Judging at a Pro Tour

Hey everyone! I recently had the pleasure of working the floor of Pro Tour Montreal, and I thought it would be fun to share that experience with ya’ll. My plan is to show you how I prepared for the event, how things went during the event, and what I’m doing now that it’s over. I hope that something I say here will help you somewhat during your future events. On with the show!

Let’s start at the beginning. My first step in preparation, after securing flights and lodging for the weekend, was to make sure I was up to date on my rules and policy. To the IPG! Beyond reading the IPG, I also took a couple online tests to make sure I wasn’t getting too rusty. The practice exams are a great tool, and I would encourage all of you to add a couple Hard Practice tests to your event preparation. Sometimes we need to brush the dust off of our memories and shake off the cobwebs. I am glad I did so, as it left me feeling much more awake before the event. Of course, doing a hard practice exam before your first GP won’t have the same effect. You need to put down a base before you have something which can get cobwebs on it in the first place.

The next part of my Pro Tour prep was to sit down and write a to-do list. For this event, I had three main goals:

1) Talk with Gavin Duggan and others about pre-event interviews (PEIs). I recently joined the group of judges tasked with PEIs. I wanted to check in and make sure my thinking was close to that of the group at large.

For those of you not in the know, Gavin is in charge of getting L3 candidates paired up with an L3+ who will go through some pre-panel interview questions. The facilitator of the interview aids in the candidate’s panel by providing a preliminary assessment of the candidate, aided in large part by a series of back and forth discussion questions with the facilitator. This allows panels to go a little bit quicker, as areas requiring work and investigation can be found before the panel even begins.

2) Meet the judges with whom I haven’t worked. Among those on the staff that I didn’t know well before the event were Alexis Rassel, Claire Dupre, Jason Wong, and Mitchell Waldbauer. Alexis and I were on an event together during Magic Weekend Paris, but we didn’t get a chance to talk much there. I was hoping to amend this.

3) Don’t screw anything up.

Additionally, I decided to do an experiment. I wanted to record every judge call I took that was more than a match slip confirmation. Partly for education, and partly for my amusement. You can find them at the end of this post. Note that I have hidden the discussion, so if you’d like to play the home version of the game, you’re more than welcome to.

The last part of my Pro Tour prep was to arrange travel and hotel. Backwards? Maybe, but whatever. Planning ahead is for chumps. Luckily Air Canada likes students and Toby needed a roommate, so things worked out well for me. Our hotel wound up being across the street from the venue, which is great when it’s snot-freezingly cold outside. It had been several years since I had been in weather that cold, and it brought me back. I’m glad it was a brief reminder.

Some of you might be wondering, what exactly distinguishes judging at a Pro Tour from a PTQ, or a GP, or an FNM? What happens on the Pro Tour floor? Well, moment to moment, it’s not a lot different than working a GP or PTQ. You watch matches, push in chairs, and take calls. At Professional REL, we also collect result slips and take care to keep the play area free of players who are done with their matches. Taking calls can be more high pressure, as there is more on the line. Players might be more argumentative, or might try to rules lawyer a bit more, but in general, the calls are pretty similar to any other you’d take. Dexterity errors, rules mistakes, forgotten triggers, clarifications, Oracle text requests, permission to use the restroom, that sort of thing.

In my experience, the main expectation at a Pro Tour is that you are providing the very best service to the players, and that you’re also right. Getting a call wrong is bad business. Don’t do it. I would like to use this opportunity to plug an article about mistake-making that has strongly influenced my thinking on the matter, written by Nicholas Fang back in 2008.

Now, note that there is a difference between getting a call wrong and getting a call overturned. Overturning a ruling on appeal can happen from a result of your ruling not being the best, not just it being wrong. For instance, I rule a GRV and don’t back up. You appeal, and the head judge decides to back up. I wasn’t wrong in my ruling, but in the head judge’s eyes I didn’t make the best call. That’s going to happen regardless of the event you’re working, unless you know how the head judge would handle every single situation.

