Pro Tour Columbus 2004 – Judge Report

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When I found out that I was sponsored for Pro Tour Columbus back in August, I was ecstatic. I had judged in two Grand Prix, but this was my first chance to judge a Pro Tour. Surely the occasion warranted a tournament report.

However, one of the standing jokes at North Carolina Magic tournaments are the judge reports that I always say I’ll write after an event. At almost every major tournament we’ve held over the last two years, I take notes throughout the day – sometimes three or four pages of random and interesting things that come up. I tell everyone that maybe this will be the time I go back home and write a report for the judge page. Then the event ends, school and work start again on Monday, and I lose interest and the notes go in the trash can.

Well, the buck stops here. Judging at Pro Tour Columbus was both very instructive and a lot of fun, and I’m writing this report to share some of my experiences with the community.

Event: Pro Tour Columbus 2004
Format: Extended
Site: Greater Columbus Convention Center; Columbus, OH
Date: October 29-31, 2004
Attendance: 286

Day 1 – Friday

The day began with a staff meeting at 7:30 am. Head judge Jaap Brouwer reviewed team assignments and responsibilities as well as two new experimental procedures for the weekend. The first was the “shadowing” system for answering judge calls. Since we had an overabundance of judges for the main event (a total of 37 judges took the floor for at least part of the tournament), Jaap asked that whenever there was a judge call, the nearest judge answer the call while another nearby judge moved into the background to observe the situation and any reactions from players during the ruling. This ensured that every judge would have someone to consult with on difficult questions. A stern warning that only one shadow per ruling was allowed helped prevent judges from clustering around calls throughout the day.

Jaap also introduced the idea of “kernel teams” – groups of four judges who would work together throughout the entire weekend. At the end of the weekend, each kernel would meet to discuss the event and evaluate the performance of its judges. The intent is that each kernel judge should be well-prepared to give feedback to the other judges in the kernel since they’ve worked together for two full days, as opposed to one day or even less in a regular team rotation. I found this idea very interesting when I read about it in the pre-tournament judge packet and had hoped to be assigned to one of the kernels – and indeed I was grouped with Doug Montalvo, Charles Reinman, and Terry Robinson. Our kernel was part of the slips team on day 1.

Last month, Toby Elliot wrote an article entitled Practical Advice for Your First Pro Tour. One point Toby made was the importance of protecting your feet over the weekend. At Grand Prix Washington, DC, I showed up in dress shoes with no insoles and quickly paid the price as I was literally limping through the end of day 1, all of day 2, and most of the next week after the event. This time, I remembered to purchase a pair of insoles (they should be available in any shoe store) and the US $10 investment was well worth it. The floor of the tournament hall was hard, uncarpeted concrete and the insoles were invaluable throughout the weekend. I was only limping for the last couple hours of day 2 and recovered by the time I got home on Monday.

Another critical point Toby made is the need to take breaks. Perhaps there are people who can capably judge an event for 10-12 hours straight or even longer without any breaks – but if so, I have never met one. Especially as a first-time PT judge, the temptation to stay on the floor as much as possible is great – but it’s crucial to get off your feet once or twice during the day and to eat meals on at least a semblance of your regular schedule. Staying hydrated is just as important; take a minute at least once each round to drink some water.

During round 4, Doug was on break and I was assigned to cover the feature match area in his absence. I can only say that feature matches at a Pro Tour are much more demanding than those at a Grand Prix. Although you’re only responsible for four matches, the pressure of the mana spotlights and all the spectators and reporters looking to you to solve every problem takes some getting used to.

No matter the location, a higher percentage of matches and rulings at any Pro Tour will be between players and judges who do not share a common language than at any other event. I can count on one hand the number of players I’ve ever had in my local events who could not communicate in English, but over the weekend it was not uncommon to observe matches where one or both players could not do so. Our multilingual judges were busy all weekend. The ability to handle such situations mainly comes through experience. One possible way to prepare is to try playing Magic with your friends without talking – you may be surprised how easy it is for two players to communicate effectively through actions alone.

During the eighth and final round of day 1, the grill at the on-site concession stand (aptly named the Wildfire Grill) caught fire, nearly forcing a full evacuation of the tournament hall. Naturally, the first question was not “where are the fire exits?” but rather “how should the tournament continue after such an interruption?” My suggestion was to allow completed matches to stand while all incomplete matches were played anew; the majority opinion was to simply repair the entire round. Fortunately, the fire was snuffed out and day 1 finished smoothly with no major delays.

