10 weeks ago I got a surprising phone call from Amigo, our local Magic
distributor. They asked me if I like judging in general - a question, that
made me a little bit suspicious :) I answered yes anyway and they invited
me to judge at the first German Team-Grand Prix in Frankfurt on April 8/9,
2000. Fast forward to friday, April 7 ...
Because Amigo had asked for some help in preparing the location we -
Matthias Nagy and Lutz Hoffmann, 2 fellow level 2 judges from Berlin and
yours truly - started our car ride at 5 in the morning in Berlin. After
getting some extra sleep (besides the driver of course) we did some rules
and penalty guidelines quiz because we all wanted to do a judge test and
develope our judge levels. We arrived in Offenbach, where the GP took
place, at 11 a.m. - just in time to go out with the guys from Amigo for
breakfast. A perfect start for a long weekend!
After that we headed back to the location of the GP - the city hall of
Offenbach. Preparation of the room had just started, the staff of the city
hall had already arranged over 600 tables in pairs and placed 6 chairs on
each pair. Nice view. During the afternoon there was a lot of work waiting
to be done: we hung up posters everywhere, arranged table clothes onto the
tables and set up the side event area, while the WotC guys set up the
computer network. Even very simple tasks like putting numbers onto the
tables become time consuming and seem to be never ending if you have to do
it for 300 tables! (Each 6-player-table got 3 numbers, so that each
individual pairing got an own number to assure player A of one team
playing player A of the other team and by that avoid unnecessary
mistakes). Finally we had to prepare some of the sealed deck packages for
day 1. Nearly half of the needed packages had been prepared in advance,
so we "only" had to do the remaining ones. This included ripping up more
booster packs then I usually do in one year on my own (I wonder if this
will cure my daily need to rip up a booster or will even make it worse;) ,
laying out all the cards on the tables, sorting out foils (that was the
nice part, because they were to be distributed amongst the judges later ;)
and replacing them with cards of the same rarity and color, stamping the
cards (!) and putting them back into numbered Ultra Pro plastic boxes to
store them for the next day. May be this sounds like no big deal, but
stamping something like 20k cards IS a hard job indeed. Especially if you
only have 2 stamps. Can you imagine the amount of 20.000 cards? This
equals to 1300 boosters or 37 displays. Meanwhile the better picture for
me is: This equals to a city hall filled with tables filled with cards,
not once, but twice or thrice. And YOU have to place a stamp one each of
them. Oh boy ... We needed the whole afternoon for that and even had to
continue after the judges meeting.
Judges meeting took place at 9 a.m. and saw a good number of judges from
all over europe. We had 2 level 4 judges - head judge Carl Crook from the
UK and Thomas Bisballe from Denmark - solely there for doing judge tests
the whole weekend. Furthermore we had 5 level 3 judges, 8 level 2 judges
and 7 level 1 judges.
Carl described the tournament structure to us, gave us all necessary
details about the sealed deck and the rochester draft parts and answered
all questions. The GP was to be run under REL 4 with the exception of the
penalty for illegal decklist not being disqualification but only match
loss instead because DQ would be quite hard for the whole team. After the
briefing we stamped some more thousand cards and finally went for
individual dinner after 11 p.m.
The next day started after a luxury breakfast in the hotel at 7.30 in the
city hall. Thomas Bisballe picked me up to test me immediatly. Originally
I had planned to work through my god book (Comprehensive Rules, Floor
Rules, Penalty Guidelines and all other Magic related stuff I could find)
the week before but I didn't find the time. I started the written part of
the test very optimistically but in the end there were some questions were
I wasn't 100% sure of the correct answer. After that I was dismissed to
help with the player registration, that started at 8 a.m. WotC Belgium
had set up 3 very well running networking computer were we did the
registration. To have a lot of preregistered teams helped a lot but
nevertheless we needed nearly two hours to register the whole crowd. When
the dust settled we had 194 registered teams (equals 582 players) - by far
the biggest tournaments in Germany and one of the biggest GP events ever -
The head judge then welcomed the players and described the tournament
structure to them. After that we distributed the sealed decks and at 11.30
a.m. the players started to construct their first three decks from two
Mercadian Masques starters and four Nemesis boosters each team. Teams
could add as much basic lands as they wished to their decks, talking and
working together was allowed. Despite some unstamped cards and decks with
the wrong number of cards (come on, 20000 cards!) there were no problems.
