Israeli Nationals – Head Judge Report

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Hi, I’m Doron Singer, a Level 2 from Israel. Following my report on the Darksteel Prerelease, I’ve had several judges contacting me, offering me of their advice and experience so I may run better events (the most notable of which is Adrian The from Singapore – thanks Adrian!). Armed with the knowledge of generations of level 3 judges, I set out to try to make this year’s Israeli Nationals the best there ever was. I failed utterly. Here’s the story.

The event took place in Giv’atayim, on April 1st and 2nd, with 78 people qualified, of which 62 showed up. Running the event was TO Oryan Interator, Head Judging, Yours Truly, and assisting were Alon Jacobi (Level 1) and Idan Falk (Level 0, despite passing the A1 last year).

T minus 7 days:

“No, if we’re going to do that there is no way I allow it without stamping cards. Yeah, just buy stamps, we open the packs, stamp the cards, then close the packs again. So you’ll handle it? Great. I’ll also need some alphabetized binder for the decklists… yeah, and the usual: pens, scissors, scotch tape- oh, get me a printer that works this time around. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay, great. And an extra ink cartridge. And about that kid who stole the deck…”
That’s me, talking to Oryan on the phone a week before the event. I had it all mapped out. Pre-register all the players who qualified. Open the packs a day early and stamp them. This year, the event was scheduled for Thursday and Friday, so we had a unique problem – it had to finish before 4 PM on Friday, to allow religious Jews to get home before the Shabbat kicks in. Since the format was 12 rounds, including two drafts, this was to be a difficult task. To solve the problem, Oryan decided that on day one we’d play the first 6 rounds, plus draft for the second day. Then players will hand in deck lists, go home, come back tomorrow and play their decks, plus the last 3 rounds of constructed. This is a great plan, except nothing stops players from registering “I drafted Ravager Affinity” and magically enough having the exact cards they registered the next day. Checking the decks while they’re submitted would solve only half the problem, as it would create delays and still allow for cheating – “Why yes, I have drafted 4 Loxodon Warhammers. Here they are, right here”. Unlike a pre-release, the cards are too easily accessible. So, the only way I’d agree to this scheme was to have stamps on the cards, for the very first time.

T minus 48 hours

“Yeah. I see. So you’ll do it this afternoon? Tell you what – why don’t I do it now? Okay. And don’t worry about the binder, Alon’s got that covered. Okay, one last time: I need lands. I have staff, right? I mean staff, people who aren’t playing. Okay, great. And you’ll have an extra printer? Excellent. Did you hear back from the DCI about that kid who stole the deck? I want to announce something before the event”
Again me and Oryan, going over the details one last time. I was to have two printers, two ink cartridges, all the office supplies I could use and staff. Since the stamps weren’t ready yet, I suggested I’ll go and get them myself. Here follows a sad tale of going through three malls to find a place that makes stamps, after which finding out the cost of a stamp is astronomical. Having 10 stamps for each of the draft pods was out of the question. Instead I settled for stamps with the letters I and V on them, and planned to mark the pod number in Roman Numerals on the cards. A lot more work, but since we’ll have volunteers doing it the day before, who cares, right?
I call Oryan, and he asks me to just make sure the stamps don’t smear. Silly man, why would they smear? They’re stamps, stamping stuff is what they do. I don’t have any cards on me just then, so I ask Alon to check them when he gets home. He calls me. The markings turn to blotches if you so much as look at them. I have 36 hours to fix this.

T minus 36 hours

“To: John Carter
From: Doron Singer
Subject: Help me I’m going to xxxx the nationals aaaaaaaaagh”
John is one of the people who devoted their time to help me improve. I made him pay dearly by sending him (and Adrian) an emergency email asking them how come DCI stamps don’t smear and what I did to deserve this. In the following hours I learned a lot about stamps, DCI stamping and ink, after which I’ve had a solid idea on what to do, and a contingency plan on how to solve this.

T minus 16 hours

“So you say you have no permanent ink for stamps. All right then, what about colored sharpies? I see”
Me and an Office Depot employee. By the time I finished with classes on Wednesday, all the print houses were closed, and office supplies stores weren’t of any help. We got three sharpies, and drove home. En route I got a phone call from one of the pros, who wanted to clear out some nagging rule issues, mostly to do with Chalice of the Void. The fact I wasn’t certain about some of the answers made it obvious I should brush up on the rules, much like I do before any events.
So, if anyone ever asks you, Chalice of the Void for 0 does counter morph (while the morph is in play, it has converted mana cost of 0. The spell on the stack copies all of those characteristics). Another question I was asked before the event, and would be asked dozens of times during it was, “Does Damping Matrix prevent Unmorphing?” (No. It’s not an activated ability, it’s a special action)
I get home, call Oryan to make sure everything is in order (“we’ll have volunteers to mark the packs tomorrow during the constructed rounds”), brush up on the rules and go to sleep.

