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Prerelease Onslaught Israel - Head Judge Report

Doron Singer

(let's see if I can get through typing all this without resorting to any bad "Onslaught" puns)

Hello, my name is Doron Singer, and I'm (still) a DCI L1 from Israel (although that's supposed to change soon). Previous reports of mine have been all over this webpage, so I'll not repeat the usual points that I try to make, at least not at length. For the last couple of years I've led a crusade to increase the overall level of rules knowledge and play in Israel, and as time passes it's slowly coming to fruition, with the general skill level constantly on the rise. Words like "warning", "deck check" and "deck registration" are no longer alien concepts. However, like all prereleases, the main purpose of the tournament is to have fun, and it's still Israel, so the lenience factor is naturally high, within reason.

This year's prerelease was divided in two between Haifa and Tel Aviv, with the addition that the tournament in Haifa happened at September 30, and the Tel Aviv (the one I'm reporting) was at October 1st. This served to draw more players (total of 240 over the two tournaments) and allowed religious people to play (they can't play on Saturday).

I arrived at the tournament scene at 8:30, satisfied to find everything already set up. The registration was to begin at 8:30 (and in fact started ahead of time), and the tournament was to start to 10:30. This event featured something I've never had before - I've actually had a staff. A co-judge, a registration team, bunch of guys giving out decks, etc. My mind boggled with the possibilities; another judge? That's twice the deck checks! That's twice as much efficiency when responding to calls! I might even -gasp- have time to go get some lunch during the event. However, I quickly sobered myself, reminding myself sternly that the worst is right ahead of me.

The Worst (or: deck registration).

My day started on a grim note with the Haifa prerelease organizer telling me about his tournament; apparently Wizards thought it's extremely funny to send Israel 100 less tournament packs than what we've asked for, so when 100 people came instead of 60, they ran out of packs, and were forced to give out boosters instead, which forced them to give lands, which forced them to open a new station, which made deck registration a living hell. Looking at the 70+ people that were at the scene at only 9 o'clock, I got a feeling we're about to get a recap of that. In the meantime my co-judge hung on and handed out rule pages he made in advance, explaining the new mechanics, as well as some basic tournament issues (paris mulligan, match length, etc). That proved to be, once again, completely useless, because everybody knows reading paper is for wusses, and if you want to be "hip", you just call the judge for everything.

Even better (for advanced only), you make horrible mistakes and only report them at the end of the round (such as "we played one game and he won, do we need to do anything now?"). So, I took groups of 12 people aside every time, and slowly explained to them the complex procedure of deck registration. However, many of the players already knew how to register decks, which made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That is, until the players that "already knew" ended up making serious (and classic, mind you) errors in deck registration, such as switching the columns (not entirely their fault - the copy machine thought it's nicer-looking if it just painted blue where it says "total" and "player", leaving us with two unmarked columns for each colour), using "x" instead of writing how many cards, using both columns (one to check the cards you got; the other to write how many of each).

These players were all cautioned or warned according to how serious their error was, and I learned an important lesson: never allow players to get out of briefings. At around 9:30 I noticed the the line of players signing up isn't getting any shorter, whereas the starter boxes are definitely getting lighter, so I gave the go-ahead to take out the lands out of everybody's packs, and prepare for booster distribution. (our order of bulk unplayed land has yet to arrive, so we had to resort to such measures). Another thing we knew in advance was that we'll be facing a lack of forests, but luckily I had the power of the staff behind me, so I sent one of the kids to buy a marker, which I fondly referred to as "my forest machine". At around 10:00 I had players coming to me and complaining that they still haven't gotten any cards. I quick check revealed that the person in charge of handing out starters/boosters doesn't believe in the concept of parallel processing, and instead opted to work linearly, creating a huge queue and stalling everything. I quickly set up several more tables for deck registration, increasing the total number of deck registrants from 24 at a time to about 60.

At 10:30 a lot of people were still registering decks, so we started sending deck-registering assistants to help young kids register their decks (by the way, this is a serious problem here. A lot of young kids just take over an hour to read 90 cards in English, or get confused when marking, etc). Because of the large turnout (around 140 people, though I don't remember the exact number), the registration itself only ended at around 11:00, and we got the last deck at around 12:00, assistants and all. This greatly frustrated me, but I saw nothing to blame for it - the players were registered quickly and efficiently, and got the decks accordingly. It's just unrealistic to expect everybody to register their deck within the time limits. The solution I came up with for the next sealed tournament is having the staff (again, power of the staff. I can't believe I managed without it until now) pre-register everyone's decks. I'd love to hear it if anyone has a better solution for accelerating deck registration by 50 10-year-old kids whose native tongue isn't English.

Finally done with deck registration, we settled down to the other problematic part: deck building.

More Problems (or: deck building).

My Co-Judge alerted me that in Haifa it took people over an hour and forty minutes to build a deck. I found it completely unacceptable, and unjustified. We handed out the decks and had everyone sitting in place, and then I gave a long explanation about deck building (minimum 40 cards, you get lands from us, you have to register it in the appropriate column, fill your name, can sideboard freely between games but not between matches) tournament procedures (report to us if you wish to drop, find your table in the pairings and sit down there, 3 game-matches, this is the head judge, this is the co-judge, etc) and block mechanics. After all that was done, we gave the go-ahead to build decks, and I sat down, preparing myself for the barrage of decklist errors.

