PTQs for Valencia

It was a hard weekend. I was head-judging two Pro Tour Qualifiers for Valencia. The first on Saturday in the Der Andere Spieleladen here in Berlin, the second on Sunday in the Heldenwelt in Magdeburg.

Saturday we had 66 players. I had two floor judges (Robert Zemke and Christopher Eucken, both level 1) as well as two staff employees helping out. This turned out to be just the right number of staff for this event. The event went rather smooth, without any major headaches. The most problematic situation arised during top 8 when one player started with extensive trash talking and disregarding judge’s instructions to stop. Only after I made it very clear to him that I would issue the appropriate Unsporting Conduct penalty if he continued (a Match Loss at Competitive REL), did he stop.

Like at most PTQs here in Berlin we had a few Polish players. In general this is not a problem, since they speak English very well and I do all announcements in German and English. But it is always a problem if they with each other in Polish while another player is still playing. When players or spectators speak in English or German I am able to automatically filter out “harmless” chatter, e.g. a spectator telling a player that they will fetch food for themselves now or two spectators speaking about their last match. This is not possible when people speak a language I don’t understand. Therefore I ask them to stop communication more often than I ask players I can understand. This is not an ideal situation, but one that is hard to resolve, unfortunately.

In one semi-final match two of the Polish players were paired against each other. Both had card-identical decks, so the match was played in a rather light mood. The finals again were rather quiet. The event ended at about 23:30.

Unfortunately I did not get much sleep that night, so I was rather tired when I met my co-judge Kersten Rückert (L1) at Berlin Central Station at seven in the morning. Magdeburg’s judge situation is even worse than Berlin’s (it seems they don’t have any active judges), so they had to import judges from outside. This meant Kersten and me. One other judge unfortunately had cancelled his participation. At Magdeburg main station we were greeted by Peter from the Heldenwelt, who supported us as scorekeeper. With a total of 57 players (a good turnout, considering the location, and time during holidays) we were unstaffed by about one judge.

The tournament took place in a basement that consisted of two long halls with fairly high, vaulted ceilings. This gave the event a nice, medieval touch. One hall contained the playing tables, while the other had the scorekeeper and judge’s tables and the feature match area. The halls were connected at the end by two small doorways. Actually the layout was rather good, because the separate scorekeeper and judge tables meant quiet, relatively disturbance-free working. And you could use this hall to get quickly from one end of the playing area to the other one.

Teardrop was doing coverage of the event (in German). I like coverage for these smaller events. I think many people who can’t make it to the tournament can still follow it and see how their friends are doing. It helps the community in a local context the same way coverage of Pro Tours and Grand Prixs help the community at large.

Unfortunately the coverage was ill-fated. During round 5 one player of the match that was originally going to be covered was disqualified. (The other player of that match followed a bit later.) The next (and last) round of the tournament, the feature match was between two players who would make top 8 if they won the match. A spectator noticed marked sleeves though. When I checked the sleeves, I pulled out two cards that had especially bad, but different, marks, without looking at them. It turned out I had singled out two of the three Psionic Blasts in the deck. After a short glance at the sleeve of the third Blast I was able to consistently identify all three Blasts. After a short investigation I came to the conclusion that the player did not know about the marks and they occured because of wear during play. Nevertheless I had to issue a Game Loss for Marked Cards — Pattern. This is always a hard penalty to give in a situation like this (it effectively decided who got to top 8), but there was no way around it.

In the top 8 (which were played back in the store) Kersten had to give another Game Loss for Drawing Extra Cards, but apart from that the matches rent quiet and well. I was especially grateful that the final match between Jim Herold and Frieder Michel Drenger went rather quickly, since I and Kersten had to fetch the last train back to Berlin. We ended the day like we had started it: Sitting in the train, eating tasty and healthy food from McDonalds. Congratulations to Jim, who had already made top 8 the day before in Berlin and now has Pro Player level 3 status if he attends Pro Tour Valencia.

