Tournament Report: Deck Checks for Constructed Team Trios

This month’s article is a different sort than I usually publish.  It’s a tournament report from my experiences judging on the deck checks team for both days of the SCG: Cincinnati team constructed open the weekend of March 24-25, 2018. In a team constructed format event, there is one Standard, one Modern, and one Legacy player on each team. This format posed many specific challenges for deck checks judges, which are outlined below. My goal in sharing this report is to help other judges who find themselves not really knowing what to expect going into this familiar role in unfamiliar territory, which is exactly where I found myself in this event.

Collecting decklists and distributing tokens

This was accomplished by the standard technique of giving pre-counted stacks of tokens to judges along with assigned table ranges written on sticky notes within which judges were to distribute the tokens and collect decklists. Judges were instructed to distribute tokens when the SCG organized play rep started talking and to collect decklists when the head judge asked floor judges to do so, then return the decklists to the judge area. At the judge area, sheets of paper, one corresponding to each sticky note, were laid out to organize the decklists as they were coming in. A sheet of paper labeled “Extra tokens here” was laid in the same area to facilitate returning these.

This part of the day was largely based on existing, tried-and-true processes and procedures. There wasn’t really any need to change anything based on the team format. In fact, handing out tokens to teams is probably easier than handing them out to individuals.

Organizing and confirming all decklists were present

At SCG: Cincinnati, this task was not completed until after round 2. I’m extremely optimistic that this time can be significantly reduced. Knowing what I know now, this would be the procedure I would use to perform this task if I were the deck checks lead at a future event:

  • First, divide all the collected decklists into an ordered stack for each judge on the team. When combining decklists from different piles, alternate the orientation of the sheets (portrait/landscape) from each constituent pile to preserve these distinctions. This way, any irregularities (such as having the decklists in descending rather than ascending order) are confined to their pile. Also, this prevents decklists from one pile from being associated with decklists from other piles.
  • Next, give each judge a stack of piles to go through. Ideally, by this time, the deck checks team should have from the TO a printed copy of each decklist that was submitted online and two lists of all teams in the event. Both of these should be sorted by the Legacy player on the team’s surname. The team lead should distribute to each team member a stack of collected decklists, the corresponding range of the all players list, and the corresponding online-submitted decklists. Two copies of the all players list are needed because the beginning and end of each judge’s range are determined by the stack of physical decklists. This means that the sheets covering the end of each range will be the same as the sheet covering the beginning of the next range. The second copy allows each judge to have access to his or her entire range of names without needing to share. Depending on the capabilities of the judges on the deck checks team, it may be possible for the team lead to also get a (smaller) stack to do, or it may be more prudent to remain available for issues that come up.
  • Each judge then does the following for each decklist in his or her stack:
    • Identify the Legacy player of the next team in the stack and that player’s teammates. This task was complicated by the fact that the teams in the lists we had at the event were sorted by seat at the player meeting. Since L-shaped seating was used, team members did not necessarily appear contiguously on the list.
    • Locate all three decklists for the team. If one or more of the decklists cannot be found among the collected decklist stack and the online submissions stack, circle those players’ names. Otherwise, cross out the names for the players.
    • Arrange the decklists so that the Legacy decklist is on top.
    • Paper clip the decklists (and if applicable, submitted waivers) together. All judges should be instructed to put the paper clip in the same spot for consistency. I prefer having it in the upper left, but below the names line so that names on the Modern and Standard decklists can be read without removing the paper clip.
    • Checking waivers for completion may be possible here, or, based on event size, it may be better to leave for a separate pass through to be completed only after all decklists are confirmed to be present.

The procedure the deck checks team at SCG: Cincinnati used was similar to this, but suffered from various inefficiencies. These are the ones I have identified as the lowest-hanging fruits. That is, the issues that could yield the biggest returns for the lowest amount of effort to fix them.

