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Grand Prix Houston Judge Report

David Hibbs

Format: Extended
Site: Westin Galleria, Houston, TX
Date: February 5-6, 2002

The first ever Grand Prix Houston has come and gone, and it was a great success. This was my first major event to judge at, but I was confident I could handle it. Tim Weissman, Local Level 3 and TO for the event, obviously had confidence in my abilities and so scheduled me to work both days of the event.

I got off work early on Friday, so I arrived considerably earlier than I had planned which gave me a chance to meet some of the other judges and actually play a draft. There was a considerable amount of discussion about the MTGO. Everyone seemed to really like it; most even agreed that it tightened up their play by enforcing the proper play of spells and abilities (announce, target, divide, pay costs...) but that it still wasn't stable enough to handle the heavy load. I also had the opportunity to check out the decks I should expect to see the next day during the last-chance bye qualifier. What I saw told me I was going to have to watch players of buried alive/Zombie Infestation/Squee/Krovikan Horror/reanimator decks closely! Graveyard order is imminently important for this deck-many decks have Phyrexian Furnace in their sideboard and, more importantly, the Horror only works with a creature directly above it. I'd slept very little the last couple days due to work and the aforementioned online game, so headed to bed early.

Stephen Haley, another Texas Judge, showed up at the room shortly behind me. We decided to get up early for breakfast and head down for any last minute preparations. We ordered breakfast for between 7-7:30 and a wakeup call at 7.

The next morning we were awakened by breakfast-before 7. And the concierge wanted to personally hand it to us. First class service is good, but sometimes more than you ask for!

So, we ended up downstairs by 8, where we met with the well-known and all-around nice guy Sheldon Menery. Sheldon asked Tim to get us "Black and Whites" which we did. Figuring this would not be my last opportunity to be a zebra, I bought it. I immediately regretted the fact that all my black slacks/jeans were waiting to go in the laundry. Lesson learned.

Event Preparations

Once all the judges were accounted for, we started the pre-tourney judge's meeting. We discussed how we would work things as two teams, alternating deck check rounds and breaks; we discussed why we were there (to insure the integrity of the event, of course); we discussed watching the 3 minute preduel time limit; we discussed the fact it had started raining us, sitting at the first set of tables. Oops, a quick rearrangement was in order. About that time, Tim wandered up and informed us several Dallas and Austin players had told him it was "monsooning all the way here." That's not all that unusual for Houston, but it makes travel really slow so the event would be delayed a bit. This would allow players more time to arrive and, more importantly, let us move the tables that were being dripped on.

After the meeting a local player caught me and asked how many extra sleeves he should have.

"Do you think 5 is enough?"
"Well, it's 7 rounds of Swiss today. It's a REL 4 event, meaning we're going to be watching closely. It also means your opponent might call a judge over to look at them. I don't pop sleeves much any more, so you can take your chances if you want. However, all things considered I would not advise it."

I mentioned the conversation to Sheldon, hinting he might want to mention sleeves during the players' meeting.

I was also stopped by another player who asked about legendary lands, Gaea's Cradle to be exact.

"If I have one in play, and I play another, do I have a chance to tap it for mana before it goes away?"
"No, they fixed that; you play it, state based effects check, and it goes away before you get priority. Glad you asked before the tourney, though!"

At 10:30, players were finally seated at tables using the "Seat All Players" feature of DCI Reporter, making it easy to sort and find deck lists for deck checks. This was very helpful, but it was later realized they should also be numbered once they are collected. This helps return lists to the right place after checks, helps find out if any are missing, and verifies that all lists are collected. Very helpful, and something to keep in mind.

The Tournament

During round 1, the team headed by Chief was verifying that deck lists were legal while the rest of us were on the floor. What was the first thing I was asked?

"Judge! He's playing Lightning Bolts...."

I groaned inwardly. It was obviously the poor kid's first tourney, and he had to do this at a REL 4.

"OK, let me get his deck list and we'll take care of it..."

it turned out he was also running a Dark Ritual, and was short cards in his sideboard. Well, things worked out-the sideboard cards slid up into the main deck neatly, and he lost his sideboard. Of course, he also lost the first match as a result, but it was taken care of.

