|Greece Judgment Prerelease - Head judge report
"Remember when you were a Level 1 Judge?"
Event location: Herakleio, Crete, Greece
Before I start, I would to apologize in advance for anything you might find and not like in this report, my intention is to express the stress and the feeling a Level 1 judge gets, who has been certified just 3 weeks ago and is called to head judge a prerelease tournament. Also I am sorry for the lack of photos, but most players do not like to be photographed while playing.
My experience as a judge was simply head judging FNMs which had 9 players at average participation, and I do not consider this as an adequate experience for such an event. Thus, I did my best at the tournament and before by preparing and designing the whole procedure, and also informing the players well through a mailing list we have established. Prereleases here have a participation of 25 people average, this one had 24 players, which is considered a dramatically small number for most other judges, but to me it seemed like a whole crowd of players wanting and demanding attention and honestly I do not think I could handle one more person.
As I mentioned before, I became a certified judge just 3 weeks ago when I passed the certification test at the Greek nationals. From then, I tried to get to know my local players, who I know pretty well most of them as a player, from a different point of view, and wanting to pass the message that I, as a judge, want to make their lives better at the tournaments and that's the reason I became a judge.
The first thing I did was send a mail to the mailing list informing the players that the upcoming prerelease of Judgment was going to be a sealed deck swap. This is because there were suspicions at previous prereleases of players cheating because there was no other certified judge in Crete (and still there is no other) and nothing could be done about it. So I decided to make it a sealed deck swap with a random deck check every round.
Well that is over, fortunately the reactions were positive so that was how it was going to be. The next step was making the decklist. I did not want to use the checklists anyone can download from the internet because the sealed deck procedure was new to the majority of the players, plus that we expected new players to participate (which proved correct) so instead of explaining the procedure as detailed as it had to be personally to every player, I used this method which proved pretty effective. I made a decklist using Microsoft word, printed from both sides one of which was the instructions page also with some general information about the limited format to assist the new players. This step over as well, I can feel the prerelease coming and I can't help feeling anxious.
The day before, there were some concerns from the players that the sealed deck procedure was going to take long and also that there were still some ways around it, that is to say ways people can use to cheat (change the deck they are writing to decklist of to make it weaker). I offered the players some alternatives (marking the cards for example) but none of them were going to be effective (people want to open packs!). I also reminded them that the sealed deck decklist writing has to have a length of 20 minutes according to the rules and that the ways of cheating they mentioned were surely less possible and drastic. I did keep an eye open though...
So, the day came. I am not sure if this is going to sound like an exaggeration but I did not sleep well. How could I when the only thing I was thinking of in the past days is how I can make everyone happy and the tournament the best one this city has every seen. Anyway, so I went to the place the tournament was going to be held (a shop of fantasy games, RPG etc named 'Kaissa') on foot revising the whole procedure on the way. Luckily I borrowed a laptop from my father which had the DCI reporter 2.2 from my local organizer (the CD-Rom judges receive was surely going to take long to arrive) and this indeed made things easier.
When I arrived, 5-6 players were already there. I greeted them all, asking everyone if they were confident of knowing the procedure of the sealed deck swap. The answers were positive so we move on. I set the laptop, ran the reporter (the reporter does not recognize me as a level 1 judge!), and called the players to register. More and more players were arriving as time passed. By the time thee were 15 (about), I instructed them to receive the sealed deck ( I had given them the decklist so they could review the instructions ) and start writing the decklist. Registration was not yet complete and I allowed them more than 20 minutes but since this could not affect the tournament (Writing the lists in advance can only do good) I allowed it.
Luckily, I had a person to assist me. He was an experienced player who did not come to play but had to leave during the second round as it proved. His help was more than welcome and I think he saved me from overloading. The first players were starting to finish their decklists while the last ones arrived to register. The whole procedure of having all the players writing their decklist, checking it and randomly giving out the sealed decks lasted one hour, far more than it should but I decided to be lenient because the majority were new to this procedure and also they had to complete a decklist, not a checklist. The bottleneck in this case was checking the decklists if they were correct by comparing them to the deck, which was expected because there were three people total (counting me) to perform the check. When we had all the sealed decks returned, I used the reporter's selection of a random player to hand out the decks again. As soon as everyone was ready I announced that It was deck construction time.
During deck construction and decklist writing, I got a few calls for simple questions but it was these calls ("Judge!") that made me realize that I was not a player any more... Deck construction finished without problems and it was time for the pairings. Announcing the pairings was something I am not going to forget because of the feeling I got when I realized I had the full attention of 24 people, who listened...
While the first round was starting, I was thinking what to do with the deck check. I thought I could replace the traditional deck check with simply patrolling with all the decklists with me, and checking the cards a player has in play if they are in the decklist. That's what I did, officially I did not do deck checks (there was no way I would have time to answer calls and do the deck check) but when I walked from one table to another, I checked if the cards a player has in play are included in the decklist with the player not being disturbed (the game continues normally with me simply looking at the table and the decklist). This way all the players know that they are going to be unofficially checked sometime so even if they have managed to put a powerful card into their deck, they cannot use it. I think it's a solution which saves time and seems more secure.
