised a complete power 9 from the Beta set for the winner, with more power-cards like play sets of Mishra’s Workshop and Mana Drain for the runner-ups. Another incentive to show up – especially for players with lower budgets – was special prices for the top 8 unpowered decks.
I was very glad when the French DCI, namely Damien Guillemard, offered me a job as judge at this unique event. The organizers expected a lot of German players to this open-for-all tournament, so a German judge was highly welcome.
I have been Level 2 judge for 9 months now. I have judged at several Grand Prix, one National Championship and numerous smaller events before, among them some Vintage tournaments. However, this would be the first event to combine the size of a professional event with the specialties of Vintage tournaments. These Vintage Championships promised to get extraordinary big, with 512 players pre-registering in less than one week after announcement, some players coming from as far as the United States and Hong Kong.
The tournament was part of a convention for multiple CCGs, role playing and table-top games. The conference hall that hosted the convention was divided into two parts, one for the RPGs and tabletops, the other for the card games. For the Championships, we had plenty of space and tables for over 600 players. Registration of the players was done at four tables near the entrance, and was divided into two queues, one for pre-registered players and one for the rest. It was planned to admit a maximum of 600 players into the event, but as only 392 players showed up, everyone who wanted to play could do so. The tournament was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., but a group of German players caused some delay: their bus arrived late, but they let the staff know via cell phone. During the registration some players asked for permission to use proxies for their PSA-graded and encased power cards. The Head Judge decided to forbid any kind of proxy and let the players know.
392 players translated to 9 rounds of Swiss, with additional Top 8 playoffs. The judge staff for this event consisted of 16 judges, from Austria, Spain, Britain, Germany and – of course – France. The Head Judge was Level 2 Barthelemy Moulinier, backed up by Level 4 David Vogin.
What makes Vintage so special to judge?
Before I continue with the report about this particular event, I want to recall the three most important factors that make Vintage events so special:
- First, many of the cards found in the Vintage metagame have outdated wordings: they often do not work the way their printed rules text implies. So, when answering judge calls about certain card interactions, it is often misleading and dangerous to rely on the written text. So, it is of utmost importance to check the current Oracle wording before giving a ruling. For the judges in Paris, there were several laptops available at the judge station that had the complete Oracle database at hand to reflect this need for actuality.
- Second, the cards that are used by the players are often of immense value. Not only is Vintage defined by the “power 9” cards, but also many Vintage players undergo big efforts to “pimp their deck” with premium cards, signed cards and other features that rise their value and originality. As a judge, you should keep that in mind whenever dealing with a player’s cards. This, of course, especially applies to deck checks.
- Third, in Vintage, everything is possible: Some of the weirdest cards ever printed see play in this format, along with long-forgotten mechanics such as phasing and banding. In a Standard tournament, the set of mechanics you are to encounter is very limited, only ranging over two blocks. In Vintage, you can encounter every single card Magic has produced during its existence and thus, even the weirdest card interactions and side-effects. Be prepared for unexpected questions and unexpected outcomes when answering a judge call at a Vintage Event!
The Swiss portion
In his opening speech, Barthelemy made once again clear that he would not allow any proxies to be played in the tournament. If a player lost a card, he himself would be responsible for finding replacement cards or he would be dropped from the event. Fortunately, no such incident occurred during the day.
.Playing the wrong opponent:
Soon we discovered problems with the table numbering: Table tents were set up at both ends of a row of tables, each row hosting 5 matches. These table tents had the table number range and the direction of the numbering printed on both sides. These tents were only loosely taped to the tables, so soon some of them were flipped over accidentally so that they showed the wrong direction of the numbering. This led to a lot of confusion by players at the beginning of each round and, unfortunately, to many penalties for “playing the wrong opponent”. A significant number of players did not discover their mistake until signing the result slip and finding a “wrong” opponent name on it, and thus earning a Match Loss. Some of the judges mentioned that problem to the head Judge, but nothing was done to ease the situation, except the floor judges trying to rearrange the tents wherever problems were discovered in advance.
