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Israeli Nationals - Judge Report

Doron Singer

Hello. My name is Doron Singer, and I'm (still) a Level 1 judge from Israel. Make that the ONLY Level 1 judge in Israel (although technically a few others are qualified). Make that the only judge in Israel. Period.

I've been playing Magic for four years now, with my "playing career" taking a twist about two and a half years ago, when I started learning the rules seriously, slowly becoming THE judge. Two years ago, in National 2000, Cyril Grillon certified me to be a Level one judge. My mission, as I saw it from then, was to bring Israel to a level where it wouldn't have to be ashamed when sending representatives to international tournaments. This report will be completely useless for all you big-time Level 3 judges masterminding huge tournaments with a qualified staff of young, eager judges. This report is mainly aimed for you guys in small countries, still trying to professionalize the level of playing in your area. If you've never had a kid playing with a Blue Mana Battery in a type two tournament, do yourself a favor and skip this report. If your local arena has 100 player Friday Night Magic competitions, this will be useless for you. All the rest of you, let's go.

The Regionals

Prior to the event itself, we held two "regional" tournaments - one in Haifa, the other in Tel Aviv. 28 people showed in Haifa, which was a breeze. The Tel Aviv qualifier was judged by me, as well, and had 44 people, which still wasn't too difficult. Rule questions this year revolved around Vindicate and Compost (Vindicate goes to the graveyard as the last step of resolution, hence no card) and about how, exactly, to use Ice in order to stop the Atog player after he's used up his library (answer: "There are five steps in combat...". Notice you have to avoid coaching at all costs. Even if it means you have to read them the structure of the combat phase 20 times during the day). The Haifa Regionals introduced a new type of creature I've not before seen in Israel - a rules lawyer, but after I recited the part from the rulebook about "repeatedly calling over the judge for minor infringements" even he became much more relaxed. All in all, the Regionals were easy, and I was ready for a 60-people Nationals.

The Nationals

This year, again, nobody from the DCI was willing to come over due to the terrorist attacks, so I guess now I'm the only L1 in the world to HJ TWO nationals.

Anyhow, we pre-registered people on the site of the Tel Aviv Regionals, and enrolled them on Monday, April 1st, at around 8:45. The plan was to start at 9:00 sharp, but having seen only 36 players show up by 8:45, and having expected 60, we decided to wait a little longer. This was the first case of what I think of as the "Israel Dilemma" - where the rules say you inflict penalty X, only that would make the tournament into a farce. We settled on waiting until 9:15, and started calling players, and by 9:30, when we started the actual draft, we had 40 players, which I was more than okay with (divisible by 8!). We set up the pods, sat everyone down, and I gave them this year's speech.

"Hello and welcome to the Israeli Nationals 2002. This event will be run at Level four (4 fingers in the air) Rules Enforcement Level. That means game and match losses will fly around here, if you're not careful. I'm not sentimental. You are playing for big money. You are playing for a plane ticket to Sidney. You are playing for the right to represent us. You are playing for the title of the Israeli Champion. Understand that. Play seriously. (insert some examples of some non-serious plays like playing cards to the top of the deck when you know your opponent has a memory lapse and will use it). I am the head judge for this tournament. That means, what I say is the truth. If the rulebook contradicts me, I win. The only official rulings on this tournament come from me. If you chose to accept a ruling from someone standing by, or a player in another table, that's your problem. If the ruling is wrong and you chose to accept it, I cannot go back in time and fix it. Therefore, call me with even the slightest doubt. That's what I get paid for.

"We will begin with a booster draft (short explanation about how it works, naming a table guy in every table that'll be in charge for the smooth running of the draft). There will be complete silence. The draft will be timed, meaning you have 50 seconds for the first pick, 45 for the second, and so on. I will be doing the timing. Any questions?

"Go ahead"

The Draft

The boosters were open, and in about 30 minutes or so, Israeli's first completely-silent and well-timed (except for a short incident, which I will elaborate on, shortly) booster draft was over. The only infraction happened during the timing of the second round - some players didn't hear me, or thought I was going too quickly, and they started calling me, so I stopped the draft for a second. However, it was down to the 11th pick already, so some guys continued picking without my timing, and some didn't, creating "traffic jams" in some tables. I timed the tabled individually, counted the number of cards everyone had, and had to balance one pack with one oversized "leftover" card pile, by giving a player two cards at random from that pile. The draft was over, and then came serious problem number 1 for the day. I gave 30 minutes for deck building, and then the guy who got the two random cards in Table 2 called me, saying he's missing a card.