This tournament featured some of the weirdest problems I've ever seen, and really forced me to bend my mind thinking up creative solutions. Some of the problems were simple errors in registration (marking in the wrong row, accidentally registering 89 cards) but some were very unique (a couple of people ended up with 19 uncommons for some reason). The "19 uncommons" people I just ignored, assuming it's some block error. One person had only 5 rares registered, but had 90 cards registered otherwise (though no extra uncommon), and the deck registrant had no extra rare, so again I left it be. I really wish Wizards would print a contents list inside their products. A judge can dream. Then came the really weird problems. One of the people had no red or green cards, though they were registered. A check revealed that the people taking out the lands of the packs accidentally dropped some cards on the floor, and found it superfluous to report it to me, leaving me at a very uneasy spot. We found some of the cards in the floor, but some of them were just missing. Luckily, some people came to both the Haifa Prerelease and the Tel Aviv one, so they could complete most of the cards the guy was missing, and what he didn't get I proxied for him.

This happened to another guy (though at a lesser magnitude), and I applied the same solution. The third guy who had a lot of cards missing couldn't be attributed to the staff dropping his pack (because it only happened twice), so after a quick interrogation it turns out the deck registrant accidentally left some cards on the table. But hey, shouldn't be a problem, nobody touched it, right? Naturally, the cards were gone. The creative solution I found in that case was to just swap their decks - I could think of no better solution (proxying 30 cards when the guy didn't even know card texts just wasn't realistic). While I was handling these problems, the rest of the staff gave out lands, and were quickly running out of forests. However, I already got my trusty forest generator with me, and started transformed little-used Islands to Forests at about 40 Forests per minute. I ended up proxying a lot of cards this tournament, which I wasn't too thrilled about, but it just seemed like the best solution. After all that was done and the smoke cleared, we finally got to the easy part, ie the tournament itself.

The Easy Part (or: the seven swiss rounds).

After getting deck registration and building out of the way, came the part we were ready for. The laptop had the drivers for the printer, we had enough paper, we printed extra copies of everything (pairings and standings) and hung it everywhere, and most importantly, my co-judge brought a really loud whistle which served to announce the beginning and the end of rounds (after learning from past experience players claimed they didn't hear the announcement on the megaphone). With another judge by my side we were able to deck check very quickly, while still responding to player calls if necessary. All the rounds ended in a timely manner, and there never was a need for repairing a round. The rule questions themselves were mostly handled by my co-judge, and were bland anyhow, with the only interesting one being ("If I attack with two taunting elves and a third creature, must my opponent assign all blockers to one of them, or can he split it?" A: he may divide it as he likes) and repeats of "if I cycle the card and get an effect, what happens first?" A: the triggered effect, then you draw. That, of course, was on the rule pages, which nobody bothered to read.

The triggered abilities from these cycle cards resolve before the card draw from the cycle effect occurs
Other cases I was called on were mostly technical (accidentally drawing 7 cards after taking a mulligan; being asked to shuffle an opponent's deck; being asked to deck check an opponent; allegations of slow play). Another unique call was from a player who said some kids were bullying him and preventing him from playing. The perpetrators were 3 kids, approximately 15 years old, who found it very amusing to harass the kid. However, after me assertively talking to them, and them judging my (shall we say "large") build against theirs, they obviously decided there's better fun to be had and left the premises.
Surprisingly, there were zero attempts of cheating with the morph mechanic, which meant my doubts before the event were unjustified (in my nightmares I saw hordes of players saying their opponent beat them with a morphed creature and didn't turn it face up at the end of the game, and the opponent saying "but I didn't know!"). I was sure the tournament would end quietly, but as always, there was a nasty surprise.

The Nasty Surprise (or: I want prizes)

After seven rounds, we printed the final standings and prepared to hand out the prizes to the top 36 players. Suddenly, one of the players came to me and said there's an error in the standings. He has three points less than what he's supposed to have, and the addition of the said points would place him inside the prize bracket. His match result for round 7 was a win, so I went back, and found the result he claimed was erroneous. Sadly, it was from round 4. The player had an inadequate answer to why he waited until now to report the error in his score, when the player's score is mentioned in every pairing, and there were previous standings. I got his round 4 opponent, who claimed he doesn't remember the match result. I was willing to end it then and there, but the player insisted, and managed to find one eye-witness who said he saw that player win one game in his match in round 4 (which would contradict the 2-0 result entered for his opponent). I didn't think that's sufficient evidence because:

  • That "eye witness" might be a friend or someone else with an incentive to lie.
  • Even if he did win one game, it doesn't mean he won the match.

The argument became ugly, with me patiently explaining the player the basics of fair trial and the need for evidence in order to appeal an existing situation, where the player settled for acting hysterical and refusing to listen, repeatedly saying things to the effect of "this can't be happening" and "this isn't fair". Luckily, the tournament organizer decided to step in, and award the player the prize he'd be due had he won that match, ending the argument. In my opinion that was a wrong step, because even if round 4 HAD been misreported, it doesn't mean that player would've won the three consecutive rounds against harder opponents, and there's no reason to even assume he's telling the truth. However, seeing as it's not my money that was thrown away, I wisely decided to shut up, we packed everything up and another prerelease was over.

Important lessons I've learned this time:

  • A staff is great. It's important. It's necessary. I can't believe I used to do 153 people tournaments myself.
  • Preregistering decks when the average age for a player is 13 is crucial. There is no chance of getting things started in time without it.
  • Never allow players to get out of briefings, regardless of how much they think know. If you do, be sure to penalize them harshly if they fail to act according to the knowledge they supposedly have.

Doron "Antrax" Singer, DCI Level 1 (for about one more month)
For feedback email Antrax2@hotmail.com

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