Welcome to magicthegathering.comNew to Magic? Click here!
Return to Magicthegathering.com front page





Return to Magicthegathering.com front page

US NATIONALS - Judge Report

Sheldon Menery

My second consecutive trip to Orlando for the US Nationals, May 30 - June 2, was full of excellent experiences and learning opportunities. I once again met with other Judges and Staff members that I hadn't seen in some time, while working a long and fulfilling weekend.

Wednesday, 29 May

My wife Lisa accompanied me to Orlando because she was scheduled to work as Event Staff, helping with the always-difficult job of administrating Side Events. We actually left Anchorage on Tuesday night, arriving in Orlando around noon on Wednesday (after a long delay in Detroit). After a brief nap, we had lunch with our friend Chris Galvin, then returned to the room for another nap. That evening, we had dinner with several of our friends from the WotC staff, to include Chris, the inimitable Scott Larabee, Player Coordinator Andy Heckt, and Jaime "Really? Me too!" West, among others. It would be the only chance before the end of the event for a leisurely meal.

Thursday, 30 May

I was graced with the opportunity to Head Judge one of the US National Opens (commonly called Grinders). Along with super scorekeeper Gordon Culp and a dynamic collection of Judges, I ran the first of the Constructed Events, featuring 202 Nationals hopefuls. Setting the tone for the weekend, the event was rife with Psychatog decks, leading to relatively few rulings questions or difficulties. The majority of problems came from the continuing problem of players simply communicating poorly with each other. We must continue to encourage them to be very clear about what Steps/Phases they're in and exactly when they want to play spells and abilities.

Grinders are less staff-intensive in later rounds due to the fact that they're single-elimination events. After the time-consuming decklist sorting and checking, I cut loose one Judge each round to return to Side Events or the other Grinders.

Thursday evening I took a last opportunity to have dinner at Charley's Steak House (an Orlando landmark) with some player friends. I make it a policy-whether I'm the Head Judge or not-to not associate with players who are active in the event that I'm Judging. I do this to avoid any misconceptions or perceptions of favoritism. It's a policy that I've seen other high-level Judges adopt, and consider it in the best interests of the integrity of the event.

Friday, 31 May

For the Standard portion of Nationals, I was assigned to the Main Event, on the team of up-and-coming Judge Jason Powell. With the preponderance of similar decks, there were few rulings challenges. Here are a few:

A player claimed that a certain "high-level Judge" had told him that division of the damage from Violent Eruption is chosen on resolution, even though the targets are declared on announcement. I told him that rule 409.1e clearly states that the damage (or anything else that is divided) is divided during announcement of the spell. When a player makes such a claim, it's best for you to continue to trust your instincts and knowledge. If his claim causes you any doubt, then take the time to look up the ruling.

Continuing with the problem of clear communication, I've noticed that players think with their hands a good deal. That's to say that they'll shift cards around while thinking about blocking; opponents will mistake a moment's contemplation for them being done and then wish to play spells or abilities. We should encourage players to clearly announce the fact that they're still thinking and to make a clear statement about being done with blockers.

Sheldon Menery reviewing decklists
The same time of thing happens often with Fact or Fiction. The opponent will divide the stacks and be thinking, and the FoF player will grab one of the stacks. Sometimes, the opponent will hesitate in order to get the player to commit to a stack or certain guards; be on guard for any kind of sketchiness in this regard. Finally, remind players that Fact or Fiction goes into the graveyard on top of the cards that aren't chosen, because placing the spell card in the graveyard is the final part of resolution (413.2h).

An interesting question came up about the interaction of Tsabo's Web and Squirrel Nest. Tsabo's Web shuts down a land enchanted with Squirrel Nest because the ability is granted to the land which Squirrel Nest enchants-giving the land an ability that doesn't produce mana.

The shortest of the weekend's days complete, I had the privilege of having dinner with three other Judges, Ben Drago, Matt Tabak, and Suzy Life. After a decent Italian meal, we returned to the hotel for a nightcap, then retired to rest up for the more grueling Saturday session.

Saturday, 1 June

I will be honest that my tune changed from the beginning to the end of the day on Saturday. Junior Super Series Head Judge Elaine Chase had specifically requested that I work the JSS with her. Working with kids is one of my least favorite pastimes, so I went into the day with a bit of trepidation. To my surprise, the kids were mature, well-behaved, and courteous. The entire day was an extremely pleasant experience.

I led the smaller of the two Judge teams; we were assigned to the floor and whatever odd situations arose. I was pleased with the strong teamwork between the two Judge teams. Whenever one team was in need of help, the other was right there to fill in for them.

JSS Head Judge Elaine Chase
There were few unusual rulings during the course of the day; the decks mirrored those of the Main Event, so we had already seen just about everything that came up.

The event was running so smoothly that we were afforded the opportunity to cut loose a few Judges to work Side Events. These Judges mistakenly viewed this as some sort of punishment. This is certainly not the case. Sides are a huge part of any championship-level event, and are more manpower-intensive than the Main Event. I'll cover exactly why you should want to work Sides in an upcoming "Judge Points."

Saturday evening I had for the second consecutive year the pleasure of judging the Live Action Magic, featuring Dr. Richard Garfield. It was a chaotic, fun-filled event that's covered on the Sideboard in both words and pictures.

Work ended late, so I took the opportunity to lounge by the hot tub with some friends, then have a drink with some of the event staff. We discussed things other than Magic, to include a fantastic game I had played with Dr. Garfield in San Diego called "Werewolf" (not the RPG). It's a bit detailed to explain here. If you get the chance, play it. If you see me at an upcoming event, ask and I'll give you the details. I knew I was on tap to work early on Sunday, so I called it a reasonably early night.

Sunday, 2 June

I was originally on tap to work the Quarterfinals of US Nationals, but things changed by Sunday morning. My assignment became the 3/4 match, determining who would be on the US National team and who would attend Worlds as the alternate. I knew I had several hours before that match, so I floated to the various events to see who needed help. I spent some time on the JSS Challenge and some time in the Side Events room. Since I wasn't actually assigned to Sides, and not wanting to take money out of anyone's hands, I did whatever administrative tasks were necessary and walked the entire room answering questions. Finally the time came, and I sat on the Ranks/Borteh match. Things run differently in on-stage matches. I wrote a treatment on it that's still in the Judge Page archives (called "The Rules Change When the Lights Go On"). If I may say so myself, it's a good read for anyone who's never done a Championship Top 8 but is likely to in the near future.

Sunday night, I went to the traditional Judge Dinner and held court with the inimitable Jeff Donais. It was the only time all weekend that I actually had an opportunity to chat with him. Once again, after a long day, the folks at dinner were eager to chat about things other than the game. Nonetheless, these gatherings are key to developing the teamwork and camaraderie that makes us function so effectively during the event.


US Nationals was a well-attended, well-run event from top to bottom, for the most part due to the outstanding work of the Judge teams and Event staff. Congratulations to Diana Johns, Renee Roub and the whole crew for another well-run show.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending Worlds nor Pro Tour Boston due to work commitments. I hope to see you at Pro Tour Houston.

ESRB Privacy Certified - Click to view our privacy statement