Chris Nguyen's Worlds 2008 Judge Report

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Did you get your Treva, the Renewer Pro Tour promo card last weekend? I got mine! Worlds is a unique event, unlike other Pro Tours. For one, it is four-day event as opposed to a three-day event. Judges are on their feet much more than they usually are. The main event is unique in that it is possible for a majority of the invited players never to have played in a Pro Tour. The judges on staff, taking this into consideration, worked to make this event welcoming to new Pro players and regulars of the Pro Tour. Worlds also has a larger staff than a normal Pro Tour. We had an impressive staff of over 70 judges from around globe representing various countries and levels—L0 trainees to L5 and the new Emeritus judges. Additionally, one got an opportunity to spend time with and play against the creator of the game, Richard Garfield, Ph.D. Other opportunities included discussing and conversing with some of the great minds in Magic, including Mark Rosewater, who brought us some of the wackiest cards in Magic and has only one word to say on some of them: "Oops!"

This year's Worlds event was in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. Being in Memphis, one could enjoy really good meat and BBQ. Being in the South, I couldn't resist loading myself with southern-style sweet tea for the entire weekend. Good stuff. It's also a great place to have dinner. They had no problem with giving separate checks for 40-judge parties. Now calling Jeff, party of 50!

Wednesday: The Day Before

Arrival on Wednesday started with a new and exciting team, the Street Team. This event's Street Team consisted of around 15-20 judges promoting the game and the event at a local mall and university several blocks away from the venue, demonstrating how judges are the face and ambassadors of Magic and the DCI to the world. Being after final exams, I'm sure some students wished we were around to provide them with a Demonic Tutor. This team may become a permanent fixture at Worlds. I certainly hope it does. It is a great way to share a great game with the world and gets the judges more active in the community beyond the game. It was also an excellent way to discover that there weren't very many food options available. But I managed all the same.

Upon returning to the venue, judges and players alike relocated to Graceland, Elvis' mansion, for the player party and registration for the event. Unfortunately, a portion of the judges was not able to make it to the player party due to transportation shortage. Not to abandon his fellow judges, John Carter, L4 judge, Judge Manager, and Memphis native, led the remaining judges to the best burgers in Memphis at Huey's. It was a great party.

Afterwards, while I chose to retire for the evening, many judges stayed up and played EDH and other various formats common to the Pro Tour.

Thursday: Opening Ceremonies and Drawing First Blood

This event featured a new idea in the scheduling of judge shifts. The AM Public Events Team had a shortened shift, lasting a little more than half of the time of a normal shift. Additionally, the third Deck Checks Team offered a similar shift for the main event judges. Each judge was assigned to at least one of these shifts to conserve their stamina. It was a novel idea and I am glad that we had a great quality staff to make these shifts possible.

Thursday at the main event featured the usual daily brief, with L5 Toby Elliott as the Head Judge for the weekend. One important thing we learned at this meeting: make sure you have a valid unexpired passport if you're traveling internationally. Then we had the opening ceremonies where representatives of each country present represented their flags. We also inducted five new players into the Hall of Fame: Dirk Baberowski, Mike Turian, Olivier Ruel, Jelger Wiegersma, and Ben Rubin. Congratulations to these exalted players for attaining the highest honor one can achieve.

The first day of Worlds consisted of six rounds of Individual Standard Constructed followed by two rounds of multi-format Standard/Extended/Legacy Team Constructed, making a total of eight rounds for Day 1. Again, I emphasize the uniqueness of Worlds, where we have multiple countries represented in their Worlds debut. This means that newly initiated Pro players request rulings regarding turn structure and state-based effects. Yes, you can float mana between your Upkeep Step and Draw Step. Upkeep Phase and Draw Phase were combined as steps in the Beginning Phase back when Sixth Edition came out. Also, +1/+1 counters and -1/-1 counters mix like matter and anti-matter. Good luck trying to get them to occupy the same space on a creature. Regardless of the demographics, this is Professional REL, meaning players are expected to play and perform at a highly technical level. A player learned this after receiving an upgraded Game Loss penalty for Game Play Error: Game Rule Violation before the first round of Day 1 was over. Fortunately, the player got his game play together and managed not to get his game loss upgraded to a DQ.

