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Proactive Judging @ QT LA

Chris D'Andrea

Proactive Judging / PTQ report.

This is basically a report on the PTQ for Los Angeles (Invasion Sealed with Rochester finals) held in The Games Store on October 28, 2000 in Garden City, Michigan. The event was run by Professional Events Services (PES). Mike Guptil was head judge with Shawn Jeffries, Sean Mangin, and myself as the rest of the judging staff. With such an experienced staff, it seemed unlikely that there would be any problems. There were 95 players in attendence and therefore seven rounds of swiss.

The day began by seating all players and distributing to them a brown bag containing a starter deck, two booster packs, and a deck registration sheet. Once a player completed registration they would put everything back in the bag and turn it in to the staff. We determined who would get their decks back and then randomly redistributed the rest of the decks. The brown bag was there so that when we redistributed the decks, players couldn't intentionally take a deck that their friend registered and that they knew was good. Once the decks were redistributed there was the deck construction period and then the tournament began.

There weren't very many interesting rulings. A lot of players had questions about tapped creatures dealing combat damage. Although Classic rules have been in effect for more than a year, a lot of players are unaware of the rules change that lets tapped creatures deal combat damage. The amount of creatures in Invasion that tap other creatures brought this rule to the forefront and was the source of many questions. The amount of these tapping creatures also brought forward the common problem of miscommunication. This is a typical scenario...

Active Player (AP) : I'll attack with these three creatures.
Non Active Player (NAP) : I'll tap the big guy.
AP: Well that puts me back in my main phase, so I'll cast this other creature....
NAP: No it doesn't...JUDGE!

This would be the point where I would come over and explain that 1) a player doesn't "declare their attack phase" they pass priority during their first main phase. If both players pass priority then the game automatically goes into the combat phase. 2) The first step of the combat phase is the Beginning of Combat Step, during which it is legal to play spells and abilities, the second step is the Declare Attackers Step where the active player declares who is attacking and then there is a chance for both players to play spells and abilities. 3) When a player says "I attack with....", they are using a shortcut where they are tacitly saying, "I yield priority in my main phase and beginning of combat step, and declare these creatures as attackers." So what does this mean for the players? In this situation the active player is playing too fast and needs to back up as far as the non-active player needs to in order to play whatever spell or ability they would like. This is also a good time to give a short blurb about Clear Communication With Your Opponent. Of course, this is just one scenario of confusion that could take place centered around the combat phase, but if you know how the combat phase works you should have no trouble making the appropriate ruling.

The tournament went smoothly as expected, and the finalists played out the finals for the slot. There was one other serious incident that should be discussed. During the second round of the tournament it came to the judging staff's attention that there was a deck that was really good. One would say suspiciously good. Of course, we needed to see if this deck was brought from home or not. So the first thing that was done was that the decklist was examined to see what exactly was in the deck. The deck contained MULTIPLE cases of multiple cards. Not bad cards either, legitimately useful cards. The decklist showed the deck to be obviously broken. This person also had two other strikes against them. The first was history. At a limited qualifier about a month prior, the player had a suspiciously good deck with some duplicate rebels. The second strike was that, during the deck registration period, the player claimed that they didn't receive a decklist so the staff supplied him with one. Now, it might be that the player didn't get a decklist...or it might be that they now had two lists in their possession. The person who registered the deck was called over and asked if he remembered anything special about the deck he registered, i.e. Did it have any particularly memorable cards? What was your impression of the deck? The player didn't remember anything special about the deck and when he was later shown the decklist he said that that was NOT the deck he registered and furthermore it was not his signature (or even DCI number) on the decklist.
Hmmmm. Further inspection of the decklist showed that the handwriting in the Total and Used columns were identical. At this point Mike took the player aside, explained the situation to him and asked if he had anything that he would like to say. The player merely defended his position saying that this was the deck list he got and that he's heard of lots of problems with card duplication in Invasion limited events. The decklist also showed something like 80 cards registered (a tournament pack plus two boosters should add up to 105 cards). All the cards that were in the "sideboard" weren't just leftover cards, they were legitimate sideboard cards (more multiples). It seems unlikely that this incredibly superior deck would be in the field with no one reporting it to the staff. It was the consensus of the entire judging staff that all the evidence pointed towards cheating, Mike agreed and the player was issued a disqualification without prize. The actual contents of the deck itself were recorded (they differed slightly from the registered contents), and all the information was collected for further investigation by the DCI.

