GP Nagoya 2014 — Judging My First Japanese Grand Prix

QJ Wong, L2 Malaysia

QJ Wong, L2 Malaysia

Grand Prix Nagoya 2014- Mini Fact Sheet

Date: April 11-13 2014
Format: Theros/Born of the Gods Sealed/Draft
Main Event Attendance: 1786 Players
Location: Nagoya Trade & Industry Center (Fukiage Hall), Nagoya, Japan
Judges: 72

Osaka Castle in Spring
Osaka Castle in Spring

Hi and welcome to my report on my first Japanese GP! It is also the first GP where the main spoken language is foreign to me. Hopefully my insights and experience can help you when you work on your first Japanese GP.

This is a tournament that I’ve been looking forward for a while. While this will be my third GP and by now I am fairly confident in carrying out my GP duties, this tournament will be the first where I will not be able to easily communicate with the main language spoken in the tournament. While I know how to read (most) Japanese written script with ease, I have not the ability to converse in Japanese because my Japanese is self-taught and I don’t have anyone to practice with at home. I personally feel that it will be hard to carry out customer service, especially when dealing with infractions. Surely enough, there were said instances in this event where it became a challenge for me as a judge. More on that later.


My first shift was on Friday afternoon.  I got to Fukiage Hall early to check out the event venue and orient myself with the venue.

Japanese food trucks next to the event hall
Japanese food trucks next to the event hall

The registration area was on one corner of the hall and they had an amazing set up for event registration that was new to me. There were multiple tables in front of the registration line for players to sit down and wait for their 8-player events(or 4 player commander events) to fill up and fire. Guillaume Beuzelin (L3, France) later told me players in European GPs get an electronic buzzer when they register and it will buzz them when the event is about to start! For someone like me who’s only been to South East Asian GPs, this was quite an eye-opener.

Bento lunch boxes
Bento lunch boxes

There was bento (boxed lunches) for judges in the judge room. The bentos were so colorful and unique.  It really does hit home how I’m working in Japan, which is a pretty exciting feeling. We started off with a gathering of judges on the same shift, where we filled out a travel record form in which we can claim compensation and a briefing from Mitsunori Makino (L3, Japan, RC).  After that we broke off to our individual teams where I was introduced to nomad Devin Smith (L2, Judge Apps says ‘Australia’ but that’s not quite right, heh).

Start of Shift

For this GP, I was  in the “Round Procedure” team for the most of my shift until the end where I will be part of the GP prep. For now, we were handed over to Katsuhisa Kanazawa (L2, Japan) and Asuka Nagashima (L2, Japan) who are managing the GPTs and the staff under “Round Procedure”.

For more information regarding Grand Prix roles and teams (if you are unfamiliar with them), I recommend reading this article:

Judges working on Friday are separated by roles and while what Deck Checks and Floor do is obvious, Logistics seemed to be broken into Sealed Setup and Round Procedure. Round Procedure tasks are mainly to get rounds started and report to the GPT manager on the start and scheduled end times. For GP Nagoya, the trials are pre-generated single elimination brackets on paper that everyone can view. The players all have pre-assigned table numbers from Round 1 to 5, and are to write their name in the appropriate space on the bracket to report a match win.

We were given little slips of forms to write the start of round time and scheduled start of next round. After each round started, we were to hand this to the GPT manager and then after the manager records this information, give the slip to a floor team member to hand over the tournament duties to them. We also helped distribute the prizes too. While it sounded like very little to do, it does take a surprisingly amount of time to help get players seated, find table numbers and find missing players. That, plus walking all over to report and hand over the slip to floor, it adds up.

That is, if we were actually assigned anything to do.

Probably due to an overflow of staff from morning and afternoon, Devin and I were left with nothing to do for almost an hour despite asking for work multiple times. Eventually I was asked to help setup a sealed GPT so I gladly went over to help start sealed trial #9. Distributing product was easy but I braced myself to do announcements in English before I noticed Alan Peng (L2, New Zealand) was around and was doing sealed GPTs setup announcements in Japanese. I quickly asked him for help with announcements like starting deck constructions etc. Phew!

Something to note is that if any players were using English product, we would have to perform deck swaps within those product pools. Thankfully, there wasn’t a need to.

A second thing to note was how deck construction happened in a separate island of tables, with two players in particular cut off from the rest of the main “island.” While I was content with just letting the swap happen across the table, Wearn Chong (L3, Malaysia, RC) got us to swap those two players an additional time with the two players at the end of the main “island”.

The Communication Barrier

During the course of the day, I took a call from a particular player twice. Both times, there were some problems in player communication. The non-Japanese player had assumed that the Japanese player had acknowledged allowed certain game actions to proceed due to an acknowledgement from the Japanese player but the Japanese player had game actions to respond with. The non-Japanese player felt is too late to do so both times.