Those were solved very lenient by adding random cards or stamping those
cards. The players registered their decks and finally 1.30 a.m. started
The judges were distributed in teams with one senior judge and 3 judges
each. Each team had to work in a given area (by tablenumbers or deck
checking/floating). The atmosphere among the players was very friendly all
the day and most questions came up about certain card interactions and
were easy to solve. There were very few situations were the players
disagreed about something and a judge had to really solve a problem the
hard way. I believe game losses to be the hardest penalty that had to be
given out the whole weekend. Otherwise it was very weird to watch the
discrepancy between the strict interpretation of the rules under REL 4 and
the missing knowledge of a lot of the players of rules and certain card
Questions that came up during round 1:
- Q: What happens if I use the ability of my Laccolith Grunt and assign
lethal damage to its blocker?
- A: If the blocker is killed by the laccolith damage, it will never deal
its combat damage, so the Laccolith Grunt will survive.
- Q: Can I use Charm Peddlers ability (prevent damage from a source) even
after combat damage has been put on the stack?
- A: Sure. That's possible as long as the damage is not finally dealt.
A player forgot 8 (!) cards in his last round opponents deck and figured
it out after presenting his deck to his opponent. He got a game loss for
that. His last round opponent figured that out before presenting his deck
to his opponent. Therefore I only penalized him with a warning. The better
decision would have been to award him a game loss too, because they needed
some time to reconstruct the decks and so I had to give some extra time to
the match that started without a game loss. This could delay the whole
tournament, so it would be more appropriate to award a game loss here too,
to avoid that. Players are responsible for their decks at the beginning of
- Q: Can my opponent misdirect my Cho-Mannos Blessing? Its an enchantment,
its not a spell!
- A: Every card except lands is a spell card, so yes, he can.
- Q: So if I misdirect my opponents Cho-Mannos Blessing onto my own
creature, I choose the color that it protects from, right?
- A: No. Misdirection only changes the target of the Cho-Mannos Blessing,
not its controller. The caster of the Blessing chooses the color. So
possibly your creature will get protection from a color that will not help
you that much.
- Q: Is it true, that my Laccolith Whelp will deal no combat damage, if I
use its ability?
- A: Yes. Just read the card text please.
A player drew a card by accident from his opponents decks instead of from
her own one during her draw step, because the decks were placed next to
each other. This is a procedural error major and was penalized with a
warning. I let the opponent shuffle this card back into his deck.
A player played a land after resolving the destruction effect of Puffer
Extract, that happens at end of turn. I let him take back the land into
his hand and gave him a warning for misinterpretation of the turn
structure or the Puffer Extract.
Not much rulings during that round because Thomas Bisballe called me for
the oral part of the judge test. He told me that I scored 94% in the
written part, what seemed to be "some good". The oral part wasn't done by
Thomas itself, but instead by another (I believe level 3) judge whose name
I don't know. He did an interview with me, mostly about my communicational
skills and how I would try to solve certain situations, that can appear in
tournaments. Finally we spoke about my mistakes in the written part - I
figured out, that I answered all question, where I wasn't completely sure,
in the right way but had 4 mistakes at other points. The judge
congratulated me and told me that "we will recommend you for level 2".
Whatever that means ;)
Back to the tournament area.
A player announced, that he "would like to attack". His opponent then cast
an instant. After that resolved, the active player tried to cast Gerrards
Irregulars. His opponent insisted that he would be already in the
beginning of combat step and couldn't do that, because he already wanted
to declare his attackers. They called me over and I ruled the play as
legal. If somebody "would like to attack", he passes priority to his
opponent in his first main phase and signals that he is ready to enter the
attack phase. If the opponent casts something without any comment about
when he does that, they are still in the first main phase. I reminded them
to communicate more and more clearly, if they face such problems with the
Probably I would have ruled in the reverse way, when the active player
would have said "I would like to declare my attackers" (as a sign to be
ready to skip the beginning of combat step without actions). Such
miscommunications at the start of the combat phase seem to happen
regularly. I don't know if there is a general solution to that or
something that can be done to prevent that problem in general.
