What Jacob Can Teach You

Posted in Serious Fun on October 27, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

As many of you know, in addition to being a casual player, I'm also a tournament organizer. I've been running tournaments for a group of young kids at my local community library. It has been going on for over five years now and is more popular than ever. I have a player base that gets excited about each set and I have hit the capacity for my events weeks in advance.

Given how amazing the Magic community is, I'm not surprised to receive emails asking how they can start their own Magic group. I try to respond back to everyone, especially on this topic, since I want to see Magic players have more options when it comes to playing Magic! If you emailed and I haven't responded, please email again!

What no one really considers is what it takes to be a tournament organizer. Just last weekend, I put one of my regular players in charge of the regular Saturday meeting for the Magic club. The club was started by a small group of boys, including my son, and grew into a vibrant, special part of the library community. This wasn't an event or group run by adults who were telling the kids what to do—it was something the kids themselves wanted to do.

This went on for several years, but the boys running it have moved on. My son plays only sporadically now, and another one has shifted his focus to be more competitive, preferring to play in bigger tournaments on most Saturdays. The club had been dwindling in the last year, and I believe it is because no one has been leading the way. My schedule simply does not allow me to run the Saturday tournaments, and I wanted to see someone who plays in the group take the lead again. The Magic club was popular because the players knew someone would be there to run things. The tournaments are casual and everyone can just bring whatever deck they want to, as long as everyone is having a good time.

I chose Jacob, a fifteen-year-old regular, to be the player to bring the Magic club back. He is a responsible young man who likes the idea of being in charge of the club. Jacob and I ran the club last Saturday. We decided I would attend with him for the first few times, until he gets the hang of things on his own. I would get to watch him and see where he needed help, and I'd even get to play some Magic!

Watching Jacob try and run a small tournament for the ten of us that were there brought to mind the skills needed to be a tournament organizer and community leader. Since many of you have asked about setting up your own clubs and organizations, I thought it would be a good idea to lay out some of the traits you are going to need to be an effective tournament organizer

Organization Skills

This is the obvious one. Any of us can see the moving parts of a tournament and recognize how being organized can be a huge benefit. Collecting fees, inputting everyone into the computer, quickly compiling results, and announcing the rounds in a prompt manner are all made easier when someone is organized.

There is no Wi-Fi access at our library, so I always come with a paper list of all the players in my tournament. With that single sheet, I can quickly see who has paid, who is already entered in the tournament, and who has received their prizes, and track any other information I need. On top of that, I need to bring everything I will need with me to the library. I have a master list for that as well, since I regularly forgot one thing or another before I started bringing the list. Forgetting to bring an adapter to convert a three-prong plug to a two-prong plug can mean not having a laptop for the final round of your tournament. Pairing by hand can be done, but it's not ideal.

The organizational skills go beyond just the actual tournament. To see your group flourish, you need to be able to inform players of upcoming events in a timely manner. It took only one tournament for me to realize the value of tracking emails. I can quickly send out an email to everyone involved in the club to notify them of upcoming events, cancellations, or changes. I've added several new players even when my tournaments were full, just by offering to add them to our email list. They might not get into the next Prerelease, but they will know as soon as I announce the next one and can be the first to confirm.

All of this means that I put in two or three hours of preparation, at least, for every hour of tournament. Everything runs far more smoothly when you've prepared well in advance.

Jacob has the organizational skills, but doesn't yet have the experience to know where they need to be applied. With our small, casual tournaments, Jacob has to do the pairings by hand. While the first round is easy, the next rounds can get harder, since you want to pair people with the same record and make sure no one is playing the same player twice. Listing everyone's wins and losses in one place, while having access to all the previous round's pairings, is invaluable. Jacob and I didn't get on the same page with that, but with more experience he'll see how everything makes sense.

Hero of Goma Fada | Art by Lake Hurwitz

Magic Knowledge

It is very difficult for a tournament organizer to run Magic tournaments without a solid grasp of the rules. This is my weakest area as a tournament organizer, but thankfully my tournaments are all Sealed Deck tournaments, so I don't have to deal with too many corner cases.

For organizers with bigger tournaments and larger stores, judges are an easy way around this, since the judge will be the one tasked with handling rules issues. For the smaller store, or the organizer who is running an after-school program, a judge isn't always an option.

