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English Nationals

Paul Barclay

Introduction

The 2000 English National Championships was my first premier event as Head Judge. Previously, all major European National Championships have been run by Wizards of the Coast staff. So, obviously, I was more than a little nervous when I was asked to do this.

In the end, the event went amazingly well, compared to previous years. We had very few problems, and the tournament finished ahead of schedule. The reason for this was a lot of hard work from all involved, and the ability of the judging staff to cope with me and the work. The pace of work done started off at a high level and remained at that level right through to the end of the event.

Many thanks to all the judging staff:

  • Keith Anderson (L3 - Senior Judge)
  • Chris Bagnall (L3)
  • Steve Griffin (L2)
  • Neil Harding (L3)
  • Graham Ribchester (L2)
  • Colin Smith (L3)
  • Chris Stanton (L2)
  • Diana Thirring (L1)
  • Darryl Tweedale (L3 - Senior Judge)
  • Clair Williams (L2)

Also, thanks to the side event and administration staff:

  • Eoin Brosnan
  • Richard Clyne
  • Carl Crook
  • Graham Ford
  • Jason Howlett
  • Mel Silver
  • Andy Smith
  • James Waller
  • Sam Waller
  • Maggie Williams

Organisation

The shape of the playing area and the size of the judging staff meant that the best system was two teams of 4 judges, plus a scorekeeper. The post of scorekeeper was offered to several judges during the judge meeting. Neil Harding accepted it, and I told him that he would be replaced at the end of the day with another judge (later determined to be Chris Bagnall). The scorekeeper was responsible for all the paperwork, especially during the first and last ten minutes of the round, and was encouraged to do a little judging in between. Both scorekeepers did very well, and their DCI Reporter knowledge has improved greatly.

Each judging team remained fixed for the first day, and then the teams were reorganised on the second day, to allow people chances to work with different judges. The judge staff for the entire event had been planned and scheduled by Carl Crook and myself the night beforehand, so we didn't have any reason to move judging staff around the event.

My style of head judging is to spend as little time behind the judge station as possible - I'm there to help the judges, not to wait for them to call me over. The benefits of this are that it's very easy to persuade both players and judges to get things done quickly, and a large increase in the motivation and general happiness of the judge staff. This section was originally going to be a little longer, but it became too big for a judge report, and will be hitting the judge website as a full-blown article very soon.

The Drafts

The largest potential problem for Sunday was that we did not have stamped cards, and definitely did not have the staff available to stamp the cards. This left the tournament wide open to cheating, and several players expressed concerns over this. To solve this potential problem, I required players to move seats to construct decks as normal, then hand their deck to the person opposite for them to log the deck. With some care taken to ensure that teammates don't sit across from each other and people don't try to build the deck while logging it, it's a realistic solution to drafting with unstamped cards.

Five cards into the second Masques booster in the second draft, a player shouts "Hang on, this isn't Masques". The table judge calls me over, and I have to decide what to do. Normally, with stamped cards, this is easy - you can cleanly remove all eight newly drafted packs and replace them with a new set. Without stamped cards and with two boosters from the same set, it's a lot more difficult, as someone who opened a really good card in pack 2 could manage to keep it. So, instead, I removed all the Nemesis cards, and had a new Masques booster passed through the players who had taken the Nemesis cards, restoring the draft to the correct point. The players at the table were all very helpful, and we caught up to the main draft by the end of that pack.

My one huge mistake for the tournament happened at the end of the second draft. We lost 150 blank decklists due to a breakdown in communication - I told a judge that they were in my laptop bag (which was true), but there were two laptop bags behind the judge desk, a fact that neither of us had remembered. As a result, we were 70 decklists short for the second draft.

