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Tel Aviv Darksteel Prerelease
Head Judge Report

Doron Singer

Hi, I'm Doron Singer, and I'm a level 2 judge from Israel. You may have read me on such judge reports as "how to judge 153 people events alone" and "additional staff members - the weak man's way out". This report contains 150% more people, loads of fiber and EVEN LESS STAFF.

A little over a week before the Darksteel prerelease, Oryan, the T.O, contacted me and asked if I have any ideas about the upcoming prerelease. As those of you who have read Alon's previous report might know, last time we were caught off-guard by swarming masses of new players, and were almost unable to handle the vast amounts of people. Seeing as traditional methods have failed us in the past, Oryan encouraged me to unravel the forbidden lore I've acquired in the mysterious lands overseas (the United States). I was more than happy to, seeing as ever since I came back from the states I've been pushing to professionalize our tournaments. This, to me, looked like an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to everyone what a tournament should look like. Therefore, I sat down and wrote what I dubbed "Darksteel Battle Plan", which laid out specifically my plans for the prerelease. The gist of the matter was splitting the tournament into three flights, each judged by its own judge, with different-colored paper and different-colored pens, one adept scorekeeper on the computer and me orchestrating the whole thing. I emailed it to all the organizers, and got very little feedback, other than Oryan telling me we'll go for two 100-people events, instead of splitting them down too much. However, I was to have everything else. So, I woke up early on Saturday and went happily to Tel Aviv, fully expecting to see the masses of players awed by my revolutionary techniques, helpless against the efficiency, propelled kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Instead, I saw lines.

Big lines, that is. Bigger than you'd expect from a tournament where, say, people are being signed up for TWO tournaments at once, rather than one. Indeed, despite bringing an extra laptop and an extra printer, the idea of "actually hooking the other computer up" seemed not to have occurred to anybody until my arrival. At that point, 60 people had signed up for the tournament, all on one computer. I hooked the other one up, connected the printer (which had both ink and drivers), and set up the tournament. I then prepared to enter the other judges for the tournament, at which point I noticed there didn't seem to be any judges around. I must've seemed puzzled by this odd lack of judges in what was supposed to be a judge-rich atmosphere, so Oryan helpfully pointed out that I'm the only one around, and will remain so for the entire tournament. So much for that. Then he proceeded to shatter everything else I had planned, from not having enough tables and chairs, to not having used the colored nametags, and having the fancy-but-oh-so-easy-to-knock-over table numbers. So, to summarize, I was the only judge, with no staff whatsoever (not even a scorekeeper), of a tournament that was expected to reach 200 people turnout. To improve things, I suddenly noticed the printer from hell smiling at me from the other computer, and my joy was complete.

However, since whining is fun but not very useful, I started organizing what I did have. We separated the area into two very distinct zones. The other side is, of course, that players won't mix. However, it created what is possibly the largest tournament to have ever been held - it was about a quarter of a mile across (seeing, as all we get are corridors in a shopping mall). That made watching over the entire tournament simply impossible. The best I could do was patrol back and forth, but that was not only tiring, but also not very useful, as people kept calling me from all directions, meaning I never got to the actual end of the tournament area. Other problems included one of the laptops being from circa 1500 AD, meaning it crashed repeatedly and couldn't look DCI numbers up, one of the printers (the one with the ink AND drivers) refused to work at first, and what's worse, the printer from hell worked at an insanely slow pace. I'm talking about something like a page every two minutes or so. It would also lock DCIR while printing, to prevent any chance of operating in any way that resembles efficiency.

However, I did have colored pages, and people seemed to have gotten the hang of having two separate tournaments in the same space easily. We dubbed the tournaments "the gray" and "the black", which made it very easy for players to know where they were, seeing as one laptop was black and one was gray, and likewise with the printers. We also informed people what tournament they were in, and contrary to my expectations, everybody remembered. We finished registration at around 10:30 (only 30 minutes after the scheduled starting time), with 90 people in the black tournament and 88 in the gray one. Since at this point the printer still refused to work, and I'm technical guy, I couldn't give the usual rule explanation, so one of the organizers did it for me, which caused some problems later on, as he forgot to mention some points.
By 1 PM, everybody had finished registering, swapping and building their decks, made sure they are registered for the tournament and we were set to go.

Round 1 was surprisingly uneventful. I expected people to sit in the wrong tournaments, to not find each other or to not understand the new mechanics, all of which are staples of prereleases (as they tend to draw young crowds). However, things were running smoothly other than repeatedly explaining that yes, with these strange new cards you CAN imprint more than one card on one of your artifacts (this really threw people off, for some reason. I guess they got so used to all the imprints being come-into-play effects that they found it hard to believe that any of the other imprints can work more than once).


Panoptic Mirror seemed to have raised the most questions

Panoptic Mirror seemed to have raised the most questions, but all were variations on "can I really imprint more than one card" (yes), "do I play the spell at any time I choose" (no, it goes on the stack at the beginning of your upkeep), "do I play all the spells imprinted" (no, it's a triggered ability that happens once at the beginning of the upkeep) and finally "can I pay entwine costs when playing it?" (yes).

