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Israeli Nationals - Judge Report

Alan Jacobi

Hello, My name is Alan Jacobi from Israel. This is my first contribution to the judge report archive, since the tournament I'm reporting is the one I (finally) got tested in. Before I start, required reading for this report is Doron Singer's previous reports, as this report will be referencing symptoms and situations described in his reports. Also, this report will be slightly different from most reports I read here, since I consider the anecdotes that surround the tournaments in Israel to be at least as interesting as the particular rulings and questions that came up during the tournament.

Alan Jacobi
Since this is my first report here, a short introduction is in order. I'm 24, and been playing Magic since 1994. At some point I found that most of the time, in a Magic game, I know what I CAN do better than what I SHOULD do (which in my opinion is what separates a good judge from a good player), and so I started focusing on judging more than playing.

Unfortunately, like Doron, I also suffered from "ACADS" (Acute Certification Authority Deficiency Syndrome), a severe malady in Israel, and so have been judging for quite a while (I believe Torment Prerelease was the first time I pitched in and started patrolling the floor answering rules questions), yet was unable to get a hold of any Level 3 judge to finally get tested. Tournaments came and went, I started judging more and more events, including head judging (as the only judge) of a ~100 people Onslaught prerelease, a PTQ, this year's northern regionals and more, yet no L3 judge was seen in the horizon.

We had a couple of "false alarms" as judges were supposed to come to previous tournaments, but ultimately didn't (I'm not sure exactly why, but I suspect it wasn't the weather...).

That was the background to the announcement that came shortly before our regionals: "A L3 judge is coming. This time it's confirmed". The last time we had a high level judge in Israel was in the year 2000 Nationals (Cyril Grillon), so most players didn't know what to expect. As I knew I was judging the northern Regionals, I started preparing the players. We have made a lot of progress here in Israel in terms of rules enforcement (I no longer get asked what I need their deck lists for), but Israel still holds a potential culture shock for judges accustomed to neat, orderly, punctual tournaments.

By the time the regionals were over, the players were expecting nothing less than Arnold the Terminator to come and blast their decks with lasers from his eyes. Every single penalty was accompanied with a "When the L3 judge gets here, he won't care that your friend was the one who registered your deck for you!" or "When the L3 judge gets here, he's not gonna allow you to play with these sleeves!" and so on.

Since this year's nationals included a Rochester Draft, which was a foreign concept to many of this year's nationals' participants, I prepared a feature in our local forum with all the rules translated to Hebrew, complete with diagrams.

A couple of days before the tournament I found out that I'll be judging the nationals along with the foreign judge. Since Doron defected to the west with the secrets of Israeli judging, I had some pretty large shoes to fill (seriously, Doron is a big guy).

Finally, the big day arrived. I packed up my usual judge gear which includes a little clipboard with the penalty guidelines, paper and a pen (to record penalties until I enter them in the computer), my digital camera (Please hold this number and face the front - Now the profile please - Thank you), and my trusted whistle (more on this later).

Upon arrival I immediately employed my patented algorithm for the identification of a visiting L3 Swedish judge. It goes like this:

  1. Rule out all non-blondes.
  2. Rule out anyone too young to be a L3 judge.
  3. Rule out anyone you know not to be a VL3SJ.
  4. Rule out anyone not in formal wear.
  5. Go over to the blonde guy you don't know in the judge shirt who is registering people at the computer.

Mattias Waglin, Level 3 from Sweden
And so I met Mattias, the VL3SJ. Mattias was busy registering people into the tournament. Apparently most players did not employ the algorithm outlined above, and approached Mattias like this:

Player (in Hebrew): "Hey, what's up? Listen, Allan (the T.O) told me to register over here, and I wanted to ask you about my sleeves, if you could check them to make sure they are all ok and unmarked, and yeah about the Rochester (probably the only word Mattias recognized), how many rounds will that be? Cause I want to make my deck list and I still haven't got all the cards - I'm looking for someone..."

At which point Mattias would say: "Eh... English Please".

I was dismayed to find out I will be making all announcements without the benefit of a megaphone. Usually, the noise level at our tournaments is such that it sometimes exceeds the capacity of the megaphone, so I was hopeful that I would retain some ability to speak after the tournament.

