The 1999 U.S. Nationals was the sixth event that I have traveled out of state for Wizards of the Coast as a volunteer judge. The event took place in Columbus, Ohio, over the July 4th weekend.
Day 1 was Rochester draft, followed by three rounds of Swiss within pods, followed by another draft, followed by another three rounds of Swiss within pods. Day 2 was Standard, including Sixth Edition and Urza's Destiny. Day 3 was a modified double-elimination top 8 finals. Four players would make the U.S. team.
The judge staff included Mike Donais (head judge), Jeff Donais (tournament manager), Gordon Culp (DCI database administrator), Beth Moursund (Magic rules manager), James Lee, Timothy Helms, Michael Fuell, Dominick Riesland, Eric Smith, John Carter, and a few others.
For the first time, the Rochester draft setup was done by the players, rather than the judges. This was necessary because the judge-to-player ratio was less than 1:8. It was a fun experiment, and while we had a few problems, in general this seems to be an adequate way to run the draft at Worlds.
Seven person pods had a judge for the eighth player because of the extra complications this adds to Rochester. Whenever Jeff said, "Player 8, draft," the judge would make sure that no one took a card. They also had to deal with the 15th undrafted card.
Since players were opening the booster rather than judges, they often accidentally shuffled their packs around. Because the plastic booster cases are indistinguishable except for a code printed on the top, they would open the wrong booster. To prevent them from getting any advantage from this, we replaced all boosters opened accidentally in this manner.
All of the boosters are stamped and put into cases by a single person, who evidently made a few mistakes this time. Several boosters were found to contain either 14 or 16 cards. They were immediately replaced. A few players did not use the 4-4-4-3 convention for laying out the booster, laying out three rows of 5 instead. This didn't cause any serious problems, but it was annoying.
Overall, the draft just got "looser." Without a judge at every table, it was hard to prevent players from drafting too slowly, using hand signals, talking, looking at their cards mid-pack, etc. Fortunately, the players didn't abuse this relaxed atmosphere, so we were able to run the draft with fewer judges without seriously compromising its integrity.
I was in charge of randomly selecting two tables for deck-check, and recruiting the four judges necessary each round to perform the check. Our biggest problem was that judges often didn't reach players by the time they drew their opening hands. Since our method of deck-check theoretically might involve a draft analysis, it wasn't possible to check the players without changing the order of their cards. Instead, we waited until they finished their first game and then performed a full deck check. This has the disadvantage of allowing players who pre-sideboard to avoid a first-game deck check by drawing their opening hands as soon as possible. On the other hand, we avoided messing up players who got a great opening hand first game.
The second draft ran as smoothly as the first. However, the seatings for deck registration were based on Swiss "pseudopairings" that roughly corresponded to standing, resulting in players from the same pods sitting very close to each other. This wasn't a major issue for a Rochester draft, because the players knew the color configurations of the other decks within their pod anyway, but it would be a problem in a booster draft event.
We were using Level IV rules enforcement, but for most of the first day there wasn't much to penalize. I recall giving out one match loss for a 39-card decklist, but that was about all. After the fifth round, I told a fellow judge that I was impressed with the quality of the deck registration.
I should have knocked on wood. In the last round of Day 1, every deck I touched seemed to have something wrong with it:
- A deck check on Player A showed his Used column did not match the deck he presented to his opponent. (Single warning, current round duel loss)
- Player A had also registered a 39-card deck. (Double warning, next round match loss)
- A deck check on his opponent, Player B, showed he had not listed any cards in the total column of his decklist. (Double warning, next round match loss)
- Two other players received single warnings and duel losses for failure to unsideboard.
- Two players who had very high standings, Player C and Player D, were paired against each other. Player C, after winning against Player D, accused Player D of adding cards to his deck from outside the draft. Player C asked for a deck check of Player D, and Player D retaliated by asking for a deck check of Player C. I deck checked Player D myself, laying out his cards and performing a full draft analysis (using the symbols stamped on the cards) to determine if he had traded with any other player. He hadn't, and his total column was perfect. Unfortunately, he hadn't written anything at all in his Used column. Oops! Player D got a double warning and next-round match loss, which would significantly damage his chances of making the finals. He brought in a lawyer to argue with Jeff Donais a bit, which frightens me a bit because the last thing the Pro Tour needs right now is a lawsuit against WotC. Jeff handled the matter very professionally, demonstrating that the DCI would not show leniency towards a player based on legal threats.
Situations from day two:
- Player D, the one with the lawyer, had been issued a next-match loss at the end of Day 1. The next day, he came in, and played his first match anyway, winning 2-0. Gordon noticed the discrepancy when he was about to enter the result into the computer. The match result was reversed; I'm not sure if Player D got some further penalty.
- Player E cast Enlightened Tutor during his opponent's turn, showing Oath of Druids and putting it on top of his library. On his turn, he activated the Oath of Lieges he had in play, but shuffled his deck in a manner so that he drew the Oath of Druids anyway during his draw phase. When his opponent complained that the shuffle was suspect, we had to give Player E a double warning and match loss. Normally cheating carries a penalty of triple warning and disqualification, but because there was some chance that he was just "lucky," this lesser penalty was chosen.
- Player F had a reputation for slow play and his opponent called over a judge, Timothy Helms (name used with permission), to watch their match. After the first game, Timothy noticed that Player F had exceeded the 3-minute sideboarding time limit. Timothy immediately stopped the players and discussed the matter with head judge Mike Donais. Mike went with the penalty guideline recommendation of a warning and duel loss, but further appeal to Tournament Manager Jeff Donais had the penalty reduced to just a warning. It's very rare that a decision would be altered at so high a level, but I believe the second ruling was fairer. The three-minute guideline is very short and as judges our job should be to get matches going as soon as possible, not penalize players who are a few seconds too slow.
- Although each round was supposed to be 50 minutes long, 50 minutes soon stretched out into 70 or 80 minutes as the final five extra turns were played out. At this particular event the biggest problem was Living Death decks. Careful players would spend 10 minutes or more carefully stacking scores of triggered effects, trying to achieve the optimal order. They weren't stalling, but because they had no time limit, they were wasting the time of hundreds of others who had already completed their matches. Hopefully, the DCI will soon adopt a policy regarding this sort of behavior.
At the end of Saturday I was recertified by Dan Gray. I am very pleased with how the interview was conducted. I had expected that the DCI would try to seek out my inadequacies and condemn them; instead, it seemed more like a check-up session to make sure all my questions about being a Level III were answered. A foil-finished incentive made the experience definitely worthwhile.
In the quarterfinals I was judge over Charles Kornblith and Zvi Mowshowitz. Zvi tried to place Jack Stanton's plastic "lucky cows" on the table, but Charles was terrified and requested that they be removed. A wise choice. The cows rarely ever lose, and if they had a DCI ranking, it would be something like 2150.
In the semifinals I had to leave to attend a Level III certification interview for Eric Smith. In the finals I was judge over Zvi Mowshowitz and Stephen McArthur.
As far as judge compensation goes, Nationals '99 was a far cry from last year, when all we got was "dinner with Andrew Finch." This year, judges were given cash for food, unique foils for their time, and a big slice of Jeff Donais' birthday cake. (I don't think it was actually his birthday, but who cares?) Helping out with an event of this caliber is a great experience and I recommend the experience to any Level II or III who can afford the trip.
Many thanks to my fellow judges, who helped make the event a success, to the players, who were sportsmanlike, and especially to Jeff, who never ceased to amuse me with his "Dr. Evil" impression.