Magic the Gathering

PTQ London

Yesterday we had a PTQ for London in Berlin. Two days before the event Huy, the scheduled head judge called me and asked whether I could do the HJ, since he had to leave early. Of course I happily accepted.

We had 68 players, which was a low turnout. Kamigawa seems to bore people. Personally I liked Mirrodin block much better and I hope that Ravnica with its multi-color theme will be more interesting.

Anyway, the tournament was not a success in my eyes. We had many problems with unsporting conduct, especially in the early rounds. During deck construction my scorekeeper told me that a player had given him the finger. On the request of the SK I didn’t do anything, but I asked him to call me if something like that should happen again.

And it did. Later I was told the following story by the SK: A player had approached the judge’s table and put a result slip onto a stack of already processed result slips instead of the box designated for result slips. This was certainly out of bad intent by the player, but it could have caused problems if it hadn’t been caught. Fortunately the SK noticed it and asked the player to put it into the box next time. The player asked whether he could get the result slip again and when the SK handed it to him, he deliberately put it onto the wrong stack of slips again. Then he turned away, mumbling something unfriendly, according to the SK.

After I heard of this situation, I called the player over to the judge’s table and asked him about what just happened. But instead of telling his side of the story, he immediatly began attacking the SK directly. “I can’t believe you make a scene out of this. I am at least five years older than you, … If you have ego problems, …” etc. pp. I was so baffled that I told the player right there: “Well, originally I was considering a Match Loss for Unsporting Conduct – Major, but currently I am really asking myself if I shouldn’t disqualify you.” Not very diplomatic, I agree, but I was reallybaffled.

After he had left, I discussed the appropriate penalty with the SK and another judge, but in the end I decided to give a Match Loss for Unsporting Conduct – Major. We tried to pair that player against the eternal loser BYE, so that no other player would get a benefit from this, but we failed. (It seems that it is not possible to give somebody who’s got a bye a Match Loss.) So at the beginning of the next round I went over to the table where that player was supposed to play and told him about the penalty. He argued for quite a while with me. While he kept a friendly tone, he was saying some “suboptimal” things. For example, when his opponent showed up and I told his opponent that he had already won his round and could leave, the ML’ed player interfered and said that he should stay, since things were still being discussed. (This wasn’t the case. The player had been given his chance to argue his case, but instead had used it to attack the scorekeeper.)

Later during the discussions he requested that I send a report to the DCI since he would do that as well. I refused (and I am sure that this is a good for him). He asked me how long I’ve been a L2 judge (four months now) and then told me that he is a L2 judge for eight years, so he must be right. (I checked, he’s not a judge anymore.) He asked me how I would look if this incident was publically discussed in Web forums, etc. etc. After I made it clear that ruling stood and that I didn’t see a point in discussing it further, he dropped from the tournament.

During the next round I observed a match where a large crowd of spectators had gathered around. One of the spectators was the player I had ML’ed last round. I observed the following situation: Player A has a creature equipped with a Shuriken. He announces that he would like to equip it to another of his creatures and then looks up expectantly at his opponent (lets call him B). When B said something or made an affirmative gesture (I don’t remember exactly), A said: “In response shoot your guy.” B was already putting his creature into the graveyard when I interfered. I ruled that since he had looked up at his opponent, he had passed priority and that it was too late to shoot his opponent’s guy.

A was clearly not happy. But when I asked him why he looked up, he agreed that it was because he was waiting for an reaction of his opponent. He later modified this story and claimed that he just wanted to confirm that his opponent had understood what he was doing. Things became heated and A’s behaviour was bordering on unsporting. Well, it was actually not bordering on unsporting, but was clearly unsporting, but since I didn’t want to heat up the situation more, I refrained from giving penalties. Some other players (friends of him probably) tried to calm him down and told him not to worsen the situation. Fortunately they were partially successful. Unfortunately the ML’ed player also interfered and complained loudly about the bad ruling etc. I should have given him a string reprimand at this point, but I didn’t. I left the table and asked another judge to watch the match.

