was fortunate enough to go to Vienna to judge at the Extended Grand Prix. The European events are always very well attended, and I thought it would be nice for me to experience it for the first time. I have had experience at large events before, most noticeably Game 07 in Manchester, which was a 2-day event with multiple PTQs, GP Trials, and other shenanigans, and M-Fest last year, the four-day extravaganza that culminated with the finals of the first UK Nationals. It was also the event where I finally achieved my level 1, after much badgering to Nick Sephton. He obviously thought I was good enough to go to Vienna to judge; and after I had shown an interest in becoming level 2, he decided for me to go on a full sponsorship. So, thankful of the immense opportunity to further my Judging career and have fun, off I went.
I caught my flight on Friday at Luton airport, a clean and functional, if nondescript, airport. The day I arrived in Vienna was overcast -- a rather gloomy way to start an adventure -- and after a half-hour going around the airport looking for an information desk, I found out just how automated the place was and hopped onto a Metro bound for the venue. The venue was right next to the station, and so was the hotel, as I later found out. The building lacked colour, but inside was cosy. Well, as cosy as can be for a place that was going to hold anything up to 2000 people comfortably. There is a certain elegance to be gleaned from such a functional place.
The venue was all set up, ready for the deck slingings of pros and punters over the next two days. I made my way to the Judge's station, and announced myself. The staff was very friendly and I greeted everyone in turn. Present at the time were Kostadin Gramatikov, level 1 from Stuttgart, Sebastian Rittau, level 2 from Berlin, others whose names I forgot (my bad), and some of the coverage staff. We chatted about events in general. The European judges all had a lot of experience with GPs in general, and regularly achieve numbers in the thousands. I told them about GP Cardiff. They were astonished that it had only 370 players. I felt a bit silly talking about such grand events with people who are so much more experienced than I was. They told me GPs are a completely different animal than pretty much anything else -- there's more stress, more cock ups and generally more going on than the average Nationals, and a hell of a lot more players. Ok, I thought.... good.
Konstadin and I were placed on registration duty for the day. We expected around 400 players, which I thought that was wildly optimistic. I based my experiences on playing in GP Birmingham during Mirrodin, where there were so few people preregistering the day before it was difficult to see why they bothered. Of course, as soon as the gates were opened, a deluge of players rushed in to put their names down for the event. We had to keep order, and at the end of the day we had topped 600 players for the tournament. I was tired from the flight and standing around keeping guard, but was very happy. I heard someone was going to colour their hair purple if we had over 1000 players, and secretly hoped for at least 400 more to turn up on Saturday. A continuous stream of judges also came around, and I got to talk to Oli Bird, who was very agreeable and rather eccentric, which added to the pleasantness. Being Irish, I guess that's not hard to pull off. We retired to the hotel afterwards, where an assortment of cold foods laid ready on small tables for us to feast. Some of us also drafted with the coverage staff. I won (somehow, but I think it had to do with giants), and got a Cryptic Command for my troubles. I retired to my room around 2, ready for the hectic day to follow.
The next day started with everyone divided into two teams, with Riccardo head judging the Blue Team of Evil and Adam commanding the Green Team of Super AWESOME, of which I was a part of. This was because the number of players had exceeded 1200 and had to be split into two giant pods of around 600 each. Someone also had their hair coloured purple. I was a part of Deck Check 2, with my fellow judges Marco Risso (level 2 from Italy), Sebastian Rittau, Maciej Grabowski (level 1 from Poland), and local man Phillip Daferner (level 3) serving as team leader. Phillip was eager for the proceedings to work as smoothly as possible- but that was not to be for the first 2 rounds, as the sheer number of players had made deck checking somewhat hectic, and with two different teams sorting deck lists it took a while for the confusion to die down and everyone to know what they were doing. There were also several tournament errors, such as different people entered into different pods, but by the end of round two everything was sorted, game losses were issued and the waiting for the next seven rounds began. Marco and I were on the same team for deck checks, and we did swooping on alternate rounds -- we also did mid round deck checks just to make sure things were kosher with the players. Marco was a very cheerful guy, and gave me a lot of tips for the deck checking; they all thought I was an amateur or something, which I was not, but I was still very thankful of all the little tips that they gave me, such as arranging cards by mana cost when sorting them out. By the end of the day I was very proficient at the whole process; I have had also several judge calls, and took part in one investigation with regard to life totals, which I deferred to Phillip for the final decision. At the end of the day we finished at around 9 pm, which I was told was a new record or something for efficiency -- some of these tournaments had gone into the wee hours in the past. Green Team also won the "who had the fastest rounds contest" over Blue Team, which just reaffirmed how AWESOME we were. At the end of the day we retired to the hotel, grumbled that there was no place to go for food (apparently everything shut at 10 PM in Vienna, the City That Always Sleeps On Time), played EDH until 3 AM, showered, then went to bed.
