Blast from the past: GP Zürich 2004 report with commentary

A while ago, while looking for something else on my hard drive, I found a piece of my personal judging history: a report I wrote after Grand Prix Zürich 2004. It was originally published on the Wizards of the Coast judge website which is pretty much lost in the aether now.

It was interesting to go back and get a snapshot of how we used to run things back then. This was my last GP as a Level 2 – I tested for Level 3 at Worlds some months later. I’m republishing this article with commentary from myself and Isa Flues (who was interested in reading about the only (?) Swiss GP ever).

So here we go.

GP Zürich report, by Johanna Knuutinen

Johanna: I changed my name to Virtanen when I got married because not even Finns know how to pronounce Knuutinen correctly.

GP Zürich was held on 26th and 27th of June, 2004. The format for this event was Mirrodin Block Constructed. I had only judged one Constructed Grand Prix before this one, so my friend Pasi Virtanen (Johanna: “friend” heh) and I decided that it would be nice to see another airport, hotel and convention centre while not having time to do any sightseeing, and asked the nice people at WotC Belgium if we could come and judge. The answer was yes, and so we arrived in Zürich on Friday the 25th around 5 pm. We checked in at the hotel, had dinner and walked around the neighbourhood a bit before going to the venue for the judge meeting.

Isa: You mention later in the report that you had been judging GPs for a few years already at that point, and your experience shows in the way you dissect team structures. This being only your second constructed GP sounds surprising – were they this rare?
Also – Staffing by WotC Belgium? Were they running the show too?

Johanna: I think it was probably because I didn’t do many GPs per year. Up until 2004, I only did the Scandinavian GPs and most of them were Limited. In 2004 I made a push for Level 3 and started travelling to GPs outside Scandinavia. The standards were a little different back then.

And yes, WotC Belgium was the Tournament Organizer for all the European GPs.

The meeting was not very long; Justus Rönnau the Head Judge explained what would be happening during the following two days and answered some questions. Then the conversation quickly turned to football/soccer and Euro 2004, a subject that I know very little about. Football is not particularly popular in Finland; wife-carrying (Johanna: Here I included a link that is now dead, go google it. Wife-carrying is a real sport.) and reindeer racing are sports that we are more familiar with.

Isa: What was the level of a GPHJ at that point, and what would that mean compared to today’s program structure? Was there something similar to a GPHJ role?

Johanna: GP Head Judges were senior Level 3s. Pro Tour Head Judges were Level 4. At this point in time, I think we did not have any Level 5s because the only Level 5 used to be a WotC employee (Jeff Donais) who left the company. Later in 2004, the levels were reworked and several of the Level 4s were promoted to Level 5. Being allowed to Head Judge GPs seemed to be something like a secret level inside L3.

A few thoughts on teams

Saturday started with another meeting in which teams and assignments were given out. There were four teams: Check 1 (led by David Vogin), Check 2 (led by Riccardo Tessitori), Pairings (led by Pasi) and Slips (led by me).

Johanna: Four teams, three Level 3s – David, Riccardo and Pasi. It’s possible that we had another L3 in side events. But probably not.

I have been doing this long enough to see the team system change a bit. A few years ago, when I judged my first GP, we had teams and team leaders, but the teams didn’t have a single task for the whole day. Instead, Team A would do deck checks in rounds 1 and 2 (or perhaps even 1 and 5), post pairings in rounds 3 and 4, hand out result slips in rounds 5 and 6, and so on. The purpose of this system was, I think, to let everyone (new judges in particular) try everything and thus gain valuable experience. This system worked well enough, but it was a bit confusing at times, especially when something was changed in the middle of the tournament.

Johanna: Can you tell that I wasn’t a fan of this system?

Judges would dig their pockets for the schedule sheet and mutter, “where am I supposed to be this round…” So at later GPs, a team would have one task for the first 4 rounds, and then switch tasks with another team for the remaining 4 or 5. This system still offers a chance to do different things, but people usually don’t get confused. One step further away from “what am I doing this round” is the system used currently at Pro Tours: teams have one task for the whole day.