I came back a minute later to tell the spectators retroactively not to interfere in rulings in the future. To which the ML’ed player replied: “You are right, but it’s hard to keep quiet when you know stuff better than the HJ.” I should have kicked him from the premises right then. (Remember that there was a crowd of players standing around.)

Towards the end of the round, the match wasn’t finished yet, so I went over there again to watch the match. It was going well into the extra turns. (No wonder, this was the cursed table 20 – every round the match at this table seemed to be the last one to finish.) Especially player A was playing extremely slow. In retrospect I think that he was deliberately playing slow for a reason I can’t fathom. He got a Slow Play warning in the end.

Rounds going well into the extra time were a problem during the tournament. One match was still not finished five minutes into the extra turns. When I went there to the judge observing the match, I misunderstood him and thought that they were in the third extra turn. I told the judge that he should award Slow Play warning if the play continued to be slowly and left, thinking that this situation was taken care of. When I went there again seven or eight minutes later, I learned that they were only in the second extra turn right now. At that point Slow Play warnings should really have been issued. No matter how complicated a board situation is, it is not possible to hold up a tournament for more than 15 minutes for just five turns.

During the later rounds things became more quiet and the top 8 were okay. But all in all this tournament was not a pleasant experience.

Magic the Gathering

Interview with Andy Heckt

Finally I finished my judge article. I will send it in early next week. As a bonus, here is the complete interview with Andy Heckt:

First of all: What is your official job title at Wizards?

Network Manager – this is because my duties coordinate player need, the judge program, and organizers of premiere events (invitations).

What do you do at Wizards, especially related to judges/judging?

I’m responsible for managing the DCI judge program including: production of materials, selection of sponsored judges, judge procedures and policy, data entry for certifications, networking organizers to judges, and customer service for judges. I have input on Regional judge advancement and am responsibility for International and Professional judge advancement.

Other duties I have are managing player information for our premiere events, including invite and GP-bye lists.

How long have you been the “judge coordinator”?

I have been the judge coordinator since February 1st of 2004. My prior job with Wizards for four years was player coordinator and I still have those responsibilites.

Many judges I have interviewed mentioned that since you are in that position, the judge program has greatly improved. What changes did you institute?

The judge program has had two prior phases; creation and philosophy. The creation was a framework in how we thought things could/should work. Philosophy was the period of asking ourselves why are we doing things this way and formalizing it in documents. My focus has been on redifining the Community and allowing judges to find a level of responsibility for themselves.

Community in the building of a the worldwide judges as a community of people with their own culture and sense of belonging. Primarily we are doing this in a top-down fashion, because the program is structured this way to pass along experience, mentoring, and certification. We restructed the higher levels of the program with the idea of including more judges at these levels. Its accomplished by encouraging communication on list-servers and especially at events through seminars, high-level meetings, one-on-ones, etc…

Responsibility in that we redefined the old levels to provide a description of their responsibilities and area of operation. We want judges to understand that advancement is not required. You can be the best, most accurate, knowledgable, fair judge as the Local judge for Friday Night Magic (L1s), than the similar judge who wants to build the judge community and organized play as the Regional judge (L3).

Most importantly I take input and solicit opinions, so this program is the judge’s program and not a DCI dictate. I think it especially helps that I’m NOT a certified judge with a level and rank. I’m the network between the judges and the DCI.

How would you describe the current situation of the judge program?

Varied, but steady and slow. It takes time to develop judges and the nature of TCGs is a rotating player base. Many areas of the world are still developing organized play and in these areas the judge program looks more like it did 5 years ago, while other areas have well developed organized play and their needs are different. I share responsibility of this program with co-workers in other offices who’s focus is often more narrow (their country or region) while I have dual responsibility of my Region (Americas and Japan) and the worldwide program. Managing the resources of the program to meet these varied needs is difficult.

