Thursday, January 28, 2016

WER: Editing Matches 2 — Cascades

Last week, I talked about editing matches in WER and what to do when you only have one or two tables to fix. This week, I'm going to take the ideas and processes there a little bit further and talk about what scorekeepers call "cascades" or "cascading repairs." They're not nearly as intimidating as they sound.

Common issues that lead to cascading re-pairs are accidental drops and bye issues (which usually only happen at GPs, Opens, Invitationals and the like), and dealing with them uses a similar process to dealing with incorrect results. There are just a few more things to consider and a few more tables to re-pair.

The Theory of Cascading

It's round six of an Open. A player comes up to the stage because his name isn't on the pairings. At the end of the last round, he had 9 match points, still potentially in contention to make Day 2, and he doesn't know why he was dropped.

You can't just pair him against the player with the bye (if there is one), because he's supposed to be paired in this round according to his record, which means he should be paired against someone that has about 9 match points, and 0 and 9 are very different. But all the players with 9 points are already paired. Telling him he can't keep playing isn't an option either, especially if he was dropped as a result of a mistake the scorekeeper made.

You need to pair him with an appropriate opponent, which means you're going to have to stop a match where at least one player has 9 points (and, if you're lucky, that player's opponent has 6 points) and pair him with that player.

Now you have a different player who isn't paired that you need to find a match for. If you're lucky, he has 6 match points (and you have match where a player with 6 match points is paired against a player with 3 match points). You can stop that match and pair your floating player with 6 match points against a player from that match with 6 match points.

Now you have a third player who isn't paired. See where this is going? Eventually, you can break a match in which a player has 0 match points and either pair that player with the existing bye or assign him or her a bye, whichever the case may be.

However, following these steps in this order is extremely time consuming. By the time you get to the second or third match, there's a good chance that match has already started playing, and stopping matches that are in progress is a Bad Thing.

It might be tempting to delete the pairings, re-add the player to the event, and re-pair the entire round, but that's time consuming in a different kind of way: it causes a delay to the entire event instead of just a few matches, and it can be confusing for players.

We'll get to what steps to follow instead in just a second.

A Few Words on Accidental Drops

Players being dropped when they didn't mean to drop is one of the leading causes of cascading re-pairs. Before you start breaking tables though, you might want to figure out what happened that led to the drop — it might give you some insight into what you're going to have to do or offer an easier solution.

It's important to note that you don't want to spend a ton of time on this, especially if the round clock is already ticking: your Prime Objective is to get players in seats and playing Magic, and trying to get to the bottom of what happened delays that. You can always go back to the slips later to figure out what happened, and this is a useful learning exercise ... but it's secondary to fixing the problem.

That said, these are the common issues I run into:
  • Someone made an incidental marking in the drop box.
  • A name on the drop sheet was illegible, or I misread it.
  • I misclicked.
  • The players marked the wrong drop box.
  • The player no-showed and didn't tell anyone he didn't want to drop.

In most situations, you're going to be doing the same thing. Start by letting the Head Judge know what's going on, even if the mistake was yours. If the mistake wasn't yours, he or she may have a reason to not let the player re-enter the event (but in most cases, if it's the beginning of the round after they were accidentally removed, re-entering them is the best choice).

Re-adding Dropped Players

This is almost always the first step in dealing with a cascade, and you want to do this before you start fiddling with pairings because you can't add a player in the middle of editing matches. You need the missing player in the event for your match-editing efforts to be effective.

To do this, go to the Players tab in WER:

By default, this screen will show you Active players. Click in either the All or Inactive circles above the player list to find the players that have been removed. If your event is large, you can use the search box above that to narrow down the results.

Double-click on the player you want to re-add. Their information will populate in the fields to the left. Make sure you're re-adding the correct player, then click the "Re-Enroll" button.

You'll be prompted to make a choice about what to do with the player. Assigning them a bye for now is fine; you're going to fix pairings in a second.

Crafting Correct Pairings

I use crafting here because there is a bit of an art to identifying the optimal matches to break and re-pairings to implement. There are "rules," of course, but every actual, live tournament is different. They have different matches with draws. They have different pair-downs. The player you need to re-add has a different record. This means that what you will and won't be able to do can vary pretty wildly. Once you have the missing player added back in you're going to want to do the following:

  1. Figure out how many and which matches you need to break.
  2. Send a judge to stop those players from playing.
  3. Do some computer stuff.
  4. Send players to their new, correct tables. If it's possible, send a judge with each match to take care of their time extension.
In later rounds and with players with better records, the complexity of cascades increases. More changes are necessary, and there are a high number of possible matches that could work.

Figure out how many and which matches to stop.

Honestly, this is the hardest thing about cascading re-pairs.

If you get stuck on this, or if pairing up, down and with draws doesn't make sense to you, just split one match per occurring match-point score in the event that's equal to or less than the match points of the player you had to re-enroll. When you get to re-creating the pairings, you can work from top to bottom, and everything will be Fine. 

For most situations, you'll be breaking a number of matches equal to the number of rounds the dropped player has won plus one. In our example from earlier, that's going to be four matches: one with 9-point players, one with 6-point players, one with 3-point players and one with 0-point players.

Depending on how your pairings break down, this number may fluctuate some. Still using that previous example, if there are paired-down matches in all of those brackets and no bye, you might only break three matches (a 9-point vs 6-point match, a 6-point vs 3-point match, and a 3-point vs 0-point match; the 0-point player is assigned the bye).

These two things — match points and pair-downs, are going to be your bread and butter of cascades at most events.