Now at this point the question may occur to you, How did we find out about this deck? Was his opponent complaining? Did one of the player's friend's snitch? No. What happened was that Mike Guptil was called over to the match for a routine question and then stuck around to watch the match. In doing so he noticed the amazing deck and went to look at the decklist. This is an example of Proactive Judging. That is, not waiting for a problem to come to you, but taking care of any situations before they become a problem.

Have you ever been to a large tournament and thought, "Wow, this tournament sure is going smoothly'? It could be that that tournament just HAPPENED to have no problems, but more likely it was that the head judge / staff were prepared and were able to stop problems before they arose. One key to proactive judging is preparation. This isn't just bringing enough pens to the tournament but knowing the right information. What cards/interactions will be a problem in this environment? How are you going to explain them to players? What are some likely rules infractions that you can expect? How will you deal with them at this REL? What types of players will you expect to see today? Knowing the answers to these questions can save you a lot of time and problems during the event. Instead of having to answer these questions for yourself on the spur of them moment you will already have the answers at your fingertips and can spend more time addressing the concerns of the players. Having a clear, coherent explanation for a complicated interaction already prepared can prevent a lot of fumbling while you try to explain an esoteric rule and further confuse the player. Also, if you know ahead of time how you are going to deal with common rules infractions, it makes you appear much more collected and professional.

The second point in proactive judging is communication. It may be good that you know what you are doing, but if no one else knows, then what's the point. If you have a staff of lower level judges, go over any rulings or policies before the event. If one judge rules one way and a different judge another, it hurts the appearance of the entire staff and makes players lose confidence in your abilities ("Who are these guys, they can't even agree on simple rulings?') Remember you're not just ruling on this one game, you're ruling on every other game in which the player will be in a similar situation, including other games at your tournaments. Deal with their problem correctly this time and maybe next time it won't be a problem. Of course if there's something that a lot of players are going to have questions about, there's no problem with addressing it in the pre-tournament announcements. If, as the tournament progresses, you get a lot of similar questions, maybe even make a quick announcement before starting the next round. Again, you'd be dealing with a problem before it occurs.

The third key to proactive judging is involvement. Pay attention to the tournament around you. What are people playing, not just "A lot of players are playing red' but more specific "Joe has a brawl in his deck....now how would that work with the flailing soldier in Bob's deck?' also. While walking the floor you can usually hear the sound of confusion coming from a particular match. Head on over there NOW. Don't wait for them to call YOU. If they settle the confusion on their own, great. If not, hey you're already there. Don't just walk by matches, LOOK at them. Watch the players play for a turn or two. If players think that judges periodically come around to watch their matches in progress, they'll be less likely to cheat. If new players see you around the playing area instead of sitting on your mighty throne behind the judge's table as the tournament revolves around you, they'll me more likely to ask questions about things that they're unsure of. Sure, trample damage may be obvious to YOU, but if a new player doesn't find out how it works from you, they'll probably find out from an opponent who will have no problem with screwing the new guy out of some damage, the game, and maybe the match. That will leave a sour taste in that players mouth that may make them swear off tournaments forever. Not quite the tournament image you want to project, is it?

The lesson of proactive judging was the biggest lesson I took away from the qualifier tournament. I hope you can learn something from this also. Thank you for your time.

Chris D'Andrea
DCI-Certified Level II Judge


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