A Different Perspective – A GP Montreal Tournament Report


Hello, everyone, and welcome to my Grand Prix Montreal tournament report. Let’s see how I did that weekend:

  • I wasn’t in the Top 128, but I was still in the tournament until the end of the Swiss rounds.
  • I didn’t lose a game, but a lot of players certainly lost games because of me.
  • I didn’t play any public events, but I still ended up with 3 boxes of M12, 2 Mana Crypts, 2 Doubling Seasons, 2 Vendilion Cliques, 2 Swords of Fire and Ice …
  • Did the last point give it away completely? That’s right, I judged the event! My name is Jason Wong, and I’m a Level 2 judge from Kingston, Ontario. I’ve decided to start writing this column because I think players don’t always get to see what the judges do at an event. There are countless tournament reports from a player’s point of view, so why not a judge’s? Perhaps seeing an event from a different perspective will be enlightening, or at least entertaining. Here we go…

    The Lead-In

    My GP story starts about two weeks before the actual event (some dramatization may have been added):

    *Our hero sits in the dark, crouched in front of his computer, at 2AM on a Monday night*
    *Refresh* *Refresh * Refresh*

    “The staff list is up!”, he exclaims, “Let’s see who’s on it… Hm, I don’t know this Head Judge. Oh, I know some of these Level 3s. Kyle Ryc? Doesn’t he get accepted for everything?”
    “Jason Wong – Level 2 Judge is coming from Kingston, Ontario, Canada”

    You see, while players can play whatever open events they want, judges don’t always get to judge. If I had the choice, I’d judge every large event within 5 hours of me. But so would many other judges, and then we’d end up with 15 judges at every PTQ, and 150 judges at every GP. No, judges must apply to the events they want to work, and they get rejected a lot. Personally, I’ve been rejected from two Nationals, a GP, and several PTQs, and I’ve only been ‘seriously’ judging since last year. What can you do though, right? Work harder, try again, and hope to get picked next time. Fortunately, GP Montreal was in my (relative) backyard, and the event manager was willing to give the Canadians a chance – we ended up with a staff that was almost 50% Canadian. It was time to show the world how awesome we are (or at least, drown them with kindness and maple syrup.)

    The Pre-Game

    I arrived in Montreal on Friday afternoon, and promptly checked into my hotel room. One of the perks about judging an event? You don’t have to worry about accommodations. But frankly, some rooms I’ve stayed in at previous events have been terrible. Let’s see how we fared this time:

  • Queen-sized beds. DING!
  • One minute walk from the convention centre. DING!
  • Computer with free internet access. DING!
  • TV with 95% French channels…
  • Okay, setting aside my Anglophonic Superiority Complex ™, the hotel was pretty sweet. The tournament organizer Jason Ness made sure we judges were comfortable, and my sincere thanks go out to him.

    After a quick trip around the hall to say to Hi to some friends, I was ready to start working. That is, I was ready to introduce myself to the Head Judge, talk to a few judges about the day so far, and eventually ease into a grinder. What I got instead was, “Hey, nice to meet you! Have you run a grinder before? Good, then you can take this one that’s starting right now!” So no time for a breather, eh? That’s fine. It basically runs smoothly, with a few small exceptions:

    Round 2 – I post the standings, and tell players to find their seats. About a minute later, a player comes up and we have this conversation (One of the lines is made up. Can you figure out which?):

    “Judge, I’m not on the pairings list.”
    “Oh, okay, let’s figure out why. Did you win your last round?”
    “No, my opponent won 2-1.”
    “Okay, so since it’s single elimination, you are no longer in the tournament.”
    “Single elimination? I thought it was Swiss!”
    “I did make an announcement at the beginning of the tournament, saying it was single elim, didn’t I?”
    “Probably, but I wasn’t really listening.”

    Round 4 and 5 – At this point, I’ve just started a second grinder, and they’re in the middle of construction, so I’m spending a lot more time watching this new one to make sure no one’s talking. I expected that the four players remaining in the first grinder could be fairly autonomous, and that they would find me as their matches ended. What I didn’t expect was me forgetting which round they were in. The first match result of Round 4 comes in fine. The second match result comes in about 30 minutes later, and the player asks me if he can go to the washroom before they get their prizes. So at this point, I’m thinking, “Oh, they must be done their tourney, and he won.” So I tell him, “Yeah, take your time, we’ll sort out all the prizes and byes when you get back.” See where this is going?

    20 minutes later, he comes back, and I take him up to the scorekeeper and say, “Here’s the result, and they’re done.” The scorekeeper asks, “Okay good, so what happened in Round 5?”
    “This IS the Round 5 result slip.”
    “No, it’s the Round 4 slip.”