The first round has started, the players found their opponents, and away we go. After 5 minutes approximately the first calls started, "Judge!". I almost ran to every table I was called to, answering every question. Luckily, the questions were simple so I did not have to look anything up in the Comprehensive rules, Judgment FAQ or any other documents I had in the laptop (everything was in there). I liked the feeling of satisfaction I got when both of the players understood my explanation and thanked me for it. Calls did not stop, I was called at a table to make a ruling, called by a player to enter the result in the reporter program or anything else, and this repeated over and over. After 30 minutes, I had sweated as much as I normally do after 10 minutes of playing basketball. This was because of the heat, the constant movement but mostly from the stress. Occasionally I was told by a player to take a rest, but before they finished their sentence, another call ("Judge!") was made...
Round 1 was over with no problems. When the time was over players counted 5 rounds and everything went ok.
So it was now time for round 2 pairings. Again I get this feeling when announcing the pairings but it is about time I got used to it. Round 2 started okay and the constant loop of calls has begun. This time I sweated even more, at least I found a way to loose some weight, or at least try to. All the rulings I was called to make were simple (for me at least) apart from one which seemed pretty simple to me but since the player insisted, I promised to look into it. It had to do with a card saying "remove three cards from your graveyard" and the player's question was if these cards were the top cards or any cards of the player's choice. Since any card that requires a player to remove the top cards (or bottom) specifically says so, and since the card did not specify anything, I told the player that he could remove any cards of his choice. He insisted so I promised to look into it in the comprehensive rules as well as the judge list and reply to him by e-mail. Although I turned out to be right, I kept saying to the players that I want them to question my rulings (after the tournament) and explain their point of view so I can look into the matter and learn from my mistakes (fortunately, all my rulings at the tournament were correct). In case they insist during the tournament or I am not 100% sure about something, I will just go to the laptop and search for any FAQs, rules in the comprehensive rules and other documents to solve the case. It's all part of a learning process all level 1 (and not only) judges should follow to be confident about their knowledge of the rules and keep the players happy. My assistant had to leave at this point, I thanked him as much as I could and wished to see him, and cooperate with him, in future events. So this leaves me alone with 24 players... Not very good odds I'd say. Luckily round 2 ended quickly and it was time for round 3.
Round Three, Four, and Five
Round 3 was pretty much like the other two, except that the calls were somehow reduced. This was a pleasant surprise and gave me the opportunity to take a break from sweating. I also took the courage to kindly ask a player friend of mine to fetch me something to drink after he finished his game. Of course I could not leave the tournament to get the drink myself and I could really use a drink at that point. Anyway, after refreshing myself the tournament went on with some more calls for simple rulings.
Rounds 4 and 5 bared no surprises. The occasional calls, the occasional questions from a player for the standings etc were are all part of this procedure which never stopped. By this time I got used to it and enjoyed judging. I wished every tourney would prove as satisfying as this one, and now I wanted to enjoy every minute of it. Of course calls just did not stop, nor did I stop sweating but that is all part of the tournament. Rounds 4 and 5 were over in a flash apart from the end of round 5 where I got complaints of a player playing slowly. I decided not to give that player a caution for slow play because the time has already ended so he cannot possibly take advantage of the time limit since there were 5 rounds totally no matter how fast he played but I did give that player a verbal caution which was not reported in the DCI reporter program (cautions are unofficial and need not be reported). Besides, I did not want start off my judge career with a penalty...
So, the final thing to do is announcing the standings reporter calculated. After that, the prerelease foil card was given to each player, the t-shirts were randomly given to two players and it was all over.
After the tourney, I tried talking to a few players and asking their opinions about the tournament and if they had any suggestions to make. Fortunately they were satisfied which made me confident for the future. After going back home, I sent the results (standings) to the mailing list for everyone to know and emphasized that should they have any suggestions, I really would like to be told. It was indeed over, all I had to do now was contact a person the local organizer gave me to get the DCI sanctioning number and anything else needed to report the tournament officially. Is it over? Yes it was, I didn't want it to end though... I don't think I can do anything else for the rest of the day other than write this report, the experience was indeed intense.
As I mentioned earlier, this article is intended to express the feelings of a new level 1 judge with zero experience who was called to head judge a prerelease tournament. That's why I did not mention the rulings I was asked to make (apart from one), that's not the point this article is stressing. Also, doing that would make this report lengthy and therefore not easy to read. The rulings I was asked were indeed simple to me and I am sure I did right.
It is my impression that Level 1 judges are not required to head judge such events, design the layout of the tournament, print decklists, deal with sanctioning numbers and everything I did as if I was both the head judge and the organizer. I had to do so because of the lack of judges but I must say that I enjoyed the whole thing more than if I just was a floor judge. I consider this only the start of a new way of view of magic, a better one? Maybe, I'd like to think so but the start was sure encouraging...
I believe that every other certified judge felt this way in the past, or even now. These feelings are valuable, they will not be as strong the next time, and the time after that etc so it is something worth letting the world know. I would also like to encourage any judge in the world to write a report whenever he/she has the time. Before this tournament, I thought that I had nothing new to say to all the other judges, especially the higher level ones, and I think that since I found something interesting to share with the world, anyone can do the same. Everyone can learn something from anyone who has something to say.
Thank you for your time you spent reading this article and I wish you all the best.