At larger events draws can also play a part in which matches you split. You can pair a player with 9 match points against a player with 6, 7, or 8 match points. If that player's initial opponent had 6 match points, you can pair him or her against someone with 3, 4, or 5 match points, and so on.

This gives you some flexibility, which might reduce the number of matches that you have to re-pair. However, this can be pretty tricky to figure out. If pairing this ways with draws trips you up, you can ignore them and still end up with a reasonable set of pairings.

Finally, keep in mind that your cascaded pairings don't have to be 100% perfect. Every player should paired in their bracket, or paired-up or paired-down in a way that makes sense based on their match points. If you end up with an extra pair-up or pair-down when everything is said and done, it's not the end of the world, especially if it means that fewer matches are disrupted.

Send a judge to stop those players from playing.

The computer stuff here can take a minute or a few, and, unlike with a simple flipped result, it's more important to re-seat the players concurrently with performing the re-pair. Because of this, as soon as you identify the matches you want to split, it's important to send a judge to stop those matches.

Seriously. This is super important. If you get through all the re-pairing only to discover that one of the matches you wanted to change has already started playing, one of two things has to happen: you either have them stop anyway (which is a Very, Very Bad Thing), or you have to start over (which costs a lot of time).

As soon as you know what tables you want to split up for the cascade, get those players up to the stage.

Do some computer stuff.

After you've figured out what needs to happen, making the computer match is the easy part.

First, you're going to either:
  • Print or grab a copy of the current pairings
  • Make a backup of the tournament
  • Do both of those things
(I strongly recommend doing both.) This will help you if Bad Things happen and you need to re-create the round as it was before you started changing things.

Second, you're going to break all the matches you decided to break. Finally, you're going to re-pair all of the floating players. All of this happens in the Edit Matches interface, which you can get to by clicking "Edit Matches" on the Rounds tab. That button is above the grid that shows you current matches and results.

The interface looks like this:

Current matches show up on the left side, while unpaired players show up on the right.

Breaking Matches

To break a match, click on it on the left so that it's highlighted in green, then click the Un-Match button. You want to do this for all the tables you identified earlier. Byes also show up here. If you assigned the re-enrolled player with a bye earlier, you'll have to un-match that "table" as well.

*If you're not sure what matches you should break, this screen can be a useful tool for figuring it out. Current match points display with each player in the grid on the right, in descending order. You can see what the new pairings will look like — in this case a player with 3 match points will be paired against a player with 1 match point, and two players with 0 match points will be paired.

Creating New Matches

Once that's done, you should be able to go through the players on the right side from top to bottom, pairing them as you go. I always like to start with the player I had to re-add to the event.

To do this, click the check boxes next to the names of the players that you want to pair, then click the Match button. When you're down to one player, the Grant Bye button will also be active. These matches will fill in the tables that you split, from lowest number to highest. So, in the screenshot above, that first match would be assigned to Table 2.

Something else to keep in mind ... the first box you check will be the top player on the match result slip and the left player on the matches screen when you're done with all of the re-pairing. If you're manually creating new match result slips, this should be the first player you list.

Speaking of time extensions ...

Send players to their new matches.

I like to do this as I go. As soon as I pair a match, I call those players' names (they're standing in front of the stage because I sent a judge to stop their match earlier), and tell them their new table number, then proceed to pairing the next match.

This is more helpful when the cascade affected more matches: it means that the time extension on the first match to get re-paired is shorter than the time extension on the last match to get re-paired. But sometimes I'm done re-pairing before all the players are at the stage, or I only had to fiddle with two tables. Do what you're comfortable with, what reduces confusion for the players and judges involved, and what's efficient.

The only really tricky thing about cascading re-pairs is optimizing the matches that you end up splitting. Even then, the "optimal" set of re-pairs isn't the only way to get to a good set of pairings when you're done — if you have to split one or two more matches to simplify the process, that's OK. It's way better than re-pairing the entire tournament. Just make sure you get those matches stopped ASAP :)

Friday, January 22, 2016

WER: Editing Matches (aka How to Not Repair the Whole Round)

In a tournament where everything goes right, you'll never have to use WER's edit matches function. But, tournaments aren't always perfect. In fact, they rarely are, and the more players you have, the more likely it is that one of them fills out a match result slip incorrectly or marks the wrong drop box. 

As a scorekeeper for any event, I usually have this one primary goal:
Fix the things that break with minimal disruption to the rest of the event.
The important thing here is that my goal isn't for nothing Bad to happen — that's unrealistic. I *try* not to make mistakes, and I'm pretty good at it. But, it's way more important to be able to identify that a Bad Thing has happened and know what to do about it. After all, players are just as prone to making mistakes as I am.

I'm going to go through a couple things: why you want to use partial re-pairs instead of re-pairing the entire round, when to do so, and how to do it.

Editing Matches, or the Partial Re-pair

When Something Bad happens, it's tempting to delete the pairings for the round, fix the problems, and re-pair. This has a couple of distinct disadvantages:

It costs everyone time. While the entire round is being re-paired, players aren't playing Magic. It also means that the tournament end time is pushed back, which can be more or less problematic depending on whether you have venue time constraints and how far your players traveled.

It's confusing for players. Communicating that a round is being re-paired is a sticky thing, especially if matches have already started shuffling and making mulligan decisions. Often, the error that needs to be corrected (the mis-entered result, for example) isn't discovered immediately, and in the time it takes to figure out what's going on and decide on a course of action, players have started doing their thing.

The biggest advantage to only re-pairing the players that are affected by the error is just that: a limited number of players will be affected. The time extension to those matches may cause a delay, but re-pairing everyone in the tournament will definitely cause a delay. Often, a well implemented fix is invisible to the rest of the tournament.

