My First Grand Prix

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The letter I! think it's good to occasionally step out of your comfort zone. While I'm comfortable judging for a dozen or so of my local players, I felt that a Grand Prix close to home was too good an opportunity to pass up. As the first day drew near, I became pretty terrified. I hardly knew any of the judges or tournament staff (let alone players). I wasn't really familiar with the format (Two-Headed Giant). I was terrified of screwing something up.

Of course, everything turned out fine. I'm writing this article to describe my experience and hopefully convince someone who has never worked a major event that he or she should give it a try. To entice you to read the entire article, I'll also answer the following Two-Headed Giant rules question:

Children of Korlis Question

Player A (of the defending team) controls Children of Korlis. The attacking team assigns 4 damage from unblocked creatures to Player B (of the defending team). If Player A sacrifices Children of Korlis, how much life (0, 2, or 4) will the defending team gain? (The answer is further on in this article).

Difference

A few judges wanted to know how the Grand Prix differed from local events that I run. Besides the obvious difference in the number of players, the biggest difference was the lack of familiarity with the players. When judging at my local store, I know that I am surrounded by players who know and trust me. At the Grand Prix, most of the players (and fellow judges) were strangers. Initially, I found it difficult to give rulings with confidence, but that didn't last long.

At this event, I quickly learned to establish the players' trust (by appearing confident and official), to determine what the player's question is (before trying to answer it), and to answer it as concisely as possible ("Yes." or "That creature would die.").

Two-headed judges

Sometimes, having a second judge around when you make a judge call is helpful. The second judge can provide support if the first judge has a brain cramp, or is missing part of the puzzle. The second judge can also act as customer service, explaining a penalty in a way that helps the player realize that it's not personal. Of course, it's important not to overturn a fellow judge's ruling. The players should appeal to the head judge instead.

There are some situations, however, in which the presence of another judge may be detrimental. For slow play, or other subjective matters, each judge may wait for the other judge to act first. The other judge's hesitation would then validate your own hesitation.

The solution to this problem is to establish one judge as a "primary" judge, and the other as a shadow judge. Usually the first judge to arrive at the match is the primary judge, and the other is there to provide support, if needed. The secondary judge can also give feedback after the call. [Editor's note: this "shadowing" system has been used, with good results, at many GPs, PTs, and Nationals events.]

Selected Anecdotes

On Friday, a player admonished me to smile ("It's Friday!"). I remembered that player throughout the weekend, and tried to keep a smile on my face throughout the tournament.

Two teams (of 42) did not hear the announcement for a round, and received a game loss for tardiness. They argued that it was not their fault (the PA system was not loud enough), as they were in the venue. They appealed to the head judge, who upheld the penalty and also indicated that the round started at a predictable amount of time after the previous round.

On Saturday, one player wanted to leave (to check out of the hotel) while the other player registered the deck. Another team (who had made arrangements beforehand) was not present for deck registration (a judge registered their deck for them). The first team felt this was unfair (and not equal treatment of players) and appealed. The head judge upheld the ruling, and pointed out that they could leave between registration and deck construction if time permitted.

On Sunday, I watched another judge give a player a game loss for a clerical error. Even though we announced multiple times that decklist errors would result in a game loss (and not a match point penalty), the head judge expected an appeal. The player also received a warning for marked sleeves - no pattern. The player (who was also a TO) understood and calmly accepted both penalties, but was more upset about the marked sleeves warning than the game loss. He felt that it was an accusation against his integrity, and that the sleeves were new for the tournament. Checking his sleeves before each round (and before each game, as we implemented mid-round deck checks) was placing an unfair burden on the player. I explained that if we thought he was cheating, he would have been disqualified, that the warning was for tracking purposes, and that it helps us to identify and catch cheaters.

The player said that although he was upset, he had been so impressed with the way the judges had run the event so far (starting each round promptly), that he did not feel the desire to appeal the ruling.

Children of Korlis Answer

The player would gain 0 life. Even though the team's life total has changed, damage done to Player B is not counted as a change in life total for Player A.

Lessons Learned

Of everything I learned over the weekend, two particular things stand out. First, there's no need to be terrified of judging a major event. All the other judges and tournament organizers are very supportive. While you may be asked to do some things you've never done before, you will not be asked to anything impossible. Second, players don't need explanations, just answers. While giving a long explanation may help you feel more confident ("See, you creature would die because of state-based effects..."), it will delay the tournament and possibly confuse the player. If a player is curious about the rules, encourage them to seek you out between rounds.

Thank You

Thanks to the tournament organizers for giving me this opportunity, and thanks to all of my fellow judges who helped me through the weekend.

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