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Japanese Nationals

June 13-14, 1999

Ron Foster

On June 13-14, I was Head Judge for Japanese Nationals, held at the DCI Tournament Center in Shibuya, Tokyo. Aida Takashi, the manager of DCI Japan, was also present as the tournament organizer. We had 87 participants out of an invited 92. In additional to the staff of the tournament center, we had additional help from some certified judges and judge candidates based in the Tokyo area.

The first day of Nationals was Rochester Draft (6 rounds, two drafts), followed by a day of Standard (also 6 rounds), with a modified double elimination Top 8 playoff to determine the Team Japan '99 members. About a month before the tournament, Aida and I had debated adding Urza's Destiny to the draft portion of the tournament, but we eventually decided against doing so, as it would create an unfair advantage for players from major Magic centers, such as Tokyo and Osaka. Since there are more pro players and card shops in the major cities, it's easier to find places and people to practice Rochester Draft. Also, since the set only went on sale four days before Nationals, we felt there simply wasn't enough time to allow players to familiarize themselves with the set.

Play began at 10:00am on Saturday. We quickly got the players sitting where they were supposed to, and explained how the draft would be run. We adopted a "three strikes" system for penalties during the draft. If a player talked during the draft to anyone but a judge, or looked at his cards at an inappropriate time, that player would be given a warning. If the player repeated the offense, he would be given a second warning and assigned a duel loss. The third time, another warning and a match loss would be assigned. We didn't discuss what would happen if a fourth infraction should be committed, but I imagine we would have ejected that player for the day. The two categories of infractions were to be tracked separately, so that a player could have conceivably racked up 6 warnings and two match losses, although before it got to that point we probably would have taken stronger action and just kicked the player out.

I understand that to some, these penalties may seem particularly strict (while to others they may be lenient). One of our goals for the draft portion of the event-other than running a fair tournament, of course-was to imprint upon everyone's minds how to conduct oneself properly in a draft. Many of the participants had never been in a major premiere event such as this inside Japan, much less outside, and had not played at a high level of rules enforcement. We wanted to "get them up to speed", as it were, by making sure they understood proper procedure, because there is generally little room for error at a Pro Tour or Worlds. At the same time, we didn't want to be overly draconian. We tried to strike a balance between being overly harsh and too forgiving, and I think the system worked. We had very few warnings issued during the draft, and the players all handled themselves well. There were a few outbursts here and there, including at my table, where out of 8 Urza's Saga packs opened, we counted 4 Pestilences and 4 Befouls. Although the packs had been opened and marked the day before and so we knew they were "clean", the sheer amount of power black at my table was surprising even to me, so I was willing to be forgiving of the people who inadvertently blurted out "Another one!?" :-)

While the draft went fairly smoothly, we had many problems with the deck checklists. We had decided to use English product, because owing to printing differences Japanese Urza's Saga lands are markedly darker on both card sides than the English product, meaning lands would effectively be marked. (The DCIJ has a large stock of English lands, but, interestingly enough, not Japanese lands. Go figure.) This obviously necessitated the use of English decklists. Many of our players were unfamiliar with the English names of cards and made mistakes. However, given the level of rules enforcement, and the fact that whomever won the event would be required to fill out decklists in English for Worlds, we applied the same penalties for misrecorded decklists to these players as well. As someone once said, "Stupidity is not an excuse." In addition to people misrecording Pendrell Drakes as Peregrine Drakes and mixing up their Argothian fill-in-the-blanks, we had many people with 39-card decks, and several people were found to be playing with different decks than they had registered. There were a large number of double warnings and game/match losses handed out through the day. However, whenever we found a rules violation, we made certain the player understood exactly what he had done that was wrong, and that at high levels of play, an equally high level of caution, care, and conscientiousness is required of each player. Everyone was understanding and handled it well. One of the cultural quirks about Japan is that if a player makes a mistake that needs correcting-even if they are issued a warning or penalty for it-instead of protesting or trying to get a lighter penalty, they generally apologize (profusely) to the judge and their opponent for making the error. The Japanese tend to value the harmony of the group above everything, and they respect authority, so when a judge has to penalize a player, they accept it because they are ashamed they have disrupted the "harmony" of the event by committing a rules infraction. It takes some getting used to-where else do you give a player a double warning and a match loss, only to have him bow deeply and apologize, saying "I'm sorry to have offended you and caused you to have a painful feeling; I promise to better myself and never do it again!"? :-)

In comparison to the draft portion, the Standard portion of the event went smoothly, We ran a little late due to an overly long player's meeting in the morning; there were many questions regarding priority and other details of the Classic rules, and many players had questions about Show and Tell (which immediately told almost everyone in the room what they were playing :-). I also took the time to explain to the players that we wanted everyone to have a pleasant, fair playing experience. To that end, we would be watching player's conduct closely, and any player we felt was attempting to manipulate the game or floor rules to create an unfair situation for his opponent would be penalized as well. This was in response to feedback we had received from last year's Nationals, where many players felt that too many people were attempting to "trap" their opponents in rules traps. One example of this (which was reported anonymously in the Duelist Japan) was a player who tapped a Swamp, another land, and a Volrath's Stronghold, and moved to place a creature from his graveyard on top of his library. His opponent called a judge over, stating that since the player had not announced the activation of the Stronghold's ability, he was therefore tapping it with the other lands for mana during the Discard Phase. The judge supported that opinion and forced the player to take mana burn. The player was so shocked and flustered that he didn't think to protest the decision or call the Head Judge (me). Using this incident as an example, I impressed upon the players the need to communicate with each other clearly. Magic is a complicated game, and it is not always clear what a player may be doing, so it is necessary to talk to your opponent. "I'm in my Draw step..." "I'm going to use Volrath's Stronghold (tapping Swamp, land, and Stronghold) to get a creature..." "After blocking, but before putting damage on the stack..." I joked that since obviously there was no language barrier at this tournament, no one had any excuse for a misunderstanding about what was going on. I was pleased to see that everyone in the room agreed with the need for good communication, and as I was walking around that day, I heard/saw many players allowing their opponents time to think and everyone being polite and respectful.

There was some confusion in the first round as some players were not up to date on the most recent errata (in particular, Victimize). Part of this was because many of the players from outside Tokyo and Osaka were relatively inexperienced. However, it was nice to see a tournament that wasn't dominated by Tokyo players for a change. Many of the DCI Top Rankers in Japan are now from areas outside the capital, and it was a good mix of players. In fact, the Finals came down to two Osakans, the first time in Japanese Nationals that a Tokyoite has not won.

All in all, the tournament went smoothly. The players comported themselves well, and there were no arguments or disagreements on reality. The staff also worked hard, monitoring the floor as well as performing deck checks. Aside from timing explanations and looking up errata, there was very little we judges had to do. Many players commented that in spite of the pressure of the event, they felt relaxed and comfortable with the atmosphere, because everyone was being polite to one another and having fun. And isn't that what it's supposed to be all about?

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