There are a very limited number of situations in which re-pairing the entire round is better.

That's really important, so I'm going to say it again. Most of the time, re-pairing a single match or a few matches is better than re-pairing everyone. If it's going to take you longer to figure out pairings than it would to re-pair entirely and restart the round, go ahead and make new matches. This is likely to be the case in the later rounds of small events, where many of the players have already played each other.

But, in general, you should change the minimum number of matches required.

Before You Do Anything ...

... talk to the Head Judge of the event.

  • You want to make sure they know what's going on.
  • If the error was caused by players (for example, filling their match slip out wrong), the Head Judge should decide whether to correct the error*.

Make sure the Head Judge and/or tournament organizer are on board with what you want to do. They might have concerns that you haven't considered.

(*If you're the Head Judge, and the error is caught at the start of the next round, you should *probably* fix it.)

So, when should you edit matches? There are two common situations, incorrect results and accidental or missed drops. Incorrect results are usually pretty easy to deal with. Accidental and missed drops can be more problematic, so I'm going to cover them in a future post all their own.

Fixing an Incorrect Result

Incorrect results happen one of two ways. Either the scorekeeper messes up, in which case it should always be corrected, or the players mess up, in which case it's up to the Head Judge on whether or not it gets corrected. Regardless, the process is the same, and it's pretty straightforward.

You're going to have the players whose result was incorrect switch seats.

Why does this work?

Let's say that you and I battled in Round 3, and at the beginning of Round 4, we realize that we wrote down that I won when you really did. You have 6 match points (which should be 9), and I have 9 match points (which should be 6). I've been paired against someone with 9 points and you've been paired against someone with 6 points.

If we switch seats, we'll both now be paired against someone with an appropriate number of points. It's even OK if one of us was paired up or paired down, because that pairing would have happened to one player with that number of match points anyway.

What needs to happen?

I'm going to split it into two sets of steps, the real world and the computer. This is an insanely important distinction: the computer has to match reality ... eventually. It's more important to get the players playing Magic than it is to fiddle with the computer pairings. You can do that after they're seated and playing. A judge, or you if you have time, can take their corrected slip out to them after the computer is fixed.

Real World

An incorrect result is usually brought to a scorekeeper's attention by a player noticing that his or her match points are wrong. If you're lucky, both players in the match will come up at the same time. If not, you'll have to figure out who the opponent was.

  1. Identify the point of the error. You'll need to know the round, the table number and the players.
  2. Verify that the result is incorrect. If the result was mis-entered, you can do this by looking at the slip. If the slip was filled out wrong, you'll want to verify with both players that the recorded result is incorrect.
  3. Find out where both players are playing this round. They may be able to tell you their current table number, which will save you a little bit of time. Write it down.
  4. Have the players switch seats. For large events, send a judge with them to verify that they haven't already played their new opponent. WER won't let you pair players that have already played when you try to pair them, but that step comes later.
  5. Make sure they get an appropriate time extension.
  6. Commence computer fiddling.


Now for the fun stuff: D

0. Make a backup if you haven't already.

You know. Just in case.

1. Fix the incorrect result.

This is really important. If you forget to do this (like I do ... way more often than I want to admit), you're going to have the same problem at the start of the next round. To change the old result, select the round from the Rounds drop-down on the Matches tab. After you've done that, changing the result works just like entering a result does:

2. Enter the Edit Matches screen.

Once you've done fixed the old result, switch back to the current round. There's an "Edit Matches" button. Click it:

3. Change the pairings for the current round.

The Edit Matches screen looks a little bit like this:

In this screenshot, I've already split the two matches that need to be changed. Normally, you'll see all of the paired players on the left side of the screen, and the unpaired players (which will usually be empty) on the right side.

To unpair a match, select it from the left column by clicking on it, then click the Un-Match button. Both players from that match will be transferred to the right side. You'll want to do this for both of the matches that you need to split. (You did write down those table numbers, right?) Make a note of the original pairings before you do this, because you may need to reference it when you're creating the new pairings.

If you already corrected the result from the previous round, the players' correct match points should show up in the Points column, which makes pairing them correctly pretty easy. To double-check, refer to the note you made when you unpaired the matches.

When all of the players are paired or granted byes, you'll see a blue Done button. Click it to save your changes. You'll jump back to the normal Rounds tab with results entry for the current round.

If Swapping Seats Doesn't Work ...

... you're going to have to make one more change. This happens when one of the players being swapped has already played their new opponent. It's unlikely at large events and in early rounds smaller events, but you might run into it at your PPTQ or IQ.

Let's go back to our illustration from earlier when you and I were playing. The scorekeeper has fixed our result and told us to switch seats. I'm going to table 13 to play against someone else with 6 points, but when I get there, I discover that I'm now paired against the player I played in Round 1. That's no good.

The quickest way to solve this problem is to talk to the players at table 12. Make sure that they also have 6 match points (if they don't, check table 14 too), then switch one of them to the match at table 13. In this case, I would switch places with one of the players at table 12, and that player would move to the seat at table 13, where you were originally seated.

If this happens, it's extra important to write down the names of the players who are actually playing at each table and use that to adjust the computer pairings rather than relying on memory or the number of match points. It's better to get it right now than have to fiddle with it while you're entering results or at the end of the round.

Result Slips

The last thing you need to do is make sure you get accurate result slips to the players. Unfortunately, WER doesn't let you print individual result slips. You can reprint all of the slips for the round after you correct the pairings.If your event is large, it may be more efficient to make your own mock match result slips, or write in the correct names on the old ones.

