Stalling at Nationals (Don't Let This Happen To You!)
by Jack Lewis Stanton
Much has been said about the stalling that went on at this year's Nationals. In my opinion, the judges' handling of the Leiher-Hegstad should send a warning to all potential stallers that their time has come. In that match, Leiher was playing a Fires deck against Hegstad's Blue/White control deck. With the third game virtually locked up by Hegstad, Leiher began to play conspicuously slow. This with quite a few minutes left on the clock (around 15). What made this a difficult match to step in on was the fact that Hegstad continued to play cautiously up until 6 minutes left in the match, at which point in time he felt the need to speed up his play due to the time constraints slipping away. Leiher continued to play slowly, at one point taking a considerable amount of time off the clock at the end of Hegstad's turn, deciding whether or not to play a Hull Breach on a Tsabo's Web. Problem is, it isn't an instant. The game ended after extra turns with Leiher at one life and Hegstad holding three counters, enough to keep any threats off the board and any creature removal from killing off Hegstad's Megeta. After further review, the judges ruled that the time Leiher took off the clock in order to play the Hull Breach on Hegstad's turn cost Hegstad the match. So, to make things right, they retroactively awarded Leiher a game loss, giving Hegstad the match, putting him in the Top Eight.
I'm not going to get into whether or not Pete knew that Hull Breach was not an Instant, having made some very questionable plays of my own like that in recent tournaments when not under time constraints (that is, I screwed up). What I am going to mention is the courage of the DCI to make the ruling so late in what has always been the hardest Nationals event in the world. What I worry about is that from here on out, the DCI won't keep up their guard, punishing slow play with the game losses they deserve. Below, I'll give two more examples of stalling that cost the players who were stalled on either a place in the money or a higher payout.
In round nine, former Utah State Champion and off-and-on Pro Tour Player Steve Jarvis was pitted against Pro Tour Player Jamie Parke (currently one of the highest rated players in the world). It was a battle featuring a Blue/White Opposition-Orb deck (Jarvis) versus Fires of Yavimaya (Parke). Jarvis took the first game, locking Parke down while keeping Jamie's Yavimaya Barbarian at bay with a Thermal Glider. Knowing that he was locked, Parke conceded the game. In the second game, Parke's forces came out much too quick and it was Steve's turn to concede (there were 35 minutes left at this point). After considerable shuffling by Jamie before game three, there were 27 minutes on the clock when the first land was played.
Jarvis opened up with an amazing hand, featuring two Crimson Acolytes and a Meddling Mage (and the mana to cast them). At the 25-minute mark, a judge sat at the table and watched for the remainder of the game. When a Crimson Acolyte hit the board, Parke began to play very slowly, despite the presence of the judge. With eleven+ minutes left, Steve summoned a Stinging Barrier to go along with his Wall of Swords, Glacial Wall, Crimson Acolyte, and Static Orb already established on the board (with the mana to protect them from red spells, not to mention three Counterspells in hand). Life totals have Jamie at six, Steve at sixteen or seventeen.
Throughout the third game, Steve complained about Jamie's taking too much time at the end of Steve's turns, but the judge allowed that Jamie had some possibilities Jarvis wasn't aware of (even though the judge was on Jarvis' side most of the game and could see that Jarvis could handle any threat to come along). At the eleven-minute mark, this would prove to be the clincher. Jamie took quite a bit of time off the clock at the end of Steve's turn. Steve complained, only to be cautioned by the judge that he wasn't going to make Parke speed up his play when Parke had viable options to consider (Jamie had two cards in hand, one of which was a Shivan Wurm which could bounce a Thornscape Battlemage back to his hand). This whole series of events takes the clock from 11 minutes down to under four (the judge awards two minutes on to the game because Jamie pulled him aside to show what he was thinking….yet not acting on).
Declaring his attack phase, Jamie attacked with a Yavimaya Barbarian. Jarvis blocked with Barbarian with his first-striking Wall of Swords (which Steve had given protection from Red just in case Jamie had something up his sleeve). This gave Jamie the opportunity to 'think' some more on whether or not he wanted to save the wayward Barbarian by sacrificing his Fires of Yavimaya in order to pump it up to 4/4. This play was very similar to what happened in the Leiher-Hegstad match because Jamie HAD to know that there was no possible way with the Acolyte on the board that he'd be able to get rid of the Wall of Swords). Basically, he made a play that would allow him to take more time off the clock while he decided whether or not to save his Barbarian from getting first-striked to death. Finally given his turn, Steve pings Jamie down to five, then untaps his two permanents, draws, and says go. At this point, Jamie noticed the clock had less than one minute to go and stalled out the end of Steve's turn in order to 'think' through some decisions. When the time was right, he went into his main-phase, having successfully milked the final thirteen minutes off the clock over a two-turn period (this included the extra two and a half minutes added on by the judge). Steve was pretty pissed off because now he had to completely change his strategy, knowing he couldn't get the last points of damage done without some added help from creatures in his hand.
