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1999 French Nationals - HJ Report

Cyril Grillon

Few months ago, I had a great pleasure in writing a report on my experience as Head Judge of GP Tours. Yep, it was fun, smooth event, good staff and so on . . . Most of the tournaments I've run sound like this. But some don't.

Today, I'll try another experience. Here is the report of the worst tournament I've ever run, my personal Vietnam, the only event that ever make me think about stopping my judging activity . . .

The French National '99: When everything goes wrong!!

My position in the tournament was the same as in GP Tours. Head Judge of the main competition and kind of Tournament Manager. I've been involved in a lot of boring activities prior to the event such as room rate's negotiation, site renting, and insurance . . .
The site we found is a Youth Hostel in Dijon, a small city, 2 hours from Paris and Lyon. We've booked 150 beds on site in a mix-up of 2 to 6 beds per rooms. We have an all-in-one combo that includes 2 nights and every meal from Friday evening to Sunday noon for 50 US dollars. Believe me or not, that was a great deal. The same concept in a three stars hotel would have cost ten times this price. I don't know what is the final opinion of the player's community, but my guess is that they were happy with such a low rate.

The judging staff was a very experienced one. Nearly every french level 2 and higher showed up. This tournament was held on the 5th and 6th of June 1999, that is to say 1 week after the official introduction of the Classic Rules in the tournament environment, and 4 days after the emergency erratum of Karmic Guide. "Every thing's gonna be allrigh . . . "

On Friday, we set up the site with the great help of a couple of judges. In the same time, we are running a "Last Chance" tournament with 8 slots for the National. 128 players enrolled, it's a guarantee of more than 100 players for the side events. An 8 computers network and all night long side event complete the picture of this event.

Players registration is run at the end of the afternoon, with a "rules desk" to answer all questions that may be raised. It is very important, especially just after the release of the Classic rules. Some players show up with a Karmic Guide deck and it took some diplomacy skill to keep them away from heavy weapon . . .

On Saturday morning, after a good breakfast for everybody, we run a little player's meeting to answer all questions related to the tournaments structure, penalty and so on. Here comes the storm . . . .
"What is the interaction between Yawgmoth's Will and Dark Ritual?" is the first question that is raised after my introducing speech. "Blabla . . . replacement effect . . . blabla . . . Dark Ritual'll be removed from the game". After a couple of seconds, I realize that I have in front of me a team of good players really motivated to received the award of the "Bad Guy of the day".

Cyril Grillon going slightly mad.

Their point is as clear as water. The rule says that Oracle is the only source for card's text. Oracle describes Yawgmoth's Will (YW) as a triggered effect. The combo works. My point is also pretty clear. No abuse, no loophole. YW received an errata 6 months ago, under the 5th edition just to break this combo, it was not the purpose of the Classic Rules to bring back weird stuff. So, don't even think about it.

Let's start the tournament with the Rochester Draft portion. One of the weird decision I took was to run a 10 rounds tournament which was enough to cut properly a Top 8 out of hundreds and something players. That means 5 rounds of limited. The goal was to close the tournament early on Sunday. The schedule was the following:

First Draft (3 rounds).
Second Draft (2 rounds)
Switch to swiss pairing and 2 more rounds.

Round 8, 9, 10 then Top 8.

After the event, I still think that it was a good move to cut 1 round in each portions in order to keep a decent schedule.

Then comes the pressure. All day long members of the Bad Guys team come to me asking for explanation about my ruling and after a while, for a signature on a letter saying that I choose to violate the French law and the DCI rule. One of them is a law student, which is good for their credibility. At the same time they ask players and judges to sign a petition against abuse from the DCI and WotC against the player's community (and, by the way, asking for the cancellation of the tournament). They were definitively prepared. Those guys didn't playtest their deck but their guerilla tactics!

OK, OK, OK... They want to play with my nerves, but it won't work.
I inform again my judge's team that I will not let them play the combo and instruct them to spread out the information amongst the field. But you know how players are, they start to develop a little paranoia syndrome and communicate it to each other . . . After a couple of hours, the pressure on the field became incredibly high. Each round, between 5 and 10 players come to me and ask the recurring question of the day: "you're sure that the combo will not be allowed, cause I've heard that you said it may be allowed . . . "

By the end of the afternoon, after 5 rounds of draft we switch from pod pairing to switch pairing. Hum . . . no . . . we try. The brand new version of DCI Reporter Special Editor doesn't allow you to switch. So after a couple of doh_seconds and some funny announcements, here we are at the National with a manual pairing announced on the microphone.