Isa: Okay, now switching tasks multiple times during the day sounds super confusing, and I’m happy we don’t do this anymore! Were newer judges just thrown in at the deep end with this and had to learn everything in one day? 😮

Also, did the new model of assigning one task per team and day gain traction quickly? Did people say it was going to kill Magic?

Johanna: Yes, new judges just had to pick it up on the go. But GPs were smaller then and expectations of efficiency were also…different. I think it did gain traction pretty quickly, I don’t remember any serious complaints about it.

The reason I’m explaining all of this in so much detail is that there wasn’t any other documentation for this stuff. I thought it would be useful for new GP judges to read.

The variation used at this GP was that there were two deck check teams: both teams would count decklists during round 1, then Check 1 would do deck checks during rounds 2 to 4 and Check 2 would perform that duty during the remaining 4 rounds. I don’t mind doing deck checks all day. I don’t find it boring, and it gives me a chance to rest my feet! However, not everyone feels this way, so it seems like a good idea to split the deck check duties.

Isa: Ha, as someone who dislikes doing deck checks I definitely agree with the last part! Also, is it just me, or is a dedicated deck check team a great way to keep someone off the floor for most of the day, and thus prevent them from gaining experience? Some middle ground like switching in the middle of the day sounds good, so what made it such that the model was phased out eventually?

Johanna: Unsure. It’s probably about the growth of the GPs – more players means we needed to be more efficient, and not switching tasks helps with that.

Pairings team would post pairings and standings all day, and my Slips team would cut and distribute slips all day. There was no Logistics team, since that team usually doesn’t have any special duties at Constructed events – at Limited events this team is in charge of distributing product and/or setting up the draft tables. From my viewpoint this system worked nicely at this event.

Getting started

My team members were David Gallien, Jean C. Stephen, Rostislav Reha and Nigel Rowledge (who moved to side events after three rounds). I had never met any of them before, so I started our team meeting by introducing myself and asking them to tell me a little bit about themselves. Then I explained what we would be doing as Slips team: get slips from the printer, cut them with the machine and hand them out as fast as possible. One of my team members wanted to know whether we should answer calls while passing out the result slips, or to let another judge take the call. My view on this is that calls for a judge should be dealt with as quickly as possible. Handing out slips can wait, and if it seems that the call will take a long time, you can usually hand the slips to another judge and take your time dealing with the situation. There isn’t much to say about the way we handled the result slip distribution. I would stand near the printer and pass stacks of result slip sheets to my team members who would cut them. The printer was rather slow and there were many pages to print. I would also make note of the feature match tables so that we could pick off those slips before handing out the rest.

Johanna: Exciting stuff, eh.

Isa:Huh! I have never thought of what the average speed of a printer around the year 2004 could do to a big event!

It turned out that nobody in our team spoke German, which was the major local language. In fact, there were only 3 or 4 German-speaking judges in the whole tournament, including the Head Judge. This proved to be a problem during the day. Translators were not always available quickly enough. Finally, I asked my team members to let me know if they gave out any Game Losses, and inform the Head Judge of any situation (other than Tardiness or deck problems) that seemed to require a Match Loss.

Isa: Match Losses for deck problems? Still better than a straight DQ, I guess?

Johanna: At my first Nationals in 1999, I had to talk the HJ out of DQing someone for writing “4 x Elf” instead of “4 x Llanowar Elf”. Match loss seemed like a huge improvement!

Registration was still in progress when we finished our meeting; the hall was filling with players preparing their decklists and making last-minute trades. Justus had told us to walk the floor and look for players who were using metallic, holographic or dragon-backed sleeves. We didn’t want players using them, as they are too easily abused. However, towards the end of the registration period we found out that the dealer had run out of any normal, opaque sleeves – all he had was clears, metallics, holographics and Dragonbacks. Justus decided that we had to allow whatever the dealer had. Telling people to play without sleeves at a Constructed event would not have been a good idea.

