Pages

Friday, December 26, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 47-49 Update (1000 Miles completed!)

Week 47
Thursday: 8.8 miles
Saturday: 5.0 miles
Tuesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 20.3 miles
Year Total: 980.7 miles

Week 48
Friday: 9.5 miles
Sunday: 10.0 miles
Week Total: 19.5 miles
Year Total: 1000.2 miles

Week 49
Friday: 7.0 miles
Sunday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 13.5 miles
Year Total: 1013.7 miles

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 44-46 Update

Week 44
Thursday: 1.0 miles
Friday: 2.5 miles
Monday: 9.5 miles
Tuesday: 6.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 23.0 miles
Year Total: 935.8 miles

Week 45
Monday: 6.2 miles
Tuesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 14.2 miles
Year Total: 950.0 miles

Week 46
Tuesday: 4.0 miles
Wednesday: 6.4 miles
Week Total: 10.4 miles
Year Total: 960.4 miles

Thursday, November 6, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 41-43 Update

Week 41
Thursday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 3.1 miles
Wednesday: 9.5 miles
Week Total: 15.7 miles
Year Total: 872.6 miles

Week 42
Thursday: 9.3 miles
Tuesday: 9.5 miles
Wednesday: 8.2 miles
Week Total: 27.0 miles
Year Total: 899.6 miles

Week 43
Thursday: 3.3 miles
Tuesday: 6.6 miles
Wednesday: 3.3 miles
Week Total: 13.2 miles
Year Total: 912.8 miles

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Please Put Your Playmat Away

I've seen a lot of conversations about Unsporting Conduct as it pertains to appropriate playmats in the last few days, and like many subjects, I've got some thoughts.

I see a lot of judges in these types of discussions fall back on Unsporting Conduct (USC) Minor, an infraction that carries a penalty of a Warning at Competitive REL. "I would totally USC that playmat." I think this is a mistake for a couple of reasons.

At a tournament earlier this year, I was talking to a player and he used the word "retarded" as a pejorative to describe a play. This might have been a fine time for a Warning, but it was just the two of us talking and we weren't really in earshot of anyone. I chose a different route and said, "Would you mind not using that word in that way." He immediately got the context of what I was saying and apologized. "You're right. That's not cool." Why not a USC Warning? For one, the use of that word as a pejorative is currently in a nebulous place in our society. It's not quite the N-word, but it isn't (yet) heavily enforced. Second, given the demure nature of the conversation, his use of the word didn't really constitute a disruption to any other tournament participants besides me, and I felt that I got my point across to him well enough. He left the conversation with the idea that he shouldn't use that word in that way, not that a judge had caught him and penalized him.

After a tournament, hanging out with judges, one of them used the word "rape" to describe something that wasn't rape. Obviously, being after hours, I'm not going to issue a Warning. My reaction was to be a little snappy and interrupt him with "Hey, not cool." There was a female judge sitting right next to him, and she also spoke up. The judge knew what he had done, apologized, and we all moved on. Had it been in a tournament setting, that would have crossed my USC Minor threshold (or USC Major if directed at someone).

At a recent tournament, I saw a player in line at the coffee place. He had on a shirt that read "Cool story, babe. Now go make me a sandwich." As soon as I got into the tournament hall, I went to the TO and informed him of this player, pointing him out when he entered a few minutes after me. The TO spoke with the player, who agreed to go get a sweatshirt to wear over his T-shirt. No USC was issued. Was that right? I think so. We want to promote a safe, friendly environment at tournaments. That's been a big movement over the past few years. But issuing penalties for shirts, playmats, and sleeves that are contrary to that goal is itself counter-productive.

The Dragon Ball Z Principle
Yes, it is ironically named after an anime, but it also fits perfectly. In that anime, the main character Goku fought through a series of tougher and tougher opponents, Yamcha, Tenshinhan, Piccolo, and Vegeta. After defeating each one, the next story arc would feature an even tougher opponent, and Goku would need to team up with the last arc's rival in order to defeat the new foe. I try to look at the Magic community in the same way. Today's enemy is tomorrow's potential ally. And while Goku could get away with just beating the crap out of his rivals, the same doesn't hold true for us judges. In fact, how you deal with an unruly player today will define your relationship with them in the future and whether they will step up.

The truth is that the stereotype of Magic players being immature and socially awkward does hold some weight. I know because I was there, well into my late 20s, and really it wasn't until I started to take judging seriously at the age of 30 that I feel like I "became an adult." This is why I identify and sympathize with today's Magic "youth." It's not easy to stop being an asshole, and it really helps if someone you look up to points the way and gives you friendly nudges. Giving a USC penalty isn't a friendly nudge.

People who say "I'll know it when I see it" in reference to Unsporting Conduct whether in verbal form or art on a playmat or sleeves strike me as the same kind of people who say that about Slow Play. When I see statements like "I'll know it when I see it," I tend to fill in the rest as "and I don't do anything about it." This isn't a blanket condemnation of all people who says this, but I can say with certainty that the vast majority of judges have never issued a USC or Slow Play penalty, so chances are good. Whenever I ask a judge if they've issued a Slow Play Warning, they usually say, "No, but I've given a bunch of hurry ups," you know, the "I need you to make a decision" talk. The equivalent of this for USC is "nothing." If you think it's hard to tell a player that they're playing too slow, try telling them that they are acting like an jerk.

There's a line here somewhere. It's kind of blurry. The definition of USC Minor reads "A player takes action that is disruptive to the tournament or its participants. It may affect the comfort level of those around the individual, but determining whether this is the case is not required."

"Takes action" is a key phrase for me. Saying something like my above examples certainly constitutes taking an action. Wearing a shirt or using a playmat doesn't strike me as the same. There's certainly a choice made to put on a particular shirt or purchase and use a particular playmat in a tournament, but those are more passive than what I feel is required for a USC. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask people to turn their shirts inside out, or to put their playmats away. I just think it means that we have that conversation first. Consider it a courtesy to the player much like asking a player to make a decision before leading with a Slow Play penalty. It also puts us judges on a less antagonistic level.

Explain to the player how the object might affect the comfort level of other participants. Use phrases like "friendly environment." Get them on your side. Get them to see your point of view. If you do, maybe next time they will choose not to wear/bring the object in question. Maybe if the future, they will stop their friend from bringing a similar object. Make a future ally, not an enemy.

It's been pointed out to me that, yes, there is a point where a message on an object could cross over into something that you would issue an infraction for. There was a incident a while back where a player made "Spirit tokens" altered with a school bus labeled "Sandy Hook." He then repeated his "joke" after the Boston Marathon bombings. I would personally issue USCs for these because they are an active statement in a way that wearing a T-shirt you bought from a website isn't. That's my line. I can understand if you disagree. But the main thing is, let's ask the players to put these objects away.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Anafenza, the Foremost Confusing Card

At Grand Prix Los Angeles, some rules question about Anafenza, the Foremost made the rounds.


It turns out that this card is completely unique in the annals of Magic cards in what it does, or tries to do, and as with many firsts, there are some possible kinks in the process. Here's the scenario:
Active Player (AP) control Anafenza. The Non-Active Player (NAP) controls Glory Seeker enchanted with Herald of Torment and Temur Banner enchanted with Ensoul Artifact. AP casts End Hostilities. What cards end up in the graveyard and what cards end up in the exile zone?

Let's start with the easy ones.
Anafenza, the Foremost will most certainly end up in the graveyard, since it doesn't affect its controller.

Ensoul Artifact will also end up in the graveyard, since it is in no way, shape, or form a creature.

Glory Seeker will end up in exile because it is a creature controlled by Anafenza's opponent.

That leaves us with the Herald of Torment and the animated Temur Banner, which are opposite sides of a coin. Herald is something that is printed as a creature, but is currently not due to being bestowed. Temur Banner is a noncreature that is currently animated to be a creature. Whatever your answer, for consistency's sake, these 2 things should act different.

The correct answer is that Herald of Torment will end up in the graveyard and Temur Banner will be exiled. These results bother people, including many excellent judges for various reasons. The problem as they see it, is the wording of Anafenza, which uses the "from anywhere" clause. "From anywhere" has been most prominently seen on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and her Eldrazi broodmates, which causes these cards to act differently from most other "goes to the graveyard" triggers. Namely, they trigger from the graveyard and evaluate the state of the card in that zone. This means that a Clone copying an Emrakul will not trigger the graveyard shuffle because in the graveyard it is just a Clone. Meanwhile, a Clone copying Wurmcoil Engine will trigger and leave behind 2 tokens upon its death because its trigger looks back at what it was on the battlefield and sees the Artifact Wurm.

This leads many people to view Anafenza's ability in the same light, that it has to evaluate the object as it would be in the graveyard, hence thinking that the Herald should be exiled and the Banner shouldn't. But there's an important distinction. Anafenza doesn't have a triggered ability! She has a replacement effect, and by definition, a replacement effect can only modify an object before it changes zones (weird Theros God corner cases aside). On the battlefield, Herald of Torment is just an enchantment aura, and Temur Banner is still a creature. Anafenza treats them accordingly.

What about the fact that Anafenza refers to "creature cards"? This is another part of the wording that is tripping people up. You see, creatures on the battlefield aren't creature cards. Yeah. Really. They are just "creatures" or "creature permanents." Creature card specifically refers to things in the hand, library, exile, etc. This makes people think that the ability can't possibly affect things like Temur Banner that are only temporarily animated while on the battlefield. Look! The physical card doesn't say creature on it. It isn't a creature in any other zone.

