Ask the Judge, 11/05/2004: Feature Friday
FEATURE FRIDAY: PRO TOUR COLUMBUS REPORT (and Elder Dragon Highlander Update)
The first thing I want to say about Pro Tour Columbus, and this is a direct shout out to my friend Jaap Brouwer (who was HJing his first PT, btw), is that from a judging perspective, it was the most professionally prepared-for Pro Tour I can remember.
Jaap started the process early by sending out a document similar to the one I sent out before GP Austin, and which I showed you part of a few weeks back. Add to that a well-detailed schedule, clearly delineated responsibilities, and a new teamwork concept whereby a certain percentage of judges spent the entire weekend working together, and we ended up with an unsurpassed level of support to the players and the event. I'm trying to convince Jaap to write a report detailing his concepts, so I won't steal his thunder here.
As always, the event began for me a day early with the high-level judge dinner hosted by Pro Tour Manager Scott Larabee and Judge Coordinator Andy Heckt. This working evening has paid constant dividends in the program since we started doing it a few Pro Tours back. This time, Andy and Scott invited Jaap, Mike Guptil, me, John Carter, and John Shannon to Mike's favorite Columbus restaurant, Smith & Wollensky's. S & W's is a nationwide chain of nice steak houses. If there's one in a city near you, it's worth a try. The steaks (most of us opted for the Kansas City cut of the New York strip) are excellent. Mike is of the opinion that it's better than Ruth's Chris; I'm not sure I'd go that far, but they're certainly in the same league.
One thing about S & W's is that their wine list contains only domestic selections. I don't know when they decided to do this, but I assume it was in the wake of 9/11, an overt effort to entice the patriotic oenophile into the joint. There are certainly more than enough great wines in this country (something that I may not have said 5 years ago), but the problem is that you can't get a decent California Cabernet in the shops for less than $60. In upscale places like S & W's, where the markup is obscene, they can get really pricey, so we opted for the more cost-effective option of the Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel, a spicey little small-production number that my cellar has boasted before (although it's long gone now).
Being the only other L4 present besides Jaap (Mike G. was the tournament organizer for side events, so we didn't have the benefit of his presence on our side of the floor), I spent most of Friday supervising, organizing, and generally backing up the Head Judge. The judging staff was a little short on Pro Tour experience, but was long on skill and motivation. I commend the entire staff for a great day of judging.
One of the things that I really liked about the judge meeting that Jaap ran first thing in the morning was that in addition to the normal introductions (name, level, PT experience), he insisted that everyone tell a little about themselves, especially what they do when they're not judging. The list of professions and degree programs was rife with the unsurprising computer folks, mathematicians, and law students, but we also had Lloyd Dodson, who is a cook, and Tim Bentley, who is a pharmacy student--definitely the guy you want to party with. This extra personal touch was just another element that brought the judge staff closer together and made weekend more interesting.
Friday night I passed on the opportunity to have German food with Scott and Atlanta TO Anthony "Ace" Edwards in order to play Elder Dragon Highlander with the gang. Scott and Anthony both told me I missed something special, but the opportunity to hang with my fellow judges was too good to pass up, especially since there were many of them that I had never met before. We only had time to play one game before it got too late, but it was an interesting one. With my new Pheldagriff deck, I was controlling the board well due to an early Aura Shards, but I made the mistake of not killing Paul Morris (Dromar) when I knew he had Monk Realist in hand. Once he destroyed Aura Shards and Judah Alt (Asmira, Holy Avenger) destroyed my Mirari's Wake, the balance of power shifted to Tom Fowler (Crosis), who knocked out four of the eight players before I seized the opportunity to knock him and the other two players out. Akroma is good against people who are playing black and red.
The tale of my Saturday is rather dull. We were testing a large number of candidates (nine) for Level 3. I sat in on four interviews during the day; at two plus hours apiece, you can see where my day went.
Saturday evening was a different story. Andy arranged for the judge dinner at Buca di Beppo's, an Italian place that has restaurants all over the country. Buca is a nice balance between being nicer than Spaghetti Works (and its clones) but not as commercial as Olive Garden. We set a record for the number of folks in attendance at 48. The food was edible and forgettable, save for the spicy salsice that we had down at my end of the table. It was the hottest hot Italian sausage that I've ever had. Five of us--me, Scott, Ray Merz, Doug Montalvo, and Allen Pengelly, could barely finish two links of it. Daniel Wong, the last member of our corner of the long table, decided to sit out that one. Buca's offers a 3-liter bottle of wicker basket Chianti, but it's a little overpriced for what you get; you're paying more for the "geez, that's a huge bottle of wine" factor than the quality. We opted for a smooth Tuscan Chianti, the name of which I don't recall (I even went back to the Buca website and couldn't find it). When it came, I warned everyone that it was tight needed some time to open. Nearby Frenchman Bart Mouliniere took a small sip, and after giving a face that looked like he had just sucked a dozen lemons deadpanned "yes, that's a little tight." It opened brilliantly in about 15 minutes and went impressively with the food.
