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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing
Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has
been judging everything from small local tournaments
to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb
of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the
"Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages,
since the team formed in 1996. One of the original
founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's
administrator, and is proud to continue the team's
tradition of having players in every pro tour from the
first event in 1996 to the present.
Tightening Up Tournament Play
The Balance Between Customers and Competitors
December 2, 2005
Every Magic tournament is
a mixture of whimsy and intensity. Pro Tour Qualifiers, one
would think, would be particularly serious affairs, but the
goal of every player in a PTQ is not the same. A lot of the
players, maybe most of the players, are clearly interested
in competing at Magic’s highest level, the Pro Tour. Others,
however, have chosen to play in a pro tour qualifier simply
because it’s a good way to get around a lot of other Magic
players. There are other reasons, as well, for playing in a
PTQ, but the point is that everyone is not playing in the
tournament for the same reasons.
Tournament organizers, on the whole, are most interested in
serving customers. The head judge of the tournament is,
hopefully and quite rightly, most interested in running a
clean tournament where all the rules are followed to the
furthest possible extent. What do you do if you are wearing
both hats, working both as the tournament manager AND as the
head judge of the event? The trick is to strike a balance
between customers and competitors.
Lately, I have been doing more judging. From about 1998
until last year, my judging schedule was pretty spare, I
would judge at a couple of PTQs , the annual state
championships and all three of the pre-release events for
the year. In the last year, I have raised the number of PTQs
that I head judge (and greatly lowered the number of events
I get to play in at the same time) to ten or twelve a year.
I still judge the state championships in Kansas and I still
judge at the Dallas-area pre-release event for each new
Magic product release.
When I am both running the tournament and performing as head
judge, it becomes increasingly important to find good judges
to work at the tournament with me. PTQs in Texas, Oklahoma
and southern Kansas typically bring in between 50 and 90
players, so a couple of judges are usually enough, but I
have certainly learned that I don’t want to go it alone.
A few weeks ago, I was working with a very talented young
judge named Chris Block. Although he has been an official
DCI Level I judge for just a little while, he has already
shown in a number of events that he has the knowledge and
people skills to excel at judging and running tournaments.
Chris, like any good new judge, was all over the place at
the tournament, watching the players extremely closely and,
frankly, “throwing his penalty flag” a great number of
times. There was nothing wrong with how Chris was judging,
he was simply trying to the best of his ability to hold the
players to the letter of the DCI tournament laws.
As a battle-hardened, veteran judge as well as an
experienced tournament manager, I have tended to call fewer
and fewer technical penalties. It is important to call
attention to errors that players make with regard to the DCI
tournament rules and the rules of Magic, but it is also
EQUALLY important to make the tournament run smoothly and
effectively. You never will have enough staff (unless you
had a judge to watch each match very carefully all day long)
to catch every error every time. The trick is to catch the
errors that cause problems for the tournament. The job of
the best DCI judges is to adjudicate tournaments in a way
that gives the players freedom and the ability to enjoy the
event, but which also maintains a high level of tournament
fidelity. Tournament fidelity means that the event is being
run fairly, with no bias for or against any player. Good
judging is required to ensure high tournament fidelity. New
judges tend to want to call attention to more rules
violations than are necessary to take action for.
However, Chris’ gung-ho
attitude had a powerful effect on me.
Every day since that tournament, I have had my nose in my
Universal Tournament Rules, my Comprehensive Rules of Magic
and, most of all, my DCI Penalty Guidelines. Like John
Cusack’s character says in the movie ‘High Fidelity’, “there
are a LOT of rules.”
I have a strong desire to be a better judge and more
importantly, to make the tournaments that I am a part of
better tournaments. Tomorrow, I will be again managing AND
head judging a pro tour qualifier, this time in Fort Worth,
Texas. After studying the rules and thinking a lot about
what my tournament organizer and mentor Edward Fox has
taught me over the years, I have decided to tighten up the
enforcement of certain procedural rules that I think will
make the tournament better for everyone.
RULES ENFORCEMENT LEVELS
The DCI allows some flexibility in how Magic tournaments are
There are five levels of rules enforcement that greatly
affect the seriousness of any penalty handed out in a Magic
tournament. Magic tournaments intended for new players,
casual players or tournaments that are more or less just for
fun are played at the lowest enforcement level, REL 1.
This covers Friday Night Magic, pre-release events and lots
of other small-yet-officially-sanctioned tournaments. At the
high end of the scale, the World Championships are played at
REL 5, the highest and tightest level of rules enforcement.