Sometimes judges were asked to watch matches to determine if a player was playing slowly

Also during round 1, I was asked to watch a match for speed of play. So I stood and watched that match and the one next to it. I never saw anything out of the ordinary in that match, but the match next to it was another new player with lots of fat vs. someone playing the wonderfully complicated Zombie Infestation/reanimator deck. I think I missed a recurrence of Horror once when it shouldn't have happened, so I watch more closely. At one point, the new guy has a furnace out. His opponent casts buried alive for Squee, Squee, horror, and puts everything in the graveyard. The horror is on top, buried alive the bottom. I give him with a warning for misrepresentation. I then watch the rest of the match, and at one point he asks me if the creature has to be above the horror, or directly on top. At least he asked, but he had locked his Horror.

Round 2 rolls around, and I get to do deck checks. I find out one of the decks I'm checking has "1 Phyrexian" recorded. Phyrexian what? Warning and match loss, and it must be replaced with a basic land-Phyrexian Plaguelord is a little too important to get sloppy with on a deck list. Interestingly, there's another list that has a similar problem with Llanowar Wastes. However, the land is all in a separate section, and that's not as big an issue. Someone else had that one, but I think he only got a game loss for that.

About the time we finish our deck checks, Chief comes by asking if we have the deck list for someone. The name is familiar, but we don't have it. (Remember the point earlier about numbering deck lists, it would have been very helpful.) As he walks off, it dawns on me why I knew the name. It was the same person that had the Lightning Bolts and Dark Rituals in round 1! Oh no! I chase him down and fill him in on the findings from the first round, only to find out he'd slipped a Yawgmoth's Will into his deck between rounds. His opponent objected, obviously. I didn't stick around for the outcome, but someone was not having a good first event.

Natural order has been reworded by the Oracle to read: "As an additional cost to play Natural Order, sacrifice a green creature. Search your library for a green creature card and put that card into play. Then shuffle your library."

At one point I was asked about Natural Order and how it worked-could the only creature be plowed in response? I nearly made the wrong call, but for one of the members of my judging team stepping in and reminding me it had the old wording on it. I conferred with the extended Oracle in my Palm Pilot which. "As an additional cost!" it screamed at me. So I corrected myself before any harm was done, and Verdant Force arrived on the scene. I thanked my colleague, and we went on our way, while I could almost hear my Palm Pilot muttering at me.

After the rough seas of the first couple rounds, the rest of Day 1 was fairly smooth sailing.

End-of-Day Judges Meeting

At the end of the day, we had another Judge meeting. Sheldon had asked us each to remember an interesting ruling and something we could do better on as an event staff, whether it be related to judging or to organization. As it turned out, there was a pretty solid consensus that we could do better communicating. I guess this really can't be stressed enough at a major event. Talk to the players, talk to the other judges. Talk to the guy who stops you to ask a question. My personal example was that I wandered by a match in progress and was snared out of sheer opportunity. I was asked a question, and as I started to answer, one of the other judges stride up, having confirmed his ruling. The lesson here was clear to me: when a player grabs your attention by making eye contact, gesturing at you and saying "Judge?" you need to ask if there's another judge already working with them. In fact, it happened again later.

Player: [gets eye contact, gestures] "Judge?"
Me: "Yes? Is there already another judge working with you?"
Player: "Yes."
Me: "Then I'll let him answer, but I'll stay close in case it takes a while."

The players were obviously quite appreciative and understanding. I'm willing to bet 9 out of 10 times this happens, the answer is yes. Ask them yourself!

As for interesting rulings, Lots of Miracle Grow meant lots of Land Grants. I frequently saw people review their hands and have their contents recorded by their opponents. Some people tried to just flash it, but many were very good about presenting it, asking if their opponent was done, then picked it up. One person in particular left their hand on the table until their opponent said it resolved or went on the stack, then promptly scooped it up. I thought this was both a gracious and effective way to play the card.

The award for ruling of the day has to go to Ken. He was called over to find the following situation:

Player 1 casts meditate. It resolves, he draws his cards, and he says done.
Player 2 draws and says "Go."
Player 1 untaps and draws a card.
Player 2 calls the judge. "He cast meditate, and didn't skip his next turn."