If you do anything but print entirely new slips, be careful that the order of the players matches the order in WER (the player on the left in pairings is the top player on the slip). Otherwise, you increase the odds that you'll mis-enter the results and have to re-pair at the beginning of the next round too. And that's Bad.

Re-pairing individual matches isn't that scary. It's just a matter of having players switch seats and then doing some computer stuff, which you can do at your own pace once they're playing. It's one of the most versatile tools available to scorekeepers to fix common (and plenty of uncommon) problems, and incorrect results is just the start.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SCG Charlotte Open: On Questions (Sunday Edition)

A few months ago, I wrote a tournament report about my last judging experience in Richmond. One of the themes of that report was questions. I love questions. So, naturally, I'm going to continue that theme.

Here's some context:

  • On Saturday, I was on the Open's paper team. Jonathan Aiken was my team lead. The format was Modern.
  • On Sunday, I was on side events. Michael Grimsley was team lead.
  • I worked the sales booth from 7:45-9:45 each morning before my shift started (which means that I got to miss most of my morning briefings, sadface).
  • Most of the weekend's events were being scorekept in Walter. There were some software issues that caused delays, especially in the early rounds of the Open.

(This report is divided into two posts, because otherwise it's just a giant wall of text. You can read the Saturday Edition is here.)


Sunday was sides day. Before I finished up on the sales booth, my team lead had divided the day's tasks among the three judges: Sean was in charge of on-demand events, while Michael and I split up the Swiss events. I had Sealed, Two-Headed Giant and Legacy.

My favorite thing about the day was working the other side of Swiss sides for the first time. I've been in the scorekeeping seat for this these events for dozens of Opens and GPs, but making things happen from the other side for the first time was super fun.

There were some challenges. Since we only had two judges to manage the six Swiss events, we had overlapping events. Since every event started on the hour, lots of rounds were flipping around the same time. I didn't have a problem with this until Legacy started because of the 20-minute build time for Sealed, but since 2HG build time is 60 minutes, those rounds lined up just about perfectly with Legacy.

I did a lot of walking with purpose from the side events area to the stage to make sure players weren't waiting. Since the Legacy event was small, I gave those players pairings directly instead of posting them. That saved them time walking to and from the pairings board. I also gave them their round end time (with a couple of extra minutes to get started), which gave me more time to start the 2HG event, which was large enough that it needed more formal start- and end-of-round procedures.

Everything worked out pretty well. Events started on time and stayed on pace all day. There were a couple of short delays flipping rounds when they stacked up on top of each other, but the cause for those delays were communicated to the players. Michael and I also made sure we were communicating with each other to minimize them as much as possible:

  • "Nah, I have to wait for my pairings. Go post those and I'll grab your slips for you."
  • "Hey, I need to flip this round. That event has six minutes left until time. Can you cover it?"
  • "I need to run to the stage to get some information. Can you watch for calls?"

We also placed events in a less traditional way. Instead of jumping to the start of the next row for the next event, we left some space so that my second event could be placed next to my first event. This made it easier for us to manage our respective events without having to run all over the place. Leaving less space also meant that there weren't stretches of unused tables, and it kept players closer to their pairings board.

Michael Grimsley, L2

The Standard Challenge

The day was very smooth. There were some questions, especially about Kalastria Healer and Mind Raker in 2HG, but the most interesting things happened in the Standard Challenge.

There were eight players at the beginning of the event. In the first or second round, one of the players was disqualified for offering to roll a die. I don't want to go into details about what did or didn't happen, but this was the inciting incident for the events that followed, so I wanted to mention it.

I'm starting a round of the Legacy Challenge, which starts at table 437. The Standard challenge ends at table 436 — the events are right next to each other. I'm walking down the row, toward the aisle, when I overhear a particularly heated conversation between (most of) the players in the Standard Challenge. I start to eavesdrop a little bit to see if I need to get involved.

The conversation isn't the kind of heated conversation you expect at a Magic tournament. The players are talking about the disqualification, and they seem to have a different idea of what happened. They're upset about it. So, I grab the player who seems to be most vocal about it, take him a few steps away, and ask for his story.

And you thought the questions thing wasn't going to come up, didn't you?

As part of his explanation, he says that what he's saying is what he heard from another player in the event, the opponent of the player who was disqualified. I listen to the rest of what he's saying, thank him for talking to me, and then proceed to talk to the opponent. I ask him for his story.

Like I said, I'm not going to get into details of what did or didn't happen here. The important things for this story are that a) a player was disqualified and b) the other players in the event are upset about it.

As soon as I realized that the second thing was most definitely the case, my goal shifted from "find out why this conversation is so heated" to "determine if there's anything I can do to make them less upset."

To that end, I wanted to be a few things for them:

  • Someone who would affirm their thoughts and feelings about the situation.
  • Someone who wasn't involved in the original situation and could be an impartial listener.
  • Someone who would take some sort of action to resolve their concerns.

It also came up during my conversation with one of the players that something else had happened. One of their rounds wasn't ended on time. From what I can gather, they had been told they had a few minutes left, but their judge wasn't in the area when the round ended. When he returned a few minutes later, he asked what turn the outstanding matches were on. The players were upset because they thought a match would have had a different outcome if time had been called actively. 

By asking questions and listening to their answers, I succeeded in my first two goals. When those conversations were done, I talked* to the judge who had handled the disqualification and that end-of-round, which fulfilled my third goal. We decided that the best thing to do would be to make sure that the opponent had an opportunity to give a statement (which he did).

The players noticed that this conversation happened, and they also saw the tangible results: someone submitting a statement that told their side of the story. One of the players involved thanked me for asking questions and doing something about their concerns even though, in the grand scheme of things, those actions were pretty small.

