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Pro Tour Boston 2002 - Judge Report

Scott Elliott

Format: Odyssey Block Limited, 3 Player Teams
Venue: Boston Bayside Exposition Center
Head Judge: Nat Fairbanks

Pro Tour Boston 2002 has come and gone and what a show it was. With the combined excitement of the increasingly popular team format and the concurrently running weekend-long Prerelease for Onslaught, the event site was a 24/7 circus.

I arrived in Boston's Logan airport Thursday, the 26th, and within an hour I had made my way to the hotel. By the time my roommate, Ben Drago, had arrived I realized I had managed to lose my cell phone between the airport and the hotel. Not a good harbinger of the weekend to come. Fortunately the cabbie was a private businessman and all-around good guy, so he had listed his phone number on my receipt. I was able to reach him within two hours, and he promised to return my phone as soon as he had the chance. I was dubious, but hopeful.

After checking in with site staff and sharing greetings with infrequently seen friends, Ben and I took advantage of the rapid transit, or "T," and zipped down to Harvard. It was rainy and cool, but not unpleasant. For a round trip cost of two US dollars we had our best glimpse of Boston for the weekend. We were there after all, to work!

Friday morning started early. The Bayside Expo Center was adjacent to our hotel, which meant no commute to the site. Certainly a bonus. It was also nice because the hotel had a nice deli that offered far better food selections than the standard ballpark fare typically found onsite. After eating an oversized croissant and egg, I headed over for the 8:00 A.M. judges meeting with Tournament Manager Jeff Donais, Head Judge Nat Fairbanks, DCI Judge Coordinator James Lee, and scorekeeper Adrian Teh, as well as the full round of introductions. Issues included how deckchecking would be performed, team leader responsibilities, and communications among player teams. The latter was one of the more interesting aspects of this event since there were teams represented from the world over. Fortunately, judges speaking Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish were all present. And how necessary they were!

The format for Friday was team sealed deck. The process was registration and construction, followed by two rounds of play, then repeat, for a total of three builds and six rounds of play. Since I was assigned to judge the feature match area along with Mark Rosewater, I had nothing to do with the traditional judging roles that day. I was essential in another world. At one point I entered the main event area only to hear James Do Hung LEE say "Oh, Scott Elliott, are you here, too?"

My role in the featured match area included preparing the name cards to place on the scoring boards, assisting the players in using the large, camera-friendly playmats correctly: "Place your attacking creatures in the Red Zone, please," and resolving rules or rulings questions for the players in the featured match area. If you have never had the opportunity to judge in the land of the Red Zone, let me assure you-it is a tightrope act.

Having worked on little sleep the entire weekend, and dealing with thousands of details the weekend over, Friday is a bit foggy now, but I do remember a few things. In round one, two Pro players had a disagreement during their match such that player A contended that during the Combat Damage step, Player A tried to play a spell to save his creature after combat damage had already resolved. Player A: "I was like 'stack it,' you said 'okay' I said 'pass,' and you picked up your pen and started to write down damage, then went to cast the spell." Player B agreed that he had picked up his pen, but when I asked, he stated that he had never verbally passed priority.

Before allowing the players to engage in further argument, I explained that I felt I had a grasp of the situation, ruling that even though the non-active player had picked up his pen, he had never yielded priority. I backed the players up to priority after damage on the stack and exhorted them to announce verbally their phases, steps and passing of priority, since there was the question of agreement. Player A looked displeased, but when I explained that either player had the right to appeal the ruling to the head judge, both declined. The ruling took under two minutes, and I added time to their individual match accordingly. The philosophy of my approach was one that was passed along to us from the higher level judges through the course of the weekend: Use common sense, and make rulings expediently. When that game ended shortly thereafter, I overheard the A player apologizing to his opponent, stating that he now agreed with the game state as ruled.

That same round I had been watching the match between two of the more colorful personalities on the tour. Let's call them Mr. C and Mr. F. Pace of play was the issue at hand. Mr. C's pace of play appeared to be somewhat slower than that of his opponent. The question is, of course, did he merit a slow play warning? As I watched, his plays seemed careful, and typically involved multiple decisions. I drifted away eventually to monitor the other featured match, and toward the end of the match, was called over by Mr. C to watch Mr. F for pace of play! I watched, and was satisfied that F was playing expediently. Roughly 30 seconds from the end of the match, F cast Rites of Initiation on C's turn, during combat. C pondered the spell, as life totals were close and he had instant speed spells in his hand. Time was called on the round. C continued pondering the Rites of Initiation. I explained to him that he needed to play expediently, even though the extra turns are not timed. It is unacceptable to delay the entire tournament for one player.

