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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.
Pimp My Magic
Ten Ways to Improve Magic Tournaments
by Jeff Zandi - 3.25.05
can be better. Everyone who has attended at least one
major Magic event has seen the best and worst aspects of
the Magic tournament experience. A lot of us, me
included, keep on coming year after year. Other players,
however, are so turned off by their experience with “big
time Magic tournaments” that they never come back. This
is true whether you are talking about a very serious pro
tour qualifying tournament, a huge pre-release event or
even Friday Night Magic in a game store.
There are two sides to every Magic tournament; the
tournament organizers who run the tournament and the
players who take part in the tournament. Players vent
their frustrations about tournaments with their friends
and online in forums. Tournament organizers meet each
year with WOTC/DCI officials at the annual T.O.
conference. This year’s conference was held two weeks
ago in sunny Las Vegas. During several days of meetings
and break out sessions, tournament organizers and
Wizards of the Coast personnel put their heads together
about exactly how to make Magic events more appealing to
the customer and more successful in general.
Improving Magic tournaments is a team effort. I see both
sides of the issue because I both run Magic tournaments
and play in them. My wife Willa attended this year’s
tournament organizer conference in Vegas with Alice Fox,
the wife of Kansas tournament organizer Edward Fox.
Willa and I have worked with Edward and Alice on Magic
tournaments for eight years. I have been playing in
Magic tournaments continuously for the past ten years.
Sometimes I think I might be a very SICK MAN. I’ve
played in over 140 pro tour qualifiers.
The first step to improving Magic tournaments is to
agree, whether you are a player or a tournament
organizer, that things need to change on BOTH sides of
the tournament equation. In other words, while there are
CERTAINLY things that tournament organizers can do to
improve these tournaments, there are ALSO things that
players can do to make things better.
Here are, in no particular order, ten ways that Magic
tournaments can be improved. Some of these are points
for the tournament organizer to improve on, some points
are for Magic players to work on and still other points
cannot be fixed without a combination of efforts from
event staff and players together.
NUMBER ONE – ORGANIZATION OF TOURNAMENTS
Well, this is almost too big a topic to be JUST ONE
TOPIC, but here goes.
There is no bigger complaint from players than the
complaint that the tournament wasn’t organized well
enough. This complaint can mean many things, and none of
them reflect very well on the tournament staff. Maybe
the people running the tournament arrived to the event
Getting a late start on a major event is never a good
thing, and adds to every player’s inconvenience.
Players hate waiting around at Magic events with nothing
to do. Killing time between rounds at a Magic tournament
is something that event officials can’t fix every time.
If you finish your match and there is time left in the
round, you simply have to find SOMETHING to do with the
extra time. Trading, talking to Magic players I haven’t
seen in awhile, and of course eating, all come to mind.
Sometimes extra wait time between rounds IS the
tournament staff’s fault. Every effort needs to be made
to make tournaments flow as smoothly as possible. It is
very easy, especially late in the day when everyone on
the tournament staff is tired, to start slowing down and
to start getting sloppy with the beginnings and endings
of tournament rounds.
GET A MOVE ON IT! Keeping the event moving as quickly as
possible is good for everyone. Players don’t want to
waste any more of their time than is absolutely
necessary, and tournament officials obviously want to
finish the tournament as expeditiously as possible.
Prerelease events are being run using multiple flights
more and more often.
Flights are a way for tournament organizers to place
their players into smaller groups. When multiple flights
are going on, players are often confused about the state
of their individual flight (tournament). One thing that
organizers can do better here is to assign a staff
member, preferably a judge, to be completely in charge
of a particular flight. That staff member then has the
primary responsibility to keep his flight running
smoothly without having to worry about other things
going on at the event.
Information can also be posted at the primary judging
station that can allow players to see, at a glance, the
status of all events that are currently running.
Tournament staff gets tired of telling twenty people in
a row how much time is left in the current tournament
round, but they forget that each person who asked them
the question has no idea that they have JUST BEEN ASKED
that question by someone else.
There are A MILLION details involved in the general
organization of a Magic tournament. Nevertheless,
tournament organization, or lack thereof, remains the
NUMBER TWO – BETTER JUDGING
Judges are going to make mistakes with their calls
during a tournament.
