We arrived at around 10:30am and had events starting at 11am, 2pm, and 4pm. The 11am and 4pm events were individual sealed, and the 2pm was 2HG. All events were capped at 4 rounds of Swiss and paid out based on record. We agreed that since I am weird and enjoy judging 2HG, I would Head Judge that one while Alex handled the other two. Alex and I have worked together a lot, however, so we really did end up helping each other and judging all three events together for the most part.
The store had a system in place where whenever someone signed up for a Prerelease, they would be entered on a Google spreadsheet. The sheet included the player’s name, DCI number, and the event being entered (for example, Sunday 11am). This kind of system was necessary because we had hundreds of players coming through over the course of the weekend. It turned out that there were some substantial holes in this system, but more on that later.
The 11am Event
When we arrived at the store at 10:30am, there was basically no one there other than an employee or two. As the event approached, Alex decided that we should hold off on starting until 11:30am, to give sleepy players more of a chance to show up. Ultimately, that meant that we had about 30 players in the event, making this one of the smallest events of the weekend. This did, however, have a snowball effect.
Many of the players in this event were very new to MTG, so this event had more rules calls than any other over the course of the weekend. It was actually a bit refreshing to take some rules calls that weren’t as corner-case-y as the ones I normally get:
- The Support ability says “Up to”, and you can still cast a creature with support when you don’t have targets for its ability.
- When you have multiple blockers on an attacker with trample, you don’t get to deal the full power of the creature to both blockers and then trample over both times. You have to put the blockers in an order and deal lethal damage to them sequentially before trampling over to the player.
- “That triangle thing” is the new colorless mana symbol.
- When you finish a game, you play more games until someone has won 2. Then you fill out the match slip.
- When a blocked creature gains flying, the blocker doesn’t go away. It is already blocking. (This one got appealed!)
- When awakened lands die, they go to the graveyard. They do not resume being lands.
- In perhaps my favorite ruling of the day, land creatures are creatures that are also lands. They are not creatures without flying!
- “Regenerate it” on an instant does not mean to return the instant to your hand.
- Unless there is an effect saying otherwise, a creature can only block 1 creature at a time.
- Triggers don’t resolve at the same time as the event that triggered them.
- You can tap a creature and Holdout Settlement for mana that you won’t use. (This was used to tap a creature so it wouldn’t have to block Breaker of Armies the next turn.)
- You cannot pay the surge cost of a permanent again to repeat the effect the next turn.
The 2pm 2HG
Alex decided that since the 11am event got started late, we would also push back the 2HG to 2:30pm, so that people who wanted to drop from the 11am event to play in the 2HG would have the maximum chance to do so. Normally, 2HG is not very popular at Deals. We usually get 7 or 8 teams and have a nice, short event. In this case, though, by 2:15pm, we got absolutely flooded with teams. We ended up with more than 35 teams, so more than 70 players!
We have only one computer with which to use WER, and unfortunately, the 11am event was flipping a round when I would have liked to start entering players. Very few players had preregistered, so that couldn’t have been done in advance. Eventually, around 1:45pm, I open up the event and start adding players, immediately realizing a problem. Because of our registration system, we don’t know who is on which team. You would think players would sign up together, but that did not happen. We put out a sign in sheet for people to write their teams, and I started entering players from our Local Players database.
At first, this worked out OK, but as I added people, there were probably 12-15 new players without DCI numbers that I needed to enter. That alone wasn’t an issue, but it did take some time. The real problem is that, in the rush of people arriving and lining up to register, the store employees got really sloppy with entering people’s names. Instead of having a player’s full name and DCI number, I would have “lu lookupp”. That was a problem, because if you try typing “lu” into the local player database, it won’t turn up useful results. (That one turned out to be a last name, but other people were entered only with a misspelled first name, i.e. “meranda”.) This was a repeated issue, and so it took me a long time to figure out each person, especially because the interface for 2HG means that if you are entering someone new (with a new DCI number) or looking someone up who isn’t in the Local Players database, you end up having to do that when entering the team, as far as I could tell. That meant referencing the sheet, where handwriting was decidedly awful, and figuring out both team members. Some teams also neglected to sign in. There was even a WER glitch where one player showed up twice when you entered him, then only one of him got paired onto a team, but both of him got removed if you tried to delete the extra instance of his name from the un-teamed players box, thus unmatching the team. Weird.
