A Judge’s Northern Road Trip, Part 1: Judging a Remote Store’s Very First PPTQ

Written by David Lachance-Poitras

Written by David Lachance-Poitras

This story starts when our Illustrious overlord Regional Coordinator posted in the Quebec judges Facebook Group about a gaming shop in Val d’Or (The Geekshop) who needed a Level 2 judge to hold their very first PPTQ. Once I saw the post, I immediately called dibs on head judging that tournament.
Many of you may be wondering where is this town called Val d’Or and how remote it is. Allow me to enlighten you:

Even among the Canadian judge community, where many judges are used to travelling a bit to judge PPTQs, a six-hour drive is quite the road trip to head-judge a single PPTQ! But, you see, this is where I grew up. To be able to return home, not only to see my family, but also to get myself involved once again in the community I belonged so many years ago was an occasion I couldn’t pass up!

Like many other communities in the more remote areas of the country, this Magic community is greatly dispersed between four larger, surrounding towns, who are more or less a one-hour drive from each other. This geographical spread is a factor that hindered the growth of the local Magic community in Quebec’s side of the Abitibi-Timiskaming area before social media arrived to bridge those communities. About three stores exist with Core WPN Level and most sanctioned events held are prereleases and FNM’s. Never before had a store reached a level of attendance to gain Advanced WPN status… until now.


I knew that, considering what I knew about this community, getting that PPTQ organized, running it, and make it a success was going to be more challenging than what I was used to. There were a number of factors I had to be prepared for in order to bring the players the event that they deserved:

  • Most of the Magic community has never played at Competitive REL or plays it about once a year (generally at the Grand Prix level in Toronto or Montreal).
  • The TO has run only Regular REL events before, which means he may not be aware of his full role and responsibilities at Competitive REL compared to Regular.
  • The traveling costs were going to be much higher than usual and the TO may not be able to provide compensation that will cover all of it.
  • Because most of the Magic communities in the Montreal-Québec City corridor or even from the Ottawa area are so far away, it is unlikely that the PPTQ regulars in the surrounding areas will make it out due to the travel and lodging costs involved.
  • The RPTQ invite is not much of an incentive for local players because the closest RPTQ, in either Montreal or Toronto, will be really tough to get to.
  • If the event does not launch, this will cause a big financial loss for the TO, which will hinder his willingness to hold another PPTQ for his community.

The Game Plan

To make that event a success, I had to have a plan to help overcome these challenges and get the TO on board. I divided that plan into 3 parts:
Before the Event

  • How do I ensure that players attend the event to make it successful?
  • What should the TO know and do before I get there?
  • How do I make such a long trip affordable?

During the Event

  • How can I ensure that players have a great time attending my event?
  • What problems do I foresee happening, so that I can be prepared?

After the Event

  • How do I take what I learned at this event to prepare for the next one?

Before the Event

Help the TO to Advertise the Event

From the store owner’s perspective, advertising for regular events is one thing, but advertising for a PPTQ is another thing completely because this kind of event attracts a specific subset of the player pool. Considering there was not really an existing pool of players willing to play Competitive REL Magic on a regular basis, the challenge was to attract players from the overall community to try it out and maybe create a pool of invested players for future Competitive REL events.

Therefore, advertising had to emphasize introducing players to what Competitive Magic is, and try to convince players that even if the event is run at a Competitive, they can have as much fun playing as they would at a regular store event.

My plan was to get myself a little involved in the store’s advertising myself. In addition, I advised the TO on what information to write in the Facebook event page and when to send reminders leading up to the event. I planned to make a post on the community’s Facebook group with some explanations on what this tournament is about and what to expect at such an event. I also let players know that I was available to answer any questions or worries anybody may have regarding the event.

Make yourself known to the community

The thing with smaller communities is that the members tend to be close-knit. Considering I was coming over from the Montreal Area, I could be perceived like an outsider entering this small community. After all, I left the area about 14 years ago and a lot has changed since then!

In addition, since there was no certified judge living in the area, most players do not know what is a Judge nor what we do. This may lead to false presumptions about us which may scare them from coming.

Therefore, it was important to present myself a few weeks before the event, joining the area’s Facebook groups to not only advertise for the event, but also to present myself as a certified judge, and answer any rules questions that would come up there too!

Get in sync with the TO on logistics

Since I was not going to be able to come see the venue myself and meet the TO beforehand, it was especially important to setup a communication channel to help him with the logistics requirements before the event. You can get most tournament details (e.g supplies, printer, computer, clock, etc.) figured out early and answer all their questions. This helps a lot in reducing the risk of unforeseen issues, which was especially important for a remote PPTQ as fixing those problems could be more challenging than usual. For example, critical office supplies may be difficult to locate since an open office supply store may not be close by. Great collaboration with the TO and the shop is critical to be as ready as possible to make the tournament run smoothly.

