Owning One’s Failures – Checks TL Report

Jacob Milicic, Level 2, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Jacob Milicic, Level 2, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

TCGPlayer 5K Diamond Open presented by Pastimes in Chicago, IL
Saturday, March 7, 2015
Head Judge:
Bret Siakel
Jason Long
Floor/EOR/Paper Team:
Nick Rzeckowski (TL), Max Khan, Christopher Vosmik, Raoul Mowatt
Deck Checks Team:
Myself (TL), Christopher Williams, Sherwin Ng
Events Manager:
Steven Briggs

I specifically requested the opportunity to Team Lead when I applied for this event, at the recommendation of Nick Rzeckowski. Ever voracious for new opportunities to learn, I thought it would be a good experience for me. I departed from Madison at 4:45AM to ensure I arrived in time for my 8:00AM call even if there should be traffic problems. Traffic was a non-issue, so I arrived early and chatted with Steven, helping with initial setup where I could.


The best laid plans…

The first major instruction Bret gave me, after always prioritizing floor coverage, was to ensure we had all of the lists from all enrolled players. I also made a personal goal to get at least one deck check performed in round 1. Possessing a strong desire to not face-plant my first Team Lead, I came up with a plan for judges to collect deck lists such that, after the players had been seated alphabetically for the player meeting, I would know where each judge’s pile of lists belonged to simplify the sorting and minimize the time it would take us to confirm we had all of the lists. I accomplished this by assigning ranges of table numbers to each judge as their collection “zone.”

Unfortunately, all did not go according to what I now know to have been a woefully inadequate plan, which ultimately meant we passed the time window for a mid-round deck check in round 1 before we had successfully confirmed the presence of all the deck lists. There were three issues that caused this hiccup, and all of them can be directed back at my own lack of specific direction:

1. Some piles were handed in by player seat lowest to highest, while others were highest to lowest, while still others appeared to be collected from one side of the table followed by the other, and I swear at least one stack had not even a reasonable approximation of a pattern to be found.

2. The zone assignments did not appear to be followed, as I received lists from judges with reports of ranges that differed from what I had asked for.

3. I had failed to account for the fact that deck lists had to be collected from players with byes, who would not be enrolled in the event yet and would not have been seated alphabetically. These lists could have been kept separate and verified after the rest, but instead ended up in two stacks of lists from different judges.

Because of these issues, an appreciable amount of time was spent by the checks team alphabetizing the lists while confirming the presence of a list for each player. I strongly feel that each of these issues could have been avoided by establishing a firm and consistent method for acquiring and stacking the lists while collecting them in addition to explaining that the zones had a purpose beyond some arbitrary delegation of responsibility. In the future I definitely intend to improve upon the initial plan to expedite this process, and I would encourage others to use a better method than what was employed here.

Whose deck box is it anyway?

During the third round, both of my team members were pushed to the floor to help with coverage while some of the floor team was on break. This left just me to perform checks, and the HJ recommended that I pull a match, check one of the decks, and sort the other to give the appearance that we checked it. One of my judges wanted to work on pulls, so I still had him perform the pull and did the check myself, sending him back to the floor. The decks arrived with the deck boxes, but not in the deck boxes. Feeling pressed for time, I checked one of the decks as planned, found an error (14 cards registered in the sideboard of a deck with a 15 card sideboard), sorted the other deck, then came back to the players and asked the one player aside to do a small investigation to ensure that he was not abusing a “flexible sideboard slot” or something similar. After explaining the situation to both players, the other player (whose deck had been pulled, but not actually checked) opened up the deck box and quickly realized its contents were incorrect… the sideboard was in different sleeves, because that was not his deck box but rather that of the player seated to his left.

Obviously at this point there were questions, and pointed ones from the player who had just been told he was getting a Game Loss for his deck list problem. How could we have checked his opponent’s deck and not realized that the sideboard was completely wrong? Egg all over my face. I paused briefly to consider my response, and then decided that being open and honest about what had happened was best. I explained we were short on staff this round and as such we only had time to check one of the decks, and his was the one I had checked. He then insisted I actually check his opponent’s deck before they begin play. I apologized, but stated that which decks get checked is the prerogative of the tournament staff. He asked if he could appeal my decision to not properly check his opponent’s deck, to which I replied that he could.

To further complicate matters, the two players adjacent to them asked if they could have an extension since they had completed their first game and one of them had been unable to locate his deck box to sideboard. These players got their extension, as that seemed a completely reasonable request.

After getting the HJ over on the appeal, he talked through the situation with the players and ultimately got them playing Magic. The entire ordeal ended in a 20 minute extension, but thankfully the players finished their match before the end of the round. In the meantime, I discovered what had happened was the pulling judge had grabbed the player’s decks and deck boxes rather than having the players hand them to him. I made sure to tell each of my team members after this incident to always ask the players to box up their decks with their sideboards and hand them over to the judge when pulling, as that way there should never be a circumstance where the wrong items get pulled.

All that being said, all I had to do was look inside the deck box that came with the deck I did not check to have prevented this issue from escalating as it did. It would have taken a miniscule amount of time to do, and I should not have rushed so much as to miss such an easy detail to catch.

The more I reflect on this incident, the more I wonder about how I could have handled it better from a customer service perspective. I was honestly a little unsure how to proceed and I doubt that was invisible to the players. I was also thoroughly embarrassed that I had missed the issue entirely. The player with the DDLP Game Loss was understandably upset and I should have done more to ensure he did not feel unfairly targeted. I would love to hear other judge’s thoughts on better ways to handle this situation.

Dude, where’s his list?