German Card Translations

German card translations are a sad affair. They are riddled with clumsy translations, especially in the card names. It’s not such a great idea to translate english card names 1:1. The rules texts are translated sanely, i.e. using special German templates, although some of the template choices are a bit strange and more verbose than needed. For example, “target” is translates as “deiner Wahl” (“of your choice”), while “of your choice” is translated with “die du bestimmst” (“that you choose”).

In Planar Chaos Ovinize was translated as “Verhammelung”. First of all this sounds strange. The noun “Hammel” was turned in the verb “verhammeln”, which was turned back into the noun “Verhammelung”. But it’s also not good templating. Ovinize is an Instant, and Instants and Sorceries usually get a verb as name. Ovinize is a verb. The German translation “Verhammelung” on the other hand is a noun. This shows a lack of understanding of magic card naming on the part of the translator. “Verhammeln” or “Schafen” had been a much better name.

But what’s worse are wrong translations. For example the German version of Necrotic Sliver has the following ability: “All Slivers have ‘3, Sacrifice this creature: Sacrifice target permanent.'” (You can only sacrifice your own permanents.) Since Wizards decided not to publish Oracle texts until Monday after the prerelease, I could not confirm that the card was actually a mistranslation and had to rule it by its German text. Unfortunately the mistranslations (in the rules text) average around one per expansion.

Finally, cards that have obvious templating problems in the original are not corrected in the German version. For example the flip side of Saviours of Kamigawa’s Erayo, Soratami Ascendant reads “Counter the first spell played by each opponent each turn”, a rather obvious templating error. This was unfortunately not corrected in the German translation. In my opinion a good translator should catch errors like this.

Planar Chaos Prerelease

Today I head-judged the prerelease of Planar Chaos, the latest Magic: The Gathering expansion. The prerelease at the FUNtainment Game Center here in Berlin was attended by 71 players, a fairly disappointing number after the strong Time Spiral prerelease. Some people blame The Burning Crusade, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, out this week. Personally I also think the traditionally weak month of January plays a fairly important role.

Speaking of World of Warcraft: One of the most funny cards of the new expansion is Ovinize, the color-shifted version of Humble. It allows you to “sheep” a creature, essentially remove all its abilities temporarily. One the one hand this resembles the old card Ovinomancer, which created Sheep tokens, on the other hand it plays with a similar concept in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

The color-shifted cards are an interesting concept: Reprinting old cards in another color, where they could have been printed if a few decisions had been different.

I had a few interesting calls:

  1. The interaction between Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Shaper Parasite. The Shapeshifter is turned face up and copies the Parasite. Question: Does the “Turned-face-up” ability of the Parasite trigger on the copy. I ruled in analogy to comes-into-play abilities and copy effects: The creature has all the copied characteristics before it is turned face up, so all triggered abilities that trigger on it being turned face up will trigger. Later the Time Spiral FAQ confirmed my ruling.
  2. I botched the interaction of Ovinize and Vanishing. The rules text for Vanishing reads in part (according to the Rules Primer):

    502.60. Vanishing

    502.60a Vanishing is a keyword that represents three abilities. “Vanishing N” means “This permanent comes into play with N time counters on it,” “At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent has a time counter on it, remove a time counter from it,” and “When the last time counter is removed from this permanent, sacrifice it.”

    For some reason I assumed that the third ability was included in the second one like this: “At the beginning of your upkeep, if this permanent has a time counter on it, remove a time counter from it. When the last time counter is removed from this permanent, sacrifice it.” Now the question was some like: “If I play Ovinize on a card with Vanishing and one time counter in response to Vanishing’s first triggered ability, what happens?” My ruling was that the last time counter is removed and the card with Vanishing is sacrificed, but any “leaves-play” abilities on the card don’t trigger. The correct ruling is that the last time counter is removed, but the permanent remains in play. At the time the counter is removed, the permanent has no abilities, in particular it doesn’t have Vanishing and so no “Last counter removed, then sac” ability.

