So…that happened. Grand Prix Las Vegas.
This started as a Facebook post, then grew out of control.
Now it is a tournament report!
The short line of the narrative is:
Every day was a different challenge. Briefly I’ll talk about the challenges, and then how the great people I worked with rose to solve them. I am going to talk about every team I was on at Vegas, and list the star performers I saw. This is not to say the other people were not great. Far from it. I just want to spotlight some extraordinary performances by a small number of the judges I worked with at GP Vegas.
Monday and TuesdayI got in on Monday, and was part of the product crew. We pre-opened and noted down the cards from 3000 limited pools between Monday and Tuesday. (That is 18000 booster packs, which works out to 750 boxes, which is 187.5 cases of Modern Masters 2015. That is about two pallets.) This was a grind and the days were mostly just a very samey blur to me, not least because I was still tired from working an Open weekend in Worcester. Katie Neal made my Tuesday a ton better. She sorted pools and I registered them for about half the day on Tuesday. I greatly prefer reg to sorting, so this made my Tuesday a lot less miserable.
Angela Schabauer was also unbelievable. On Tuesday we were told “if you register 35 pools, you get a bonus box of Khans of Tarkir”. Her question was “is that for each 35 pools we register?” When she got the affirmative, she started pushing her speed up. She stayed a bit late, and did 70 pools in about 9.5 hours of work. Crazy.
Wednesday I was on room setup, and ended up stumbling into control of a group of people because I was the one shouting at them to do stuff. The size varied, but it was between 20 and 100 at different times. We put down all the tablecloths in the room, setup a lot of tables and chairs, and (most awesomely) tore into and rebuilt four pallets of basic land packs in about 20 minutes.
I don’t have a specific callout from Wednesday, in large part because the team was so effective that we actually spent like two hours just sitting and waiting for new tasks due to getting done with what we were doing faster than planned. If you were on my setup crew on Wednesday, thank you.
Thursday I was handed a list of 30 people with no other organization and told “this is your team, you are responsible for running Last Chance Trial events from 3pm to hall close at midnight.” From what I can tell, this is the largest event team anyone headed with no designated sub-leaders all week. Other teams were on the order of 5-10. I cut up the roles, put good people in good places, and we ran a huge amount of events.
My three point people were Brandon Arsenault, Michael Arrowsmith, and Chris McGuire. Guys, you were essentially leads without titles on the schedule, and you did not have a lot of warning for these jobs. You all did great, and without you those players and events and judges would have been very unhappy. Thank you.
Friday I was early shift Minimasters into Last Chance Trials lead, with a much smaller team, just 6 other people. This was the tightest knit team of the weekend for me, and it was so fun to have a day where we stuck (mostly) together and got to bond as a group. We ran a bunch of events really well, even though about 8 hours into our shift I was mentally checked out due to the second seizure in a week happening 4 feet in front of me. (Seriously. The Worcester Open had one, then one of our events we covered had one.) I was already tired when it happened, and once the situation was sorted out, I was in a daze until shift ended.
I want to give huge props to Brian Denmark for being a trooper and working on a broken foot. Not a single word of complaint from him all day. Noel Clauson and Darren Gamble, you did a great job connecting with the L1 judge buddies I gave you, and they had a great event in large part due to your showing them the ropes.
SaturdaySaturday I was Logistics lead on one of the 8 splits in the main event. The structure of people and events was amazing – we had two sets of “feeder” events that qualified people into one of two new events on Sunday. Every feeder event had a head judge, and each set of those had another head judge working to coordinate them. Every event had a full set of teams and judges, and was a full Grand Prix on its own, basically.
Logistics lead on a Limited Grand Prix is in my opinion both the most fun and the hardest job out of any Team Lead role. Limited means that the cards you can play with are limited to the cards you get from just a few booster packs, and the Logistics lead is responsible for getting those packs to players, solving problems with unusual collation within the packs, and doing anything related to the tournament space.One of the big challenges of this event was something called Sleep-in Special. Normally you have to open and note every card in a pool of boosters, then pass that to someone else to build a deck with. (That way another person has seen the pool and you can check with them if it is suspected that you added cards to it.) Sleep-in Special is an upgrade you can pay for where the tournament staff registers that pool for you, and gives you one with the cards already listed. Because the set we were using had a lot of valuable cards, quite a few people opted for Sleep-in Special so that nobody else got the chance to see their pool and either elect to drop from the event with it or steal the cards. This is where those 3000 pools we registered on Monday and Tuesday come into play.
Our split from the main event had ~850 players, and ~350 of them had Sleep-in Special. When I divided up my team, I put Bryan Spellman in charge of Sleep-in Specials, and he did a fantastic job. His sub-team got people seated, building, and solved all their problems with no major hiccups. (There was one customer service issue with a late player, but that only impacted that one player out of our whole event.)
Eric Cheung was my other assigned Lieutenant, and he was my “crap, this needs doing” lead. I tend to give general tasks, and check back on their status pretty aggressively. Anything I gave Eric just vanished. He wrangled a lot of people during normal product deployment, buffered scorekeeper issues after seating, and his sub-team seemed pretty well coordinated from my view. Eric and Bryan, you made me look good by being so stellar. Thank you.The head judge of our event was Nicholas Sabin. Nicholas is a great friend of mine, a mentor, and someone I hold in high esteem. He and I have worked together a lot, so his instructions to me consisted of “You are very good at this, and professional. Be as good and professional as I know you are.” My goals were to not let him down, to not ever make our event the source of delays in our 4-way split (all 4 of our events were on a single clock), and when the time came to give him a memento of the event.
