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Judging the Pro Tour

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This article is a very brief departure from the Modern mechanics and abilities article series I promised. That will resume next week. However, I want to write this week about something that was an amazing experience not just for me, but for lots of people. It’s a little thing called Pro Tour: Philadelphia, and it was awesome!

I wanted to give a little behind-the-scenes insight from the judges’ perspective of what goes on at a Pro Tour. I plan on doing this by regaling you with a synopsis of what I did while I was there so you guys can see what we do in Pro Tours . . . and if this sounds fun to you, maybe you should contact a local judge and get into the program!

Thursday – September 1, 2011

I had a 9:45 a.m. flight with a layover that put us in Philadelphia by 3:00 p.m. We arrived safely, checked into the hotel, and walked over to the event site. At this time, they were still setting up a lot of stuff, but there was a social tournament and get-together for the judges that I participated in. Enough packs for a sealed Two-Headed Giant event for any interested judges were donated, and a friend and I got our packs and played Two-Headed Giant and Commander for most of the evening. This judge get-together was a great way to break the ice and introduce ourselves to one another so that we had some familiarity with one another before the big show started the next day. We went out to eat with a bunch of judges after this and had a great time—as much fun as one can have when going out to dinner with a bunch of friends you don’t get to see often.

Friday – September 2, 2011

I was on the main event shift, which started at 8:30 a.m. Judges have to be on-site around an hour or so before the players so we can set up things like table numbers, draft product, pairings boards, chairs, etc. I was assigned to be on the paper team, which handles the posting of all pairings, the passing out of deck-list sheets, the passing out of match slips, and the little slips of paper on draft tables that have the seating. Shortly after getting started, I was informed that I would be taking the Level 3 judge test that morning and was whisked away to a room off the main floor to take my exam. The test was very difficult; I took a break and got everyone in my little room something to drink to clear my head. After taking the exam, I went back to my duties, unaware of my score or even whether I had passed.

Back on the floor, I helped pass out what felt like a million match slips, took some calls from pro players, helped explain English slang Magic terms to foreign judges, and had them explain some foreign slang terms to me (did you know the Italian word for “bird” is uccello, and it is a slang term for a penis?). After an hour or so, I was whisked off again to review my answers on my written test. While walking along with Jeff Morrow, the Level 4 judge who gave me the exam, I asked if he was going to slow-roll me with the results. He replied that he wasn’t sure. Shortly after we sat down, he informed me that I had passed with 84%! I was ecstatic. We went over all of the questions I had difficulty with and I went back to the floor after he informed me I would also be taking the interview portion of the Level 3 exam soon. Back out on the floor was more of what it had been—answering calls, helping players from other countries understand what was happening in a game state, and giving a few penalties for looking at too many cards. I went to the Reading Terminal Market across the street for lunch, which was so amazing that I ate lunch there every day I was in Philadelphia. It deserves mention because that place is amazing.

Back to the event site. I was whisked off to take the Level 3 panel. I sat down in front of a Level 5 and two other Level 3 judges, and after two hours, they decided to promote me to Level 3! The next half-hour, I decompressed from the panel and had judges and players from all over the world come give me high-fives and congratulate me and hug me. It was over the top and one of the best feelings a person can have. Friday night after the event was another hooligan dinner with much celebration!

Saturday – September 3, 2011

Saturday was the first day that I got to judge all day long! I requested and was given the role of assistant to the head judge. That task is a great way for judges to get insight into the mechanics of the tournament on a macro scale and know what goes through the head of the head judge while he or she makes decisions throughout the day. I was able to sit in on every appealed ruling and disqualification investigation (sorry, can’t comment on those). My day started at 8:15 a.m. with the team-lead meeting. This meeting with the leaders of the teams is where we set goals for the day on timing everything and make sure everyone is on the same page. We set up things like goals for extension times for deck checks, pairings and slips being handed out, and floor coverage zones. We generally try to make sure deck-check extensions are no longer than ten minutes, make sure match slips are handed out by five minutes into the round, and make sure there is at least one judge on the floor for each thirty to forty players.

