What a long, strange trip is wasn't. PT London was one of the smoothest
events with which I've been involved. I had mentally prepared myself for
a grueling weekend of long hours, administrative nightmares and
testy players. I got none of it (okay, I got the long hours). From setup
to tournament to teardown, everything hummed along quite nicely.
The journey was short enough. Lisa (we just celebrated our 10th
anniversary) and I hopped on the Eurostar in Bruxelles, and 5 hours later
we were dumping our bagging in the hotel. We headed for the pub to soak
up some of the local culture. Afterward, we gathered with the judges and
staff that had already arrived, and then went to bed at a decent hour.
Although we weren't on the setup schedule, we showed up Thursday to lend a
hand. Until you've actually seen what goes into putting together a major
show, you won't believe it. Personally, I wouldn't have believed at 0900
on Thursday that the room would be ready on 0900 Friday. I'm glad I
didn't lay a bet (hint: never bet against Jerry Rubin). It took about 14
hours, but the staff and volunteers rose to the task. We were fed often
and well during that time. What impressed me most the care and attention
to detail of the part of the PT Management Staff, led by Diana Johns.
There was a real "let's make it perfect for the players" attitude. This
seems to be a pervasive part of the WotC corporate culture.
Since there were a number of Level IIIs that needed to recertify over the
weekend, I agreed to do mine Thursday night. I passed. Even though it's
difficult work for me and my fellow Judges, I fully support Level III+
recertification. I would support it being done annually, but I know what
kind of administrative monster that would be. At about 2200 (right in the
middle of the pizza), Jeff ordered all the Judges to bed, an order I
dutifully obeyed (after stopping in the hotel bar for a pint of
Guiness-for purely medicinal purposes).
The first draft had its moments. There were a few technical problems with
the microphone and Jeff's watch seemed to slow down and speed up at odd
intervals. Eventually, we got the draft finished, players seated, decks
constructed and the first four rounds started. Head Judge Carl Crook
implemented the Senior Judge system, and it worked swimmingly. I was on a
team with Mischa Donders (WotC Belgium) assigned to deck checks,
miscellaneous tasks and floating. Sorting 300+ decklists isn't easy work
(especially with the handwriting of some of the players), but along with
my compatriots Keith Anderson (England), Federico F. (WotC Italy) and Rune
Horvik (Norway), knocked it out in no time.
There weren't any illegal decklist problems during our time doing checks.
This is most likely due to the fact that the players were as mentally
fresh as they would be all weekend.
The first four rounds were amazingly smooth, with very few questions. I
carry around a small notebook to record interesting, difficult or repeated
rules questions. There are no entries in my book for this stage of the
tournament. The only event of note was the clock. There is a difference
in the cycle of American and European electricity. The master clocks (a
great idea) are American; the electricity wasn't. Fifty clock minutes
were more like 58 real minutes. After we noticed the problem, it was
quickly rectified, but it gave us the rather odd problem
of what to do with matches granted additional time (due to long rulings,
deck checks, etc.). We gave additional time in real minutes (as opposed
to the virtual ones the clock was counting down) and then made sure a
judge was on hand for each match with extra time.
During a deck check, we found a deck with sleeves marked in an observable
pattern. The cards were all lands (but there were also 3 or 4 lands the
player had that weren't in marked sleeves). We determined that while the
marks were not made by the player, that the player is responsible for
making sure his sleeves aren't marked in any fashion. The prospect of
this being such a major advantage to the player that a match loss was
assigned, along with instructions to get new sleeves before the next
match. Hint: shuffle your deck before you sleeve it.
The 2nd draft wasn't much different from the first, save that Jeff's watch
seemed to be more accurate. For rounds 5-7, our team was assigned a range
of tables, and again, things went very smoothly. I had a few of the
questions that I anticipated would be asked:
I also reminded a few players playing Frantic Search that they didn't have
to target the lands they were going to untap; that's a choice made on
- Can a Plated Spider block a Treetop Ranger? (Yes it can)
- What does "successfully cast" mean under Classic Rules? (it means
- Does False Prophet remove itself from the game? (no, because it's in the
graveyard already when its ability triggers)
The most difficult calls to make in Judging tend to be when players fail
to agree on reality. I came on a situation where Player A had a 1/1
creature in play and was casting a Phyrexian Broodlings (1, Sacrifice a
creature: Put a +1/+1 counter on Phyrexian Broodlings). Player B had
Phyrexian Denouncer (T, Sacrifice Phyrexian Denouncer: Target creature
gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Player A held the Broodlings aloft
(signifying it was on the stack). Player B either made a noise or said
something sounding like "OK" (one of the disagreement points), at which
time Player A dropped the Broodlings on the table (in his mind, assuming
that it had resolved). When Player B wanted to sacrifice his Denouncer to
kill Player A's 1/1 creature was when the difficulty came. Since the
players weren't playing particularly strictly, and it wasn't clear that
Player B had passed (a grunt does not signify assent in this instance), I
ruled that Player B could respond to the casting of the Broodlings by
sacrificing his Denouncer to kill the 1/1 creature. I warned both players
to communicate more clearly.
