Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Super Sunday Series at Grand Prix Denver

Sunday for me was arguably the most important day of the GP Denver weekend as I was the Head Judge of the Super Sunday Series (SSS) Sealed event. Unlike some other GPs, this one only had the SSS Sealed with no companion Standard event. It was somewhat serendipitous that I had been chosen to HJ this event. Just a few weeks prior I had started an L3 discussion about whether it was appropriate for L2s to HJ SSS events. My goal wasn't necessarily to set a hard line that L2s could not HJ SSS events, but more to spur discussion on the topic and make sure that we as a Program were taking these tournaments seriously and staffing them appropriately.

I've had similar talks with regards to everything from StarCityGames Opens to PPTQs. When discussion turns to giving people opportunities to learn, I become the voice of caution and conservatism. Opportunity needs to be balanced with the proper support and feedback. Arguably, a SSS at GP should afford those things because there is usually an L3 support judge assigned to such an event being head judged by an L2.

I don't think that I was intentionally placed on this event as a statement ("If you think L3s should be doing this, then you go and do it!") because Side Events staffing was decided by Kyle Knudson, who wasn't privy to the L3 discussion directly.

Part of taking an event like this seriously is preparation. As soon as I knew what judges were on my event, I sent messages to the L2s about what roles I wanted them to fill, not traditional "Team Leads" (since we didn't have enough judges on staff to form full teams) but more like "Task Leads." I also try to send out a message to team members if I am a Team Lead on Day 1 of a Grand Prix. (I just sent one out to my GP Vancouver team for this weekend.) "Pre-gaming like this establishes a good mindset for judges going into the weekend. It can get a few administrative things out of the way. Basically, it's a low overhead way to put set up good expectations.

Setting good expectations applies to players as well. That starts with announcements during the player meeting. Since this was a Sealed event, there were a few more administrative details to talk about versus a Constructed event. For the latter, I'm a big fan of Jeph Foster's methodology: "I know that you guys came here to play Magic, so I'm going to keep this short." I know that I spearheaded the "food and drink pun" movement, but there's a limit to how much players are willing to tolerate with announcements.

Do we really need to announce the Rules Enforcement Level (REL) at the beginning of every tournament? Does the average player care? Does the average player even know how this is relevant? If the answer is "no," that's ten seconds we should be shaving from the announcements. The same applies to announcing the Tardiness policy ("Zero and ten"). If you don't announce it, does it give grounds for a player to complain? "If you had announced the Tardiness policy, I would have gotten here sooner." We don't tell players that the policy for tapping a Mana Confluence for mana without taking a pain is going to be a Warning. Seems like players should just... not be tardy to their match. There's also the matter that the tardiness announcement could be made at any time, like say after Round 1 pairings are posted. Not every announcement needs to happen during the player meeting.

Back to Denver, we had a slightly slow start to the day because we had to distribute sealed product and GP Denver playmats... and coupons for GP Denver playmats. Registration for Saturday's main event went above and beyond expectations. This left the supply short for Sunday, and we had to hand out coupons for players to write down their shipping address. The growth of Magic continues to amaze me. Denver has traditionally been a 700-900 player GP city, and suddenly we get over 1500. That's crazy.

The SSS had 238 players, a little over the 9 round threshold. That's a good day's work for sure. Part of the challenge for an event like this is the ever-changing cast of judges that you get. For a GP Side Event, you usually start with an AM shift of judges, get a relief/PM shift at some point in the late morning or early afternoon. There's also a rotation of judges who come over from other side events. Since the SSS is the premiere Side Event on Sunday, the Side Events Lead makes sure to keep the event well-staffed and supported. That's all well and good, but there does reach a point when more isn't always better. I think this event had a healthy balance for most of the day.

In terms of rulings, it seems like Missed Triggers are still a thing that players are getting used to, especially with things like Prowess. It's the same old thing as Exalted years ago (or every year if you play Modern). You don't have to explicitly announce the trigger when it happens. You just have to make sure to acknowledge its existence before it would matter in the game. For the vast majority of cases with these two triggers, that means when the creature deals damage. Keep in mind that there are a few "Prowess-ish" triggers that work differently. Mistfire Adept, for example, has the second "flying prowess" trigger. This trigger targets and you have to announce your target when the ability goes on the stack.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Grand Prix Denver Tournament Report: Saturday

Have you ever noticed how tournament reports inevitably mention what the person had to eat that day? This seems like a holdover from player reports, although it's something I always found unexciting when reading those. And now you've gotten the meta-section that uselessly complains about this useless aspect of many tournament reports. Enjoy!