This time, the new and innovative solution was to stagger deck construction, while new lists were printed. The bottleneck in the first draft was the land and proxy station (we required the foils that were drafted to be proxied so they would not stand out during play). So, if we staggered the flow of people up to the land station, we wouldn't actually lose much time. The 70 people who had decklist forms started deck logging and construction at the normal start time, then other groups of tables started as decklists were given to them. This actually made life easier for the judges, especially those at the land stations. The net result of this entire problem was a ten-minute delay, and most of this time was the time spent organising things.

All in all, it was a successful mistake - I learned two things: (1) If you do something (like put decklist forms somewhere safe), then you should be prepared to remember what you did. My short-term memory is terrible, so I shouldn't do things like that without a memory aid. (2) There is more than one way of running a large draft tournament - Magic tournaments work just like real life, and the problems that occur can be corrected if you step back from them and think for a few minutes.

Deck Checks

The most important thing to check for while doing a deck check is deck stacking, especially in a draft tournament. It's so important that I asked a couple of my judges to perform "random stacking checks" over the course of the weekend. A quick check of players' decks can reveal the common methods of stacking, especially in constructed. This can be tied into watching people shuffle - if I'm not happy with the way someone's shuffling, I'll step in and check both players' decks, and then either explain to the player how to shuffle better, or give a penalty.

Misdirection

The card Misdirection causes more problems than most other cards, as every player thinks they know how it works. Almost all of them are wrong. The new target for the spell is only chosen when Misdirection resolves, and you must choose a new target for it. So, you can play it on something that it isn't actually possible to change the target of (a Duress, for example).

The first Misdirection problem was when a player Misdirects a Parch from his Thieving Magpie to his opponent's Goblin Cadets. This is, of course, illegal - Parch is modal, and was dealing 4 damage to target blue creature. A spectator calls me over, but the players have taken another turn since then. It was a very critical move in the game - almost certainly determining who won and who lost the game. As I'm trying to decide what to do, the players suggest that they back up the game. While this would have been difficult for me to suggest (I was deciding between nothing, backing up and a game loss), I'm happy to go along with their suggestion.

The second problem was the classic "I'll Misdirect your Counterspell onto itself". The player's opponent stated that this couldn't happen, and the players called a judge. When the judge arrived, he answered the question by saying "That's correct - you can't Misdirect it to the Counterspell, but you can Misdirect it to the Misdirection". This is not the best way to handle the situation, as it's telling the player how to play the situation. However, in this particular situation, very little damage was done, as the only possible outcome of the situation is that the Counterspell ends up targeting the Misdirection. The Misdirection was legally played and when it resolves, a legal choice must be made. The only possible legal choice is the Misdirection itself.

Top-decked Replenish

A player draws his opening hand, looks at it for a second, then calls me over. He's drawn a Replenish. Since he's playing Accelerated Blue, so this is something of a problem. The card is from a playtest game he played during the break between rounds, not from a previous opponent. I gave a game loss, but thinking back on it, I'm not completely sure that it was the correct penalty. However, it is the closest penalty described in the rules and is what would have been given had the match been deck-checked.

Marked sleeves

I had to deal with two different players who had incredibly marked sleeves, both during normal deckchecks. Neither player's sleeves had a clear pattern, but it was possible to memorise some cards in each deck from the backs. In both cases, we gave the warning of marked cards - pattern, and downgraded the penalty to a game loss.

I'm still surprised to see the low quality of sleeves that some players use, and one of the players even said that he'd used the same sleeves for over 4 years without a problem, and couldn't understand why they were a problem now. I explained that this was why they were a problem.

Mind-numbing Statistics

29th and 30th May 2000
Guildford, Surrey, England
139 players
6 Rounds draft, 6 Rounds Standard, Standard Top 8
Closed National Championship - Rules Enforcement Level 4

Warnings:
12 Procedural Error - Minor
11 Procedural Error - Major
5 Tardiness
5 Misrepresentation
3 Other
3 Illegal Main Decklist
3 Illegal Main Deck (Legal Deck List)
2 Marked Cards - Observable Pattern
2 Drawing Extra Cards
1 Unsporting Conduct - Major
1 Looking at Extra Cards
1 Failure to De-Sideboard

Unsporting Counterspells

While deck-checking a player in the very first round of the Standard portion of the tournament, the deck-check team found that a couple of cards had very unsporting writing on them, to the extent that it couldn't be repeated here. They would almost certainly cause offence to players. Dealing with this situation can be difficult, as it's very easy to be too lenient or too harsh. The penalties suggested by our judging team ranged from a Warning to a Match Loss.

