Pro Tour Sydney: Day 1

Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Judges!
Pro Tour Sydney Judges!

After more than 18 hours of travel and 12 hours of jet-lagged tourism, it was time for what I had actually come to Australia for: the Pro Tour!

The atmosphere of the Pro Tour is challenging to describe. It possesses the unmoving constants of an ordinary Magic tournament: chairs, tables, a scorekeeper station, pairing boards, and so on. Even so, the Pro Tour feels completely different any other event. A great part of this is due to the choice of venue, which skew towards spacious ballrooms rather than cavernous convention halls. The setup of the play space contributes as well: nice chairs, dark-clothed tables, and a wealth of Magic-branded (and Pro Tour-specific) boards and props. And if that weren’t enough, the feature match area will always remind you: this is the big stage.

Still, they say you can get accustomed to anything, and the Pro Tour is no exception. My first Pro Tour (Pro Tour Magic 2015) was not just new and exciting — it was a bit overwhelming. Since then, the mystique has worn off a little, which I think is good: it makes me more comfortable, and allows me to approach the Pro Tour confidently, as “just” any other event.

For Day 1, Friday, I had been assigned to the Coverage team under John Alderfer. Coverage is one of my favorite roles at the Pro Tour because it’s something you can’t really do anywhere else, even compared to other events that have a major coverage component (like Grand Prix or the SCG Tour). Moreover, because the team is almost always in the feature match area, it’s easy to feel a sense of rapport and connection with your other team members. The downside is that, since the team is almost always in the feature match area, it’s easy to feel isolated from all the other judges.

That being said, my major goal for Day 1 actually had nothing to do with Coverage at all. Rather, I was already thinking ahead to Day 2, where I would be team leading Logistics. I wanted to make sure I observed as much about the Day 1 logistics as possible, and apply all the lessons learned (positive or negative) to make Day 2 even better. Beyond that, I was resolved to be vigilant about Slow Play, especially regarding shuffling and sideboarding. Since the feature match judges tend to monitor one match very closely, I feel that it’s easy to get “sucked in” and, much like players often don’t know how much time they’ve really spent making a decision, lose track of the actual elapsed time. I don’t think I fell into this trap, but if you noticed an on-camera feature match that felt particularly slow, let me know! I’d love to discuss and review it.

On the whole, the first day of the Pro Tour went quite smoothly. The most fun I had was calling the feature area draft — something I didn’t expect to do going into the day, but jumped on the opportunity when John asked for volunteers. Somewhat embarrassingly, I had to borrow someone else’s Android phone (thanks, Jeremie!) in order to actually time the draft calls. (P.S. If someone could code a draft timer app for the iPhone, that’d be great. P.P.S. On second thought, don’t do that. I keep meaning to teach myself Swift and this seems like an excellent test project.)

Some other scattered observations:

  • We implemented a variety of anti-scouting measures for this Pro Tour, including removing the names of players’ opponents from the pairings sheets. We also instituted a strict 4-minute time limit from the point pairings were posted to the start of the round. This latter measure worked extremely well for encouraging everyone to get to their seats and keeping the tournament running smoothly. I believe it was Jared Sylva who pithily said “we’ve cracked the code” with the 4-minute countdown. Although it’s not necessarily feasible for larger events like Grand Prix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the countdown return for future Pro Tours.
  • Liliana, the Last Hope and Jace, Telepath Unbound have a few things in common. One is that they’re very playable and prevalent planeswalkers; the other is that they create effects which last beyond a single turn, which can be challenging to remember. The situation gets even worse when both of them are in play at the same time. One way I think Coverage could improve is by providing markers to indicate creatures subjected to Liliana’s thrall or Jace’s spell — perhaps similar to the “Khans/Dragons” markers that were used to denote the choice on the Sieges.
  • I don’t have the exact numbers, but rounds felt a bit slow. Although there weren’t large numbers of matches going to time, it felt like there was always at least one. The Draft and Standard formats were both somewhat prone to board stalls, although I think the issue was partially alleviated in Standard due to players actually incorporating finishers and stalemate-breakers for this very reason.
  • I greatly enjoyed meeting several judges I’d never worked with before, mainly from the Asia Pacific region.
  • There often feels like a divide between judges and “the rest” of the staff (many of whom are totally unseen and under-appreciated) who work hard to make the Pro Tour a reality. I appreciated that Wizards did their part to reduce this separation by inviting us judges to the catering that they provided for coverage, commentators, event hosts, and other staff.
  • Apart from issuing one Slow Play warning, I gave out very few penalties, and certainly nothing to write home about. Some of this is just happenstance, but the Pro Tour is generally a fairly relaxed tournament: lots of rules questions, lots of watching Magic, comparatively few penalties.
  • Friday was David Ochoa’s birthday, and his girlfriend Amie surprised him with a birthday cake — which he shared!

That’s all I have for Day 1. Next week, I’ll dive into how things went as Logistics Lead on Day 2!