The Riki Rules – Logistical Blunders


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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21 thoughts on “The Riki Rules – Logistical Blunders”

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  2. —–
    “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.”
    An economist would refer to this as the “sunk cost fallacy”. Human nature leads us to overvalue the costs we’ve already paid (waiting in line) so they don’t seem “wasted”, instead of evaluating the new decision based purely on it’s merits at that time. It’s of course wrong.

  3. cool article! very interesting to get a behind the scenes look at the organization of events like that.

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  5. For the land stations you could try giving out small land forms to the players to fill out to give to Judges at the land stations that way they hand the judge a number on a piece of paper and the judge can get them the lands as opposed to waiting for players to do so, of course this requires more judges. But it would almost like a Fast food implementation.

    I would like 10 Swamps 6 Forests and a large Mountain, 4 Islands on the side.

    You could have them give there order at the front of the line and have them move to the other side of the station to pickup their order.

    | J J |
    | J J |
    Order lands here —> |________| <— Pickup lands here

    I have never been to one of these events so I do not know if this is realistic or not but it seems to work for retail and Fast Food Restaurants.

  6. Also I don’t know if this has been tried before but since people are unlikely to have 5 color decks or like you said when there tends to be popular colors. You can split up a lot of the traffic but have the land stations divided up into different parts so a Swamp station and a Mountain station and so on. Another idea that my be viable since my previous post formatted oddly would be to have the players file through the land stations like a gauntlet. So have an aisle way where on one side there is Mountains and Swamps on the other is Plains, Island and Forests. You could stagger them so people in multiple colors don’t have to go through twice and keep the line constantly moving. Lets see if I cn format this

    Players enter here————————–>Players exit —>

  7. Great read! As the events get larger and larger, logistics will only get more crucial.

    The “I’ve been in this line long enough so I just wait here” phenomenon is what we call “Anchoring” in the investment world. If someone moves from one line (or investment) to another, they can feel like they’ve “lost” that time they had in that initial line. Also, cutting bait and changing forces an emotional sentiment of “I was wrong to have picked this line and must accept that”, whereas staying in the same line doesn’t induce that same feeling. See Wikipedia under “George Bush”.

  8. About the topic of “insufficient shuffling”…

    I would also like to see an article addressing “Catching *cheating* while shuffling” (ie stacking, putting good/bad cards on top/bottom of your/opponent’s library, etc) written with a judge’s pov. And what players can do to notice/prevent this.

    Thanks! 🙂

  9. In Tampa, how noticeable was your signage for the Land Stations? If one of them happened to be more visible, that might be why one station got a bigger draw than the others. After that, the line itself contributed to visibility and was probably why everyone went there.

    Given that you said the station in question wasn’t close to anything else (so I assume you had a good amount of room to work with), What I’d do is move the other tables over to set it up like the checkin counters at an airport. One long bank of land stacks, then shift over the line to snake back and forth in front of them. Have one person at the line head to keep people from flooding the space in front of the tables, and also to direct the next person to whatever space opens up. Note when using a layout like this, you need to leave a reasonable gap between the line and the table, so that people exiting have room to walk past those still grabbing lands.

    If you’re limited on resources to build the line and don’t mind the setup looking a bit ghetto, chairs + vinyl tape are easily enough. Failing that, even just chairs as a guide post to walk around will work (although this means you’ll want someone to watch over the line and make sure it grows how you want). People have been trained to understand waiting in line. Once they see it, they naturally fall in behind the last person.

    Sorry if this was more detail than you wanted. Up until this year, I was upper management in the Operations Division of a major anime convention. Line staging and crowd control were pretty much the primary responsibilities of our division, so I tend to have a lot to say on the topic.

    If you want anything more on this, feel free to PM me on TheManaDrain forums (as Delha, same as this post). I’ve got just under a decade of experience doing this sort of thing, and would be happy to give you advice on it.

  10. The Minneapolis GP land short was somewhat entertaining for the players. At my table there was certainly plenty of jokes about how many Nighthawks and Marsh Casualties were pulled for that kind of draw to one color. I even offered to run back to my house and pick up a box o’ land for us( <3 GPs that are literally a block away), but everyone was having too much fun like Jason was making Forests into Swamps.

    Kudos to Legion for the deck boxes that was the best way to get product out to players I’ve ever seen. Players loved them and it seems like you guys liked them too. My only complaint was the 50 sleeves means it has become my defacto draft sleeve box instead of sleeving up constructed. 🙂

  11. In economics there are three factors that cause ppl to stay in the long line.

    1)Price/Value Fallacy- It’s similar to buying a more expensive version of the same product because you assume “it must be better, that is why it costs more”. People think that demand (line size) is related to quality (land availability).

    2)Sunk Cost Fallacy- People assume that the more they invest in something the more it will become the right choice. In reality this is like spending 5 days assembling Ikea furniture because “the savings are worth it”. No, they aren’t. Multiply your hourly wage by how long it takes to assemble the desk and add that to the cost- is it still cheaper then?

    3) Consumer Ego- In college I sold TV’s and one time a guy came in and oogled a certain model. When I asked him what features he was looking for I directed him to a different model closer to his real expectations. He then proceeded to buy the TV he was looking at originally even though it was the same price and met less of his needs. Why? Because he wanted to be right and/or he didn’t want me to be right. In the case of your long line, some player’s would have to admit “I chose the wrong line” which instantly overrides any logic that says “other lines are better”

  12. One thing we do at work when we have a big release is a line manager. When a line gets to long (three people in our case) they instruct the customer to go to a shorter line. The line managers sorts the customers so all of the lines are being used and no one is waiting needlessly.

  13. That “land piling” does sound like a colossal waste of time…has anyone from the DCI brought it up to Corporate? (I’ve heard rumblings about how it might be nice to sell monocolored “Basic Land Packs” to casual players instead of one per booster.)

  14. Did they change the name to discourage ‘pile shuffling’, whose time-wasting is annoying and whose effectiveness is an old wives’ tale?

  15. Sorting lands from sleeves; the fast way…

    Take 1 long table and divide the sleeve in 3 or 4 manageble chunks. Walk along the table and slide each chunk acros the table as if you were a pokerdealer, showing the deck to their pitboss, until the whole sleeve is on the table.
    Walk by the sleeve again and push each of the basic landtypes (seperate) out of the long row into a new row above the original row and gather them.

    This approach allows a single judge to sort all the basic lands of a sleeve within 45 to 90 seconds after some practice.

    Your welcome…


  16. I was in Tampa and I went to the land station near the side events or whatever that you mentioned, I got my lands no problem and was utterly confused by the huge line cutting through the event site leading to another land station. Perhaps better signs as mentioned above could help. Also announcing these sorts of things on loud speaker can’t hurt also. You would want to make announcements of this sort BEFORE people start stacking into lines to avoid the “I don’t wanna leave my line” situation and would probably want to announce it Right before they break to get lands since the attention span of a magic player trying to build the best limited deck can’t possibly be all that great even if they’ve taken all their ADD meds for the day.

    Hope to see some of you CFB guys at another event soon, until then….

    Jonathan Fisher

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