So what's the ruling? What are the penalties, if any? Ponder it for a while; I'll put the answer at the end of the report.

After the meeting concludes, several of us participated in the open qualifier for the EHI. For those not familiar with it, it's an invitational modeled after The Invitational. The first portion of the qualifier is to be Standard. Goody. I break out my Upheaval/Zombie Infestation deck (dubbed "Finkelstein") and start taking names. I'd say it must have been the shirt, but this exact build took the 2 of us playing it at Texas States to the T8, so there must be something else to it. I smash my way into the T8 again and have time to watch Sheldon demonstrate why he's a judge. He beats up on little kids! Not only that, but he stalls them out! And whenever he needs a card, it comes to the top. I watched him draw Wrath of God several times when he needed an answer.

Anyway, with my position in the Top 8 draft secured for the next day, I go to bed so I can come back early the next morning.

Tournament - Day Two

Breakfast the next morning for the judges consists of less than stellar bagels and Starbucks-in-name-only coffee. Oh well. With the reduced player count for day 2 of the GP, several of the judges from the day before are judging a PTQ or the JSS. The rest of us start day 2 off with some snappy deck checks.

I finish my deck check, return it to the players, and am in time to see the end of Game 1 of the neighboring match. Having just recorded extra time for those who were checked, I know exactly when they started sideboarding. I wander down the row, watch some plays, and wander back. The same match is still shuffling, so I look at the clock. 4 minutes have passed. "Finish it up guys, watch the 3 minutes." I stand and wait while they shuffle and chat. Now 6 minutes have passed. That's enough; I give them both warnings for exceeding the preduel time limit. One of them complains about it, so I pointed out I knew exactly when they started sideboarding. He still complains, so I remind him he has the right to appeal. He of course takes the ball and runs. So, I fetch Sheldon. He listens to the player, then takes me aside and asks me what I observed. It was easily in excess, so he upholds my decision. The player still isn't happy, but that's to be expected.

At the start of Round 9, I again help deck check. I'm intrigued by the fact the deck I checked is running only foil islands. Nothing else is foil. The deck? Miracle Grow. Hmmm. The judge team had a discussion about foils being easy to tell from non-foils in a deck the night before. I bring it to Sheldon's attention. The simple fact is, foils bend different than normal cards. With a little practice, it becomes easy to find them, even in sleeves. However, there's nothing against them in the current floor rules, so there's nothing to be done other than make a mental note in case an issue arises later. (Fortunately, it never did.)

After the deck check, I hand out the result slips and end up taking the slip to the feature match area for Lan D. Ho vs. Peter Szigeti. I watch as Peter demonstrates he has more plows than John Deere, then Lan drops the real bomb-Mystic Enforcer. They're both talking and having fun, and when Lan casts Land Grant, then Brainstorms in response he starts searching his library before resolving brainstorm. Oops, sorry Lan, I have to give you a warning for that.

David Hibbs watching a feature match at Grand Prix Houston

Last but not least, in one of the later rounds I watched Alex Shvartsman cast sleight of hand. He put the two cards between two fingers in the same hand his hand was in, and I cautioned him to keep those cards obviously separate from his hand. I could see which cards were which, and his opponent could. He pointed this out, courteously as per his usual decorum. I agreed, countering equally gracefully.

"Yes, that's true. However, that was why I didn't give you a warning. If your opponent ever brought it up, or if I hadn't been watching, it could have been much more serious."

He gracefully accepted, and was ever cautious about his sleights from then on -- there would be no accusation of sleight of hand where Sleight of Hand was to be concerned!

To finish up, I just want to say thanks to Sheldon and all the other judges at the event. You were all a class act to work with, and I look forward to the next time, whenever it may be. In fact, it was so much fun it made me want to pursue level 2!

Oh, and for those of you wondering about the outcome of the puzzler I mentioned at the end of Day 1, here's the answer:

Player 1 gets a Warning for misrepresentation. It is in his own interest to see that the Meditation is played exactly as intended.
Player 2 gets a warning and a game loss for taking extra turns and drawing extra cards.

As this was Game 3 of the match, this equated to a match loss for player 2 for not paying attention!

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