I think it's possible that Anafenza is worded a bit poorly to convey its full effect. But "If a creature card or creature permanent..." is needlessly wordy and just confusing. Oops, and that now includes token creatures, which are creature permanents (but not cards... is the wording now internally inconsistent?)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 38-40 Update

Week 38
Thursday: 7.8 miles
Friday: 6.4 miles
Monday: 3.4 miles
Tuesday: 6.6 miles
Wednesday: 6.4 miles
Week Total: 30.6 miles
Year Total: 796.0 miles

Week 39
Thursday: 3.4 miles
Saturday: 6.3 miles
Sunday: 13.0 miles
Tuesday: 8.7 miles
Wednesday: 9.4 miles
Week Total: 40.8 miles
Year Total: 836.8 miles

Week 40
Thursday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 8.8 miles
Wednesday: 8.2 miles
Week Total: 20.1 miles
Year Total: 856.9 miles

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Personal Anecdote on Slow Play from SCG Indianapolis

This weekend at #SCGINDY I was watching a match and a player took a long time to take his turn. He had a Xenagos and a handful of creatures. His opponent had Elspeth and his own army. It wasn't a full board stall, and the player was trying to get through some damage to Elspeth while keeping up enough defenses to keep Xenagos around. I asked him to make a decision and he did. The next few turns had similar board states, and he took a similar amount of time. I felt that this was Slow Play because he hadn't really picked up the pace with what was essentially the same board situation as last turn. There were several points where he started to tap lands, then untapped them, then tapped them again. The same with attacking creatures. Classic (potential) indicators of Slow Play. Eventually, he won with back-to-back Stormbreath Dragons.

Normally, you are supposed to give the player the Warning during the game when you reach your "This is too much" threshold. Standard courtesy is to wait for the player to take an action so that you don't disrupt their train of thought. In this case, rather than interrupt the match further, I waited until that game ended to issue a Warning for Slow Play. This was something I've never done before, and it largely stemmed from my fear that stepping in during the game to give a Warning would take up more time than I was "saving," and the match was one of the farthest from the stage, making for a long and time-consuming walk if the ruling got appealed. I have no problem making such a walk, but it would just eat time from the entire tournament. I guess my gut just felt that he was less likely to appeal once the game had finished. I explained to the player that due to the length of time he took on those turns, I was issuing a Slow Play Warning along with the 2 extra turns, which seemed like they would come into play as they were shuffling for game 3 with about 6 or 7 minutes left in the round. I had been called back to the stage for something, so I asked John Temple to swing by that table and make sure they understood the +2 turns. According to John, the player who got the Warning ended up winning on turn 7 of extra turns.

It's hard to say that I'm happy to give out Warnings because that seems a bit harsh, but I am glad that my intervention allowed the match to come to a natural conclusion, as ultimately that is our goal in issuing Slow Play. It was probably also relevant that I chose to wait for the game to finish before speaking to him. Taking the time to explain this took 20-30 seconds, something that I wouldn't normally issue a time extension for, but it happened while the players were shuffling, already "dead" time. Had I paused game 2 to do this, it's entirely possible that "turn 7" would have been a turn or 2 earlier in game 3. It isn't always possible to wait for a game to end before giving Slow Play. In fact, it is often the case that Slow Play is happening because there is a board stall and no chance of a game ending soon.

Waiting until the conclusion of the game isn't without its downsides. If the player had lost, he might have felt like I was piling it on by giving him the Warning. "Oh, I played slow and still made the wrong decisions to lose that game?" There's also the potential for you to "lose the evidence" if the pace of play picks up. When you interrupt the game, you can point directly to how long it has taken for them to make their most recent decision. That has some power. The lack of evidence might be even more relevant if the ruling gets appealed. You have no game state to refer the Head Judge to look at. I don't think I will be changing my normal style of giving Slow Play Warnings, but it is an interesting variant to consider and keep in your repertoire.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Is It Missed? #3 - Meandering Towershell


Earlier today, I Tweeted about Meandering Towershell, the card that is probably my favorite flavor card in the set. It's... a... slow... turle...



I got a few replies, a lot of them wondering about the details of this Missed Trigger interaction. I did my best to field questions, but Twitter has its limitations. Here then, hopefully, is the bigger picture on this card.

It attacks one turn, then gets lost in the woods only to complete its epic attacking journey on the following turn. This is all fun and games, but it accomplishes this through the use of a very awkward delayed trigger "Return it to the battlefield under your control tapped and attacking at the beginning of the declare attackers step on your next turn." (Trigger condition italicized for emphasis.) As we saw the last few years with Jace, Architect of Thought, remembering triggered abilities across multiple turns is probably one of the hardest memory aspects of the game. This is why so many players use a counter on top of their deck to remind them of upkeep triggers, so that they handle them before they draw a card and nullify the trigger. It's harder to set a reminder like this for a combat trigger, especially on your opponent's turn, which is what made Jace so easy to miss.

Meandering Towershell is possibly a little easier to remember because it is your own combat phase. You could just place the counter on your library anyway to remind you at the beginning of your turn, draw your card, and move straight into combat with Slow Turtle leading the charge.

So what happens when you miss the return trigger? Simply put, you're going to get a tapped Turtle that missed its chance to get in for damage. (As always, this series presumes Competitive REL under the auspices of the IPG.) Zone-change triggers fall under a special class of trigger (often called "Obzedat triggers" because that was the card most popular at the time) that are dealt with thusly:

"If the triggered ability is a delayed triggered ability that changes the zone of an object, resolve it. For these two types of abilities, the opponent chooses whether to resolve the ability the next time a player would get priority or when a player would get priority at the start of the next phase. These abilities do not expire and should be remedied no matter how much time has passed since they should have triggered."

First off, let's clarify when the return ability triggers and when it's missed. It happens "at the beginning of the declare attackers step." This is after you declare the rest of your attackers, which is a turn-based action that happens as the first part of the declare attackers step before either player gains priority (which is when triggers go on the stack). This means that if you let your opponent declare blockers without having returned the Turtle, you've missed the trigger.

Once it has been missed, we deal with it as above, which means that your opponent could choose to have the trigger resolve now, or at the beginning of the next phase. Let's say that you remember as soon as your opponent declares their blocks. They could let the Towershell return now, during declare blockers, which would be mighty generous of them... or they could have it return at the beginning of the post-combat main phase... tapped and attacking, which mostly just means tapped because attacking creatures can't exist outside of combat. Remembering at other times doesn't help you much. On your opponent's turn, you'll just have a tapped Towershell (you can't have an attacking creature during their combat phase). If you remember on a subsequent turn of yours in the pre-combat main phase, your opponent will likely choose to give you a tapped pre-combat Towershell.

Note that unlike other triggers, which often disappear into the aether forever, if this one is discovered later in the game, you always follow the prescribed remedy. "Hey, this Towershell was exiled 10 turns ago!" It still comes back tapped and probably not attacking. As the opponent, you still have no obligation to point out the trigger for your opponent, although you are welcome to do so if you would like them to have a tapped 5/9 for some reason.

One final note for you to sink your rules knowledge into, yes, taking this card with Act of Treason does make it return to you (the Act player) permanently. Fun!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 35-37 Update

Week 35
Thursday: 9.5 miles
Friday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 3.3 miles
Wednesday: 6.4 miles
Week Total: 22.3 miles
Year Total: 722.5 miles

Week 36
Friday: 6.6 miles
Saturday: 3.6 miles
Sunday: 3.8 miles
Tuesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 20.5 miles
Year Total: 743.0 miles

Week 37
Thursday: 3.1 miles
Saturday: 6.2 miles (10k race 49:09)
Tuesday: 6.5 miles
Wednesday: 6.6 miles
Week Total: 22.4 miles
Year Total: 765.4 miles

Thursday, September 4, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 32-34 Update

Week 32
Thursday: 7.0 miles
Sunday: 7.0 miles
Tuesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 22.0 miles
Year Total: 647.2 miles

Week 33
Thursday: 6.2 miles
Saturday: 6.2 miles
Sunday: 6.2 miles
Monday: 6.2 miles
Wednesday: 6.2 miles
Week Total: 31.0 miles
Year Total: 678.2 miles

Week 34
Thursday: 7.0 miles
Tuesday: 7.0 miles
Wednesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 22.0 miles
Year Total: 700.2 miles

Friday, August 22, 2014

Smaller Shared Spaces in Social Media

In the Northwest Magic Judges Facebook group, if you post a rules question, you're likely to get a quick reply from new Regional Coordinator Jeremy Behunin, asking you to take rules questions to other outlets. One of the outlets he will helpfully point you to is chat.magicjudges.org, a link that takes you to an IRC channel where around a hundred rules experts squat all day and night waiting to answer your rules questions. The link to the chat is also a frequent reply to such rules questions in the r/mtgjudge subreddit.

Why this response? Why not just answer the rules question? (Many times someone does before a Mod can come along and post the link.) And especially in the context of the regional FB group, aren't judges supposed to help each other?

The answer is primarily one of bandwidth and clutter. The FB group and the subreddit are places to talk about the act of judging, not carry out the act itself. People post links to useful articles, ask more in depth questions ("How do I become an L2?"), and share information on upcoming events. If the floor were opened up to any and all rules questions, it would quickly become... a rules Q&A forum, and those already exist in copious amounts all over the Internet. Despite Magic rules being a part of the shared interests Venn Diagram for these groups, it's nice to have some space to get away from it all. The operators of the official Magic Judges Facebook and Twitter accounts have similar regulations against answering rules questions.

Another shared space that people have recently had difficulty navigating are the event forums on apps.magicjudges.org. Anytime you are accepted to be on staff for an event on JudgeApps, you gain access to a forum that is exclusive to that event. It's like being invited to a club. Once you are in the club, you have to realize that you have a responsibility to not be loud and obnoxious (or the online equivalent). If you are going to make a post, you should ask yourself if the post is necessary for to the event to run well.

The default notification setting for Event Forum Posts is to go to e-mail. That's right. If you're on staff for a GP with 100 other people, you just sent your joke to all of them, something you wouldn't do if you had to manually input all of their addresses. It can be deceptive because those e-mails only have one address in the From field and even puts the name of the person who sent the original message; it feels like you are only replying to one person, but I can assure you that a single reply to the weird forum e-mail will go out to everyone.

