You may wonder why I'm writing a judge report on a 13-year-old tournament. Well, there are reasons for many DCI policies and rules, plus some just plain good ideas that can be learned from the mistakes and unusual ideas in the past. Some are pointed out in the article, and others are self-evident.
On Victoria Day weekend 1995, I made my first foray into something resembling competitive Magic—a Type 2 tournament held at KeyCon. I guided a Black/Blue concoction designed to abuse the Dark Ritual/Hypnotic Specter "combo" to a 1-3 record. After the tournament, Judge Michael MacKinnon played a few games with his Kobold deck and showed me some Ice Age previews (Dire Wolves!); such was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Our paths would soon cross again at a weekly series of events that looked like Friday Night Magic, at least in the sense that it was on Friday night and was open to the public; rather than being DCI-sanctioned, it was a Sealed Deck league. Eventually, festivities moved to a University of Winnipeg cafeteria, with players practicing both Standard and Draft for the upcoming Nationals at the Convention Centre.
Michael was nice enough to ask me to judge at this event. Understand that at this point I had never been near a sanctioned tournament, much less played in or judged one, and I had no DCI number nor would I be issued one.
Lesson to take from this: under no circumstances would this even have been discussed in, say, the last decade.
Of course I accepted. As did three others: Dave Strang, Pat Magnan, and Brian Mitchell. Michael was designing a program that does some of what the two event reporters do now; the operator was Michael's girlfriend, Cheryl Leis. A quick briefing on what to do occurred at Michael's place. And that was my preparation for Nationals.
Lesson to take from this: be prepared—be much more prepared.
So, on a beautiful July Saturday we gathered to run Canadian Nationals. One hundred twenty-one players decided to make their bids for the four slots at Worlds. We began by taking their entry fee and Standard decklists written on letter-sized sheets, legal-sized sheets, backs of menus, index cards, and there may have been a napkin involved somewhere (kidding!). We also received our shirts: "JUDGE" was embroidered in gold on Michael's, with a white "REFEREE" on everyone else's.
Lesson to take from this: thank goodness for today's standardized decklists.
The sheer number of players caused a delay in starting the tournament, but soon we were off to run four rounds of Type 2. (Trust me, that came nowhere near ending the day.) Honestly, there weren't a lot of rulings being requested by the players—most of our work involved picking up the index cards used for pairing when the players were done with their three games.
Yes, the third game was played regardless of how the first two went. (Players who finished three games received benefits when compared to those who did not.) Yes, each player had their own index card even though we were using pairing software.
Lesson to take from this: letting players leave after two games cools the play area considerably and stops a player who's already lost from fuming over having to play a third game.
There were two more quirks that don't happen at Nationals these days. One was a strict prohibition on any spectators. The other was that pairings sheets displayed only DCI numbers or the substitutes that were needed once we ran out of them (mine would have been #SALAHU).
Lessons to take from this: first, spectators aren't all bad—why can't we let them see the best play, as long as they're quiet? Also, whom does it hurt to let players know the name of their opponents? After all, we only know people as numbers in dystopian novels.
Ultimately the opening rounds were completed. It was then time for the cut—32 (or so) players would get a chance to triple the length of their participation in Nationals.
(Or so?) Michael told me before the tournament that there was a possibility of more than 32 advancing, depending on how the tiebreakers looked. Well, we looked . . . and settled on 32.
Lesson to take from this: could you imagine this being considered now? Coming up on Sunday—the Pro Tour Top Nine!
It was time to set up the room for Booster Draft. Each player would draft one booster each of Fourth Edition, Ice Age, and Alliances . . . but not necessarily in that order. We quickly put together the drafting tables and stamping/construction areas (no outside cards coming in here!).
Oops. Did I say tables? Well, that was true in the sense of there being a good number of physical tables, but in DCI terms there was a single drafting table. That's right, no one gets to guess what might come back in the booster, because it ain't coming back.
Lesson to take from this: draft tables are about eight people for a very good reason.
Michael rolled a ten-sided die to determine the first booster to draft...after I pointed out that three into ten doesn't result in a whole number. He respected my argument, but noted that the ten-sided die was advertised on his tournament website. The booster order ended up as Ice Age-Fourth-Alliances.
Lesson to take from this: anyone up for a Shards-M10-Alara Reborn draft?
Michael handed out some warnings during the draft. Once they were done, the cards were left at the table for us to move them to the stamping/construction area. We took stamps and pads and carefully left a nice little Magic/leaf pattern on . . . my math says 1,344 cards.
Lesson to take from this: thank Wizards for stamping for us before top-level competitions.
Oops! A couple of cards weren't dry. I damaged a Relic Bind and a Fireball. Replacing the Relic Bind was trivial. The Fireball? Not so much, but we did find one. Whew.
The players were then allowed to construct. Basic lands were supplied, but each player was given a maximum, the number of which I don't recall. Something I do recall is that you could take snow-covered lands (actually, lands that were proxied to make them more wintry), but they counted as five basics.
At some point, we got to eat.
Lesson to take from this: unbounded numbers of basic lands mean fewer matches decided by mana issues—and don't we want play skill to be the main determining factor in a tournament? And judges function much better when fed.
The players' scores were reset to zero, and four rounds of draft ensued. There were two incidents I remember. The minor one was my momentary confusion over how Stench of Decay worked—we worked it out correctly.
The not-so-minor one began when a player left a card in a previous opponent's deck. This player had to go find the card, and he did. He then asked Michael for a time extension, which was refused—the principle being that it was the player's own fault for leaving the card behind.
This drove the player absolutely bananas. (Remember, players still had to play all three games in a match.) Thankfully, things only got loud and not physical.
Lesson to take from this: well, not so much a lesson, but an exercise for the reader—how many penalties should have been given here?
Finally, play from the draft ended. It was sometime around midnight.
Oh, did I mention there were a further four rounds of Type 2 to play? After round 9, I was released because I had a special duty the next day: running the side event. Yes, singular.
Lesson to take from this: copious amounts of side events prevent boredom. Also, twelve rounds is a ridiculously large number to play in a single day.
The next morning, I returned to the tournament site. The first thing I asked: how late did things run?
Answer: 5:00 AM. And the top eight was scheduled to start at 9. Saner heads did prevail, and both the top eight and the side event—a Grand Melee—were held off until a more realistic hour. While eight did battle in the main room for slots in Worlds, 21 took part in the side event, which ran a further six-plus hours. (I really wish I could remember more of this, but exhaustion took hold this day.)
Finally, the last two players played for the title—in front of spectators, even! —and Gary Krakower took his first of two victories in Canadian Nationals.
And that, readers, is the story of the first sanctioned tournament in which I judged. May you all take many good lessons from it—I'm sure I didn't point them all out.
Two months later, I got a DCI number.
(Thank you to Curt Lorge for refreshing my memory on things forgotten.)