Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Japan, one way or another

It's a bittersweet sort of victory that comes after you've just been soundly defeated. The short version is that I'm going back to Japan for Pro Tour Nagoya to once again peddle my rulings on the biggest stage. Tasha will be joining me again, her second time being sponsored to a Pro Tour, second time at a Pro Tour in Japan, but also likely to be her last time for a few years.

You see, just a week ago Tasha was accepted to grad school at Virginia Tech. They tell me grad school is hard, and maybe that's why I never bothered to try it. If all goes well, she will get a part-time job as a TA, and between that and her own studies, taking off for a week of judging is not going to be feasible. When Philadelphia rolls around, her Pro Tour streak will end at three (and in an odd quirk, they have all been on foreign soil). I'm thrilled for her. There's absolutely nothing bittersweet about her getting into Tech. It's all sweet. We'll be moving to Blacksburg, meaning a 45-minute commute for me, but the town really provides the small town college atmosphere that's I've been missing since moving from Davis. Things get a little hectic on Game Day (capital letters not optional), but if we find a nice apartment near campus, it should really help me get back on track with my running. In my part of Roanoke, it just isn't an option to run outdoors. I've tried, but there's no consistent running route anywhere nearby, sometimes there isn't even a sidewalk and that makes for dangerous paths. There's a lack of trees too, and in the summer heat, that's a killer.

College campuses solve all of these problems. Traffic is generally low, or at least diverted to the outskirts, and there are plenty of shady trees. Water fountains will be plentiful too. My thinking is that restarting my training in the fall, I can get myself ready for an early 2012 marathon, possibly tuning up with a half around December.

But back to Japan. The day that Tasha got her acceptance letter to Tech was the same day that we were supposed to flying to Japan for Grand Prix Kobe. However, the tournament was canceled due to the after effects of the earthquake and tsunami. (Actually postponed until April.) With no GP, Tasha and I canceled our flights to Japan. Luckily most of the airlines (including United) had a waiver period in effect and they let us get a full refund for the tickets rather than have to scramble to find some alternate dates of travel. Waiting for Kobe to get rescheduled would not have worked because we still would be on the hook for the difference in price on the tickets, which would have been around $300-400 each. Yeah, we got a pretty good deal on the original Kobe tickets.

But now we have to find decent flights back to Japan in June. I'm always happy to be selected for a PT. And this one promises to be special in many new ways. (Scott Marshall Head Judging!) But the images from Japan still haunt me. I worry whether I will be able to squeeze in another side trip to see my grandfather on the west coast of Japan. Each time (PT Kyoto, Worlds Chiba) I see him, I think it will be for the last time, and promise to come back. Just when I was getting over some of the emotion turmoil I was going through, life thrusts Japan back into my face. Bittersweet.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Joey Pasco May be Right

Earlier this week, Joey Pasco (Yo! MtgTaps, SCGLive, Affinity for Islands, and @Affinityforblue on Twitter) wrote a brief yet highly insightful blogpost here. The situation Joey writes about is this:

"This past weekend during the Legacy portion of the Open Series in Memphis, TN, Drew Levin was given a game loss going into game 3 of his quarterfinals match versus eventual winner, Alex Bertoncini, for presenting a 59-card deck."

In his blog, Joey pontifies that the penalty here doesn't appear to fit the crime. Many judges and experienced players have already chimed in on Twitter, probably Facebook although I missed it, and in the blog's own comments section. Joey sums up the "opposition" thusly:

1) “These are the rules.” (I don’t dispute this.)
2) “It’s been this way for years.” (I don’t dispute this.)
3) “The reason it is this way is due to the potential for abuse."

I think that's a fairly accurate assessment of the general attitude of judges and regarding this incident in particular. Potential for abuse is one of those terms that gets waved around a lot to explain away penalties. "But look at the potential for aboooooose!" cry the judges.

There certainly is some potential for abuse. Those in the audience that are good at math can tell you all about it. If you have fewer cards in your deck, you have a better chance of drawing the ones that are still there. But I've seen similar math to this regarding fetch lands, and the percentages don't tend to add up to anything significant. Unless you have a "real" reason to run fetch lands (color-fixing, graveyard-filling, styling and profiling), the life loss outweighs the potential benefit of thinning your deck by a card. Clearly the possibility of getting a Game Loss for a "Deck/Decklist Problem," (the technical name for a 59-card mismatch situation like this) outweighs the potential benefit of thinning your deck by one or more. But would anyone want to run this type of cheat anyways?

Of potential cheats, this type of "math cheat" seems far too unreliable for those hardcore miscreants among us to attempt. If you're evil enough to cheat, why would you simply increase your chances of drawing your good cards when you could, I don't know, just draw your good cards through various nefarious means that have been documented over the years (card in lap, "Vampiric" fetch land)? Are there really people out there who like angle-shooting so much that they would shoot for the smallest angles possible?

I suppose that in the history of cheating there may be a dark corner where there is some greater potential for abuse with presenting the small deck, or big deck, or different deck. Certainly once you get in-game, changing the composition of your deck can have a much bigger impact, like removing dead spells against a certain match up so you don't draw them. But at the beginning of the game, especially at Competitive REL where many players count their opponent's decks while shuffling just on the off chance of getting that free win, presenting a 59-card deck seems purely in the purview of mistake with a capital M. And that's what Joey's getting at; clearly this was a mistake.

The kicker here is that there is another situation that can happen at the beginning of a game that has more potential abuse, is only a Warning, but is mirrored by an in-game infraction that is a Game Loss: Improper Drawing at Start of Game (IDSG). This is something like drawing 8 cards, or mulliganing to 7, or drawing when you are on the play. The latter is easy for your opponent to catch, but the first two can be obscured by cards sticking together or a player picking his hand up very quickly. And having an extra card in hand to start the game is a lot more abusive than having one fewer card in your library. Once the game starts, having an extra card in hand is Drawing Extra Cards, punishable by a Game Loss, and yet the IDSG is just a warning--even when it is caught by the opponent and not a player calling a judge on himself. Smells like teen spirit.

This is already much longer than I expected, so I will cut it short now, and leave with this thought: will there be more angle-shooting, 59-card decks presented if the penalty for this at the beginning of the game is just a Warning and "put a card back in and shuffle again"?