Everyone who hasn't already unsubscribed from the thread/forum. Therein lies the real danger of too much spam on event forums. Often there is time sensitive information that needs to be disseminated to staff members, like call times and team assignments. If there is too much spam circulating on the event forums, people may get "Notification Fatigue" and opt out of getting e-mail updates, missing some vital information down the line. I personally have all event forum posts push to my e-mail, and I am very selective about unsubscribing from individual threads. Even if they filled with jokes today, there may be something important posted tomorrow. There are only a few threads that I will opt out of, and that's only because they are set up to be social "spam" threads from the start. While I understand and appreciate why Scott Marshall does his "music thread," I no longer have any interest in the musical stylings of everyone else on staff. It's an easy "unsubscribe" for me. Later, if I am having a slow day, I can go to the forums themselves and catch up on the thread at my own leisure.

Keep in mind that when you post things to specific Facebook groups or an event forum, you are posting to a lot of people. These people have subscribed to this group in good faith and will now be receiving notifications on all posts that go up in the group. Take some time to think about whether you should be asking all 300 judges in your region about something, or if you are better off going to your mentor with it. Yes, sometimes your question might be on the minds of other people, especially if it is about a recent announcement, or you might want to see some discussion about the topic. Other times, it's probably just better to shoot your question to someone 1-on-1.

Monday, August 18, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 29-31 Update

Week 29
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Saturday: 7.0 miles
Sunday: 3.5 miles
Wednesday: 7.0 miles
Week Total: 21.0 miles
Year Total: 602.0 miles

Week 30
Monday: 3.8 miles
Wednesday: 3.8 miles
Week Total: 7.6 miles
Year Total: 609.6 miles

Week 31
Sunday: 4.5 miles
Tuesday: 3.1 miles
Wednesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 15.6 miles
Year Total: 625.2 miles

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Stepping Down as Regional Coordinator

I always viewed being RC as a temporary thing. In fact, when I started, I had a two-year plan in place. That plan was to build up the region to the point where it could be split into two separate regions (Pacific and Mountain) with new RCs in both of those regions. Utah (then in the Southwest Region) was the lynchpin of this plan because of the presence of one Jeremy Behunin, a good friend and someone who I viewed as the best candidate to be RC of the future Mountain Region. What I had forgotten until recently is just how much Jeremy shaped what was the become the new NW I took over. It was Jeremy who first suggested to me that Wyoming and Colorado (both in the South Region at the time) needed to be included in any proposed Mountain plan because those states had more interactions with each other and with Utah, Montana, and Idaho. Under his advisement, I asked for those states to be added to the NW when I accepted the RC position in October 2012.

Yadda yadda yadda

Here we are, just shy of 2 years later. Due to various circumstances, the region isn't quite at a splittable place. However, the NW in general, and the Mountain portion in particular, are thriving. I do not see the fact that we didn't achieve a split as a failure here, just an incorrect initial calibration of the time frame needed. What is important here is that the Mountain portion has a much stronger cohesion and identity today. We had a bunch of judges show up for GP Portland from the Mountain states, including 4 on staff from Montana. I think there were 4 judges total in Montana when I took over the region (maybe 5).

Despite not achieving the split goal, two years still felt like the right amount of time for me. Like a Presidential term, I think I came in, did some good things, and now it's time to step aside and let the next person do some good, especially when we have a great "next person" in line. As I said earlier, it was Jeremy Behunin who shaped my vision of what the Mountain and the new NW should look like. Throughout my term, he has continued to be an excellent advisor and friend. He's traveled far and wide to Judge Conferences and PTQs to strengthen our core of judges. In short, he has already been the RC of the Mountain states, and now it is my pleasure to be able to hand him the keys officially.

It's notable that this is the first time the RC has resided "inland" for these states. Back when it was just the West, Jeff Morrow and then Aaron Hamer were coastal. When the West was split, Sean Catanese (SW), Hamer (NW), and Kevin Binswanger (South) were still on the periphery. When David Zimet and I took over the first two regions respectively, the geographic relationship stayed the same. There's no doubt in my mind that Jeremy is the right person for the job at hand, but I also think that the timing of having the RC residing in the Mountain portion will have a significant impact on the work we have put into developing it. Meanwhile, the Pacific states will continue to do what they've always done. Besides, it's not like I'm disappearing. Stepping down as RC will allow me to focus a bit more locally. I will play the strong support to him from here in Portland.

I wish that we could have announced this at GP Portland, but the timing of it just didn't work out. Some of you knew, or were able to surmise that something like this was up. I appreciate that people did not pry. What is cool about this timing is that GP Salt Lake City, his hometown event, will be Jeremy's first GP as RC. Sometimes things happen a certain way for a reason. A great party just got better.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

GP Portland and the Side Show Judges

Yesterday (8/9/14) I played in GP Portland. It was a Team Sealed event and my teammates were Adam Shaw and David Lyford-Smith, two fellow Magic Judges (L2 and L3 respectively, although Adam is a former L4 recently returned to judging). It was really fun to play with them and I especially enjoyed our interplay during deck build, as I snatched up the aggro Boros cards and DLS took the Grindclock. Adam quickly settled on Mono-Green with a Twin Pines Mauler. We ended up 2-3 on the day and dropped. It was fun playing, and I especially enjoyed our interactions with all of our opponents.

What I didn't enjoy was our interactions with judges. I understand that it is unusual to see high-level judges playing in events of this caliber, and I'm okay with drawing a crowd. Jeff Morrow pointed out that I bring another level of celebrity factor to the table, in general and also by being the RC of the NW where this GP took place. Again, that's all fine. In Round 1, several judges birded our match in plain clothes, presumably before their shift started. They said nothing, acting as spectators should. I also want to say that I did not mind all of my friends asking what our record was when they ran into us between rounds. Although we didn't play as well as we would have liked, I had no shame about losing, and appreciated the support I got from people. It's very important that I establish that. Asking about our record, cheering or commiserating with us, is perfectly acceptable.

What I did take issue to was judges stopping by our match and saying things unsolicited. Two examples:

I lost my match and was packing my stuff up to move over to help Adam, who was now in a tight Game 3 to decide the entire team match. I play with the lounging Brian Kibler playmat. With the recent update to USC - Minor, I've seen a lot of chatter about where the line is on various things. One of those lines that gets discussed is anime girl sleeves and playmats. How much skin is too much? When does a provocative pose cross the line? This judge apparently thought it would be funny to say "I think that playmat is a little too provocative." I said nothing, gave him a glare, and moved over to help Adam.

Another round, I had finished my match (don't remember if I won or lost), and moved over in between David and Adam to be able to help both of them. Earlier that day, we had overheard a judge saying that you could not move chairs around to sit between your teammates because it would be a fire hazard. That's reasonable, but puts the 3rd player in an awkward position. Standing behind your teammates puts you in a position where you can see their opponents's hands, and that isn't fair to have an extra set of eyes with that vantage point. To solve this, most 3rds would crouch or kneel behind their teammates. That's what I was doing, with my legs extended out into the aisle. The aisle was narrow enough that my legs were over 50% across the aisle. A judge walking the aisle said "Excuse me, but you're causing a fire hazard by kneeling like that." I wasn't sure if he was serious, so I looked up, and he said something that made it clear that he was joking. More glare, more silence, and back to watching teammates.

There were a couple of other times that judges stopped by our match and said stuff, but I don't remember the specifics too well. Those last 2 struck out because I was already salty from losing a few rounds in a row, and I was really fed up with the constant needling. At past events, I've gotten judges watching my match say things like "I'm going to hang around and watch you for Slow Play." I also see a lot of judges take pride and joy--PRIDE AND JOY--in giving a fellow judge playing in an event a penalty of some kind. There's also the typical "Oh, you lost? I guess that's why you judge."

The strangest part about all of this is that non-judge players, are super friendly and supportive when they see me playing. Some of them are downright giddy. And at least locally, perhaps because I've played a lot recently and had moderate success, I don't get comments like "I thought judges were bad at playing." This could also be a factor of several other prominent Portland judges being fairly successful players.

I get it. These are typical ways that friends show affection through jokes and ribbing. And while I advocate for judges to treat players as friends (certainly versus as enemies), there's a point where things can get too familiar, and it seems that judges playing in tournaments is one of those points. You see, when a judge plays Magic, they are making a choice. You should respect that choice, and treat them like players. If you are "friends outside of the tournament," maybe some friendly banter is appropriate, but that should be seriously tempered and evaluated on context. Would you go up to a player who had just lost a match, even a good friend, and make a joke about their playmat being inappropriate (when it clearly isn't)? Would you stop by just to comment on how you want to give them a Warning? I certainly hope not.

If you do want to make a comment, you should think long and hard about it. If you've got that level of rapport with the player, then good. That's a start. If it doesn't make you look like an ass, then better. And here is where context is king. There are other players around. They may or may not know that the player you are talking to is also a judge. Now you just look like you've drive-by douched someone. Good job. I'm often left to deal with the aftermath of explaining that I am a judge and that other judges are getting their yucks at my expense. I often get sympathy from my opponent, because yes, it does suck... constantly.

And there's the kicker, Mr. Comedian. You aren't the only one. It happens almost every round, sometimes twice in one round. There is a pervasive culture of this type of judge-on-player/judge abuse, and I'm tired of it. When I Tweeted about my negative experience, several other judges threw in their comments that it had happened to them. Why are we so supportive of each other when we are working, but such dicks to those who choose to play? I don't know. I've done it myself in the past, but after this experience I will be curtailing that behavior, and I encourage you to call me on it if I ever do it to you in person or online.