Isa: Dragon-backed sleeves were forbidden? Like… regular sleeves with artworks? Did players have to use single-colour sleeves?

Johanna: Yes! Picture sleeves were very new back then. This may have been the first time I saw them. We were very concerned that players could abuse them by hiding markings in the artwork, or taking advantage of the uneven printing quality. The holographic and metallic sleeves were actually a bigger problem. Some of the metallic ones were so shiny that they acted as mirrors (so when you cut the deck, you could gain info) and the holographic ones were just unpleasant to look at.

While walking around the hall I saw that a young player had put both English and German card names on his decklist. I checked with the Head Judge, and he said that both English and German would be allowed, and made sure that there was a German-speaking judge in one of the decklist-counting teams.

Shortly after this John Avon the artist asked me to guard his booth while he went to the men’s room. I did my best, and protected his treasures from the hordes of young fans while suddenly remembering that I left my collection of Flame Jets at home.

Johanna: Look at me name dropping the artist.

The tournament started after a short delay caused by a major confusion about byes; some players thought they had byes but didn’t. After these players were dealt with, Round 1 could begin.

Isa: Lol, some things never change, right?

While passing out result slips, I was called to a table. One of the players had just played…Defense Grid, a card that is not legal in Mirrodin Block. I told the player that he would get a match loss for Illegal Main Deck. Then I checked the deck and the decklist for any other illegal cards. The Grid was the only problem; it was replaced with a basic land of the player’s choice.

Isa: Illegal Main Deck? As a separate infraction? How many different kinds of Deck/Decklist Problems were there? 😮

Johanna: I’m glad you asked! This is from the September 2003 version of the Penalty Guidelines but I doubt we had changed this stuff much by 2004:

100 Deck Problems
101 Deck Problem—Illegal Main Decklist
102 Deck Problem—Illegal Main Deck (Legal Decklist)
103 Deck Problem—Illegal Main Deck (No Decklist Used)
104 Deck Problem—Illegal Sideboard List
105 Deck Problem—Illegal Sideboard (Legal List)
106 Deck Problem—Illegal Sideboard (No List Used)

During Round 2, Player A complained that his opponent had picked up Player A’s deck in order to count it. There was an Arc-Slogger in play, so it was relevant to do so. The number of cards left was less than 20. However, he picked up the deck in such a way that he could see the faces of the cards. The opponent claimed that he had only seen the bottom card. Player A didn’t immediately contradict this. I was about to issue a warning for looking at extra cards and stupidity, and at this point Player A called for the Head Judge. When Justus arrived, Player A said that his opponent had fanned out the deck and seen all the cards in it. It is possible that I had misunderstood him. The opponent eventually confirmed this. Justus asked me what I would do and I said that based on the information I now had, the advantage gained was too great and I would give a game loss to the opponent. Justus agreed.

Potential cheating on the stack

During round 3 or 4 the opponent of Player B called me over. He claimed that Player B had stacked his deck land-spell-spell-land-spell-spell, and then shuffled it a bit. I looked at the deck. It looked randomised enough to me, so I asked player B to shuffle it a bit more and not do any stacking in the future. You are supposed to randomise your deck properly and therefore stacking it before randomising is a waste of time. I took his name and planned to watch him during the following rounds.

However, I knew I would be busy with result slips at the beginning of any round, so I asked a judge from another team to keep an eye on Player B’s shuffling technique. So, a round or two later this judge said that Player B was now sitting at table 1 and asked me to identify him. Unfortunately, I pointed at the wrong guy – I had only seen the guy once and I made a mistake. So, while the other judge was watching the correct match, he was watching the wrong player, and didn’t pay any attention to the suspected stacker. Both decks were picked up for a deck check, but the judge who checked the suspected stacker’s deck didn’t pay any attention to the order of the cards before sorting the cards. At this point my mistake was of course discovered. The decks were taken back to the table, and the other judge kept watching Player B.

