Three Team PTQ's for Atlanta (Germany) - Judge report

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Events: Three Team PTQs for Atlanta
Site: Rodgau, Germany
Dates: December 28th to 30th 2004

TO: Amigo Spiel + Freizeit, represented by Ingo Muhs (L3)
Score Keeper: Ingo Kemper (L3)

Head Judges:
Michael Hüllecremer (L2, day 1)
Tim Richter (L1, day 2)
Michael Wiese (promoted to L2, day 3)

Judging staff: Sebastian Berndt (L1), Martin Golm (L2), Marcel van Gool (L1), Falko Görres (L2), Thore Herzog (L1), Tobias Licht (L2, side events manager), Tobias Pick (promoted to L2), Sebastian Rittau (promoted to L2), Justus Rönnau (L3, judge cert), Philip Schulz (L3, HJ backup), Christoph Schwarz (L1), Jens Strohäker (L1), Björn Thielke (L1), Efkan Yüksel (L0), Erkan Yüksel (L1)

Between Christmas and New Year's Eve 2004 the German Magic distributor Amigo Spiel + Freizeit held three team PTQs near their headquarters at Rodgau in the middle of Germany. This represented all the PTQ slots available for Germany, so attendance was expected to be high and therefore a large team of judges from all over Germany had been invited. I had applied and was invited to attend. For me that was not only a chance to judge a large event that promised to fun and exciting, it was also a chance to get to know more judges from all over the country.

The event took place at the Holiday Inn in Rodgau, which also served as the judge hotel and the hotel for most of the players. The whole hotel was reserved for the event, so that we had one big room for the main event, two smaller rooms for side events, as well as several conference rooms for judge certification etc. The main event room was large enough to host 66 teams (table numbers 1-99), which was deemed enough, but we nevertheless prepared one of the side event rooms just to be on the safe side.

Since I had heard about the change in the upcoming Penalty Guidelines regarding illegal main deck lists (they were now only given a Game Loss instead of a Match Loss) and since I had further heard that this change had already been used at GP Chicago, I suggested that we use it too. After a short consultation between the TO (Ingo Muhs) and the head judges for the three days (Michael Hüllecremer, Tim Richter, and Michael Wiese respectively) this suggestion was accepted.

The general setup for the two days was as follows: There would be two teams each day, a deck check team and a logistics team (which also handled the tasks usually assigned to the result slips and the pairings teams). Each team would have a different team leader each day and a different composition, at the discretion of the head judge. It was considered that two teams should be enough for a event of this size and this proved to be correct. We were normally able to deck check four tables per round (eight decks) with enough judges still on the floor.

Day 1 - The Quiet Day

I dubbed the first day the quiet one, since the whole day basically nothing happened. There were few calls and the calls were all very easy and concerned only minor rules questions. We had a total of 82 teams participating, far more that we had anticipated would come. At this point we were glad that we had prepared the extra room in the back. 82 teams meant 8 rounds of Swiss, followed by a cut to Top 4 and a Rochester draft before the finals. The event was estimated to run until about 2 a.m.

During that first day I was part of the deck check team with Falko Görres as team leader. We managed to check all deck lists before the start of the second round, but there was not one serious deck list problem! So, we could start random deck checks in round 2. I was the deck check partner of Efkan Yüksel, our judgeling. Unfortunately I learned too late that this was the first time he was doing deck checks. If I had known earlier, I would have explained to him the procedure beforehand. However he did fine.

Since we had many inexperienced judges in the deck check team on day 1, deck checks were not running as quickly we would have liked them to. We often had to give a full 10 minutes of extra time or even slightly more. So our team leader started to use a stop watch to check that the deck checks were over within five minutes after the swoop. We tried to improve in the next two days, but still used the stop watch to check that we stayed on time. In my opinion five minutes is enough to check whether the deck is obviously stacked, cards are marked and all main deck and side board cards are where they belong, at least if there are no problem. If there were problems, the time limit was of course waived. We noticed that often players were using up to the full three minutes of pre-game preparation time, sometimes even more. This of course delayed deck checks further.

The logistics team meanwhile had to solve a bizarre problem. The ceiling of the main room of the event had a few inset panels with the lights in them. The borders of these panels were mounted at a 45 degree angle and were covered by a decorative gold foil. During deck construction multiple players approached the judges and told them that you could get a glimpse at your opponent's cards using this gold foil as mirror. When I sat down at a table to confirm this, I could recognize the cards of the player opposite me immediately. Ideas were tossed around what to do. Watching players for glancing upwards and possibly penalizing them was quickly dismissed. In the end this problem was solved by taping plastic bags in front of the mirrors. While not very aesthetically pleasing, it served its purpose well enough.


The Venue complete with plastic bags on the ceiling covering the mirrors

I remember only one notable call during day one that was relayed to me by other judges: Player A has 4 life. Player B has two Spirits out. B slams down a Devouring Greed and claims: "You are dead!" At this point B has not declared which - if any - of his Spirits he wants to sacrifice as additional cost. So, A in response plays a Hinder. Now a judge was called over to decide if B did in fact sacrifice Spirits, and, if he did, how many and which he did sacrifice. A claimed that B had slammed down the Greed on both of his Spirits, indicating that he wanted to sacrifice both. This was contested by B who stated that of course he only intended to sacrifice one Spirit since that was obviously enough to kill A.