There will never be a perfect Magic judge that NEVER
However, judges can and SHOULD work hard to be on top of
their game as much as possible. The rulings that judges
make during any Magic tournament affect the outcome of
the event. It’s very easy to become lazy as a judge,
especially when you have other responsibilities at a
tournament. In many cases, the judge might also be the
tournament organizer. Regardless, if you are judging a
Magic tournament, regardless of its size, you need to
take the responsibility to prepare yourself ahead of
time. I generally feel that player/judges are better at
knowing the most current rulings than people who only
judge. Of course, the most serious Magic judges in the
world are on top of their game ninety-nine percent of
NUMBER THREE – INCREASED INFORMATION ABOUT UPCOMING
Players regularly complain that they don’t know when or
where the next tournament is. Tournament organizers need
to do a better job at publicizing their events. As Magic
continues to mature as an “intellectual sport”,
tournament organizers fall into the rut of advertising
in only the places that they have ALWAYS advertised. For
most tournament organizers, advertising means updating
their own websites with the tournament locations, dates
and times. This is all well and good, but newer players
and less-frequent players DON’T KNOW where to look. Just
as bad, or maybe worse, are the occasions when the
tournament organizer has INCORRECT information about
upcoming events on his website or in his advertising.
It’s time for tournament organizers to start fresh with
advertising. Whether it’s cheaply produced advertising
flyers at game stores, advertisements in college
newspapers or even local T.V. or radio, tournament
organizers can greatly improve the Magic tournament
scene by working a little harder at getting the word
out. This just in, bigger tournaments with more players
are good for everyone.
NUMBER FOUR – BETTER COOPERATION FROM PLAYERS
It was ABOUT TIME to mention something that players can
Tournament staffs are stretched to their limits these
days, meaning that there are fewer event staff at most
tournaments, and probably less judges as well. Players
can make tournaments better by listening to the
directions that they receive from event staff. Of
course, most players DO listen to most tournament
instructions, but there is room for improvement. The
most crucial time for any tournament is usually the
beginning of the day. Very often, the failure to listen
to all instructions from the tournament staff causes
some players to not be where they are supposed to be.
In Limited format tournaments, like prerelease events,
it is PARTICULARLY important to keep quiet and listen up
during the announcements made at the beginning of the
tournament. Regular players forget (or maybe they don’t
care) that many people are playing in their first or
ALMOST their first big Magic tournament. These players
are less familiar than the regulars with the rules for
registering their cards in a Limited format tournament.
Players, as a group, can cooperate better with the
tournament staff and make any tournament run just a
little bit better.
NUMBER FIVE – BETTER MANNERS AND GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP
Magic is supposed to be a game of skill played by
intelligent people. You can help prove that this is true
by treating your fellow players as well as the
tournament staff with respect. Shoes? Yeah, you need
‘em. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze? Sounds
like a good idea to me, but then I’m a civilized adult.
Basically, you learned all this stuff a long time ago,
why not be a great guy and do what you KNOW is right?
Competitve Magic players, almost UNIVERSALLY, want to
receive the respect of their peers.
Respect is something you earn by playing well and ACTING
well towards others. When you see a player with really
bad manners or who is displaying poor sportsmanship, you
can BET that he is part of the reason that some players
don’t come back to the next tournament. In the game of
poker, one of the first things you learn is to not make
fun of your opponents, ESPECIALLY if you really believe
you are more skilled than they are. If you’re the best
player in the room, or you WANT to be the best player in
the room, you should be the nicest guy of all to ALL the
other players, because you should WANT them to be in the
next tournament so that you can DEFEAT them again!
Sportsmanship is a hard thing to pin down. It is NOT
simply a matter of being a good loser, although that can
be a part of it. If you are a good sportsman, you are
able to treat a match seriously enough to give it your
best possible effort, and then to walk away from that
match with an even temperament, regardless of the
outcome. They tell athletes to “act like they’ve been
there before” when they are playing in championship
Magic players could learn a lot from the way the best
athletes in other sports behave. When you watch someone
GOING OFF on their opponent, being a bad sport, do you
think that helps make the tournament better or worse?
There is NEVER anything to be gained by being immature,
in Magic or anything else.
NUMBER SIX – BETTER RECOGNITION TO PLAYERS
People love a chance to gain positive recognition for
the things that they do. Magic players are DEFINITELY no
exception. The primary goal of most players in a
tournament is to WIN the tournament, to lift the trophy
(there usually isn’t a trophy) and to be acknowledged as
the best. Tournaments recognize their champions and the
other top finishers by presenting them with prizes.
