Ask the Judge, 08/13/2004: Feature Friday
Way back in the dark ages of professional Magic, I was a Level 2 Judge, having certified at the first Grand Prix Amsterdam (after posting a sterling 3-2-1 record on Day 1 with Turbo Stasis). I got involved in my local community (which happened to be the entire country of Belgium), got to know some of the folks at the European office, worked a Dutch Nationals, and then was invited to Pro Tour Mainz (that's in Germany for you non-European folks).
I found out as the PT approached that I was going to interview for Level 3 (there was no written test in those days). I figured that I'd ace the interview because I was such a rules hotshot. I wasn't the last time in my life that I would be wrong.
We took the train to Mainz, a pleasant few hours through the German countryside. Once in Mainz, things got off to an inauspicious start, kind of setting the tone for the weekend. There was a taxi-driver's strike, and we had to hoof it several miles (luggage and all) to the hotel. I met an American player named Karl Schmidt, and he shared the stroll with Lisa and I and a few of the other folks who traveled from Belgium. Karl is another of that kind of player I'd like to see more of on the Tour--laid back, polite, respectful, and interesting to talk to.
After the long walk, things went from bad to worse. The hotel had apparently double-booked all the rooms, through some computer error or something. We arrived at around 2 in the afternoon, only to be told"to wait." The lobby was full of Magic players (having had long experience at RPG cons, this was no surprise) and airline personnel. We took advantage of the wait by getting food and sampling the local beer. Repeatedly. Our consumption was certainly nothing to make Osyp proud, but we did a bit of damage while eating these skillet dishes which included sausages, potatoes, onions, and who knows what else.
We returned to the hotel at about 7pm to find that there were still problems, but we at least our room was ready. It seems as though they solved the staff hotel issues first. When we opened the door, I was completely shocked at the room. Actually, to call it a room is doing it a disservice. It was a suite. A huge suite, probably 900 square feet or so. The bed was so large that we could have shared it with two other people (hey, no comments) and never actually seen them. It had a sitting room, a big-screen TV (these were just becoming vogue at the time), and a full bar. It was insane. Unfortunately, I wouldn't spend much time in it that weekend.
In addition to being my first Pro Tour, it was Jeff Donais' first as Head Judge. I seem to recall Jeff being constantly accompanied by either Charlie Catino or Andrew Finch. The tradition of players constantly hounding Jeff also seemed to begin here.
My only memory of the first day's play was a ruling involving the then-notorious Mike Long. I don't recall the ruling, but I remember having read about Mike and some of his antics, and having seen his picture, I was resolved to not put up with them when he (rather rudely, I might add) called me over to make a ruling.
ML: Hey Judge. Tell this guy this works in such-and-such way.
SM: Um, no sir, it doesn't. Here's how it works.
ML (exasperated): Well you tell Jeff I want to speak with him right away!
SM: Certainly, sir. And your name is...?
Day One ended sometime around midnight. We weren't quite as efficient in those days. As the day ended, I was informed that I would be having my Level 3 interview...now. I'll make a long, dreadful few hours less painful for you than it was for me. Carl Crook (he of the UK office) and Mischa Donders and Ken Bontnick (they of the Belgian office) stood me on my head for two hours (figuratively) and demonstrated to me how woefully unprepared to make Level 3 I happened to be (I made it less than a year later at GP Antwerpen, along with my friends Gis Hoogendijk and Jaap Brouwer, who you probably know have also made Level 4). Tired and disappointed, I crept off to the room for a little sleep before getting back to the venue for the beginning of Day Two.
I reported to the Main Event Floor and was instructed that I'd be doing Side Events for the day. I remember being a little miffed at the time, but in hindsight see the wisdom. The Pro Tour Main Event floor is for demonstrating your judging skills; Side Events is for honing those skills. I guess I needed honing. I was assigned to a Pro Tour Qualifier, HJ'd by Mario Van Leeuwen, then of Amigo Germany. It was the"new" Extended of the time, with Fork having just been unrestricted. Naturally, we were inundated with Fork and copy card questions. Someone in charge--I still don't know who--decided that rounds would be 70 minutes long. Again, these were the days before things were as organized as they are today.
I might also mention that these were the days before DCI Reporter. We handled results on forms roughly the size of half a sheet of paper which traveled with the players all day. We paired by hand, made sure that players weren't matched up against someone who they had already played, and verbally called out the pairings while laying out the players' results forms. Turnaround time on each round was at least half an hour. It was complete chaos.
At midnight or so, with two rounds still remaining in the Swiss, Mario decided he had had enough and went to bed, turning over the show to me. I had never HJ'd an event of this size before (our local Belgian qualifiers were in the 70-80 range), but I didn't expect a problem. Once again, I was wrong.
One thing that comes with doing pairings by hand is doing tiebreakers manually. As luck would have it, at the end of the Swiss rounds, we had a clean top three, but six players tied with the same number of points for 4th through 9th. Obviously, one of them would be out. Just the previous week, I had worked an event run by the Belgian office, and they showed me how they did tiebreakers. So I did tiebreakers that way, and announced the Top 8, leaving a 10 minute window for any appeals, as was the style at the time (I also had an onion on my belt).
Within a nanosecond, I had my first meeting with my now-friend Matt Vienneau. The unlucky 9th place player was (one of the nicest guys in recent memory on the Pro Tour) Andy Wolf. Matt argued that his friend Andy had played at or near Table 1 all day, and his tiebreakers had to be the best, not the worst. By this hour of the night, the only WotC person around was Skaff. Seconds later, I had my first encounter with him as well. Strangely enough, there was a"how to run the event" manual in Skaff's possession which clearly detailed how to do tiebreakers. The Belgian office had missed the memo.
With tiebreakers refigured correctly, Andy Wolf made it in; some other poor schlep (an American, if I recall) got bumped. He took it remarkably well, considering it was 2am. I remember only two other players in that Top 8: Ondrej Baudys from the Czech Republic (the Czechs were pretty damn good in those days, led by Slemr and, um, that other guy) and the inimitable Graham Thompson, from Scotland. Graham, a good egg and a veritable mountain of a man (who happened to show up at Side Events at the recent Pro Tour Amsterdam; it was cool to see him again), has the largest capacity for alcohol of any person on the planet. When we started the Top 8, he had been consuming more beer since about 10am than I had water. And he made the Top 8!!! Graham was frustrated by Ondrej in the quarterfinals because of Ondrej's Winter Orb deck, and he made his displeasure known. Fortunately, he's a relatively kind soul and didn't just break the Czech in two and ground his innards for haggis. He shook everyone's hand at the end and went off, no doubt to drink more beer.
For reasons that I have since lost, we ended up playing a match in this Top 8 on Sunday. Andy was involved, so perhaps he remembers. It'd actually be interesting to get his take on this whole situation. Andy, if you're out there, tell us what you remember!
After that, I did a few side events and then went into the hall to watch Matt Place savage the Top 8 of the Main Event. I hung around a bit, chatted with new friends (to include Jonas, two meters of Danish judge who worked as a night club bouncer--excellent skills to put to work judging, I think), got my"gifts," and went out with the WotC gang. It was here that I forumlated The Pro Tour Dinner Rule. Once the event is over and we're out in a social setting, no Magic talk is allowed. I actually find that it was easier to enforce back then.
That Monday, we traveled back to Belgium, my first Pro Tour in the books. It was easily the Pro Tour at which I learned the most (although not neccessarily the most important stuff). I saw how the big show ran, and met loads of new people, to include some who would become rather important in my advancement through the ranks of judgedom.
Next week: the story of how I was in a barbershop quartet with Armand Tamzarian.