Day 1

We leave bright and early (7 am) which should give us enough time to get to the site before registration opens (8 am). Pick up the players who wanted to hitch a ride with us and off to the freeway. However, apparently Thursday morning is when the cool guys hit the road, as we were stuck in a serious traffic jam. We tried avoiding it by taking a different route, and of course found ourselves in a much worse jam, while the original one cleared out about half a mile ahead. I call Oryan to inform him we’ll be late.
We arrive at the tournament scene at twenty past eight, and are immediately told by the organiplayers that this is a disgrace, and the judges should never be late, etc. Organiplayers is a new term I thought of to describe the players who organize events and run arena leagues. This, of course, means they are privy to the hardships of tournament organizing, and therefore obviously have a lot to contribute in the way of advice and experience in events they play in. And since only a miser doesn’t share, they basically stalk the staff around, expressing their views and suggestions on anything and everything. Duly reprimanded, I ask Oryan how the computer is doing. Apparently we’ll still have to register players, as not all of them have been preregistered. Moreover, the tournament wasn’t configured as multi-format correctly, and what’s worse, DCIR splash screen happily announces “DCI Reporter 1.7 – copyright Cecil M. Menzel the First, 1840”. Luckily, Alon pulls out his copy of the Tournament Organizer’s thingamjig, and I install (read as: “copy the folder”) DCIR on the computer. However, as I try to open the tournament, a window pops up to the effect of “I’m going to convert all the files to the new format, then it won’t work and you’ll be screwed because the original program won’t recognize it anymore and you’ll have to re-register everyone. Click yes to continue”. I copy all the tournament files to another location and convert the tournament to the 21st century, finish registering players (Alon goes over the deck lists in the meantime) and post pairings.
Numerous players approach me, saying they don’t appear in the pairings. I check it, and indeed some players are missing. We announce a re-pair; I enter the players, and post the new pairings. Again two players approach me, and even though I distinctly remember entering their info to the program just a minute ago, and seeing their name appear on the players list, they don’t appear on it. Since there are only two of them, I pair them manually against each other, and off we go.

Constructed – part 1

The first constructed portion is fairly uneventful. If there’s one good thing to be said about Ravager Affinity, it’s that it creates no rule difficulties. Only one decklist had an error, and it was discovered before the pairings were posted, and the players corrected it.
One case I was called on by Alon was this. Player A was keeping life totals for both players, using those colored glass beads. Player B was playing one affinity or the other, while player A was playing blue/white control. Player A taps out, player B looks at his life total, and sees beads for 12. Happy, he casts 2xShrapnel Blast and sacrifices a Pyrite Spellbomb for the kill, or so he thought. However, player A was actually on 17, but the blue glass bead that represents those extra 5 life points was about two centimeters away from the rest of them. Player A argued that since Player B hasn’t asked him verbally what his life total was, he has done nothing wrong. Player B argued that obviously he wouldn’t have thrown everything at Player A to reduce him to 5 life. I warned player B about not having adequate means of keeping life, player A for misrepresentation – there were many beads on the table, including spares, and he should keep the ones representing his life total reasonably close to each other, despite there being no clause in the book saying so. The game went on, with Player A at 5.
Somewhere around round 2, Oryan informed me we have no lands for the draft. I asked him to make sure we have lands until it finishes. Also, since no packs have been stamped, and since we only had sharpies, I decided we wouldn’t mark the cards in the first draft, but rather just watch over the players (only 8 pods). This should’ve bought enough time for the staff to mark the packs for the second draft.
During round 3 Oryan informed me that he’d be getting lands from one of the organiplayers’ house too. Round 3 ended, and I still didn’t have them.

