Tournament Reports! (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)

You may have noticed, lots of Tournament Reports are being written and shared.  You see, there’s this requirement, for L2 judges to maintain their level, that includes writing – you guessed it! – a tournament report.

At first, I was worried that it’d just be a lot of noise – more reasons to turn off Notifications, or maybe mass-delete e-mails (and risk missing something).  I was also worried that, in my role as Moderator, I’d be a very, very busy boy.  Well, it’s true that there’s been a noticeable increase in traffic on the Judge Forums, in that Tournament Reports section, and I have been doing a lot more reading than usual … but I can say that my fears have not come to pass.

Quite the opposite, in fact – the educational value of these Tournament Reports is pure serendipity.  Priceless, even.  And, thus the cultural reference in this blog’s title…

So, it seems appropriate that I take a stab at this public tourney report craze that’s sweeping the globe.  Without further ado, some excerpts from Grand Prix New Jersey.

Scott, what were you thinking?!

I clearly wasn’t thinking, or wasn’t thinking clearly, when I volunteered to join in the fun in Edison, New Jersey.  Up to this point, I’d deftly avoided judging the mega-events (to be fair, I was in Vegas, but I was playing).  Just seemed like too many things could go wrong, and I like it when things go right.

But then our “boss”, Andy, said “hey, we’re inviting all L4+ that can, to join a conference with Wizards staff and Premier TOs on Friday” … and I was hooked.  Not only are these conferences invaluable, but actually seeing Andy out in the wild these days?  Priceless.

So Friday’s conference was great, and spending time with Andy and other L4s really was every bit as valuable as I’d hoped… but that’s not part of a tournament report.  It’s just an answer to that rhetorical question up above.

Wait … doesn’t the guy in the red shirt always die first?

Saturday morning, I got all gussied up in my red shirt – the shirt that signifies to players that they’re getting the opportunity to interact with one of the Judge Program’s most experienced and respected judges.  We joke a lot about the red shirts (“it’s the dried blood of players sacrificed by DQ”), but they serve the purpose well, and players have learned the significance.  And, for the most part, players accept that this new breed of mondo-GPs really do need more than one red shirt, and no, they really don’t need to speak to THE Head Judge.

So, do bigger events really need multiple red shirts?  In Toronto, as solo Head Judge, I handled less than a dozen appeals – both days.  In New Jersey, as one of five judges in red, I count 38 notes of various events on Saturday.  Even if our combined total wasn’t 38 x 5, I can’t imagine the permanent damage done to dear Chris Richter, had he been left to sort it all out, alone.  And imagine the impact on the pace of the event – it was hard enough to overcome the inherent delays of handling 4000 players; if every round was further delayed while waiting for one person to handle all appeals?  We’d have been there until Thanksgiving!

What’s so appealing about appealing?

Perhaps a better question is “do the players really need to appeal that much?”  Based on my entire year, and the number of rulings upheld vs. overturned?  You could argue the answer is “no”.  You might suspect that some players need to learn to trust the floor judges, and not just snap appeal every ruling.  But think about the value added when we do uphold those rulings – and often, even when we “adjust” them – we’re teaching those players just how good their floor judges are performing.  Maybe a reasonable tradeoff?

And then there’s the appeal of a Slow Play ruling.  This is the one that actually does kind of bug me.  Players can’t use the appeal to get more time to think – because judges should always instruct them to continue playing while they get the Head Judge.  (And if they ignore that?  Things tend to get a lot worse for them…)  And, if my judge tells me “yes, I believe they were playing slowly”, then there’s no basis to overturn.  It’s a judgment call, so I understand the player disagreeing – but it’s my floor judge’s observation, and all I can add is some well-worn adages about keeping up with the developing complexity of the game state, it didn’t get complex all of a sudden, so your decision paths should be nearly completely formed as each change occurs, blah blah blah until the player’s eyes get all glassy … and then they keep arguing.  Sigh…

So … lessons learned?

In Legacy, “Ponderstorm” is a thing (getting Ponder and Brainstorm mixed up).  If you cast Brainstorm, look at 3 cards, put 2 back and 1 in your hand, you’ve Ponderstormed successfully.  However, if you cast Ponder, draw 3 cards, then put 2 from your hand back?  That’s really more of a “Brain-derrr”, and it’s also a Game Loss for Drawing Extra Cards.  This was one of the more common appeals, no matter which way it went.  And in round 9, the novel twist – a player Ponderstormed, drew one before looking … so far, so good, no DEC yet … but it was his 3rd GRV of the day.  Whoops, Game Loss after all.

Opponents never like it when we rule correctly on True-Name Nemesis.  They want something really bad to happen to the forgetful player, and when we say “well, you get a Warning for a Game Rule Violation…” (hey, so far, so good) “…and you choose a player now…” (wait, whuh?!) “…because not having a choice isn’t a legal game state.”  Appeal!

Keranos, God of Storms triggers some interesting discussions.  His ability starts off with a GRV, then moves into Missed Triggers.  Forgot to reveal that first card?  Yep, that’s a GRV, and we can’t easily back up now, so, No, neither of those triggers you want are going to happen (oh, wait, you only have that one card in hand? and nobody did anything after you drew it? let’s back up just a bit, here…).

Pithing Needle naming Dread Return isn’t going to work out the way you want it to (Flashback is a static, not activated, ability).

Why you do this to me?

Finally, when you’re about to DQ a player, it’s always good to tell them, in no uncertain terms, why.  A spectator got a judge involved because of something he thought was sketchy; the floor judge gave me some information, I collected more from the player and his opponent, and I reached the difficult but – I thought – necessary decision.

I started to explain to the player that I was going to DQ him, and he – naturally – did his best to convince me not to (and if all players were as polite and respectful when “arguing”, I’d be in heaven).  I restated to him, “I believe you did this because ____” and he quickly interjected “no, that’s not how it was”, and his opponent quickly confirmed that I’d been left with an inaccurate version of one key detail.  My understanding was an intentional infraction seeking advantage; reality was much more like a simple Out of Order Sequencing.

And a good time was had by all!