What improvements are still needed?

Better opportunities for testing and mentoring. We need more opportunities for those who wish to judge to test for certification. We also need a better means to mentor all the judges and especially the new judges who are remote from others. We also simply need to move into the electronic age more with the program.

How would you describe the overall quality of judges? How does this differ on the various levels (from small in-store tournaments to the Pro Tour)?

The various levels actually reflect responsibilities, not quality. I have great faith in the testing being conducted more and more. The interviewing of even Level 1 candidates is improving (i.e. its not simply scoring well on the test that makes you a judge.) The Regional judge’s (L3s) responsibilities are empowering and time-consuming. We understand that many judges simply want to judge their local events and be recognized for their contribution to growing organized play at its base.

What, in your experience, causes people to become judges? And why do they stay judges? What incentives do people have to become judges?

Its volunteerism. I think people become judges because they want to improve their (game) community and do so in a role that uses their skills. They want to make a contribution to something they enjoy and find value in – similar to many reasons people volunteer for school programs, music programs, sports programs, etc… They find a means to belong to their gaming community that recognizes their better skills. Some judges are professional players (Bram Snepvangers, Sol Molka, Duncan McGregor, Werner Cloete, etc…), others are store employees/owners seeking to help their business, others are players who judge to improve their playing skills. Most tangible incentives for becoming a judge come directly from store owners and professional organizers. The real incentive, and the reason they stay with it for any time, is from the knowledge that they have helped to make something they care about, better.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Many players think that a judge is a rules expert and that all the answers are written down somewhere. It far more about keeping a tournament fair and running while encouraging the fun that exists. The philosophy and intent of the rule is more important than the technical details.

Video Games

Brothers in Arms

I’ve recently played through Brothers in Arms and I was disappointed. Brothers in Arms is a tactical shooter in a WWII settings with a storyline that’s based on true events. The gameplay is centered around flanking the enemy. You normally have two squads at your command, where on squad is used to pin the enemy down and the other is supposed to flank him.

The game has lots of good ideas and is technially very good. You have the feeling that the developers really made an effort to make a realistic game. It has up-to-date graphics, a good unit AI, an immersive storyline, realistic weapons and tactics, and lots of small and good ideas. I especially liked the extras system: After completing each chapter at one of the four difficulty settings, an extra is unlocked. This extra is normally either historical photos, in-development material, or background material. This really makes you want to play through each difficulty level. Part of the immersive storyline is your familarity with your own squad. You not only get to know your men during the cut scenes, but during the game you can approach people and they will look at you and smile at you. They also call the names of people that are wounded and your character shouts the name of the team leader if you give commands.

But all this good stuff is of no use, because there is one area were the game really sucks. Unfortunately it’s probably the most important aspect: level design. All levels are extremely linear. You often have only exactly one approach to move on. The game plays more like a puzzle game than a military simulation: You have to find out where to best position your men to defeat the enemies with the fewest losses on your side. The tactical aspect of this game is basically limited to finding the tactic the level designers intended you to find and then to follow it. Compare this to games like Operation Flashpoint or Far Cry: In this games you usually have an objective and how to reach this objective is up to you. You can approach your objective from all sides, but finding the best approach is part of the game.

Also, earlier I talked about the immersive storyline: You start off the game with a black screen with only the name of the chapter displayed and a voice over from your character. When the game begins, you awake from a shell shock and are inmidst a fire fight, having no clue what to do. A really frightening scene. Unfortunately this immersion in the game is also destroyed because of the level design. If every road is blocked by a barricade, if every street is lines by unpassable bushes, and if every other way is unpassable due to a (low) fence, it’s really frustrating. The first time you try to jump over a fence to approach an enemy from behind and can’t and are forced to take the open main road, you get frustrated. You really don’t feel in command of the game, you know that the game is forcing you to take the road you are supposed to. Again, compare that to Far Cry, where levels often are, in fact, linear. Only, you don’t feel like that, since the borders feel natural. Also, the areas in which you can walk are vast enough to give you the impression of freedom. They also allow you to approach an objective from different sides.