A quick count showed his draft pile consists of 45 cards. The same was true for everybody else in the table. The guy said he picked a Mirari, and now it's not in his cards. Here are the facts I was able to gather about the draft:

There were two Miraris on the draft. One was a first-pick (on round 1), the other went around the table (in round 2). The guy said when he reviewed his picks at the end of round 2 the Mirari was there (ruling out the suggestion he accidentally picked another card), and that by the end of round 3 it wasn't there. That would suggest an elaborate cheater, so I went to the guy who got the Mirari eventually. He was sitting on seat to the right of the complaining guy, and said he picked it, but as a really late pick and isn't going to play with it, which ruled out him doing anything intentionally, really.

Since I couldn't settle all the facts, I opted for the simpler theory, that no foul play was made, and ordered the guy who was missing the Mirari to just play with what he has, especially since he had 45 drafted cards, which weakened his claim even more. I'm curious, though, if there's some simple explanation to this I'm overlooking.

With that out of the way, and deck building over in a timely manner (with the threat of match losses if it wasn't), we started the first three rounds. Odyssey and Torment rarely offer interesting rule situations (though the "Mesmeric" cards and Shade's Form can sometimes combine to nice situations), and I think people got the hang of Trample and Protection already. The only interesting question was regarding Cultural Exchange and untargettable creatures (which is legal. The only target for cultural exchange is "target player".).

The only interesting question posed concerned Cultural Exchange

So three almost completely silent rounds went by.

Constructed Deck Challenges

I encouraged people to hand me their decklists for the constructed portion of the day as soon as possible, to avoid another Israel Dilemma with whether to DQ half the tournament for illegal decklists. Luckily, they obliged, and I found 14 decklists that suffered one of three syndromes:

  1. Not enough cards in the main deck
  2. Not enough cards in the sideboard/too many cards in the sideboard
  3. Lazy player (the "4 deed 4 tog 4 edict" syndrome)

I gave them back their decklists, and pointed out what the penalty SHOULD have been like in REL 4, or world's. That seemed to work, and I thought it's a good way to settle the strict requirements of REL 4 with the lenient playing atmosphere of Israel. When time for the rounds was up, as well as deck registration time, I noticed a couple of decklists missing. I did the pairings anyway, after announcing "this is your last chance", hung them (a couple more decklists were quickly handed to me), and waited. Two lists were missing. Five minutes after the pairings were up, I simply said "anyone who does not have an opponent in front of him has a game win. You may begin" and started the timer. 30 seconds later I was handed a deck list. I informed the player who gave it to me that he got a loss for Game 1. He seemed very upset with it, but I wouldn't back down. The other player who didn't hand in his decklist narrowly avoided having another game loss issued (for five more minutes of being late), but had the added bonus of registering a 13-card sideboard, which earned him the right of playing without his sideboard for the entire event. As it turns out, game loss #1 actually took someone who had a shot out of contention. Tough.

One interesting situation was the following:

Why might a player want to play Absorb targeting Urza's Rage?

Player A casts Urza's Rage with kicker, targeting player B. Player B casts Absorb, targeting the Rage. Player A says "Urza's Rage cannot be countered!" Player B looks confused, and takes the Absorb back, then some random passerby comments about the situation, then I get called. What I ruled is this. By saying that phrase after Player B legally paid for his spell, Player A essentially issued a ruling, that included a misrepresentation of the card. So I took time backwards, and allowed them both to play their spells, pass priority, let the Absorb player gain 3 life, and the Rage resolve.

Other than that, I answered Vindicate and Compost (no card), Pernicious Deed and Compost (yes card - sacrificing is part of the cost), Duress and Divert (the only legal target is you), Lobotomy and Divert (the caster looks through own hand, chooses a card, then searches his own library and graveyard. Notice he doesn't have to "find" these cards, though I didn't point it out to the players).