That's not the end, though. In the last round, there was a judge call. The same judge who handled the disqualification and end-of-round answered the call. At the end of the last round, as the players were packing up, they were clearly upset about something again. They thought he had made a mistake. Something about a prowess trigger and Temur Battle Rage. After asking some more questions, I think one of two possible things actually happened: either the judge call was correct, or the players had made a mistake when they explained what spells had been cast and resolved when.

That's the end of the story. It brings me to the actually important take-aways from this situation.

*Memories are bad. Players will form biases. Their reactions are a decision.

These things left a bad taste in the judge's mouth. He felt like he had failed the players in that event because they didn't have a good time, regardless of what actually happened in each of these three events.

Let's break it down from the beginning.

Memories are bad.

This is the most important thing here, I think. The very first time I encountered a situation where different people had a different version of events, I was certain that one of them was lying. When I talked to the judge about what the players were saying, that was his immediate reaction too: "I know what I heard. They have to be lying."

Well, no. Different people interpret words and actions to mean different things. This happens all the time, and it's particularly relevant at Magic tournaments. They remember different things, and memories can change, even moments after a thing has happened. The brain has no compunctions about reshaping its version of events to suit a particular favorable interpretation. Sometimes memories just don't match up to reality, no matter how certain you are that what you remember is correct.

It's possible that the players' version of the disqualification is reality. It's possible that it's not, and they're misremembering what happened. It's also possible that as they were discussing it between themselves, their memories changed to support how they interpreted the situation.

In an ideal world, we know for certain what reality is. However, that's almost never the case. Objectively, it's impossible to say what really happened. There's no way to know why the two stories are different or what actually happened.

And that's OK, as long as you acknowledge that it's the case, and keep it in the back of your mind. Someone has to decide what probably happened, and that means taking into account that human memory sucks.

Players will form biases.

And not just players. Everyone, really.

I bring this up in the context of the rules question in the last round. I mentioned two possibilities previously.

1. The judge gave the correct answer.

This question was asked after the disqualification and after the weird round end. I'd already talked to the players and the judge. The opponent had already written and handed off his statement. At this point, the players have had all of these experiences, they're unhappy (though hopefully a little less unhappy than they were to start with), and now this is happening.

Are the question and the answer relevant to how they interpret the situation? If these players have decided that the don't think highly of the judge based on what's already happened, they're not likely to trust him, which means that they're more likely to reject whatever he says. They have a reason for that bias, whether or not that reason is based on objective reality, their interpretation of reality, or some combination of the two (which is the most likely).

So, maybe they don't.

2. The judge gave an incorrect answer.

As I said earlier, I did a bit of investigating into this call after it happened, based on overhearing the conversation at the end of the round. Based on what the judge said, it sounds like he gave the correct answer. But maybe he heard something wrong, Maybe the players left out details about what spell was cast when and when it resolved.

Maybe they didn't leave out details, but communicated them in a way that was misinterpreted. Lots of questions were asked before the ruling was given — the judge was wary and didn't want to make another mistake, or anything that the players could have perceived to be a mistake.

The take-away I have from this specific part of the story, and the thing I want to pass along, is this:

Previous events can predispose players to believe certain things.

In this case, did the previous events predispose these players to believe that the judge was wrong? Maybe. And maybe he was wrong. Again, it's impossible to be objectively certain.

Their reactions are a decision

The Standard Open judge was super beat up about what had happened. Like I said earlier, he felt like he had failed these players, on the grounds that they had a bad experience.

Let's assume for a second that his version of the disqualification is objective reality and he gave the correct ruling in the final round. Do those things matter?


As shitty of an answer as that is, it's true. There could be video evidence of both of those situations, and the players might still feel the same way about them. They choose how they want to react and what they want to think of a situation. They'll talk among themselves, and maybe they'll become more upset or outraged by having their opinions validated by other players.

They'll either decide that the judge made an honest mistake, or they'll decide that they think he's incompetent, and there's not much influence anyone else has on what choice they make.

That's the important thing.

As judges and event staff, we can't really influence how a player decides to react to a situation. We can do our best to explain why things happen. We can be sounding boards for them. We can listen and make sure they know that we're taking their opinions and stories seriously, but we can't tell them what to think, how to interpret things, or what to remember.

In the end ...

Things that we know:

  • The players had a bad experience.
  • That experience was based on specific things that happened during their event.
  • We should do what we can to make that better after the fact, and we should also examine whether we need to make changes to avoid similar things in the future.

Things that we don't know:

  • What really happened?
  • How much of their reaction and feeling is based on "fact" and how much of it is based on biases that were formed and decisions that were made during those events?
  • Could we have done things differently to avoid these reactions?

Something to Think About

My first event of the day was a Sealed Challenge. Several of the players were young kids, and one of them had never played Sealed before. I learned this during build, when he asked for help. He had opened all of his packs, and the cards were in a pile in front of him. He had no idea what to do.

So, I helped him sort the cards into color piles and explained how Sealed deck construction works: 40-card minimum deck size and you can add any basic lands that you want.

Given that this event is Regular REL and this is his first event, what else would you be comfortable telling him? How about:

  • In a 40-card deck, it's good to have at least 17 lands.
  • You don't want to play more than 40 cards.
  • You want a mix of card costs, otherwise you might lose before you can cast any of your flashy spells.

Where's the line between being a helpful resource for a new player and giving too much strategic advice?

(He played all of his red cards, all of his white cards, a pile of lands, and won his first round: D)

SCG Charlotte Open: On Questions (Saturday Edition)

A few months ago, I wrote a tournament report about my last judging experience in Richmond. One of the themes of that report was questions. I love questions. So, naturally, I'm going to continue that theme.

