Conventions present a different type of tournament experience. They attract different players than a Grand Prix, which means as a judge you must strike a different balance. Adapting to the Timmys and the Spikes and their interactions is a task that takes some work. DreamHack Austin was no exception to the rule. The most striking part of this event was the darkness. The Magic area was faintly illuminated compared to a Grand Prix trying not to detract from the dark atmosphere constructed for the ESports events. It was one of the challenges we encountered. The lights even went out a few times while events were going resulting in judges and spectators illuminating the play areas with cell phone flashlights, including during a top 8 match.
Typically, Magic is the focus for everyone in the room. Conventions mean it is just another activity. It’s important to the people running it and playing in it, but keeping the environment quiet and keeping the lights on weren’t the top priorities for the nature of the overall event. The tables and chairs were circled like wagons in the old west, making the feature match area a focal point rather than an after-thought that is seen at many Grand Prix events. It took some imagination to picture the TVs that are slated to be hung around the sides of the event at future DreamHacks. The idea of Magic as an ESport was more easily pictured in this setting.
The premier event of the weekend, held on Sunday, had a prize structure like that of a Grand Prix, with 10K on the line. To get into event, you had to qualify by going 4-0 in an event on Friday or Saturday, or being ranked top 64 for points over the course of the two days. Points were earned with every match win, carrying into Saturday. Players who had won 6 total matches (through the course of any number of events) ended up eligible to play. If a player was absent their spot went to the next person on the list if they were present.
Organizationally, the qualifying events were trying something new. The events for Friday and Saturday were all ran in a side events fashion, but rather than having many head judges, they assigned one (Kyle Knudson) to oversee them all. He was available for appeals and for the team leads if he was needed. From there it was treated like a main event having team leads in charge of delegated tasks. We had a team scheduled to launch the events, a team for flipping rounds, and a floor team.
Each team came with its own set of challenges. The event launching team was where all events began every hour. The team was tasked with prepping product, posting seatings, and making the beginning of event announcements while distributing product. The team lead (Ben Wallace) had one judge on his team and between the two of them they would launch the event, and then supervise and floor judge until it was time to prep and launch the next scheduled event. They frequently had to grab another judge for product hand out, but ultimately their task ran smoothly.
Next in line was the floor team, self-explanatory patrolling of the floor. As the weekend progressed, their team lead (Erin Leonard) and her 2 floor judges added the task of end of round to their plate, ensuring that the round ended on time, the number of tables still out were accounted for, and had a judge sitting on them in case they went into turns. They also reported to the round flipping team when all slips were in and helped get the round started if they were needed.
Tim Hardick’s round flipping team had the largest plate, but also the most judges with 4 people in addition to himself. Their tasks included making beginning of round announcements once build ended and in all subsequent rounds, putting pairings up, cutting and handing out slips, handing out tickets (winner took 20 at the end of the match each round), and keeping track of generally everything going on. He was the go to spot if you needed to know when a round ended or when it had started. This team originally was tasked with end of round as well, but after seeing the team constantly in motion, the task got reallocated.
The structure was similar on Sunday swapping out Kyle as the head judge of the 10K Battle and myself as the HJ of the other events. The main event on Sunday originally had Kyle as the head judge with 2 floor judges assigned to it. We quickly restructured with the large event demanding more attention than anticipated.
My Saturday experience came with a few challenges. As a member of the flip team, we had many tasks. Our team lead handed out one task to each of us. I was responsible at the start of the day for announcing events and ended the night responsible for cutting slips (and occasionally end of round.) We also someone handing out the tickets behind me, someone posting pairings, and our Team Lead was doing the beginning of round announcements. The team lead also held the clipboard that was the home of all essential information. I’m not sure the approach was ideal.
While each person knew exactly what they needed to do so nothing fell through the cracks, it also meant the entire team was wrapped up in every round flip. With many judges on the one team, it meant resources were pulled away from the floor, and quite frankly, it was exhausting that we were all flipping every round. There were a few logistical challenges that came up as well when more than one event was ready to flip and we had to decide which one to launch first. Having our team lead as the keeper of the grail also meant others could not access it during the start of rounds.
The intended structure of the team, I found out later while talking to Kyle (who designed the system), was to only have one or two people starting each round. Between two people they could have made announcements and handed out slips, and completed the other tasks that were required of the round flip. It also meant you never had to choose between flipping rounds for two events, and that if something did go wrong, only two people were accountable to that round. Essentially, it felt that there were too many cooks in the kitchen every round and it made for very tired cooks.
