Tuesday, January 12, 2016

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.

1 comment:

  1. As usual, this article is spot on. I'm sad to hear that the advice of "don't write card names that both players don't know about when assessing D/DLPs" has somehow mutated into "don't write card names in penalties, period." That was never the intention of this guidance. :/

    The last question is wonderful. Really curious to hear people's answers!