Some of us headed back to the hotel bar for a drink and more EDH. John Shannon was kind enough to buy me a cosmo in exchange for borrowing my Lord of Tresserhorn deck. Things were sailing smoothly along, and everyone was nearly equal in life, somewhere between 10-20. I Bribery'd Tom Fowler's Kokusho just before someone played Wrath of God (or Rout--forgive me, it was late), and it's a good thing I did. On his next turn, John Earthquaked for lots--enough to knock out everyone but him and me. I took him out the next turn, but he was definitely the power in that game.
Sunday was little different for me than Saturday. In addition to more interviews, I led a seminar on the player interview process (nothing like the judge interview process). The seminar covered the time from when a judge first approaches the table to the time the ruling is made. It's designed for dealing with situations where the Judge must gain additional information from one or both players, not just a simple ruling. In most cases, these types of situations don't involve rules questions at all, but player interaction difficulties--such as miscommunication regarding steps, phases, or timing, or life total disputes.
We also discussed methods of diffusing situations where a player's mood or temper might be escalating. Although I'll like write up the seminar as a separate article, the one point I want to make here is that a judge should never take an adversarial tack with a player. Even if you're the authority figure, that doesn't mean you should create distance from the player. Here's a simple example:
A player has gotten upset about something. His language and comments are bordering on unsporting. He hasn't crossed the line yet, but he's probably about to, and you want to stop him. You have two general choices:
1. "If you keep it up, I'm going to throw you out."
2. "I'd prefer to keep you in the tournament."
The message is identical--that the player's continued behavior in this fashion will result in negative consequences, but I prefer the second choice. Instead of making yourself the player's adversary, you make yourself his ally. The first choice is throwing gas on the flames; the second is turning down the temperature. There is rarely a need for a Judge to thump his chest and bluster about his authority. Everyone already knows; feeling the need to remind them actually serves to undermine instead of accentuate it.
Sunday evening saw more EDH. We played a few games, the first featuring Michael Huellecremer (Cromat) getting out 9 of his 10 dual lands rather quickly, and then Paul Thompson inexplicably cutting his own throat by destroying half of them with Dust Bowl. Things were looking pretty grim for me until I floated 15 mana, played Upheaval, dropped Azusa, Lost But Seeking, and then went to town. I succeeded in sweeping the board. After I got knocked out of game two, I invited Paul Morris, who is one of my local judges and an excellent Level 3 candidate, back to the bar for a cocktail, but the bar had already closed. We talked judge stuff for a little while, but then decided to play a little one-one-one EDH. I grabbed the Tresserhorn deck, and Paul promptly took me to school. I admit defeat, but remind him that that wasn't my "real" deck. All shall bow to the power of purple flying hippos!!!
Elder Dragon Highlander Format Update
The game I played with Paul did lead to a conclusion about the format: Crucible of Worlds bears some watching. Although it's probably not quite as good when there are more players in the game, Crucible and Wasteland or Strip Mine is stupid good. I'm moving it to the Watch List.
A second conclusion I came to is that there's no need for P9 in the format. It's a casual format, and players bringing jewelry goes against the spirit of it. I'm adding power to the Banned List. Timetwister isn't really considered a power card any more, so it doesn't go on the list.
I'm continuing to watch Biorhythm. I keep finding that it's a dangerous card to play. If you don't take the time to set it up and keep your dudes in play, it's likely that one person or another will burn you out when you play it. Still, the power to wipe out multiple players with a single card which isn't damage bears scrutiny.
Restriction List: The Wishes and Ring of Ma'Ruf may only be used to get cards that have been RFG'd in the current game.
Reserved Generals:Asmira, Holy Avenger (Judah Alt)
Cromat (Michael Huellecremer)
Crosis (Ingrid Jahn)
Dromar (Paul Morris)
Nicol Bolas (Peter Jahn)
Sol'Kanar, Swamp King (Duncan McGregor)
Certified Judges can reserve their Generals after they've played them once at an event. The reason I'm doing this for Judges is that they're most likely to be at multiple events and actually play more than once. If a player is going to follow the PT stops and regularly play, then I'll reserve a General for him. If I know in advance that a particular judge won't be at an event, then I'll announce it and that General will be temporarily available. If you think you have a legitimate claim to a general, email me.