One interesting question that popped up during this early registration period was regarding marking sideboard cards. A player approached me and asked me if he was allowed to insert a small piece of paper into the front of his sideboard sleeves to aid him in desideboarding (so he could quickly identify his sideboard cards after each match and return the deck to it's original configuration). I saw no problem with that, but Mattias enlightened me that it was forbidden. I was genuinely surprised. Apparently some players can somehow sense the piece of paper by touching the back of the sleeve. I have never seen a player who can do that (that sounds like a mutant x-men power to me), but I'm taking Mattias' word on it. Well, you learn something new everyday.

I announced to the players that the deck-lists will have to be handed in before the last round of the Rochester starts so we have ample time to go over the deck lists and politely remind players that 8 card sideboards aren't legal. At this point you must be thinking "Shouldn't a player good enough to play in the nationals supposed to know sideboards are 15 or 0 cards?". The answer is "Not in Israel".

When the registration was over we were dismayed to find 73 players registered to the tournament. 72 is perfect, 73 means BYEs all over the place. Thoughts of a random DQ (Hey you! Don't you know green shirts are bad sportsmanship?! DQ!) crossed my mind (and left as quickly as they came). We split the players up to 3 eight player pods and 7 seven player pods by posting table assignments by player and then later on handing each table its particular order within the table.

Israel Nationals
I got up on a chair and explained to the players the basic rules of the draft. I particularly stressed that there will be no talking, no signaling, and no communication whatsoever by any means, verbal, physical or mental. That was necessary because in Israel, it takes a sock in the mouth to keep a player quiet during a draft. I explained that the 7 player pods will follow a slightly different procedure. At that point we were planning to announce when each player is supposed to pick. That plan had 2 major flaws:

  1. Most of the players never played Rochester in their lives. Having different procedures for 70% of the pods was bound to confuse some of them.
  2. My throat wasn't going to survive the ordeal.

Trying to announce the procedure of the draft to the players over the noise, flaw number 2 was starting to appear. They say desperation is the best motivation for invention, and that's when I thought of using my whistle as a metronome. The new plan was to signal picks using a short whistle. This plan had several things going for it.

First, it meant that players in a 7 player pod would just have to pick normally whenever they hear a whistle. They will not have to wait idly while player #8 in the 3 remaining pods makes 2 picks. In the previous method player #7 in the 7 player pods would also have effectively 20 seconds to consider his picks, a small but still unfair advantage over other players. Other than that, it would be less confusing.

Second, the whistle was loud enough to be clearly heard all across the room. My voice wasn't (considering the constant hum).

And finally, my vocal chords might just survive the day.

I'm happy to say this worked like a charm. The only incident during the draft was an irregular booster sporting 16 cards with an extra common. Mattias ruled that the 16th card be removed from the booster, and all was well.

Meanwhile, we were printing out limited deck lists. Unfortunately, the printer our T.O brought was not meant to print stuff in a hurry. I strongly suspected there was a little gnome writing out the individual pages by hand inside the printer. Trying to reduce the print quality resulted in faded out pages which were hard to read, and even those printed slowly.

When the draft was finally over, Mattias allotted the customary 25 minutes deck building to the players. As a side note I should tell you that I have never seen a tournament in Israel in which deck building took less than an hour, so the players were "mildly unpleased" with the time limit. The 25 minutes were soon over, and the amount of players that handed in deck-lists was somewhere between few and a couple (mostly those with professional tournaments experience who can recognize a card by its smell when it comes out of the booster). I whipped out my clipboard and started going around handing out warnings, but I knew that wasn't going to help much. 25 minutes is what it takes some players to write out their deck-list, and some of them were reading the cards for the first time. Again you wonder how this could be in a nationals tournament. The answer is that anything is possible in Israel. We've had 8 year olds who can't read English in the tournament. It is beyond me how they managed to qualify in the regionals.

I encountered a recurring problem, people filling out check marks in the places they're supposed to be writing numbers. No matter how many times I announce this during a tournament, I will ALWAYS find a couple who still think they should be making check marks. I assign a couple of more responsible players who finished with their deck building to help out the kids who can't fill out a deck list on their own (eye roll), and at about twice the allotted time, the deck building phase is finally over.

Finally we print and post pairings. By the time we get the 2nd copy printed, the players have all seen the pairings and are in their seats. So much for printing multiple copies. From then on we first printed both copies, and only then hung them up together.

