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Puerto Rico States: A judge's journey to paradise


As I write this article I'm sitting on a JetBlue flight from San Juan back to Orlando. Puerto Rico had their champs in San Juan and the Florida/Georgia PTO Jeff Williams (PhoenixGames.us) was asked to be the organizer for the event. Jeff asked me if I would be able to head judge the event and I, of course, agreed. It's pretty hard to pass up an opportunity to judge in a beautiful location and help with some community building along the way. Since every event needs a score keeper my good friend and Armada Games regular Dale Lovelace was kind enough to accompany us on the trip.

We arrived in San Juan at around three in the afternoon on Friday. The first order of business was to go to the site and make sure things had been set to specifications. We were expecting anywhere from forty to eighty for the magic side of things but a side reason for Jeff's trip was a rather large Yugioh event which threatened to have close to two-hundred players. A little wiggle room is there for forty players but with several hundred all the ducks need to line up. Once we arrived at the venue (which incidentally is the same venue which will be used for the Pro Tour next year), and checking that everything is in order we were off to the hotel for a little gambling.

The next couple of hours are a blur of delicious mojitos and blackjack, but when the air cleared I had learned several x-rated Spanish phrases and was up around a hundred dollars. Feeling our new found wealth our group decided to check out a few of the local game stores and hopefully get some EDH in.

Unfortunately when we arrived at our first store FNM was in full swing. Even more unfortunately no one at the site played EDH! Dale and I were shocked to say the least. We purchased a great many singles and were on our way to see what the other stores in town were all about.

A side note on singles. There is something of a schism between players regarding foreign cards. Casual players tend to dislike cards if they can't read all that they do. Tournament players, particularly in the eternal formats usually favor cards, but only of certain languages. I am a little different in the fact that I love all foreign cards. If a card sounds cooler to me in Spanish/French/German then I like it as much or more than the English version. I know that sometimes the prices are off, but I just don't care.

After leaving the first store we made our way to a second store inside of a mall. This store was a good deal smaller than the first store but to be honest I felt more at home. Players were laughing and having fun together and the owner was playing too! That's one of the more unique things about Armada, the owners are usually involved in whatever games are going on, you know that Aaron and Michael are involved and care.

Much to our chagrin Dale and I discovered ANOTHER store where EDH did not exist. Unlike our first stop everyone at this store was interested in learning EDH. Being mostly casual players, the core group was not going to be playing in champs the next day, but still offered to build EDH decks that night and come by. Dale and I took them up on their offer and even threw in a few prizes to sweeten the deal. With a great promise to get some EDH action in on Saturday we were off to be responsible adults and get a little sleep.

And of course I'm lying. Magic players don't sleep, it would be irresponsible of magic judges to sleep. Dale, Jeff and I instead drank more delicious mojitos before finally collapsing for a few hours of shut-eye.

Saturday started at an all to early hour of seven a.m. At this point I should probably note that seven in San Juan is six in Florida so my body's natural time system was feeling a little out of whack. After unpacking and laying out our wares, Dale and I were treated to some local pastries and coffee, all of which was sumptuous of course. That gave us plenty of time to sit around and wait, discussing policy (DQ's, potential situations, things like that), and of course get a little EDH in.

The event was scheduled to begin at ten but I had been forewarned. Different locations have different cultural norms. When I head judge a PTQ or GPT type event in Florida I set a time and barring some unforeseen circumstances that's when we begin. Many local players and Jeff himself had warned me that there would be a good number of late entries and that we should view ten as more of an approximate time.

I love order. I like for everything to go as planned and I try to plan ahead as best I can. This experience taught me that while it is good to plan ahead it's also important to be flexible. As a judge you do want to balance order with making sure players have fun. If players aren't having fun then I'm not doing my job. As much as I like a set start time I will not ruin the event for half the field by having them take a round one loss or some other such nonsense.

With that little diatribe aside, the event began at ten forty-five with twenty-six players. This means four rounds with a cut to top eight. The event was very smooth. There were no communication error infractions and few judge calls. The total time for the event was six hours and that includes an hour lunch break! Good times were had by one and all.

Ironically, my event in Puerto Rico was probably the smoothest event I've run as a head judge. There were zero decklist errors, zero communication problems and only a handful of rules questions. Many players communicated better with me than the players for whom English is the first language. Furthermore, there were no complaints about prize support, entry fees, or side event times. Another odd sensation, players would clean up after themselves and there was not a single money draft.

I think the highlight of my trip actually occurred after the main event had concluded. Dale and I were sitting, waiting for the eighth (yes, eighth!) round Yugioh event to finish and the playgroup from Friday arrived. Each member of the group had spent their night coming up with an EDH deck and learning the rules! The number of EDH players in the store had grown from zero to six overnight! After sitting down with everyone and hammering out the finer points of the rules they were off on their way and I couldn't be happier. I think that EDH will really thrive at their store and I look forward to going back for the PT in a few months and see how their location is doing.

This weekend I will be head judge of the final sealed PTQ in Florida. It is going to be at Phoenix Games Saturday December 12th. Unfortunately we probably will not be having a lunch break, but I still look forward to seeing everyone again. I think I've picked up a lot of good things at champs in Puerto Rico and I look forward to implementing them this weekend. If you see me at the event by all means come up and say hello. If I seem busy please make sure to see me later, I always like talking magic and rulings at events!

Finally, after every large event the judge staff and I head out to TGI Fridays as a way to unwind. We generally just talk about rulings, judge stuff and have a good time. If you're curious about what it's like being a judge, or you're thinking you might want to become a judge please feel free to join us. I want to help build the judge community in Florida and I welcome everyone to come along and see what it's like! Until next time, this is Benjamin McDole, giving you a hundred reasons to play magic!

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