In summary I was disappointed. Partly because I expected another Operation Flashpoint (i.e. a military simulation) and got a puzzle game with FPS elements. It’s sad to see that games like that are obviously what most gamers demand. Why make the effort to make a realistic game, if it doesn’t feel realistic or authentic, because the level design really sucks?

Magic the Gathering

Public View of Judges

I’m very disappointed with recent articles about judges. Terry Soh’s premium article on Star City Games seems to stand out. I have to admit that I haven’t read the article, since I don’t have SCG premium, but the comments about this article are enlightening. Also, Noah Weil’s article from today doesn’t portray judges in a good light, although I have the feeling that Noah intended it to do. It’s also full of miscomprehensions:

Why would someone become a judge? In my view, there are four reasons. They are: compensation, ensuring a good time, ensuring a fair time, or wielding a desperately needed pseudo-power to feel some kind of pitiful self worth on the backs and misery of others.

He goes on to explain that compensation is a good reason to become a judge. To become a judge just to grab the judge compensation is usually frowned upon by other judges. Also, let’s face it: the compensation is really not that great. For ten hours of hard (but fun!) work at a PTQ you usually get between half a box and a full box of product, depending on the TO. Now compare that to the money you would earn at a real job. Suddenly the comp doesn’t look that good anymore, does it?

Noah then goes on to explain that a judge that wants to ensure a good time is usually not good at his job. He argues with an example from by far the worst officiated tournament [he] had ever been to. Great!

Noah never discusses the other two of his reasons to become a judge, but that’s not really relevant, since he is missing the most important aspect of becoming and staying a judge: it is fun!

Anyways, I have decided to write an article about what it means to be a judge. I will do interviews with other judges, players, the WotC judge manager, and will then submit it to Magic sites. Maybe this will help players to understand judges better.

Update: I just learned from SCG’s editor that Noah’s article is a first part of a series and we will see part two shortly. Nevertheless I am not sure that he really understands what makes most judges tick. But we will see, I am already getting the first replies to the interview I sent out to multiple judges.

Magic the Gathering

Tracking Repeat Penalties

Penalties are supposed to be upgraded when a certain offence is repeated during a tournament. In small tournaments with only few judges that works well, since all judges communicate efficiently (in German we would say: “sie tratschen wie Waschweiber”). But the larger the tournament gets the more difficult it gets to learn about previous penalties.

Normally a repeat offence is only noticed after the match of a player is already over and the result is entered into DCIR. At this point it’s already to late to upgrade the penalty. Also at really large tournaments the scorekeeper is not able to enter all the penalties during the round.

There are multiple possible solutions to this problem. Please keep in mind that repeat offences during a match are normally not a problem, since these are usually noted down on the result entry slip and the opponent tends to remember them as well.

  • The ideal dream-world solution is that each judge has a handheld device that lets him enter penalties that get entered automatically into DCIR. This handheld device would also let you see the warning history of all players at this tournament. Of course this is not feasible for the lack of appropriate software (fixable) and affordable hardware (not so easily fixable).
  • Another solution is to ask the player who will get a penalty whether he got a similar penalty before in this event. If he lies about this, it should be noticed when the repeat penalty is entered and could be penalised with a disqualification. Nevertheless this is not an ideal solution, since there remains a grey area. For example a player could claim that he didn’t think that a previous penalty was really “similar” to the penalty just given. Or, if you ask for any penalties, they could claim that they had forgotten about them.
  • Finally, another solution is to print out the list of warnings after each round and let each judge read through it from time to time. I know that the main problem with that method is memory. I have a really bad memory, especially for names and faces, so this is a method that is very difficult for me to use. Also, not all judges will be equally up-to-date.

