This is a brief tournament report of two events from last year: GP’s Tampa and Minneapolis. Judge tourney reports are a little bit different. There’s no round-by-round; those tend to just blend together for us, and it certainly isn’t going to be as interesting as match reporting. In fact, at this point, after so many events, it takes something special to stand out in my own memory, and that is some kind of mistake. I’m not saying that because I’m some kind of super judge who doesn’t make mistakes. I probably average two or three mistakes per event, but those tend to get fixed quickly, or end up not mattering at all. One mistake I made earlier in my career was not taking enough breaks. That’s something that affected me greatly, but had little to no impact on the event as a whole. No, the mistakes I made at these events unfortunately led to some speed bumps during the event, and that is both memorable and really rather embarrassing.
I was the Logistics team lead for these two tournaments. Logistics is a funny team, as it is sink or swim. For Constructed events, there isn’t a lot to do: put out the table numbers; move some tables and chairs; end of round procedure; and the occasional accident like a spill. A Limited event has all of that and the product. Oh, the product.
Preparing the product for a Limited event is a multi-tiered process. If you’ve been to a Prerelease or Sealed PTQ, you’ve seen this in action, just on a much smaller scale than a 1000-player GP. First is the opening of the product, breaking open cases and the six booster boxes within each case. Once those booster packs have been liberated, they need to be repackaged into six-pack sets for distribution. Some TOs provide rubber bands and/or brown sack lunch bags for this. GP Minneapolis TO Legion Events (of Magic Cruise fame) went one step further, providing Legion Events-branded plastic deck boxes.
It’s become a frequent practice for TOs to give out playmats to players at GPs. For any TOs running Limited events later this year, I would wholeheartedly recommend switching that practice to deck boxes because they offer more value to both players and judges. Having something to package those six booster packs and the subsequent decks that they turn into is a huge deal.
Once the product is distributed, judges need to turn their attention to the lands. That was where I made my big goof at GP Tampa. The land situation at Limited events is very annoying. The lands come in “sleeves” of 400-500 cards. If you were to package lands into sleeves, you would think that it would make the most sense to have each sleeve be just one basic land, i.e. a Plains sleeve, an Island sleeve, etc. You know where this is going.
Welcome to the most menial and actually pointless judge task at an event: sorting lands. Technically speaking, the sleeves are sorted. It’s just that they are sorted in WUBRG order and it’s our job to re-sort them into piles by type. You’ve probably seen judges doing this at events, making five stacks of lands, although I prefer the star formation like on the backs on Magic cards. I get a much better rhythm going if I sort in a circular fashion. The only catch is that the collation does not always go by fives, so halfway through the sleeve there is an inevitable jump. The key is to see it when it happens and not be putting Swamps into the Mountain pile some ten circles later.
The lands then need to get to the players in some kind of fashion that makes sense. For Tampa, I tried standard “land stations” placed strategically around the room. This works well enough at PTQs, and to some extent at Pro Tours. Those are much smaller than GP Tampa was (half the size or less). For this event, with 800+ players, three land stations wasn’t nearly enough. Not by a long shot. It’s likely that either four or five would have done it with better placement.
Stranger yet was that the distribution of the land stations around the room, despite being equidistant from each other, caused players to funnel towards one specific station. We made a conscious decision to not have any land stations near the main stage because we didn’t want that area cluttered with players. In retrospect, having two of the three stations placed near the Public Events staging area directly across from the main stage was a bad idea. Although no events were happening until later in the afternoon, I think the general “something should be happening here” feel of the area made players shy away from it. The third land station was up against the side wall and completely isolated from everything. Everyone went there.
At one point the line for that land station stretched all the way across the room. Since the other two lines were at least half as long, I sent several judges to divert traffic. The response was zero movement. When I followed up to direct the players to the shorter lines, they said “Nah. We’ve been in this line for this long. We’ll just wait it out.” I feel like there is probably some kind of name for this phenomenon, but I don’t know what it is. Like the “long line is obv the best line” phenomenon or something. If anyone has any ideas, please respond in the comments section below.