Interesting judge calls
During the rounds, some interesting judge calls were brought to me. Since there were players from 15 different countries, many issues of miscommunication arose. Most of them were solved easily with backing up the game state and reminding the players to communicate more clearly.
Besides many questions about the current wording of some less-played cards, Uba Mask in conjunction with Goblin Welder led to multiple questions. With Uba Mask in play, player A draws a card at the beginning of his draw step, then player B uses his Goblin Welder to exchange the Mask for some other artifact. Would A be allowed to play the “drawn” card during his main phase? The answer is “no”, because there is no card in play that says so. The card remains removed from the game even if the Uba Mask re-enters play during the same turn: “An object that moves from one zone to another is treated as a new object” (see rule 217.1c). A nice way to forbid your opponent to play anything except Instants!
Another situation involved player C playing Animate Dead to reanimate his Worldgorger Dragon, while his opponent D used Aether Vial to put a Samurai of the Pale Curtain into play in response to the Dragon coming into play, to interrupt the loop. I don’t know the exact ruling I gave, but the right answer would be this: the Dragon would hit the graveyard just after he removed the Animate Dead from the game, triggering his leaves-play effect. So, with the Samurai in play, the Dragon gets removed, the permanents come back into play and the Animate Dead has to find another target or does nothing
The same combo caused more questions, for example if a Gemstone Mine re-enters play with its 3 counters again. Of course it does – “come into play” doesn’t care from where or how a permanent came into play, it will trigger in any case.
Aside from those rules and card questions, player E called me in the middle of a round and asked me to shuffle his deck. His opponent F had riffle-shuffled E’s deck before, and E was anxious that this rough shuffling technique would possibly harm his precious cards. So I shuffled the deck, but to avoid repeated judge calls from that table, I told them to find some other technique both could agree on. They did that, and F would side and pile shuffle E’s deck from now on whenever necessary.
All in all, there were only few judge calls each round, and the floor was well-covered with judges. Each round went well into extra time, although we judges tried to enforce slow play warnings also in extra time. The 9th and final round was over at around midnight.
The Top 8
When the final standings were known, the price-giving ceremonies for all winners except the top 8 were held. Unfortunately, many players had dropped earlier to catch their busses and trains home, so the audience was somewhat small. After that, there was more delay until we could start the playoffs: The manager of the site demanded that all spectators now had to leave the hall because of renting conditions and safety restrictions. So, the playoffs were played almost without audience, only close friends and co-drivers of the competitors were allowed to remain and the judges had to ask the other visitors to stay outside. Both players and judge staff were disappointed about such an important event ending that way, but there was nothing to do about.
During the other semi-final, the Worldgorger Combo once again led to problems when one player didn’t let his opponent enough time to react to the several triggers of Animate dead and Dragon, and when he went through the combo step by step, he suddenly changed his mind and wanted to play something in response to one trigger. There was a discussion going on about that, about him implicitly passing priority when stating to get into the loop again and again. An appeal to the Head Judge and spectators interfering with the judge further complicated the situation.
After semis were over, the finalists agreed to split the prices (complete power 9 from Beta + 40 French BB dual lands + 6 boxes of product), so the tournament was over. It was 2:30 a.m., and almost everyone was happy to get to bed. I used the time after my semi-final for some very fruitful discussion with several foreign judges about interesting situations of the day, organization, player conduct and different styles of judge leadership. There was no judge debriefing since many of the judges had gone home before the playoffs started. Also, between the rounds, there had not been any meetings of organized forms of feedback among the judges.
All in all, I can say that this Saturday was a very interesting yet exhausting experience. I got to work with judges from all over Europe and got to learn a lot about different attitudes to judging. Besides enjoying a day with a bunch of friendly and cheerful players and judges, I was granted the opportunity to broaden my horizon – to another format and another country.
Thanks for all who made it possible for me to come to Paris and to all who contributed to this article! For feedback, questions and suggestions, you can reach me at falko.gATgmx.de