Magic the Gathering

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.
Magic the Gathering

Guildpact Prerelease

For a summary see the last paragraph of this post.

Yesterday was the big prerelease for Guildpact. As always I judged it at the FUNtainment Game Center here in Berlin. It was a fairly successful event. With 97 players we had one the largest prereleases (the largest even?) in Germany. And that is considering that there were about five other stores in Berlin also holding prereleases. With a judge staff of five we were well equipped to handle it. Helping me were Huy Ding (L2) as scorekeeper, Cristian Hoof (L2), Robert Zemke (L1), our judgeling and store intern Bernard Deglon, and of course our acting TO Peter Feller.

This proved to be the ideal number of judges for this event. Starting from round 2, I could remove myself from the floor, leaving it to the three floor judges. This way I was available for appeals, could observe and advise our judgeling, could supervise some organizational stuff, and talk about various issues, like the upcoming move of the Game Center to a new location, my plans for better judge communication in Berlin, or about upcoming tournaments. Again I noticed that it is an important asset to have a reliable staff you can trust.

I thought the event ran quite well, although there were some hiccups, especially at the beginning. When we distributed product for deck registration, a few players accidently got English tournament packs. We solved that by redistributing these TPs among players who preferred English product. But we had to print out English deck registration sheets and consider these players during the subsequent deck swap.

The announcements at the beginning were kept to a minimum, since players are of course eager to open new product. Since we had to do a few announcements (store’s relocation, upcoming tournaments, general procedures for new or causal player — although we only had to give out three new DCI numbers) I didn’t introduce the new mechanics; This had worked well for the last few sets. In retrospect this proved to be an error. Especially the Haunt ability was hard to understand for some players.

Deck building took much too long. While I tend to give players more time at prereleases, we got the last deck lists about a quarter of an hour after the alloted time was over. Well, actually when we announced that pairing were up for round 1, a player called: “Wait, I haven’t handed my deck list in!” Since I had announced multiple times that time was up and people were to hand in their deck lists and since I had asked multiple times who hadn’t handed their deck lists in yet, I awarded a Game Loss. That player had more than 20 minutes more than other players to build his deck — certainly a significant advantage.

Deck list counting did not proceed as smoothly as it should have. Robert and I were floating, while the other judges counted. They were barely finished when round 2 was about to start and there was a mess. Unfortunately we had two deck list sheets for each player (one for Ravnica and one for Guildpact). Some deck lists were missing their second sheet (not the players’ fault, since we checked that information was complete when collecting), some deck lists seemed to be missing. One judge accidently checked deck lists another judge had already checked. I made the error of not appointing a deck check leader who would be responsible for the job. This is the danger of a strong team of judges — normally everything works smoothly, so you forget to make sure it does.

There was a notable problem with the German version of Sinstriker’s Will. The English version says: “Enchanted creature has “Tap: This creature deals damage equal to its power to target attacking or blocking creature.” while the German version says about: “Enchanted creature has “Tap: This creature deals damage to target attacking or blocking creature equal to its power.” In German the latter wording is ambiguous. The possesive pronoun “ihrer” (“its”) can refer to both creatures, the enchanted one or the targeted one, while favoring the latter. Previously we rules that we only judge according to German card wording at the Prerelease, since the English wordings are not available to us. An exception are of course cards in the FAQ. So my ruling was that according to the wording of the German card, the power of the targeted creature was relevant. A few players protested.

After I had given that ruling a few times, we were finally able to reach Gatherer that surprisingly already had the English wording, which proved the ruling to be wrong. We deliberated whether we should change the ruling in upcoming rounds. Speaking in favor of this was the fact that the ruling was indeed wrong. Speaking against it was consistency during this event (a not so strong argument in my opinion), but — more importantly — consitency with the way we handled translation issues at Prereleases in the past and how we will handle them in future. After polling various judges I decided to change my previous ruling and announced the change at the start of the next round.

It seems Gatherer updates at the day of the Prerelease are a recent change. I hope that in the future it will stay like this. Having to rule on German card wording is suboptimal, especially since translation errors are common and errata for German cards uncommon. The ruling change was made on the assumption that in the future Gatherer updates will also be timely and we can rule on actual Oracle texts at Prereleases. Otherwise I wouldn’t have changed my ruling, since it sets a bad precedent — either we rule all-Oracle (preferable) or all-German (necessary in the past).