As you know by now, black was pretty good in Zendikar Limited. Especially in Sealed, if you weren’t in Black, you were probably losing. Thus, Swamps were always in high demand at these Sealed GPs. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if the lands had come in their own separate sleeves; we could have just opened a few extra Swamp sleeves and been done with it. Instead, once it was clear that we would have a definite Swamp shortage, we had to get busy sorting more lands and triaging as best we could with the Swamps. Needless to say the judge area ended up with tall stacks of extra Islands, Plains, and Forests.
By the time GP Minneapolis rolled around a month later, I felt that I had absorbed some of the lessons of Tampa and could deal with being Logistics team lead again. It helped that there was a second team lead as well, Tony Mayer from Seattle. Tony’s been around forever, or at least since my first GP as a player in 2005 when he gave me a Slow Play warning (deservedly so). But Tony and I were still caught unprepared when Minneapolis Head Judge Jason Ness ambushed us as soon as we walked into the hall. “What’s your plan, guys?” before I had even gotten my ninja shirt on and had a sip of my coffee counts as pants on the ground. I think I blathered “Zuh?” while Tony responded with a slightly more coherent “We’ll talk it over and have something by the staff briefing.”
As I mentioned, in Minneapolis we were able to package the product into the Legion Events deck boxes. However, that still left us with the problem of how to distribute the 1200 decks to the seated players. In order to keep things fair, we don’t allow players to open their product and start registration until everyone has their product, which makes this an important time crunch situation. Do the distribution slowly and the entire tournament suffers.
For Tampa, I had found some plastic roller carts. We loaded all of the product on a half dozen of these and wheeled them down the aisles, dropping off product left and right. We only had one rolling implement in Minny, a large coat rack from the hotel, but it served its purpose as a hub in the middle of the floor that judges could replenish their supply from. In both cases, we assigned teams of judges to each row of tables to distribute the product. Why then did two entire rows raise their hands when Jason Ness asked who hadn’t gotten their boosters? Tony and I had made our initial assignments based on an estimated attendance of about 900. We ended up with close to 1200, but we had failed to reassign any judges to distribution on those extra rows. Sometimes the best laid plans get derailed once things start moving and it was another pie-in-face lesson.
Nonetheless, product distribution went relatively smoothly. Now it was time to tackle the land problem again. Like Tampa, Minny was Zendikar, which meant lots and lots of Swamps. This time, instead of doing land stations, we divvyed up the lands into smaller piles and dropped them off at the end of each table. This way the player could sort out what they needed for themselves, and if they were short on Swamps, go hunting on other tables. Of course, problems arose like Godzilla on a hot Tokyo summer.
Things didn’t go as Planned
The first problem was that the last two rows didn’t get any lands, because of the whole mess with forgetting about them. The second problem was that we still didn’t have enough Swamps, and we had opened literally every single sleeve we had. SRLSY!! Tony and I sent judges out to scour the tables for what Swamps they could find and while those started to trickle in, we set up an emergency table where several judges got out the sharpies, and yes, we proxied Swamps on other basic lands. As judges (and some kind players) dropped off Swamps, we were slowly able to reclaim all of the proxied Swamps, at least for the main event. I believe that Public Event Drafts still had to resort to silly proxies. And I do mean silly. I still have one in my possession drawn by Jason Lems from Madison. It is a Plains with the big skull symbol drawn in the middle. The skull is attached to a skeleton body, and he is wearing a top hat and carrying a cane. Yes, Lems drew a Mr. Peanutskull.
When all was said and done, Jason Ness told me that I had done my job well, but he was a little disappointed that I hadn’t gone above and beyond. I agreed that I could have done better, but I had settled for adequate. Trust me, with the experience of semi-failure in my mouth, next time I will do much better. When’s the next Limited GP?
As for next time in this space, I’ll be talking about a subject that may be of interest to you: Insufficient Shuffling. Why did the name change? Why did the penalty change? Why am I exited, yet disappointed by all of these changes?
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