    So I asked the player and discovered that he took his time because… I told him to take his time. Oops. Fortunately, the other guy was very mild-mannered and had been chatting with his friends the entire time and was not too peeved. After some profuse apologies from me, they finally started their match.

    As my second grinder (the last of the night) ground on, the convention centre started clearing out. Usually by the time the last grinder reaches the finals, there’s only the judge, the two players, and a couple of supporters on either side. That night, however, at least twenty people crowded around the late-night feature match: Alex Bertoncini vs. Edgar Flores (I hear they’re not bad.) It was a pretty boring affair, though, as Edgar had the must-be-nice pool of Day of Judgment plus double Inferno Titan. We were out of there by 12:15, and I went to bed dreaming of decklists and DQs.

    The Main Event

    Day 1 – There is something wrong with the judge community. How is it possible that a group of 50 people can be so bright and bubbly at 7:30AM? At 7:30AM, I’m giving people the evil eye for even talking to me. They must put something in their drinks, and I’m not convinced it’s legal.

    Limited GPs are always chaotic in the beginning. Problems arise due to players having never used decklists before. 15 minutes into the 20 available for deck registration, someone calls me over and tells me the guy next to him is building his deck. Wait, but they’re just registering their pools. Turns out he thought the cards he opened would be his pool and started building immediately, including registering his main deck under the ‘Played’ column but nothing under the ‘Total’ column. And to top it all off, he doesn’t even speak English! Oops, there’s that superiority complex creeping up again.

    Anyway, I found a French-speaking judge to explain to him what he should be doing, and I asked two of the nearby players to help him sort the rest of his cards, while I ran to get him a new decklist. With a bit of coordination, we finished registering his pool with less than 30 seconds to go. Problem solved. Of course, whenever a judge solves a problem, players are bound to come up with another…

    Time was called, and yet there were still some players registering their pool. Really, how does it take you more than 20 minutes to sort 6 booster packs? So I was standing behind the player, reminding him that he has to finish registering quickly, and I heard over the announcement, “Okay, everyone pass to your left. Now, pass to your left again. And, one more time.” Suddenly, traffic jam! That’s fine, a few creative pool-passes later and everyone had a pool that was they didn’t open. Except… this slow guy was still registering his pool. So I asked the player sitting to his right to wait, and switch pools with him when he’s done. The player on his right just happens to be KYT himself, who put up a 7-2 performance with this new pool. I’m pretty sure that were it not for my divine intervention, he would have gotten an 0-3 drop pool. Yep, it was all thanks to me.

    The rest of the day went by uneventfully. That’s pretty standard for judges – barring heated arguments between players or investigations, memorable things only happen at the beginning of the day.

    Day 2 – At the beginning of Day 2, we had the players fill out tax forms in case they made money. To save paper, we had the American tax form printed on one side, and the non-American form printed on the other side. As expected, a player messed up his form, so I had to help out:

    *Our hero jogs up to the main stage*
    “Excuse me, Mr. Head Judge, I need another tax form.”
    “We have none left, but I’ll go print you one. Do you want the American form?”
    “Oh, I forgot to ask. I think it sounded like he had a French accent, so let’s say non-American?”
    “Okay, here you go.”

    *Back at the players’ area*
    “Here you go!”
    “But… I’m American.”
    “… Oh.”

    *Back at the main stage*
    “Excuse me, Mr. Head Judge, I need an American tax form.”
    “Another form? Did someone else mess up too?”
    “… Yes.”

    Someone else did mess up… ME! I wasn’t lying; I was just creatively bending the truth to save myself from embarrassment. But seriously, don’t do what I just did when you’re speaking to a judge at a tournament. You’ll get DQ’d if you get caught bending the truth. And judges can smell your lies.

    Once again, the rest of the day proved fairly uneventful. For Day 2 of a GP, the judge-to-player ratio is about three times higher than it would be at a PTQ. This is mainly because it is Professional REL, and we want to make sure that every match is covered, and that every judge call is addressed quickly. And, as the sign of a good event, nothing went wrong the rest of the day. Well, nothing went wrong logistically, at least. A player got DQ’d, but that was his own fault.

    And in the blink of an eye, the tournament was over. A quick judge meeting later, and I was on the bus back home, thinking about what I learned and what I wanted to do next. I may never be as successful as Jon or Kai, but I like that I’ve contributed something to Magic that they never have. As I said before, I would judge a big event every weekend if I could, and hopefully I’ve shown you why I love this job. And sometimes, I get to witness things like this:

    Pictured above: Our hero with fellow L2 Matt Tang, who Top 64’d as his alter-ego, Kimodo Dragon.

    I swear, if we were both in our judge uniforms, we’d be indistinguishable. ASIAN JOKES ASIAN JOKES

    Jason Wong
    @azngenius on twitter

    BONUS: What do you think are the three most common judge calls? Make your guesses in the comments.