He clearly saw Player B stack his deck land-spell-spell-land-spell-spell, right in front of his opponent. Unfortunately, the opponent was not stupid and called a judge before we could see if Player B would present a stacked deck or shuffle it after stacking.

Stacking is cheating and should be punished, but we hadn’t really caught the player doing anything absolutely illegal yet. A disqualification or a match loss would not be appropriate. However, he had been told earlier to not do this, so I suggested a game loss. After discussing the case with everyone who was involved, the Head Judge agreed that Player B should get a game loss. Some called for a harsher penalty, while another judge felt that the player was most likely completely innocent. I regret that I pointed out the wrong player to the judge who was going to watch Player B, and I maybe should have asked the Head Judge’s opinion when I originally received a complaint about Player B.

During round 4 I happened to be watching a game in which the language barrier was clearly a problem. Player C was player Ravager Affinity, and she had two Disciples of the Vault and a Pyrite Spellbomb or two in play. She used a Spellbomb to deal damage to Player D. On her next turn, she wanted to do something that would put artifacts in the graveyard, so that the life loss from the Disciples would kill Player D. However, Player D claimed that this would put him at 1 life. They disagreed on whether Player C had used both of her Disciples on the previous turn, when she activated the Spellbomb. I stepped in at this point and tried to find out what had happened. Player C didn’t seem to really understand what I was saying (she was Italian and her English wasn’t very good), but Player D admitted that he was pretty much dead in any case and he just wanted to teach Player C a lesson about clear communication. I asked an Italian-speaking judge to explain to her that she should always announce Disciple triggers clearly, and we managed to get the match finished without delaying the tournament.

In the last round, a player had drawn three cards from a Thoughtcast. He said that he had done this by accident, because his sleeves were sticking together after 8 rounds of play in a rather badly ventilated room. It was easy to tell which card was the third one, so I gave him a warning for looking at extra cards and put the extra card back on top of the deck after revealing it to his opponent.

Johanna: This was the textbook fix for Looking at Extra Cards at the time.

I am not Stefan!

During Round 5, I was called to a table to collect a result slip. As usual, I read the result aloud while signing the slip, “Stefan wins, 2-0”. I had already turned away, when the winning player suddenly exclaimed, “I am not Stefan!” Oops. “I guess I should have read that thing” said not-Stefan. Indeed. It would have been a good idea.
Even better idea would be to read the pairings correctly, I told not-Stefan while we went to check where he was supposed to be and find the mysterious Stefan. It turned out that not-Stefan had missed his table by only two numbers: he had played at table 252, and he should have been at table 254. His real opponent at table 254 had already left because his opponent had not shown up. So we gave the match to Stefan’s opponent and told not-Stefan to be more careful. We never found Stefan, whoever he was.

Johanna: Stefan…if you’re out there…just please come back to table 252. We miss u.

Rules questions

Another judge asked me to confirm a ruling concerning Echoing Truth: do tokens have a name? They do, and it’s the same as their creature type unless specified otherwise by the effect that creates the token (Helm of Kaldra, for example).

With March of the Machines in play, can you play an artifact land and sacrifice it for Krark-Clan Ironworks before it dies? No, it dies as a state-based effect before you get priority.

March of the Machines is in play and I play a Talisman. Does it have summoning sickness? Yes. It’s a summoning sick creature and you can’t tap it for mana.

If I bring an Eternal Witness into play with Tooth and Nail, can I get the Tooth and Nail back with the Witness’s ability? Yes. The last part of Tooth and Nail’s resolution is that the card is put in the graveyard. Then you put the Witness ability on the stack and choose a target for it, and since the Tooth and Nail is in the graveyard at this time, it’s a legal target.

