Of Star-Crossed Lovers and Evil Giraffes (GP Brussels Nov 13-15 2015)

I had the pleasure of working at GP Brussels this weekend, head judged by Cristiana Dionisio and supported by a cast made of pure win and awesome. It was an unexpectedly large event, causing me to be activated from standby on Friday, and it was my first GP as a level 2 judge, after playing small parts in two earlier GPs as a level 1. I want so share some of my experiences (learning experiences and otherwise) with you.

One significant area of improvement that I have identified for myself as a judge is that it is hard for me to stay calm and in control when things get chaotic and hectic. And when I started my shift on Friday I was thrown into a chaotic situation where I could see how much I have grown in that area over the past year or so. So a big part of this report will be about my helping to sort the chaos of GP trials on Friday.


I started the event as an un-activated standby outside of the venue, waiting for the doors to open and to go in and play some Magic. I got a message from Johanna Virtanen, the judge manager for the event, that all Friday standbys were activated, and we should report to her as soon as possible. Ten minutes later I am in my judge shirt on my way to report for duty, when I am stopped by players asking how much time there was left in the round and where they could report their match scores. I looked around for the event’s head judge but I couldn’t find any other judges nearby. I made a note of the table number and said I would be back with some answers as soon as possible. A sign of things to come… After helping the players out I was quickly sent in the direction of Jon Goud to go and head judge some trials under his direction.

The trials had gotten off to a chaotic start. By the time I joined the group about ten had fired, but nobody seemed to have a good overview of who their head judges were, where they were located, and where all the bracket sheets for the various trials were. Jon was making a valiant effort to fix all of this, but he was being overwhelmed by a large group of players who were looking for someone to report their match scores to. I didn’t think I’d be judging any trials any time soon this way. This was a mess and it needed to be made less of a mess fast.


Step one: make sure the players are off playing their matches or at least have no reason to bother the judges who are trying to sort things out.

Jon gave me a few scraps of paper with hastily scribbled scores and some sheets with brackets printed on them. So acting like a lightning rod I started putting the scores on the bracket sheets, and writing down scores from any players who wanted to report them: directly on the brackets where possible, or just on any piece of paper if the right brackets were nowhere to be found. I was basically acting like a buffer. We were unable to process most scores properly, but I could write them down until we could get all the brackets sorted. This drew the crowd of players away from the team leads, leaving them time to actually work on the root cause of the problems. And by the time the real brackets started appearing in front of me I had the time to actually fill them out and send them on to the head judges, because the players were back at their tables waiting for the next round to start.

Step two: figure out when to take orders and when to give them.

Well, ‘orders’ is a big word. Maybe ‘instructions’. Regardless, it’s about telling someone what to do. As a team member it’s important that you can take orders. “I need someone to do X now.” “Yes, I’ll take care of it”. But chaos has a tendency to mess up the routine, and if you see a way out, sometimes you just start giving orders to cut through that.

“These are not the brackets for trials 8 and 9. The names and table numbers are all wrong.”

“Those are what I got from the scorekeeper.”

“Then I need you to go back to the scorekeeper, tell him you got the wrong brackets, and get the right ones to me quickly.”

The judge community is awesome by the way, in the sense that it is filled with a great can-do attitude. Before I knew it the bad sheets were ripped out of my hands, and in no time I had the right ones, without argument or discussion. I have no idea what level that judge was, what his role was, or how much more experienced he was than me. It didn’t matter. It needed to be done, I couldn’t do it myself, and it got done. Period.

Step three: figure out what information is unknown, and find it.

In chaos, the biggest problem is a lack of information. When you don’t know where you are you don’t know where to go. Lack of information is paralyzing.

When the brackets were mostly sorted I talked to Jon, and I saw that there were a lot of unknowns in his notebook regarding who was running what trials. So I started running around to the tables for those events and seeing what the status ‘on site’ was.

“What are you doing now?”

“I was sent to bring these brackets to the head judge for this trial, but there’s nobody here. So I just started taking calls and writing down scores, so at least someone was taking care of the players here.”

“Excellent. Well, you are now the head judge for this trial, until top 4 when you bring them over there. You can get prize tickets over there. Good luck, and for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t let anyone take that sheet of paper away from you.”

And then I ran back to Jon to tell him that that trial was in good hands, filling in some blanks in his notebook, and hurried off to the next one to do the same thing.

Step four: breathe

No joke – when you’re stressed out, a great way to keep a clear head is to just literally stop for five seconds, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Yes, the trials need your attention, but those extra five seconds are not going to make anything noticeably worse.

Between us, we were straightening out bits and pieces until the chaos was under control. By the time trials 20 and 21 were firing, things had settled into a reasonably calm routine and I was sent to head judge those. I actually got some real judging done. As I strolled by the rows of tables, watching 64 players do their thing with pieces of cardboard, a crazy big grin appeared on my face. I realized that a year ago, in this same situation, I would have been a panicked mess by now. But today, I was just having the time of my life as I was running around and getting stuff done. And no matter what else went wrong, that grin just never went away.

I guess I know what team I’m asking for next time I get selected for a GP. Public events is where the real excitement of a GP is at, in my opinion.


The second day, I worked the main event, on the paper team. I honestly don’t have too much to say about that. The efficiency of the paper team’s work is very important to keep round times short, but otherwise the tasks are mostly straightforward: put up pairings *fast*, get the result slips out there *fast*, and keep the pairing boards stocked with pieces of tape. The rest of the time, you’re working the floor and helping with end-of-round.

