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Niels Stephan

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 - I believe.

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 mechanics.

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 each round.

- 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 turn structure.

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 helped quickly.

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 the coin.
- 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 the players.

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 day.

- 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 exactly that.)
- 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 tournament.

- 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 thing!

Responses and comments always welcome at nstephan@rz.uni-potsdam.de

Niels Stephan
- Still official level 1 judge -

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