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Canadian Nationals 2003 - Judge Report

Mark Comey

The Setup
I have been judging under Jason Ness for some time and have learned a lot from him. Living in Alberta limits the amount of experience you can receive though. Thanks to the DCI and the support they are able to provide for Judges I was being given a chance to get the type of experience that I need. I was going to Nationals, and I was excited.

Mark Comey, Level 2
The Trip Down
The plane flight from Edmonton to Montreal was pretty uneventful. Of course I had the required screaming two year old sitting about two rows from me. When I hit the ground in Montreal I ran into a local player coming out to play. He asked me a few questions then it was off to the hotel. I felt bad I didn't have some ride tickets to give to the cab driver. The ride from the airport to the hotel was more exciting than most amusement park rides I have been on. I think we almost got hit twice, and almost took out two cyclists and one pedestrian. Most cars just get out of the way of the cabbies, but when he's traveling up to 140km/hour it's not so easy to do.

The Walk Around
I set myself up in the hotel room, looked at the local maps and went for a walk. I found the tournament site at Marché Bonsecours fairly easily as it was only 3 blocks away. It was also a great big building with a dome on top that could be seen from blocks away. Then I walked around Montreal for a few hours. It's a habit I've developed whenever I'm in an unfamiliar area. I ended walking for about 2 hours and went up and down St. Catherines street among a few others. Montreal definitely has a unique flavor and it was great to be able to absorb some of it. I ended crashing at about 0130.

Day One
Thursday morning comes and I'm up at 0530 as I can't sleep. Going to Nationals for the first time was exciting for me. I took my time having breakfast and getting ready for the day. I arrived at the tournament site about 30 minutes early and no one was there. The door to the tournament site itself was locked, so I asked security to open it up. Apparently I wasn't on the list but as I seemed to know what I was talking about I was given access, a radio, and a warning that the guy fixing the air conditioning wouldn't be there for about an hour. Yikes, as the day was supposed to get to 30 degrees Celsius that did not sound good.

Some of the other judges started filtering in along with Scott Larabee, the man who actually runs the whole show and Mauro the local TO who would be handling side events and grinders. The judges introduced ourselves to each other and prepared for the grinders. The air conditioning kicked in right before the players started showing up so all would be good. There were five single elimination grinders to be run. As Jason Ness had some airplane troubles and Marc Hernandez wasn't scheduled to arrive until tomorrow. This meant we would have six level 2's and one level 1; lots of judges to run the event.

Mark Comey (me)
Mark Richardson
Allen Pengelly
Mike Clark
Peter Kozlowski
Chris McQuire
Francois Laroche

We would take turns Head Judging one of the events and helping out in the other events when we weren't Head Judging. Allan would handle scorekeeping for all the events. Here was the experience I was looking for, the ability to Head Judge a larger tournament and work with other people and see how they did things differently. I would be taking the second tournament the sealed deck that ran at 1200.

While the sealed deck grinder ran well it was a little bumpy at the start as I had all the land collected from the tables and put at a land station. I realized how I could have done it better after the process was already started, so I had to continue with it this time. The smoothest way to run it would have been to instruct all players to put the non-foil lands in the center of each table organized by color and let the lands stay there. If they need extra lands they could use the land station. This would have eliminated the use of 2 Judges to collect land, and kept most of the players at the table which is always better than mass migrations and disruptions. Judge resources became more important as the day went on running multiple side events and up to 3 grinders at the same time. I gave Peter who would be running the other sealed deck, my suggestion as it would help him run his event smoother.

Grinders were great for the Judges to get to know each other and our strengths and weaknesses. The day ran very well but ended running quite long. The last constructed grinder started at 2300 so wouldn't end till about 0400 or so. That event could be covered by two judges just fine so only they would have to stay up till the wee hours (Mark Richardson who would be the Head Judge for that grinder and Allen who had been performing scorekeeper duties all day). They wouldn't have to be in till 1100 the next day to allow them to get some sleep.

Day Two - The Big Event

Starting up
The Judges meeting was at 0800 where we introduced to Marc Hernandez the Head Judge. We also added two more judges, Jeremy Smith and Duncan McGregor. Marc explained his general approach to judging and let us know he wanted to be informed before any game loss or match loss penalties were handed out. WOTC supplied us with Reid who would be handling all the scorekeeping duties for the event.

