Logistics: If You are Doing It Right, No One Will Notice.

Posted in NEWS on October 9, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

Logistics is the art (and science) of getting everything ready for a tournament before anyone realizes that that preparation was necessary. It isn't making sure that the people are prepared – it's making sure everything else is.

Logistics is a critical part of every tournament, no matter how large or small. It doesn't just happen – but when it doesn't happen, it causes problems and delays.

The person / people responsible for logistics varies by the size of the event. At small events, one person may be logistics, as well as head judge, only judge, TO, and may be running the store to boot. At large events, there may be a whole team devoted to logistics. For purposes of this article, however, let's assume that the HJ tags you to be in charge of logistics for a 250 person sealed PTQ this weekend. Five judges – you, the HJ, and three other judges will be working the event, plus a scorekeeper and the TO. The TO has also arranged to have media coverage of the event.

With logistics, your job starts a couple days beforehand.

The first step to making logistics go smoothly is to visualize the tournament from a player's point of view. Grab a pad of paper and a pen, then imagine participating in the event. In your mind, walk through the whole day. Make notes of everything that the player will do and need, and what logistics can do to make all of that available, efficient or make it work better.

Imagine being a player arriving at the event. You munch the last bites of your breakfast burrito as you come through the door. You head for registration and sign in. You then head for a table to chill for a while. (Yes, I probably switched those two steps, but we can always hope the players register early.)

Spot the logistical challenges in those steps? All seven? Maybe I should stress another rule for good logistics: if it involves things, assume that logistics is responsible for it. You will want to be coordinating with the head judge, the TO and others, but double check. If someone else has handled it, great, but double check. Most problems only occur because everyone missed / forgot something.

The player arrived munching a burrito. That means a wrapper. Where are the trash cans? Are there enough? It's a sealed event. That means a lot of wrappers – and a lot of trash. Are trash cans located throughout the venue? Look around and check with the TO or store owner. Hopefully, they will have arranged for trash cans (and having them emptied when full), but check. Trash is a serious problem if there's no place to put it.

Next comes registration. Figure out where the line will be, and how you will keep players in line. Do you have guide ropes, or other methods of creating channels? If not, use whatever natural channels exist, and try to have the end of the line towards the entry door. If not, then people will have to hunt for the end, or try to join at the front, or otherwise cause chaos and confusion. As logistics, your goal is to prevent chaos and confusion.

Find out from the TO how players will be registering: will they be filling out sign-up slips by hand or entering their DCI numbers on a keypad? Keypads are faster, but then you want to have a judge moving along the line telling players to have their DCI numbers (and money) ready. If they are filling out little slips of paper, you want to have a small table with blank slips and pens near entry, and have a judge walking along the line handing them out. That judge should also carry a few blank applications for new DCI numbers, because you may get a few players who have never attended a tournament before. If possible, you want to have some tables along the line where players can fill in their slips before they get to registration. You don't want them filling out their slips at the registration table. For that matter, you do not want to have overly large tables for registration. If you have one person taking registration in the middle of an 8 foot table, players will start writing on the ends of that table, more will squeeze in towards the middle and pretty soon the whole line will slow down. Having a judge around to tell players "no – write somewhere else!" helps a lot.

Setting up the Venue

You want to number tables as early as possible – preferably before the players arrive. It is far easier to arrange tables and chairs and place numbers when the chairs are empty and the tables are not covered with cards, backpacks and stuff.

Check with the TO, store owner and head judge to find out how they want the tables numbered. If you're lucky, they will all agree. If not, you need to negotiate. Find out why each one has preferences, then facilitate something. For example, the store owner may have a Duelmasters tournament happening mid afternoon, so he wants the front left half of the tables to be free by around noon. The head judge may want the players to have lots of room, so he wants to have three matches per eight foot table. The TO may want table #1 to be at the back left side of the store, opposite the scorekeeping station, so players are not clustering around ops (which is the front, right side of the venue.)

These three goals conflict, so think through your options, then bring the store owner, TO and head judge together to discuss the options. But think through the options first – do not simply call all three over and tell them they can't all have what they want. Once you have considered the best options, start the discussion with the reason compromise is necessary. "I have a couple options to fit the Duelmasters tourney in with the PTQ. Which one do you like best?" works far better than "There's no way that I can number tables to give you all what you want, so what should we do?" One option for this example: ask the TO if moving the first couple tables somewhere else will give him enough room around Ops. If so, you can start numbering tables at the front right, snake around up the left side back to front. The highest numbered tables will therefore be front left. Once players start dropping, then the tables in the left front will start emptying and there will be room for the Duelmasters event.

