Category Archives: Players

Advice targeted at players.

More Goldberg, Less Rube

By all accounts, Grand Prix Los Angeles got off to a rocky start. @BenKrantzStudio asks, “Why is there a HUGE line for byes check in for #GPLA?”

Interesting question.

OK. Well, the question as posed is actually pretty mundane, so let’s tackle that first.

Why is there a HUGE line for byes?

Well, there isn’t, not really. There’s a huge line for player issues. It’s true that many of these are people who have questions about their byes. Which happens because:

  1. They’re confused about how many Byes they’re supposed to have. Maybe they had Byes at a previous event and now they don’t (because Planeswalker Point seasons rotate; the switch to the annual system can’t come soon enough). Maybe they don’t understand exactly how the Planeswalker Point system works. Sometimes they’ve been told that they should have byes by a friend or by a well-meaning staff member who is just mistaken.
  2. They think they won a trial that didn’t get reported on time by their local store, or which got invalidated (make sure, when you win a trial, to get your store to submit that tournament right away and to verify that it’s a legal and accepted tournament).
  3. They just plain don’t read the posted bye list correctly and freak out about where their byes went, when they’re already safely in the system.
  4. They’ve filled out their registration wrong (since sadly, online registration doesn’t and currently can’t check the correctness of your DCI number) and used an incorrect DCI Number, which means that they bye lookup system that is based on DCI Number will fail to find your byes.
  5. Something screwy happens with the bye processing and the printed bye list doesn’t have the right data on it. This can happen if the data import has been screwed up in DCIR, or if the TO is using custom software to important preregistration data and something has gone wrong with how they put the bye information into that data.

5 is relatively more rare, but did happen here in Portland (though we caught this early enough to post an updated bye list reasonably early in the morning). As well as scads of the rest.

In an ideal world, there’d just be a site you could go to that would canonically tell you how many byes you have for each event (almost as if the people who make the game ought to have a site that has information about tournaments, your current Planeswalker Points, and your match history … *sigh*). But sadly, that doesn’t seem to be our world.

But as I mentioned, bye issues are a subset of player issues, which are slightly more interesting.

Why is there a huge line for player issues?

To answer this, we need to know more about what types of issues we’re talking about and the sorts of things that can trip players off as we get the day started.

Enemy number one is, by far, “I’m not on the seatings.” Except it’s usually more an angry rant having to do with how they paid and aren’t on the seatings. Most often, it’s simply because they didn’t see themselves, which happens because:

  1. They simply missed it.
  2. They missed it because their name only appeared on the right side of the seatings. Unlike most of the other postings, where you can always find your name in the left column, a player seating does not duplicate entries so that your name always appears in the first column. You may only appear on the right side. Players, check both columns. Judges, cut the darn forms in half so it’s obvious that the two sides are different.
  3. They missed it because something is weird with their name. Either it was typed in wrong during their preregistration, or somebody couldn’t read their handwriting for on-site registration, or the first and last names got swapped when somebody was entering data. Players, check under your first name if you can’t find yourself under your last name, and please write legibly. Staff, make sure you’re being careful when you enter in registrations, any typos can cost a lot of tournament time.
  4. They missed it because they used the wrong DCI number, it got entered in by DCI number, and auto-completed to somebody else’s name. These are doubly pernicious because they also result in a stub player who ends up not showing up (since they never really signed up), which leads to extra byes and extra work.
  5. They’re actually missed, either because of a missing slip, a miscommunication, or these days, frequently because something went screwy with the preregistration system (payment wasn’t successfully processed, something went wrong with the tools that convert from preregistration to entry, etc…), which then needs to be validated and those players added.

Second most common are people with issues with a Sleep-In Special or VIP system. Maybe they signed up for one of these and they don’t see it in the system. Or maybe they bought one, but showed up anyway and are now panicked that they aren’t on the list (generally Sleep-In Specials are filtered out of the player meeting so we don’t have lots of empty seats to contend with). Or maybe they are a VIP with a bye and don’t realize that that often automatically signs them up for a Sleep-In Special.

Third is people who want to know where to turn in their decklist or to get their free stuff. Hint: I don’t know a TO in the world where the line for the scorekeeper is the right place for either of those. Decklists are collected at the player meeting (or however specified if you signed up for a Sleep-In Special – you did read the fine print, didn’t you?), and free stuff is given out in some way that doesn’t make the whole tournament wait for you.

Besides those and the aforementioned bye issues, other reasons that people end up in the line are because they want a Fixed Seating (Note: Please tell us you need one of these either before the rush after the seatings are posted, or after the player meeting. I know that this is the most obvious time for you to think about it, but this is the time that we have the most customer service requests and where delays slow the tournament start the most), because they want to know where their friend/son/daughter are sitting, because they see a line and want to know what’s going on, or any manner of other craziness.

But enough answering what you asked. Let’s talk about the truly interesting question, a question that is much closer to the thing that you actually want to know.

Why in the @#$(*&% is it taking so long for this tournament to start?