Monday, August 4, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 26-28 Update

Week 26
Thursday: 4.2 miles
Saturday: 7.0 miles
Monday: 6.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.3 miles
Week Total: 21.0 miles
Year Total: 535.1 miles

Week 27
Thursday: 3.3 miles
Saturday: 3.5 miles
Monday: 11.3 miles
Wednesday: 3.3 miles
Week Total: 21.4 miles
Year Total: 556.5 miles

Week 28
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Sunday: 8.0 miles
Tuesday: 9.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 24.5 miles
Year Total: 581.0 miles

Saturday, July 5, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 23-25 Update

Week 23
Thursday: 8.0 miles
Tuesday: 8.0 miles
Wednesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 22.5 miles
Year Total: 485.1 miles

Week 24
Thurday: 3.2 miles
Friday: 3.3 miles
Tuesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 13.0 miles
Year Total: 498.1 miles

Week 25
Thursday: 1.9 miles (500!)
Friday: 4.3 miles
Tuesday: 6.3 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 16.0 miles
Year Total: 514.1 miles

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SCG Portland: I Rode a Bike with Handlebars

I didn't get to write as much as I wanted leading into SCG Portland, but I do have a few thoughts after the event. Having spent 3 years as part of the SCG Organized Play (OP) team, I am intimately familiar with their systems, especially the Show Lead's opening announcements at the Player Meeting. As many of you may know, this usually includes a terrible pun relating a card to a food or drink. This grand tradition started towards the end of 2010 or early 2011. It all started with me writing up some notes to send to our Head Judges about SCG policies. One such policy was that we didn't want players to have food and drink on top of the table, especially for Legacy play, where many individuals cards are $100+. I wrote in a joke about not wanting to have a "Jace, the Coke Sponger." That was it. The pun that started them all. I didn't say it was a particularly good one. But it started something, and it captured the imagination of not only the OP staff, but judges, and the players.

These days, at SCG Opens, if the Show Lead doesn't make a pun, players will get restless. If there is an explicit "I have no pun," the boos may start raining in. The pun has become a fundamental part of the Open Series culture. Regulars look forward to set releases to see what the new puns might be. I still get people who comment on some of my best ones:
* We would hate for your Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to become a Tabernale at Ginger Ale
* We would hate for your Llawan, Cephalid Empress to become... (significant pause, giving people time to try to figure out what the pun is)... damaged.

Nicholas Sabin came up with "Force of Spill." I believe Jason Reedy first did "Dark Coffeedant." Kali probably came up with "Grim Javamancer." We've also had Head Judges step up and try to one-up us. Eric Levine's "Seachrome Coaster" being my favorite.

The important thing about these puns is that they provide a fun reprieve from all of the serious talk about Game Losses and appeals that litter normal announcements. That's the whole reason we started the tradition, and you can read more about this concept here in CJ Shrader's article. (P.S. Delver of Secrets -> Seltzer of Regrets is a bit of a stretch.)

Following in the success of the food and drink pun, I'm always looking for new ways to add a little spice to tournaments without being overly disruptive. Having an affinity for WWE wrestling, I've often wanted to incorporate their over-the-top microphone antics into my routine, and I got that chance when I Head Judged the Legacy Open in Atlanta (on the Invitational Weekend) last year. I asked the SCG folks to give me a WWE introduction... and they all chickened out. Luckily, staff photographer Rob Johnson, himself a former wrestler and afficionado, agreed to give me a DX stle intro: "Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages..."

That has apparently become a ongoing tradition as well, for Rob to give the Legacy Open Head Judge at Invitational Weekends a wrestling-style introduction. Heck, he even did it at our wedding.

Always looking to one-up myself, I wanted to do something unique for my Head Judge intro at SCG Portland. Although I've Head Judged some PTQs here, this was my first time on such a big stage in front of the home crowd, and I wanted to make it memorable. So, when Bruce Mills introduced "Your Standard Open Head Judge, from right here in Portland, Level 3, Riki Hayashi!" I was nowhere to be found. He and Kali gave a couple of "Where could be be?" Looks and shrugs, at which point...

*ding ding * ding ding

I rode in from the other side of the hall on my bicycle. It was my tribute to the great city of Portland. I guess some people couldn't quite see what was going on, which is a shame. And Shoebox didn't get a camera ready to film the whole thing, despite me warning him that my intro would be epic. I did get hoots and hollers from the SCG buyers, who always appreciate my antics. And Cedric Phillips happened to be standing close enough to give me a high five as I rode by.

It was a lot of fun to start the day off in that way. A lot of people commented on it, and to say in general how well-run the tournament was. Did me riding my bike in make the tournament run better? It would be hard to argue this case. But what it did do was to again, emphasize that judges can have fun too, but more importantly, if the Head Judge has enough bandwidth to plan and execute this, everything else must be going okay. Certainly, I wouldn't have done this if we had been under an attendance crunch situation, where we were scrambling for more tables and chairs at the last minute. It was a comfortable event, and the bike ride was a showcase of that.

I certainly don't expect the bike ride to become a staple at SCG events. It takes resources and time, but I think that small exhibitions like this go a long way towards adding an entertainment component to events, to make them more than just a tournament. In fact, I recently had a talk where I suggested more entertainment during End of Round time. It was pointed out to me that with most players milling about and waiting for the next round to start, this time has a tendency to draw attention when it is too long. For starters, I would suggest turning off any count-up clock after time extensions are done. There's no more need for it once all matches are in extra turns, and it just gives players a factual negative to focus on: "Geez. It's been 25 minutes since the round ended. What's taking so long?"

The other thing is that we could add some form of entertainment here while we wait for those last matches to finish. I jokingly suggested a stand up routine. Maybe that's not the exact right thing, but it something like it. It may be impossible to entertain the entire room of players, but even just having someone juggling at the stage could offer a distraction.

The other thing we did at this event was a continuation of the new tradition we started at the Modern PTQ: the Portland Hug. What happened was that when the prize payout sheet was printed out for the PTQ, I convinced the TO to make 9th place pack prizes the same as 5-8 to lessen the feel bads. Someone then suggested that 9th place also get a "Riki hug." I'm generally anti-hug, but I went along with this, so someone wrote it in on the prize sheet. Players started to buzz about this. "A hug from Riki? I almost want to finish in 9th instead of Top 8 now!"

When I announced the Top 8, I mentioned the hug as prize for 9th and Sean Collins chose to collect, giving me a bear hug and lifting me up off the ground. The crowd loved it. So when it came to the SCG Standard Open, I made the announcement that we would be following the new Portland tradition (if the 9th place finisher wanted it--it should always be optional for reasons). When I announced 9th place as Ryan Bemrose, the crowd erupted. He's a very good local player, with a reputation for being on the ridiculous side, so this was a fitting pairing. He collected his hug, and even came back for seconds on Sunday! I forget who finished 9th in the Legacy Open, but Head Judge Aaron Henner continued the tradition (which now is firmly entrenched as such) and gave the Portland Hug. Maybe the SCG crew will take this with them across the country, or maybe it will just stay local to Portland. Regardless, it is another easy way to have a little fun, interact with players, and show that we are human beings. Hopefully players don't take it as a "sick rub-in" and see it as a real attempt at sympathy for the finish.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Head Judging an SCG Open: Rocks and Reaches

I'm going to be the Head Judge (HJ) of the StarCityGames.com Portland Standard Open on June 28th (next Saturday as of me typing this), and I thought it might be useful for some people to understand some of the planning that goes on behind the scenes, especially for those judges who may have an upcoming HJship.

When you are the HJ of a tournament of unusual size, you will have enough judges on your staff such that it is useful to organize them into some kind of hierarchy. This is commonly known as the Teams structure. The Teams are named after the tasks they perform rather than historical warrior groups, because it is easier to understand what the Deck Checks Team is supposed to be doing during the day compared to the Vikings Team (punting, no doubt).

Each Team has a Team Lead (TL), basically a middle management position in the tournament structure. TLs get instructions form the Head Judge, pass them along to their Team Members, and delegate the Team's assignments. They will report back to the HJ on the status of the tasks and the performance of judges on their team.

So who do you make your TLs? I have a convention that I've been calling "Rocks and Reaches" which caught on with the SCG folks. The idea is that some TLs are Rocks, as in solid as a. (Cue Bob Seger.) These are people who have done it before, done it often, and could probably "lead a team in their sleep." For an SCG Open, these are your L3s and strongest L2s. The Reaches are people you aren't sure about, but you're hopeful that they will do a good job because they have a solid track record. They have potential, but not a lot of experience.

When putting together my Team Leads, I make sure to balance the number of Rocks and Reaches that I have. If I have 4 Teams, I go for a 2-2 split. This way, I will have 2 Teams that I can ignore, trusting the Rocks to do their job and do it well. That gives me more bandwidth to focus on the Reaches in order to monitor their performance. If they need help, I am ready to step in and offer it. And regardless of whether they stumble or shine, I have lots of observations from which I can give quality feedback and write a review on their performance.

If you have all Rocks at Team Leads, there's no doubt that your event will run well, but you're sacrificing some development opportunities there. If you have all Reaches, there is a possibility that multiple things will blow up in your face. Day 1 of GPs use all L3 TLs because you want all Rocks on such a large event, because even with all Rocks, stuff will go wrong. On Day 2 of GPs, the Head Judge tends to go with the half-and-half approach, giving L2s the opportunity to shine and get their Team Lead Recommendation that they need to advance to L3.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 21-22 Update

Week 21
Friday: 7.0 miles
Saturday 7.0 miles
Tuesday: 7.5 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 25.0 miles
Year Total: 411.4 miles

Week 22
Friday: 7.5 miles
Saturday 3.5 miles
Monday: 7.5 miles
Tuesday: 8.0 miles
Week Total: 26.5 miles
Year Total: 437.9 miles

Week 23
Thursday: 9.5 miles
Friday: 3.5 miles
Monday: 4.1 miles
Tuesday: 1.2 miles
Wednesday: 6.4 miles
Week Total: 24.7 miles
Year Total: 462.6 miles

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Is it Missed? #2 - Oakheart Dryads

Welcome to Is it Missed? #2 featuring yet another 2/3 for 3. I swear it's a coincidence. Oakheart Dryads has a constellation trigger that reads:

"Whenever Oakheart Dryads or another enchantment enters the battlefield under your control, target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn."

