Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver

Judging a Pro Tour is a truly special experience. There is a natural tendency to want to downplay it as "just like any other tournament," but let's not kid ourselves. This is the biggest stage and making rulings there can be fraught with the anxiety that you'll be the next Internet sensation, and not in the good way. I was certainly very nervous on my first ever ruling at a PT in Hollywood 2008. It didn't help that I got appealed. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest as I waited for Sheldon Menery to finish up with another appeal. But in the end, things worked out. Sheldon upheld my ruling, which was nice, but the bigger boost to my confidence was when he gave me a shoulder pat and said, "Good job."

Seven years later, I flew out to Vancouver, Canada for my fifteenth Pro Tour as a judge (2 attended as a scorekeeper). The Pro Tour has changed a lot since my early days. Back then, it was a full on extravaganza akin to Grand Prix events with a full slate of open public events. Staffs were larger to accommodate these events, and it was a great way to network with judges from around the world. GPs tend to be much more continentally insular with just a few international judges per event.

Today, the Pro Tour is just the Pro Tour. No public events (although Sunday does feature a bunch of side drafts for players). It's a nice, comfortable 400-player event with an all-L3+ staff. That kind of experience is great for the players because it cuts down on straight-up incorrect rulings. It's also great for judges because that much experience means that stuff just doesn't tend to get dropped because there are too many sets of eyes watching everything.

At the Pro Tour, one of my primary functions is to translate for Japanese players. There are quite a few of them on the tour, and many of them are not proficient at English. A further problem is that Japanese people are likely to nod a lot to questions and politely say "yes" to questions like "Do you understand?" even if they don't. At GPs, it is fairly standard practice to try to make a ruling despite language issues, working through the common language of Magic: the Gathering. Even if you enlist the help of a translation judge, that's all that they're there for; the initial responding judge still makes the ruling.

Things are a little different at the Pro Tour. Many judges, like me, are specifically brought in for our language proficiency and we are basically on call for such situations, up to and including when I'm on lunch break. After all, the show must go on, and this is the pinnacle of Magic Judging and Customer Service. In many cases, I get called in and just take over the ruling, which is counter-intuitive to everything else I've ever done in judging and takes some getting used to.

I have a functional conversational level of Japanese; I could live in Japan comfortably, although my vocabulary and cultural knowledge has atrophied quite a bit. But for judging, I have difficulty with two specific aspects. First, Magic has a lot of specific terms that I've had to learn and add to my vocabulary like "trigger." Second, I'm not great at investigations in Japanese. It's just something that I haven't had enough practice with.

Fun role of the weekend: Draft calling
Since the Pro Tour is all Level 3+ Judges it's often hard to find unique experiences to have. Draft calling is one of those experiences as only 2 people get to do it per Pro Tour. I e-mailed HJ Toby Elliott asked for and received the opportunity. (If you want something, one of the best ways to make it happen is to ask.) I'm pretty sure it was my first time calling a draft since 2009 at Worlds in Rome.

Just before the draft started, Tournament Manager Scott Larabee made a special announcement: it was my birthday. I normally try to keep this on the down low, especially hiding it on Facebook because I don't like to have hundreds of randoms posting on my wall. (One solution is to not be friends with so many randoms, but that ship has sailed.) Having this announcement made was surprisingly okay because I have a lot of history with players on the PT, and even the people I didn't know, it felt okay to get a passing "Happy Birthday." (Still never post this salutation on my wall if you know what's good for you.)

As for the actual mechanics of calling a draft, there's not much to it. Find an app, make a chart, or use basic lands as flash cards. Whatever works best for you. Specifically for the PT, I made sure to speak a little slower than normal (Right? That's slow!) because of the number of international players present. I made one word slip when I said "pass right" instead of "left" for the first pack, but caught it immediately. Other than that, everything went fine.

Rules question of the weekend: NAP controls a Ghostfire Blade enchanted by Ensoul Artifact. There are no other creatures on the battlefield. AP casts Dromoka's Command with the modes "Target player sacrifices an enchantment" (targeting Ensoul Artifact) and "Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature" (targeting Ghostfire Blade). Does the Ghostfire Blade end up getting a counter?

Most judges on site said no, because the Ghostfire Blade is no longer a creature by the point where the second mode of Dromoka's Command resolves. (Spells resolve in the order that instructions are printed, so the enchantment is sacrificed first.) However, a few holdouts including me, said that the noncreature Ghostfire Blade would get a +1/+1 counter because target legality is checked just before the spell would begin resolving. Once it starts resolving, it doesn't care about target legality and the spell will try to do as much as possible.

There's some contention that the "as much as possible" means that the Command won't put a counter on the Blade because the instruction is "target creature." But there's no real rules precedent for that to be the case. Ultimately, the ruling was confirmed by at least one guru, and that's what we went with.