For me, the main event provided me with an opportunity to explore various aspects of judging. I had an interesting discussion with L5 Sheldon Menery on the difference between Incorrect Representation and Game Rule Violation. Bottom line, counters and cards are two completely different categories. I was even shown that no task is beneath a judge by being given the oddest task of the event: guarding $10,000 in solid gold. Apparently venue security hadn't arrived yet. I was walking around a case of gold for roughly an hour and a half.

Even from the first day of Worlds, many judges rallied to make the most of this momentous event. Many raced to be the first judge to answer a call for the players. Some took the initiative to begin researching topics on behalf of the DCI; Ingrid, I look forward to seeing the results of your work. Some began training new judges for certification. Some took the reins as Team Leaders. No matter what role they served for each day, all of the judges worked together as a team to provide a service to the DCI, Wizards of the Coast corporate staff, and most importantly, the players who allow us to exist as judges.

Day 1 of Worlds closed out with an exciting Three-Player Team portion. Each National Team participated in a photo shoot with their respective country's flag.

Day 1 also featured a new team that may become a permanent part of the Pro Tour. This was the Floor Team. Their job is simple but important. The beginning rounds of any tournament are very hectic. The floor may have holes in it due to the numerous tasks that occur during the first 3 rounds of an event. The Floor Team's job is to patrol the floor and guarantee coverage and handle judge calls while the other teams are busy performing their task. At the end of the round, they make sure all the tables have judge coverage on them.

The day closed out for me by having dinner with my partner in crime to prepare Certification 101, a seminar to educate L2 and new L3 judges on the important points of certifying new L1 Local Judges. For others, the day closed with a 2HG judge draft that I passed up knowing I'd have to get up at 6:30 the next morning. Pacing one's self is extremely important on these multi-day events so I'll add that one to my pace at the next Pro Tour.

Friday: Today is a Good Day to Draft

On Friday, Day 2, Limited is the format for the main event, consisting of two booster drafts. During the first, we had a problem involving opening the wrong pack. That was quickly remedied but did not delay the rest of the draft. Deck construction was delayed, however. Being on Deck Checks 3 that day, my day was over before the second draft of the day. I spent quite a bit of time mingling with the players in the Public Events and *gasp* participated in my first sanctioned booster draft. I know what you're thinking: how could a level 2 judge that's been playing since Ice Age never have joined in a sanctioned draft? I'll explain that one later! I put up a really good struggle considering I rarely play. But that struggle wasn't enough to keep me from being eliminated after the first round. I took my deck over to some players that just learned how to play the game yesterday. Now there, I got creamed! Losing twice to a newbie when you've been playing since Ice Age is worse than shameful: it's humiliating!

Come the Eventide, I had two choices and both were tempting. Super FNM is always an exciting event because only at these large events can you find a several hundred player FNM and get a shiny foil Shrapnel Blast promo just for playing the first round! Instead, I opted to go with around 40 members of the DCI family to the Brazilian meat palace, Texas de Brazil, for all you can eat meat! Three hours later, I found myself in a meat coma, alongside a few of my fellow judge brethren.

I heard from a little bird that judge-training videos were being recorded sometime that day. I'm looking forward to seeing them and improving my judging.

Saturday: Increased Pressure for the Pros and Judges

Saturday, the weekend has come and that means sleeping in! Having gotten one short shift already this weekend, I was set to work another full shift. Now what's the pressure in sleeping in? None! But there's plenty of it in the main event where Pros were playing the remaining rounds of Swiss, fighting to get into the Top 8, and in public events where casual, competitive, and Pro players joined events from 8-man pickups to PTQs to qualifiers for the Win Gold Championship tournament. As the tension rises in the main event, the pressure is on judges to be extra vigilant. Meanwhile, judges in public events are dashing to answer complicated judge calls and to run more events as players slowly migrate from the main event to lower REL tournaments.