After the 4th round players had to leave the room and we distributed the
second sealed decks. When we let the players back into the room Carl told
the players not to touch the card boxes and not to turn them around to
avoid unfair advantages because there were two teams at each table. I
think he told it ten times to the players. After the seventh time and
several cautions given out by me I started to hand out three warnings to
players in my area that still toyed around with the card boxes. That
Construction of the second sealed decks started at 7.45 a.m., again there
were no significant problems. Can you imagine the noise of about 800
pieces of Ultra Pro card boxes hitting table surfaces nearly at the same
time? Sounds incredible, very hard to describe!
During the deck construction a player asked me if I could describe to his
team mate, "how this laccolith thingy works". sigh
- Q: How exactly does a coin flip work? If I flip the coin, who chooses
heads or tails? (A player wanted to flip the coin AND say heads/tails, his
opponent insisted, that HE has the right to choose if his opponent flips
- A: I had to check this with the head judge, because in our region we
rarely use coins but dice instead and say even/odd before the roll takes
place. Carl told me that indeed one player flips the coin and the other
has to say heads or tails, while the coin is in the air. May be there are
some very dexterous players indeeed ...
A player asked me to go aside with him and answer him questions about
cards in his hand without his opponent hearing us. I let him ask. He
wanted to know, what happens, if he casts Massacre and his opponent has a
Snake Pit in play. Will the token die by the massacre or will the token
appear after the destruction effect took place? He had some more question
about similar interactions. I let him go back to the table and told both
players that I can not answer fictive questions about cards in hand and
their interaction and I'm not allowed to coach a player. What I can say,
is, that all spells use the stack. The first part of casting a spell is
putting the spell on the stack. If by casting a spell an effect triggers
it goes on top of the stack. Once no one wants to add more effects to the
stack it starts to resolve from the top to the bottom. It happened
regularly during the first day, that players asked me special questions
about card interactions. I had to tell them that I can not coach them and
can only answer questions about the game rules itself and that they should
try to ask in a more general way. Most of the players seemed not too
experienced in that, so I suggested certain questions they could ask. All
their opponents seemed interested in the answers too, no one was
complaining, so I didn't had a problem with that.
Once again I had a player that forgot a card in his last round opponents
deck. This time both players got a warning and a game loss penalty. And
the Laccoliths too showed up again to cause a question.
- Q: Can I use this laccolith ability before I put damage on the stack?
- A: If you want to use the ability at all, you have to do it during the
"declare blockers step".
The day started with the 20 teams, that advanced to day 2, doing 3 more
swiss rounds, this time in the Team Rochester Draft format. Before each
round the 2 opposing teams drafted new decks and then played their matches
with that. For all three drafts I worked as a draft table judge and during
the rounds we judges walked around the floor and watched the matches. For
team rochester draft the players of both teams were seated facing each
other. The middle player of a randomly determined team starts the draft.
Carl managed the whole drafts over the loud speakers, the table judges
were each responsible for their table and could stop the whole draft, if
something went wrong. We didn't need to use this opportunity very often,
other then players looking at their drafted cards at times, when they
weren't allowed, players picking cards to early or players picking cards
when it wasn't their turn, there were very few incidents. Most of them
could be solved without stopping the whole draft by quick interaction with
It was very interesting to watch the teams drafting. Players were not
allowed to communicate verbally during the draft, but they could show
their cards to each other and could use gestures and hand signals. It was
very funny to watch the different techniques and ways to determine who
should draft what - and all that under the time pressure of 20 seconds at
the start of each booster and 5 seconds before each pick. Because of the
experience level of the players very few questions arose during the second
- Q: Does come into play effects trigger if creatures removed from the
game with Parallax Wave return into play?
- A: Sure, it doesn't work like phasing. (The asking player believed
- Q: A Belbes Percher is the target of a Maggot Therapy. In response its
controller gives it +0/+4 by using the ability of a Crenellated Wall on
it. (When) Will it die? Can I use the Crenellated Wall ability at the
beginning of the next upkeep to prevent it from dying at all?
- A: "Until end of turn" effects will end in the cleanup step. There is
nothing that can be done to save the Percher (without the help of other
cards), it will die.