Here's some context:

  • On Saturday, I was on the Open's paper team. Jonathan Aiken was my team lead. The format was Modern.
  • On Sunday, I was on side events. Michael Grimsley was team lead.
  • I worked the sales booth from 7:45-9:45 each morning before my shift started (which means that I got to miss most of my morning briefings, sadface).
  • Most of the weekend's events were being scorekept in Walter. There were some software issues that caused delays, especially in the early rounds of the Open.

(This report is divided into two posts, because otherwise it's just a giant wall of text. You can read the Sunday Edition is here.)


Because I was on paper, I spent most of the day either posting pairings or wandering up and down the aisles watching matches of Magic: the Gathering. I've played a little bit of Modern, but I don't know the ins and outs of the format, so this was a great learning experience.

In particular, I learned that I hate Amulet Bloom. More specifically, I hate watching Amulet Bloom do its thing.

Moving on.

These two situations stand out in my mind from Saturday, and I think they do a good job of illustrating why asking questions is important.

Reliquary Tower?

In one of the early rounds, I was called over to a table where a player had forgotten to discard during cleanup and had four extra cards in his hand. When I got to the table, he had already discarded the extra cards. He explained early on that he hadn't discarded because he thought he had a Reliquary Tower in play. Whoops.

It's easy to just apply the appropriate fix and issue a penalty (which I did after I double-checked with Abe, who was shadowing me on the call, that there wasn't anything from the new Drawing Extra Cards rules that were relevant to this situation; no one's safe!), but I really like asking questions.

I want to understand what's happening, in part because I want to make sure there's nothing I'm missing about a situation. In this specific instance, I also want to poke a little bit deeper because suddenly having four extra cards is kind of a Big Deal.

So, I asked some things:

  • Who noticed the mistake? My opponent.
  • Did you have a Reliquary Tower in play earlier this game? No, but I had one in play last game.
  • When was the error noticed? At the beginning of the next turn.

That the opponent was the one to notice wasn't a huge red flag for me because, as the player said, he thought he had a Reliquary Tower in play. It did make me want to ask some follow-up questions, so I did. It was also fairly early in the game and the first time the player had to discard during cleanup, and I was satisfied with the player's explanation of what happened.

Abe Corson, L3

Colorless Tarmogoyf

Tarmogoyf is (frequently) a green creature, which means that you kinda have to have green mana to cast him. Unless you mess up and you don't have green mana, but you cast him on turn two anyway. Whoops.

At the beginning of this call, it seemed like the game had only progressed to the next player's turn. He described playing and activating a fetchland and casting a Noble Hierarchic as the only things that had happened since the 'Goyf was cast. It's also his second turn, so the number of options he had was still fairly limited. At this point, I'm thinking that maybe backing this up isn't super unreasonable, and I might want to go find Abe or Nicholas to make that happen.

But, I always want to know more.

  • Who noticed the mistake? The 'goyf player.
  • When? On the next turn.
  • Why did you notice? Because I played Verdant Catacombs and when I started to search, I realized I didn't already have a green source in play.

That puts us at the Tarmogoyf player's third turn, not his opponent's second turn. We've added a couple extra decision points and an extra card draw, and that's too much for me. I tell the players that the game is going to be left the way it is.

Except for the 'goyf, right? That's the opponent.

Well, no. We're either going all the way back or we're not going back at all. Of course, I told the opponent that I'd encourage him to appeal if he wasn't happy with this outcome. He chose not to, but he clearly wasn't thrilled with it.

Clarifying the situation turned out to be super important, because otherwise I might have started down the backup path, which would have resulted in a lengthier time extension. These are bad for two reasons. One of them is that it might delay the round. The second, and more important, is that players have to twiddle their thumbs longer before they get to keep playing Magic, and that makes everyone sad.

I hovered for a while just in case. The 'goyf player flashed the opponent a second green source from his hand after he finished fetching, explaining that he could have had green mana on his last turn, but he had failed at putting the right land into play. His opponent seemed much happier after that. (Of course, this isn't relevant. I just like it when players are satisfied, even if I really didn't have anything to do with it.)

Questions in General

Specific situations give rise to specific questions, but there are some questions that I (try to remember to) ask every time I approach a table.

  • What's up? What can I do for you guys? How can I help you?
  • What does that card do? (No really. I know what I think it does, but that's probably different from what it actually does.)
  • Why is this question you're asking important?
  • Have you received any other penalties today?*

That last question is my favorite, though I usually phrase it differently. Especially for rules questions, it helps me figure out what the player is actually asking, as opposed to what the player thinks he or she is asking. It's also useful for identifying other things that might impact the answer to the question--other cards in play, spells that have resolved, that sort of thing.

(*I never remember to ask this. Never. Well, except in round one or two. I'm working on it though.)

Penalty Descriptions
(aka how to answer your SK's questions before they ask)

I wouldn't be me if I didn't bring up something about match result slips or software, right? No worries. I got you.

Late in the day on Saturday, the event scorekeepers handed me this match result slip:

First things first, you'll notice that the penalty format is completely different from what you're used to. That first number is the table number. P1 indicates the top player on the slip, while P2 is the bottom player. The judge's name is Last, First. Walter has a different penalty entry interface than WER and DCI-R. In fact, it has two different penalty entry interfaces.

This was the layout our scorekeepers requested for this weekend, and I expect it will become the standard for large events soon. Until then, either keep doing what you've been doing, or follow the directions of your HJ or scorekeeper. If you're not sure, ask :)

But here's the more important part of this:

Those penalty descriptions don't really mean anything.