After this meeting, we walked around and made sure the drafts were being set up properly. We had to make sure the product was laid out in the same order at all the tables and that all the tables had a slip with the seating for that table on it. Shortly thereafter, the players were seated for the player meeting for Day 2. While Riccardo was giving the announcements, I went and made sure most of the judges on the floor had replacement packs to give out. Almost every judge working the draft is given three to six replacement packs so that if someone opens a pack with no rare or with thirteen cards, we can just swap it out immediately without pausing the draft. The people who make these stamped packs are human, and when you are stamping roughly two thousand packs for a Pro Tour Day 1 and Day 2 draft, mistakes can and do happen. We had to give out about nine replacement packs in the Day 2 draft.

After that, the tournament went on rather smoothly. We were able to get out on the floor and talk about interesting rules scenarios and policy scenarios to compile into a report that we go over at the end of the day with all the judges. We had two DQ investigations, and one actual DQ, lots of appeals with lots of players who didn’t speak English as their primary language. Luckily, we were able to communicate with all of them. One of the things that blew my mind at this event was the efforts all of these players and judges have made to be able to communicate in English. I met lots of new judges from other countries, and we became friends over the course of the day.

At the end of the day, we had a meeting with all of the judges from public events and the main event to go over the details of the main event. Each team leader went up and recognized great judges on their team, and we all discussed the DQ scenarios and interesting rulings for the day. We then broke to go get dinner and play Commander all over the place. Most restaurants and bars and hotels that I stopped into had judges from all over the world playing Magic and laughing with each other, which was so cool to see and feel a part of.

Sunday – September 4, 2011

Sunday, most of the judges were placed onto public events, as only the Top 8 was played and that only required four judges to do. Sunday is also the primary day for giving feedback on performance and learning about the communities of other judges. I was slated to work the 2HG Sealed challenge. I was pulled at various times throughout the day to sit with judges and give/receive feedback and generally chat about judging and Magic and life. These chats are called “two-on-ones” because it is two Level 3+ judges sitting with a Level 2 (or lower) judge to find out how his or her community is doing and if he or she has any questions we can help with. It’s just as much a learning experience for the Level 3 judges as it is for the Level 2 judges; frequently, I was able to talk about issues that have come up in my own community and get some great ideas to try.

There are also judge seminars at these events. I attended a seminar by Toby Elliott (Level 5 focused on policy), Matt Tabak (WotC rules manager), and Eli Shiffrin (Level 3 “rules manager,” basically the go-to judge guy for comp rules). This seminar was about Innistrad rules and policy changes, and from what was talked about there, I can tell you Innistrad will be a blast! We were able to sit and play with the Transform cards and see the checklist cards. Toby was able to give the judges the rundown on potential problems in tournaments and how to handle them; Matt and Eli were able to give us all of the comp-rules changes with the new cards. I came away from that seminar feeling that they had really put their time in and thought this through. None of the judges in attendance were able to come up with any rules or policy scenarios that they did not have a clear and easy answer for.

After the event on Sunday, we went to the judge dinner. This event is paid for by Wizards of the Coast for all of the judges on staff at a Pro Tour, much like the player dinner for the players on the Pro Tour. All of the judges went to a really nice restaurant and martini bar, with all the food paid for by Wizards. By doing a great job, you could earn drink tickets throughout the weekend good for any drink at no charge, and every judge got at least one drink ticket from the judge manager. At this dinner, we were really able to mingle with people from all over the world, eat some excellent food, drink some excellent cocktails, and praise one another’s accomplishments from the weekend. Judge manager for the event Jason Lemahieu stood up, and we recognized all of the judges who became Level 3 at this event, and the program’s newest Level 4, Chris Richter. On Sunday at the event, we were all able to vote for judges who we felt did a fantastic job. The two judges who won that vote were recognized at the dinner; the first-place judge was given a full sponsorship to any Pro Tour of his choice. The second-place judge was given full sponsorship to any Grand Prix of his choice. After much clapping and cheering, the party got back going again, and we all stumbled out of there around 11ish. The new Level 3s all got together with the Level 4 who tested all of us to do a free Invasion–Planeshift–Apocalypse draft. That was great fun and a great way to end the weekend!

As you can see from this rundown, the event is very important, but is just a part of what makes these weekends so awesome as a judge. The biggest and best part, at least for me, is the community. Never before have I been able to go into a room with sixty people from all over the country who don’t really know me and feel like we were already friends. The air of tolerance and mutual respect is a great ice-breaker, and I’ve never met a judge I don’t like. This program means a lot to me, and I hope you enjoyed reading about one of the many reasons why: events like this!

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