PreTQ for PT Sweat, Mount Pearl NL

Chris Lansdell, Level 2, Mount Pearl, Canada

Chris Lansdell, Level 2, Mount Pearl, Canada

The Pro Tour turns, and qualifying seasons come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the season that gave it birth comes again. In one season, a season yet to come, a season long past, a judge arose in the wilderness of eastern Newfoundland. This tournament was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Pro Tour. But it was a beginning. For fifty players at Midgard Gaming in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada it was an important beginning, marking their first Modern PPTQ. For one L1 judge, Adam Jennings, it was an important beginning too as he was working alone with the head judge for the first time. And for the head judge? It was a welcome return to his home store after a summer of globetrotting for this game we all love.

I am that head judge, that was a beginning, and this is my tale.

It is often easy as we grow in experience as judges to lose sight of what got us to where we are. A lot of experienced level 2 judges I know rarely judge events in their local area, rarely show their faces at FNM and sometimes resent the seeming downgrade of being asked to run a PPTQ or, heavens forfend, a GPT. We should all probably stop that. Grands Prix are awesome, but the local community is the lifeblood of our game and we owe a lot of our development to that community. As such I was excited to get back to a smaller-scale tournament in an area I know with players I know.

Newfoundland is far from. That might seem like an incomplete sentence, but it is true almost regardless of what you insert before the period. As a result, winning a PPTQ would normally not be something that many players could use locally; a flight to Toronto or Montreal is out of reach for a large portion of the player base. As a result, Midgard offers the winner free airfare to either city to play in the RPTQ for which they qualify. It increases the entry fee and lowers the prizes to other players, but since turnout has been phenomenal compared with my colleagues in other cities (anywhere from 12 to 40 players on average elsewhere, while 50 was our smallest yet) I think the plan is working.

Aside from being great to the players, Midgard makes my life very easy as a judge. When I arrived an hour before the tournament they had the tables set up, the table numbers were being put out and they had a scorekeeper already. This is normal for them. I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing a great relationship with all your local tournament organizers, because once you are all on the same page they start doing things like this to make your day easier. Also they bring you coffee. Coffee is good.

I normally don’t put too much effort into preparing my opening announcements. The MTG Judge Core App on Android has a great little guide, and following that will never steer you wrong. Just sprinkle liberally with puns and you’re all set. With this tournament taking place literally the day after a significant change to the IPG (and some potentially relevant CR and MTR changes) I wanted to make sure that players knew:

  • The new DEC fix was in effect for this tournament;
  • the “scry mulligan” rule was not in effect for this tournament, and
  • the horrible, mean-spirited, discriminatory lands in back rule absolutely was not in effect for this tournament.

I may be a touch biased. For my opening pun I went with “Nobody wants their cards ruined by a spilled Coca-Colaghan’s Command” which actually elicited some laughter. Adding that one to the rotation. While writing up my planned announcement, a new player asked me if his combo would work: Izzet Guildmage plus Lava Spike with a spliced Desperate Ritual. As I had not yet finished my coffee I could not get my brain to focus on whether spliced spells are part of a spell’s copiable values, and the CR entry wasn’t helping me much. Fortunately a judge is never alone, and Paul Baranay came to my Facebook Messenger rescue. Would you have known the answer?

Adam has judged a couple of competitive events before, but generally they were small enough that we could count all the decklists. Like many judges who were raised on the idea that counting is sacrosanct, it took a little effort to convince him to watch Magic. Not much effort, but still. It’s important to remember that we do deck checks to make sure people are playing the decks they say they are. Sure, we’ll correct minor errors where card names are ambiguous or someone forgets to write down a four-of, but the main reason is to catch the cheats who change decks or add cards to pools. We can’t do that by counting lists. By counting only a few lists each round we were able to watch a LOT more Magic, giving the presence of two judges on the floor. Midgard is many good things but one challenging aspect of judging there is the layout: large tournaments are spread over 3 or 4 rooms, with only small doorways between them, and there’s no sweet spot to stand and make announcements work even with my Human PA System skills (I am no Rob Castellon but I’m close). Having both judges be able to rotate through the store helped us cover all the rooms and make sure we didn’t miss any calls or delay the tournament. The players would do a great job of that later on, but we’ll get to that.