Marc separated us into two teams the Yin team and the Yang team. I was to be team leader of Yang and Jason was to be team leader of Yin. Jason immediately appealed his team name and was denied. My team was responsible for slips, pairing, and deck lists. It consisted of: Mark C - Team lead, Allan (who wouldn't be there till 1100), Jeremy, Duncan, and Francois.

The players were seated alphabetically and my team picked up the lists as Marc Hernandez gave the players the general run through on the tournament. This meant they were already organized alphabetically and were handed off to Jason's team for checking. I assigned Duncan to take care of slips and Francois to do postings. With just less than 100 players in the tournament things were going very smoothly. Pairings were posted before the player meeting was finished and slips were on the tables before the rounds started. That way the whole team could cover the floor as Jason's team would be busy for most of the round checking the deck lists.

Round One
A lot of players were nervous and that combined with new deck sleeves meant that there were a lot of warnings for dropping cards on the floor and flipping cards over when shuffling. One player, when shuffling his opponent's deck, dropped the entire deck on his lap and the floor. He called the Judge over because he didn't see any of the cards and didn't want to look at them to pick any up. The Judge carefully removed the cards from the players lap.

During the instructions to us Marc stated that while it was REL 4 he didn't expect perfect play from the players as long as the intent was clear and it didn't affect game play. Near the end of round one I responded to a Judge call. Player A had Wild Mongrel in play and at the end of his opponents turn had said "discard Rootwalla to the Wild Mongrel" and had put it into play. Player B argued that because he said discard that it should be in the graveyard. I ruled that the intent was clear and the Rootwalla could stay in play. Player B immediately asked for an appeal to the Head Judge. I explained the situation quickly to Marc Hernandez who asked a few more questions of the players and supported my ruling. As Marc was about to walk away he said "if it's not in the graveyard can we back up to where I can play Circular Logic?" Marc ruled that they could and play continued from there.

Let me explain my definition of the difference between a rules cheezer and a rules lawyer. A rules lawyer expects everyone else to play as technically as they do and will call a Judge on most incorrect plays. They are also willing to explain the rules to their opponents. Usually they are only upset when a broken rule causes a disadvantage to them. A Rules cheezer is a player who plays technically correct only when they have to and will deliberately trap opponents in minute details of the rules for their advantage.

A rules lawyer would have stopped the opponent when the tried to put the Rootwalla directly into play and pointed out to there opponent that they should say "discard with madness, removed from game" then "played with madness" and put the Rootwalla on the stack where they could respond with the Circular logic.

This rules cheezer tried to take advantage of an often-used shortcut to disadvantage their opponent and create card advantage for themselves. This is exactly the type of player that can give the game a bad reputation.

Round two
Before the start of the second round Jason's team needed to borrow some of my team members due to the amount of deck checks necessary from deck list errors. As pairings and slips were quite easy and floor could be covered by two people I let two of my team members know they would be helping out with the deck checks and they reported to Jason. Teams are excellent way to organize and set things up, but always keep an eye on the goal, not the method. To mutilate some Latin "Semper Gumbi" Always flexible.

Round two went smoothly and after about half way through the round the amount of Judge calls started to drop as all of the judge's consistent rulings made it clear rules cheezing and asking for penalties was not going to work. In some cases unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were awarded to the cheezer responsible.

Round three
Round three really had no notable rulings or excitement of any type. Both the judge teams were working well together and the players had a couple of rounds to calm the nerves. After this round there was a 30 minute lunch break for the players. All the rounds ran late because of the amount of deck checks and players running control decks.

Judges watch the draft
Rochester Draft
Before the Rochester Draft the players were all seated alphabetically and Marc gave them a brief announcement. This would be where they would be returning when the draft was finished to build their decks. The pods were posted while this was going on and lands and deck lists were already distributed during the break. They all moved en-masse to check their seating and sit at the draft tables.