Draft #1

We explained the procedures of a timed draft to the players, distributed packs, and got on with it. After a slight mix-up in the first pick of the first round (one player accidentally opened Darksteel instead of Mirrodin), we straightened things out, and the draft went on smoothly. When it was over, the lands still weren’t anywhere to be found. Moreover, when I asked where the decklists are, I found out there are no deck lists. This, of course, was totally unacceptable, so I went upstairs to where there an internet, to try and get them before deck building time was over, and left Alon in charge.
As can be expected, the computer upstairs gave quite a few technical difficulties, which won’t be listed here. Suffice to say that by the time deck building was over, I had the files, but no way to print them or transfer them to the laptop. Since time is extremely important, as explained earlier, I instructed Alon to hand out the constructed deck lists, and have the players register decks on them, and give them enough time to do so. He told me that I better come down again, as there are some problems controlling the players. I went down to find out that everybody got off their seats, mingling, and some even left the tournament room. This, of course, made deck lists completely redundant, as whoever felt like cheating already has. In the meantime, lands arrived, but in the spirit of screwing up, they weren’t exactly in mint condition (I swear I saw snow-covered land in there), and it was completely impossible to use them in a deck unless using opaque sleeves. At this point I entered damage control mode. Gathered the players and instructed them to desleeve their constructed decks, and use them for their draft decks, with no deck lists necessary. While they were doing that, I racked my brains, trying to figure out how to untangle this mess. After round 4 pairings were published, a couple of the organiplayers approached me, and informed me that this draft greatly compromises the integrity of the tournament. I agreed with them, and asked them if they have any solutions. As it turns out, they had – a redraft. I thanked them, and went to talk to Oryan, asking him if he’ll take the cost of a redraft. He contacted Alan, and got permission to do so. After round 4 I gave the official announcement, telling the players there will be a redraft. Also, in order to stop cheating, at this point I HAD to mark cards – it was just too easy to cheat at this point with unmarked cards, as every player in the tournament had good limited cards in his bag. You might recall no packs were marked to that point, and we only had three sharpies to work with. Marking 240 boosters takes a while this way, so I asked Oryan if it’s possible to change the tournament structure. My idea was to do 3 more rounds of constructed, during which the packs will be marked. Then have the draft, send the players home, play the draft during day two, draft the second one and play it. He told me the tournament format is dictated by Wizards, and he couldn’t reach them. Faced with this situation, I asked Oryan for more sharpies, and in the meantime started marking cards with Alon and Idan, with the players just wandering around bored.
After quite a while, when I was finished with marking the first pod alone, the sharpies came, and I got many volunteers to help me mark the cards. With 11 people working on it at once, the rest of the pods went quickly, and while the marking was going on I emailed someone the links to the deck lists, and he printed them and brought them over. We started the second draft late at evening, it went on quickly. We re-seated the players according to their seat on the draft, to prevent collusion, had them build the decks, submit the lists (I wanted them to submit the decks as well; the TO was worried about the possibility of losing one of them, and ruled it out), and go home.
At the end of day 1, we had 3 rounds to show for the 12 hours it took. There was no way to keep to the time limit (there is no way to cram 9 rounds in 8 hours), the equipment began malfunctioning (the megaphone broke down, and the printer slowed down to a crawl, despite working okay in the beginning of the day) and every player in the tournament felt obligated to inform me just how ineffective our marking scheme is, as every player with a sharpie can mimic the marking, etc. To summarize, the first day was a glaring failure and there was no reason for anything to work any better during day 2, plus it seemed we’ll have to schedule a third day. All I had to hope for is that Wizards Europe would allow us to cancel the second draft, so we may finish on time.