All in all easy three rounds, with one intervention needed where two players wanted to flip a coin to determine a winner since a draw would take them both out of contention. (which is illegal according to the DCI. They tried to compromise and ended up drawing the round).

The Finals

Then finally the cut to Top 8 was made, we cleared away most of the tables, and I appointed table judges out of the other certified judges (like Orr Bildner) or just players I knew can be trusted, despite having no "formal education" (like Or Shefer and Nadav Zivlin). I let the judges assign themselves to the tables, with regards to the players' wishes, so each table got a non-biased judge.

My table featured Roey Tzezana (Noir) against Gidi Aviram (Psychatog). I intervened several times to comment about Fact or Fiction being put in the graveyard prior to resolution by Gidi. After Game 1, I noticed Roey's interesting shuffle technique:

He clumped all his lands at the end of his deck. Pile shuffle for 5. Pile shuffle for 5. Move clumps around (large clumps. About 1/3 of his deck every time, for 3 times), present to the opponent. I snatched the deck, turned it over, and started singing "Land, 1 card , Land, 2 cards , Land, 1 card, Land, 2 cards, Land, 1 card , Land, 2 cards...". By the time I reached half the deck, everyone were pretty shocked. Mana Weaving isn't a well-known concept in Israel. And here it is again, the Israeli dilemma - DQ + report to the DCI for investigation (as the rules would require)?

I knew the player, and he seemed genuinely surprised that it was illegal. I told everybody who were watching this is called Mana Weaving, and that the next one I ever catch with a deck arranged like that will be banned on place (I meant it. "I didn't know" can hold exactly once). Then I shuffled Roey's deck for him for the remainder of the match (which he lost 2-1), and that was the end of that. I believe this was the right call, in a situation like this. You have to keep the balance between the official rules, and your common sense.

The other Top 8 matches offered no special problems, so I sat at one T4 table (Eviatar Olpiner - RG beats vs. Tomer Holzer - Psychatog), and Or Shefer took the other (Gidi Aviram vs. Uri Pelleg, in a thrilling Psychatog mirror matchup). My table had no special problems other than the Fact or Fiction misplaying recurring.

Or's table, though, presented me with an interesting problem:

Uri plays Psychatog. Gidi plays Circular Logic. Or, the table judge, thinks it's like power sink, so he says "three" (the amount Uri had to pay). That wouldn't have been so bad, if it didn't alert Uri to the fact that he can, indeed, pay for the Psychatog (he was getting ready to place it in the graveyard). Whew. Now what?

Uri admitted he wouldn't have noticed it, so we took time backwards a moment, Uri replayed Psychatog, Gidi Circular Logiced, Uri passed priority, Gidi passed priority, atog was countered. I wonder how I'd deal with it if it weren't for Uri being honest. Table judges making errors is not in the rulebook.

Uri beat Gidi, Eviatar beat Tomer, and Uri beat Eviatar in the finals, which were very anticlimactic and quick, with no rule issues whatsoever. Congratulations to Uri Pelleg, second time Israeli champion.

All in all, a forty people nationals isn't very hard, which is good, because I had almost no help. I desperately need to be tested for higher judge levels, or at least be awarded the power to certify judges myself (I've already taught many players the rules and regulations - wait for an article regarding how I did it, exactly). I cannot keep judging everything that happens here. What there was to be learned of this event is that it's possible to slowly push your country to higher and higher levels of play, at least on the technical level. Two years ago, the draft was noisy and confused. This year, everybody sat in place exactly on time. Two years ago, the word "warning" was obscene. This year, I issued two game losses. It's all about being patient and knowing how to balance common sense with the rules. You cannot come blazing into a tournament and issue 50% of the players a DQ. That would just alienate you, and would achieve nothing. What you COULD do, though, is tell to 50% of the players "you should've been DQed for this and that. Consider this your last warning, be more careful". Verbal cautions are a potent tool. However, don't be soft. Some players will not buy your story, and will insist on doing things their way, just to see how far you'd go. Go as far as necessary. Give them a second chance, but not a third. I've been doing this for the past two years (in accordance with the REL of the event, of course.), and it works.

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