Anyway, at 2:30pm, the new start time of the event, between having issues with entering people and still having to take judge calls on the 11am event while Alex was elsewhere, I was not yet finished registering all of the players in WER. I asked Alex to take the list of teams and just get everyone building. 2HG build time is 60 minutes, which is really long, so I figured I could finish entering everyone while they built. He did so, and after a brief interruption to turn around the final round of the 11am Sealed, I managed to get everyone in the computer and went around to verify that my list of teams matched the teams currently building. Thankfully, they matched, so the event proceeded logistically smoothly from that point. We got started a little bit later than intended due to the time it took to get everyone seated, which made some players a bit grumpy, but they got building and everything seemed to be going ok. After build, I posted pairings and did the normal reminders about playing 2HG. (There is only 1 game per match, the first mulligan is free, life totals and turns are shared, but permanents are not, life total starts at 30, etc.)
I took a lot of the normal rules questions about 2HG (attacking creatures attack a specific head, but either head’s creatures can still block, Ingest only hits one players not both, cards that say “each opponent loses 1 life” mean the team loses 2 life, etc.), and more of the same sorts of calls as before (countering a spell doesn’t stop a cast trigger, you can’t discard cards you don’t have as a cost, you can’t kill the sacrificed creature in response to stop Bone Splinters from working, if an attacker and blocker both have first strike they’ll be able to damage each other just like if neither had it, etc.).
The 2HG event also had some weirder judge calls. There were a lot of players trying to be super competitive in this event for some reason, which is unusual for a Prerelease, and especially for 2HG. There were several of cases of people trying to rush through combat without passing priority and the like, so I did a lot of little back ups to allow opponents to respond when they would have the chance to. I explained multiple times that just saying “damage” does not mean that combat is over. The defending team still gets a chance to respond.
I also had the very strange case of one match where it took them 11 minutes to resolve mulligans. I had been taking judge calls, so I didn’t see the problem right away, but when I did, I instructed them to speed up and start playing. Neither team was ready to play when I arrived and both had sat down for the match on time. I watched their play for a while once they started, and they were going reasonably quickly, but then when I stepped aside to take a judge call and returned a few minutes later, almost nothing had happened while I was gone. Both teams were experienced players, so I firmly instructed them to play more quickly to finish the match on time. I checked back on that table several times, and they ultimately finished on time. Our prize structure did not reward draws, so I’m not still sure why this happened. The players just said they were thinking really hard, but the board state didn’t seem to justify that any more than it did when I was watching and they were playing reasonable quickly.
The matches were very long and grindy due to the format, so many tables went to extra turns (just 3 for 2HG). I put a lot of effort into trying to get teams to play these turns quickly, but since so many teams went to time, it was difficult to cover all of the tables, especially since Alex was busy firing the 4pm Sealed and prizing people out. I did instruct teams to make a play quite a few times during the match and in turns, and I watched matches to head of slow play issues whenever I wasn’t taking calls.
The 4pm event ended up being quite small, so Alex finished it up on his own.
In the end, I think this was a largely successful day of Prerelease events. I think that we should try to push the start times of the events later in the day, but then stick to those times. It seems like players were tired from the previous day and had issues arriving on time, and if we are going to push back the events anyway, planning that ahead of time will make for fewer cranky players who had to wait around. I also think it needs to be made clear to the store employees that full names are absolutely necessary in the spreadsheet, even if it takes a few extra seconds to do so. Finding people based on nicknames in WER is a nightmare that I don’t care to repeat when there is such a simple fix. Having an additional judge on end-of-round would also have helped quite a bit, so I think we should try to either stagger our events better in the future, so that Alex is available to assist at that time (and isn’t busy turning over a round in another event). It may even be worth bringing on a Standby judge, in case of a surprisingly large event like this 2HG.
Overall, Prereleases are somewhat refreshing for me as a judge who handles so much Competitive REL. Being able to just fix things when they go wrong and having players who largely just want to have fun is a cool experience, especially when everyone is so excited about a new set. Even though the 2HG had some substantial logistical issues, I don’t mean to imply that the event wasn’t fun for the players! I think that the overwhelming reaction to the event was actually positive. Cleaning up the logistics a little bit on the back end, however, will streamline the experience and make it even better in the future.