Day 2

We woke up even earlier this time around. Traffic agreed with us, and we got to the event site 15 minutes before time. I got myself a coffee, set the computer up, and the day began. I, of course, decided that we’ll check two tables each round. I swooped for my deck easily, but Alon couldn’t find his couple. Turns out they weren’t sitting in their place. I suspected something like this might happen – people are like that. Players had to be reminded of the event they’re in, or they’ll keep ignoring the rules. It’s something you learn in the army. Anyway, I did something I dislike doing, but in my opinion had to be done – I gave out a massive amount of warnings. I instructed Idan, who was giving out the match result slips, to mark anyone who didn’t sit in place, and gave warnings for procedural errors. I think I gave 14 warnings or so. It’s not a nice thing to do, but I believe it was necessary to remind people they’re in REL 4 – after the charade that went on the day before, we had to display authority, so to speak.
After that unpleasantness was over with, the games went on smoothly, when another problem reared its ugly head – many people had marked sleeves. I’m not talking about those miniscule marks the machine makes; I’m taking about actual lumps on the cards, scratches in an interesting pattern, etc. I started handing out penalties for that, too, based on the severity, when a player approached me and showed me a new box of sleeves he bought – all of which severely marked. I’m not sure where they got that batch of sleeves, but out of 100 sleeves, 30 had UNIQUE marks of them (meaning I could choose them every time out of the pile), about 30 more had those general lumpy marks that sometimes occur, and about 40 were okay. At this point I realized I had to relax my sleeve demands, because there was no reasonable way for players to play with unmarked sleeves.
Due to time zone differences, we were only able to contact Wizards at 10 am, during the second round for that day. They instructed us to add another round to the limited portion (meaning 4 rounds in the draft pods) and then proceed to the constructed portion, eliminating the second draft altogether. This was a great boon to me, for obvious reasons. We announced this change after the round finished, got many disgruntled players complaining, and then started round 3. At this point, Alon figured out just why the printer is so slow, and I was greatly encouraged. Round 3 was uneventful, and round 4 offered the obvious problems that result when you play 4 Swiss rounds between 8 people, when some of them drop out. As a matter of fact, in pod 8 (the 0-3 bracket) I had 4 people drop out, meaning after 3 rounds of Swiss, one player already played against everyone else in the pod. I manually paired that pod, pairing #1 and #2 in the pod against each other (they hadn’t played before) and giving #3 and #4 byes (they had 3 points, so they were practically out of contention).
The draft finished, we posted standings and allowed people to see where they rank (and also desleeve and resleeve their constructed decks) and then started the other 3 constructed rounds.

Constructed – part 2

Since I had adequate staff that day (Itay Winkler, another of the Level 0s who had passed the A1, joined as scorekeeper and deck-checker), I kept deck checking two tables each round. In round 8 I was only needed twice – once to explain that if you Skullclamp your own Wirewood Herald, you get to choose the order the effects go on the stack, and once to resolve a very nasty stack that occurred in a Goblin Bidding mirror matchup (I used counters to mark the steps of the stack, and resolved for them one step at a time until it was empty).
In round 9 I had the pleasure of again settling a dispute between players, with Player A saying he gave Player B plenty of time to “respond”, and Player B arguing Player A “declared attack” and immediately tapped his attacking creatures. I lectured them a bit about the fact these terms don’t exist in Magic, found out that this attack happened two turns ago, so there was no way to go back in time, and instructed them both to be completely verbal until the end of the match – declare everything they’re doing, vocally. Another case happened in a table I had swooped in the beginning of the round for deck checks – I gave the decks back, and informed them they had 5 minutes’ extension. Then, when the whistle blew to mark the end of the round, they decided they’re on extra turns, at the end of which one player scooped his cards up. He argued I never announced the extension. Since I know I have (it’s fairly mechanical with me), and since no tournament official was present to count the extra turns, nor anyone told them they had 5 turns, I ruled that by scooping his cards up, he has conceded the match.
Round 10, which was the final round, presented the usual suite of questions about what could be offered to an opponent to concede (absolutely nothing). One player asked me if he’s allowed to agree with his opponent on a way to determine the winner beforehand, if the time runs out. I told him its okay, as long as the way doesn’t involve chance. He informed me that he and his opponent agreed that should nobody win in the extra turns, the person with a lower life total will concede to the other. I told him its okay. Two of the top players got into a dispute, as one of them was using a Worlds 2002 playing mat and the other wanted it to be removed (I ruled the mat will be removed from the playing field, and urged them to act their age). Other than that I made sure people don’t scout other matches before announcing intentional draws, and when the time was called I was asked if it’s okay to talk one’s opponent into conceding (I answered yes, as long as no bribe is being offered), and followed that player to see what happens. He convinced his opponent to concede, as he’ll fly to worlds and his opponent wouldn’t. I saw no sign of any foul play, and his opponent willingly conceded. I even watched what happened later, and saw no transfer of anything of value between them.
The other table that was on turns was of the player from earlier, with the life total deciding the fate of the match. They were 1-1, and neither won by the end of turn 5. At that point, one of the players (who was on 1 life) said “we had an agreement. I concede” and scooped. Again I saw no sign of foul play, and this result was allowed.