The first day ended with most of the Level IIIs and IVs going out for
Italian food then meeting back up with the rest of the crew at the hotel.
The third and fourth drafts continued the pattern of the drafts getting
smoother as we went along. I was assigned to a team with Thomas Beisbolle
Jensen (Level IV, Denmark). There were once again few difficult rulings
- Can a Field Surgeon with Summoning Sickness tap itself to prevent damage?
(yes, it can)
- "How do I play Smokestack?" (with the implication "to my own best
advantage"). I informed the player that since there is more than one
trigger at the beginning of his upkeep, he may put them on the stack in
any order he wished. He asked "what will happen if...". Careful not to
give out any strategic assistance, I repeated myself, then added that once
both players pass, the stack resolves in last-in, first-out order. This
type of question is another difficult part of Judging. I generally answer
"what will happen if..." questions with a no more than a reiteration of
the relevant rules, turn sequence, etc. (at high Rules Enforcement Levels;
obviously, as lower RELs, it's our job to help the players better learn
A player asked me what would happen if he pumped a creature after damage
was put on the stack. I told him simply that effects would not change the
damage already on the stack.
The two most relevant rulings I made on Day 2 involved unsportsmanlike
The first came as I was walking by a table. I heard a player launch into
a string of vulgarities at his opponent (who was apparently winning the
3rd game of a match, but was delaying the outcome to the last possible
moment). I immediately warned him, at which point he conceded the match.
He expressed his frustration over his opponent's nettling him and
allegedly using abusive language as well-language that I did not hear. He
apologized for his "unprofessional behaviour" and told me he understood
that I was doing what was necessary.
The second came after a deck check in a later round. A player had one
more swamp in his deck (sleeved, while his sideboard was unsleeved) than
recorded on his decklist. I took him aside and informed him of the game
loss penalty, at which he was understandably frustrated. As we walked
back to the table, I reminded him to remove the extra card from his deck.
He did so-by throwing the card. I warned him for unsportsmanlike
conduct. He responded that he "deserved it". When we talked afterward,
he told me he was simply frustrated with himself for a stupid mistake. He
agreed that regardless of his frustration, he shouldn't have let it
manifest itself in such a way.
Day 2 ended with a shower and a trip to Chinatown with Bruno, Mischa and
Heidi (from the WotC Belgium office) and Richard Clyne (Level III,
England). I'll spare the details of getting back home, but leave with a
caveat: don't try to get a taxi in Trafalgar Square on Saturday at
I spent a relatively relaxing day doing Side Events. From what Lisa (who
coordinates the desk at major events here in Europe) told me, Sunday was
far less hectic than Saturday. There were enough (finally!) Judges to do
all the Side Events, so I told her let the lower-level Judges do as many
as they could (we were working on the "more events you do, the more stuff
you get" scheme). I did one Booster Draft for a mostly French-speaking
group and one Sealed Deck, chatted with players and artists and ran
errands for the Side Events folks. We were done by 1700, so it was back
to the hotel. We had an early bite, then sat in the bar with the staff
and reviewed the weekend. At 2200, we had a late dinner with the entire
crew. Monday morning, we were off for home.
From PTHJ Carl Crook to the guys that volunteered to work overnight on the
Side Events, the Judges did a superb job. I'm sure we're going to hear
from the players that this was an excellent event from a Judging
standpoint. I'm happy to say that the European Judges proved that they're
as good as any in the world. Big congrats to Jakub W. from Poland for
passing his Level IV exam.
People are the best part of the Magic experience. Since this was one of
the rare times the US team gets to Europe, there were some people I met
for the first time and a few with whom I renewed acquaintances.
I was extremely impressed with PT Manager Diana Johns and PT Assistant
Manager Laura Waniuk. These are the folks you never hear from or read
about, but trust me-without them, the PT wouldn't ever get off the ground.
One guy you do hear about all the time is Jeff Donais. Take it from me,
he's worth the press. Then there's the hardest working man in show
business, Jerry Rubin. Whomever invented the phrase "The Man" had Jerry
in mind. I met Dan Gray face-to-face for the first time, although I had
talked to him numerous times on IRC and via email. Although Dan and I
talked our share of Magic, the best part was to have someone with whom I
could talk BASEBALL. Although I seem them frequently, I can't forget to
mention the gang from WotC Belgium office. There are too many things to
say thanks for individually.
This event served as a model for how good things can be. I hope Chicago
is every bit as good. I'll see you all in the Windy City.
Sheldon K. Menery, Level III, Belgium