I playtested for regionals with my friends for a good two months
beforehand. When all was said and done, we realized that replenish was
the best deck, and even inbreeding our decks to beat replenish didn't
help. Even if you played magpie blue to beat replenish, sure you could
win 2/3rds of the games-but you auto-lose to every beatdown deck. All of
my friends were agonizing over deck choices, but I believe I made the best
I decided to judge the midwest regionals rather than play in them.
This was the first truly large tournament I've helped judge, weighing in
at 345 players. Even though the venue was a barren, it was large and
spacious, even for 400 people. Three hundred forty five players equates
to nine rounds of swiss. Then as usual, 7 of the top 8 players will want
to go home and one of them will want to play for that trophy, so you have
3 more rounds after that. A twelve round tournament? Don't they normally
cover that in two days at Pro Tours?
I show up with the lovely Rebecca, my fiance, at 7:50 and help set up the
site. As decklists start pouring in, the two of us and one other judge
start proofing 345 decklists, checking that they have at least 60 cards
and sideboards are exactly 15 cards. Since we start at 9:30 and the
tournament finally started around 10:30, that's one hour for each of us to
do 115 decklists, or about 35 seconds a sheet. If the average decklist
has 18 different maindeck cards and 6 different sideboard cards, thats
17+5, or 22 additions. In other words, each of us must correctly add two
numbers together every second and a half for an hour straight.
Somehow we actually complete this task, even when every 5 minutes a player
asks, "I need to see my decklist again. Can you find it somewhere in that
6 inch stack of paper?" "Sure, I'd love to spend the next three minutes
deciphering 300 different handwriting styles trying to find your name!
Thank goodness you didn't check your deck list BEFORE you handed it in
like everyone else. You don't want to accidently overdose on common
ACT I: BENEFIT
Finally, we start the first of twelve grueling rounds. Rebecca isn't a
judge, so I'm walking around the tournament area on my own. I later find
our Rebecca spent the entire first round alphabetizing the entire set of
deck lists, bless her soul. Meanwhile, things are off to a roaring start
as someone flips over the top card of their deck after drawing their
initial hand. Man, that's not good! The judges haven't even announced
that players can begin play, and someone already has a warning! A brief
lecture to both players about accidently revealing cards sets things
straight, with the undertone of, "I'm glad you're not trying to rules
cheese each other-don't make that mistake in the future."
Actually, that was the tone I tried to purvey for the entire tournament.
Often players are already tense, and they start getting on each other's
nerves. If a judge can ease the tension, players are usually much kinder
to each other. This solves a lot of potential heartache before it becomes
Two turns into another match, one player had bargain in play, yet still
drew a card at the start of his turn. His opponent immediately motioned
me over and pointed out this fact. I have to decide between one of the
following rulings... Either he drew a card when he wasn't supposed to,
which would be a game loss, or he misrepresented the way Bargain works, by
not declaring the activation of Bargain and paying one life, which is a
warning. After hearing the situation, it seemed like the opponent (a
white weenie deck) was subvertly pushing for a game loss. This makes me
lean towards "Misrepresentation of Bargain", but I call the head judge
over (Ken Roth), just to make sure I get this one right. Ken agrees with
me, and we give the players a lecture on clearly declaring when they're
ACT II: STORMWATCH
Toward the end of round one, most people are clustered around the "feature
match": Adrian Sullivan vs. Andrew Nishioka. Nishioka's Replenish deck is
having trouble against Sullivan's mono-red artifact deck featuring such
gems as maindeck thran foundrey. Sullivan has maybe 20 permanents in
play. Nishioka has a couple of fading enchantments in play for stack
trick fun, but no opalescence for the kill.
My job as a judge is three-fold. First and foremost, I need to keep the
players playing fair, especially with inevitable stack complications,
although nothing came up (to my knowledge). Second, I need to answer any
ruling questions. And third, I must keep the crowd from accidently
interfering in the match. Luckily, nothing goes wrong. Nishioka somehow
manages to win the second game, resulting in a tied match with 2 minutes
left. Nishioka and Sullivan ask if they can declare a draw right then,
rather than forcing them to "sideboard and shuffle" for two minutes
Second round starts out with a few deck checks, and then it's off to the
pit. Pretty much all of the rulings are straightforward. The next three
rounds are a blur, but they pretty much involved giving warnings for
people doing stupid stuff like accidently picking up 2 cards during their
I do remember one replenish-on-replenish game getting stalemated though.