I have a special sucky task for you

Day 1 ended nicely on schedule. There were no major delays after the bye-issues had been sorted out. Justus called another judge meeting in which some interesting rulings were discussed and assignments for the next day were handed out. Justus had earlier presented me with the “special sucky task” of scorekeeping/managing side events, and I was happy to take this job, since the last time I worked GP side events was in 2001. However, by the time of the judge meeting the job description had somehow changed from “sucky” to “Glorious Mistress of Side Events”.

I had another meeting with my team and we talked a bit about the stacking case and some of the other situations that came up. I would have liked to have more meetings during the day, but there never seemed to be time. If I needed to give instructions or pass on any information from the Head Judge, I would either talk to them while we were cutting slips or individually while patrolling the floor. The only real meetings we had were the ones we had at the beginning and end of the day. I’m not sure if holding meetings should be a great priority if there isn’t anything special to talk about, and I am not very good at coming up with interesting topics.

Johanna: Hey, 2004 version of me. Good news. You eventually got better at this.

I know that people like meetings and that they are often useful, so I will try to find time for meetings at future events. I thanked my team for a job well done, and told them that we would have time for individual feedback discussions on Sunday. I still have a lot to learn about team leading and communicating as a team leader.

I also took time to talk to the judges who ran side events on Saturday, to find out what sort of set-up we had there.

I had an extra 30 minutes of sleep and wandered to the site around 8:45 on Sunday morning. We were supposed to start side events at 9:30. However, at 9 o’clock there was already a large group of players in front of the side events booth, so we quickly made sign-up sheets for drafts and constructed events. These filled up in no time. I assigned another judge to collect money while I entered the names in DCI Reporter. This judge was much better than me with strange French and Italian names, so it made sense to put him on the microphone, calling for missing players.

Johanna: Here I’m being a little defensive because putting me in charge of sides was A Test, and the senior judges questioned my choice to have someone else on the microphone. I remember being annoyed because the original job description was “scorekeep sides”, not “be visibly and also apparently audibly in charge of things”.

Also, if we sound like total amateurs when it comes to preparation and organization, it’s because we were. Nobody seemed to care much about how money was being handled.

When a signup sheet filled up, we’d call the players, collect their money and then hand the sheet, product and players to a judge who would find table space for them and get the draft started. He would then bring the list of players back to me. I would enter the names on the computer, create a bracket and give it to the judge. This way we could get the side events started quickly despite some computer and printer problems at the start of the day. When a draft finished, the players or the judge would bring the bracket sheet back to me, and I would hand out the prizes, write “prizes” on the sheet and tick it off the list of drafts still in progress. Halfway through the day I handed this task to someone else because I was too busy using the computer. All things considered, I think we did a decent job. I should have been a bit more in charge, and I should have used the microphone more. There were some personality-related problems, but this is not the place to discuss them.

Johanna: I have sadly forgotten all the personality-related gossip. Sorry.

The Swiss rounds of the main event were finished quite early, and Justus came to the side event area to ask whether I wanted to table-judge a semi-final match. I happily accepted the offer, and when the time came I gave a few instructions to the other side event judges and marched off to the main event area. The match was somewhat boring and I didn’t need to interfere or clarify any rules issues; the players knew what they were doing. After the match I went back to side events, but since we hadn’t started any new events after the top 8 matches began, it was very quiet there and I wasn’t really needed. I took the opportunity to talk to other judges, give some feedback to my team members from Saturday, and watch the final match.

After the tournament was over Pasi and I collected our boosters and foils, said goodbye to Erwin Dielens of WotC and walked back to the hotel with Justus. After showering and changing clothes we met Justus and several other judges in the lobby. First we had dinner at a small Italian restaurant near the hotel, and then we went to the hotel bar for drinks, football-watching and good conversation. It was a nice end to a successful weekend. Thanks to all the judges and everyone else involved in the organisation of this tournament. It was a good one.

Johanna: Thanks for writing, 2004 version of me! Thanks for reading, 2019 version of you!

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