Unfortunately for Steve, he could only manage to get Jamie to one life, something I'm sure Jamie had been calculating throughout the last eleven minutes of the game (once the Stinging Barrier hit the table). Parke isn't a stupid player. He knew the game was lost, so instead of accepting the loss, he went for the draw, as the loss would mean as much as a $300-$400 difference if he managed to win out (a loss would mean he had no chance at the top eight). Instead of needing to go 2-1 over the course of the last three rounds, Jarvis now had to go 3-0 in order to make the top eight, a daunting task considering the skill level of the players on the leader boards and the ever-present possibility of mana-screw taking a match away from you.
Comparing the above two matches (Leiher-Hegstad, Jarvis-Parke), we can clearly see that in the Jarvis-Parke match, stalling was much more prevalent than in the Leiher-Hegstad match. What's more, Jarvis was taking short turns, while Hegstad still played slowly up until the sixth minute of time remaining (though he did pretty much have the game locked up at that point). What happened here was that the judge, who had been sitting there throughout nearly the entire third game, allowed Jamie way too much time to play out his turns. And Jamie, having played in many similar situations before, took what he was given and proceeded to walk away with the draw.
In Steve's situation, he failed to do what is obvious to most to play continually on the Pro Tour. That is, he didn't call over the head judge to oversee the final minutes of the game. If he had done this, several situations would have occurred, all of which would have favored Jarvis.
1. Jamie would have been forced to play quicker,
giving Jarvis the one extra turn he needed to win.
In any event, Jarvis, the player who had been stalled on, had his own destiny in hand. If he'd made the call to get the head judge over, things would have turned out much differently for him. Also, if the judge had done his job correctly, Jamie would have been forced to play at a greater speed without interference from the head judge being called, letting the game come to it's ultimate conclusion let's face it, two or three minutes would have sufficed for Jamie, not eleven). As I've mentioned above, Jamie, being the level of player that he is, saw that the judge wasn't going to correct him and used this to his advantage to get the draw.
With that said, the point I'm trying to make is that this is what you are up against when playing at the highest levels of play. You need to be prepared to call a judge over when your opponent begins to methodically stall you out. And believe me, they will.
Another tactic, played on me at Pro Tour London and allowed by the judge, (I, like Steve, didn't call over the head judge in time) was when I was playing a Swedish player during Day One. This player, at the time, was rated as one of the Top Five in the world in the Limited standings. What I should mention also is that he had a firm grasp of the English language. After a drawn out game one, my opponent ended up with the win. Throughout the game, he played with speed and accuracy, having no problem understanding the English text that was printed on the cards. In game two, he immediately began to have problems once he saw that the game was slipping away from him. I called over a judge, but the judge allowed that my opponent was having difficulty understanding the cards. This would have been fine and dandy IF the judge had awarded extra time or allowed the game to go to it's ultimate conclusion. After all, the person who all of a sudden was taking up all the time HAD the advantage of a 1-0 game lead. After time was called and the extra turns taken, I had the opponent down to one life, exactly the situation that occurred in the Leiher-Hegstad and Jarvis-Parke matches, only I came away with the loss and not the draw. Finishing 69th in the tournament, a draw would have secured me a spot in the money (a minimum of $400).
I'll mention as well that had Jarvis won against Parke, he would have ended up in the Top Eight of the US Nationals with a great chance at making the team due to deck match-ups. Instead, he ended up in twelfth place, having the highest tie-breaks of anyone with the same number of points. Even if he'd come in 9th place on tie-breaks, Steve would have finished with $600 more than the $900 he received for his 12th place finish.
THE MORAL OF THESE STORIES: Be aware of the game situation at all times and act appropriately. Call the head judge over if you feel a judge watching the situation isn't doing enough for you. That's what the head judge is there for. The NEW DCI will most likely do something if you get the head judge's attention. These situations should not be tolerated in the future.
PS-I would like others to point out situations similar to the above and tell us how they turned out. Also, if possible, I'd love to hear Jamie Parke's side of the story (he deserves equal time), as well as that of the judge presiding during the last game of the match.
PPS-To the Pro Player who told me not to go around rumor-mongering on MTGWACKY. All I'm doing is pointing out a situation to the general public and hoping that they begin asserting their rights as players in the above-mentioned situation. You pointed out that Jamie is a good kid and has a tendency to play slowly. Let me ask you a couple of questions. Why did he play quickly during the first two games? Why did he play at a decent speed up until the time his opponent introduced the game-winning situation (Stinging Barrier) when Jamie was at six life with eleven+ minutes to go? Simply put, he changed his speed only when he couldn't win, hoping to force out a draw. As you've pointed out in your articles with The Sideboard, the DCI is taking note of cheating, or cheating-like play. I'm simply doing the same.