From Decks to Dice

Posted in NEWS on January 12, 2007

By Wizards of the Coast

In August of 2006, the DCI made a push for certified judges, all of which were certified through Magic: the Gathering, to learn and judge the brand-new Dreamblade game. A fairly large number of judges have happily added this fun miniatures game to their résumé, and have successfully run a slew of exciting events, including several high-level tournaments and dozens of mid-level 1K tournaments. Weekly Edge tournaments, similar to Friday Night Magic, are popping up all over the world and require qualified judges to ensure that they’re run according to DCI policy just as much as high-level events need qualified staff.

After judging the 10K tournament at GenCon SoCal and head judging the 1K the following day, several major differences came to mind between judging familiar Magic events and new-fangled Dreamblade events. If you’ve judged Dreamblade before, I’m sure you’ve seen most or all of these differences as well; if you haven’t sat down and talked about them with other judges or players, you might not have realized how important some of them are. If you’re just starting, keeping these points in mind will help to ease your transition into the wonderful world of miniatures. This article will deal primarily with the transition from judging Magic to judging Dreamblade, but it will also provide some helpful information for those judging only Dreamblade.

The More Things Change
If you were worried when I said “major differences,” don’t be. The skills you’ve learned as a judge – dispute mediation, DCI policy, and tournament management – are still very much needed here. The trick is to learn a new rules system and some new tournament policy and apply those.

If you’ve already learned the Universal Tournament Rules and Penalty Guidelines, you’ll like this part: They both apply to Dreamblade. As the name implies, the UTR apply to every Wizards game in this universe (we can’t help you with the nega-DCI’s rules for the Negaverse, sorry). While not every penalty in the PG will apply to Dreamblade (there are no sideboards, there are no cards to look at or draw extras of), concepts such as “procedural error” and “tardiness” still exist.

What Happens in the Dreamscape . . .

What constitutes a major procedural error? How slow is slow play? How late is tardiness? The Penalty Guidelines are focused on Magic, so you won’t have many examples to compare your real-life situations to. Here’s where you get to pioneer. Think about the existing DCI policy and how it can compare to new errors in Dreamblade.

The procedural errors are the trickiest; an illegal warband list is just illegal, and a player is either tardy or he is not, but PEs come in gradients. You’ll have to gauge how disruptive an action is to assess whether an error is minor, major, or severe. There are some valid comparisons you can make with the given examples, though. If playing Wrath of God for 3W instead of 2WW is a major error, accidentally spawning Scarab Warcharm for 4 instead of 5 points can still be seen as major.

Resolving the problems once they’ve been found and penalized can also draw back on existing DCI philosophy. We know that it is both players’ responsibility to maintain the game state and to catch errors as they happen. We do not rewind once an illegal play has impacted other decisions. So what happens if, after two turns, a player notices that his opponent illegally shifted a Saint of Roses into an occupied cell? Assuming the mistake was unintentional, we’ll call that a PE-Major and warn the opponent. The player receives a caution for not seeing the mistake as it happened. Since the game state is legal, even though it came about illegally, we leave it as it is.

The other major issue you’ll see while watching games is slow play. Dreamblade is a thinking game, even more like chess than Magic, and certain warbands may require a lot of careful thought to run through one explosive spawn phase and win the game. Some players may overthink their moves, and some just may not have picked up a tournament-appropriate pace yet. Before a tournament, think over what line you’ll use to differentiate heavy thinking from slow play. If you’re one of many judges at an event, discuss this with the other judges. Also, consider how you’ll penalize and upgrade the penalty, and how much extra time will be given with a slow play penalty. Three minutes of extra time is suggested in the Penalty Guidelines, and judges have found that turns shouldn’t take more than four or five minutes -- if a phase takes over a minute, you might want to give the players a nudge to move quicker.

Not all judge calls will involve serious problems; some similar situations are even simpler to answer than in Magic. For example, when a player calls you over to ask a question, it might not be a simple yes-no question. These theoretical questions (“If I Shock a Grizzly Bears, does it die?”) can’t be answered in Magic due to hidden information, but there is no hidden information at all in Dreamblade and no “in response” actions. This is a change for seasoned judges to deal with: you don’t have to decline to answer those questions! It’s perfectly fine to say what will happen if you shift a Brighthammer Avenger into a Fleshless Reaper -- both will trigger.

Another difference that experienced judges will enjoy is the ease and simplicity of “deck” checks. You don’t need to take the player’s warband to do a check; just look at their reserves, board, and graveyard. You don’t even need to interrupt them, since they can keep playing while you count their minis and compare the count to their list. No time extensions required, no post-check shuffling, no sorting. Piece of cake! You should still let the players know what you’re doing, and why. Not only will this let them know why a zebra is hovering over their game with sinister pieces of paper, it will discourage cheating and instill confidence that you’re serious about seeing that the tournament is properly run.