  • The list of all players and the online-submitted decklists were not available when the deck checks team was ready to begin going through the stacks of decklists. Because of the delay, the deck checks team made a first pass through all lists, only paper clipping the team waivers and written decklists together. Once the all teams list and the online-submitted decklists were available, the deck checks team had to go through the stacks a second time to check teams off the checklist and insert the online decklists into each team’s packet. In addition to the wasted time from going through the whole stack twice, the process of inferring which lists went together based on proximity to other lists and format proved particularly error prone, and many lists had to be reassigned to the correct team during the second pass.
  • Some team members were unclear on how to assemble the team packets. In particular, the paper clip position was haphazard, and had to be standardized during a subsequent pass through all the lists. The standard location in the upper left corner allowed for easy reading of Legacy player names while flipping through the lists, but impeded checking the Modern and Standard player names during checking of waivers and deck checks.
  • As noted above, the players on each team did not necessarily appear together on the all players list. This was not noticed or pointed out at the start, which confused members of the team, slowing their work and necessitating re-work once this quirk was discovered. The mental attention-shifting this ordering introduced into the process of figuring out which players were on a given Legacy player’s team was frustrating. With the list as printed, this process involved looking at the next player down on the list, looking several columns to the right to see that player’s teammates, finding those three players’ lists, finding those three player names in the left hand column, and crossing them out. If player names appeared together with their teammates on this list, the mental overhead required to find each Legacy player’s teammates and remember their names would be greatly reduced. I estimate that this change would decrease the time to complete this step by about 10%.

Finding lists

The arrangement of finding a specific player’s list was made quite simple by a sheet that listed all the players in the event in alphabetical order and had their teammates in another column. This data took a while to interpret. If possible, a sheet that had a specific column for the Legacy player’s name would make this easier, but the improvement would be only incremental. Many requests to find a specific player’s decklist were initiated by the players, who could simply be asked for their Legacy teammate’s name.

Deck checks

The team format of the event affected deck checks in one significant way: finding the players’ decklists required knowing the Legacy teammate’s name. This was of no consequence for midround deck checks, where the results slip had all three team members’ names on it, but necessitated asking the players for beginning of round deck checks when the slips were unavailable.

Pulling lists for day 2

This task was evaluated to have a negligible impact on how quickly decklists could be found due to the team format essentially reducing the number of decklists by a factor of three. As such, the effort involved to separate the day 2 lists from the rest was deemed too great to justify doing this task. Unfortunately, the coverage team required all day 2 lists for the metagame breakdown, which necessitated this effort anyway. Because of the team format, the number of lists to pull was also reduced by a factor of 3. The task of pulling 26 teams’ lists from the decklist tote took one judge between 10 and 15 minutes.

Confirming deck legality before the top 8

The head judge requested that all top 8 decklists be verified for the correct number of cards and format legality prior to the start of the top 8. SCG staff type up top 8 decklists for their web coverage as a matter of course, and this process involves passing lists through a computer program which performs these checks automatically. Learning this information saved the day 2 deck checks judges a lot of unnecessary effort. Coordinating with the coverage team on the status of the typed decklists should be sufficient to handle these checks at a future event. Beware that the online decklist submission form has no checks in place to prevent illegal decklists from being submitted. Such a feature was recommended to SCG as a potential area for improvement in a future iteration of this form.

Top 8 deck checks

Due to the team format, courtesy deck checks before the top 8 would involve 24 deck checks before the start of the top 8, a daunting figure complicated by the challenge of keeping all teams’ decks together. As a compromise, the decision was made to check only the sideboards to save effort. Due to inadequate communication before the start of the top 8, the plan for doing this was modified on the fly and poorly executed. Knowing what I know now, here is the procedure I would recommend for a pre-top 8 courtesy sideboard check:

  • In order to minimize disruption to the top 8, any checks to be performed must be completed before top 8 gameplay begins. Especially in the Legacy format, games may take just a few turns, so checks that extend into the start of the first game may become impractical before judges have the opportunity to perform them.
  • In light of the point above, decks should be collected as usual starting in the last round of swiss and kept until the start of the top 8. Sideboard (or regular) deck checks would be done at this time. I propose using masking tape to temporarily attach team’s deckboxes together while holding them in safekeeping to save time when pulling decks for a team.

Top 8 games

Because this tournament allowed teams to review their opponents’ decklists, conflicts arose where the deck checks team and the coverage team needed a player’s decklist at the same time. I recommend that copies be made for the coverage judges to give to the opponents for review while the deck checks team retains the originals at future events.

Final thoughts

Despite the large size of this event, it ran reasonably smooth with the exception of some difficulties, discussed above, which marked areas for improvement. The great majority of these can be attributed to personal inexperience with the specific challenges of running a team format event on the part of the judges responsible for them. I expect that as team constructed becomes more popular as a format, such issues will fade, and I hope that calling out the most prominent issues we experienced in Cincinnati can help accelerate that process.

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