  3. Player A had played Hunting Wilds. Some time later his opponent, player B, noticed that A’s graveyard was empty. A looked through his hand, and library and found a copy in the latter. Since he wasn’t sure whether he played one or two copies he wanted to see his decklist. After a short lecture that a player should under no circumstances look through his library without asking a judge first, I fetched the deck list and determined that the player only had one Hunting Wilds in total, so this one had to be the one played earlier. After a brief interview I was convinced that this was an honest mistake and the card had been shuffled into the library when the Forests had been searched for as part of resolving Hunting Wilds. The card was placed in the graveyard, the library was shuffled, and I issued a Warning for Procedural Error – Major.A case could be made for leaving the card in the library (leaving the game state as is is the default remedy if a decision point has been passed). But since the players had placed the card in the graveyard themselves in mutual agreement before a judge was called, I considered this to be the solution both would be more comfortable with, and let the card remain there. I think it was Scott Marshall who proposed to use a remedy both players of a match agree on instead of the normal remedy if this seems suitable. While I was initially opposed to it, this was a good example where this makes sense. I am still undecided on the issue, though.

Disqualifications & Coverage

I am glad to see that there is an extensive article about the double disqualification of Amiel Tenenbaum and his opponent in Wizards’s coverage of Worlds 2006. I just had the discussion with another judge on #mtgjudge, whether this should be covered and how extensive.

I think covering DQs has several advantages:

  • It generates interest in the game. People like gossip. I know I do. Personally I couldn’t care less about play-by-play coverage, but I’m interested in stuff that happens at these events. I want stories. I want gossip. I want photos.
  • There is a professional interest for me as judge. It shows me how people cheat or try to cheat. It shows things than can happen that lead to disqualifications.
  • It shows that judges catch cheaters. If you read Magic-related message boards (and manage to keep your sanity) you will notice that many players, especially more casual ones, believe that cheating is rampant and cheaters are never caught. Making disqualifications public can help to dispell this myth. It shows that the tournament organizing staff will catch cheaters and that they will be penalized.
  • Word gets around if a player is disqualified. Whether it’s in the official coverage or not. It’s better to have an informed article with interviews with judges involved or the even the players. Otherwise people will speculate and lots of false rumors are started.

On the other hand the coverage still hasn’t got enough photos. And I would still prefer a blog from a coverage reporter to the “Pro Players Blog”, which is just another form of (boring) play-by-play coverage.

PTQ Geneva in Berlin

Yesterday the Pro Tour Qualifier Geneva in Berlin was held at FUNtainment. We had 110 players, a rather high turnout, among them many players from Poland. It’s always nice to have these guys around. One thing I noted, though, was that I stepped in multiple times when a player and a spectator were speaking in Polish. When players and spectators do that in German I often don’t step in, since I hear what they say and most of the time it’s not about the game. So I subconsciously filter that talk out. I can’t do that for a language that I don’t understand, though.

Helping me were acting TO Peter, Christoph (L1), and Kersten, my promising judgeling. While we were understaffed by one person for this event (but aren’t we always?) the event went rather smooth. The main problem was that we couldn’t do as much deck checks as I would have liked to and that sometimes we couldn’t cover all the matches in overtime. One more judge would have been quite beneficial in these cases, but as I have explained before, we don’t have that many active judges anymore and a few possible candidates chose to play instead of judging.

Also of note was the high number of appeals I got. During the first two rounds I had three appeals, while I usually get about one per tournament. But this became less during later rounds.

About a quarter of an hour before the tournament began we had a call in the store. A rather young boy asked whether it was possible to participate in the event where “you can qualify for the Pro Tour”. I told him to hurry up, since we wanted to start soon. He showed up a bit too late with his mother, but I still let him participate. This was obviously his first sealed deck tournament, and I absolutely forgot to mention that the cards were in English. I would have liked to have more time to talk to him before the event to explain everything, but unfortunately didn’t have the time in the stress at tournament start. Well, he build an 80 card deck, playing all the basic lands from the tournament pack, although I had explained to him that he can get more lands if he wanted to. Not very surprisingly he went 0-4 drop. I am kind of sorry for him, and wish I could have found more time for him.