At the end of the day we had a brief judge meeting. We hadn’t had one for quite some time, since when the usual suspects judge, we do all the talking during the tournament. Nevertheless it was good to have one, so we could talk about stuff that worked well and stuff that could be improved in an “organized” manner, with all judges participating.

Today we had another Prerelease tournament (19 players) and a team tournament (8 team, meaning another 24 players). Cristian Hoof helped me as scorekeeper and Christopher Eucken (L1) helped me as floor judge.

I started the team tournament first, so that got off a little earlier than the singles competition. I planned to keep round times for both tournaments synchronized to ease the work on us judges. This worked quite well. I could actually start the synchronization during deck building; the team tournament started deck building about 20 minutes earlier than the singles tournament, which is exactly the time difference both types of tournament should get for that.

Both tournaments went smooth. But I had learned from the day before and started off my announcements with explanations about Haunt and also noted the wording difference on the Will. Christopher added some notes about Bloodthirst.

I had also learned from the time issued on deck building the day before. So when there were still 10 minutes left, I announced: “10 minutes left for deck building. And since there were obviously some misunderstandings yesterday: 10 minutes means 10 minutes, not 15 and not half an hour!” I made another announcement when there were still 5 minutes to go. Did it help? When time was called exactly zero deck lists of the team tournament had been handed in. Oh well. In two weeks I will judge a PTQ. I think we will be much less tolerant then. I am not really looking forward to all the Game Losses we might have to hand out …

The rounds were fairly quiet. Christopher did most of the leg work, so I had time to concentrate on other things again. The only thing I find slightly disturbing is that towards the end of the day there four laptops and one desktop computer had accumulated on the judges table/store counter. Junkies.

Summary: Tournaments ran fairly smooth, although some stuff happened. Had fun. News at 11.

Magic the Gathering

Ravnica Prerelease

We had another Ravnica: City of Guilds prerelease at the FUNtainment Game Center (formely Magic Center). It was a whooping success with a total of 47 participants, much more than I had anticipated for this third prerelease.

This was the content of four Ravnica: Stadt der Gilden boosters

The store was full, since there was a large YuGiOh tournament going on at the same time (“Pharaoh Tour”) with about 150 participants. A Vs event had to be canceled due to a lack of participants. Scheduling such an event as competition to a large YuGiOh and Magic event seems like a poor choice on the part of UDE. But at least some of the Vs players decided to play in the Ravnica prerelease instead, so that we had a few late entrants.

Since the place we usually used for posting pairing was used by the YuGiOh tournament, I had to resort to creativity: A Yugi standup figure was used for the rest of the tournament as pairings holder, despite the protests of an unnamed UDE employee. (“As an official UDE representative, I have to tell you that Yugi is a really cool guy.”)

Due to time problems, caused by the high number of players, the late entrants, and the YuGiOh event going on in parallel, I decided to leave out the deck swap. One of the players, who opened a foil Birds of Paradise was overenjoyed, since he had feared that he’d have to give it away.

Prerelease judges, from left: Christopher Eucken (L1), Cristian Hoof (L2, Scorekeeper), Sebastian Rittau (L2, Head Judge)

One of the side drafts had an interesting problem: Four boosters contained a total of more than 40 rare cards. In most of the boosters the common slots contained rares. We replaced the boosters with boosters from the price pool, and let the players draft from the opened rares at the end of the draft.

Unfortunately I had to leave after three rounds, but I left Cristian Hoof (L2, scorekeeper) and Christopher Eucken (L1) behind, and I’m sure that the tournament was in good hands.

Finally, here is a photo that probably neither Wizards nor Upperdeck would endorse: some of the judges that frequently work at the FUNtainment Game Center in Berlin:

Upper row, from left: Christopher Eucken (L1), Sebastian Rittau (L2), a YuGiOh judge whose name eludes me, Cristian Hoof (L2), Peter Feller (Game Center manager), lower from, from left: Ali (another YuGiOh judge), Soul (a UDE judge)
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.