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Road To The English Nationals - Nottingham Qualifier

Ray Fong

Regional Qualifier for the English Nationals
Format: Type 2 (pre-Legions)
Site: The YWCA, Nottingham
Date: Saturday 8 February 2003
Attendance: 64
Judges: Ray Fong (Level 2) - Head Judge,
Dave Sissons (Level 1) - Scorekeeper & Tournament Organiser,
Dan Smith (Level 1) - Floor Judge, Dave Bingham (Level 0) - Floor Judge,
Carl Hopewell (Level 0) - Floor Judge & Caterer


Ray Fong, Head Judge
Hi, my name is Ray Fong and I'm a Level 2 judge from England. I started playing Magic back in the days of Urza block when Masticores and Morphlings ruled Type 2. I started judging during the extended PTQ season in 2000 (having owned none of the power cards back then) and earned my Level 1 under the tutelage of Paul Barclay just before he joined WOTC. Since then, I have been head judge in several PTQs, worked at the English Nationals and at Grand Prix London 01/02 (in which I have been once been assigned Team Leader).

To me, judging is just as important as playing: I have a personal tendency to sometimes get worked up whilst playing. Judging, on the other hand, allows me to relax and take a step back from the carnage of top-level competition while still having a direct involvement. In short, I love it!

This year WOTC UK announced changes to the rules regarding the number of qualification slots that are available through Regional tournaments and the invitations that are ranking based.

Old System: Before the qualifiers, the top 50 composite ranked players are automatically invited to the English Nationals (and hence barred from playing in the qualifiers). The number of invitations available at each Qualifier equals 8 plus the number of players divided by eight, rounded up. A 65 player tournament back then would have (8+9) = 17 invitations.

New System: Each qualifier has invitations equal to the number of players divided by eight, rounded down. The same 65 player tournament would now only have 8 invitations. After the qualifiers, the top 50 uninvited players are given invitations to the Nationals.

As you can see from these changes, this will drastically affect many a player's approach to earning an invitation to the Nationals. Many of the top players now simply cannot risk skipping the Qualifiers and rely on their rankings to see them through. The most speculated reason for these changes is to bring England in line with Europe and the rest of the world: Because England is a small country anyway, any determined player can keep traveling the country playing until he or she qualifies.

Nottingham has a strong group of local players and has been a popular place for Premier events due to its central location in England, although recently it has been struggling to obtain these events during the past year. Dave Sissons has been organizing tournaments since before the DCI was even formed and runs regular events on Monday nights and Saturdays. His claim to fame was that the banned list he came up with then matched that the DCI had published after!
Dan is a solid Level 1 judge who simply needed a bit more tournament experience under his belt, though his rules knowledge is perfectly sound in my opinion. Dave Bingham and Carl were there to help out with deck checks and general judging duties. I felt that along with potential side events, having only three members of staff may not have been enough (especially during deck check periods).

Even though as Head Judge, I have the final ruling, I will always let the first judge to reach a query before me handle it on his own. To progress in judging, judges need to rely on their own rules knowledge to get them through. Whenever I work under a head judge, I will usually briefly mention to him or her the nature of the query (e.g. just a results slip, game loss for xyz) and any action I took.
Many judges do this to keep both the head judge informed and to ensure yourself that you have made the right decision anyway. Feedback and discussion is very important when it comes to tackling harder problems (remember that a problem shared is a problem halved). Only if the judge or a player specifically requests my help will I step in and take over. After any difficult rulings, I usually mention to the players that they can find me individually after the match if they want clarification on any rulings or penalties I have given. To me, it is just as important that players understand the philosophy and not to take things at face value.


I set off at an early time of 7:30am from Warwick, stopping in Coventry to pick up some players. Warwick is over an hour's drive away from Nottingham and I aimed to get to the venue by 9 o'clock. When we arrived at 9:15, Dave had set up his enrolment system: On a table away from the judges' station, he had laid out deck registration sheets along with a sheet where players write down their name to enroll. Periodically, he would take the sheet and enroll the players into DCI Reporter. This kept the judges station relatively clear of players. When registration had closed at 10:30, a master list would be published and then both entry fee and decklists were handed in at the same time.