Cyril Grillon head judging the Barcelona Masters in 2001.

Just after the beginning of the 6th round, I'm called for the joke of the day. After all the warning I gave, explicitly saying that the YW/DR combo will not be allowed, two of the bad guys came in the standard portion with it. Two out of four chose the "Kamikaze" way for the posterity. I remove them from the game after a pathetic interaction. Disqualified for arguing with the head judge/disruption of the National/Unsporting Conduct/being-a-very-bad-guy-today.

For the record, this particular event is the one who definitively turned our scorekeeper into the Dark Art of Files Surgery. He spent his all night going through Reporter's files in order to start again the tournament under an electronic version. After 8 hours of shady manipulation, he comes to me at 7 in the morning with a floppy disk in his hand. Here it is: the tournament back-up. Today, he's working closely with both Cecil Menzel (DCI Reporter's father) and Gordon Culp (WotC technology Service) on future versions of DCI Reporter.

Yeah, this is the end of the tunnel.
Swiss rounds are complete; top 8 competitors are ready for the final fights. I'm tired out, but the tournament is nearly finished. I'm confident, every problem that would have appeared became reality, there can't be another bug (except maybe a thermonuclear bomb under my seat or any other natural disaster you can't plan).
But you know what . . . it was not the end!
After a private meeting to which I was not invited, all the judging staff come together on the judges station and one of the senior judges pick the microphone and start one of the greatest announcement I've ever heard. It was something like that:
"French certified judging community goes on unlimited strike, starting now. Basically, we're refusing to be between hammer and anvil, frightened by angry players and abused by an unstable mutation of the environment (urgent banning and errata during Urza's period) and rules (6th edition release)."

Finally, we had a French Champion, Kamikazes were suspended for 6 months (one of them made an appeal and his suspension was reduced to three months), DCI Reporter was patched two days after this event, judges stopped their strike after an official announcement made by the DCI three days after the event (see below) and I took two weeks of vacation right after writing all the reporting of this event.

However, I know some players who choose to stop playing Magic in tournament because of what happened this week end, and three months after the event, I was still receiving phone call from french judges (who were not at the Nationals, but did hear news from it) asking me when I will stop the strike I've launched at National (????). People do not realize how they can affect the community with such actions. Some judges didn't come back on tournament's floors, and that make me sad.

Today, I'm laughing, but on June 6th I was close to stop my judging activity. But after a while, I just realized that it was certainly the most valuable experience I ever had as a judge.

This was the statement that the DCI issued:

At this year's French Nationals, there was a disturbance which occurred when a handful of players came with the intent of abusing an error in the 6th Ed. Oracle. With the retemplating of thousands of cards, it is inevitable that a few mistakes would slip through the cracks. One of these mistakes was Yawgmoth's Will, which was worded as printed on the card and did not reflect the clarifications made in the November 1998 rulings summary by Rules Team Manger, Beth Moursund.

Participants of French Nationals were given ample opportunity to find out how cards interacted with the newly implemented 6th Edition rules in the weeks prior to the event. In addition, a special rules session was run on the evening before the first day of competition. The question of the legality of the Ritual/Will combo was not raised by players before the event. At the players' meeting, the head judge, Cyril Grillon, made an announcement that he would not allow players to exploit errors in the Oracle. He specifically stated the ruling he would use for Yawgmoth's Will, which was consistent with the intent of the card made clear in the November 98 rules summary. A few players decided to disregard this announcement and entered the standard portion of the competition with the intent of arguing the ruling.
As is stated in the DCI Standard Floor Rules, section II A, the head judge is the final arbiter of all questions and disputes during a tournament. As the final rules authority at the event, he or she is responsible for its integrity. As is stated in section II E, players must follow the head judge's final rulings without argument or difficulties. If a player continues to be disruptive, he or she will be subject to the unsporting conduct provisions of the DCI Penalty Guidelines.

The DCI fully backs the actions taken by Cyril Grillon and the rest of the judging staff at French Nationals. We wish to make it clear to the playing and judging public that incessant arguing with judges or threatening tournament staff with legal action is completely unacceptable behavior and will not be tolerated. If a player feels that he or she was the subject of an incorrect ruling, the issue may taken up with the DCI after the event.

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