Day two started with me waking up late, grabbing a really quick breakfast, and rushing off to the venue to get the daily work done. I attended two seminars. One was on the new policy, which was fun, as it gave me insight into the newer, more lenient approach the DCI has for tournaments. This is especially good for Regular REL events such as FNM, as they can be very casual, and the number of players is usually small enough for acts of cheating to be noticed right away. I was on a 2HG tournament with the same team as yesterday, with Marco this time being the Head Judge. He looked noticeably more anxious, which is just as well, as none of us knew very much about recent changes to the format. I had to bring a copy of the Comprehensive Rules to make sure everything was up to date. The tournament itself was uneventful. Maciej would go to check out the main tournament whenever he could, as one of the Polish players was in contention for Top 8 --it turned out he won the whole thing -- and the level 1 from Poland was exceedingly pleased. I had my interview with Phillip about becoming a level 2. He thought I was definitely not ready, and I pretty much agreed; I thought I was somewhere around level 1.6, and needed to work on a lot of things, such as policy, mentorship and networking with other judges before I could take on that responsibility. Also I needed more time at large tournaments, although I have had a considerable amount of experience setting up a successful local scene in Leeds. Everyone was really, really tired by the end. The organiser offered us free supper, which was kind of difficult as everywhere was closed by then (at 7 PM), perhaps so the children could be tucked into bed. I was told by Kostadin of a local McDonalds not half a kilometre away, and Oli and I decided that any sustenance was good sustenance and headed for there. One hour and four kilometers later we arrived, but the time seemed to pass as we just talked all sorts of stuff regarding Magic, role playing, university, and life. Coming from Leeds, the quality of the McDonald's was quite a pleasant shock. I played in several EDH games until 4 AM, and the next day went to the airport with Tim Willoughby, who was my hotel roommate. We talked about the newly spoiled cards from Shadowmoor, how ridiculous Demigod of Revenge was, and the exact casting cost of Beseech the Queen -- which he told me was 6 -- and was a spoiler of sorts at the time. We also talked about drafting with pros and I learned of 6-man money draft, which I was eager to test out. Another 8 hours or so I arrived back in Leeds, tired and exhausted from the weekend of work and fun, but satisfied with the memory of a great weekend, excellent people, and my two boxes of Morningtide and shiny shiny Judge foils.
The main experience that I got from the weekend was how big the European scene was, and how international the staff was -- there were at least five or six different languages shared between the Judges, with English the lingua franca among them. It surprised me how well it all worked out. I also felt the event was exceedingly fun; there was never a time in which that did not take precedence over everything else- although some of the Judges took it a little too seriously and got unduly stressed as a result. The event was extremely well run, considering it was the largest constructed tournament ever (take that, America), but not the largest one known. Apparently Stuttgart was more than 1600, and I can only really imagine the level of organisation that went into that one. I learned a lot, became more confident in my approaches with players and fellow judges, and became a fan of EDH. I couldn't have asked for more. Finally, I would like to thank Nick Sephton for the wonderful opportunity that he gave me by sending me to Vienna. It has made me very appreciative of the kind of work a Level 2 does, and allowed me to learn many things which will, hopefully, make me a better judge.