The biggest problem for me that day was the arrangement of the pairing boards in the hall, or rather the fact that the arrangement was changed so many times. At the start, the boards were arranged in a way that worked, but certainly wasn’t ideal. But during the day, boards were added, removed and moved so many times the players were actually getting confused. I overheard several players joking “okay guys, let’s go and find out where they’ve hidden D-F this round!”.

It was interesting to see how well ‘assembly-line’ style work can help efficiency. In a couple of rounds, when we were cutting and collating match slips, my role was basically to a) take stacks of paper from the printer runner, b) hand them to the person operating the cutting machine in the right orientation at exactly the right time, and c) passing the cut slips to the person collating them. It seemed such a waste of someone who could also be running the slips to the floor already, but it was amazing to see how fast a well-oiled assembly-line can get things done.


The third day I was on the late shift for public events. Emilien Wild assigned me to be an ODE ‘problem solver’ with two other judges. Basically, whatever can prevent an On Demand Event from firing quickly, we needed to fix it. Missing players, extra players, missing pagers, unreadable DCI numbers, anything. Happy Hour would happen soon, and we expected a lot of ODEs to happen very quickly. So we did a lot of preparation to make sure things would go smoothly during Happy Hour. We made sure we had plenty of prize tickets for the prize counter, we made sure we all had our breaks so we could go straight through Happy Hour without interruptions, and we practiced our workflow so we could fire ODEs quickly and efficiently. Andy Heckt was at the PE stage helping us to get ready, and I enjoyed meeting him. With his help we had everything going smoothly.

And then, shortly before Happy Hour started, a concerned Emilien came to me with a mission. “We need basic lands. Lots of them. Go and find every basic land that you can find and bring them here as fast as you can.” “How much time do I have?” “Fifteen minutes.”

All the land station boxes had been opened already and we had nowhere near enough for Happy Hour ODEs. We were especially low on Plains and Swamps. So I started running around looking for extras from other Limited events. I got fifty here, fifty there, but nowhere near enough for the demand we were expecting. Players were reminded multiple times to please return their basics after the drafts so we could stretch what we had for as long as possible.

Hint: you can never have too many basic lands. They don’t rotate out. They will be good for the next event if you have some left over. Figure out how many basic lands you will need in the absolute worst case scenario. Then double that. And then you’re about halfway there.

I asked some resourceful fellow judges and event staff for creative ideas, including the main event judges. Everyone did their best to help, but I was still coming up short. As a last resort, a sympathizing Alfonso Bueno gave me a couple of sharpies. “Get ready to use them”.

And finally, Happy Hour started and… it was quiet, with only a modest number of events firing. We were ready for more, but I just kept thinking “when is it going to get busy here?” The basic land problem therefore wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but a handful of players still played with Mountains with “Plains” written on them with a sharpie.

As on Friday, I found out I really enjoy the logistical challenges of getting public events to go smoothly, and I want to do a lot more of that in the future.

Interesting rulings? I don’t really have any to share. The actual rulings part of judging this GP was very routine for me. A smattering of routine GRV and L@EC infractions. Quite a few Oracle text requests because there were a lot of foreign language cards in the main event.

“What happens when I counter a spell with Awaken?” The reminder text on Awaken is continuing to confuse people. Many players think that it’s some kind of trigger that happens when the spell is cast, not an instruction that is carried out when it resolves.

“My opponent blocks with his Hangarback Walker, and then activates its ability to tap it and put a counter on it. But now he says the Walker still deals combat damage.“

The most fun ones were in Two-Headed Giant ODEs, because the 2HG mechanics cause some interesting interactions and corner cases.

”We are attacking with an Ingest creature and it isn’t blocked. Who decides which of our opponents has to exile a card? Or do both of them exile one?“

”I have an ability that triggers when I gain life. My partner just gained life, and since we share a life total, I also gain life and get my trigger, right?“

”Me and my partner took a free mulligan to 7, and we’re keeping these. Do we get to scry?“

”I’m keeping my opening 7, but my partner mulliganed down to 6. Do I get to scry as well?”

GP Brussels was an exhausting, intense, but also fun and interesting event. A few people who made it so for me:

Jona Bemindt for some great work guiding judges (especially newer ones) to having a good and successful event. While this was my third GP, it was my first one as a full, grown-up L2. His assistance for all of us newer to the GP circuit was great.

Jon Goud for throwing me into the deep end of the pool to sort out the trials chaos on Friday, and for telling me and Dustin a beautiful, touching story of the star-crossed lovers from Amsterdam who would end up to be his grandparents.

Jaroslav Karban for being the most sane individual in the judge community I have ever met, and for teaching me the crucial difference between an evil giraffe and a non-evil giraffe. For those who don’t know, the evil giraffe is the one carrying the (presumably innocent) hamster to prison on its back.

Alfonso Bueno for being cool and offering to be a Sunday ODE runner during Happy Hour when the main event swiss was finished. I can only imagine how the players reacted when they realized their event was being fired by a judge in a red shirt :-).

Florian Horn for some great advice and feedback even though our duties left precious little opportunity for mentoring and shadowing in the usual way.

– The ‘usual Dutch suspects’ that I also keep running into at larger Dutch events, and whose names I always enjoy seeing on staff lists: Dustin, Alex, Toby, Anniek, Kenny, Desmond, Michiel, Kurt, …

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