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Road to the English Nationals - Birmingham

Ray Fong

Format: Type 2 (pre-Legions), Qualifier for the English Nationals
Site: The Red Lion Pub, Birmingham
Date: Sunday 23 February 2003
Attendance: 59
Judges: Ray Fong (Level 2) - Head Judge, Fong Shing Nein (Level 2) - Floor Judge,
Steve Avann - Scorekeeper & Tournament Organiser (Level 1)


This report, which in itself is a complete article, is part of my series of judging in preparation for the 2003 English Nationals at GenCon Europe.


Birmingham is where I obtained the majority of my judging experience, having been introduced to Steve through a University colleague of mine. Steve is an excellent tournament organiser and has been organizing for five years (that's half a Magic lifetime!) in Birmingham and Stafford. As I am beginning to start organising regular tournaments at my local games store in Coventry, Steve has a wealth of experience that he is more than willing to share. He is also the sole surviving member of the original Stafford crew (Fong and I joining within the past two years). Fong Shing Nein (no relation) took his level 1 at the same event as me with Paul Barclay. For a long time, he had better in-depth knowledge of the rules than I did, but now we are about equal and take turns in assuming the role of head judge. His speciality is building rogue decks in an attempt to find the next "broken" card.

Being a member of the Stafford crew is very different to that of Nottingham: In Nottingham, my role of Head Judge was based on the fact that I had a lot more high level judging experience than the rest of the team; So my final rulings were based on my experience and knowledge alone, whereas in Birmingham, the role of Head Judge is democratic. Both Shing Nein and I would usually discuss difficult rulings that we feel warrant both our attention (e.g. Slow Play) and whoever was Head Judge would issue the final ruling based on this discussion.

It was here in Birmingham at last year's National qualifiers when I was thrown into the deep end and had to become Head Judge for the first time when Shing Nein overslept and missed the entire event! This year however, we were both prepared for whatever surprises Sunday had in store....


I set off from Warwick at around 830. Birmingham is a shorter distance from Warwick, but I promised to pick up a player from Coventry, which is in the opposite direction (albeit only 8 miles away). We arrived promptly at 0925, with Steve literally opening registration as I walk through the door. I set up a few bins using my patented "instant-bin maker": Turn a stool upside-down and use the four legs to secure the bin liner inside.
We have enough tables to sit 70 players, but we were allowed to use some of the downstairs in case we had more than 70. The tables were labelled using masking tape and a black marker, with the high number tables positioned near the judging station. This is so that more room can be freed up when players start dropping from the main event and this would be where we held Rochester side events later.

Steve enrolled players into the tournament only when presented with a complete decklist and entry fee. There were three new players playing in their first sanctioned tournament. Nearer the closing time of registration, I gathered these players together for a de-brief of what they could expect today: I told them the golden rule (If in any doubt, call a judge), about how to record life totals (pen + paper), to be careful (due to REL3) and not to tolerate potential unsportsmanlike conduct that I find seem to go hand-in-hand when there is a lot at stake at these high profile events. The players thanked me for this valuable in-sight and felt they were definitely prepared.

We also had a player in a wheelchair whom we positioned downstairs (there was no wheelchair access to the 1st floor unfortunately). Each round, his opponent would find a judge to take him downstairs and the two of them would have their own fifty minutes. Before Round 1, Steve introduced the staff, announced that there were six rounds to be played and seven invitations to be won and that lunch would be served after round 2.
Steve has made a special arrangement with the pub to ensure that all the players get their food at the same time. He takes orders and money from players before the end of round 1. He then tells the chef what time he wants the food to arrive to coincide with the end of round 2.

Round 1
We were able to check through all the decklists before the start of Round 1. There were no main decklist errors and only one sideboard error:
Player A wrote down Devastate in his sideboard. We thought that this could have been mistaken for Devastating Dreams. But since Devastate is a Prophecy common (and not legal), I gave him a game loss before the match got underway. It is discovered that the two cards are indeed Devastate, and so he is forced to replace them with two basic mountains. He was upset about this, but later apologised to Shing Nein for his temper, even though it was I that awarded him the Game Loss...

Player B counted 59 cards in his deck, but had not yet presented his deck to his opponent. He got a warning (major procedure error) and two extra minutes for the match to fix the error otherwise he would incur a game loss. His opponent very kindly lent him a copy of his missing card. The missing card (a sulphurous springs) was found later under a table he had sat at earlier.

Player C discarded an Arrogant Wurm through a Careful Study. He played a land and then cast the Wurm using its madness ability. His opponent asked if Player C could do this. I answered yes: When the trigger that allows Player C to pay the Wurm's madness cost has resolved, the stack is now empty. Player C can play a land as it does not use the stack and then proceed to cast the Wurm.