Later, I was asked about this situation by James Lee, who wanted to help me understand some of the methods that Professional Magic players use to take advantage of Judges. One technique to watch out for is the Red Herring (don't notice me, he's the one). Someone apparently complained about the situation and felt that C had delayed the game to gain victory in the extra turns. Slow play is a subjective issue, but with the new floor rules providing a three minute time extension, it is far easier now to simply give the warning, the time extension and watch to see if the behavior persists. If the player is truly trying to cheat, he is not going to stop just because you have given him a warning! Cyril Grillon discusses this issue in his PT Nice report. So, give the warning, right? Lesson learned.

During the next round I was watching another match between two high-profile teams (okay, it is the featured match area) and had begun watching Mr. M and his opponent more closely for pace of play. It was relatively early in the round, but some of their turns were exceedingly long, with little action taking place. My concern of course, was that I remain focused on the big picture, and not simply watch the clock-a chess timer could do that. After watching for several turns of play, I issued a slow play warning to Mr. M and explained that he had the option to appeal. M chose to take the option. The players were instructed to continue play (no sense in holding up the match further), while I left to get Nat Fairbanks. Fairbanks upheld the warning, explaining that the best way to avoid future slow play warnings was to "not play slowly."

After the round, once again I was to hear further questioning of my decision. This time, my decision to act, rather than not to act was brought under question. One of the Sideboard writers pointed out that M was looking at lethal damage on the next turn. That is certainly true. M himself later volunteered that if I had seen his hand I would have felt differently. I had not been able to see the contents of his hand, since he had his several cards face down on the table, and I was not going to interrupt play to ask.

I happened to be at the scorekeeper's table turning in match results slips to Adrian Teh when I overheard one of M's teammates discussing the warning with Jeff Donais. This teammate happens to be one of the best known players in the world. Great. And he is grieving about my ruling to THE level 5 judge in the world. I stood quietly and after Donais explained that he would consult with the judge involved, the player walked away.

I took a breath. "Jeff, that was me." He nodded. I continued, "Do you want to discuss the ruling?"

Donais quickly asked, "Do you think he was cheating?" Now that caught me off guard. Of course, that is the reason for a slow play warning. Make it clear to the player that the behavior is unacceptable, while adding enough time to the round to counteract the effects of the slow play, and give the judge the chance to evaluate further for behavior that could be considered cheating. And, of course the DCI tracks trends-reference the Clegg suspension if you have any doubts.

"No, I don't think he was cheating." Jeff said nothing. Okay, now what? Jeff Donais is a good guy, calm, even-tempered, but he is Jeff Donais: you know, sort of like Zeus, there is that irrational fear of thunder and lightning and stuff. So I explained about the length of time involved in the decisions made, the choices available, the fact that his hand was never consulted, that I had watched for several turns of play and that even though it was relatively early in the round, I had no way of knowing how the round would play out.

Another nod. "Reasonable. Consider yourself consulted." And I did. Ben Drago later jokingly suggested that I had essentially given the earlier player B's warning to Player M. Some friend! He retracted, agreeing with my analysis that it is, to put it in Bostonian, "Wicked hard" to find the middle pathway between being a pushover and a headhunter. I certainly wanted to be neither. John Carter followed up saying that the best quote he had heard regarding judging was "It's okay to be wrong-just don't do it."

As the day wore on I was becoming somewhat exhausted from being in the feature match area. I was not used to having my every word under such intense scrutiny (players, spectators, reporters, other judges). I talked to Nat about it. He told me that if I needed to sub out it would not be a problem. That helped. I did not take the option, but just knowing that I could helped tremendously.

Toward the end of the day the team of Player M was in the featured match area again. My initial reaction was to shy away from watching their matches this time after the last experience, but like any other unpleasantness, it's better just to face up to it and move on. So I began watching their matches just as closely as those of the other teams. Unfortunately, the slow play theme had not played itself to completion yet. In this match, M's teammate, K's opponent was playing dreadfully slowly. I applied a warning, along with the obligatory message that such repeated behavior could lead to a game loss. Apparently the message was lost on him, as his turns continued dragging. There was still considerable time remaining on the clock, however. Why is that relevant this time, when it was not earlier? Earlier, in M's match, the warning was heeded, and pace of play was no longer an issue. In this case, it was to be a second warning, which would mean an upgrade to a game loss, which could translate to a match loss. I decided to consult Mark Rosewater.

Mark: "What's up?"
Scott: "I just wanted to make you aware that this match might be decided by a penalty, if this guy doesn't start playing faster."
Mark: "You've already warned him once?"
Scott: "Yup."
Mark: "Do what you need to do."