Allan and Mark Richardson were on site and we wouldn't be losing anyone to side events or the Grand Prix Atlanta trial until after the Rochester. This worked well as we almost had one judge per table. I was to be watching tables five and six. After everyone was reminded that there was no talking during the draft, they were instructed to open the packs and lay them out on the table. The player at seat one on table six just sat there. When he didn't move after I signaled to him, I quickly moved to his seat opened the pack and laid it out on the table explaining what I was doing and that he would have to do it next time. After he made his pick I gave him a quick rundown of how Rochester draft works as that pack was being selected. Because of educating the player while I was taking care of the potential problem he didn't have any further problems. The draft went smoothly and didn't have to be stopped. Scott on the microphone kept a steady cadence and with the occasional "shush", and a "pick now" reminder things went smoothly.

When the players moved back to the tables we switched around anyone who had someone that was in the same pod at their table. Once they were finished deck construction they called a judge over to pick up their deck list and then left the area. My team was switched to deck checks and this time it was my turn to need a few extra bodies. We also lost Francois to the Grand Prix for Registration and setup over there.

Draft deck list checks

The lists were finished being checked near the end of the 4th round and the results were not good; seven match losses due to errors. This also meant we would be keeping the extra bodies just to scoop the decks. As two of the players were playing each other that meant six tables and twelve decks. Over 15% of the decks were being checked. After the scoop we checked the non match penalty deck first and returned it barring no errors and informed both players of the match loss and took the player with the penalty over to his deck and deck list in order to correct it. It's very tough to give out match losses for clerical errors but it has to be done because of the potential for abuse. If you are judging and you see clerical errors at a pre-release, Grand Prix Trial, or Pro Tour Qualifier, take the time to educate the players. If we help the players they will come to see us as the good guys we are. If we don't we are the bad guys who didn't prepare them, and hand down penalties that seem harsh because they are without warning and explanation.

Round Six
The 6th round was uneventful with deck checks going smoothly. After the first ten minutes of the round more judges were moved over to the Grand Prix trial and side events. The player's wrap up for the day was very uneventful and the judging staff moved into areas where we were required. All the judges at Canadian Nationals were very self motivated, they looked for things to do and everything was taken care of.

The Balance
Side events and the Grand Prix Trial wrapped up at about midnight and I decided to go out on the town and enjoy Montreal while I could. The nightlife is great and a lot friendlier than I would expect from a major city. It's important to know your strengths and weaknesses. From previous experience I know that I can function well with 3 - 4 hours sleep for a few days. If you're not able to do this, don't push it. Any fun and excitement you have will be offset by disappointment in your own performance and letting the team down. Any large event requires balance, you are there to work hard and do a job, but you need to have fun too.

Day Three
We had a small judges meeting before the start of the day, but there wasn't much to cover as everything was running very smoothly. The team leads were switched around with Allan becoming the leader of team Yang and Mark Richardson becoming the leader of team Yin. We had a few people drop from the event first thing in the morning and a few that were dropped as they didn't show up for the mandatory players meeting.

The day ran very smoothly with things continuing from yesterday. It ran three rounds of Rochester and then finished off with three rounds standard.


On the second day many of the Judges were refining their deck scooping techniques. You need to be very careful here. While trying to wait till the last possible moment to take the decks and minimizing the chance of giving away the intended target, I think it's more important to be careful of the impression that is left. I heard a few players complaining about judges leaping from 2 tables away literally grabbing decks out of their hands. Deck checking is a very good tool to reduce cheating and when done properly very few players have any complaints. If Judges start jumping on players like they are already guilty of something it will create a negative attitude towards the Judges and the process as well. Keep it courteous and professional, a good rule to follow whenever you're judging.

We had a short Judges meeting where we summarized the last two days and ran through some of the rulings. We also prepared for tomorrow by assigning table judges to all the final matches. I was to be judging a quarterfinal match and the finals as well. A few people would be assigned to PTQ Boston that started at 0900 on the Sunday.

As we wrapped up fairly early there was an opportunity for some of us to go see a baseball game while the rest of the judges covered Grand Prix Detroit. Montreal versus Toronto, I'm not a big baseball fan, but how could I say no to that? A good time was had by all, as far as baseball games go, it was great. Toronto's pitcher get his first hit of the season, a homer and drives in some runs. Montreal rallied too late to take the game. The only thing I didn't get to see was someone charge the mound. There was a pretty good bean ball, but the player kept disciplined and it didn't happen.