Earlier in the week, once we knew our GP split and who our head judge was, Joe Hugtho suggested doing something special for Nicholas. Nicolas had posted on Tuesday about how special this event was to him, as he had never really thought he would head judge a Grand Prix, and how excited he was for the event. Joe was another one of the team leads, and he contacted myself, John Shannon, and Carlos Rada and suggested we put together something. I consulted with Steven Zwanger and Jared Sylva to get ideas, and from their ideas plus discussion with the team leads, our conferring came up with a custom playmat of Nicholas illustrated as his favorite Magic art, Gorilla Titan.
I spoke to artist Drew Baker, and commissioned a custom playmat from him. He knocked it out of the park. We presented this to Nicolas during a all-hands meeting while our judges were being awesome and waiting for the other events, because we were consistently ahead of the others every round. Nicholas can comment more on the playmat if he wants – I just wanted to give credit to all the people that made this come together so well.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that I did not keep our event on track alone. Joe and John and Carlos were amazing. I’ve had events where I worried about things I was not responsible for, because I was not sure they were getting done. This was so far from the case on our GP that I can’t even imagine being concerned. Guys, our Saturday might have been the smoothest Saturday I’ve ever worked on a Limited GP. Thank you.
Sunday was the major leagues. I was once again main event Team Lead for the Logistics team. Sunday Logsistics makes Saturday Logistics look easy. On Sunday of a Grand Prix, you have to setup two drafts with special stamped product, make sure that defective product gets replaced, and manage a draft event where someone “calls” the draft, giving every player instructions on what they should be doing at every point in the process. There are a ton of moving parts, and lots of failure modes. Sundays are run in a mode we call “Professional”, and we expect a high quality of performance from staff on a Professional level event.
This was the largest Professional draft ever run. I don’t have exact numbers for the players that drafted, but we had 369 and 395 players going into Sunday. The next largest was the prior monster GP Las Vegas, with ~420 players. We nearly doubled that.
I was very excited when Chris Richter (the overall head judge of our split) picked me as Logistics Team Lead for this event. His philosophy on Limited Grand Prix events is to figure out his Logistics lead and team first, then fill in the other teams from there. I am very honored that he believed me the best choice for the job.
My callouts from the day start with Jeph Foster. Jeph and I got together on Saturday evening and pulled all the product for both splits, confirmed it existed, and confirmed it was not egregiously damaged. I got done with my shift, and Jeph continued to work with it, prepping boxes with 3 8-player draft pods each in them, with clear labeling. When we got in Sunday morning, the first draft was all set to go – we just had to do table layout and drop product for the drafts, which is a lot less work than having to do that and also prep all the product. (I would be remiss if I did not mention that our prep team included Steven Briggs and Ashton Chapman doing confirmation and error checking on Saturday.)
To give you an idea of the scale of the product we had to go through, think about this:
- The product was shipped to us in 50000 count card boxes.
- There were 14 of these boxes.
- By my estimation, there was enough product for slightly more than 1000 people to draft on Sunday, with some replacement product in case of issues.
- This means we had more than 3000 booster packs of cards queued up for the draft.
This is a titanic, unbelievable amount of stamped product. Someone hand-stamped all this at Wizards of the Coast. I don’t know who they are, but they get my most sincere and heartfelt thanks.
Jeph Foster and I share a love for stamped product from events. We were seriously the kids guarding the candy store when we got handed this much product. As Jeph said “If I were to go out from the judge program in a blaze of glory, now would be it.” He did not.
Jeph also called both drafts on Sunday. He made one error during the calling…which considering he had been working 12 hour days since Tuesday is very remarkable. He also volunteered for Top 8 coverage. Jeph, what the hell, man. I don’t have enough thanks.
My other standouts on my team were Steven Briggs and John Brian McCarthy. Briggs was a rock, making sure when I did things like forget to assign judges to help with the event coverage it was just magically done. He was ill for part of the day, and trucked on, because he would be damned if he stopped during the home stretch.
John Brian and I just met at GP Cleveland a couple of months ago. After this weekend, I am asking myself how I did not know someone this excellent. John Brian was in a role on Saturday called “Communications”. Basically he was a special special projects guy. He ran a group that registered even more Sleep-in Special pools (because 3000 was not enough!) communicated with 8 different events to make sure things were going well, and solved problems nobody else ever saw. On Sunday he and I prepped product for the second draft together, and he was aggressive on floor coverage and taking calls at a time when everyone else was dragging and just not at 100% due to exhaustion.
Gregory came at being awesome from a totally different direction – perspective. When we handed out tax forms for players to fill out in case they got prizes, Gregory was on a completely different focus than everyone else.He was focused on non-US players, especially ones that did not speak English well. He was very concerned that we were handing out forms people should not be filling out and then telling those same people not to fill them out in a language they did not understand. This is a perspective I did not even think about going into the event, and Gregory really opened my eyes to how we handle tax forms at events. He was immediately vindicated due to a player that spoke and wrote only Japanese becoming very confused by the form.
As a result, I now think it is possible we need two forms with some kind of multilingual instruction sheet stapled to them, or a whole different process. I am not sure at this point, but it is something I am concerned about as well due to Gregory’s fantastic feedback on the problem.
As I mentioned above, this was only a fraction of the people I worked with. Everyone worked hard to make this event a success, and it showed in the quality of player experiences, the smooth operation of event logistics at many stages, and the way a ton of pieces all came together. There were issues (On-Demand Events were…not really functional on Thursday), but for the most part this was due to the unprecedented scale of the event forcing things to be run differently than they had been run before.