Magic the Gathering

Magic Regionals in Germany

This year the Regionals in Germany are in a format I am not comfortable with. They are played as swiss tournaments with one additional round of play, but no cut to top 8. Instead there is a number of invitations given out based on attendance and these are handed to the leading players after the swiss is over. Also, already qualified players can’t play in the Regionals.

I don’t like this format for various reasons. To me the main purpose of the Regionals is to crown a Regional Champion (similar to what the Champs do in the US). And of course the Regionals Champions and all other players that placed high enough should be invited to the Nationals. But the way the Regionals are currently played out, it is just one more (big) Nationals qualifier. And many players can’t reasonably attend.

  • There is no top 8. This means that the Regionals Champion is determined by swiss standing. But swiss standings have the disadvantage that many players just draw into the top ranks during the last round to ensure a Nationals invitation. Also, the thrill of watching elimination rounds is missing. There is no real champion, just the player that ended up first.
  • Invitations for the Nationals are also given out based on rating or Pro Points. Now the rating cut is after at least some of the Regionals. But this means that players with a high rating will not participate in the Regionals, because they might threaten their rating with a poor performance at this K-32 event.
  • And finally people who are already qualified can’t participate. This means that for example the reigning German Champion can not participate in the Regionals and can not also become his Regional Champion.

In my opinion it is a better idea to move the rating cut before the Regionals, allow all players from that region to participate, even if they are already qualified, hand down invitations if necessary, and play out the top 8. This would solve all the problems I mentioned.

Magic the Gathering

Saviors of Kamigawa Prerelease

This weekend was the prerelease for Saviors of Kamigawa. As always it took place at the Magic Center, now under new ownership. I judged Saturday. It was a fairly uneventful tournament with 125 players. We were three judges plus scorekeeper, which was just enough. Personally, I would have preferred one more judge on the team. The best part was that we now have a preliminary agreement with the representative of the new owner about judging. I hope this helps to ensure that we will keep the high standard of judges we have and will enable all judges to judge if they want to.

On Sunday I planned to play in the team events. Unfortunately I only had one team member and we weren’t able to find another one. Fortunately we found a team for Carsten who needs the experience, but I had to watch the others play. There was no single event on Sunday, since I was the only person interested in one and we didn’t even manage to get a booster draft together. But I had fun nevertheless, talking and joking with all the people I know there.

I will probably play the in-store prerelease next Saturday and was already asked whether I want to judge Sunday’s event, which I will do. I really hope to get a bit play experience with the new set. Getting into the Magic Online Beta for Saviors could help here as well.


Playing with GStreamer

I played around with GStreamer today to do what I wanted to do for a long time: encode the music from a music video DVD I bought as Ogg so that I can play it with my regular music player (Rhythmbox) as well as at home (my computer at home doesn’t have a DVD drive – can you believe that?)

Screenshot of gst-streamer with my pipeline

Well, GStreamer is really cool. I used gst-editor to click me a pipeline that decoded the DVD and then encoded the audio stream using Ogg/Vorbis. Now if gst-editor would at least pretend to be stable and some of its usability would be ironed out, I would be really happy.

Magic the Gathering

Article about Judging Published

Finally my article about judges and judging got published over at Star City Games. Yay!

Update: URL corrected …


Switching to Subversion?

There is talk on gnome-hackers to switch from CVS to Subversion as version control system. Some people instead suggested to switch to another, fundamentally different versioning system like arch or monotone.

While I’m very much in favor of switching to Subversion, I am very against switching to a more radically different versioning system at this point for several reasons:

  • A switch to Subversion is fairly unobstrusive. Basically all the several hundred if not thousand people that are using GNOME CVS now need to do is:
    1. Learn to type “svn” instead of “cvs”.
    2. Checkout their repositories again and move possibly not-yet committed patches over to the new working copy. This is probably the most difficult task.
    3. Learn to type “svn status” instead of “cvs checkout” if they want to learn about local changes.
    4. Learn about tagging and branching by making copies. This is something most people don’t need to care about.

    Compare this to other versioning systems that work vastly different than CVS did.

  • It was pointed out that moving to arch or something similar would mean that GNOME has to move to a different development philosophy. I don’t think that this is something you can just force on the whole project and all contributors. This is something that needs a slow but steady introduction. An all-or-nothing move would probably drive people away who have better things to do with their time than to spend it learning all about versioning systems.
  • Currently there are several competing distributed versioning systems. None have proven to become the clear market leader so far. Personally I am not looking forward to learn a different system for each project that I am involved in. I feel that GNOME should not play early adopter here, but instead wait until one system establishes itself as clear leader in the F/OSS community. There are several reasons for this, one of them being that the GNOME project should not put its political weight behind any specific project.

    I still hope that some of the projects to product a distributed versioning system will merge, and work together on a better system.

In summary, while I think that GNOME should probably move on to a distributed versioning system in the long term, I do not think that this time is now. We should wait until either one system becomes a market leader and then slowly progress towards using that system. Forcing such a system on all contributors could prove very damaging to the development process. Stick to Subversion for now.


Blog Archive

I have moved older articles from my blog into the archive. A link to the archive is at the end of the main blog page.

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.


Blog Hacking

Hacked on my blog software today. You can now click on the Magic card names to get information about the particular card from While doing that I improved the XML parser so that the blog XML files are now properly namespaced. This allows easier and better parsing as well as future improvements.

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?