After the 3 rounds of draft 2 German and 2 Czech teams had gathered at the
top of the field to advance into the semifinals. Once again they had to
draft decks and to battle in two German-Czech pairings. Our fresh level 3
judges (congratulations to Matthias, Lutz and Ingo!) had to finally prove
themselves leading the drafts and judging at the tables so that we others
got some rest or could help at the side events. In the finals "III Heroes"
from Germany met "Hammer of Brno" from the Czech Republic. After the match
went down 1:1, the last German players drew the final game and match by
playing a Rathi Fiend and reducing the life of both players to zero. After
some discussion of the judges each team had to nominate one player to play
an all-deciding final game. Gunnar Refsdal, one of the heroes, beat Martin
Laznovsky quickly down on the back of a proxy Stone Rain and by that led
his team to winning Grand Prix Frankfurt!
Near midnight after the ceremony we finally could pack our things, clean
up the stage and leave to get some sleep.
- Most often heard question throughout the tournament:
When will this round end? We had a big "The next round starts at"-sign,
but a round clock is a thing I would appreciate to have at each big future
- Most often heard rules question throughout the tournament:
Go figure yourself, read the whole report! Quick hint: It is related to
those little laccoliths!
- Most difficult situation throughout the tournament:
The following situation happened to me twice during the tournament in
similar ways. The active player attacks with two 1/1 creatures. His
opponents nullifies one of them - by making it 0/2 with Belbes Armor or
destroying it respectively. The active player asks "So you take one?"
(from the other unblocked 1/1). The defending player says "Yes" and picks
up his pen. At this moment he discoveres that he is at one life! He puts
his pen down, looks at the board and tries to prevent the damage (by using
Defender en-Vecs ability for example). His opponent is not willing to let
him, because "it's to late".
The defenders said in both situations that "yes, I take one" means, that
this one point of damage goes on the stack - because "we didn't have done
this step yet". The attacker said, that they used similar shortcuts during
combat all the time and they think that the defender told them that he
would be willing to take the damage on himself and it would be clearly to
late to back up to a point, where damage prevention effects can be used.
I was watching both situations happen standing at the tables and think
that this is a difficult situation. At one hand because "yes, I take one"
is in no way an official statement, on the other because the games were in
its final stage and nobody was willing to give up his meaning. In both
cases I ruled that answering this question with "yes" AND picking up the
pencil to write down the life clearly indicates the willingness of the
player to let the damage resolve. I don't think that this is the one and
only correct decision, I believe it would have been another acceptable
solution to back up the game to a point where the damage can be put on the
stack and to force the players to communicate more clearly - what would
have been a reverse ruling in favour of the defender. I think it's
clearly a difficult situation, but I'm not unhappy with my ruling. The
situation happened for the first time in the first round of the tournament
and as usual in bigger tournaments, where I work together with a senior
judge I checked my ruling with him. Firstly because it was some difficult
and otherwise because I like to get a feeling for the way in that other
judges in general and my senior judge, on that I have to rely in serious
situations, especially would have solved that situation. He verified my
ruling after listening to all the details and asking some questions - but
I think mostly because I already did the ruling and it was ok, and not
because it was the only correct one.
The second situation came up in the tenth and final round of the swiss
part on the second day between an American and a Czech player and could
easily have determined what team would advance into the semi finals. The
defender (the Czech player) was very nervous and told me several times
that he meant to put the damage on the stack and only picked up the pencil
to look at the paper and his life total. His two team mates that had
already finished their matches (one won, one lost - as usual with
difficult questions ;) told me that he is not that good in English and
that I should let him back up. They seemed not willing to accept my
ruling. Hindsight the best way to solve this would have been to tell them
that it's not possible to answer random questions with "yes" at a REL 4
event and then try to take this back; to tell them the facts, how I see it
and once again tell them my ruling and ask the players to advance with the
final game of the match. Instead I repeated my ruling and - my fault -
told them that they are free to appeal to the head judge, if they think my
ruling is false. Ok, they are free to do that indeed, but I thinks, that
it's not my task as a judge to tell them that. Surely they wanted to use
that possibility. I spoke to Carl and told him the details. He discussed
the situation with me and let the players tell him their arguments. He too
finally verified my ruling. I would really like to have some input from
other judges about that situation and would like to hear, what you would
have done. Feel free to contact me if you like and tell me your opinion.
All in all it was a very tough weekend with lots of work and not enough
sleep. But it was great fun too and an interesting experience to judge at
such a big event, learn some team game procedures, work together with some
good judges and see how they solve certain problems. You can count on me
for the next one ;)
Congratulations to Team "III Heroes" from Germany for winning the whole
Responses and comments always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Still official level 1 judge -