The basic scenario is that you cast an enchantment pre-combat with an Oakheart on the battlefield, say nothing, then attack with the Dryads.

Is it missed?

Yes, it is missed. This might be surprising to you if you tuned in last time because on the surface, it seems the same as Kragma Butcher. They are both creature pumps. The difference is in the details, and the important detail here is that Oakheart Dryads has a targeted trigger, and you must select a target at the appropriate time. Straight from the IPG:

"A triggered ability that requires its controller to choose targets (other than 'target opponent'), modes, or other choices made when the ability is put onto the stack: The controller must announce those choices before they next pass priority."

That means you must declare you target before passing priority after the enchantment resolves, which is before creatures enter combat. If you don't select your target and move into combat, you're out of luck. The same applies to any other targeted constellation triggers like Dreadbringer Lampads, Forgeborn Oreads, Goldenhide Ox, Harvestguide Alseids, Strength from the Fallen, or Whitewater Naiads.

(Is it Missed? scenarios are all assumed to be at Competitive REL and thus are subject to the rules of the IPG, Infraction Procedure Guide.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Is it Missed? #1 - Kragma Butcher

Having played a fair deal of live Magic, specifically Theros Block Limited, I wanted to do a series of blogs on various Missed Triggers that may be confusing to players and judges alike. First up is Kragma Butcher, one of my favorite red commons in the block.

"Whenever Kragma Butcher becomes untapped, it gets +2/+0 until end of turn."

The ability triggers during the untap step and goes on the stack at the first opportunity in the upkeep step. Rargh! 4/3 Butcher ready to go to Brown Town.

Let's say I attacked with Kragma Butcher last turn for two. Now on my turn I untap it, draw my card, play a land, and attack again. My opponent has a Karametra's Acolyte (1/4) and decides to block since I said nothing about the trigger.

Is it missed?

The answer is... not yet. Although the ability goes on the stack during my upkeep, because it has no effect on the visible game state, I am not required to demonstrate awareness of the trigger at that time. I just have to do so when it becomes relevant to the game. In the case of Kragma Butcher's +2/+0 trigger, that probably means when it attacks and deals combat damage. Going back to the above scenario, I can do this by saying "Okay, go to damage. Your Karametra's Acolyte is dead." The same holds true if the Butcher goes unblocked. If I say "Take four," I've demonstrated awareness that the trigger happened.

How then do we know if the trigger is missed? If I let the Karametra's Acolyte stay on the battlefield after combat, or I tell my opponent to take two damage. The baseline assumption with triggers is that they did happen unless something happens that would indicate otherwise, in this case a Kragma Butcher that untapped only dealing two damage in combat.

As the opponent, how can you tell if the trigger is missed or not before damage? How can you figure out if you can safely block with your Karametra's Acolyte or not? You ask. you probably don't want to ask "Did you remember the trigger?" because that's a bit of a giveaway. A simple "How big is that?" should suffice. If they say 2/3, go ahead and block.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 19-20 Update (Half Marathon!)

Week 19
Friday: 7.5 miles
Saturday: 6.2 miles
Wednesday: 8.2 miles
Week Total: 21.9 miles
Year Total: 359.5 miles

Week 20
Thursday: 7.5 miles
Friday: 6.2 miles
Sunday: 13.2 miles (half marathon time 1:47:10)
Week Total: 26.9 miles
Year Total: 386.4 miles

It was a busy month what with a wedding, honeymoon in Wisconsin, and a GP in Minneapolis. Through it all I managed to keep my average up. The half marathon was a big success. My previous 2 halfs were both over 2 hours, so breaking that barrier was goal #1. Given my training pace, I knew that 1:50 was within reach, and because round numbers are a thing I was really shooting for 1:45 as a stretch goal. You can see that I didn't quite make that, but I was close enough to be satisfied, and that's still a fine personal best to run. Goal for the Portland Marathon in October will be to beat that pace, meaning running the full at 3:30 or better.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

1000 MIles - Week 16-18 Update

Week 16
Friday: 10.0 miles
Monday: 10.3 miles
Wednesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 26.8 miles
Year Total: 284.8 miles

Week 17
Thursday: 2.9 miles
Friday: 3.5 miles
Sunday: 7.7 miles
Monday: 11.5 miles
Week Total: 25.6 miles
Year Total: 310.4 miles

Week 18
Friday: 10.5 miles
Tuesday: 13.2 miles
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 27.2 miles
Year Total: 337.6 miles

Friday, April 18, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 13-15 Update

Week 13
Friday: 6.5 miles
Saturday: 7.8 miles
Sunday: 6.5 miles
Tuesday: 12.2 miles
Week Total: 33 miles
Year Total: 250.3 miles

Week 14
Saturday: 3.1 miles
Sunday: 1.1 miles
Week Total: 4.2 miles
Year Total: 254.5 miles

Week 15
Wednesday: 3.5 miles
Week Total: 3.5 miles
Year Total: 258.0 miles

Monday, March 31, 2014

GP Richmond and the Pink Paper Team Part 2

Last time, I started my diatribe on how to run a good Paper Team and made it all the way through... posting pairings. It turns out there is a lot to the subtle art of traffic control. Yes, part of this is on the TO to rest a sufficient space for the expected number of players and lay out the tables in a manner that helps. I've actually given some thought to whether it is better for the tables to arranged vertically or horizontally relative to the main event stage area and/or pairings boards. I don't have a definitive answer on this, but if you've got some theories, I would love to hear them.

Moving on to the next task for a Paper Team, the cutting of match result slips. Just as with pairings, it's important to start pulling these off the printer as early as possible. In Round 4 of the GP, it took 3 minutes and 25 seconds to print all of the match result slips. This is with SCG's super fast tower-style printer, probably one of the fastest I've seen in use at a Magic event. The average box-style printer will be a little slower still. Point being, waiting until all of the slips are printed for a GP-sized event will take several minutes, and those are minutes that could be spent cutting an early batch of slips.

Recently (at least in the United States), the GP kit has featured a massive paper cutter that can only be adequately defined as a guillotine. I'm not sure what the upper limit of this paper cutter is, but I've heard tales that it can slice all the way through an entire round's stack of slips. Even so, it's probably best to cut half of the slips at a time. The sooner you cut at least that much, the sooner you can get to passing them out. Why such a hurry on passing out the slips? It's not like any matches will finish that quickly. Two reasons: first, getting the slips out quickly allows the players to verify if they are at the correct table. Ideally, we'd like to have the slips out before the round clock starts so that players who do find themselves in the wrong seat can work on fixing this problem before they are subject to Tardiness penalties. The second reason to get slips out before the round starts is so that judges will have an easier time recording said Tardiness penalties. Without result slips out, judges need to resort to various triage techniques like writing down the table numbers with all of the Tardy players or telling the opponent to call a judge if the opponent shows up or the clock hits 40:00. These methods are fine in practice, but there are various things that can go wrong, and the best way is to have the slip available to record the penalty. For GPs, it's probably not realistic to have all of the slips out before the round begins, but for smaller events, this should be a top priority for the Paper Team.

In the Pink Ballroom, we didn't have one of the new super guillotines. I imagine those were in use downstairs in either the Green or Blue split (or both if they were running concurrently). Instead, we had 2 of the basic plastic cutters. These are, quite frankly, sub par. They can only cut 10-12 pages at a time. However, having 2 of them allowed us to form an assembly line of sorts. One judge would stand by the printer and pull off pages of slips 10-12 at a time and put them in piles by the paper cutters (which we placed right next to the printer). Then 2 judges would take those piles and go to work on cutting them. A final judge (or 2 depending) would take the cut slips from both cutters and consolidate them back into ordered piles.

This last part of the process is very important any time you have a sufficiently large tournament that requires you to cut the slips in sections. Normally match result slips are printed "for cut machine" which means that table #1 is on the first page, table #2 is on the second page, and so forth. This is repeated for each of the 4 rows. If you have 100 tables, your first page might have tables 1, 26, 51, and 76. This is so that when you cut the slips starting at the bottom of the page, the third section will naturally fall onto the 4th and the numbers will be continuous throughout. However, once you start dividing up your pile of pages, this all falls apart and you need to set aside each section to consolidate with the other sections in that particular row.

In Richmond, it took us one round to get this right; the way we were consolidating worked out better to put the slips face down so that the next section could be laid directly on top of it. Once we did get the proper method down, things really took off in the cutting department, but we still weren't getting the slips out fast enough. One of the earlier rounds we almost didn't get them all out by the 40:00 mark, which is really bad for all of the reasons I stated above. It turns out that 6 or 7 judges isn't enough manpower to distribute 700+ slips in a timely fashion. This is especially true if any of those judges gets stopped during their task to answer a call. When I'm handing out slips and a judge calls goes up in my row, I'll always look around and see if I can flag down someone else to take it. If you're not assigned to anything specific at the beginning of the round, keep your eye on the judges distributing slips and either run interference for them, or if they do take a call, swoop in and take their slips to continue distribution. To alleviate the distribution problem, Ryan Stapleton made 2 judges from his team available to me at the start of each round to assist with slip distribution. I was grateful for the help. It's always nice when other teams chip in at times like this.

One final thing. As part of the Paper Team's duties, I emphasized taking good care of our Scorekeeper, Kali Anderson. having done plenty of scorekeeping, I know just how integral this position is to a well-run tournament. And yet so often judges ignore the Scorekeeper unless they absolutely need something. There are a couple of things that judges can do to help, and they are generally very simple. First, be a blocker. The SK is often the most visible person on the stage because they sit there at the corner where the match result slips are turned in, and the Head Judge tends to wander away from the stage for things like appeals. This means that players will bother the SK constantly with questions that range from "Where are Side Events?" to "How do I drop?" and everything in between. The SK doesn't need to be the one to answer all of these questions. This is where a blocker judge can be invaluable. Just stand in front of the SK and answer questions. Direct traffic. Just make sure not to block the result slip box.