In the last round I handed back the decks from a deck check seven minutes into the round. The players from a neighbouring table asked me: “Can we get extra time? We didn’t start playing yet, since we couldn’t decide whether to take an intentional draw.” I explained to them the errors of their ways.

German Nationals 2006

Last weekend I was judging at the German Magic: The Gathering Nationals 2006 in Aschaffenburg. I took the train on Thursday morning, leaving from the new main station in Berlin. The ride was fairly uneventful, but when I exchanged trains in Hanau, I met Martin Golm, a L2 judge from Dresden. I had travelled with Martin to Grand Prix Nottingham and also met him on the train ride to GP Hasselt. Travelling with and meeting Martin by chance has tradition by now. Arriving in Aschaffenburg we went to the hotel where we picked up coverage guy Hanno Terbuyken, before leaving to the site. (I can only recommend you check out the coverage. Hanno is easily my favorite coverage writer.)

Schloss Johannisburg in Aschaffenburg, Sven Teschke, CC-BY-SA-3.0

The site was near the Main river and Schloss Johannisburg. When we arrived the meat grinders were starting slowly. (Meat grinders are 64 person single elimination events, where the winner qualifies for German Nationals.) I helped with the meat grinders, but all in all it was a slow day. We had only six grinders in total, probably mainly because this time the meat grinders were outside of holidays. So I had enough time to meet people I hadn’t met for a long time and to watch the matches that were going on. Special congrats go to GerMagic’s webmaster EvilBernd, who won the last grinder of the day. He was complaining that the slowly increasing crowd of judges that were watching his matches were irritating him. All I can say is: Tough luck, win early grinders, where you still have less judges than players.

Lutz Hofmann’s (L3 from Berlin) meat grinder had a DQ situation. During a deck check I noticed something suspicious: The sleeves were cut badly. (This seems to be an increasingly common problem.) But there were two clearly distinguishable types of cuts. All lands plus four Chars were in one type of sleeves, while the other cards were in the other type. According to the player the sleeves had been bought on-site and were unplayed. It was a 100 sleeve pack of black Dragon Shields. While these are sold in quantities of 100 sleeves per pack, each pack consists of two separately produced part of 50 sleeves each. This explained the two sleeve types. In the end we were not convinced that the player had known about the production differences. Therefore Lutz did not disqualify the player, but issued a Marked Cards – Major penalty, resulting in a Match Loss. We advised the player to always shuffle the sleeves before sleeving the deck and wished him good luck in the next meat grinder (since meat grinders are single elimination events).

There was an interesting discussion among judges about issuing Match Losses in single elimination events. In the only draft grinder a player played a Devouring Light in a deck without sleeves, which was supposedly clearly marked due to wear. Some judges were reluctant to issue a Marked Cards – Major penalty, since this would mean a Match Loss at Rules Enforcement Level 3. In single elimination events this equals a disqualification from the event (sans consequences like DQ investigations and possible bannings). I firmly believe that a single elimination event is no reason to downgrade penalties, and using this as a reason to change penalties is wrong.

We only finished the meat grinders around 10:30 in the evening. I went on a food hunt. Not easy in a small town in Bavaria during the week. But eventually we found a döner booth that was still open.

The next day I was assigned to side events. Since I had not too much to do, I peeked a bit into judge certification and helped with deck list counting in the main event. The most exciting event of the day was the project Save the Judge Test. Level 3 judge Ingo Kemper was doing judge certification. Unfortunately at the start of this day our internet connection was down. When this problem was fixed, the Judge Center refused to generate new judge exams. Finally I went onto #mtgjudge on IRC, where Lee Sharpe could help us out and send a test he had still saved to Ingo. Unfortunately only one of the candidates on this day passed.

In the evening most of the event staff went into a local Irish Pub where we drafted Coldsnap.

