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)

1 comment:

  1. Given that this is the kid's first Sealed, and that it's Regular REL, I really don't think there's ever a point where helping (during build) becomes "too much strategic advice." Policy explicitly supports assistance in this case.

    If it's me, I'm going to give the kid as much guidance as he needs to have fun, while being careful to let him own his decisions.