If the TO is firm on not wanting the top tables near Ops – and moving the crowd of watchers far from Ops is actually a pretty good idea – then consider starting the table numbers in the back right, coming forward, then jumping to the back left. That jump is not a great idea, but if you make a wide middle aisle, it can work. That option confuses players (but not too badly), fits in Duelmasters and gets table 1 away from Ops. It should make everyone reasonably happy, which is the best you do when you have to compromise.

If side events – especially drafts – are going to be running later in the day, figure out where players will sit to draft, where they will build and where they will play out those drafts. Figure out where the land for drafts will be – and make sure that players will not have to fight through the tournament to get to the land stations. Whenever possible, you want to avoid bottlenecks and make sure everyone can move freely, especially when pairings go up.

In any case, make sure you take side events – and anything else happening in the venue that day – into account when setting up the event. Whenever possible, check with the store owner and TO well in advance, and think about these events when visualizing the tournament. Then make everything fit.

Numbering Tables

Once you have figured out where table number one will be, count the tables and chairs. Make sure you have enough seating for the expected number of players – and make sure you know where extra tables and chairs are located, just in case. If you have sufficient room and tables, go for three matches per eight foot table (speaking as a player, that luxury is greatly appreciated.) Arrange the chairs first – three per side at all tables. Figure out how many players that arrangement will seat, and make sure the TO and HJ are okay with that number. If three matches per table means you can seat 220 players, but the TO is expecting 250, you want to get more tables or go to four matches per table. You can always renumber and add extra chairs later, but it is much more efficient to add chairs before players arrive and to only number once.

As the venue opens and it gets closer to the start, you want to occasionally count the players in the venue, and keep track of registrations. If it begins to look like the turnout will be heavy, you want to know early. If your counts start approaching the number of seats you have available, start thinking about adding tables, or adding another match per table – and talk it over with the TO and head judge. If the turn-out is really high, the TO may have to arrange for more tables. Personally, I have had to make a run to the local rental place for chairs and tables – and that works fine, provided you have made the counts and know that you will need the rentals early on. In my case, we knew we needed chairs about half an hour before start, were unloading them about ten minutes before the start and had them up and numbered by the time the scorekeeper had entered all the players. The key was the early head count.

Start numbering at table one and move along. When you get to the end of the row of tables, "snake" the numbers onto the next row. This means that, if you numbered right to left on the first row of tables, number left to right on the next row. The end number on the first row will be one less than the first number on the same end of the next row. In other words – they will be close together.

Why do you want to snake numbers? If a player moves down a given row looking for his/her number, and it is the first number the in the next row, the player will not have to fight back down the whole aisle to get to his/her seat. This saves time. Snaking tables also makes it easier for the judges distributing match results slips. Those judges' feet will thank you.

Snaking tables may only save a minute or so a round. That's still important. The reason tournaments run long is rarely because one major thing adds an hour; it is because 100 little things each add a minute or two. Good logistics means that you avoid the little delays and add small improvements that save a few seconds here and there. Good logistics also means going home before 10:00PM instead of after midnight.

The actual putting numbers on tables is pretty straightforward. If you have tent cards or table rings and number cards, great. If not, the simplest method of numbering tables is masking tape and a Sharpie™. The blue-colored paint masking tap works best: it is easily seen (even on white table cloths), can be easily removed and usually does not rip or leave glue on the table.


Since you are doing a sealed PTQ, you need to have product assembled and ready to distribute. If you are lucky, the TO may have the product assembled already. My local TO often puts the tournament packs, boosters and decklists in paper bags ahead of time. If that has happened, all logistics has to do is get the product from wherever it is being stored, check a few bags to make sure that they contain the right product in the right amounts, and be ready to distribute them.

If the product is not assembled, you want to get it ready for distribution ahead of time. Find the tournament packs, booster boxes, and decklists well in advance. While you can have judges distribute all three individually, the event will run faster if you can assemble the sets in advance. Even if you don't have bags, you can at least make sets of 2 boosters plus 1 tournaments pack, and stand them upright in empty booster boxes. Empty booster boxes holds nine sets, as shown in the photo, and the sets can be easily distributed.


