Logistics of Battle

Two weekends ago, I attended Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This post is the first half of some thoughts on the event, focusing primarily on Day One of the event, where I was the Logistics Team Lead. I hope you enjoy it!

Day Zero: Thursday

I had a mid-afternoon flight to Milwaukee, so I spent the morning packing my suitcase (clothes and judge shirt) and backpack (Magic cards and board games!). One of the conveniences of living in New York City is that the airport I usually fly out of is easily accessible by public transportation. Two bus rides later, I was at my gate and ready to take off.

My flight to Milwaukee was quick and uneventful. I knew from the JudgeApps forum for the event that James Bennett would be arriving an hour or two after me, so I decided to wait for him. We split a taxi downtown and swapped stories about our trip and some of the recent events we’ve judged. With little else to do, we decided to drop by the event venue before heading to our respective hotels.

The Pro Tour took place in the Wisconsin Center, which was a lovely venue. Our event hall was a carpeted ballroom (hooray!), and Wizards did a great job dressing up the hall so it looked, well, professional.

Thursday was check-in day for the competitors, so while the judges didn’t have anything to do, other staff members were quite busy. I exchanged quick greetings with three of the event hosts: Billy San Juan, Sara Smith, and Nicolete Apraez. All three of them are also judges who have phenomenal reputations for providing excellent customer service and generally wonderful attitudes, so it was no surprise that they were selected for this important role!

After chatting with the event hosts, I eventually found some familiar faces hanging out near the back of the room: Jason Lemahieu, Jared Sylva, Chris Richter, Kevin Desprez, Guillaume Beuzelin, and Alfonso Bueno. The six judges were in the midst of a pitched Battle for Zendikar team draft, having split the teams among national lines. I’m happy to report that Lems, Jared, and Chris claimed decisive victory for Team USA!

After the team draft wrapped up, it was nearly time for dinner. Alfonso, our judge manager for the weekend, had already organized a dinner reservation at the nearby Port of Call restaurant. I dropped my things at my hotel, and happened to bump into Joel Krebs in the elevator. We enjoyed a pleasant walk to the restaurant, discussing our work together at SCG Indianapolis, Joel’s role at Facebook, and even a bit of poker strategy.

Dinner was a very enjoyable affair, in large part due to the excellent company. About a dozen judges attended (roughly half the staff), and it was a great chance to unwind and socialize before the big show. Thanks to Alfonso for coordinating everything!

Day One: Friday

I was very excited but also apprehensive for Friday, since I expected it would be the most challenging day of the Pro Tour for me. This was because I was going to be team leading! Fortunately, I had a great team to take care of everything: Nicholas Sabin, James Bennett, and Jon Goud. Their experience at the Pro Tour ranged from veterans (Nicholas and James) to middling (me) to totally new (Jon), so I was looking forward to having a diverse range of perspectives on my team.

My role for Friday was Logistics Lead, and my team’s primary responsibility was coordinating everything for the Friday draft. Many of our tasks involved taking care of various bits of stuff: setting out the packs for drafting, distributing packets of basic land, and handing out miscellaneous goodies (like sleeves). But we were also responsible for orchestrating a smooth, timely transition between the drafting and building portions of the event.

As a sidebar, I’d like to spend few words discussing what “the transition between the drafting and building portions of the event” means. At casual events, the transition between drafting and building is most often non-existent (everyone just sits in the same seat they drafted to build their deck) or self-organized (individual players decide to move to another table, so no one can see their deck). For Competitive or Professional events, we take things a little more seriously: we don’t want players to be next to their potential opponents while they’re registering their pool and building! To achieve this, one of the scorekeeper’s jobs is to create new seating assignments that disperse players from the same pod throughout the room. The judges then cut and deliver these new assignments sometime before the draft ends. This is one of the most time-sensitive components of the entire draft, as any delay will impact every player in the room.

Fortunately, PT BFZ was actually the second time I’d been Logistics Lead on Day One: I had the same role at the previous Pro Tour, PT Origins. I learned a lot from that experience, as well as from observing Gavin Duggan execute the same responsibilities on Day Two. One of my major takeaways was rethinking how I divided and assigned tasks. At PT Origins, the play area was neatly divided into four sections, and my team had four members who were available during the draft. How convenient, right? So I put each of my team members in charge of one section, and asked them to make sure everything was taken care of for their particular section at the appropriate time.

While attractive in theory, this division of responsibilities led to us missing out on opportunities to parallelize tasks and avoid redundancy. On Day Two of PT Origins, I noticed that Gavin instead put specific judges in charge of certain tasks and it went very smoothly, so that was the approach I adopted for Day One of PT BFZ. Nicholas spearheaded setting out the draft packs, Jon oversaw distributing basic lands, and James took the lead on passing out all the other goodies and numbering the decklists.

Numbering the decklists is another idea I appropriated after seeing it in action at PT Origins. We want decklists to be available to players as close as possible to when they’re needed, but not before. The two schools of thought here are (1) placing eight decklists at the start of the draft (in the middle of each pod, out of the way), or delivering them along with the build assignments midway through the draft. I chose Option 2 for Day One, but either way, pre-numbering the decklists for each draft pod makes the Deck Checks team’s lives much easier.

Overall, I feel the draft went quite smoothly. All the product was ready when the players arrived, and everything else (decklists, basic lands, sleeves) was delivered to the players in a timely fashion. If I could do it over, there were some minor elements of the execution I would have adjusted. For example, Lems suggested putting out the decklists at the start of the day (Option 1 above). I also would have “staged” the sleeves on the judge table earlier in the day, rather than carrying them out in unattractive cardboard boxes during the start of the draft. I was also a few seconds late getting to the clock to start the timer for the build portion.

Later in the day, when I asked for feedback, Lems encouraged me to touch base with the Logistics Lead for Day Two to share what worked, what didn’t, and any other potential challenges. I thought this was a great suggestion, so I found a few minutes to chat with Jeff “J-Mo” Morrow before the end of the day. I shared the issues I ran into above, as well as mentioned he should make sure there were enough basic lands left for the second draft (unsurprisingly, there were). As I expected, the Day Two draft also went quite smoothly, guided by J-Mo’s steady hand.

Of course, there’s a lot more to being a team lead than delegating responsibilities executing tasks. Next week, I’ll discuss some of the other aspects of my stint as a team lead, focusing on team building and the unique challenges of leading a team of all L3 judges. I’ll also discuss a couple of the rulings I took at the Pro Tour, and what it was like to be on the Coverage team for Saturday.

Until next time, may you always organize your troops well!