Now, opinions varied among the judges who heard of this scenario about what to do:

  • B should sacrifice both Spirits; this was quickly dismissed, since the intention to sacrifice them both was not clear.
  • A played Hinder too early, so B doesn't need to sacrifice any Spirits; in this case I would argue that B obviously wasn't done with the declaration of his Devouring Greed yet. Otherwise his exclamation "You are dead!" would constitute a misrepresentation of the game state. But if B hasn't finished playing the Greed, A can't legally announce his Hinder yet.

In the end I think the solution by the judge who answered the call was the best one. He backed up the game to just before the Greed was played and told B: "Now announce your Greed correctly." B did this by sacrificing a Spirit to which A had to respond with the Hinder, if he did not want to die

At the end of the day, I was asked by Michael, the head judge to call the draft and so I did. But towards the end of the draft I began to feel ill and became very tired, so I made a few small mistakes. (Fortunately they were of no consequence.) I went to bed soon after but had a very unpleasant night.

Day 2 - The Competitive Day

Since I had been calling the draft the night before, Tim, today's Head Judge, had told me to come a bit later. I finished my breakfast (which mainly consisted of herbal tea) just when product was handed out. We were down to 77 teams today, though this was still enough teams for 8 rounds and the small room was still required.

It seemed as if the first day had only been a warm-up day. On the second day the players were much more competitive and more questions were asked. The players were less forgiving and were calling opponents even on small errors. So we had more to do, which was fine. Only that I was still not feeling well, and so had to sit down more often than I would have liked and so missed much floor time.

I was again assigned to the deck check team. This was also the day that tomorrow's Head Judge Michael Wiese, today's deck check team leader Tobias Pick, and myself would be tested for L2. (Just so that the suspension will not get too great to bear: We all passed.)

One notable call that I remember was when I was called over by the A player of team Alpha. He told me that his opponent had not shuffled his deck prior to presenting it. When I asked his opponent whether this was true, he agreed that he hadn't. He had just played a casual game with one of his friends and when the other team arrived, he had just scooped his cards and weaved the lands into it before presenting. While I didn't think that this was a cheating attempt (the players of team Beta seemed to be novice players), I immediately called the Head Judge over. I wanted to involve him as soon as possible in this potentially difficult situation..

Just after Tim arrived, the B player of team Alpha announced: "Well, I didn't see my opponent shuffle either." Just when Tim and I had picked up the contested decks, the C player of team Alpha chimed in with: "Judge! My opponent just took a mulligan and drew 7 cards again." At this point Tim and I could barely contain our laughter, this whole situation was that ridiculous. Team Alpha also seemed slightly embarrassed that they had to call these errors on their opponents and feared that they would now be seen as rules lawyers.

The problems of seats B and C were quickly resolved. Beta's C seat was given a warning and was forced to mulligan down to 5 cards. Beta's B seat claimed to have shuffled. A look at his deck revealed no obvious pattern and Alpha's B player admitted that it was possible that his opponent had shuffled before he had arrived at his seat.

A look at the deck of Beta's A player confirmed the statements of both A players. So in the end we gave him a Game Loss for Procedural Error - Severe as well as a "Stern Lecture."

Soon after this situation occurred I left for my L2 judge test. As I noted earlier I passed. Shortly after I came back, my team leader left for his test. I was to take over the team for the time he was away. This was a good preparation for the next day, since I had been asked to lead the deck checks team on that day.

Since I hadn't fell well the whole day, I asked Tim whether I could leave early, and he agreed. Of course this didn't work out as planned. We did not do any deck checks during round 8, but instead the deck check team was supposed to watch out for possible collusion. So I scheduled the members of the team to watch certain places (the standings boards, the entrance area) as well as the top tables and chose a table to watch myself. Of course my table was the last to finish, well into the extra time. So I only could leave just before the half finals started.

Day 3 - The Chaotic Day

At the start of this day I felt much better than the day before. As today's team leader for the deck checks team I had a comparatively easy job. At the start of the day I had eight other judges in my team, four of which were L2 judges. During the last two days even the not so experienced judges had got their share of deck checking experience, so everybody knew what to do. My main problem was going to be that judges were scheduled to leave during the day, so I had to take this into account when pairing deck check partners.

Some of my judges were allowed to sleep a little longer, since they had worked until yesterday's finals. I had tasked the partners of the still sleeping judges to wake them if they overslept. So, after we handed out product and did a deck swap, one of my judges approached me and told me that his partner was still sleeping and he couldn't wake him by knocking (hammering) on the door. This is when I learned how easy it is to get a general access key at a hotel when you wear a judge shirt.

Today's tournament was to be head judged by Michael Wiese, who had just made his L2 the day before. Although we were down to 61 teams and seven rounds, this day more chaotic than the days before. The judges were called on silly things, that I would expect players at a REL 3 event to know. During the first rounds it was very difficult to get to the tables. Since many players had already checked out, many had their luggage with them at their tables. Other players were not playing anymore, but prepared to leave during the day, so we had many more watchers than the days before and the halls were clogging up.

