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US Regionals-Midwest

Ted Vessenes

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 choice.

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 sense!"

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 a problem.

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 activating stuff.

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 straight.

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 draw phase.

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 ahead.

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 him."

- 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 thing happens.

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 at all.

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 environment.)

What report is complete without props and slops?

Props:
- 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

Slops:
- 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!



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