During the course of this 30 second conversation, two things happened. The first was that K called over asking us to watch the match. The second was that the player increased his pace of play dramatically. When I later debriefed with Nat Fairbanks, he and I agreed that waiting was the right course of action. After all, it is far better for a match to conclude on the merits of play, and ultimately the desired player behavior was achieved-more expedient play.

And poof! Friday was done. Glenn Cannon, Ben Drago and I found a Greek pizza joint in South Boston and ate until we were incoherent. Glenn had a calzone that must have weighed five pounds. Ridiculous!

Saturday started early as well. At 8:00 we were discussing ups and downs of the previous day and getting draft supplies ready. I was to be a team leader on the floor, and with a team comprised of Glenn Cannon, James Lee, François Laroche, and Mike Goodman, I felt we were in good shape.

Team Rochester is easy to run if all you are doing is the finals. We had the minor hurdle of 40 teams who had advanced and would have the option of playing in the five rounds leading to the semifinals. We monitored draft tables to make sure there was no inappropriate signaling, (you may point, gesture, grimace, but may not speak or have your cards arranged in anything other than a single pile), set up land stations, checked decks, and of course, monitored deck construction and the matches themselves. The order of the day was "Don't stop the draft!" Honestly it only happened a few times, but it was like trying to re-start a caravan when the draft was halted. Different folks took turns reading the draft schematic Collin Jackson had constructed, with various levels of success. Overall, I was particularly impressed with Akio Sugaya and David Lavergne, neither of whom is a native speaker of English.

Through chance or conspiracy I was involved in few rulings on Saturday. The one thing that sticks out most in my mind had to do with the mechanics of the draft. One particular player had trouble maintaining his drafted cards in a single pile. First I straightened the pile. Typically, this done once, the problem is solved. I issued a Procedural error minor-caution to him, explaining that this could be seen as a form of signaling. Later during the same draft I noticed that his cards once again were in a jumble. I am convinced that he was not cheating as he scarcely looked at his cards, and all eyes were on the draft. Nonetheless I issued a Procedural error minor and upgraded this to a warning, explaining that further repetition of such behavior would result in a game loss. He looked shocked, but quickly changed his method of drafting.

Most inappropriate drafting behaviors were quickly quelled with a little physical intervention. Touching the hand gently to remind people that draft piles may not reside in the hand during the drafts or gesturing at the table surface when someone has not made a selection in the allotted time were the two most commonly seen techniques.

At some point during the course of Saturday the cab driver returned my cell phone. Unbelievable! Saturday concluded after a mere 13 hours. We had a judge meeting and split. A handful of us made the trip to Chinatown to sample the fare at Shabu-Zen, a hot pot restaurant owned by Chris Wong's uncle. I had never had hot pot style dining and I was stunned by how delicious the food was. I think part of it was that I was starving, but that was unquestionably the best meal I had had in months. Really. Ask James Lee about battling a four pound lobster in hand-to-hand combat if you ever have the chance.

Sunday I was slated to table judge the semifinals. I was, of course, a little nervous, but Friday had certainly helped to prepare me. Drafting went without a hitch. With the lights high and the cameras rolling, everyone was on best behavior. Following the draft, each team had a judge assigned to observe deck construction. I took advantage of this time to set up the table judging sheets the way I prefer to use them. I grid a piece of paper, including turn numbers, a box where I write either the letter of the land drop or a 0 for no land drop, a box for life total changes, and a box for notations of spells, activated abilities, etc. This is mirrored on each side of the page. After counting each of the players' decklists and physical decks, we were ready for the round to begin.

Table judging means seeing everything and tracking it all. If a mistake is made, or something is done in the wrong order you fix it. After all, it is your responsibility! The match went quickly and often I was rushed to track all the changes. This is typically the case in the first five turns. Then the pace is a bit more manageable. In the second game, the middle player called out asking for a die. Since the teams were playing side by side, the players on the ends each had a table judge, but the players in the middle did not. I turned to ask for something from Nat Fairbanks, who was sitting close to the stage. By the time I returned to watching my table, Player K was in his main phase and reported that he had failed to give one of his opponent's creatures Forestwalk from the Erhnam Djinn. Since the ability is non-optional, we simply backed up, selected a creature and moved on. All three games concluded by turn ten without any other significant incident.

I hope my discussion of thought process and rationale was useful. This review has certainly helped to reinforce "mistakes I hope not to make again."

Many thanks to the folks at Wizards for sponsoring me to attend this event. It was an exhausting weekend, but I learned volumes. The opportunity to work with such a skilled collection of judges is rare, and given the chance, I encourage anyone to work a Pro Tour. Come ready to work, come ready to learn.

Scott Elliott
DCI Level 2 Judge
Tournament Organizer for Hannah's Games
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