One of the key aspects of an event I always check is whether there are litter bins at the venue. Judges are meant to enforce the rules and educate players, not clean up after them. I personally do not want to finish an event cleaning up litter, nor do I want to upset the venue owner by leaving the place in a mess, so having lots of bins do help. Even so, I picked up more than my fair share of coke cans and sleeve packaging (which will encourage me to have zero tolerance for my next event).

Before Round 1 started, I made my introduction that included:

  • Who the staff and head judge were
  • Format for the day (7 round Swiss)
  • Prize Structure (Standard premier prize support and Top 8 get invites)
  • Lunch break after round 2
  • Side Events that are available

Round 1

Player A called a judge regarding the payment and effect of Lightning Rift. Player B cycled a card and targeted Player A's Wild Mongrel. He assumed that Player A had to pay the one mana immediately and that the damage went on the stack. I corrected him stating that Player A chooses to pay on resolution of the effect and that the damage resolves immediately. I did not mention the fact that he needed to discard to the mongrel beforehand in order to save it. He worked this out himself and Player B chose not to pay the one mana when Lightning Rift's ability resolved.

Player C accidentally drew seven cards after mulliganing down to six. Despite his opponent's suggestion of simply putting the last card drawn back on his library, I made the player take a forced mulligan down to five, as stated in the Comprehensive Rules.

Player D asked if a creature slided out returns to play after Astral Slide is destroyed: Yes, the "return to play" effect is effectively "written" on the creature, rather than the enchantment.

While these queries were being handled, the judging staff counted through all the decklists to ensure deck legality. Three decklists had main decks with less than sixty cards (but legal decks) and all players involved would incur Match Losses for the second round. The first player awarded this match loss decided to drop after round 1, deciding not to play round 3 with a 0-2 record. The second player asked if he could do a bit shopping and come back before round 3. Usually, a player with a Match Loss still has to sit down at the start of the match and sign the results slip, but sometimes it is just as important for judges to show compassion whenever an opportunity arises: I just made sure that I explained the situation to his opponent and had the player sign the slip when he gets back.

We then had a problem with the printer not printing, so Dave announced that Lunch Time was being held now and that Round 2 would start in half an hour. Thankfully, no players objected or showed any disapproval regarding this schedule change.

Round 2

The printer was now fully functional again.

We began routine deck checking. With 4 judges on standby, we decided to check two tables per round. I told Dave Bingham and Carl about the "swoop" technique: The art of watching the marked table from a distance and then swooping down on the table as soon as the player's have presented their decks to each other.
Player A (who had recently returned to Magic after semi-retirement) asked if he can change the damage assigned once it had gone on the stack (such as pumping a Basking Rootwalla): The answer was no and he had to let damage resolve as it was.

Player B drew five cards instead of four when resolving a Breakthrough. He had put the cards drawn with the other cards in his hand for a split second before the error was spotted. Rather than give a warning for Looking at Extra Cards, I gave a game loss for Drawing Extra Cards. Despite the fact that the situation was potentially reversible, I could only rely on Player B's word that he had not mixed the cards he just drew with those in his hand.

Player C had a Last Rites countered, but discarded his cards anyway. His opponent was about to then name targets for Krosan Reclamation when the game was stopped. The solution was to rewind back to the illegal action (discarding the cards) and the game was allowed to continue from there

A game loss was awarded for Player D who presented a 62 card deck to his opponent when he had 61 in the first game. This fell under Illegal Sideboard (Legal List) as he now had 14 cards in his sideboard.

Round 3

No rules query came up during this peaceful round despite the fact that the round had to be re-paired because a player who indicated he had dropped after round 2 was still in the tournament (he had clearly marked the drop box).