I applied my usual philosophy for any sort of markings on cards: "What is the most serious problem that could come up in a tournament?" In this case, the words would have been deeply offensive to several players, so the writing itself warranted a Match Loss. The cards had actually been borrowed from another player, and the person playing with them was very young - we explained to both people why it wasn't a good idea to play cards like these in a tournament, much less lend them to a 14-year-old.

Incorrect Scores

The rule for results slips is that once the slip is signed and handed in, it is final and can't be changed. Well, there are exceptions to every rule. In this case, a match had been written down incorrectly by the player who actually won the match, and then was signed by both players. The situation was noticed a little while later, and the player who actually lost the match asked for the score to be corrected. The true match result was confirmed by a judge and several bystanders, so common sense prevailed over a strict reading of the rules, and the result was changed.

The ID situation

After an incredibly smooth tournament, it's natural that the single difficult situation happens during the very last round. It is yet another example of why results slips are absolutely vital and must be used without fail.

In the final round, there are eleven players in contention for the Top 8. Six of them have enough points that they can intentionally draw to make the finals. Of the other five, four are paired against each other - they must play and win. The fifth is paired down against a player who is out of contention. Assuming that player wins, that leaves nine players fighting for eight slots in the top 8.

The top 2 tables are mathematically guaranteed placing in the top 8 if they ID. Of the third table, one player (Player A) is almost certain, and the other (Player B) cannot make it with an ID unless the paired-down player loses. The top 2 tables agree to ID and go and tell the scorekeeper. I'm busy watching the three matches where people are playing for Top 8, but I notice that table 3 is also empty, which surprises me, as they're not guaranteed with an ID. About 5 minutes into the round, I'm called over to the administration table by a judge.

The two players from Table 3 are standing at the administration table with the scorekeeper and another judge. They explain that they talked about an ID at the table, Player A went up and reported it, then Player B thought a bit more, and realised that he wasn't guaranteed Top 8 if they IDed. So, he didn't want to ID. The results slips for the top 3 tables were all blank - they hadn't even been handed out by the time that the IDs had been agreed.

Talking to both players, Player B agreed that there had been a handshake on an ID, but he argued that Player A had been very certain that they would both make Top 8 with the ID. After explaining to both players that it's their own responsibility to do the mathematics for intentional draws, I had to make a ruling. I explained that the ruling would be that the ID must stand, as there had been a definite agreement on it, unless both players wanted to break that agreement. This was designed to put a little pressure on Player A to "do the right thing", if it was true that he had coerced Player B into taking the ID.

I spoke to Player A in private, he said that he really didn't want to make any decision on this issue, and would stand by whatever the judges decided that the ruling was. I felt that this viewpoint was reasonable - I was fishing for something that may or may not have been there, and made the final decision that the ID had to stand.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure that all players sit down at the start of the round even if they want to ID, and that if the results slips aren't available, the ID decisions should be taken by a judge from both players at the same time.

And Finally,

Thanks to all the staff and players for making it an amazing tournament. Out of the entire weekend, the two things that really stood out were the round of applause when Carl announced that I was to be the Head Judge and all the positive comments about the tournament in people's tournament reports. Normally we only hear about the bad things that happen - it's nice for things to be different.

Appreciation for the judges is too rare, and I want to take this opportunity to pass this appreciation on to the rest of the judging crew. There's no way I could have run the event without the support of all the judges, all the side event staff, the night crew, the administration staff (Mel and Jason) and Carl Crook.

Paul.



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