Day Four

I woke up the next day with my roommate Jason telling me it was 0830. What time!! The hotel had failed to punch in the wake up call I asked for. Reliability isn't what it used to be I guess. Note to self: use the alarm clock and the wake up call. We scrambled and made it there on time. Stopping at local store for the two chocolate milks that would be breakfast that day.

Jason Ness among other things was doing Judge Certification during the event. Things did not go very well here. I wrote an article a little while ago on becoming a judge. It suggested some of the information to study. If you know someone who wants to become a judge I would recommend having them read it. Most players know the rules at least somewhat but very few of them are familiar with DCI policies and penalty guidelines. This was the most failed part on all the tests written. Lack of preparation will defeat you every time.

Table judging went very smoothly. These were players that were very familiar with their decks and had the skills to use them to get this far. I had my paper and pen to record life totals and land drops, neither of which was necessary in either match I table judged but good to have anyway as you never know when you are going to need to reference them. In one of the games player A asked player B to back up and explain the interaction between Faceless Butcher and Stronghold Assassin which resulted in him losing two of his creatures. It had already resolved but I decided to allow it as Player A had rushed through it and didn't give his opponent a chance to respond at the appropriate times. The player ran through all the steps and his opponent didn't have any response. Sometimes players are so used to using the shortcuts they may not be able to play the interaction properly. At this level mind games and Jedi tricks are part of the game. You have to make sure you are not being used as part of them. Let the players play and don't interrupt or interfere unless necessary. It can be mentally exhausting just keeping tracking of two skilled players, life total, land drops, priority passes, and triggered abilities.

Head Judge Marc Hernandez
More paperwork
The Nationals was over, but the Grand Prix was still going on. That event was fully covered so I decided to take some time to fill out Judge Evaluation reports. This was a learning experience for me and also helps to provide feedback to the DCI. I decided to go over each form I filled out with the person I filled it out on. They are submitted anonymously but as I wanted the judges to receive feedback and also get their opinions on the evaluation. I'm glad I decided to do it this way, as the information and insight I received back was great. The comments section was a little small so I just continued the information on the back. While it may not make it onto the website because of space limitations I think it's the most important part. If I marked anything below average or above average I believe it needed a comment as to why, preferably with a specific example. I also found with myself there was a tendency to fill out as much as possible. This isn't really fair to whoever you are reviewing as depending on the categories you won't have enough information for example: seeing only one or two rulings won't give you enough information to base their rules knowledge on. If you are unsure or can't come up with more than a few specific examples it's best to leave that section blank.

After following up on and handing in Judge Evaluations, I helped out with the rest of the Grand Prix. Things went smoothly but as Nationals was over and players were used to seeing and talking to judges all weekend things got a little too relaxed. There's friendly, but there are some things that cross the line and need to be dealt with. A few unsportsmanlike - minor penalties were handed out. Usually to players the judge's knew from their own area. Myself responding to a "Judge get over here and do you job" resulted in a standard ruling and an unsportsmanlike penalty. A simple lecture on situational behavior and all was well after that. As a judge I work hard to develop and maintain professionalism and an ethical image. Letting things like this slide because I know people would undermine that professionalism and my own integrity.

What I learned
I learned many things from the experience; some of them concrete and some principals. Throughout the weekend my image of myself as a judge and of other judges changed. I now see we should be more of a teacher and less of an enforcer. Most people simply need to be educated or guided in the right direction. I can still bring the hammer down when people are doing things they KNOW are unacceptable, but I'll reserve that for use when necessary. The Head Judge can really set the tone and Marc did an excellent job. Once he set the tone he was consistent throughout and did a great job explaining things to players and judges alike.

I want more experience. I like to improve and continue, and this was definitely a step in the right direction. As someone who wants to become a level 3, I think the next steps are applying the information and the experience gained to local tournaments over the summer. A little work on some areas I want to be stronger in and maybe an event the size of a Pro Tour or a Grand Prix and I'll be chomping at the bit to go for my level 3. That's not the end either, but it is the next few steps for me. Those steps will take me to one of my next goals - Being able to work with people who want to become a Judge and sharing my experiences with them.

Mark Comey
Level II DCI Judge

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