There are very few illegal game states in Dreamblade: A player controlling five creatures in one cell other than his or her portal, controlling two creatures of the same Unique type, and two locations existing in one cell. Every other error hangs on an action that, once completed, a judge passing by can’t tell was made illegally. While watching games, it’s the actions more than the results that you need to watch for, which is part of why it’s so important to be at least passingly familiar with the minis.

Study Up!

During a game of Magic, you can walk over and read the card text over a player’s shoulder or from the side of the table. When you look over and read Saint of Roses, you just see “Defender”. Really informative, isn’t it? If you’re called to answer a rules question, it won’t be a problem at all to pick the mini up to read the text hidden on the bottom, but it would be disruptive to pick up each and every mini to read them all as you’re walking by. You don’t need to memorize every single mini that Wizards has released, but knowing some of the common abilities and abilities that alter what minis can do (such as Defender, Regenerate, Skirmish, and Advance) is vital. Do take the time to memorize at least the gist of what the locally popular minis can do.

The really confusing abilities are covered in the FAQs. Make sure to read them and learn the interactions; the rulebook leaves a lot unclear, especially the combat steps; which aren’t even mentioned. Unless you’ve committed every word to memory, it’d be a great help to have a print-out of the FAQs and rulebook on hand at your tournaments. It always looks better when you can deliver rulings without resorting to a FAQ, but it’s better to look interactions up if you’re unsure than to guess and end up with upset players.

The Dreamblade Rules list is as valuable a resource as the FAQs. If you haven’t already done so, swing by and pass the Dreamblade Rules Advisor test. Not only will you be added to the mailing list by passing, local organizers will also be able to find you and invite you to judge at their events. With the mailing list and the WotC Dreamblade forums, you’ll be able to catch any new rulings from the NetRep and rules team.

There’s one more Dreamblade-specific document you’ll need to read to effectively judge – the Dreamblade Floor Rules. This document includes all of the important information on running drafts and sealed events, participation minimums, rules on customizing minis, and more. One major difference to keep in mind: Magic judges are used to needing eight players to have a tournament, but Dreamblade only requires four, making it easier to meet attendance minimums for Edge tournaments.

Welcome to the DCI

While many Dreamblade players are former or current Magic players, and your Edge group may be the same people every week, many players are new to the DCI. At mid-level 1K events, they may be unsure of the procedure and not even sure what a judge is. This is less true at high-level 10K events that attract more Dreamblade pros from out of the area, and you should never assume that all of the players don’t know what you’re doing. However, unless you know that every player in the tournament knows your role, announce it at the start. I’ve seen players pull out a rule book and try to look up an answer; prevent that. Before you start pairings, say that you’re the judge and that they should raise their hand and call for you should any uncertainty arise. If you do see a rulebook out, head on over and find out why.

During the tournament, stay out on the floor. Walk around so the players can see you and see that you’re taking an active interest in the tournament. Make them feel that they’re not imposing on you in any way if they call you over. This is true of judging any other game, but in an environment with more players newer to organized play, it’s even more imperative to go out and put on your friendliest, most open face.

While you’re announcing that you’re the judge and that you rock, you might also want to remind them of a couple other things. Even if you don’t, keep these in mind, since you will likely be asked about them and they are different from Magic. A draw is worth zero match points, not one – a big change from Wizards’ trading card games, where a draw is worth one point and you can intentionally draw into the top eight. I’ve also been often asked to explain how ratings work, especially how they get the nifty blue dice. The players’ DCI rating is based on the games played (two points for a win or bye, one for a draw or loss), plus bonus points for ranking highly at medium- and high-level events, which is much easier to explain than K-value and relative ratings.

If you’re judging one of those events where nifty blue dice, shiny base markers, baseball caps, and playmats are being distributed (the #K tournaments), check with the organizer before registration on when and how they will be distributed. I believe that the most-asked question before the 1K tournament was, “When do I get my swag?” This information needs to be included in your opening announcements if it’s not given out at registration, but you’ll also need to answer it when players ask you before they register. My organizer has used this method for distribution: Look up player points during the first round, and give out participation rewards as the players bring up the match slip for the first round.

“Match slips? What are those?” Don’t forget to remind the players about how to fill out a match slip if you’re using them. Point out where the results slip box is, and any other local preferences or policies on slips. This again goes back to there being more players new to organized play.

You’ll find one big advantage in the number of new players: Dreamblade is a new game, and these players are all learning it together. I’ve asked other judges, and we’ve noticed that players even at high-pressure, competitive 10K events freely give advice to other players on how to improve their warbands. There’s nothing at all wrong with wanting to keep your deck’s strength a secret, but I’ve never heard a Magic player say. “Here’s how to utterly smash my deck” like I’ve heard at the SoCal 10K.

Have fun!

Judging Dreamblade is not harder or easier than judging Magic; it’s just different, and if you already judge Magic, you have a lot to contribute to Dreamblade once you learn the differences. The best advice is, of course, to be active in the Dreamblade judging community, be it on the rules list, the Wizards forums, or the efnet IRC #dreamblade channel, so that any questions that you have can be answered or discussed.

Eli Shiffrin, L2 Judge
Tucson, Arizona