Round 2

Player D tried a similar situation: He discarded Violent Eruption and then sacrificed his Wooded Foothill to try and pay its madness cost. Unfortunately, he had already let the trigger for paying its madness cost resolve, so he had to play it the very next time he could do so. He did not have enough mana to pay for it until the Mountain from the Wooded Foothill has come into play (it is not a mana ability and hence uses the stack) and this involved passing priority in order to let that resolve. Therefore, I concluded that the Violent Eruption went into the graveyard before the mountain entered play.

Player E called on his opponent referring to outside notes that were created before the game. I explained the seriousness of this offence and gave the opponent a warning.

Player F had four lands in play and his opponent played Wildfire. He asked if he could sacrifice his Polluted Delta to both Wildfire and to find a land, so that the new land survives. I answered no: a card cannot be sacrificed to fulfill more than one obligation: he has to sacrifice it to either the Wildfire, or to itself and let the new land be sacrificed when Wildfire resolves.

Player G received a game loss for presenting a 58 card deck to his opponent. Unfortunately for him, the two missing cards were on the floor.

Player H accidentally knocked four cards off his library onto the floor. He put down his hand and picked up the cards off the floor without looking at them. He was unable to determine which order they came off in and had not recently arranged the top of his deck through a Brainstorm-like effect. Because of the potential biased in putting the cards back on top in any old order due to the board position (both players only have land out), I shuffled the cards back into the deck and gave Player F a warning (No advantage or disadvantage could be gained through this).

Player J announced "at the end of your turn, cast Deep Analysis targeting myself" and drew his two cards. With Deep Analysis being a sorcery however, this was an illegal move and since the cards had already been drawn and put into his hand, Player G incurred a game loss.

Round 3
Player K was on six life and Player L had three Lightning Rifts in play. During Player K's turn, Player L cycled Solar Blast and tapped his remaining three lands for mana, intending to burn Player K for the win. Player K wanted to cycle a Krosan Tusker in response and wanted to know which order all the effects go on the stack first.
Because the payment for Lightning Rift is done on resolution, the three mana were still in Player L's mana pool. Putting the order of abilities by Active player, then Non-active player, we get the following stack:

Player L: (Rift F)
Player L: (Rift E)
Player L: (Rift D)
Player K: (Land from Krosan Tusker)
Player K: (Card from Krosan Tusker)
Player L: (Rift C)
Player L: (Rift B)
Player L: (Rift A)
Player L: (1 damage from Solar Blast)
Player L: (Card from Solar Blast)

From this, Player L is able to pay for the Lightning Rift abilities D, E and F, killing Player K before Player K could try and find a renewed faith using the tusker.

Player M complained about not being able to start their 3rd game after the end of the round was called. One minute was added to the game earlier, which, I stated, included pre-game shuffling. Player M continued to argue that the one minute should start when the third game actually began and claimed that his can get his opponent in an opposition lock by turn four and get his opponent to concede. Shing Nien and myself correctly stated that even if he can do so, there was no way he can force his opponent to concede unless:

  1. The opponent is stalling (which is cheating anyway)
  2. He is at zero life

We told him afterwards that the matter is now closed and that pursuing it any further would result in an appropriate penalty.
I felt that the fact Player M was trying to argue against two judges only made him realise that it was indeed no use continuing...

Round 4

Round 4 had a rare occurrence in that there were no significant rulings to be made.

Round 5

Player M (again), asked if he is able to respond to Lightning Rift's abilities going onto the stack. I answered no: When a player cycles a card, he makes target choices for the Rift's ability and then immediately puts it on the stack. Only then does any player gets priority to do anything.

Lightning Rift : Whenever a player cycles a card, you may pay {1}. If you do, ~this~ deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Round 6

A game loss was awarded for tardiness to Player N. He was downstairs with the wheelchair player (who had dropped out of the event earlier). I told him that it was the player's responsibility to be at their table on time, not the judge's.

Player P asked if he can gain life from his Exalted Angel after the unblocked creatures deal him lethal combat damage and survive. The answer was no. The angel's life gain ability uses the stack and combat damage has to be dealt first before it triggers. Since the player will be at zero life before the life gain ability resolves, he loses the game through state-based effects.

Final Thoughts

So far I have shown two approaches to my role as a head judge: The "autocratic" approach in Nottingham where I had to draw upon my own experience when solving a situation. In this article, I have been able to base judging decisions on a pool of shared experiences. For the final side of the triangle, I hope to write my report in the role of a floor judge at the Nationals itself at GenCon Europe, where my decisions may not necessarily be law...

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