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2001 US Nationals - HJ Report

Collin Jackson

US Nationals 2001 took place on June 1-3 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Florida.

US Open Qualifiers

Single-elim is not for the weak of heart.

On Thursday we ran four Open Qualifiers ("Meatgrinders") that offered invitations to Nationals. Because Open Qualifiers are single-elimination, we had to use a few special rules to handle the short time limits on the rounds. These rules were used for the US Nationals qualifiers only.

Q: What is sudden death overtime?

A: Sudden death overtime happens when players have a tied game score, were playing a game when time is called, and have exhausted the five extra turns. A game in sudden death overtime follows the normal rules for Magic, except that an additional state-based effect exists: "If a player has less life than any other, that player loses the game."

EXAMPLE: Anita and Nick are playing a game in sudden death overtime. Both players are at 5 life. Anita plays Flame Rift, which deals 4 damage to each player. Both players are now at 1 life. Since neither player has less life than the other, the game continues.

EXAMPLE: Anita and Nick are playing a game in sudden death overtime. Anita and Nick are both at 5 life. Anita plays Psionic Blast, which deals 4 damage to Nick and 2 damage to Anita. After the spell resolves, state-based effects are checked. Since Anita is a 3 life and Nick is at 1 life, Nick loses the game.

EXAMPLE: Anita and Nick are playing a game in sudden death overtime. Both players are at 4 life. Anita plays Soul Feast, but it is Misdirected back to herself. Anita loses 4 life and then gains 4 life during the resolution of the Soul Feast. Since state-based effects aren't checked during the resolution of a spell or ability, Anita doesn't lose the game. The game continues.

Q: What is a tiebreaker game?

A: A tiebreaker game occurs when players have a tied game score and are between games when time is called. A tiebreaker game follows the rules for sudden death overtime for the entire game.

EXAMPLE: Anita and Nick are playing a tiebreaker game. Anita plays first. On her first turn, Anita plays Shock, which deals 2 damage to Nick. After the spell resolves, state-based effects are checked. Since Anita is at 20 life and Nick is at 18 life, Nick loses the tiebreaker game. Anita wins the match.

Players may sideboard for the tiebreaker game.

Q: What happens if the game score is 1-0 and the five extra turns are exhausted?

A: The player who has a higher game score wins the match.

A complete explanation of single-elimination time limit rules will be included in the T.O. Handbook update this fall.

Judge Information

Study carefully. There may be an exam afterwards.

Friday started off with a judge meeting, where I distributed a packet of information. Distributing written information to your judges increases the professionalism of the event and it helps judges remember the important points of the judge meeting. Having a judge packet is also very useful if a judge misses the judge meeting for some reason.

Here is some of the information that I included in my packet:

  • General event information. REL, K-Value, format, start times, round length, and the names of important staff.
  • Judge schedule. Judges should know when they are expected to arrive each day.
  • Judge Assignments. Judges were informed whether they would be working Nationals, JSS, or side events. Those who were working Nationals or JSS were divided up into judge teams, and given their assignments for each round.
  • Other general advice and information.

Team Leader System

For both the JSS and US Nationals, we used the team leader system.

Collin Jackson head judged US Nationals for the second year in a row. Next up: Pro Tour New York in September.

Judges were divided into teams, each consisting of one team leader and some floor judges. In addition to his or her duties as a floor judge, team leaders were expected to manage and mentor their teams. The team leaders were chosen because of their experience and abilities, and they were required to submit written evaluations their judge team members at the end of each day. As the head judge, I was required to submit evaluations of the team leaders. Floor judges were also invited to submit evaluations if they had comments on any judge.

The team leader system makes the tournament easier to run because it divides up judges into manageable groups. The head judge can pass on information to the floor judges by talking to only the team leaders, rather than going around and individually contacting each judge. Team leaders can also make sure that all judges are on task and that they take breaks when necessary. As a result, the head judge has more time to devote to important rulings.

The team leader system was formerly known as the "senior judge" system. We changed the name because we are now calling level 4 and higher judges "senior judges." Also, being a team leader does not imply seniority over the other judges in the team.