The players in this year’s World Championships, taking place
right this minute in Yokohama, Japan, are expected to play
near-perfect with regards to the rules. Right in the middle,
REL 3 is the preferred rules enforcement level for pro tour
qualifiers. REL 3 requires a good deal of concentration and
discipline from the tournament players, but no more than
what I believe is entirely reasonable, considering the
The rules and procedures discussed in the rest of this story
are based on Rules Enforcement Level 3. The rulebook that I
cite for these rules can be found in the DCI Penalty
If you are going to have a great tournament, there’s no more
important factor that getting started on time.
Unfortunately, the world is a big, scary, three dimensional
place where things go wrong with your car, where the players
you are picking up to take with you to the tournament aren’t
ready when you drive by to pick them up. All kinds of things
happen that make tournament players late to the event.
Sometimes, the tournament manager lets the tournament start
late because he wants to help late arrivers get into the
tournament without penalty. This is probably not the best
way to do things, I think. The tournament is best served by
getting the event started on time. Most of the players in
the event HAVE managed to show up on time and to register
for the tournament and, in the case of constructed PTQs,
managed to turn their decklist in on time. We have to get
started on time.
Tomorrow, in Fort Worth, we will be registering players from
9:00am to 10:00am. At 10:00am, my plan is to put up the
pairings for round one.
If you turn in your decklist after 10:00am, you will
probably receive a Tardiness penalty, at REL 3, this means a
game loss in your first round.
It’s in the rules. If you show up after 10:00am, even if you
have called me on the phone to alert me of your situation,
the tournament start time will not be changed. If you arrive
late and wish to be in the tournament, I will be happy to
add you to the tournament, but you will receive a game loss
for Tardiness for round one. If you show up more than ten
minutes into the first round, you will most likely receive a
match loss for Tardiness. While starting the tournament with
a match loss is not what anyone wants, worse things could
happen, and, after all, fully half of all the people who DID
get to the tournament ON TIME will also finish the first
round with a match loss.
If you don’t want to receive a tardiness penalty, show up on
time. Be mature and take responsibility for your actions. As
the guy running the tournament, I assure you that I love all
the tournament players equally, even my late arrivers. If
problems have caused you to be late, I will feel your pain,
I will console you and, if necessary, I will hug you, but I
will also have to penalize you with respect to the
Keeping the event running on time is very important, and
that is why you will also receive a tardiness penalty and a
game loss if you are not in your seat when play begins for
any round of the tournament. Ten minutes later, if you are
still not in your seat, you will receive a match loss. There
is nothing wrong with the judge taking time at the beginning
of the round to alert all players in the area that the round
is about to begin, he might even wait a minute as the last
couple of players hustle to their chairs.
Once the round is officially started, however, it’s too late
to arrive at your table without receiving a penalty, in most
Shuffling your deck properly before every game in a big
tournament is a very serious task indeed. Unfortunately, a
lot of players seem to be taking too long to get their deck
shuffled. According to the rules, players have three minutes
at the beginning of each game they play to prepare their
decks and to shuffle them. That means three minutes at the
beginning of the match, three minutes before playing game
two of the match (including sideboarding
time) and three minutes before playing any subsequent games
of the match if necessary. If you take too long getting your
deck shuffled and ready for your opponent, then you are in
danger of receiving a penalty. The penalty is only a
caution, even at REL 3, but this is the kind of penalty that
is easy to collect more than one of. The second time during
the day that you are guilty of the same offense, you will
receive a warning. The third time in a single tournament,
this penalty is escalated to a game loss, and so on.
The goal of holding players to the strict Pre Game Time
Limit of three minutes is to make the tournament run
efficiently and to get rounds finished inside the 50 minutes
Slow play, which differs greatly from stalling, is a big
problem in the Extended constructed format being used in
this season’s PTQs for Pro Tour Honolulu. Stalling is a
cheating offense. If you were to be found guilty of
stalling, you could be disqualified from the tournament
without prizes. I don’t believe I have handed out a stalling
penalty in my long tournament career. I have, however,
handed out PLENTY of penalties for slow play. It’s really
not too hard to figure out or to describe, if you are
playing too slowly, taking too much time to take your turn,
you are making it harder for your match to be completed in
the 50 minute time limit and you are in danger of receiving
a penalty for slow play. In an REL 3 event, a slow play
penalty will result in a warning, escalating to a game loss
for a second slow play penalty in the same tournament.
