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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.


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Pimp My Magic Tournament
Ten Ways to Improve Magic Tournaments
by Jeff Zandi  - 3.25.05

Magic tournaments 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.


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 location late.
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 biggest problem.


Judges are going to make mistakes with their calls during a tournament.
There will never be a perfect Magic judge that NEVER makes mistakes.
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 the time.


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.


It was ABOUT TIME to mention something that players can improve on!
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.


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 events.
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.


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 or money.


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.


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 personal upkeep.


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 think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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