One year ago, I was a young L1 who knew nothing about Magic’s competitive tournaments. Then I have judged more and more of them, and I have hobnobbed more and more competitive players, so that I gradually lost sight of how much difficult it could be for some casual players to cross the threshold between the Regular and Competitive RELs.
This is Valentine’s Day and I am the Head-Judge for this tournament, with Gilles Demarle as floor judge, and the TO as scorekeeper, which is fine for forty-three players. Two weeks ago my first PPTQ ran quite smoothly so I feel confident that I am prepared enough. I am wrong but I don’t know it yet…
First incident: der Deckle ist was?
Several players who come the nearest biggest city (Lyon) are stuck in a traffic jam, so the TO decides to delay the start of the tournament until everybody arrives. Forty-five minutes later, the « seat all players » list gets printed and I am used to collecting decklists at that time. Once I get everyone’s attention, I tell them that they have two minutes to check carefully that their decklists show their names in a readable manner and have a minimum of sixty cards in the main deck and a maximum of fifteen cards in the sideboard.
During these two minutes, a couple of players come to me: they did not know that a decklist was required for this event, therefore they have none right now. I do not react properly. Well, strictly speaking, I do not react at all at that time, because my mind seems to refuse the mere idea that any Magic player could be unaware that he had to write a decklist to play in a competitive constructed tournament; moreover it was explicitly stated on all messages published by the TO on many French forums about a month ago.
An angel passes. I wake up from my astonishment and I remember that time is of the essence since the event is already forty-five minutes late, so I feel I cannot afford to spend any time to deal with those players right now: I just tell them that they will « lose a game » and that they must provide a decklist before the start of round two. When the second round begins, I will have collected all missing decklists indeed, and I will give each of those players a Game Loss penalty for their Tardiness at that time.
What should have been done instead?
Let’s see which mistakes I make here, then how I should react in a more professionnal way, at last how a better customer service would have prevented this unfortunate incident from ever happening.
My mistakes are quite obvious: incomplete communication, incorrect fix, bad timing for the penalty.
« You will lose a game » is not a proper way to communicate about an infraction; at least the players should be told what they did wrong, which infraction it is, which penalty they have earned, and when they will be given this penalty. Moreover it is a very bad idea to give them the full duration of the first round to write their decklist: thus they have plenty of time to watch other games and change their sideboard for instance. At last there was no reason to delay their Game Losses.
A better decision would be to seat them away from the play area and have them write their decklist immediately, then come back to me. Meanwhile the first round of the tournament gets started. When one such player comes back to me, I lead him to his table, inform his opponent and him about his infraction – Tardiness – and the relevant penalty: Match Loss if more than 10 minutes have passed, otherwise Game Loss with an equivalent time extension for his match.
However none of these inconveniences would have ever happened in the first place if I had not assumed that « every player knows that he must come with his decklist to a competitive constructed tournament ». Thus I could have reminded each player during registration that decklists would be collected during the « seat all players ». Moreover I could have announced it to the audience during the long and quiet period when we all waited for the players stuck in the traffic jam. If I had been more vigilant and reactive, those players would not have lost a game and they would have spent a better day.
Second incident: ghostly bugs!
Soon after I launch the fifth round, a player calls me and shows how easily she can see her opponent’s Insectile Aberrations through his white sleeves which are not opaque enough. I talk with him: today is his first competitive tournament and he does not know the relevant policy about double-faced cards and sleeves. I trust him and I decide inwardly to assess him a Game Loss for an upgraded Marked Cards infraction. Before doing so, first I must find a way to fix this issue for his next games. Unfortunately though unsurprisingly, he has no Innistrad checklists and no other sleeves, and there is no game store nearby to buy opaque sleeves. Even more unfortunate for him, his Head-Judge does not know the proper way to handle such an unexpected situation so I propose him this absurd choice: either he drops from the tournament, or he plays with his current deck but then he loses the first game of each of his next matches due to the same infraction, and he has to put all Delvers of Secrets in his sideboard for each other games. He chooses to drop from the tournament.
What should have been done instead?
It is an obvious mistake to tell a player that he may keep on playing with an illegal deck and receive repetitive penalties. The issue need to be fixed immediately and permanently.
As some fellow French judges tell me later, in such a situation the proper policy demands me to offer this player the choice between either to drop or to replace his Delver of Secrets with any basic lands. However a better customer service can be provided by lending him some Innistrad checklists.
About mistakes. When I faced an unexpected situation that I had never met nor heard of beforehand, part of why I took poor decisions was due to my lack of experience. Here is a good advice I was given to bypass this issue: a couple of days before the tournament, get in touch with a trusted mentor and ask him if he can remain available by phone on that day. When such a problem arises, one had better spend two minutes on the phone getting an enlightened opinion, than take an immediate but inaccurate decision that may produce dire consequences. Had I called my mentor on that day, the player with Delvers would have kept playing with Islands instead of dropping from the tournament.
About customer service. Players who are unfamiliar with the Competitive REL usually get to know it at local tournaments such as PPTQs and GP trials. Although they are responsible for learning its policies, as judges we should make sure their first experiences remain positive in spite of their lack of information. This requires to make more efforts towards the players who need more attention, and to get rid of some assumptions that may obscure our judgement (e.g. « no need to remind them about decklists, they all know they need to write one. »)
As a concrete manifestation of this, make sure that useful materials are available for your players at your local tournaments, especially if there is no LGS nearby. For instance, print some blank decklists (or have the TO print them) as well as Alex Mullins’s document for the winner of the PPTQ; bring some basic lands to issue proxies or to ensure marked cards can be replaced; in Modern format take some checklists; you may even lend some sleeves.