Describing a GRV with "resolved spell incorrectly" is basically the same thing as describing a GRV by saying that the player committed a GRV. It doesn't tell anyone anything about what actually happened, which kind of defeats the purpose of tracking infractions in the first place.

These descriptions should be much more specific. I was tasked with communicating this to the judges on staff.

My advice was three-fold:

  • Use card names.
  • Explain what happened that wasn't supposed to.
  • Keep it short.

You can usually describe what Bad Thing happened in about as many words as it takes to say "failed to resolve spell correctly."

For example: Shuffled after Ancient Stirrings. Yep, that's not how that's supposed to work, and now I know exactly what went wrong.

As I was talking to judges, they raised a not unreasonable objection:

But we've been told not to write card names on the slips, because it might give players extra information.

This is true. It's especially true for deck list penalties. Please don't name the card that the player forgot to register or used a shortened name for--that could actually give their opponent information they wouldn't have otherwise.

However, if the spell has been cast and resolved incorrectly, both players know it. But what if they forget it's in the deck? That's super unlikely. Not only was it cast, but something weird happened, too. A judge had to be called. Those kinds of events tend to stick out in memory, and it's extremely unlikely that a player will both forget *and* look at the back of the slip later in the match. That possibility is an easy trade-off for having more complete information.

It's likely that, if you use vague penalty descriptions, your scorekeeper is going to have to track you down for more information when they go to enter the penalty.

That's particularly true in this case, where there's not enough information to figure out why both players were issued a GRV for whatever happened instead of one GRV and one Failure to Maintain. That kind of difference could be a game loss later.

Make sure your penalty descriptions are detailed enough to answer the questions someone else might have about what happened. You can often lean on the type of penalty you're issuing. "Mulliganed to 7" paired with Improper Draw at Start of Game explains what happened. "Flipped second card" paired with Looking at Extra Cards also paints a complete picture of what happened.

Penalty descriptions don't have to be long, they just have to be specific.

Overall, Saturday was pretty tame, There were some delays printing pairings because of software, but online pairings helped to mitigate some of the time that was lost as a result.

Something to Think About

Here's one more parting thought for you. This happened at the end of round one, in extra turns. I'll call the players Jund and Bloom.

There's a small pile of dice on the table to the right of Jund's playmat, and Bloom has his own dice in a plastic box behind his playmat. Trust me, this is important.

On Bloom's turn, he casts Summoning Pact twice. He grabs one of the dice from the small pile and sets it on top of his library to remind him to pay for his Pacts. He has plenty of lands in play to do so. At the end of Bloom's turn, Jund activates the ability of Scavenging Ooze, which doesn't currently have any counters on it. He grabs the die from the top of Bloom's library and sets it on Scavenging Ooze to represent the counters.


  • Is this Cheating? If not, do you think it should be?
  • Is the situation different if the die placed on the library belongs to Bloom?
  • Is the situation different is Jund says explicitly that he removed the die in hopes that his opponent would forget his Pact trigger?

A few seconds after the die was moved, Bloom grabbed the lid to his dice box and put that on top of his library. He paid for his Pact triggers at the start of his turn. I think the game ended in a draw, but I don't really remember.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Preparing for Events

Happy New Year!

It's the first Monday of 2016. That's kind of exciting, right? I love Mondays. They're the best day of the week. There's so much energy and potential in a new week, and this Monday is particularly exciting because it's the Monday before my first event of 2016: the SCG Open in Charlotte.

(It is Charlotte, right? All these cities blend together for me.)

But ... I'm not on stage in Charlotte. The SCG staff will be joined by Jeff Darran, and I'm on the Paper team, at least on Saturday :D

Yep. That's right. I'll be a floor judge at my first Magic event of 2016. And it's Modern. I've played a little bit of Modern (#StormForever), but I haven't been around the format a ton, so I have some prep work to do this week. Thinking about how to tackle it led me to this post.

A while ago, I wrote about my event kit, but that's only a small part of the preparation that goes into events. The rest is less a physical exercise than a mental one, but it's much more important. After all, someone on staff will have a spare red pen for you. They can't put your thoughts in order or telepathically implant the things you want to know about the format in your brain, though. You have to make sure those things are there.

What You Need to Know About the Event

Regardless of what my role at a specific event is, this is where I start: event details. These things are important. They provide you with the context you need to prepare successfully. Here are the key points:

  • Location, date, and time
  • Format
  • Side event schedule
  • Participation rewards and prizes

Nicholas Sabin is Head Judging the Charlotte Open, and his email to the staff went out yesterday afternoon. It contained this gem:

"If you are not early, you are late; one of my biggest irritations is lateness."

As it turns out, though, showing up on time isn't enough. If you're not prepared to get to work when you arrive, are you really on time? That's where the rest of these details come in.

Even if you're not assigned to side events, it's useful to know what events are offered. You don't need to memorize prize payouts or start times, but having a general answer available when players ask is much better than telling them that you don't know:

"There are drafts, Commander pods, and single-elimination constructed events that fire as soon as they have enough players. There are also scheduled Challenge events for different formats. All the events pay out Prize Tickets, which you can spent on packs and other goodies at the Prize Wall. The stage has more information on everything if you're interested." 

That feels like a lot of information. It's enough for a player to figure out whether they might be interested in participating in a side event, but it's really just a 10-second version of what they'd find if they looked on the event page.

If side events are my responsibility, either as a judge or a scorekeeper, I spend more time on the specifics. I learn the schedule, usually by writing it down in my notebook, and the prize payout. I'd also want to know what prize wall tickets are worth — how many points are packs? what are the big ticket items? how many points do those cost?