We finished with the Swiss portion of the event by 4:30 PM, only 30 minutes past the scheduled ending time. At that point, the top 8 were announced, and consulted on when they’d like to continue their matches. 3 pairs chose to play the quarterfinals there, and have the top 4 play it out the next day. The fourth pair chose to come tomorrow an hour and a half before the top 4 matches, and conclude their match. I assigned Alon as a table judge to one match, Or Shefer (Level 1, didn’t make the cut to top 8) to another, and myself to the third (Slide vs. Death Cloud).
My top 8 match was relaxed, with both players knowing each other for a while, and playing in a friendly atmosphere (as a matter of fact, a bit too friendly – Uri Peleg attacked with a Birds of Paradise just to confuse me at one point J). After they were done with two games, I got called over to Alon’s Top 8 Match – Danny Yosef vs. Maxim Dubrovensky. Danny had in play Seat of the Synod, Great Furnace and some random artifact. He played Blinkmoth Nexus, tapped his Seat of the Synod, and declared “Thoughtcast”. Then he proceeded to draw two cards, and played shatter on one of Maxim’s permanents. However, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d noticed he had to tap one more mana to pay for Thoughtcast before he could resolve it and draw the card – as Blinkmoth Nexus is not an artifact land, it only looks like one. Neither Alon, nor any of the spectators noticed at the time, and only two turns later, one of the spectators commented loudly “hey, he couldn’t have done that!”, at which point the match was paused and I was called over. My first action was to inform the spectator the correct course of action is to inform the judge, rather than intervene on the match himself. My second was to call Alon over, and remind him that’s exactly why he’s there – he HAS to pay attention to everything. My third action was to rule the game continues, with the customary warning for procedural error. If you’ve read Alon’s previous report, you’ll know that this is my opinion about these situations. I don’t believe a game loss is in order if the judge doesn’t think the misplay was intentional – if the default punishment is a game loss, you are begging the opponent to wait a turn before calling you over, and win on a technicality. I don’t think awarding a game loss for this by default serves the best interest of the tournament or the players.
Looking back, what I should have done is ordered them to restart the game – it was only in its first turns. However, the thought hadn’t occurred to me then, and I stand by this ruling, like I have the previous time I made it.
The top 8 matches finished, the top 4 agreed to meet on Saturday at 12:30 pm and conclude the tournament, with the last Top 8 match getting there at 11.

Semi-finals

The last quarterfinal match on day 3 was again very friendly and relaxed, and was finished on time. The top 4 players arrived at the scene, I took one match and assigned Alon to the other, and off we went. Following yesterday’s example, I took great caution to mark the exact number of artifacts in play, for all affinity costs. Other than that, the match ran smoothly, with one incident. Greg had Genesis Chamber in play, and Orr was holding Decree of Justice. Orr called me aside and asked if turning a Blinkmoth Nexus would trigger Genesis Chamber. I told him activating it doesn’t mean its coming into play. Then Orr asked me if Decree of Justice would “work” with the Chamber. I instinctively started saying “No” (Genesis Chamber reads “nontoken”), when suddenly I caught myself and a big neon sign with the word “Coaching” turned on in my head. Instead I asked him to clarify, and he pointed at the words “put into play” on Decree of Justice. At that point I told him that yes, the tokens do count as coming into play, and the match resumed. This had no bearings on the actual game, as later that match he read Genesis Chamber and this time noticed “nontoken”. The other match (Danny vs. Uri) finished as well, and we were ready for the finals.

Finals

The finals featured Uri Peleg, twice Israeli champ, playing a Death Cloud deck, versus Greg Markovsky, to whom this was his first national championship, playing a modified version of Ravager Affinity. Alon had brought a digital video camera to record the finals, and I table-judged. Four games later, the match ended with Uri Peleg winning his third Israeli Nationals.

Aftermath

Many players are complaining in the forum about the event being poorly organized. I have referred them all to the appropriate DCI web page, and urged them to report whatever wrongs they feel were committed to them. Oryan promised some form of compensation for the event. The way I see it, the problems boil down to lack of office supplies and lack of staff – both can be attributed to poor preparation. Changing the tournament format in the middle hurt players who are good at limited (4 rounds instead of 6), players who have already intentionally drawn in earlier rounds and planned on easier opposition later on and players who had a good record on the first three rounds got assigned to a harder pod, and have had to play four rounds in it and not three, which could potentially hurt their performance. The other problems were the inefficiency during day 1, which wasted a lot of precious time (and again can be attributed to lack of office supplies and a malfunctioning computer) and the sleeves that were sold already marked (for your cheating pleasure). All in all, while I do rank this event as the worst I was ever a part of, I believe the organizers acted well after the initial problems. Ironically, I have learned a lot more from this tournament than I have from any of the well-run ones (not counting the ones I participated in during my visit to the U.S, of course – those were very enlightening).

As always, feedback is welcome. Until Pro Tour: San Diego,
Doron Singer
Antrax2@hotmail.com

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