or Is JSS the New Golden Child of Magic?
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
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
The Top 8 players who were cut to the finals were (in order as of their
standings after Round 6):
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.
DCI Level 2 Judge