Some more interesting questions were:

"What happens if I discard a creature with Modular? It doesn't say 'from play' anywhere on the card". This confused me at first, and then I realized that since the creature would have no counters on it, you couldn't distribute its counters anyway.

"I cast Grab the Reins on my opponent's creature, which was equipped with his Skullclamp. I sacrificed it as part of the spell's effect. Who will draw the two cards?" Answer: Whoever controlled it when Skullclamp's ability ("Whenever equipped creature is put in a graveyard from play, draw two cards." ) triggered.

"If I block a 4/4 creature with my 1/1, and cast Test of Faith on it, what happens?"
Answer: Both live. The spell's effect will be treated as one indivisible step (so the 1/1 creature will become 4/4 before the check for state-based effects), but it will only occur after combat damage has been dealt.

"Can I cast deconstruct on an indestructible artifact and still get the mana?" Answer: Yes. Much like countering Urza's Rage, the artifact would still make a legal target, only its property of being indestructible would effectively negate the spell's effect. However, additional effects (such as gaining mana) would still resolve.

On one round, I was asked "if I play a spell with affinity for artifacts, can my opponent destroy one of my artifacts in response, to prevent its casting?"
The answer is no, of course, because the cost is locked on declaration. After I gave the player this answer, though, he called me to his table, and asked "so what are we supposed to do? I already took a lot of damage". Apparently, a couple of turns ago he attempted to cast Furnace Dragon, and his opponent destroyed one of his artifacts in response. They weren't sure if this really prevents the casting of the spell, so they did the only logical thing to do when there's a RULES question which leads to a situation where you're not sure what is going to happen according to the game's RULES and there's a person around whose sole specialty is the rules - they decided among themselves what makes sense, and he took the Furnace Dragon back. After taking some more beats from a horde of artifact creatures, though, the player reconsidered, and decided to call me, just to be on the safe side. I once again lectured them about the importance of calling a judge whenever you're uncertain, and how your opponent is the worst possible person to ask about the rules. I also ruled that the current game situation stands (since I don't think this falls under the definition of misrepresentation, seeing as both players were fairly certain this move is legal, and therefore the opponent hasn't really misled him).

The tournament also provided some comic relief, such as someone giving me a deck list for an extended U/G madness deck when I asked people to hand in their deck lists (I still haven't figured out of it's a joke or just someone very new), someone asking me if he can use his Skeleton Shard with Damping Matrix in play, because "it says you can play mana abilities, and this ability needs mana to work", and someone asking me if Alpha Myr had first strike (read the flavor text to figure this one out).

However, these were diminished by the number of disputes which I've had to settle. Since I couldn't be everywhere at once, many situations, that could possibly have been solved easily, had degenerated by the time I got there, either by "he told me" syndrome or just by players arguing extensively. The first such situation I was called on was in a game between two players, where a case of miscommunication occurred. In the combat phase, Player B cast an instant, with the intent of doing it after damage was on the stack. Player A assumed Player B had cast the spell at the end of the declare blockers step, since neither has verbally waved priority. I've interrogated them both, and found out the game was tense before that and that both players have been sticklers for rules (which changed my initial attitude, since usually I let these things slide in low RELs). I started reconstructing the stack with them, at which point I found out Player B believes erroneously that damage goes on the stack immediately after blocker declaration, without players receiving priority. I ruled that Player B cast the spell when he got priority on the declare blockers step, and illustrated the steps of combat for him (which, of course, was confronted by "but he told me otherwise").

Another very loaded situation was when player A had in play Drill-Skimmer, with no other artifact creatures and Loxodon Warhammer. Player B had a variety of creatures and more cards in hand, including Irradiate. He tapped mana with the intention of casting Irradiate on Player A's Drill-Skimmer. Then he paused, and asked Player A "wait, do you have more artifacts?" Player A replied that yes, he does control this artifact here (and showed his Loxodon Warhammer). At this point, their versions diverged. Player A (who was very worked up) claimed Player B's friend, who was watching the game, hinted that Drill-Skimmer's ability depends on other artifact creatures, and not just artifacts, meaning the next turn, when player A attacked with his Drill-Skimmer (which would've won the game, seeing as it was equipped with Loxodon Warhammer), player B knew he could cast Irradiate on the Drill Skimmer. Player B and his friend insisted the friend stayed mute as a fish, and that player B realized his error on his own. Since player A ended up winning on that turn anyway (with a top decked Fireball), the discussion was academic, so I didn't attempt to figure out who's telling the truth, and just informed the players, the friend and the small crowd that gathered that it's best never to say anything about a tournament match, and in case of an error, call the judge instead of commenting. I would gladly stay around and make sure that it's been concluded, but there was only one of me, and 176 of them.