Saturday was the second day of the main event. I worked in Tobias Licht’s deck check team. The day started with a Coldsnap draft. Unfortunately during the draft one of my local players was disqualified for peeking.

Later in the day during the constructed rounds, I had an interesting situation: While I walked the floor I picked up a card from the floor. It turned out to be a Rumbling Slum. After looking around at the matches still playing I saw a player playing a Zoo deck using the same sleeves. A quick check confirmed that the card was missing from his deck. But since the player and opponent didn’t count the deck, we couldn’t be sure whether the player presented an illegal deck or whether the card was dropped from the library during game play. The player claimed that he didn’t draw that card during the current game. After a consultation with head-judge Philip Schulz (L3) and backup Justus Rönnau (L3) we decided to issue a Warning for Procedural Error – Major and shuffle the card back into the library.

To be continued …

Team PTQ Charleston in Berlin

Yesterday we had a team PTQ for Pro Tour Charleston in Berlin. The turnout was pretty with 23 teams for a total of 69 players, although we had a few players from Hamburg and eventual winners, Team Hans (Hans-Joachim Höh, Pro Tour Honolulu quarterfinalist Maximilian Bracht, and Stefan Urban), came from further away even.

At first I was a bit worried, since my staff was rather inexperienced. Besides level 1 judge Christopher Eucken I had help from two judgelings (Lars-Peer and Kersten). Lars-Peer had helped us before and left a good impression as scorekeeper. Therefore I used him as scorekeeper again at this event, since I wanted to get much floor time. On the one hand I have done a lot of scorekeeping lately and wanted to hone my floor judging skills again. On the other hand I wanted to be able to give feedback to Christopher and our new judgeling, Kersten.

My team did good work and we managed to have a smooth event, so my worries weren’t justified. We had one situation where a player of team A had finished his match and leaned over to get a better look at the board of another match. Doing this he got a glimpse at the hand of the opponent team’s player of that match. He talked a bit more with his team, but after investigating I could determine that it was very unlikely he disclosed any information about the hand to his team mates.

The cut to the top 4 was rather exciting, since two last round matches in which all teams were still in contention for top 4 drew. In the end Team Hans slipped into top 4 on secondary tiebreaker over the Hamburg Hammelpriesters (Sebastian Homann, Merten Jensen, and Dennis Johannsen). Unfortunately during the top 4 there were two game wins by ruling (although in the end it probably didn’t matter in both cases). In the first situation Heartbeat player A combo’ed and finally tried to cast Maga, Traitor to Mortals. His opponent B claimed that A didn’t have the three black mana available that B needed for that. A had one Swamp and one Heartbeat of Spring out, but had used Early Harvest before to untap his lands. But B claimed that he knew exactly that among the three lands tapped to play the Heartbeat the player had used his Swamp. This would mean that A had no black mana left in the pool when he untapped with Early Harvest and therefore only two black mana still available. A couldn’t remember which lands he had tapped for the Heartbeat. B pointed out the three lands that were still neatly grouped together and also claimed that A didn’t move his lands around while playing stuff.

I had my attention divided between that match and their neighbour’s match, so I hadn’t taken notice what lands were tapped for playing Heartbeat. But B’s claims were largely consistent with my own observations. Additionally neither A nor B had made any notes about which mana was still available. A’s strongest argument was: “Using the black mana would have been stupid, since I knew what I wanted to play.” Since a lot of spells, including tutors had been played, there was no sane way to rewind the game state and I had to rule on it. Based on the fact that A failed to note down or announce what mana he retained when playing spells and based on B’s certainty about the tapped mana and the consistence with my own observations I ruled that A didn’t have a third black mana available and wouldn’t been able to play Maga.