The line between “incorrect” and “not the best” is kind of blurry, but it’s mostly a distinction I draw when this happens for educational purposes. If I don’t give the best answer, I ask myself why the head judge saw things differently, what criteria they were using to make their assessment, and what similar situations exist that could lend light to the situation. When I get something incorrect, I go figure out why I made the mistake in the first place, and work from there.

So avoid either of the above. Back to the Pro Tour!

The Pro Tour is a great place to talk to others about policy, community, and growth. If you’re ever on the floor, make the most of it. I am glad to report I was successful with two of my three goals. While I didn’t mangle anything too badly, and I talked a bunch with Gavin, I did not get to speak with some of the foreign judges as much as I wanted to. Sorry! I think that means I will have to do some traveling and make up for my error.

Pro Tour Montreal was a blast. Can’t wait to do it again. See you next time! Big thanks to James Bennett, David de la Iglesia, Stefan Ladstätter, Fry, and Toby Elliott for edits.

Below you’ll find the rules and policy situations I ran into at Pro Tour Montreal. Enjoy!

1) Does Obzedat, Ghost Council entering the battlefield from the resolution of it’s second triggered ability trigger Extort?

Click here for discussion

Extort is pretty clear. Copy/pastaed from the Comp Rules:
Extort is a triggered ability. “Extort” means “Whenever you cast a spell, you may pay {W/B}. If you do, each opponent loses 1 life and you gain life equal to the total life lost this way.”

Note that this says “Whenever you cast a spell,” not “Whenever you cast a spell or a permanent enters the battlefield under your control.” All in all, I give this particular question a rating of bananas out of a possible total of spaceship.

2) I moved to my Declare Attackers step and realized that I forgot my Huntmaster of the Fells‘s transform trigger. Do I still get it?

Click here for discussion

This is a pretty clear cut question. The person admitted they forgot their Huntmaster trigger. He does not get to put it on the stack. The opponent still has the choice to allow him to put the trigger on the stack, but he has no need to do so. No warning is given, as this is not a detrimental trigger.

3) I cast my Obzedat, Ghost Council and then moved to attack. Do I still get to use the first triggered ability?

Click here for discussion

This is similar to the Huntmaster scenario. We’ve clearly moved beyond the time where we expected him to point it out, namely, before the stack is clear and we’ve passed priority into Beginning of Combat. Note that if the player had not vocalized the trigger but had made some other indication, like tapping the card, or changing life totals, when he played it, we would not consider it missed. For this category of action, see the following from the IPG:

A triggered ability that causes a change in the visible game state (including life totals) or requires a choice upon resolution: The controller must take the appropriate physical action or make it clear what the action taken or choice made is before taking any game actions (such as casting a sorcery spell or explicitly moving to the next step or phase) that can be taken only after the triggered ability should have resolved. Note that casting an instant spell or activating an ability doesn’t mean a triggered ability has been forgotten, as it could still be on the stack.

4) I cast Act of Treason on your Incursion Specialist. I then cast a creature spell. Does Incursion Specialist’s triggered ability trigger?

Click here for discussion

Incursion Specialist’s triggered ability cares about the number of spells you’ve cast this turn, not the number of spells you’ve cast since you’ve controlled Incursion Specialist. As such, Incursion Specialist’s second triggered ability will trigger and resolve before your creature comes into play.

5) On my last turn, I used Jace, Memory Adept‘s first ability and had my opponent mill two cards instead of one. It is now my turn again, and we just noticed this. What do we do?

Click here for discussion

Let’s go through this piece by piece.

1) Has an infraction been committed? Yes. I instructed my opponent to mill from Jace incorrectly, and he milled incorrectly.

2) What infractions have been committed? Well, it’s clear I committed a GRV. What about my opponent? Let’s look at the last paragraph of GRV for some guidance. “In a situation where the effect that caused the infraction is controlled by one player, but the illegal action is taken by another player, both receive a Game Play Error-Game Rule Violation.” This is similar to me casting a Path to Exile on your creature and you placing it in the graveyard, and neither of us catching it. Thanks to the astute readership for pointing this out!

