I love big Magic events. Being surrounded by so many people who share my passion is amazing. To see all the players who love the game, the judges who are dedicated to make players happy, the organizers who are prone to deliver yet another top notch experience, and on top of that, traveling to see, meet, taste and experience other cultures. I was lucky enough to get accepted to both Grand Prix Barcelona and Pro Tour Madrid, and in this article, I will share my experiences, highlighting the differences between those two types of event.
GP Barcelona was my 50th GP, and it was extra special for me. I frequently judged events in Spain where I wasn’t able to deliver the best possible service to a Spanish player, because he or she didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. Well, it’s easier to learn a language than to teach a language to an entire nation, so I started learning Spanish. Yes, with the sole purpose of being able to make rulings in Spanish. And I did! My first call of the day was a problematic situation between a Spanish player and a Dutch player, where I was able to communicate with both of them in their native tongue. It was scary at first, and in hindsight I realize I may not have used a single conjugation correctly, but I reached my goal: I understood the players, they understood me, and together we reached a fair solution to repair the game state. This may be my proudest moment of the GP!
GPs are about catering the needs of 3 groups of people: the players, the judges, and the viewers at home. Let’s have a closer look at each of them, what their needs are and how we cater to their needs.
Players come to a GP to play Magic. Sounds logical, right? But there’s more to that than just posting some pairings and letting them play. Players expect a fair event, and that’s why there are judges to answer rules questions, settle disputes, and keep an eye out for potential cheating. But players also want to have a fun and pleasant experience, mostly by being able to play Magic. That’s why a large part of our judge activities is geared towards making the tournament run as smooth and efficient as possible, so players don’t have to wait longer than necessary before they can play their next round. But most of all, players want to be able to be at the GP, and this takes some special care in advance. I’m proud to say that Tournament Center provided a wheelchair accessible venue, with the wheelchair entrance and bathroom clearly indicated, as well as gender-neutral bathrooms. We want to provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone, with judges and organizers cooperating to make this happen.
You will encounter a lot of judges at a Grand Prix. Because some of them are at their first GP, others at their 100th, and every one of them has a specialization with stronger and weaker areas, judges are divided into teams, and all have their own responsibilities and assignments. Some of us are allowed to perform back-ups, some of us are allowed to take appeals or disqualify players, and all of us like to double check a tough ruling; that’s why you’ll frequently see us together in small groups, discussing live or past rulings. The Judge Program has proudly been labeled a culture of self-improvement, and that’s why we take a lot of notes and write reviews of ourselves and of other judges after events. My personal goal for a GP is always to learn and to teach as much as possible!
Some people come to the venue to watch, but many, many more stay at home or at work and watch coverage online. This is a great way to show some of the best players and new strategies to a wide audience, and to keep people involved. There is quite a team working on coverage every GP: a few judges to make sure that questions and problems get resolved quickly, technicians who operate the cameras, reporters who write about what they see, and reporters who do interviews and live commentary. I think that at least 10 people are working on coverage during a GP, and there’s always something to watch and/or read when you can’t attend the event in person.
My Experience at GP Barcelona
Judging at a GP is always exciting: you know in advance that a lot of stuff is going to happen and that you will answer many, many calls from players. Most of them are pretty disappointing (where do I hand in my result slip? Can I use the bathroom or have a smoke before the next round starts?), some of them will be about rules questions, and even fewer of them are about solving problems or suspicions of cheating.
But my personal best moments are usually after the GP is over: judges are awesome people to spend time with, and celebrating another successful GP over dinner is amazing. The Regional Coordinator and/or a local judge usually organize a judge dinner on Sunday, and once again, I enjoyed that a lot. The Monday after, a small group of judges used their investigative and problem-solving skills to play some escape rooms (just like the ones at GP Bologna/Detroit/Melbourne).
Differences between a GP and the Pro Tour
At a GP Barcelona there were over 2000 players and more than 90 judges of very diverse skill and experience level. PT Madrid counted fewer than 400 players and 23 judges, but only the best of the best. This makes for a completely different environment! There are much fewer calls, but the pressure is much higher. I’ll freely admit that I was a bit nervous and I prepared thoroughly for this event, by studying the rules over and over again and making a few practice exams in the Judge Center.
My special role all weekend long was to take care of the feature matches. Unlike at GPs, no less than 5 judges are non-stop responsible for this job! At least 2 judges cover the 4 feature matches, 1 judge is watching live coverage on a huge monitor to spot any errors that may have slipped through the maze, and 1 judge follows the Twitch comments and answers rules questions in the chat. It has happened in the past that the tens of thousands of spectators notice an error that neither of the judges noticed.
The level of players and judges is high, there is a lot of pressure to make everything go perfect, and there is a good reason for that: the Pro Tour is Wizard’s primary marketing instrument, it is to show the best Magic to the world, and to advertise our favorite game. No less than 50 people work behind the screens to provide excellent coverage, and high representatives of Wizards are present to assist and monitor everything. I never realized how much professionalism was involved in organizing and reporting the Pro Tour, and I’m truly impressed and amazed.
My 15 Seconds of Fame
While watching the feature match that that was being broadcast live, I noticed that the reigning world champion Seth Manfield commited a Game Rule Violation: he activated Narset’s -2, then casts Anticipate. When Anticipate resolves, it should go to exile, but Seth put it in the graveyard instead. I issued him a Warning and ask if he has already received a Warning earlier today. This turns out to be the case: he already received a Warning for misplaying Anticipate last round…
The judge explained to Seth that a spell with Rebound should be put into the graveyard when it first resolves, then on second resolution it should be exiled, and that is exactly what Seth wanted to do now, so he is very confused to be receiving a Warning for this. I verify with the Scorekeeper who issued him that penalty last round, check with that judge if he indeed explained that Rebound works like that (first to graveyard, then exile), and double check with another judge that this is indeed not how Rebound works, as it should go into exile when it resolves for the first time, then go to the graveyard when it resolves for the second time.
I go back to Seth, explain carefully how Rebound works, and inform him that my Warning is revoked. A player should never be punished for following a judge’s instructions! And while judges are awesome people in general, sometimes we make mistakes. But we also make sure that those mistakes never have a negative influence on the games people play!
This was the best Pro Tour ever, with a lot of famous names in the Top 8 (multiple Hall of Fame members, the reigning World Champion) and 8 different Standard decks, which shows what a great job Wizards have done in creating a diverse and exciting Standard environment. Several of the players at the Pro Tour managed to achieve Platinum level, which allows them to continue competing at this level, dedicating an impressive amount of time, energy and even money to maintain their level of play. This was a great experience, and Wizards should be proud of hosting yet another great Pro Tour, celebrating new heights in both player count and revenues, and increased praise for the greatest game ever.
And, something else that should not go unmentioned: yours truly really rocked during the judge draft. After dinner on Saturday, 12 judges gathered in 2 pods of 6 and we played some awesome Magic. I drafted an amazing mono green Werewolves deck (called the Flippy-Floppy deck, decklist can be found at http://www.nedermagic.nl/deck_item.asp?deckid=137769 ) and went 2-0 before everyone went to bed. Next Pro Tour, you might see me on camera again… tapping the cards myself!
Thanks for reading, greetz,