After interviewing both players (with the help of a Japanese judge), I ruled in both calls that because of communication barriers, the Japanese player had intended to respond but couldn’t clearly indicate that he wanted to. I allowed him to do so without any infractions. Later on, I consulted senior judges and I was fortunate enough to have Riccardo Tessitori (L5, Italy) to provide me with the following insight (paraphrased):

“In Japan, ‘OK’ does not necessarily mean ‘Yes’ or ‘Resolve’, it most commonly an acknowledgement to a statement or a question.”

I wished I could have articulated this point this well during the calls from the non-Japanese player, it would probably helped provide a better service by making my explanations clearer and give better suggestions like “try asking clear yes and no questions” than the more vague “please try to communicate clearer”.

Handling Japanese Judge Calls

Thankfully the language of Magic is universal. While there were certain judge calls where a translator is required, most of my calls I was able to take and answer with confidence despite my poor command of the Japanese spoken language.

I’m not sure how is it like for judges who don’t have any command of the Japanese language at all, but knowing simple Japanese helps me greatly in many a situations.

Picking up key phrases like “falling off” & “battlefield” (No, a bestow aura that just became a creature because the enchanted creature died will not trigger Purphoros, God of the Forge third ability.), or “before” & “declare combat” (Yes, the bestow aura that just became a creature because the enchanted creature got Griptide’d can attack as long as it didn’t happen after declare attackers.) goes a long way to understanding rules question calls.

The same goes for more common questions like, “where are the basic lands (「基本土地」Ki-hon- do-chi)?”,“Where’s the toilet (Note the different pronunciation you will hear –To-i-re)?”,“I’ve made a mistake on my deck list!” (Just answer 「大丈夫!」Dai-jou-bu!and help him fix it),“Has my Trial #X tournament started?” (What’s your tournament number? トーナメント番号は?To-na-men-to Ban-go Wa?)

Fixing problems or dealing out infractions however – I always look out for a Japanese judge to act as a translator: it is in my opinion that during unavoidable negative experiences, to provide the best customer service I can, is to not deliver a penalty with my bad mangled Japanese. It’s important to note for myself that I don’t let the Japanese judge take over the call as it’s still my call to take and carry out.

Working on the round procedure team

By the end of the day when team members of the round procedure team are eventually roped into other duties or was relieved from their shift, there came a point where round procedure was only me, Asuka and Takahiro Tanahashi (L2, Japan) leading the trials. Things got a bit hectic but we managed to pull through. It was this time too where I had the chance to get to know Asuka better and talk a lot in both English and practice my Japanese.

With the trials wrapped up, I grabbed a bento dinner from the judge room, where the conference is ongoing. There seemed to be a heated discussion, so I made my exit and ate at the rest area near the judge room. The coverage people had set up their equipment there for the next few days to sit down, eat and rest. I helped with setting up some table numbers and then it’s time to head back to the staff hotel to rest up for the main event!


For this event, I requested to be in deck checks since I have previously worked on Paper, Logistics but not yet deck checks. Also, I figured I might be able to contribute more on deck checks because I won’t be on the floor as much. As it turns out, you do a lot on the floor as well.

Tournaments that are large enough are broken into two parts to make it easier to run. For GP Nagoya, we were broken into Blue and Black halves. Being on Deck Check B means we are responsible for the deck lists of the Blue half. B is led by Guillaume. Guillaume paired off the L2s with the L1s so that we can work in pairs and have someone more experienced lead the other.

Our duties, as Deck Check team, were to ensure that we have everyone’s decklist and to perform deck checks throughout the day to help screen players for illegal decks. We are encouraged to check at least 10% of the field’s decks. Usually we will do a pre-game deck check, where each pair receives an assigned table number. One member will stay behind to grab the decklists while the other will grab the decks. Once that is done, we head out to the floor to help provide floor coverage. At the same time, our main purpose is to look out for tables who are finishing side-boarding and swoop in to grab their decks for a mid-round deck check.

Once we are done with the first mid round check, if there is time, we will hunt for a second one to check. If the time has passed the 30 minutes remaining mark, we don’t because that might interfere with the timeliness of the end of the round.

Our first job, however, is to collect the decklists as the players finish deck construction, making sure that they had written down their table number, basic lands and name.

After that we sort out the lists by the table numbers and then start matching the lists to the master list of players, crossing out names to confirm that we have his or her decklists. It was at this moment that I am glad I know how to read Japanese script as the Japanese players did not write their names in roman characters! Fortunately for me, (according to Asuka) the players have the habit of writing their names in the Katakana script although some still wrote their name in the Kanji script, which is a lot more complicated and harder to remember. Although few in number, I do have to interrupt the Japanese judges to help confirm the names. (Sorry!)