Making a Ruling

Although it seems basic, the underlying process behind making a ruling is very important. At our judge meeting, we discussed in detail the abstract process of making a ruling.

A judge typically goes through the following stages when making a ruling:

  1. Receiving information about the game state. Give both players a chance to explain what is happening, and avoid giving away what you think the ruling might be.
  2. Deciding on a ruling. You may feel the need to get the opinion of other judges. If so, your conversation should be out of earshot of the players. As a floor judge, if you feel that the appropriate penalty is more than just a caution or warning, you should confirm with your team leader or the head judge before you go to the player with your ruling.
  3. Presenting the ruling to the player. Be clear on exactly what you are going to do.
  4. Dealing with reactions to the ruling. You may need to explain the reason for the ruling, get the head judge for an appeal, or in rare cases you may return to step #1 if new information is presented.

Some rulings will require more than a minute to resolve the situation. Whenever a ruling takes more than one minute of time, you should assign additional time to the round as appropriate to the time used. Note the amount of time added and your name in the upper right hand corner of the match result entry slip. (For example, "+5 min Collin.") Avoid using a signature or initials when noting extra time and when filling out the "judge" line on the slip. It's much better to write your name so that it's easy to identify which judge was involved.

For large events, the most efficient way to report warnings is usually to write them on the back of the results entry slip. Be sure to note the type of penalty, the infraction, the player's name, the judge's name, and a brief description of what occurred. When using this method, you should write a "W" in the upper right corner of the front of the slip so that the scorekeeper knows a warning is written on the back.

Slow Play

Players frequently complain that their opponents are playing slowly and dealing with slow play is one of the most difficult and important tasks a judge must perform. If a player requests for a judge to watch his or her match for possible slow play, this request should be honored if possible. It is important to have a judge watching the match continuously-if you are watching a match for slow play, avoid leaving the match even if you think the slow play has subsided. It is very frustrating for a player when a judge wanders off instead of watching the match as requested. If you have been assigned other duties that prevent you from watching for slow play, consider finding another judge to do it or at least inform your team leader of the situation.

Key Rulings

US Nationals has been described by some as the beginning of a DCI crackdown on slow play and cheating. Although I find this description to be a bit overzealous, it is true that we took slow play and cheating very seriously.

On the last round of day one, I gave Chris Benafel a game loss for slow play. Chris had already been cautioned and warned for slow play previously in the tournament. Chris became very upset and stood up and walked out of the tournament area. In his haste he knocked over a chair. He did not kick or throw a chair, as some spectators have claimed. I gave Chris a warning for unsporting conduct, and he later apologized for his actions and was very professional for the remainder of the event.

At the end of the last round of day two, I upgraded a misrepresentation warning that Pete Leiher received to a game loss. Because the match was being played in the Feature Match area, I wasn't able to watch it and I only informed of the situation after the match was complete.

Because the Hull Breach error caused a delay of the game, that interfered significantly with the outcome of the match, the warning was upgraded to game loss.

The game score was 1-1 and the third game was unfinished, although Pete would have clearly lost if the game were allowed to proceed for one extra turn. Earlier in the game Leiher had played Hull Breach (a sorcery) during his opponent's turn and the ruling took up about a minute. The judge did not add extra time, however. After interviewing the spectators, reporters, and judges, I was able to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty that Pete had been playing slowly. Because the match was already complete, I did not feel that it was appropriate to give a slow play game loss for the finished third game (the players had already scooped up their cards). However, Leiher's misrepresentation of Hull Breach ruling had drastically altered the result of the match by delaying the game and causing it to result in a draw. Misrepresentation is normally only a warning, but in cases where it has a significant impact on the match it is appropriate to give a game loss instead.

On Sunday I disqualified Casey McCarrel for stacking his opponent's deck. By looking at the bottom card of the deck, McCarrel was able to unrandomize Brian Hegstad's deck and put him into an unfavorable situation. The disqualification (and subsequent three year suspension from sanctioned play) could not have occurred if Hegstad had not become suspicious and called over a judge. Since we do not have a judge at every table, we often must to rely on the players themselves watch out for cheating. I have often been asked how judges can prevent cheating and my first response has always been to educate players to watch their opponents carefully and to use the judge system when they suspect foul play. Gary Wise has written an article on Sideboard.com about how players can protect themselves from cheating.