Round 4

Player E had two lands on the table and Player F had a Weathered Wayfarer and two lands on the table, one of which was a Windswept Health. Player F sacrificed his Windswept Health and then wanted to activate his Weathered Wayfarer in response to sacrificing his Windswept Heath. Player E queried whether this was legal. Answer: Yes, all the conditions for activating Wayfarer's ability are met at this point (before the forest/plains entered play), so Player F could indeed use it.

Player G announced her discard phase; her opponent agreed and she discarded a Burning Wish. Her opponent then tried to cycle a Starstorm in response and drew his card. Since during cleanup step no player can receive priority (barring anything triggering during cleanup), he was not allowed to do that. Instead I declared that he had instead started his turn, so he was cycling during upkeep and had to keep those three lands tapped.
Later the same opponent earned a game loss: During sideboarding, he took out four cards, but forgot to put in his four sideboard cards. The mistake was found out after turn 2 (the penalty given under Illegal Main deck (Legal Decklist)).

Player H asked if he use Nomad Mythmaker's ability to put an enchant creature card onto his Beloved Chaplain: The answer is yes because the Mythmaker only targets the enchant creature card and not the Chaplain.

Round 5

Player J asked if an Elephant Guided elephant token produces another elephant when it dies: Yes, because the token goes to the graveyard, triggering Elephant Guide's ability before being removed from the game through State Based Effects.

Player K declared an attack and Player L tapped his creatures down with Opposition. Player K tried to make a Blistering Firecat, claiming he was still in his main phase. When asked, both players were unsure which phase they were in when Player L used Opposition's abilities. Therefore, I rewound play back to the beginning of Player K's main phase and led them through: Player K casts Blistering Firecat which Player L counters. Once resolved, Player K passes priority as does Player L. Enter Attack phase. Player K passes priority (before Attackers are declared) and Player L uses Opposition. Problem solved.

Simply announcing "declare an attack" is dubious to say the least. "During my main phase, pass priority to you" or "We are in the attack phase, pass priority to you before declaring attackers" is much clearer.

Round 6

The number of players in the main event starts to become noticeably smaller. We do a final deck check on one table and let one of the judges run a Rochester draft. Player M asks that when he chooses to take 5 damage from Browbeat if it is prevented by his Solitary Confinement. Answer: yes.

The most controversial moment came when Dave Sisson caught a player yelling a profanity at his opponent after the match had finished. The player was upset about his loss, but the brutal unsportsmanlike conduct demonstrated made Dave take the correct action of a very severe reprimand with the threat of DQ looming for any such further behavior. The fact is that there are players out there that do get very upset when losing, but often these rage periods (I understand as I used to go through these too) are short but intense. The player in question will often calm down and/or apologize to various parties. My first thought would have been to award at least a match loss, but the opponent was unfazed by the whole incident. Had the opponent been more sensitive, like a young player, then I would have definitely acted in defense. In order to keep a record, a penalty was given under Unsportsmanlike conduct to ensure that the DCI does have a way of keep tracking of these sorts of players.

Round 7

Eat food, Play better; it is almost a fact
Player N (playing a Psychatog deck) made a complaint that his opponent (Playing Mono-Black Control) was playing too slowly. Player N made the correct decision of calling the judge sooner rather than later. I observed Player N's opponent (a 14 year old kid): he was playing fairly slowly, but needed a lot of thought to utilize his large amount of mana with the cards in his hand (that included Diabolic Tutor and Undead Gladiator). Game 1 took half an hour in total, with Player N conceding about four turns after a Haunting Echoes resolved and the Gladiator hit play. I issued a warning to Player N's opponent and added five minutes to the match. I watch the rest of the match where Player N's opponent simply outdrew him in terms of card quality and beat him. Player N was clearly unhappy about the state of affairs and I did my best to reassure him that I applied the penalty fairly without bias towards either player.

Final Thoughts

The day went very well overall, thanks to the patience of the players and the teamwork of the judging staff. Look out for the next part of this mini-installment which will come from National Qualifier in Birmingham (UK, not Alabama!)
And finally, to finish on a light note, a message from Carl and his wife, who both did an excellent job of providing on-site catering:

Thanks for reading.

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