Round 1 was mostly uneventful until a player approached me after his match and said he just realised he had changed his deck at the last minute but forgot to change his list. I asked him when he noticed and he said he only noticed after the match when he should his deck to a friend and they asked him how the Wrath of God in the board had been working instead of the third Supreme Verdict. Given that the player brought it to me himself and that he seemed to be genuine in his admission, I did not investigate further. I’m curious if others would have handled it differently.

Round 2 brought with it our first deck check, and as random chance would have it we got the guy with the triple-sleeved 90-card Living End deck. Oh good. I made the mistake of having Adam help me with the deck check this round, leaving us slim on coverage to start with. He got called away a couple of times, which led to a longer time extension on the checked match than I would normally like. That would get corrected in future rounds but it’s important to remember on events with only two judges that the priority has to be floor coverage.

Something I noticed during round 2 is that even for someone like me who has been called “aggressive” with my slow play prompts, pushing the slow play button still isn’t easy. Every now and then I will be watching a match and thinking I should prompt the player, but they will start to do something and I will hesitate, then they go back in the tank and I still don’t call them on it. I would love to see more judges discuss what guidelines they use for calling Slow Play, perhaps allowing for an exchange of information to make us all better at this. I firmly believe that not calling people out on slow play costs us multiple minutes each round, to the point that improving our willingness to prompt players (and issue the warning if needed) could reduce the length of the day significantly.

We’d see a great example of this in round 3. With time expired we had two matches outstanding. One was a Grixis Delver vs Twin matchup which finished within a couple of minutes. I went to check out the other match, which was an Ad Nauseam mirror. I’ll let you dwell on the intricacies of that for a second. With 5 minutes having elapsed since time was called, the players were still on turn 1. There are all sorts of things to consider in this sort of board state (why City of Brass is paid and not Mana Confluence, how to deal with multiple Angel’s Grace, Phyrexian Unlife shenanigans) but that seemed a little slow to me. Riki Hayashi taught me the trick of “flying the flag” and making sure the players know the head judge is watching when they are the last match outstanding. I stepped between the crowd of players and asked what turn they were on, and the match finished soon thereafter in a draw. A nice little trick to remember for the future!

Round 4 saw the most interesting moment of the day. Alvin controls Rest in Peace. At the end of Alvin’s turn, Nigel activates Nihil Spellbomb, pays B and draws a card. A spectator stops the match and calls me over. I’ll let you know up front that although the outcome was correct, I got the details of the call wrong.

Here’s my process:

  • Both players agree that Nigel confirmed the draw (note that this no longer matters in the IPG, a fact I overlooked)
  • Under the old rules, that would warrant a downgrade
  • The new fix only applies if we would issue a game loss under the old rules.
  • No game loss so no new fix. Sad panda. Return a random card to the top, carry on, issue warning.

As the day went on a third judge who was playing in the event pointed out a new paragraph in the IPG:

If the cards were drawn as part of the legal resolution of an illegally played instruction, due to a Communication Policy Violation, or were as the result of resolving objects on the stack or multiple-instruction effects in an incorrect order, a backup may be considered and no further action is taken.

This is worded quite differently from Toby’s post:

We’ve extended the “objects on the stack out of order” downgrade clause from the old definition to also apply to reversing instructions on a card. It reflects the idea that there’s a card waiting to be drawn, even if done with imprecision, and that’s a small disruption that doesn’t require a punitive fix.

The latter clearly does not apply, but the former certainly seems to. As it turns out the only difference between what I did and what I should have done was not untapping the mana used to pay for the trigger that never happened, so I was happy to have the learning opportunity.

The day went on with nary an interesting call for quite a while. A D/DLP game loss, a double D/DLP… all very routine. The nature of the event and the venue left me sadly lacking in notes for Adam to give him a review, but the event was a solid success that ended in good time. There might still be some work to do with the PreTQ system, and I would be lying to say they are an improvement for people here, but the ones we have run so far have at least been good times.

And hey, we learned a lot today! And really, if we don’t learn a thing then why are we doing this?

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