Both sides had enough waves and tides to create infinite loops while
trying to assert an advantage over the other side. So if one player
didn't do anything to the stack, the other player could just assert
priority and remove all their stuff from play. That meant each player had
to respond, and the turn would never finish!
I also set up a few side drafts. These things pretty much ran themselves,
thanks to the excellent side event staff. I had absolutely no problems
with pack collision ("Why does this pack have 27 cards in it?" or "Why is
this pack mono-white with 2 rares in it?") Here's the key to stopping
pack collision. At the beginning of the draft, after asking if everyone
knows how to draft, introduce these two rules:
#1: Do not pass your pack if the downstream person already has a pack
waiting for them.
#2: Keep your draft stack in one neat pile away from the packs themselves.
If the players follow these rules, they can generally draft at their own
pace, which makes the whole situation much easier and a lot more fun. I
even encourage friendly chatter among drafters as long as:
- You aren't disruptive to the other drafts
- You don't discuss anything that could affect a player's draft decision
Hey, it's level 1 rules enforcement, right? You're supposed to encourage
players to have fun. If that means complaining about your 13th pick draft
choices being Ley Line, Moment of Silence, and Mercadian Bazaar, go right
ACT III: THICK AS A BRICK
As the rounds progressed, a few players asked to appeal to the head judge,
as expected. It was interesting to note the similar charictaristics in
these situations. You too can pre-emptively predict when a player will
ask for an appeal.
- Is the ruling question extremely simple?
Example: "I know that Argothian Enchantress says, 'can't be the target
of spells or abilities', but I can I *TARGET* it with this enchant
creature *SPELL* just so the spell gets countered and I can draw a card?"
- Is the head judge nowhere to be seen?
Example: "Has anyone seen Ken Roth?" "I think he's sitting down
somewhere." "Great, I'll just look through all 500 chairs until I find
- Do they claim another one or more judges of higher rank said it worked?
Example: "I was talking with Dan Gray, and he said that if you cast a
Derranged Hermit while 'Engineered Plague-- Elves' is in play, you don't
get any tokens because the elf dies before his ability can go
on the stack."
Example: "At states, two judges both agreed with me that mother of runes
can give protection from artifacts. Additionally, mother of runes can
even target opponent's creatures, even though the card says otherwise.
The DCI issued errata to the card."
I seriously think that some of these people make up stories about what
other judges have said to support their claims. Thankfully, it's only the
completely outlandish rulings that get appealed. If someone asks, "What
happens if I try to Parallax Wave out my opponent's Diabolic Servitude in
response to the animate dead effect?", they'll just accept your answer and
be happy with it. What's up with that?
ACT IV: PASSION PLAY
When the sixth round rolled around, a more serious ruling issue came up.
I get called over by a player (playing replenish) who claims that his
opponent (playing draw-go) was swearing at him and acting unsportsmanlike.
Right away this looks fishy, because his opponent is extremely quiet.
Maybe he was swearing under his breath, but probably not outloud.
Additionally, I don't see any motivation for such an outburst. The
draw-go player is probably in control of the game, while the replenish
player would greatly benefeit from a game or match loss, winning a matchup
they'd normally lose. As I inquire about the situation, it turns out the
replenish player had cast replenish and left it on the stack. He asked if
the draw-go player wanted to counter it, and waited. After not hearing
anything for 10 seconds, he goes to his graveyard to put enchantments into
play, but the other player says he's thinking. There may or may not have
been swearing involved by both parties.
A quick look at both players hands explains the real situation. Both
players are playing mind games with each other, but the replenish player
(who is obviously smarter) is much better at them. The draw-go player is
retaliating with his own bad mind games by pretending to think about
countering replenish when he has no counters in hand.
My job is to defuse tensions in this situation. I back up the game to
where Replenish is on the stack. I tell the players that I'll overlook
their petty mind games (in not so many words) if they'll just play a fair
game of magic and stop trying to pull stupid stuff over on each other. I
don't feel comfortable handing out a double disqualification at my first
major tournament. So I let the players know that if they want a second
opinion, they can call the head judge. The Draw-Go player decides not to
counter the replenish and play continues.
Roughly two minutes later the replenish player calls me over. I think he
said, "He's touching me again, Mommy!" Or maybe that's just how it
sounded. I stayed for a while to watch over the match. I witness some
"strange" magic techniques, such as the replenish player trying to block
with Parallax Tide when Opalescence was clearly not in play. I also
witness the draw-go player "cut" his opponents deck for the better part of
fifteen seconds. Eventually the replenish player asks me to get the head
judge to deal with the situation.