In the seventh round the random table we pulled for the beginning round deck check involved a player that had already been checked once. This normally would not be an issue, but became one when we failed to find the player’s deck list in the file. The team knew for certain it was in the file; I had, in fact, pulled it out myself when we had checked the deck previously. While I frantically searched for the misfiled deck, keeping an eye on the round clock, one of my team members checked the other deck while the other, who had checked this deck previously, sorted and did what he could from memory. As it closed in on seven minutes after pull time and the errant list was still nowhere to be found. I told my judges to return the decks to the players and not worry about it.

When I finally found the list, it was immediately apparent what had happened. The player’s handwriting made the first character of their last name difficult to tell between an R and a K, and thus it was misfiled under the incorrect letter when it was returned to the file after the first check. At this point the judge who was last-responsible for the list had been beside himself, unable to explain where it had gone. I took the time to pull him aside, show him what had happened, and reassure him that anyone could have made the same error. Because of this, it may be prudent when confirming deck lists to note handwriting that may give judges trouble and clearly mark that list with where it belongs in the file.

Polarity shift

I am not a stranger to giving the “hurry up” talk to a player when their pace of play appears sluggish, but this tournament was my first experience ever pulling the trigger on warning a player for Slow Play. I find this a difficult call to make, and I had not had what I would call positive player-judge interactions when asking a player to make a decision in the past. The HJ had mentioned earlier in the event that we should be dropping the W for TE-SP if we felt the need to intervene to advance the game. Later on in the seventh round of the event, I noticed a game nearing completion and paused to watch it. We got to what would be the now-active player’s last turn, and the game was tight. They ripped Deflecting Palm off the top of their library and entered the think tank.

And they did not come out for a while. I saw them shuffle around their hand, tap some lands, then untap them, look at the board, look at their hand, tap some lands again, untap them, rinse and repeat. At this point I had evaluated the board, figured out what I would do, and was waiting to see if the player would come to the same conclusion. I would not call myself a pro Magic player by any means, so I gave him some more time to figure out what to do than I would have used, figuring maybe he was trying to play around something I had forgotten about or consider a complicated line of play that was not even on my radar. And then that time passed.

Bracing myself for the reaction, I leaned in and said I would like him to please make a decision to advance the game. I remember using the word please to try and sound as pleasant as possible. He still reacted negatively, but ultimately did make a decision, casting a Mantis Rider, attacking, and passing the turn, leaving up Deflecting Palm. He won on his opponent’s turn via Deflecting Palm on an attacker and that was the game. It also decided the match, as it turned out. Not knowing what the current score was, I had been waiting until after that game had concluded to talk about the warning for Slow Play so as to not interrupt the game play any more than necessary. The point was to try to get the game to conclude more quickly.

When I told the player I would be giving him a Warning for Slow Play, he was unsurprisingly upset. He asked his opponent for his thoughts on the matter, and both of them felt he had not been taking overly long on that turn. I explained that he had every right to appeal, but that I would not have asked him to make a play decision if I had not intended to give him the warning. He appealed, and I went and found Bret, explaining the situation. Bret came over and talked with the player at length while I waited to see if he needed me for anything. During this time, I got to hear exactly how upset the player was to be receiving this warning, and started feeling worse and worse. What if I had just ruined this guy’s whole day? I was not here to provide negative player experience; in fact, I was here for just the opposite! Bret upheld my ruling, but I still felt terrible by the end of it.

Imagine my surprise when, later in the event, what I felt was a negative experience for that player turned into a positive one for both of us. That same player sought me out and profusely apologized for his behavior. We shook hands as I thanked him for his apology, but also let him know that I understood why he was upset and that I did not take it personally. We talked at length about the ruling, why I made it, the situation in his game specifically, and the general philosophy behind the slow play infraction. This was easily the best part of my day and reminded me that, while some of your rulings may upset players, ultimately many are happy you are there doing your job even when that means being the bearer of bad news.


The deck checks team managed to get 18 decks checked over the course of the event, not including the top 8 “courtesy check.” I was disappointed at hitting below target, even given there were hiccups throughout the day that could be used to justify it. Additionally, Bret had to remind me multiple times to delegate tasks to my team members rather than taking them on myself, a habit I found surprisingly difficult to break. While my team performed admirably, the day was not what I would consider a highlight of my judging career in terms of my personal performance. Because of this, I hope I get the opportunity to try my hand at leading checks again as I’m confident this experience has shown me how to do a better job next time.

Please do share your thoughts and feedback here too!

Sharing is Caring - Click Below to Share

One thought on “Owning One’s Failures – Checks TL Report

  1. Very nice report. I like the focus on the problems, since they seem to refer to situations that happen frequently on the field.

    Personally, when I don’t have time to check both decks because I’m running solo, I like to do a full deck check and then do at least a sideboard check of the other player, as well as a card count for the main deck. That should take less than an extra minute on top of the one deck check but help catch important issues like un-desideboarded decks or less-than-legal-size decks being presented. It would also have caught the problem you found. Of course, it’s mostly applicable for beginning-of-round deck checks, although with practice you can do it also for sideboarded games.

    Something that I have used and seen experienced judges use to avoid the problem with list sorting and the missing decklist you had is to leverage the alphabetic seating of players for the player meeting by asking them first of all to note in the upper right (or left) corner of their decklists the number of the table they’re currently seating at. This way it’s far easier to both sort the list and to check that none is missing. Also helps with returning them to their proper place once used.

    As for your experience with the Slow Playing player, take heart in knowing that it’s not an unusual experience. While I had players get upset at rulings I’ve gave them, many times after they had the opportunity to cool off they sought me back and apologized for a heated response. Exactly as it happened to you, those players realized that they were out of line and that you were only doing your job, not picking on them. It usually helps them better understand our role and the policy behind our decisions if we take the time to talk about it at that point.

    ¡Good luck on your next team leading experience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


You will not be added to any email lists and we will not distribute your personal information.