I recently head judged San Diego’s RPTQ, which was a very smooth event where nothing went seriously wrong! But, that doesn’t mean nothing interesting happened, so I’d like to share a few moments from the weekend that stood out to me.
Head judge: That’s me!
Floor judge: Angela Chandler
I’m fortunate enough to work with a very experienced TO who had things covered before I even arrived, getting players enrolled into WER, making sure they were qualified to play in the RPTQ, and distributing the promotional materials. One of the store employees had also set up table numbers ahead of time.
However, the employee who did that is not experienced with tournament layout best practices and didn’t snake the numbers. I took the opportunity to rearrange the numbers to get tables #1 and #2 moved farther away from the register. Those tables are more likely to attract spectators, so I wanted to put the place where crowds would gather away from the place people would be getting into line to buy things.
Angie also suggested creating more space between the tables, since the amount of space in the store easily accommodated our 50 player event plus whatever other events the store wanted to run. I was very happy with Angie’s attention to detail – that sort of thing seems very small, but it demonstrates that she’s looking for potential problems and solving them before they become actual problems. Dealing with it at that time meant we addressed it before anyone even sat down, instead of after we had 50 cramped people.
In addition to some nonsense about tables and chairs, there was also a tournament!
Immediately before one of the rounds, the printer ran out of toner, requiring the TO to go on a special expedition (of the non-Zendikar variety) to get a new cartridge. I chose not to delay the tournament for this; the store uses R-Tools and a TV monitor to display pairings instead of posting paper copies. The only impact our dead printer would have would be on match slips. I asked Angie to use our paper cutter to just distribute match slip-sized strips of blank paper, and then made a special announcement to the players to tell them what had happened. I asked players to write their table number and both player names on the slip, leaving space to fill out match results and signatures.
After all the results were in, I posted a copy of standings after the round, because the lack of pre-printed slips made it more likely that players would have filled them out incorrectly or the scorekeeper entered them incorrectly. This gave players a chance to confirm their points and get any problems corrected (only one mis-entry!)
Shadow: Not Just an Evasion Ability
I encourage my floor judges to shadow each other on calls, since this is one of the best ways of providing feedback to each other. The small size of the event meant that Angie and I were able to shadow each other on calls where there wasn’t another simultaneous judge call. I was able to gather a lot of review observations from this, including watching her handle a life total discrepancy extremely fluently. She took control of the situation really well and got both players to walk her through the life changes on their pads and identified the source of the error as one player marking 1 damage in the wrong column.
I also got to observe the following situation: AP casts some giant Eldrazi and triggers the Kozilek’s Return in his graveyard. NAP had cast Dromoka’s Command to put a +1/+1 counter on one of his creatures and prevent the damage from the return.
This results in a GRV for NAP for illegally casting a spell. At the time that Kozilek’s Return deals damage, it’s an instant card but not an instant spell because it hasn’t been cast, we’re just dealing with a triggered ability. Dromoka’s Command can only target spells.
Should’ve Thought-Knot Seen That Coming
I found myself called to a table where AP controlled an Eldrazi Mimic, and had attacked with it after casting a Thought-Knot Seer. NAP blocked with a 2/2 Gideon token. NAP argued that the trigger was missed because AP hadn’t acknowledged it in any way. AP agreed that he hadn’t, but argued that he didn’t need to do so until it affected the game state.
Eldrazi Mimic’s triggered ability has the word “may” in it, presumably so you don’t accidentally turn it into a 1/1 if you make an Eldrazi scion. The IPG section on missed triggers contains this:
A triggered ability that causes a change in the visible game state (including life totals) or requires a choice upon resolution: The controller must take the appropriate physical action or make it clear what the action to be taken or choice made is before taking any game actions (such as casting a sorcery spell or explicitly taking an action in the next step or phase) that can be taken only after the triggered ability should have resolved.
So, I ruled that because the trigger requires a choice upon resolution (whether or not to update the mimic’s size), AP would have needed to indicate that he was choosing to do so, and had missed the trigger. NAP got to trade his token for the mimic, and I was able to explain to AP why this situation was different from a trigger like prowess.
It seems that the mimic’s trigger is a bit unfortunately worded for players – without a detailed understanding of policy, a player’s natural takeaway from the past few years of missed trigger changes is, “if an untargeted trigger makes my creature bigger, I don’t have to say anything until it matters”. Eldrazi Mimic’s trigger looks a lot like that, but the “may” that’s supposed to provide flexibility makes it a lot easier to miss the trigger.
HCE vs. LEC
I had a couple situations come up that dealt with the line between HCE and LEC. The first was fairly straightforward: a player called a judge on himself after casting a Collected Company. He picked up his six cards for the spell, then also picked up a seventh. Both players agreed that the seventh card never got anywhere near the set of six cards for the collected company. So, this one is LEC and not HCE: there was no danger of the seventh card being included in the resolution of the spell.