The same way that Slow Play is often confused with the far
more serious offense of Stalling, Marked Cards offenses are
also very confusing to players. Your cards are marked if
they have, well, marks on them, simply put. Maybe your
sleeves are old and dirty with marks on them that make it
possible, however unlikely, that one face down card can be
distinguished from another in your deck. No one is accusing
you of cheating just because your cards are showing some
marks on them. Minor marks on your sleeves (or on the backs
of your cards if you are playing without sleeves) can result
in you receiving a penalty for Marked Cards – Minor. This
penalty is only a caution, but again, repeated observations
or complaints about your poorly maintained deck can and will
result in higher penalties throughout the day.
If your cards are very seriously marked, enough that your
deck’s condition makes it difficult to ignore could result
in you receiving the penalty for Marked Cards – Major, a
match loss offense. If a judge tells you that you need new
sleeves, you probably need to get some different sleeves,
preferably before the next round starts.
A player that has marked his deck in such a way that seems
intentional does not receive a Marked Cards penalty, as
strange as that may sound. A player INTENTIONALLY marking
his cards is guilty of cheating, and will be disqualified
from the tournament without prizes.
Magic is a big-time intellectual sport, and players in a pro
tour qualifier should be prepared to conduct themselves
professionally. Profanity and other bad behavior on the part
of a player while he is playing a match can result in an
Unsporting Conduct – Minor penalty of a warning. The trap
that some out-of-control players fall into is a pattern of
continually arguing with their opponents in matches
throughout the day and arguing with judges repeatedly. This
kind of more seriously bad behavior can result in an
Unsporting Conduct – Major offense and will be penalized
with a match loss.
Maybe you would like to negotiate an intentional draw with
your opponent, you are well within your rights according to
the rules to do so. However, if you continue to discuss this
option after an opponent has clearly told you that he does
not want an intentional draw, you can be penalized with a
match loss for Unsporting Conduct – Major. You will really
want to avoid being this kind of player. Magic is enjoying a
high level of popularity, if you don’t want to be a great
guy and play by the rules, you’re free to go. We can find
someone else to take your place.
MORE PROCEDURAL RULES TO THINK ABOUT
Sometimes players can be slobs, leaving their trash behind
on a table probably not planning to come back to pick it up.
Doing this makes it harder for the next players using that
table to play their match. If you get caught leaving trash
around, you can receive a Procedural Error – Minor penalty
of a caution. Why not just make it better for everyone,
including yourself, but remembering to pick up your trash
and put it into a trash can?
You can receive a warning if you are guilty of a Procedural
Error – Major.
You could receive this penalty by leaving your name off of
your decklist, by not shuffling your deck enough (I know, I
know, you ONLY have three minutes to shuffle your deck) or
by submitting an incorrect match result on your match
You can receive a game loss if you are guilty of a
Procedural Error – Severe. You could receive this penalty,
among other ways, by shuffling your deck when you aren’t
supposed to, by failing to de-sideboard from a previous
match before game one of a new match. You can also receive
this penalty by being careless with a drink and messing up
your own or someone else’s deck.
THERE IS MORE TO MAGIC THAN FOLLOWING THE RULES
While I will be paying more attention to the rules I have
talked about in this article, there is more to running a
good Magic tournament than simply making sure the rules are
enforced. A lot of good men have sacrificed everything they
had to give in order to ensure the kind of freedom that we
enjoy in the United States. Turning a Magic tournament into
a contest of who can follow the rules the best is not what
it’s all about. The goal is simple, to produce the best
event that can be enjoyed by the greatest number of the
participants as possible. Whatever is good for the largest
number of players in the tournament is normally what I want
to try to provide.
When I’m wearing the twin hats of tournament manager and
head judge, I want to provide two things which I certainly
do not believe are mutually
exclusive: as a tournament manager, I want my players to be
happy and I want to provide the players with a fun event
with chances for a lot of players to win prizes. As a head
judge, I want every player to have a fair chance to win the
tournament and go to the Pro Tour.
THERE ARE A LOT OF RULES
The above examples are by no means the only things that
judges are paying attention to, but they are things that I
will be paying extra attention to in the tournaments I run.
If you play in one of my tournaments, you should expect
fairness and a good time for all. If you don’t, I expect you
to let me know about it. Together, we can make tournaments
As always, I would love to know what you think!
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online
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