3) What do we do to fix the game state? Well, let’s think. It’s been two turns. Ostensibly, a bunch of stuff has happened. Spells might have been played, cards have been drawn, battles have been fought, hearts have been broken, people have loved and sinned and cried. Too much has happened to back up, so we’re not going to. That card stays in the graveyard.

4) What penalties do we give out? Warnings to both me and my opponent, GRVs for everyone! Yay! We go our merry ways.

6) I control an Assemble the Legion, and my legion is quite assembled. I have seven tokens on the board. During my turn, I untap, take a card off the top of my deck, slide it face down under the rest of my hand, and then, with my other hand, reach towards my pile of tokens. My opponent stops me and tells me I’ve missed my trigger. I disagree and call a judge. Have I missed it, or not?

Click here for discussion

These actions as described don’t lead me to believe that the player has actually missed his trigger. This is an instance of out of order sequencing, not a missed trigger. Remember, folks, just because the opponent claims you’ve missed your trigger, it doesn’t mean you have. The opponent is quite clearly rules lawyering here. Don’t let people get away with that!

7) We are high rolling two dice to see who plays first. You roll a seven. I roll the dice, and one of them falls off the table. I think we should just re-roll the die that fell off the table. You think I should re-roll both of them. The die that is on the table is a four. You are called over. What do you do?

Click here for discussion

This isn’t covered in any rules or policies that we have. My response, after informing the players of this, was, “If I were at home, I would re-roll the one that fell off the table.” This was good enough for them. Sometimes players just need someone to poke them.

An answer with some paper behind it came from Mitchell Waldbauer, who cited precedence from the Dreamblade floor rules over what constituted a legal roll. A die that went off of a table was not considered valid and so only that die was re-rolled. Funny how we used to have this problem solved, and now we don’t.

A clever answer came from Kevin Desprez. His response was that we should randomly determine which method the players used to resolve their dispute. This would eliminate any possibility of appearing biased.

8) I cast Augur of Bolas, and reveal Supreme Verdict off of it’s triggered ability. Instead of placing it in my hand, it winds up in my graveyard. I pass the turn. My opponent casts Lingering Souls, flashes it back, and passes the turn. During my turn, after I draw, I notice that the Supreme Verdict should be in my hand and is in the graveyard. I call over a judge. You are the judge. What do you do?

Click here for discussion

On the surface, this is a GRV. Furthermore, there is a card in the wrong zone. However, there is a time restriction on putting the Supreme Verdict in hand. The IPG specifies one turn as the cutoff for this type of fix. Two turns have passed, so no dice. The Supreme Verdict stays in the graveyard.

Here’s a question for you. What was the opponent doing? If you’re not suspicious of a player not noticing a Supreme Verdict in the graveyard, or someone casting and flashing back Lingering Souls in the face of a board sweeper, you should remove some tin foil from your hat, because you’re too well insulated. This situation requires more investigation. Be vigilant!

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4 Responses to Judging at a Pro Tour

  1. louisf says:

    Thanks for the kind words!

    You are, in fact, quite 100% correct. From the IPG:

    “In a situation where the effect that caused the infraction is controlled by one player [(in this case, the Jace player)], but the illegal action is taken by another player [(the player getting Jaced)], both receive a Game Play Error – Game Rule Violation.”

    So it is in fact not FtMGS for the opponent, but a GRV as well! Thanks for pointing this out!

  2. Stefan Ladstätter says:

    (Btw, in Ex. 6 & 8 the card rollovers are missing.)

  3. Stefan Ladstätter says:

    Hi Louis, splendid article! I fondly remember PT Seattle 2012, my first PT as L3, an awesome experience that I wouldn’t want to miss.

    About Example 5: Let’s say the error had been noticed within a turn, could we apply the “card in a wrong zone” fix? Or would you still consider backing up the GRV?

  4. Fry says:

    Hi Louis

    Thanks for the great blog post.

    Just a quick question, why for number 5 (Jace) is it not a GRV for both players, since the opponent also resolved the ability incorrectly (not just missed it happening)



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