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JSS-Syracuse, NY

or Is JSS the New Golden Child of Magic?

Jamie LaFountain

Apr 21, 2000 Syracuse, NY

Okay, is my report title an instance of me sucking up to WotC? Not a chance. As an experienced and active Magic judge I've come to believe that the JSS is fast becoming the jewel of sanctioned Magic tournaments. Here is a rundown of our event here in Syracuse, New York.

First I must give enthusiastic props to Altered States Game & Hobby in Syracuse for not only the way this event was run but for their promotion of gaming as a whole. No, I'm not an employee of the store I just honestly believe they are doing it right. There was a terrible vacuum in Syracuse for years when it came to a place to go hang out and play. Now there's not. 'Nuff said on that.

I'm a level 2 DCI judge and I acted as the event's Head Judge. I was privileged to have John Grant, a level 2 judge from Binghamton who is working on the final steps of his level 3 process come up to help with the event. I've learned a great deal from John about being level-headed during events and about the difference between judging for adults and judging for kids. Brian Horton, a store employee and the Event Coordinator also acted on the judging staff.

Altered States seemed to do everything right leading up to this event. Not only was it aggressively advertised both in Syracuse and in some surrounding areas, but Magic itself has been well promoted. The store offers regular Magic clinics and free one-on-one instruction by appointment. Late last year I helped with an event called PokeMagic. The store employees spent a great deal of time building simple but clever Magic decks out of the store's stock of commons and uncommons then they invited all interested Pokemon players (and the store has a LOT of Pokemon players) to come in for a free day of Magic teaching and a friendly mini-tournament. At the end of the event, players got to keep the Magic deck they were issued and the store gave out additional prizes.

As my last "prop" I'd like to say that Altered States is also very generous compensating judges and assistants for helping with events with product prizes and store discounts. That's important to volunteers and the store recognizes this.

This was the first JSS Challenge we've had at the store (the first in Syracuse, too, I believe) so we were unsure what kind of turnout we'd have. In fact we had an excellent showing. 39 players started the tournament and only 6 dropped during the course of the day. So we went in with 39 players and still had an active pool of 33 excellent players when we cut to top 8. After six Swiss rounds, the worst record that made it top 8 was 4-1-1 and the best was 5-0-1.

We had an interesting mix of experienced and inexperienced players. Some of the kids I knew from judging PTQs and Grand Prixs, others I knew from having taught them Magic only weeks prior and still others I never met before. A significant number of the participants were not from Syracuse and traveled a fair distance to play.

The deck mix was most curious. I obviously won't take the space to list 39 deck lists. I saw all the obvious "net decks" that you'd expect. White Weenie. Bargain. Opalescence. Grim Blue. Hermit. Speed Red. Mono-Black. There were several unusual decks that performed well too including a white life gaining deck which ended one game with just over 1,000 life points but only managed to go 2-3-1 in the tournament.

One lesson I learned from this event that I'd like to pass on to other judges and coordinators is to aggressively spread information about the Standard format. We had three players, all of whom were driven by their parents a pretty fair distance to come to the event, who had illegal decks because they didn't understand what Standard is. In order to prevent them from driving a long distance back home not having played in the event, Altered States was gracious enough to give each of those players a free pre-constructed deck to keep and use in the tournament. The precons obviously didn't fair very well but it prevented bad feelings from being generated and allowed the kids to play in the event.

Organizers, if you prepare fliers for the event please list the Standard legal sets as well as the banned cards at the bottom of the flier. It won't take up very much space and it will go a long way toward preventing a kid from showing up to the tournament with a completely illegal deck and leaving never wanting to play tournament Magic again.

I've judged for a wide range of player types, including adult Pro-Tour players. Never have I seen the level of positive interaction and sportsmanship like I saw at this JSS Challenge. I took the time to explain to the kids that this event was REL 1 and that there would be minimal penalties issued with the focus instead being on correcting and teaching. One of my concerns was that some of the more tournament savvy kids might try to use loopholes (affectionately known as "rules cheese") to take advantage of the inexperienced players. The pep talk seemed to work and in fact we saw just the opposite, with the veterans taking the time to tell their opponent when they made a mistake and allowing them to "take it back."

With regards to problems and penalties, they were few and minor. John issued the tournament's only game loss for a player who purposefully looked at one of his opponent's cards while shuffling his deck. I handled several minor rules problems based on inexperience and they were solved with minimal trouble. I did have to remove one player from the play area for the remainder of a match. He had finished his match and went to watch one of his friends play and was coaching him during the game. After the match I pulled him aside and explained why his actions were unacceptable. He understood and was a model spectator for the remainder of the tournament.

The Top 8 players who were cut to the finals were (in order as of their standings after Round 6):

Hank Mead,
Adam Parente,
David Sobiegraj,
Cory Nelson
Chris Dinu,
Kent Sutherland,
Andy Culpepper,
Nick Stanley

The final 2 was an interesting matchup between Andy Culpepper and Hank Mead. Both are from the Utica area and they playtest together regularly. Andy played Opalescence and Hank played Grim Blue. Before the match started both players told me they playtested their decks against each other 28 games during the previous week and they were 14-14.

Andy was already a JSS Challenge 1st place winner from the Binghamton, New York JSS. With both friends being in the top 2 they were both already guaranteed an invitation to Orlando. It was probably the friendliest, least stressful top 2 I've ever witnessed. It may also have been the least eventful as well. Both the Grim Blue and Opalescence are decks which tend to establish their control early on and quickly win or lose based on that. I think the three games in the top 2 took a total of about 30 minutes with Hank Mead taking first place in the event.

With $1,000 scholarships and invitations to Orlando under their belt (Andy's from his Binghamton victory and Hank's from his Syracuse victory) hopefully both friends will end up in Orlando for the championship and go on to college with their Magic money.

Before I end this article, I'd like to take a chance to thank all the local Syracuse "regulars" for graciously welcoming the out-of-town players and making the event nothing short of top notch. This is my second JSS Challenge (the first I also judged with John Grant at Grand Prix Philadelphia) and what I wouldn't give for all Magic tournaments to go as smoothly and professionally as the JSSs have.

Thanks very much for reading this report.

Jamie LaFountain
DCI Level 2 Judge

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