After a while, we will have a list of players who we do not have their decklists. Eventually, when the list is confirmed we will look out for these players and perform a pre-round deck check. We will create a decklist registering his main deck and confirm that he has a legal deck and the right number of uncommons and rares. Of course, we have to interview him to investigate why his deck list is missing to prevent any wrongdoings from escalating.

Initially, I braced myself for a long search for the lists over multiple rounds, as we can only do this during pre-round deck checks and the list was 14 players long. It turns out 13 of them had already dropped by the time we got around doing this, so the task was way shorter than I imagined it to be!

Communication with Japanese judges

Not really being a people person, interacting with strangers without a language barrier is tough enough for me. Thankfully people like Kanazawa-San, Asuka and Kaoru “Pao” Yonemura (L2, Japan) with strong English helped a lot to ease communication.

Have you heard how Riccardo speaks? I aspire to be able to speak like him to people who don’t speak English as a first language. He speaks very clearly with very simple-to-understand words and he does not speak slowly, but he paced his words well enough that you won’t get overwhelmed.

The Japanese judges I talked with seem to respond better when I watch what I say as careful as possible and I look forward to putting it to more practice in future GPs and other applicable scenarios.

Customer Service > Deck Checks

Guillaume wanted us to do two mid rounds deck checks, if possible.I expressed my disappointment that I couldn’t carry out that task because of chains of judge calls which led to me missing the time frame for checking decks. Guillaume offered this advice (paraphrased):

“Providing proper customer service by attending judge calls when there is nobody else available as soon as possible should be the highest priority, so there is nothing to feel bad about.”

That definitely made me feel better.

End of Round Procedure

During the last round, the other teams who have been working earlier than we have are let off shift. In the middle of the round, the entire floor will be covered by the deck checks team. Near the end of the round, they needed someone to manage End of Round procedure and Guillaume wanted Asuka to do it but she was hesitant because she had never done it before. I gladly stepped into the role, happy that I had made myself familiar with EoR earlier in Melbourne. There weren’t many tables and thankfully the tables were covered early so there were no issues and the round ended without issues.

In hindsight, there was some lessons learned:

1. Send judges to cover multiple tables if they are nearby and/or next to each other.

2. I asked Asuka to make a round of the tables to creature a manual list of outstanding tables because the scorekeeper has not been able to produce one for earlier rounds throughout the day and earlier judges working on EoR been doing exactly that. I assumed that would be the case too but I should have asked in advance because not too long after I sent Asuka out the scorekeeper handed me the list.

To assume is a folly.

Saturday wrap-up

With that, we posted the final standings and we are done for the day! Guillaume seemed happy about our team’s performance, which makes me feel good about myself. (Tip for the future me: if you ever do lead a team, don’t forget to compliment things done well, it does wonders for morale.)

As I was packing up my thing a to leave, I decided to tag along with “Loco” Sashi Kumar Balakrishnan (L2, Malaysia), Guillaume and Riccardo to head for the judge dinner in a Japanese Izakaya, which is something like a Japanese bar. While the ambience of the location is probably most unique, I do miss the unlimited food aspect the previous two Judge dinners provided. There was simply too little food provided for the hungry masses that is GP Judges who just got off a long hard day of work.

Judge dinner at an Izakaya
Judge dinner at an Izakaya


I went to the venue early so I can do a little shopping at the vendors, as this will be the last chance I will get to do so and I have not done so yet. I secured some loot and tucked them nicely into my bag, walked into the judge room and chatted a bit with fellow judges.

Debrief & Review

Asuka found me and we gave each other a face to face debrief to help each other write a review. She recommended that I spend more effort communicating with other Japanese judges with simpler English or simple Japanese to help initiate more conversations.We talked about how I have not yet learned how to better take care of myself by taking more breaks and how while working yesterday she had me go take decks so that I can interact more with the players and have more experience on the floor. I thanked her for debriefing and her suggestions, grabbed lunch and prepared myself for the day; it’s Panda Cup Standard time!

Panda Cup – Standard

Yup – today I will primarily be working on The Panda Cup Standard tournament. Turns out Hobbystation, the main organizer of the GP has a panda as a mascot and most of the side events are named after a store as a sponsor.Apparently Hobbystation has decided to name their event after their mascot.

I entered the afternoon shift with Nash Yu (L2, Hong Kong) and Chien Lin Fu (L2, Taiwan), working under Naoaki Umesaki (L3, Japan), and joining “Pao” and Higa whom I’ve worked with yesterday. I made more of an effort to try to communicate with the Japanese judges who are not very good with English by making small talk and sharing experiences. I tried specifically with Higa and Otsuka who later joined our team late in the day, especially after Asuka’s suggestions. I asked often for Japanese words that I’d like to know and wrote out English words that they didn’t understand while I was talking to them. It was a fun language exchange. Later I found out that the judges I made an effort to really appreciate it and that made me very happy and determined to try harder for the future.