Oh, and while you're standing there, go ahead and sort some slips for the SK. This doesn't mean putting them all in numerical order. Take the slips that are coming in and make them face the same way. See, slips tend to get turned into the basket/box facing up, down, upside down, and folded in half. Fixing all of these issues eats up valuable time for the SK and if you as a blocker judge can do that instead, your SK will be eternally grateful. On that front, I also came up with a new invention called "the Wedge." It is... exactly what it sounds like, just a simple wedge that goes under the results box to prop it up at a 45 degree angle. This has the interesting effect of making people not turn their slips in facing every which way because they can see the previous slip in the basket and will orient their slip in the same way. The angle also utilizes gravity to pull the slips down towards the bottom. The use of the wedge actually greatly reduced the need for a blocker judge at this event and I encourage all SKs to utilize this simple yet effective technology. The final thing that we did for Kali was to have at least one judge helping her to sort all of the entered result slips at the end of the round.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 10-12 Update

Week 10
Tuesday: 6.2 miles
Wednesday: 6.5 miles
Week Total: 12.7 miles
Year Total: 191.5 miles

Week 11
No miles
Year Total: 191.5 miles

Week 11 was rather unfortunate. As my weeks start on Thursday, I had no time before taking an early flight out to GP Buenos Aires. Our flight was scheduled to get back on Tuesday afternoon, so there was the hope that I would have Tuesday and Wednesday to get some running in for the week. Then our flight got cancelled and we didn't make it back until Wednesday afternoon.

Week 12
Thursday: 3.5 miles
Sunday: 6.5 miles
Monday: 6.0 miles
Wednesday: 9.8 miles
Week Total: 25.8 miles
Year Total: 217.3 miles

Passed the 200 mile mark, but I'm a little behind schedule for 1000 miles. This was a good catch up week though, and I should be able to add a significant number this week since I'll be at home all weekend for the first time since February.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

GP Richmond and the Pink Paper Team

Last time out, I discussed some of my social anxieties tied to this mega-sized Grand Prix Richmond. I reached out to Event Manager Jared Sylva and Head Judge Jason Lems independently, explaining my issues. I don't know how much was due to this, but when staff assignments came out, I was in the Ballroom, which later became known as the Pink Split/Room, because our Scorekeeper was Kali Anderson and she procured pink paper to run the event on.

A side note, when a GP is split, it is customary to have different colored paper for each event so things like match result slips don't end up going to the wrong Scorekeeper. This was less relevant to the Pink Room because the Ballroom was in a completely separate part of the Convention Center from the Blue and Green Splits. This made for a much more comfortable event for everyone involved. We didn't have the added distractions of coverage, feature matches, vendors, side events and the associated mass of humanity. We just had a 1600-player tournament. This made things a lot easier on me from an anxiety standpoint, and it was great for the judges and players as well. We even had carpeted floors. All of the feedback I've heard about the Pink Room has been positive.

But a nice room alone isn't enough to deliver a great experience for players. When I spoke to the Paper Team, I made it clear that we were the team that had the most real impact on how fast the tournament finished, something that Head Judges love to emphasize. Sure, time extensions from deck checks could spill over and make for a long round turnover, but whether they did or not was largely a matter of luck. The Paper Team is directly responsible for additional time burned during what Nick Fang describes as the Prep portion of a round here. Paragraph break for emphasis time.

The longer it takes to get the pairings from the printer to the pairings board is time that you, the Paper Team, are exclusively costing everyone in the tournament.

There are a couple of things you can to do get back this time. Even if each of these actions only saves seconds on its own, that's seconds per action over multiple rounds, potential minutes that you can save 1600 players and 30 judges. Isn't it worth that extra effort?
1) start taking pages off of the printer as soon as they start printing. Do not wait for an entire set to finish printing. Most large tournaments will have multiple letter ranges and each range could have multiple pages. It takes time to collate and divide these pages among your team members, so the sooner you start taking pages off of the printer, the sooner you can get to that task.
2) have tape prepped. The easiest way to do this is to have tape prepped at each pairings board. I recommend doing this when you take down the pairings in the previous round. (You should be doing this because it takes time to take down old pairings and put up new ones at the same time. Leaving old pairings up too long can also lead to player confusion.) One innovation that someone suggested at GP Richmond (at least this was the first time I had seen this--and I apologize for not remembering who suggested this) was to have reusable tape loops. This solved the twin problems of tape ripping off when you take down old pairings and having ugly pieces of tape lining the sides of the pairing board in preparation for the next round. The tape loop is simple. You attach the piece to your surface as normal, but at the bottom you loop it so that it adheres to itself, leaving you with a non-sticky loop or tab. You can then lift that tab until some of the adhesive portion is exposed, and slide the piece of paper under it and attach the tape to it.
3) walk fast. Judges are advised to not run on the floor. It looks unprofessional. It is dangerous. However, as I told the Pink Paper Team, when you have pairings in hand is the fastest you should be walking in your judging career. Those seconds matter. And the effort you display to the players matters. You want to be seen hurrying with the pairings because...
4) get players out of your way. Use your judge voice to announce that you are coming through with the pairings. They will move out of the way for you. One surprising thing I found at Richmond. They will even help you put up the pairings. I was having a little trouble with the tape and a player reached out to help me. They just want to find their table number and get to their seat. If you need help to make this happen, they will give it to you, and in the future I'm thinking of being a little more proactive in asking for their help.

Another important factor in saving time is traffic flow. This is all about the room layout and the positioning of the pairings boards. One mistake I see Paper Teams make is automatically placing the boards in alphabetical order clockwise around the room no matter what (because we read from left to right and the letter ranges are displayed this way (A-B, C-F, etc). Why does this matter? It may not necessarily match the way that players are seated for Player Meeting, which is seated alphabetically from Table 1. In the Pink Room, Table 1 was to the right if you were standing on the stage and the tournament expanded to the left. If you place the pairings boards in alphabetical order starting on from the left of the stage going clockwise, you are created an unnatural traffic flow for that alphabetical seating. The A-B name range has to walk to the left to find their seat, then travel all the way to the right to their table. at the opposite end of the alphabet, T-Z will go to the right to check their seating and go back all the way to the left for their table. Hey, at least the middle of the alphabet won't have to go far. :(

This is terrible. Not only are you forcing the 2 ends to walk the maximum distance, they have to cross each other in the middle, leading to a traffic jam in the middle.

There are other factors that can lead to traffic jams. One classic one is space around the pairings boards. For the Pink Ballroom, the entire floor plan inside was taken up by the tables and chairs for matches, plus the main stage and single dealer booth (a small ad hoc one in the corner). If we had chosen to place the pairings boards inside the Ballroom, they would have been up against walls and the distance between them and the tables would have been far too narrow. You need to allocate enough room around pairings boards to allow people to both come and go, keeping in mind that up to several hundred people may need to access each board. Unfortunately, Magic players haven't acquired any kind of sensible etiquette like "enter from the right, exit from the left." Perhaps there's a social engineering opportunity there.

Due to the lack of space in the room, we placed the boards outside the Ballroom in the lobby area. At first, we had all 6 boards in the main lobby. The Ballroom was rectangular in shape with 4 sets of double doors as entrances from the lobby on the long side of the rectangle. The main stage was on the opposite long side. Again, this meant a long walk from printer to boards, making speed of the essence.

But wait. After placing the 6 boards in the main lobby, I began to worry about the traffic through those 4 double doors. As with space around boards, doors can be a serious impediment to traffic, especially because players do not follow any orderly traffic pattern as a norm and will just try to walk through each other going both ways. 4 double doors for 6 boards seemed low. I spoke with a few of my team members about my concern and they agreed with me. We noticed that there was a set of double doors on each of the short sides of the room. They were closed, but we confirmed that they could be opened and did so, placing the A-B and T-Z boards at the appropriate sides to match the numbering layout (counter-clockwise).

It's important when doing any job not to get married to the plan just because it is the plan. Flexibility, especially in light of actual logistical issues is important. It would have been a simple matter to stick to the plan of all 6 boards beyond the 4 main doors. Looking back at the way that traffic ended up flowing just with the 4 remaining boards in the center, this clearly would have been awful, and I'm glad that we made the adjustment.

Speaking of adjustments, it's important to watch the actual flow once players start moving and see if you can identify any problems with it. Theory is all good in... theory, but what matters most is what actually happens. In our case, we immediately noticed that the P-S board was taking a considerably longer time to clear and get seated. We went out in the lobby to examine the issue and discovered that the problem was that the P-S board was standing right next to an ill-placed pillar. This caused awkward in-out traffic flow issues since players couldn't use the pillar side of the board, essentially cutting the traffic capacity of the board in half. We moved the board away from the pillar. Even though it meant a longer walk from the Ballroom, getting the traffic flowing better meant that it kept up with the other boards.

Speaking of traffic flow at the pairings boards, we were lucky to have the new double-sided zip banners. This meant that we could put pairings on each side of the banner, doubling our capacity per board. Frankly, even without the double-sided banners, I would have probably put a second set of pairings on the backside anyway. When you're dealing with 1600 players, you have to do everything you can to divide people up into smaller chunks for the process of seating. Twitter pairings are a great innovation for this, but the buy-in has been slow and being dependent on Convention Center WiFi or having their concrete bunkers block signals has caused issues at more than one location. I briefly considered putting up a third set of pairings somewhere, but couldn't find a sufficient location that would reduce the stress on the existing traffic points or not cause other logistical issues to crop up. My understanding is that the Blue and Green Events (running together in the main hall) only had 1 set of pairings each at the start of the day for about 1300 players apiece. That's certainly one among many reasons why we finished so much faster.