During the rounds I had to answer numerous questions regarding combat procedure, the stack, and timing. I gave out a forced mulligan to a guy who drew 7 after a Paris, and awarded several warnings for failure to draw after cycling.

Additional incidents included a guy losing his sideboard and having to play the remainder of the rounds without one, and at the beginning of round 2 a fairly disturbing incidence:

One of the 8 year olds lost his deck. His opponent was at the table waiting for him, and he was walking around crying looking for his deck. This is, after all, a REL 4 event, and I have to issue him a game-loss for either tardiness or procedural error severe (take your pick). This causes him to burst into tears and march out defiantly out of the room to sit on the stair and sulk. I go over to him and try to convince him to look for his deck meanwhile so that I will be able to avoid giving him a match-loss, but little kids being as they are, aren't the most rational beings on Earth. He sat there crying saying that now he doesn't have a chance, that we're out to get him, and that it wasn't his fault he lost the deck. He personally accused me of trying to sabotage his chances at the tournament.

Finally, I told him that if he finds the deck in the next 5 minutes, I'll see what I can do about the game-loss. A blatant lie, since I can't overlook it, but it got him to wipe his tears and go on looking for his deck. 2 minutes later he found it, and was playing his opponent. I waited till he finished losing the first game, and then walked over and told him that this was "match over" cause his game-loss from before still stood. That caused him to go into another fit. It really broke my heart to have to do this to a little kid, I really wanted to let this slide, but of course, considering the seriousness of this event, I couldn't and wouldn't. My T.O suggested that perhaps we should have just let him played because most likely he would have just lost the 2nd game as well, but that would have created a problem if his opponent somehow managed to lose. As Mattias said, mana screw can happen to anybody, and things would have been much worse if we had to tell the kid his win is invalidated because of his earlier game loss.

Another incident where Mattias had to play "The bad guy" in order to keep the tournament running was when one kid started bleeding from the nose before a round started. Mattias gave him 2 minutes to go to the bathroom and stop bleeding. That may sound harsh (and it did to me), but to quote Mattias again, if we need to be harsh to one player in order to keep the tournament moving for the other 72, that's what we need to do. Rationally I know this is true, but I'm still a bit soft hearted.

A player called me over with a complaint that his opponent was playing too fast and wasn't giving him a chance to react. I cautioned the player and told him that from now on I expected him to ask his opponent to explicitly pass priority every time. The player seems confused. He doesn't understand what's this "priority shmaiority". I sigh, and stay to observe the match. With me over the shoulder, the play plays much calmer, and things quiet down. I get called over to another table, and when I return I ask them if everything is ok now, and they both confirm. Good.

During the last round of the Rochester draft Mattias went over the constructed deck lists, found a couple of errors (59 card deck list, 8 card sideboard, etc.) and we got them all corrected before the standard rounds started.

The Standard rounds were much better. Players were already familiar with most interactions in their decks, and so didn't have many problems. A question that arose several times was regarding when the mana for Lightning Rift's triggered ability is paid (on resolution), and generally a slight confusion regarding what is done on resolution and what is done on announcement (with Gigapede for example). I had to dictate the combat steps several times during the round. A tricky question to answer is a question of the form: "What's the last time I can do X in the combat phase?" with X usually being one combat trick or another. When answering that you have to be careful not to coach the player, so I just repeated the combat steps over and over and told him all the times during combat phase in which he has priority.

Eventually, the rounds were over and we prepared the place for the Top 8 knock-out rounds. By now it was around 9-10 PM, and I was exhausted. I arranged the tables, and once we got the round started I sat and (FINALLY) took the judge test. I was so exhausted that the circles around my answers were shaky, but eventually I finished the test, and several minutes afterwards Mattias told me I scored a 95, but that it could be 97 because there's an issue with one question the current rules might match what I wrote (and I did in fact base my answer to that question on something Rune answered recently on Saturday School). Either way, it was good enough. A couple more took the judge tests, including several kids who didn't even understand all the English in the test.

All in all, despite what my sarcasm may make it sound like, the level of play in Israel IS slowly rising. Most players are getting used to the deck lists and deck checks (we ran a couple without incident this tournament), and turnouts are gradually rising with each tournament.

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