I spend a few minutes locating Ken Roth and explain the situation to him,
both as portrayed by the players and as I see it. He comes over to the
table and lays down the smack. Ken says he shouldn't have to assign a
judge to watch an entire match, but he has to do it in this case. We hand
out warnings to them, I believe. Before Ken goes, I get permission to
disqualify either player if I see any more screwing around. This really
hits home to players, and for the remainder of the match, not one strange
ACT V: CREST OF A KNAVE
It's amazing how much better the players treated each other when they're
visibly frightened of getting disqualified. As I thought about this, it
was clear that both players really were playing mind games with each
other. If they hadn't been, their behavior wouldn't have changed as much.
After the match was over, I told both players that if the judges heard of
any other "strange" situations from them for the rest of the tournament
(ie. stupid mind games), they could still be disqualified.
In retrospect, I could have handled that situation better. I was worried
about handing out a double DQ at my first major tournament. I should have
started out with a warning to both players to show I mean business, then
followed up with the threat of disqualification based on Ken Roth's okay.
Perhaps firmer action would have stopped these problems earlier.
Unfortunately, game and/or match losses really weren't fair in this
situation. Both players were completely at fault. There's nothing left
after warnings but disqualification. I dare say the players deserved it,
however. Situations get messy when players want to cause problems.
EPILOGUE: LIFE'S A LONG SONG
After that round, Rebecca was tired and wanted to go home. We'd been
there for almost 12 hours already. I had to decide between being a good
fiance by spending time with Rebecca and being a good judge and spending
time with the players.
I'd rather be a good husband than a good judge.
After I left the tournament, I thought about the metagame from the judges'
perspective. The big three decks at the tournament were Replenish, Blue
variants, and White Weenie. This makes a lot of sense if you think about
the environment being based around Replenish. People play blue to beat
replenish, and people play white weenie because they don't have the
resources to build a replenish deck, but can at least play 12 enchantment
removal spells in the deck + sideboard.
More than anything, this environment reminds me of the High Tide
environment from extended last year. On the surface, it looks healthy.
But when you take a close look at the decks, you see people are terrified
of replenish. Players are maindecking rapid decay. People are playing
white so they have 12 enchantment removal cards (even though green has
better mass removal enchantment spells). Blue decks which automatically
lose to beatdown are still doing well. But most importantly, Soldevi
Machinist was the power card of the tournament.
Think about that that means for a minute... A 3 mana 1/1 blue creature
with an ability that doesn't kick in until next turn and requires you to
tap out is wrecking house on the environment. What does this mean?
Follow this train of logic:
A. Soldevi Machinist is good in the environment.
B. Creature removal is bad in the environment.
Yet, there is plenty of good targetted removal for 1/1 creatures.
Vendetta, Snuff Out, 8 Shocks, Masticore, Treachery, and even Lin Sivvi
are viable solutions to the machinist. But replenish can't deal with him
C. Good creature removal exists in the environment.
D. Creatures aren't worth playing in the environment.
E. Creatureless decks are warping the environment.
In other words, Replenish warps the metagame so much that creature removal
is bad and Soldevi Machinist is good enough to sideboard.
Now follow a similar train of logic for White Weenie with 12 disenchants
doing better green with mass enchantment removal
F. White removal did better than green removal.
G. Targeted Enchantment removal is worse than Mass Enchant Removal
H. Cheaper Enchantment removal is better than expensive removal
I. Instant speed removal is better than sorcery speed removal
But F and G imply:
J. The environments is so fast that sorcery speed expensive removal is bad
K. There are too many enchantments for minimal targetted removal.
L. You must play 12 instant speed enchantment removal spells.
M. Enchantment decks are warping the environment.
E and M imply:
N. Replenish is warping the environment.
(As opposed to blue creature light decks or enchantress decks warping the
What report is complete without props and slops?
- Rebecca for alphabetizing 345 deck lists
- Adrian Sullivan for playing maindeck foundry
- Jacob Janoska for playing Soldevi Machinist
- Ken Roth for his head judge insight
- Round Six players for your mind games
- Ken Roth for hiding whenever I needed to find him
- Everyone who appealed idiotic ruling questions: You _cannot_ respond to
daze by playing a land!