Umesaki was the Head Judge but he had to leave for a L3+ discussion, so it was handed over to Pao to lead. We rotated roles over the tournament and during one round when I was deck checking I found that the player had forgotten to de-sideboard. While it was a clear cut TE-Deck/Decklist Problem, I wanted to deliver the infraction myself and asked for a translator as I do not want to make the already negative experience worse. The player took it well, thankfully, although overall the time spent was more than I would have prefer it to be. I ran into Guillaume (actually he’s just working the event next to me) and spoke to him about it and he reassured me that delivering extra customer service would be worth the extra time spent and it was unlikely the table will need the extra time due to the Game Loss anyway. I later came to the realization that I did not issue a single TE-D/DP despite checking so many decks yesterday but it happened early in the day today.

The event was mostly smooth and soon enough we were moving into the single elimination rounds.The afternoon shift (Nash, LinFu and me) were handed over to Yoshitoki’s “close up” team where we watch for the closing up of the last single elimination rounds for three events: Super Sunday Series final draft, Legacy and Standard. There was little to note save for the large number of judges on duty for 24 players in top 8 single elimination matches. Soon enough, the tournaments finished up and I did some clean-up work picking up trash and table numbers and it’s time to wrap up GP Nagoya. I picked up my compensation, wished my goodbyes and see-you-agains and packed up.

It has been another amazing unforgettable experience and I can’t wait for my next Japanese GP already.


Useful Japanese Terms I learned this trip:

「延長時間」En-cyouJi-kan– Time Extension
「お疲れ様です」O-tsu-ka-re-sa-ma de-su–Thanks for the hard work
「受付」U-ketsu-ke–Information desk
「注意」Chu-i– Caution
「警告」Kei-ko-ku– Warning
「あと残りX分です。」“A-to no-ko-ri X fun de-su” – There’s X minutes left in round.

Judge Calls (That I remembered to write notes for)

1. A player drew two extra cards with Spirit of Labyrinth in play with Divination, confirming with the opponent “Draw two?” before realizing their mistake. The two cards are separate from the rest of his hand.

Drawing extra cards with Spirit of Labyrinth in play with a confirmation made with the opponent makes it not GPE-DEC, instead it becomes a GRV, which we will fix by shuffling it away the extra card drawn since (in this case) it is known to both players which card it was.

2. “Judge! I killed his creature with Heroic while the Heroic trigger is on the stack, it goes away right?”

Heroic triggers on the stack will still resolve regardless of whether or not the creature that the trigger came from is still in the battlefield when the trigger resolves.

3. “Judge! My creature is under my opponent’s control, when the creature dies with a Gift of Immortality on it, who gets the creature when it comes back?”

Gift of Immortality will return the creature to its owner’s control if it triggers regardless of who controlling the creature when it dies.

4. “Judge! My opponent says his creatures are still attacking even though he tapped them with his Glimpse of the Sun God after declaring attacks for heroic, that can’t be right.”

Creatures with heroic abilities will trigger and still be attacking even if the controller casts Glimpse of the Sun God targeting them.

5. “My opponent wants to trigger his ordeal before paying for Floodtide Serpant’s cost for attacking, can he?”

Paying for Floodtide Serpant‘s cost for attacking will happen before an Ordeal aura has the chance to trigger.

6. “Can I return a bestow creature back into the battlefield as an aura with Silent Sentinel?”

Silent Sentinel will not allow you to return a bestow creature back into the battlefield as an aura.

7. “Can I cast the exiled card with Daxos of Meletis with Bestow as an aura spell?”

Daxos of Meletis will allow you to cast the exiled card with alternative or additional costs such as Bestow cards as an aura spell. It changes how you can pay the mana to play the spell but it is not an alternative cost. (I actually embarrassingly got this wrong as I thought it was an alternative cost, thankfully, I wasn’t the one taking the call.)

8. “I’m making copies of a creature that has an Aura on it. Does the token copies have the abilities granted by the Aura?”

A token copy from Felhide Spiritbinder will not have abilities granted by auras the original creature have.

9. “Can I stop my opponent from gaining a life off playing a land off the top of his deck as soon as it resolves?”

You don’t have a chance to kill Courser of Kruphix before your opponent gets to gain a life if your opponent decides to play a land off the top of his deck a soon as he can, after the Courser resolves.

10. More Courser related GPE-Looking at Extra Cards infractions than I would like to record.

Shuffle the revealed card into the random portion of the library (remember to look out for scry cards or other similar effects).

11. “Can I Cipher on a creature with protection from blue?”

Yes, you can Cipher a card on a creature even if he has protection from the cipher spells color because cipher doesn’t target.

Comments and feedback are more than welcomed here!

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