The second ruling involved a very close third game between players C and D. C sacrified a creature during D’s turn to remove Ghost Council of Orzhova from the game. D asked: “When do you do that?” to which C replied: “End of turn.” Doing this End of Turn would leave C with no attacker during his own turn, since the Ghost Council would only return at his own End of Turn. Only when asked “Really?” did C correct himself: “No no, of course during the Second Main Phase.” Kersten was watching this match. When I discussed this with him, he thought about ruling by intent and let C activate the ability during the second main phase. I disagreed. This has been a sloppy play on C’s part, since he did not announce at first when he wanted to use the ability. D tried to clear up the game state by asking when he did that. To which C (probably lulled by the slow game) replied with the wrong answer. Since the “sloppiness”, i.e. the unclear game state, was cleared by D’s question, I do not think that Ruling by Intent applies here. In cases like this I follow another principle that I call Responsible Play: If a player uses explicit language (“End of turn” in this case) he will be held to it. Of course immediatly correcting oneself is perfectly ok for me: “End of turn. No wait, second main phase of course.” But in this case only the opponent asking “Really?” tipped him off that he probably made an error. If D hadn’t asked “When do you do this?” and had just let it go and then claimed that the Ghost Council’s ability was activated end of turn I would gladly rule by intent. (And in this case D would probably also face an Unsporting Conduct penalty.) Clearing up the game state on D’s part makes all the difference here.

On a side note: By asking this question D may have lead C into answering wrong, i.e. D might have known that Second Main Phase is the “right” answer and might have hoped that C answers wrongly. But in this case I see this as perfectly ok. He didn’t misrepresent the rules, the only thing he did was clearing up the game state and making use of the opponent’s lack of concentration.

The finals were tough and exciting. Team Hans played the Line-Inn Crew (Adrian Rosada, Dennis Jenkel, and Oliver Wieske). Stefan and Oliver had won their matches so the teams were drawn 1-1. The final match between Hajo and Dennis was also drawn, but finally Hajo managed to squeeze out a win. After the finals Team Hans drove on to play another PTQ in Bochum today. Good luck, guys!

Decklists (courtesy of the great EvilBernd)

Deck Viewer for Pro Tour coverage

The Pro Tour video coverage is nice, although there is one thing that has been nagging at me for a while: The cards are hard to recognize. While this was ok, when I still recognized the cards by image, it was rather difficult with the Pro Tour Prague coverage, since I didn’t know most Dissension cards and am still struggling with some Guildpact cards. Therefore I created a Deck Viewer that allows a visual representation of Magic decks as shown on www.wizards.com. Just enter an URL (I suggest http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgevent/ptpra06/t8decks) with deck lists and it will show a visual overview of the deck (currently without sideboard).

At the moment the page looks rather ugly and has several shortcomings. This is mostly because this is more of a proof of concept (one hour hack) and an idea I would like to pitch to Wizards. Nevertheless I would like to hear about bugs or improvement suggestions.

Player Prototypes

Mark Rosewater wrote an article in which he revisits his Timmy, Johnny and Spike prototypes of Magic players. He makes a good point saying that these prototypes, or psychographic profiles, are just isolations of personality traits of a certain groups of players. But I think it is an error to describe these prototypes too detailed, and even to sub-divide them into several groups. The prototypes were well understood and simple. And I think simplicity is key here. Of course a prototype doesn’t is quite black-and-white, but it’s supposed to! It’s supposed to point out certain traits in a very obvious, exaggerated way. Introducing subgroups muddles this up. Now when someone is talking about “Johnny” I have to wonder whether he is talking about “Combo Player Johnny”, “Offbeat Designer Johnny” or any of the other possible Johnnys.

For example, Mark tries to explain that “Timmy” is not just a little boy that likes to play with big creatures, although that concept has worked well so far. Instead he lumps several other types into that concept. Now Timmy is someone playing for the experience. That includes people who play to socialize with others. This doesn’t seem to fit the Timmy prototype at all. (At least it doesn’t to me.)

I would suggest taking another route: Don’t be afraid to introduce new prototypes if necessary. Matt Cavotta did it with the Vorthos, and Mark could do as well. If you need a “social player” introduce him (or her), but don’t make poor Timmy suffer. But don’t go overboard: a few basic prototypes for the most important character traits are enough!

In summary: I don’t think generalizing the prototypes was a good idea.