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Pro Tour-London

Sheldon Menery

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).

Day 1

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:

  • Can a Plated Spider block a Treetop Ranger? (Yes it can)
  • What does "successfully cast" mean under Classic Rules? (it means "played")
  • Does False Prophet remove itself from the game? (no, because it's in the graveyard already when its ability triggers)
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 resolution.

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.

Day 2

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 questions.

  • 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 the game).

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 conduct.

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 midnight.

Day 3

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.

Judge Notes

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

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.

Conclusion

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



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