Prizes, I feel, are a separate issue. Players are
excited to receive recognition. Tournament organizers
can create additional opportunities to recognize players
for different positive reasons all throughout the
tournament. By having a Featured Match table, you can
give some positive attention to players that they will
remember even after the tournament is over. The
tournament organizer can poll the players before the
first round of play and recognize the players who
traveled the farthest distance to the event, or
recognize the largest group traveling together to the
tournament. You can give special recognition to the
youngest player in the tournament, or to the player with
the coolest assortment of “Magic bling”. A lot of these
kinds of recognition can build a lot of goodwill without
costing the tournament organizer much in the way of time
NUMBER SEVEN – BETTER PRIZES FOR TOURNAMENTS
Most players that play in pro tour qualifiers aren’t
there to necessarily qualify for the next PT event: they
are there to win prizes. Luckily, where PTQs are
concerned, first prize includes a cash prize called a
travel award to go along with the honor of being allowed
to play at an upcoming Pro Tour event. Booster packs are
normally awarded to the top eight finishers of the
tournament, with more packs generally being awarded to
players who finish higher in the top eight’s single
elimination bracket. Lately, there have been awards of a
so called “amateur prize”. This prize usually consists
of two boxes of booster packs distributed among the best
eight finishers who did NOT finish in the top eight and
who have NOT been awarded any pro tour points for
playing in a Pro Tour event or by finishing high in a
Grand Prix event. Tournament organizers worked together
with Wizards of the Coast to come up with the
distinctive top eight pins (“bling” plus recognition)
that have been awarded to the top eight finishers of pro
tour qualifiers for the past five years. Players love
prizes, though, and the cost of the prize is not always
the most important factor. Tournament organizers should
consider distributing their amateur prize booster packs
in a more exciting way, maybe as awards to players
winning individual matches that are no longer contending
for a top eight prize. T.O.’s should also think about
more unique prizes, like trophies (which always thrill
players!) or free admissions to future tournaments.
NUMBER EIGHT – PLAYER CLEANLINESS AND HYGIENE
Yes, everyone whispers about it with their friends at
tournaments, but you never hear too much about this
issue outside of that. Stinky Magic players are no fun,
and they make tournaments a little bit worse. Nobody
thinks you’re cool because you reek and never change
your clothes. At the same time, as a longtime gamer, I
GET that sometimes you have to travel long distances
without benefit of optimal opportunities to attend to
your hygienic needs. This issue isn’t about every player
arriving to tournaments straight out of the shower or
bath. This issue is really about respect, the respect a
player should have for himself as a human being, and the
respect that a player should have for the tournament and
even for the game of Magic itself. If you want Magic to
gain respect as a sport, everyone has to do their part.
Clean up a little for Magic tournaments, you will look
better and you will make Magic look better. Magic is
nearly twelve years old, but still a game that not THAT
many people know about. One way we can improve the image
of Magic is to improve the image of Magic PLAYERS. That
means that one day, the stinky, dirty Magic player might
need to be excused from the tournament for improper
NUMBER NINE – BETTER LOCATIONS FOR TOURNAMENTS NUMBER
TEN – HIGHER ATTENDANCE AT TOURNAMENTS
These two goals are so intertwined that there is no
point in talking about them separately. Tournament
organizers used to hold their big tournaments in the
convention spaces in hotels and similar venues. Then,
player attendance decreased, fewer rooms were rented at
the hotels holding the Magic tournaments, and rented
space to hold tournaments became too expensive for
tournament organizers to pay. Players don’t love playing
in crowded game stores where they don’t have enough
tables, enough space and often, not enough air
conditioning/heating and bathroom facilities. Tournament
organizers would LOVE to move these events out of
crowded game stores and back into more suitable
locations, but the attendance has to be there on a
consistent basis to make it work.
Last Saturday, 136 players played in a qualifier for Pro
Tour Philadelphia that was held in Houston, Texas. This
was the highest attendance for a Texas PTQ in years. If
numbers were to increase for some number of PTQs in an
area, that area’s tournament organizers can find their
way clear to spend more money on putting their
tournaments in better locations.
Success breeds success. The same way that past problems
caused a slow downward spiral in the quality of big
Magic tournaments over the past five or six years, doing
things better REALLY CAN raise the quality of the Magic
tournament experience for everyone.
By producing larger, better managed Magic events that
attract more respectful and attentive Magic sportsmen,
our favorite “Intellectual Sport”
can grow into the kind of international phenomena that
it has always had the potential to become.
Of course, I’m always interested in hearing what YOU
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online
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