I tracked the amount of time it took from when the printer started printing pairings to when the round started for our event. As I said, this is time that we the Paper Team cost everyone between just getting pairings collated and posted, and traffic issues. Some of it is on the players actually getting to their seats quickly, and yet another factor is the Head Judge and his or her willingness to start the round when enough players are seated, absorbing some number of tardies or "you're okay because you were on your way."

In Round 1, the printer to round start turnover was 12 minutes. Part of this is probably a natural player education period. It takes a few rounds for players to get used to the room layout, find good traffic alleys, and learn the general layout of table numbers. (btw, putting up signs or maps with table numbers is another way to potentially cut down on this turnover time.) Part of it was also the Head Judge making a few more announcements. For the rest of the day, the printer to round start turnover averaged under 8 minutes. It wouldn't surprise me if an equal-sized tournament with only one set of pairings took 10-15 minutes on average. Given that, it's likely that the decision to only post one set of pairings initially (my understanding is that this was corrected in either Round 2 or 3) cost those events around 5-10 minutes.

Wow. I've already written quite a bit and I haven't even talked about cutting result slips or how we took care of our Scorekeeper. I guess there's going to be a Part 2 to this episode. Stay tuned because you don't want to miss the greatest innovation in Scorekeeping technology of all time. Before we go, I want to give a huge shout out to the Paper Team, Ward Warren, Rick Salamin, Ben Klein, Jarrod Williams, Xander Forral, and Michael Mills. They bought into my messaging and their experience and willingness to engage me in conversations about how to improve our processes led to a lot of the things I've discussed here. The day was so hectic that I didn't note who said or did what in most cases, but each of you added something important to the team that made it better, and my hope is that future Paper Teams can learn from the example and bar that you set in the Pink Room.

Monday, March 10, 2014

GP Richmond and Social Anxiety

"Never again. #GPRichmond" - me on Twitter

With those words, I began my journey through GP Richmond. Since GPs Charlotte and Las Vegas last year, I've been publicly vocal about my dislike of record-breaking events. I wanted to explain my position because apparently some people think that I hate Magic and want to see it die off or some other nonsense.

First, I am absolutely thrilled by the growth of Magic. For 3 years of my life, I worked at StarCityGames.com, a job whose life was directly tied to the health and growth of the game. Even after leaving SCG, I judge on a regular basis and hope to land somewhere in the industry where I can make a living off of something related to the game. More players is absolutely a great thing for such a future. I just wish there weren't so many players at any individual event, especially at ones that I am at.

I've commented in the past that I have social anxiety issues related to large crowds of people. I've also commented that Magic tournaments are generally okay because most of the crowds have a purpose and are going somewhere. Events like GP Richmond really break that mold, and I know it, which is why I've tried to duck the record-breakers like Charlotte and Vegas in the past. As the hype on social media started to hit a fever pitch, it really began to tap into my anxiety in a way that I've never experienced before.

As everyone grew excited over the pre-registration numbers, I grew more anxious. It got to the point where I was seriously considering canceling on the event. I wrote a fairly grumpy post about judges and social media, partly because I just wanted to see less of it show up on my feed. Yes, I had other more altruistic goals like being considerate for the judges not on staff, but mostly I just wanted to get my anxiety under control.

When I got to the Greater Richmond Convention Center, things got worse for me. We were there at around 11am, an hour before doors were set to open to the public. Magic players were everywhere. Every seat in the hallway of the GRCC was filled. People were playing games on coffee tables. A group of players was outside smoking. And the line. The line outside the main door to the event hall was already out of control, spilling this way and that.

Seeing that line really set me off and I've been trying to understand why. It was a line with a purpose, to get into the hall, so it should have been similar to a line to board an airplane, which I obviously have no problem with. Being inside the hall helped calm me down, but it was almost as if I could feel the crowd outside, growing larger and more chaotic.

I was hoping that when the doors opened, it would be business as usual, just a bunch of Magic players playing Magic. Unfortunately for me, the Mini-Masters events were a huge cluster-F and didn't help my emotional state. The fact is, this whole Mini-Master thing is still new and we are still trying to figure out the best way to run them. What we did in Richmond wasn't it, and my hope is that we can learn from this experience.

After Friday, things improved for me dramatically. I was in the "Pink Room," which was the third of the tournament in a separate Ballroom. That cut down significantly on the noise and chaos of what we had to deal with. It was "only" a 1600-player event with no other distractions. I can handle that, and handle it I did. More on how I did what I did as Pink Paper Team Lead next time.

In the meantime, I want to thank everyone who reached out to me, remotely or on site, to reassure me that everything would be okay, offer to do stuff for me, or just give me a place to vent my anxiety. Sometimes it wasn't easy to talk about what I was feeling because I didn't want to say "I'm fine" when I wasn't. But I truly appreciate that you were willing to look out for me. I especially want to thank Jared Sylva. He sat down with me on Sunday and asked me what he could do for me in the future for me to be able to attend GP New Jersey. Right now I'm honestly considering never working an SCG GP again because it seems like with their marketing machine, 3000+ will become the norm rather than the exception. But Jared being willing to talk to me about it gives me hope that I may be able to find a way come back. My first suggestion was to sneak me in through the back entrance to avoid seeing the line.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Judging, Social Media, and You (and me, and everyone else)

GP Richmond! OMG! Travel! All the airports!

If you are even relatively tied into the US judge network on Facebook, it's hard to miss the fact that there is a record-breaking event going on this weekend in Richmond. Given the singularity that this event is becoming, and the amount of characters that have been devoted to it on social media, I thought I might share my thoughts on it. Keep in mind that this blog is just the opinion of one man.

The Facebook hype for this event actually started months in advance, as it always does among judges, with the string of "Accepted!" posts. These typically have anywhere from 1 to 5 exclamation points and tag other judges who are also on staff with "see you there" remarks. Here's the thing about your Facebook posts. They go out to everyone on your Friends list (or whatever sub lists you may use). If you've been around, there are probably quite a few judges on your Friends list, including very likely some of the 40+ judges who were declined for GP Richmond. Think about that the next time you decide to post about how happy you are to be selected. They say that judging isn't a competition--wait, who says that--of course it is a competition. It may not be popular or political to call it a competition, but what else do you call something where 150 people wanted something and a third of them didn't get it?

Thinking about it in terms of a competition really changes the frame of reference on all of these "Accepted to Event X" posts. You should also think about your growing list of Judge Friends in several other terms. How many Friends do you have in common? Imagine if every single judge who was selected for GP Richmond posted about it on Facebook? 100 of the same damn message. Now how does the declined judge feel?

As soon as I saw the first Richmond-related post, I posted something along the lines of "Exalt not about being selected for GP Richmond. Instead contemplate how you will make this event a success for the organizer and what you will learn from it." Hopefully as a result of this, there were fewer pure exaltation posts for this event. Is it a sustainable trend? Probably not, because excitement is more prevalent and easier than thoughtfulness.

Judge culture is full of travelers. I know because I'm one of them. And while I didn't invent the culture of frequent flying/judging (Adam Shaw and Nick Fang were my progenitors in this), I've certainly spawned a generation of miles-hounds. I've spoken to many people about this recently, but this culture isn't very healthy. Back when I first started to conquer the globe, I went to "every event," meaning every GP in the US, a few outside, and every PT. That was less than 1 event a month. Nowadays, going to every US GP is a multi-event-per-month slog. Add to that any reasonably close SCG Opens (whatever that means to you), and you have a growing number of judges who might not see their own bed on any weekends. I hope to do some statistical research that shows that jamming so many events in a row is harmful to judge development, the idea being that if you just do events over and over, you aren't spending enough time feedbacking, reflecting, and growing.

The social media aspect of all of these events is that there are more posts than ever about them all. Accepted to GP X, judging SCG Y, and on and on. If you are Friends with a modest number of judges, you know this feeling. I guess it is the whole point of social media to post about stuff you are doing, but just like that era where people were posting a little too much about every meal they were eating, perhaps we as a community are reaching a critical mass of this kind of thing. Singularity events like GP Richmond highlight this issue in the worst possible way, where every other post is GP Richmond this and GP Richmond that.

Yes, we get it. You are a unique flower and the center of your universe. It's just that there are 100 other unique flowers also going to this event who are also posting about it. And it's not even just about the 40 declined judges. For every Judge Friend who is going to GP Richmond, you probably 2-10 times as many Judge Friends who are going to Richmond. And to them, your posts are not unique; they are just a cacophony of noise. Less and less these days, I post my event travel updates on Twitter. At least those people have opted in to getting my unique flower messages by following me. And if they don't like my unique flower messages, they can opt out easily. Facebook is more complicated because of their marketing of this idea of "Friends." It's such a loaded word, and I've participated in plenty of drama over the act of defriending.

Earlier today Bryan Prillaman posted "I don't care how you are getting to Richmond." And he's actually on this event! Several other people have been posting messages about not going to GP Richmond (and being happy/content with that). It's a general shift away from GP Las Vegas last year, when people not on the event were generally jealous of those there and wishing they were there. As with many things, this is just the beginning and it's only going to get worse. Let's end with some traditional bullet points:
1) consider getting a Twitter account and using that more for event postings. It's a better "buy in" medium for this kind of thing.
2) if you must post to Facebook, think about your audience of Friends. What do you want to say to them? What will they think of what you are posting?
3) ultimately, it's your Wall. Do what you want with it. If posting pictures of airports and planes makes you happy, do it. If posting your travel itinerary makes you happy, do it. I'm just a grump, sitting here being grumpy, telling you what a growing number of grumps are thinking but not saying. But that shouldn't impinge on your happiness.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 7-9

Week 7
Friday: 7.5 miles
Monday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 7.5 miles
Week Total: 18.1 miles
Year Total: 151.7 miles

Week 8
Thursday: 5.1 miles
Monday: 3.1 miles
Tuesday: 9.5 miles
Week Total: 17.7 miles
Year Total: 169.4 miles

Week 9
Tuesday: 3.2 miles
Wednesday: 6.2 miles
Week Total: 9.4 miles
Year Total: 178.8 miles

Monday, March 3, 2014

SCG St. Louis and Customer Service

Customer service is a big part of judging, some might say the biggest part, but what does it really mean to give good customer service? I think most people see judging and customer service as a reactive thing. We don't get involved in a match until the players call us over. Once they do, the customer service kicks in, but how? Get the ruling right, do it quickly, and do it with a smile. Is that all we can do?