Find ways to reduce travel costs

Luckily for me, I have family living in the area, so I saved on hotel costs, which helped reduce the extra compensation the TO would be asked to pay to help cover my travel costs. As I was traveling by car and my girlfriend was coming with me to see the family, I also negotiated that the TO would pay only half of my fuel costs.

But, for the judges who would not be able to benefit from these advantages here are two tips:

    1. If you are a little bit ingenious, you can you can find cheaper alternatives in lodging easily. These might include
      1. Bed and Breakfast
      2. Couch Surfing sites
      3. Camping site
      4. Lodging arrangements with the TO or someone else locally
    2. Buses or other commuter transportation to remote areas can be prohibitively expensive. You can easily reduce those costs if you use a carpooling service to reduce the gas costs. Or you can carpool with any players willing to make the trip over there! Plus, you get someone to talk to during the trip.

During the Event

Take more time to explain what will be happening at the event

I had planned a 20-minute player meeting where I would offer the usual announcements, but I would also explain the obligations players must follow at Competitive REL, as well as an explanation on the general philosophy behind the Competitive REL policy that I must uphold.

However, I chose to avoid explaining the IPG in detail during the meeting as it would take a big chunk of time and some people would have trouble understanding it correctly. Instead, I thought it would be best to just explain penalties in general, while spending more time with individual players as infractions occured, making short announcements at the start of round as needed.

Be more proactive to prevent potential issues from occurring

While we cannot expect to prevent any issues from ever occurring at an event, especially when there are far fewer experienced players in the room, I adopted a more proactive approach to prevent some of these issues, especially Tournament Errors. Of course, if an issue were to occur, I would still apply the prescribed penalties and remedies as dictated by policy.

To that end, I planned to put a reminder or two about player’s responsibilities in maintaining a legal game state, about not forgetting to desideboard, and about specific rules in the MTR at the start of each round. I hoped when doing that to teach newer players about Competitive REL and to help all of the players prevent avoidable errors from occurring and avoid “feel bad” situations.

I also thought about including complex rules interactions, but decided against it because this was an area where I was at risk of entering in outside assistance territory, especially if I were to talk about interactions seen on the floor.

After the event

Get Feedback!

Considering this was going to be the very first Competitive event for players in this area, collecting feedback was very important. I want to know how the players and the TO felt about their tournament experience. That way, we can implement improvements in next season’s PPTQ the store will hold.

The result

Before the event
The TO and his manager asked a lot of questions that I took care to answer swiftly and completely. I also made sure that all the items on my event prep checklist were taken care of before I left for Val d’Or, the day before the tournament. I passed by the store to say hi and make sure everything was ready. To my great pleasure, everything was indeed ready for the event!

During the event
10 players attended the event, which meant 5 rounds + cut to Top 4. During the player meeting, I took the time to follow what I had planned to explain to the players and I got the idea to ask who among them had no experience at competitive. Four hands were raised, which guided my interactions with those players and helped me explain the rulings and the rationale behind some tournament policy.

I followed my plan of proactive judging for the most part, which led to a relatively low number of issues occurring during the tournament. Most infractions given that day were Game Rules Violations, which was a bit expected considering that Dominaria had come out recently and players were not all used to the new Standard interactions. As a matter of fact, I had already received many rules questions related to that set before the event.
Only one Tournament Error penalty was given: a simple Deck Problem. It is hard to say if my proactive judging prevented more errors from occurring, but I’d like to believe it did.

After the event
At the end of the tournament, almost all the players came to thank me for my good work at the event and to tell me they were looking forward to seeing me again in the next PPTQ. The TO also expressed his satisfaction at how well the tournament went during our post-mortem discussion, and he is looking forward to next season’s PPTQ!

Overall Impressions

I believe all that prep work and the exemplary effort by the TO and the shop crew definitely contributed to the success of this first PPTQ. 10 players are few compared to the average in the province, but the fact that there were enough players to get that PPTQ going is a first success that can be built upon. Considering the feedback received at that event, I expect the next PPTQ event held at this store will attract more players.

Lessons Learned
While, in my opinion, my game plan was well thought out in theory, its execution was definitely not perfect, particularly at the level of the communication with the community. I believe it would have been preferred that local community leaders like the TO or an influential community member would do the promotion of the event. On my part, I should have started earlier to interact with the community. Something like an “Ask a Judge” service could have helped greatly to make contact with the community, which I have added to my “To Do” list!

While getting this feedback was very important in this context of “first time,” I realized that I should do the same with the other stores for which I regularly judge. This is something that I will fix starting this season!

In the next episode…

During my trip to Val d’Or I also had another task to accomplish. There were two people who were interested in becoming certified judges, but considering the distance from my home to them, I had to adopt a different approach in their training. This will be covered in my next article. To be continued!

This article was made possible in part thanks to the Canadian Regional Enrichment Sponsorship provided by RC Jon Goud.

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