In the main event, we had judges that migrated from public events to get the full Pro Tour experience. Players enjoyed six rounds of Extended and two rounds of Team multi-format.

In Public Events, I was given the Head Judge position on a Shards Sealed event; the grand prize being original artwork of the card Godsire by Jim Murray. When I had arrived to claim Head Judge from another judge whose shift was ending, I found out about an unfortunate Outside Assistance incident in Deck Construction and how it was handled. After that was finished and I took over, I found I had an excellent staff of judges to assist me with handling the decklists and making sure things were in order. Slowly throughout the day my staff was lured away for an exciting 2HG Win Gold qualifier. Congratulations to Claudia Nellessen, newly-minted L1 from Germany, on her first Head Judge experience, with a 110-team event no less! She did an excellent job of running the tournament during her shift. Last round of my tournament, I encountered an interesting situation myself involving a judge who was playing in the event giving out a ruling to a nearby match on a card interaction. How would you handle the situation? How did I handle the situation?

-- Spoiler tag --
Judge or not, for consistency, players are to be held to the same standard within a tournament. We do not hold them to higher standards, nor should we be lax on the tournament standards. I concluded the situation fell under Tournament Error -- Outside Assistance for "[giving] advice to players who have sat for their match". Advising other players on the rules, correct or not, is still advice so I applied the PG as proscribed. Understanding the player was a judge, and not wanting him to lose respect and save face, I waited until the end of the game to pull the player aside and issue the Warning. Had it not been the last round of the event, I would have issued it after the match.

Speaking with high-level judges on the issue later, even with the risk of not being able to track the player down after Swiss rounds, it would have been more proper to issue the Warning after the match. Intervening between games may only escalate a situation, especially if the player you're warning lost the first game. The player and I had a nice heart-to-heart the next day and there are no hard feelings within the DCI family!
-- End Spoiler tag --

I also had a 2-on-1 with two L3 judges, Chris Richter and Cristiana Dionisio from Italy. Wow, three judges named Chris in one area. Scary! It was very casual. I discussed the judge community in my area and how I plan on contributing to it.

The rest of my shift, I was assigned to the 2HG event and got involved with players after their match for general conversation and the importance in calling a judge in a match when there is a dispute. No problem is insignificant enough for a judge; nor is a problem too large for judge when it comes to the event.

After all this, we walked to the judge dinner for all-you-can-eat Memphis BBQ ribs at The Rendezvous. We had to wait because of a previous party, but we got free drinks and cheese and sausages as an appetizer for the wait. It also gave us plenty of time to mingle, share stories, trade tales. Grabbing a seat with familiar judges (what can I say? I can be pretty shy), we had an excellent meal. The dinner ended with a ceremony highlighting and honoring various individuals. Congratulations to Makino-san on L3, Frank Wareman and Kevin Desprez on L4, and Riccardo Tessitori on L5. These are incredible individuals and I commend their dedication to the DCI Certified Judge Program. Also on the list, a new title of judges has been added: Emeritus. The Emeritus Judges have earned their place in the history of the judge program. They have contributed to the foundation of the program and are now retiring from active judging. Congratulations, Emeritus Judges: Michael Guptil, Gijsbert Hoogendijk, and Collin Jackson.

Sunday: Climax and Lessons Learned

Sunday was an exciting day at the venue, whether you were watching the Top 8 Individual/Top 4 Teams, playing in the Win Gold Championship, or playing in the 128-man $3000 Draft Challenge.

I already saw the gold on Thursday from guarding it, so I judged the Draft Challenge. I volunteered to call the draft, having never done one before. L3 Jeff Vondruska walked me through it before I did it for real. When working with announcements in an area where you're not familiar with the acoustics, take another person and have them evaluate you. It saved me a lot of trouble when it came time to call the draft. We drafted in the main event area since the main event had moved to the Feature Match area. Across the way was the Top 8 event coverage. They had speakers and a mike; I did not. Seems like a fair competition to me. Thanks to the preparation in testing the acoustics beforehand, I only had to test my voice once with the players to make sure they could hear me for the draft. The draft went without a hitch.