Obviously I say no. As a judge, part of good customer service is recognizing when players are having a bad experience and taking the time to talk to them about it. My first example of this is from the Round 1 feature match between Chris Van Meter and Gregg Diekhaus. Chris wrote about his account of that game in his article here and you can watch the video here. The short version is that Gregg was a very new (or old and returning) player who got thrown into a feature match because he was paired against a name player. This wasn't an ideal situation, as his lack of experience combined with the bright lights led to him play slowly. These things can happen, especially in Round 1. I want to point out that players do have the option of declining a feature, whether it is to hide their tech or because they just aren't comfortable playing under the lights.

I arrived at the match during extra turns and watched Gregg play through some turns slowly enough that I checked the match result slip for a Slow Play Warning. When I didn't see one, I asked Matt, one of the judges in the feature match area, if it had been that way all match, and he indicated that it had. After the match, I also spoke with Nicolette, the spotter judge, about Slow Play. She said that it had been an issue and that she had said something to Gregg several times because Chris had brought it up. No, we shouldn't necessarily cater to one player's opinion of what the pace of play should be, but it can be a good sign that the pace isn't sufficient to finish the match, which is indeed what happened here.

Based on the testimony of the two judges who had been there, it seemed likely to me that Gregg should have gotten a Slow Play Warning at some point during the course of the match and didn't. I told Nicolette as much, and she agreed that she should have pulled the trigger. It's a definite growth area for many judges, and it is even harder when you are working as the coverage spotter, a role that we are trying very hard to divorce from "actual judging" due to the heavy constraints it puts on being able to actually pay attention to the board while you talk back and forth with the coverage director.

If you watched the match, it's plain to see that Chris was quite frustrated to walk away from the match with a draw. Even though he was behind on the board at the conclusion of the match, in an 11-round tournament, a draw in round 1 is pretty close to a loss, and more to the point, it was about how the match played out, with Chris having to play the "bad guy" by prompting Gregg to play faster, and pointing out things like missed triggers on Bident of Thassa. In hindsight, with the ability to watch the replay, Chris does a lot of talking in these situations, where I would prefer a judge to explain the tournament rules at Comp REL and take that "bad guy" burden off of a player's plate.

When Chris sat down for round 2, I sought him out to have a quick chat about the situation. I apologized to him because based on the talks I had with the judges it seemed like a Slow Play Warning was warranted and was not given. This didn't change anything tangible for Chris. He still started off the day with a draw. And looked at objectively, had the Warning been given and Gregg sped up his play, Chris might have lost the match instead.

But feelings matter. By Chris's own admission from his article, he was on tilt after the match, and my main goal was to provide Chris some relief from that. "Sorry" can be a meaningless word when used excessively, but it can be one of the most powerful words when used sparingly in times like this.

My primary regret in exploring this axis of customer service is that I also did not speak with Gregg. He too was likely under some amount of emotional distress after his match. I should have done more to alleviate his tilt as well. I will admit that the reason I didn't think to talk to Gregg was based on my bias of knowing Chris for a couple of years, and seeing and understanding his situation as a competitive player better. It's a flimsy reason upon reflection, but I'm happy that at least my follow up conversation with Chris on the topic yielded good thoughts on being an ambassador to newer players, and Chris's excellent article on the topic.

The issue of potential bias is something that has followed me since my early days as a Judge/Writer when I wrote about my friendship with Luis Scott-Vargas. After getting advice from Seamus Campbell and Sheldon Menery, two senior judges who also had Internet-writing careers at the time, I settled on a philosophy to deal with this. Since it was impossible for me to stop being friends with players (and my circle of friendship among players has grown considerably since then, especially thanks to the SCG Open Series), I would set out to treat all players like my friends.

This philosophy is in action in the other big customer service interaction I want to write about, which happened with a complete stranger. In consecutive rounds, I took complex appeals that took some time to unravel and get the stories straight, and I ultimately upheld rulings that essentially lost the match for one of the players in the match, the same player in both cases. After the second time, I sat down with the player while he de-sideboarded and offered him a handshake. "Hey, I'm sorry that we keep meeting under these circumstances. I'm Riki."

There's that word again, "sorry." Note that I wasn't apologizing for the rulings. In our conversation, I stood by the rulings. It's important not to apologize for things that you aren't sorry about, because that's disingenuous. The player, Kevin, expressed his obvious frustration, and I let him vent that a little, but also told him that I was just trying to do my best to make the correct call based on the information provided to me. In the end, I don't think we were ever going to agree on the ruling itself, but we reached a good point where again, my hope was that Kevin would be able to play on without tilt, and perhaps with some restored faith in judges.

As it turned out, there was another appeal on Kevin's match later in the tournament that went, if not in is favor, at least neutral, and after the match we exchanged a "Hey, that wasn't that bad." We also crossed paths again on Sunday and exchanged pleasantries.

This isn't exactly proactive customer service. It's still in reaction to situations that occur. But it's the type of customer service that many judges don't even think of delivering because it is beyond the scope of a normal ruling. It's important to think about the impact we have on a tournament and on the feelings of players, who are our customers. Even when we do everything by the book, there's always the potential feel-bads, and how we react to, and try to mitigate those feel-bads can make or break someone's tournament experience.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SCG St. Louis and the Problem with L1

"Nice Grand Prix you got to Head Judge."
-a bunch of random judges

This past weekend, I Head Judged StarCityGames.com St. Louis Standard Open. It was my first time at the helm of an SCG Open since I left the company last December. I'd been to St. Louis several times during my days with SCG. Attendance there has mostly fluctuated between 450-550 for the Standard Opens. If you had asked me the night before, the high I would have told you is 600, which would have been a fine, record-breaking event for that location.

We broke that mark with at least 30 minutes left in registration, and we quickly entered "we need more space" mode. Sam Straus, the SCG Show Lead, responded admirably (he also had to recruit 9 additional judges), but I know from experience that getting convention centers to suddenly turn on a dime and get this done quickly is not what they are designed for. We threw a bunch of judges at this problem, and that helped, but we still seated for the player meeting a good 45 minutes late. Yuck.

When you are dealing with delays, it is important to message things correctly to the players. They are standing around, waiting, and they know that something is wrong because the tournament isn't starting. Sam did exactly what I would have done (and have done in the past); he told the truth ("we have more players than we expected and need to set up more tables and chairs") but more importantly, he apologized.

We ended up with 762 players. This blew away our projection by 200. It was the third largest Open ever, and second largest not attached to an Invitational, which traditionally inflates attendance, especially when there has been a Gold Rush. And as I alluded to with the opening quote, it is on par with the lower end of GPs these days, which is weird to me because I remember when 800 for a GP was mind-blowingly huge. How the times change.

What I didn't have was GP-level staffing. For comparison, GP Santiago, which had right around the same number of players, had 49 judges, 10 L1s, 32 L2s, and 7 L3s. The numbers for SCGSTL were... less. Initially accepted staff was 27 judges, 14 L1s, 12 L2s, and one lone James Bennett as my L3 on the floor. We added 9 L1s at the last minute. This is an alarming contrast, and my day as Head Judge was defined by it. For most of the day, I was in survival/fix-it mode.

This isn't meant to throw my staff under the bus. Everyone put in a phenomenal effort, and some people's value to an event isn't accurately represented by their level. My primary example for this is James Elliott, an L2 who I trust "as an L3." There were also several L1s who "should probably be L2." However, in the vast majority of cases, levels are a good shorthand for experience and knowledge, and unfortunately L1s just aren't going to cut it on the floor of these types of events anymore. I say "anymore" because it used to be the case that L1s would be fine Floor Judges for a Comp REL event. But several years ago, the definition of L1 was changed to no longer include Comp REL stuff. L1s are now "store judges" and are not required to know the IPG, the backbone of policy at Comp REL. L1s who know the IPG and judge Comp REL regularly are the judges who "should probably be L2."

GPs get this. Except in rare circumstances, L1s are no longer approved to work on the main event of a GP. If they do work the main event, it is usually to work closely with a mentor with the expectation that they will test for L2 that weekend or in the near future. Other than that, L1s at GPs are largely relegated to side events, where they judge Regular REL or smaller scale Comp REL events.

As the larger SCG Opens continue to get small GP-level attendance, it becomes important to staff them that way. When judges are trying to manage an event of this size, there just isn't as much time and resources that we can allocate to the training and mentoring of L1s who want to be L2. Like I said, it's survival mode. Judges who regularly work these events should be L2. That doesn't just mean changing a number. It means changing their knowledge, training and testing them on the IPG and Comp REL policy. TOs like SCG should take this into consideration when staffing, and we as judges should endeavor to get people to the right level to help TOs make the right decisions.

If you're an L1 and you like judging Comp REL, you should be an L2. Study the IPG. Talk to your mentors. Level up. If you're an experienced L2, you don't necessarily have to level up. L3 is a large commitment. I get that, and it isn't for everyone. However, there is probably more you can be doing to support your community of L1s who want to be L2. You can't give them the physical L2 exam (only an L3 can do that), but you can train them. Don't just "certify and forget" your L1s. Take care of them. Teach them. Build a community, not just of judges, but good judges.