I like being able to answer questions for players. Magic tournaments happen in big rooms, and sending them all the way to the other end of the hall to get an answer to their question is kinda miserable.

Format Guides

Format isn't something I pay a lot of attention to when I'm scorekeeping events. Whether the players are playing Standard or Sealed or Legacy doesn't have much of an impact on what I'm doing on stage (except when I have to decipher a penalty on the back of a slip — please write legibly :D). When it comes to judging, though, format is super important.

Format Guides are a fantastic resource. That overview page links to guides for Standard, Modern, Sealed and more, and it also has some links to helpful Missed Trigger lists. My prep for Charlotte will definitely include looking over the Modern one again.

I like to use a header in my notebook to start the section on each event. Sometimes it's as simple as the event, location and date on its own line in a bright, pretty color. Sometimes it's a half page or full page of the event details that I want to remember.

This serves two purposes:

  1. The act of writing things down helps me remember them.
  2. It's an easily accessible reference when I'm on-site.

What You Need to Know About Your Role

Events have a lot of details, but those details provide the foundation of your pre-event work. When you get into your role, your preparation becomes more focused. Frequently, you won't know what your team or event assignment is until the week leading up to the event, which is why I like to have the event details figured out by then.

What's Your Assignment?

When you're judging, this is your team. When you're an admin, this is your stage role. It can be paper, deck checks, Swiss event registration, side event scorekeeping or concierge in the VIP lounge. It could be all five of those things at different points in the weekend. Are you a team lead? Are you the point person for a specific stage task?

Each role takes a slightly different approach to the event. Your have different priorities, different tools, and different processes. Even people working on the same team often have different responsibilities. In Charlotte, I'll be on the paper team. I could be posting pairings, cutting result slips, or distributing them. I could be doing all of those things at different times.

Knowing what your responsibilities are beforehand, even in a general sense, will help you prepare. Here are some ideas:

  • (Deck checks) Try out one of the deck list counting apps for deck checks.
  • (Paper) Figure out whether there are online pairings and how they work.
  • (End-of-round) Ask your scorekeeper what's most helpful for them.

Don't be afraid to reach out to other people on staff, whether they're judges or admins, to ask questions or make plans.

Who Are You Working With?

There's a lot of information in the event schedule, and too many of the people I know only look at their own assignments. Your assignment is only one piece of the puzzle.

Are you a team lead or point person? Who are you reporting to? Who will you be working closely with, both on your team and on other teams?

I've scorekept Swiss side events at quite a few GPs, and one of the first things I do when I get the schedule is figure out who the Swiss registration lead is. That's the person I'm most likely to interact with in a time-sensitive way, and they're usually seated Somewhere Else in the hall. Sometimes clear on the other side of it. I need to figure out how to communicate with them. Sometime it's Pidgin, sometimes it's radio, sometimes it's smoke signals, but I can't start an event until their line is clear.

This weekend, I'm on the paper team.

My team

My team lead, Jonathan Aiken, is a Level 2 judge from Tennessee that I don't recall working with before. I have worked with the other three judges on my team before, though not while I was floor judging, so that's going to be a sweet new experience and perspective too.

Other teams

I'm also paying attention to who's on the end-of-round team because those are the people I'm most likely to bump into at the stage when rounds are starting and ending. The team lead is Eric Dustin Brown, Richmond's new Area Captain and my roommate. There are some names on his team that I don't recognize.

I won't be working as closely with the deck checks or side events teams, but I want to know at least one familiar face there in case I need to point someone in their direction.


Finally, I want to know who can handle appeals, back ups, and other wonky situations. For this event, Nicholas has delegated some of his power to Abe Corson.

What You Need to Know About Your Goals
aka You Should Have One

It's really easy to go into an event with "I don't want to mess anything up" as a goal, but that's the worst goal I can imagine (other than silly ones, like "I want to flip a table"):

  • Messing things up is one of the best ways to learn new things.
  • You don't add any value to the event or your experience by just going through the motions.

Instead, take risks. Try new things. Formulate a goal that's measurable, even if it's not with numbers, and plan what you need to do to accomplish it.

Many of the judges in my area have made review writing one of their 2016 resolutions, and their goal is writing at least one review per event. That's a great goal. It's measurable. It's useful to them and to the other judges on staff. But what steps can they take to accomplish it?

  • Be attentive. Watch what other judges are doing.
  • Be specific. Take notes. Write down details of interactions.
  • Be reflective. Think about what happened. Think about what could have happened differently. Would that be better or worse?

When I'm scorekeeping events, one of my goals is to provide feedback on systems and processes. A lot of the time, I make these comments in conversation with the other staff members when they occur to me, but I don't usually think about how to improve things until I'm out of the moment, writing them down. Taking time to reflect on these things later, whether it's when I'm off the stage on a break or at home after the event, is important for the way I think about things. 

My event notes tend to be very observational — this ruling was made, this feature works this way, this interaction happened this way — rather than reflective. One of my goals for Charlotte is to take notes that are more reflective. It's going to be hard. I like details too much, but they need context to be useful.

I love using feedback and reviews and notes as a goal because it engages me in so many aspects of working events — interacting with other staff members, solving problems, completing tasks, improving the player experience — but other goals are equally as valid.

Maybe you want to cut down your deck check time by 30 seconds. Maybe you want to get better at using the paper cutter. Maybe you want to learn about a new role or discuss a policy change with someone or several someones until you think you really understand it. Maybe you want to test your scorekeeping limits.

What's your first event of 2016? Whatever it is, set a goal. Working an event isn't just about that weekend, that single experience. It's also a bridge between the experiences you've had in the past and the ones you want to have in the future.