On Friday evening, I connected my laptop to the staff network to follow the official online coverage of the Pro Tour. It was somewhat surreal to read about the events I had seen unfold in person only hours before. I must also note that #mtgjudge is much quieter when Lee Sharpe is not online. (#mtgjudge, an IRC channel on EFNet, is a common online gathering place for judges from around the world. It’s a fantastic place for judging discussions at any time of day – literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unless we’re all away judging. Feel free to email me if you have questions about getting connected; I can be found on IRC as wongdk.)

Day 2 – Saturday

Day 2 began with only 98 players, and several judges were reassigned from the main event to other activities as the day proceeded. Our kernel was assigned to one of the deck check teams to begin the day.

One point of emphasis through the entire weekend for the staff was completing deck checks in a timely fashion. Jaap asked that time extensions for regular deck checks be no longer than ten minutes. With three minutes reserved for shuffling, this means decks should be returned no later than seven minutes into a round. Given that players may not present until a minute or two after the round begins, there might be as little as five minutes to execute a full deck check. Especially in constructed tournaments, this is a very attainable goal. The only way to improve your deck check skills is practice – write out decklists for your own decks at home and see how long it takes you to check them. Ask a friend to mark some sleeves in a deck, and see if you can detect the presence or absence of a pattern.

If a deck check was not done at the seven-minute mark, we were instructed to return the decks immediately without finishing the check. Because of the number of judges available, we were able to deck check as many as ten matches per round. This also gave us the flexibility to perform some unorthodox deck checks as well, such as sideboard-only checks and checks before the second or third games of a match. Especially since the percentage of deck checks was so high, keeping the event running quickly was certainly a higher priority than the completion of any individual deck check.

Throughout the weekend we gave out a multitude of warnings for slow play. Jaap left the decision of slow play in the floor judges’ hands – it was our responsibility to judge if the players were maintaining a sufficient tempo of play. Through the entire weekend, there was almost no discussion of specific time limits for slow play; although this may cause some inconsistency in slow play rulings, it is important to allow judges to apply their own judgment to each situation. If the Penalty Guidelines specified a time limit (thirty seconds, for argument’s sake) per action, but a player takes twenty-nine seconds on turn one to play a land, another twenty-nine seconds to tap it for blue mana, and twenty-nine more to play Careful Study – well, that is certainly slow play regardless of what the guidelines say. Andy Heckt compared slow play penalties to calling pitches strikes or balls in baseball – both are totally judgment calls at the judge’s discretion. And indeed Jaap did not overturn a single slow play penalty on appeal all weekend.

After the fifth round of day 2, I left the main event to participate in a seminar for those interested in testing for level 3 led by John Carter. More details about this seminar will be covered in a later article.

At the judge dinner, the restaurant wait staff led all the patrons in singing happy birthday for customers at two other tables, and I mentioned that my birthday was the preceding Monday. When the desserts came out, Andy led the judges in singing happy birthday to me, but without informing the wait staff – and sure enough, our waitress came back ten minutes later to call everyone to sing for me one more time. If you ever wondered why Andy asks for your date of birth in the sponsorship application, now you know.

Day 3 – Sunday

Quarterfinals at Pro Tour Columbus
The judges not assigned to run the top 8 participated in three workshops on Sunday. John Carter led a second workshop covering the expectations of judges testing for level 1, 2, and 3; John Shannon led a discussion on handling unsporting conduct and slow play; and Sheldon Menery led a seminar on the player interview process. These workshops are a valuable chance to exchange ideas with and learn from judges from around the world and are especially useful for judges (like myself) who have few chances to work with experienced, expert-level judges in their region. Again, more details about the workshops will be covered in a separate article.

Conclusion

One last piece of advice I have for anyone traveling to an event is to be prepared for cold weather, no matter the location. Although the weather forecast for Columbus that weekend was for highs in the low 70s F (22 C), the temperature inside the tournament hall was quite cool and I was glad to have a sweater and long jeans to wear when not on the event floor.

Overall, I had a fantastic extended weekend at my first Pro Tour. The experience of judging a Pro Tour is like no other, and I encourage all of you to take advantage of the opportunity to judge at the game’s highest level whenever you can.

Congratulations to John Carter on his advancement to level 4, and to the newly certified level 3’s as well.

Thanks for reading,

Daniel Wong
wongdk@alumni.duke.edu

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