Saturday of a Grand Prix used to be a hectic scramble as hundreds of people needed to register for the event at the last minute. With online preregistration and no Saturday morning registration, we've traded that scramble for a new one: the player meeting. Now every player with a problem will try to fix their problem after the player meeting seating is posted because they just walked into the hall five minutes ago. These problems might include:
* A player who is unable to find their name on the seating. This is actually several potential problems:
@ The player is not registered in the event. Usually the solution is to direct the player to a TO representative to confirm payment and entry into the event.
@ The player's name is spelled wrong on the seating. Again, several possible reasons for this depending on how pre-registration was done.
@ The player didn't look down both columns on the seating. Ugh. This is an unfortunately common problem. Players are used to finding their names down the left-hand side of the sheet for pairings (since the opponent's name appears down the right-hand side). However, for the player meeting, and only the player meeting, DCI-R saves space and paper by putting names down both columns. I would say that probably confused 1-2% of the players at every GP. That doesn't sound like a lot until you have a dozen extra people coming to the scorekeeper who don't really need to be there.
* Bye issues. This is another one where the range of issues can range from "legitimate problem that we fix" to "players don't pay attention." However, all of the blame for this can't be put at players' feet. Yes, a large number of bye issues stem from players who completely misunderstand the Planeswalker Points system when it comes to earning byes. Then again, where the heck is this information? Why does it keep changing so much? And why, oh why isn't there a graphic on a player's PWP site that just explicitly says "You have X byes from this date to that date"?
* Players whose names are misspelled on the seating in a way that still allows them to find themselves. This is an issue--I hate it when people spell my name wrong--but it isn't a pressing issue. You've found where you need to be seated. Just go there and we'll deal with the fact that your name is spelled "Jon" instead of "John" later. Your first match result slip is a good place to do this. Just cross out your name, and neatly print the correct spelling. If there is some ambiguity as to whether it is actually you or not, you can certainly come up and check, which sometimes leads to...
* There are two or more players with the same first and last name. Yuck. This actually happened with 3 players at GP Denver. Unlikely as this is, 2 of them being a father-son duo made it slightly more likely. However, when the third person with the same name showed up, some kinds of hell broke loose. Okay. Not really. Situations like this usually require middle initials to be used. If that fails (because of same middle initials), we end up adding the 4 digits of their DCI number, or making one of them middle initial "X." Some day, I aspire to be Riki X Hayashi.

All of these issues often add up to 50+ players lining up in front of the Scorekeeper right after seating for the player meeting go up. For Denver, we tried to triage this with a team of judges in front of the Scorekeeper. Some of them had a second copy of the seating to weed out the easy problems like not looking down the right side to find their name. This cleared out about a dozen or so, and the rest had to the figure out the various problems listed above. I didn't write down how long this all took, but it was a significant amount of time, and it is an ongoing problem at GPs now.

Once we got the event started, I was responsible for the Pairings, Result Slips, and End of Round Procedure. A few anecdotes about these various procedures:

With close to 1600 players, we had to put up two physical copies of the pairings, or risk terrible traffic jams. Even with two copies, we had terrible traffic jams because the room was narrow and many of the players going to different pairings boards had to utilize the same traffic lanes. One board, the second set of S-Z pairings went almost completely unused because of its location... by table #1. Go figure. Even as the tournament shrunk towards this pairings board, players insisted on walking to the farther board because papers were posted on it first. Not everything can work perfectly.

An important note about posting pairings on the Grand Prix zip banners. Do not cover up the "Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix" logo with any tape or paper. This is a branding thing. Also, do not cover up the Planeswalker's face with any tape or paper. This is also a branding thing, but as someone recently pointed out, it is also a practical thing. We often tell players to go to their pairings at "The Ajani banner." Covering up the face reduces the effectiveness of the announcement and makes it harder for players to find the right banner.

Result Slips
The GP kit now comes with a super-industrial strength paper cutter. Unfortunately this thing is so heavy-duty, or just plain heavy, that you cannot use it unless you put on a very secure surface, otherwise you risk breaking the table, the paper cutter, or your ego, as things go flying in a horrible mess. It also happens that the strength and pressure needed to use the super cutter might result in said cutter breaking under the pressure. Yeah. Be careful.

End of Round Procedure
As I mentioned, the hall for the GP was very long and narrow. This lends itself to a lot of walking for judges. "Go to table 1..." all the way across the freaking hall. Oh, the match finished and the slip slipped by you in the crowd? Go all the way back and report. "Yeah, we got the slip right after you left. Go to table 3." Sigh. To cut down on this, I assigned some judges to do some "Zone End of Round" which is something that I plan on writing more about in the future. The short version is that a judge scouts out a zone at the extremes of the hall and begins sitting judges on matches manually without having to wait for the "Delinquent Matches" printout. (Never call them "Outstanding" because there is nothing outstanding about Slow Play.) Ideally, this cuts down on a lot of the walking back and forth. When your match finishes, you just need to walk the slip to the judge who is responsible for the zone to get a new assignment, not all the way back to the stage. There's also the added benefit to this procedure that sometimes the Scorekeeper isn't in a position to printout a Delinquent Matches sheet because he or she is too far behind on results entry. Even with super-SK Nick Fang at Denver, he couldn't keep up to have this ready to go when the clock struck 00:00.

That about covers my day on Saturday of the main event. I do want to call out a standout performance by Elliot Raff, who handled Zone EoR for the front 90 tables. Not only did he get the zone scouted out, judges sitting on matches, but he also reported in when all of his matches were covered by judges, a useful piece of information for the home base team. Thanks for the work, Elliot.