The latter days of the event are the days of praise and recognition. There's no higher recognition for the judge program in my opinion than hearing praise directly from the players. Directly from the players: "Thank you for telling us when to draft our card before telling us to put down the pack. It really eased the tension of the time limit when I had to pick a card". So, good advice to future draft-callers! What really made my day in the recognition department was when a player had me autograph with a fancy silver Prismacolor marker their Balance card and Warning card for making a good ruling, correcting myself when I gave an incomplete answer to a question, and for doing the right thing. Some players see judges as penalty-ogres, but that's a small minority of players. Most do see us as neutral arbiters of the game, the ones providing Balance.

The rest of the day, I was on seminars. I presented, along with L3 Eric Shukan, a seminar targeted towards L2 and new L3 judges: "Certification 101: How to get those L0s to L1!". The preparation was great, but the rewards even greater knowing that our L2s and new L3s will go into the world certifying new L1s, growing our judge program, and investing their time into quality candidates. Many judges, including experienced L3s joined to contribute their thoughts and experiences on the certification process. With such diversity unified with consistency, we should be seeing a lot more quality L1s in the near future.

The remaining seminars I participated in included Microphone and Voice Techniques by Gavin Duggan; Managing Community Expectations by James Elliott, John Shannon, and Erik Mock; and Judge Manager Q&A run by Carter. Boy, I wish I had that voice tech course before calling the draft. By the time I got there, I don't know which would've prepared me for the other! It was very educational, learning about the human anatomy of sound and various tricks public speakers use. Hopefully Gavin will post it! The community seminar was an excellent way to get an understanding about the responsibilities of L1-L3 judges in a community. This one was geared towards judges of all levels: L3s to see what they should expect out of their L1/L2s; L2s to see what they need to expect out of their L1s and what they need to push themselves to the next level; and L1s to see how they fit into the community. I hope this seminar will get published as an article as well. I found the Q&A useful because it taught me about the history of the judge program, the three-judge system, and the future of the DCI.

As I stumbled back to the event area to close out my Worlds experience, I caught the awards ceremony for the Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, the Team Champions, and the 2008 Magic: The Gathering World Champion. Congratulations to these hard-working individuals for excelling at a game they love.

The judges again mobbed the town again with for a 30-some-judge dinner at TGI Fridays. It was a great experience. Over dinner, the judges were more than happy to give me tips and advice on running a PTQ since I'm HJing my first one in two weeks! I also got advice and contact information from another judge to assist me on a secret project that will hopefully be unveiled in the next several months.

The evening closed off with what I consider a treat, EDH! I played in my first EDH game, borrowing one of Sheldon's decks. Thank you, Sheldon! I had a great time! That game ended pretty quickly with Kevin Desprez ending it all with a 20-consecutive-turn display of fireworks. The next game I had to cut out early, but not before dealing the board 10 damage from a large creature and Where Ancients Tread.

Monday: The Day After

I spent Monday cab-sharing with other judges, relaxing from the long weekend, reflecting on the weekend, thinking about what kind of writing would result from this. What remains is this judge report that got typed over the course of a few hours in a Memphis International Airport restaurant, seven judge reviews, and fond memories of the event and my family I call the DCI.

In my reflection, I realized that the judge program is really what you make of it. You get the most rewarding experiences by trying to contribute to the program at these events. What you put in, you get 10 times as much out. I recommend to each judge out there to take their experiences at this event and share it with their community, their family. As this judge report was inspired by the excellent reports Riccardo Tessitori writes after each high-level event it seems appropriate to close in the same fashion.

Worlds is an incredible event and experience where each judge, a member of the DCI family, has the ability to contribute and grow the program and its members, including judges and players, and that is my final ruling!

(Special Thanks to Toby Elliott for looking over this prior to submission!)

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