Again, this does not speed up the tournament all that much, but every minute counts.

In addition to the product, players will need decklists and pens. They will also – once deckbuilding begins – need lands. Generally, players can remove the basic lands from tournament packs during registration, keep it on the table and use that land for building. However, make sure you know where extra land can be found – in nearly every format, some lands are more popular than other lands. In Shadowmoor sealed, for example, Forests were in short supply.

Once product has been distributed and players begin registering, take the empty booster cases around to collect trash. I also offer to taker rules inserts, unwanted tokens and unwanted pro player cards, since they will often be left on tables. This gets the trash off the tables: more importantly, I also want to keep some tokens for the Top 8.

Once the build phase is ending, take an empty box around and collect all the extra land left on the tables. That is a logistics function – and you will want some unplayed, unworn lands for the top eight draft, later on.

Players may also need scorepads or note paper. If the TO has them, great. If not, you may want to cut up some scratch paper, old decklists or what have you. If you do use old decklists, throw away the parts with players' names and DCI numbers.

During the Swiss

Logistics does not have many special tasks during the Swiss rounds. For the most part, logistics people serve as floor judges. At the end of the round, they have to check that the table numbers haven't vanished, rearrange the chairs and otherwise keep the venue clean and functional.

If you are a team lead (something usually reserved for larger events), make sure your people get breaks, food, water, etc.

Once you get into the second to last round, start planning the location and set-up for the Top 8. You will need a table that the players can draft around – either a round table or two eight footers placed together. You could even draft around a single eight-foot table, but having players sit that closely together creates a potential for peeking, and it's far easier to avoid that possibility than to do the paperwork for a DQ.

You also need to check with the head judge about spectators during draft and build. It's the head judge's call about whether spectators will be allowed to watch or kept completely away – but you need to know which, because it will affect how you set up the draft and build areas. You should also check with coverage – they will want to watch, and may need power or space for a tripod for the video camera.

Once you have a setup and location in mind, check with the head judge, TO, and store owner to make sure no one has problems with it. It is far easier to change a plan before you start moving tables.

Once you have the draft table in place, distribute the draft packs for the Top 8. Once the draft starts, arrange an area where the players can build their decks. You need an area where the players can sit, spread out enough that they won't see each other's decks. You also need to be able to keep spectators away. Once you have that arranged the locations, put a pen and decklist at each seat.

While the players are building, set up a land station. Use the lands salvaged from the build, if possible. If not, then you need to get other lands, unplayed if possible. I like to set it up on the draft table, unless the draft table is going to be used for T8 play.

You also need to set up an area for the Top 8 matches to play out. You want room for four matches. Ask the head judge whether you should also arrange for chairs for judges watching the matches. Talk to the coverage team about what they may need – chairs, laptop space, electrical power, a space for a camera, etc., and whether they prefer to sit at the end of a table or in the middle. (Generally, coverage people seem to like the ends, judges the center, so this usually works out fine.)

You also need to consider spectators and crowd control. The number of spectators that hang around at the end of a PTQ is usually pretty low, but will include at least the friends that drove to the tournament with the players. Make sure you have enough room for the players to watch without crowding the players, then put pens, scorepads, spare tokens and some pennies to use as counters on the Top 8 tables. When that is done, double check with the head judge, TO, storekeeper and coverage guys to make sure everyone is happy.

Then logistics is pretty much done for the day.

Of course, you are a judge, so you may have to watch the Top 8 matches and help the store owner straighten up the place afterwards, but once the Top 8 starts playing, logistics has accomplished all its responsibilities.

Constructed Events

The above description covers a sealed PTQ. I used a Sealed PTQ as the example because it involves a few extra steps, mainly involving product, but most of this article is equally applicable to a constructed event. With a constructed event, you want to make sure that blank decklists are available by the time players arrive. Table numbering, registration, venue set-up and the rest are the same for sealed and constructed events. Constructed events will not require product or land collection, and Top 8 competitors will not need a place to build their decks, but the rest of the event will have the same logistical requirements.

In summary, think through your events, anticipate players' needs, and be ready in advance. If you do, your events will run faster and more efficiently. That will make everyone happy, even if they don't notice what you did to make them feel that way.

If you have questions or want to discuss this further, you can contact me at pete.jahn@verizon.net, or talk it over with your local judges and TO.

Good luck.



Peter Jahn, Level 2