Even after thinking about the second situation for a few days, I’m still not certain that I ruled correctly, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding policy to clearly support one ruling over another. It goes as follows: A player calls a judge on himself because he accidentally picked up two cards while drawing for the turn instead of one. In his left hand, he was holding two cards together. In his right hand (of fingers), he was holding his hand (of cards). So, the player did a good job of not crossing the streams and for-sure committing HCE.
The ruling that I delivered was HCE. The player was supposed to have drawn from a set of one card, but had put two cards into that set. The opponent would get to choose one of the cards for that player to draw for the turn, and the other to get shuffled into the library.
As I said, I’m not sure that this is the correct ruling. Example B of LEC says it isn’t:
A player pulls up an extra card while drawing from his deck.
But Example B of HCE looks very similar:
A player scries two cards when he should only have scried one.
To me, picking up two cards instead of one to draw and picking up two cards instead of one to scry are the same thing. Am I supposed to find a difference in the actions of “pulls up” vs. “scries”? Am I supposed to quit overthinking it and just rule LEC because the example is literally this situation? I’d love some input from my fellow judges here!
(Mostly) Non-Hateful Top 8
After a very quick set of Swiss rounds, we progressed to top 8! I don’t like to do top 8 deck checks for two reasons:
1) Players haven’t presented a deck, so I don’t feel that we can issue a penalty even if we do find a problem
2) It takes a small judge staff a long time to deck check eight decks, even if they have been sorted
Instead, what I do is seat the players for their top 8 matches, then instruct them to review their sideboards and ensure everything is in order before presenting their decks. After everyone has done so, I will deck check a random match. This process has been well-received by players, since they don’t have to spend time sorting their deck and idling during deck checks, and I’m able to provide a cheating deterrent by doing actual deck checks during the single-elimination rounds.
The top 8 went very smoothly, except for the part where one of the players pulled me away from the table to tell me he was concerned that his opponent was shuffle-cheating him. The player was concerned that his opponent was stacking his deck during the shuffle by glancing at the bottom card until he found, say, a spell. The opponent could then move that card to the top of the deck, and repeat this process by finding more spells and moving them to the top while appearing to shuffle but leaving the top cards intact.
So, how do I investigate this? I felt that continuing the match was important, because I need to watch this player shuffle again. If I immediately came at him with, “So, you’re shuffle-cheating, huh?”, that would be unlikely to accomplish anything unless the player tied a damsel to the train tracks and twirled his mustache. So, I need more data.
I can ask his previous opponents about his shuffling patterns! …except we’re in the literal last round of the tournament, and they have gone home.
I can do nothing for now and watch how he shuffles in future matches! …except we’re in the literal last round of the tournament and there’s not going to be another match.
Okay, so I need to make this call based on one match worth of observations.
While watching the match before I was alerted to this, I had noticed that the opponent was glancing down at the deck regularly while shuffling, alternating between looking at the deck and at the other player…but I didn’t think he was holding the cards at an angle that would allow him to see the faces. I resolved to keep a closer eye on things, so I was pretty concerned when the player pulled me away to discuss a possible cheat.
After we returned to the table, I got to watch the opponent shuffle again. Red flag: his shuffling technique changed to one where he no longer glanced down at the deck. This is very suspicious, because it suggests that he’s aware his shuffling is under scrutiny and he has adopted a less concerning way of shuffling.
I allowed the match to conclude, and then pulled the player aside. He said he didn’t think his shuffling technique had changed, and he demonstrated the second pattern I had seen him use. He eventually volunteered that he had dropped some of his opponent’s cards while shuffling the first time, before I had seen him use the first pattern. I later confirmed that with the opponent.
As you may be able to figure out from me discussing this here, I didn’t DQ the player. The fact that I happened to start watching him shuffle before there was a problem was pretty lucky – it let me be pretty confident that, while he was glancing down at the deck, he was not doing so at an angle that would let him see cards. The detail about him having dropped cards prior to starting that shuffle is pretty important: it makes it more likely that he would be looking down at the deck to make sure he doesn’t do that again.
But, it’s tough to be totally confident in that call – I’m certain the player changed the way he was shuffling even though he didn’t agree that he had. In these situations, you have to decide something, though. I decided that my personal observation (the angle looked wrong to permit a cheat) combined with dropping cards (he has a reason to look at the deck to prevent future instances of that) made it unlikely that he had cheated in spite of his claim not to have changed his shuffle.
Thanks for reading my wall of text, everyone! If anyone has input on my HCE vs. LEC dilemma, or how I could have conducted that investigation better, I’d be really interested in hearing it!