The judge program offers sample tests to determine your rules knowledge. You can take these tests and become a Rules Advisor, and I'd recommend that anyone considering a TO path do at least this. Ideally, you may want to take the test to become a Level 1 judge. There is a lot of support available through the judge program, and I recommend becoming a judge. Being a judge also lets you see how other tournaments are run, giving you the experience of hundreds of others. There's no reason for you to reinvent the wheel at your local tournament when solutions are already out there.

Jacob spent the summer going over the Comprehensive Rules to the point that he is able to answer all the rules questions that have come his way. He not only understands the basics of the game, but has a pretty solid ability to answer even the more difficult questions.

Confidence

Some people seem to have confidence in what they are doing from the instant they start. It might be false confidence or bravado, but even the appearance of knowing exactly what you are doing is important. Some people build confidence as they go, getting more comfortable with what they are doing. After successfully tackling some problems, when other problems come up, you handle them easily since you have dealt with other problems in the past and believe you can handle whatever else comes up.

With confidence, players are far less likely to second-guess you. It is tough enough to try and run a tournament without the player base questioning every decision you make.

Your confidence also provides your players with confidence. When they feel like you know what you are doing and will make sure things go smoothly, they have a better experience. When they do have concerns, hearing from you how you will address them (rather than how you'll "try") goes a long way toward keeping the players happy.

Jacob's confidence comes from his experience playing Magic and solid rules knowledge. He knows he is one of the best players at the club, and coupled with his rules knowledge, there isn't a rules question he can't answer. He has thrived in those situations, and the confidence he has in this area will spill over into areas he still needs to learn.

Recognizing Mistakes

Some tournament organizers have plenty of experience behind them, but don't see problems. All the experience is wasted if you aren't using it to improve your tournaments. Changes I've made to tournaments after watching problems result include scheduling lunch breaks, altering the prize breakdown, and splitting the players into teams led by experienced players. I've made other changes that have allowed me to increase attendance because I became more efficient.

Earthen Arms | Art by Dan Scott

Jacob hasn't been in charge long enough to take advantage of this yet. However, I watched him change how he announced rounds midway through the tournament. He put opponents together to ensure everyone knew who they were playing, rather than simply announcing the pairings, since he was just being forced to repeat everything anyway. Jacob will take future problems and find solutions for them as well, I am sure.

Be the Leader

This isn't simply being pushy and having a loud voice, although a voice that projects without shouting is a great tool.

For Jacob, there was some struggle here—but that is mostly my fault. Everyone at the club knows that I organize the bigger, structured tournaments. Since I was there to show Jacob how to run the tournaments and give him some prizes to give away at the tournament, some of the players were coming to me with questions they should have been talking to Jacob about. Players weren't really listening to Jacob when he had determined the pairings and was announcing them, as they expected that information was going to come from me. I hope this will be something easy for Jacob to overcome when I am not there.

Teach

The value of this skill is very dependent on the players. If a tournament organizer has players with plenty of experience, the ability to teach is of limited use. If the player base is casual or new players, being able to patiently sit with a new player and help them out is invaluable.

With the Magic club at a low ebb, the new players at the Prereleases tend to be inexperienced and really struggle putting together decks and even playing the game. I put the inexperienced players with the experienced players, hoping that would help. While many of the regulars have taken the newer players under their wing, I still find myself sitting down and trying to improve on a player's decklist after a round or two has gone by.

Unfortunately, there is little time during the Prerelease to be teaching deck-building basics and guiding a new player through the steps of a turn. This is where the Magic club was a boon. Most of the players were playing there every week. They could see what was working with their decks and what wasn't. Without time constraints, it was easy for the players to help each other out. This is part of the impetus for me to bring the Magic club back.

This was a big reason I wanted Jacob to run the club. He is patient and doesn't just show a player how to build a better deck, or make the better play—he explains why it is the better play or better choice for their decklist. Jacob is great with the younger players, and I think the Magic club is a place where he can put that skill to good use.

I know many of you will not be running a tournament or setting up a club in the next year, but keep this article in mind the next time you are at a store or attending your own club. Your tournament organizer is doing more behind the scenes than you realize to make sure your experience is fulfilling and the tournament runs smoothly. If you can see a way to help, let them know you are willing. Many of us are happy to have another pair of hands to share the work.

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

mtgseriousfun@gmail.com

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