Another struggle we encountered was having a member of TO staff as a Head Judge. While the tasks requiring him were not many, it did mean his attention was split between the event and things requiring TO attention. Having one person to oversee the entire event would have made things run smoother as the HJ serves as a unifying presence to coordinate the team leads, at time, they felt disjointed. I wonder if the HJ should not be the keeper of the clipboard so it was also available. Or it might have been suited better at the main stage where it could always be found in case the HJ was in an appeal.
Sunday, things smoothed out a bit and we tried to reduce the number of people launching events, almost a necessity as some floor judges were allocated to tasks such as Deck Checks lead. Having TO staff as the HJ of the 10K again presented problems when an unforeseen problem required his attention away from the venue. My role shifted from HJ of side events to HJ of the 10K. A side from an appeal, and the lights going out toward the end of the event, we didn’t encounter many notable problems.
The Fun Rules Stuff:
Most of the weekends calls were simple, with three interactions standing out for me.
The first one happened shortly after my day started on Saturday. A player in the Master’s event (1 of each master’s set) called for a judge to ask a card interaction question. I’m still not happy with my resolution which I consulted another judge about. If anyone could provide insight, I’m more than happy to hear it. Epochrasite is in play under the NAP control, AP is the owner. If it dies while under NAP’s control, which player can cast it from exile.
(The relevant triggered ability: When Epochrasite dies, exile it with three time counters on it and it gains suspend.) I initially ruled it would belong to AP. My logic, when it dies, it must go to its owner’s graveyard and is then exiled. So, it would be under their control when it is exiled and is thus theirs to suspend. Another judge reminded me that the triggered ability would be controlled by NAP so it would be their ability to suspending it. That swung me back to the side of the controller, not the owner. Final ruling, NAP can cast it. At this point, I’m unsure and my research hasn’t turned up much although I’m told there is a thread from 2014 that addresses this that I need to find because there was a ruling.
Also on Saturday an issue that was more customer service than rules occurred. Some players (5) had not heard the announcement for their round, and their pairings had been moved to another location, as had their starting table number, so they did not have an indicator that their event was starting. Our PA was getting drowned out by surrounding events and shout casters, so it wasn’t unthinkable for them to not have heard the announcement. The person doing announcements should have asked players to raise their hands if they did not have an opponent across from them and we should have reannounced the event with such a high number missing. Ultimately, we errored with customer service gave the players a 15 minute extension (which thankfully none of them used), and our apologies.
Finally, on Sunday, right after I became temporary HJ for the 10K Battle, I took an interesting appeal. There were some ways I could have done it better, but the overall result was fine given slightly chaotic circumstances. The floor judge who took the ruling was not assigned to the 10K. They reported to another judge unsure about what the infraction and penalty were. The players were a bit heated about their situation by the time I arrived and the floor judge had gone to find yet another judge as it hadn’t been fully communicated yet that I was handling appeals. At the table, one of the players quickly explained the circumstances. They were in their Main Phase 2, his opponent had a Thresher Lizard in play (1 or less cards in its controller’s hand and it gets +1/+2). During combat the AP had stated he had 1 card in hand and attacked with his creatures. NAP blocked. Then in main phase 2 when AP picked up his hand and cast a creature, they found he was still holding a card. The AP had no recollection of having been asked for the number of cards in hand or making a statement of one. (Both players had resolved damage as though AP only had one card in hand). At this point NAP asked to speak from me away from the table, stating the AP had not been confused when answering the questions of the other judge and he was conveniently forgetting while speaking to me.
At this point I spoke with the floor judge (who had come back) and she stated AP had been equally unsure and confused during her questioning. The floor judge had ruled Tournament Error – Communication Policy Violation. The call was appealed because she had not chosen to back up to the point where the CPV occurred.
Given the information I had, support from spectators that AP had made a statement of 1 card, his behavior by resolving damage as though he had one card and hand and the floor judge’s confirmation that AP had not changed his story. I ruled that the damage done by the misinformation during the blockers stage was more detrimental to the game state than NAPs knowledge that AP had a creature in his hand and backed up. Later when speaking to the NAP after the game (investigating a bit more for cheating), he stated they had a pattern of asking each other for cards in hand before combat because they were both playing the lizard. It was game 3 for them and they’d been doing this for several games. He thought it was unlikely that AP had really forgotten asking and answering and that it was convenient. At this point, AP had dropped from the event and I wasn’t able to go find him, but I did learn a lesson about asking for patterns of behavior while investigating.
(Editor’s Note: Join in on the discussion about Jessica’s report here!)