I will suggest that we experiment with the different methods at our next events and I know that others from #mtgjudge will as well. I think I will suggest a mix up the latter two methods since that seems to be the most feasible. If I remember I will report back on my experiences at this place. If you have any other methods or comments, please let me know.

Magic the Gathering

Judge Article Up!

Since the Wizards page is back up, I can confirm that my judge article about the Rodgau PTQs “between the years” is really up.

Here are some more pictures from that event.

Update: One thing that wasn’t presented well in the article was how bad I was feeling during the whole tournament. At the evening before the first tournament, I agreed to fetch some friends from the train station. So I walked through the cold rain towards the station that consisted just of the platform with two small shelters. On my way there I got a call that they had just missed their train and would arrive 20 minutes later. So I waited for 20 minutes when I got a second call that the train had been cancelled and they would arrive another 20 minutes later. So I was out in the cold for more than an hour and this is probably when I got a severe cold.

This cold didn’t make itself felt until the next evening, though. While calling the draft I suddenly started to feel really bad. At this point I though it was food poisoning from the pizza I had eaten earlier. During the night I had to run to the bathroom multiple times and was generally feeling very bad.

The next day I only had herbal tea for breakfast and felt very weak, but not really ill anymore, so I though I had it all behind me. I did not eat properly this day and when I went to bed, I got chest pains. In the morning the chest pains had grown stronger and I had a slight headache. So I took an Aspirin against the headache. It worked and after a healthy breakfast my chest pains had gone as well. I didn’t come to the obvious conclusion that this was the because of the painkiller, though …

So later in the day (I was team leading), the chest pains grew stronger again and I had to sit down early and was felling ill. So I wasn’t able to lead my team as much as I would have liked to. Fortunately they were experienced and didn’t need much help.

Magic the Gathering

Judge Article Up?

flame- told me earlier on #mtgjudge that my judge report is finally up at the DCI page. Unfortunately that page is currently down. So I have to wait a little bit longer …

Magic the Gathering

GP Leipzig Judge Photo

The judges of GP Leipzig:

This picture is from flame-‘s blog. I added the names with the help of flame- and other members of #mtgjudge. Thanks all! Missing on this picture are at least MJH, Thomas Kugler, and Martin Damen.

Magic the Gathering

Ratings Update

Finally the GP Eindhoven where I top 8’ed is in my rating. And my constructed rating is now up to a whopping 1691. Funny thing is that this is higher than my limited rating (although that is admittedly not too hard) and I see myself more as a limited player. But maybe that will change again when the results from GP Leipzig are in.

Magic the Gathering

Grand Prix Leipzig

I came back from Grand Prix Leipzig yesterday evening. A friend had asked me not to judge at this event, so I did her the favor and did play instead. Day 1 competition was split into two separate events, head-judged by Jesper Nielsen and Gis Hoogendjik respectively. The layout of the tournament site was suited very well for this event, since it consisted of two big halls, joined by a smaller hall so that each event was held in a separate hall.

I went 5-4, which surprisingly wasn’t enough to make day 2. So instead I chatted with a lot of people, mostly with other judges. I met Johanna Knuutinen (flame-) from Finland for the first time. I also chatted a bit with Jasper Overman (Mercator) from the Netherlands and Thomas Ralph (Island) from Ireland, who I had only briefly met at Grand Prix Vienna before. Finally there were many German judges present, most of whom I know from other German events, like the Rodgau PTQs at the end of 2004. Johanna and Thomas also brought me Euro coins from their home countries, which I will hand on to my colleague Nicole, who collects them.

I am glad that one of the local Berlin players, Rosario Maij, made the finals of the Grand Prix. He is a nice guy and someone who has really earned success at this level. Also, Gabriel Huber, who joined us on our ride to Leipzig passed his L1 judge test. Congrats to both of them!

I really enjoyed the weekend. I was travelling with nice people, met and chatted with nice people, and did play some Magic (although i would have preferred to judge some Magic) at a very well run event. Props to the whole staff!