Deck Infractions

Yet another 59-card decklist.

Despite all the glamour and controversy of high-profile rulings, the most common penalties a judge will have to hand out are for decklist infractions. There are several important guidelines to keep in mind when dealing with problem decklists:

The penalty should be significant enough that a player could never gain an advantage by intentionally mismarking his or her decklist.
A player who makes an honest mistake should be allowed to remain in the tournament with some disadvantage. The penalty should be proportional to the severity of the infraction.
The decklist should be altered as little as possible once the tournament has begun.

Here is a list of common decklist problems and their resolutions at REL 3, 4, and 5 events. These resolutions are based on the assumption that there is no past history of decklist infractions and no extenuating circumstances.

Format Problem Resolution
Limited A player records a main deck with less than 40 cards. Match loss. Add basic land of the player's choice until the decklist is legal.
A player doesn't mark any cards in the Used column. Match loss. Deck check the player and record the deck as they presented it to their opponent.
A player forgets to mark a sideboard card in the Total column Game loss. The player cannot sideboard in the card that wasn't marked.
A player doesn't mark any cards in the Total column. Game loss. Invalidate the sideboard.
A player mismarks a card on his decklist. (EXAMPLE: Saproling Symbiosis instead of Saproling Infestation) Warning and fix the decklist. (The use of stamped draft cards adds additional security.)
A player doesn't mark basic land in the Used column. Game loss and allow the player to add basic land of his or her choice.
Constructed A player records a main deck with less than 60 cards. Match loss. Add basic land of the player's choice until the decklist is legal.
A player records a sideboard with more than 15 cards. Game loss. Invalidate the sideboard.
A player records a sideboard with less than 15 cards. Game loss. Add basic land of the player's choice until the decklist is legal.
A player is too ambiguous when filling out the decklists. (EXAMPLE: "4 Fires" or "4 Birds") Warning and fix the decklist.
A player accidentally doesn't mark his sideboard at all. If the player was using a sideboard, issue a game loss and invalidate the sideboard.

When giving game losses before the first physical game of a match, it is important to remind players that they cannot sideboard for the upcoming game. Also, the player who received a game loss is automatically allowed to choose whether to play first for the next game.

Rules Reminders

  • Chimeric Idol has no creature type. It can't be destroyed by Tsabo's Decree.
  • Saproling Burst does not use last known value. If the Burst is not in play, the tokens are 0/0.
  • Static Orb will not let a player get around Juntu Stakes. ("Creatures with power 1 or less don't untap during their controllers' untap steps.") Players must untap two permanents that aren't locked down by the Stakes.
  • Static Orb turns off when tapped (according to the Oracle and the Seventh Edition printing). That means that if it is tapped at the beginning of its controller's untap step, that player will untap all of his or her permanents.
  • If Kill Switch is tapped at the beginning of its controller's untap step, that player will not untap any artifacts locked down by the Switch, although the Switch itself will untap.
  • Responding to Kavu Chameleon's ability by activating Circle of Protection: Green (or a similar card) will not let you get around the Chameleon's color-changing ability. The CoP checks the color of the Chameleon when the damage resolves, and if the Chameleon is not the appropriate color, the damage prevention shield won't work. If the Chameleon has left play, the CoP shield uses the last known information of the Chameleon.
  • If one of the targets of Dead Ringers is illegal or no longer in play when it resolves, the legal target is compared with the last known information of the illegal or out of play card.
  • If you are not 100% sure about a ruling, it is a good idea to check with your team leader or with the head judge. Players will appreciate it when you take the extra effort to give a confident ruling and clear explanation.


I would like to thank all the Nationals, JSS, and side events judges and staff who made this event a success. I would also like to specially thank team leaders Thomas Pannell, Sheldon Menery, and Justus Ronneau, whose vigilance and skill made my job infinitely easier. If you have any questions or comments about the event, please let me know.

Collin Jackson
Level 4 Judge

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