A third interesting case was when Player A tapped 3 mana, with the intent of casting a 3-cc spell, but instead moved a 7-cc spell from his hand to play. His opponent wouldn't let him play the right spell, and after a couple of seconds, before the turn ended, they suddenly realized that player A just cast a 7-cc spell for three mana, and called me. My ruling was simple, since both agreed on the facts, I just made Player A pay the rest of the cost for his spell (seeing as he had enough mana). If he couldn't have played it, I would have untapped his lands and taken the spell back, and cautioned him about misplaying spells.
On round 3, 10 minutes after the round officially ended, 1 match was left outstanding. I called out the players' names, but nobody came. After 5 more minutes, I sent someone to see what they're up to (it was on the other end of the tournament, I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt). 5 minutes later, a total of 20 minutes after the round ended, I decided it's time to move on and awarded a double loss on that match, paired the round and printed it. While the page was printing, the players came over and demanded that I enter their result as a draw. They claimed it took them 10 minutes to find each other, and therefore they were given a 10 minute extension. This is one of the benefits of a one-judge system: I know perfectly well who has an extension and who doesn't, seeing as I'm the only one who gives them. When confronted with this, they resorted to the age-old argument of "someone told us". That someone, on this case, was one of the assistants, who were also playing in the tournament, and who was the person I sent to go and get them. Apparently, he got there and decided to tell them they have to finish the match in 5 turns, without consulting me or anyone else. I ruled that since he's not a tournament official, and since it's very unreasonable and unlikely that they didn't hear the megaphone announcing the end of the round, nor noticed everybody around them disappearing, or that their five extra turns took 20 minutes, the match loss stands, as a penalty for deliberate tardiness. One of the players was infuriated by this, but I managed to explain the logics of the situation to him, or so I thought.

Four rounds later, at the end of the very last round, I announced "1 minute remaining". A minute afterwards, I announced that time is up, and when I saw, 5 minutes later, that I have one outstanding match, I sent a volunteer to check on it. The volunteer reported that they informed him that they hadn't known the round was over, and will begin their turns now. He also added that it sounds unlikely to him, and that he believes that they deliberately ignored the call in order to finish their match. I went over, and they confessed they didn't believe there was any harm in deliberately ignoring the schedule, and that they were interested in finishing the match. I explained to them that the entire tournament was waiting for them (which was true, theirs was the last result in the entire tournament), immediately declared the match a draw (assuming 5 turns have passed in those 5 minutes where they deliberately ignored my call) and issued both of them warnings. At this point, the furious player from round 3 started accusing me of being biased, discriminating against him (I'm not sure on what basis, since I didn't know any of the players involved in either incident, nor did any of them have a different skin color or anything), and demanded that I explain to him why I gave a warning to these players and a match loss to him. I pointed out the difference in time wasted, ease of solution and level of honesty (as the players from round 3 initially deliberately lied to me, claiming they were given an extension by the organizer, who did no such thing according to him). At this point, he demanded I show him the book of DCI rules. I offered to link him to the GUIDELINES, which again sent him off, hinting that it's wrong that the head judge gets any discretion at all, look how I'm abusing it, etc. At this point he was beginning to disrupt the flow of the tournament, so I briefly explained to him the efficiency of having the head judge do whatever he thinks is right, whether right or wrong, and appealing on him if he abuses it, offered to give him my personal information so he can contact the DCI to complain about my behavior, and asked him to stop with this argument now, as he's disrupting the flow of the tournament. Oddly enough, it worked, though I expect to hear more from him.

After this, we were left only with the prize awarding (top 20 of each tournament got packs), and wrapped the whole thing up by 9 PM, including the massive delays caused by the printer from hell.

To summarize:

a) I still believe splitting tournaments into flights is the right thing to do. However, there will be many obstacles to overcome, mainly the fact the tournament area doesn't allow for easy separation of zones, and the fact I don't have any staff to assist me, which makes a farce of some parts of the job (like taking decklists but not performing a single deck check all day).
b) I now believe it is a mistake to have people too closely identified with the usual tournament staff, if they play regularly. This leads to people taking them too seriously (they are still not judges, so they sometimes make bad rulings), and might lead to claims of discrimination (though I think he was just looking for a reason to get steamed).
c) It is essential to prepare the player briefing in advance, and to make sure you cover all the points. I thought players are familiar with prereleases by now, but due to my own lack of preparation, I've had to deal with people playing with their prerelease cards in their decks, and people who only played one game instead of one match.

Overall, I'm satisfied with this tournament. Instead of being a monumental disaster, despite of all the hardships (lack of staff, having no bulk land, not having enough chairs and tables, and having to return the ones we did have by 8:30 PM), I think the tournament was reasonably well-run, with no repairs or unnecessary delays (except for when the printer from hell took 30 minutes to print pairings, at which point I just called them over the megaphone. In addition, I'm not making this figure up, it took the printer 30 minutes, and it still wasn't done). According to the feedback on the forum so far, people had a good time, and haven't noticed the fact there was only one fat man in a judge shirt running around. Also, my vocal cords are still intact, and I'm able to stand up, despite breaking my own personal record for people/judge ratio.

As always, all feedback is welcome.
Doron Singer, Level 2
Antrax2@hotmail.com



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