My team was tasked with setting up the land stations. Teams were required to hand in all four decklists (registration sheet, one deck list per player) at the land station and could only get lands when they handed in their decklists. While on the days before we only had one station, today we were going to have two. Of course, the players completely ignored the new one, although it was announced multiple times that there were two. We even observed multiple players passing right by the new station and heading straight towards the old one. We started counting the deck lists as soon as we got them. Unfortunately it seems that I did not stress enough the tasks expected of the land stations. We got two decklists that were lacking Basic Land. This was supposed to be caught at the land station, but wasn't.


The deck list checking team hard at work

Another indication that this was going to be the "chaotic day" was the amount of deck list problems we had. While on the first day the players managed the feat of handing in no deck lists with major problems, we had a total of seven Game Loss worthy problems today (including the two lists that were lacking Basic Land). While we managed to check all deck lists before round 1 started, I decided to wait until the start of round 2 for handing out penalties. This allowed me to plan how to hand out the penalties with the resources I had and to avoid making mistakes. In the end we decided that most of the problems were to be handled by a judge taking the player with the problematic deck list aside, correcting the problem and handing out the penalty. Only one match was to have a regular deck check. In this case one player had marked a total of 48 played cards, but from the way he had counted, it seemed very unlikely that he really played 48 cards. While technically a correct deck list, I wanted to handle this as quickly as possible as well.

In the end this way of handling things went well, since six of my judges were handling individual problems, two more were doing the deck check and I was free to observe and assist them.

During the day judges were departing, so that we were down to two deck checks per round at the end of the day. But since a lot of players out of contention were also departing early, this was not a problem. During one deck check we found two Nezumi Graverobber that were the wrong way round in the deck as if the player had flipped them during the game and shuffled them in still flipped. Since everything more than a Warning seemed too harsh, we only gave a Caution for Marked Cards - Minor and advised the player to check the orientation of his flip cards before shuffling. In retrospect, I think we should have deck checked him again in a later round to ensure that nothing fishy was going on.

In one of the middle rounds I had an uncomfortable situation. At one table two seats had already finished playing. The third match would decide which team would win and was just starting with game 3. Both teams had already suffered a loss and a draw would put both teams out of contention. So the players of the last match agreed that if the game would not be decided by the end of the extra turns the player who would probably lose if the game went on would concede.

That match went into extra turns. I noticed during the extra turns that one of the players (a local player from Berlin whom I had problems with before) who had already finished his match motions towards his former opponent to follow him. They departed from the table together. So I sent our judgeling Efkan to follow them to avoid any possible collusion. After he followed them for a few steps, I saw how the players turned around and start to talk to the judge. (I later learned that they asked him why he was following them.) So, I went over myself. I explained to the players that I didn't want them to leave together without a judge. To which one of the players explained that they wanted to talk alone. I agreed that they could talk alone, but that if they did come back, I did not want them to communicate to the players still playing in any way, until the final result of the match had been handed in. They agreed.

A few moments after I returned to the match, the players in question returned as well. At the end of the extra turns no player had lost yet. So, both players were arguing who was in a worse situation, but each was of the opinion that the other was. They discussed this a bit and I had to prevent the players that had left together to intervene. Since both players did not come to an agreement, I determined that the game had been a draw.

After the semi-finals were over, Team $MIR (André Müller, Daniel Zink, Hans-Joachim Höh) was in the finals; they had already won the PTQ on the day before. Originally they had been turned back at the registration. But when Ingo Muhs, the Tournament Organizer, reviewed the PTQ rules with one of the players of Team $MIR, they noticed that Team PTQs were exempt from the restriction that already qualified players could not participate in another PTQ. So they were admitted but they were told that they could not get the winning price (an invitation to Pro Tour Atlanta as well as flights to the Pro Tour).

Now the TO approached both finalist teams again and told them that the invitation and flights would be handed down to the not-yet-invited team in any case. If Team $MIR would make second place they would get the normal product for second place: a display of Kamigawa boosters. If they would win, they would get a case (six displays) as alternate price for winning the tournament. While the members of Team $MIR protested that they weren't given the chance to play for the flights again and possibly agree on a price split with the other finalist team, in the end they had to accept the concession of their opponents.

I think that the decision from the TO is correct. The winner of a PTQ is supposed to get an invitation to the Pro Tour and the means to get there (in Germany this is achieved by the German distributor Amigo sponsoring the flights for the winners). A team that has already qualified by PTQ is not in need of this and so the complete price (invitation and means to get there) should be handed down.

In the end I was happy that the event was over quite early (we had one round less than in the previous days and skipped the final Rochester draft and the finals). I still did not feel well, but nevertheless we judges that were still present had a nice dinner together at a nearby restaurant. This was a nice closure of an exhausting, but still fun event for me.

I hope you have enjoyed this report. If you have any question, comments, or suggestion, feel free to write me at srittau@jroger.in-berlin.de or meet me at EFnet's IRC channel #mtgjudge (my nickname over there is jroger).

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