Online Preregistration, VIP, Sleep-In Special, constant video coverage … all of these things feel run of the mill these days and are pretty much par for the course, so it’s easy to forget that these are all relatively recent innovations in an attempt to enhance the player experience. So are giant 2000 person tournaments.

Wait a second … recent? Hasn’t it been years? Shouldn’t this be down to a science?

Well, recent relative to when the software infrastructure that runs these things was designed (and yes, the need for new software and technology is foreign to nobody, but that software isn’t ready).

Even based on just tournament size (let alone all of these add-ons), the process of getting a tournament started, including all of the infrastructural work that needs to be done to make sure that it proceeds relatively smoothly, is like a giant rickety Rube Goldberg machine. And every one of these enhancements just sticks another pair of contraptions onto the machine. So now, instead of just having to shoot the ball through the flaming hoop, it has to do a 90 degree turn in mid-air through a combination of magnetic tricks.

Here’s a reasonably representative subset of the things that need to be put into place before we get started with a tournament:

  1. We need a seating. Which means all of our players need to get into the software, which includes an import from our preregistration data, data entry from on-site data, identifying and fixing any erroneous data (this piece is an insanely complicated topic on its own, figuring out the balance between tournament integrity and expediency – more on this topic someday in the future), and dealing with any changes as they roll in from people on-site. This seems like it ought to be pretty straightforward, since it’s just data manipulation, but Preregistration is a maniacal beast; we’ll get to that in a bit.
  2. We need name ranges set up with signs printed out to distinguish them. As much as possible, these should be balanced.
  3. Both of the above, and more, are complicated because of the Sleep-In Special, and the fact that the software doesn’t know anything about the concept. Fundamentally, the challenge is that there are some tasks that want to take into account people who have Sleep-In Special and treat them differently, and there are some that want to treat them the same as everyone else. The two points above represent one of each. The biggest of the former is the seatings for the player meeting. Because you don’t want to deal with a bunch of empty seats during the player meeting (which gets in the way of determining who’s legitimately just not showed up or is a player that might represent a problem in your data set), and Sleep-In Specials will by definition not be there, you need to pull them apart. The standard tactic for doing so is to append something to their name to push them all the way to the end of the range. Chief among the latter is determining name ranges, which don’t want to be biased due to any name shenanigans from players with SIS, since those tags will go away as soon as the tournament actually starts.
  4. VIPs complicate things further, to a degree depending on which services are being offered. Luckily, fixed seatings for these are generally not done anymore, as that’s its own ball of wax. But it’s common to want to give them their own set of pairings, which either means leaving their names tagged separately for the tournament (in which case you get to deal with the parade of folks who don’t understand where to find their names), or to come up with some alternate tooling that can pull out the VIPs in a programmatic sense based on their undoctored names. This must be its own separate system, since again, the tournament software was written far before the notion of a VIP existed. Most VIP programs also offer SIS for those who have at least one bye, so processing the VIPs who have byes separately from the VIPs that don’t and making sure the tagging works properly for each to accomplish the requirements in point 3 has to be considered as well.
  5. Now that we’re past the introductory stuff, now it’s time to actually fix up the files. Remove all the weird tags like SIS. Decide whether to leave VIP tags. Deal with any problems that we’ve found from the player meeting, ideally deleting anybody who isn’t present to cut down on unnecessary byes, without dropping somebody who actually wants to play. Putting this step last is a little misleading, though, as in the ideal world, much of this can and has been done in advance so that this step is quick.

And then a list of things that don’t block the tournament from starting, but will slow things down as time goes on if they aren’t done early:

  1. Drop Lists need to be created. It’s quite common for players to decide some time after they’ve submitted their result slip that they want to drop from the tournament. The process by which this is done needs to be determined and the right materials generated. The trick here being, dropping based on name is really slow and expensive, but players tend to know their name. Dropping based on player number is fast and efficient, but this is an arbitrarily assigned number that nobody knows, and furthermore the software doesn’t have any efficient printout that makes it easy for people to find their player number. So to make sure that round turnaround isn’t adversely impacted, you ideally want to make a printout that maps player name to player number.
  2. Many head judges like to keep track of any time extensions given by judges on a master list. No big deal here, just need to print an appropriate form to track these.
  3. Depending on whether online pairings are available (which they generally are these days) and what toolset is being used for this, various amounts of setup need to be done to make sure that these are available and work. Technically, not needed to start the tournament, though people complain a lot anytime they aren’t working.
  4. As video coverage expands, the amount of support that the coverage team needs increases. Many of them, these days, want additional online data that requires some setup of tooling or spreadsheets to efficiently get the data they need over to them.
  5. A full judge list needs to be generated for the main event for the purposes of penalty entry. Ideally done well in advance, but judge lists can easily fluctuate until the last minute, and the software only accepts 100 total judges, which is often surpassed by the full staff in modern tournaments, so we need to be judicious about who is actually on the floor and will be issuing penalties, which can’t always happen until close to the last minute.
  6. Fix all of the missing DCI numbers. Many DCI numbers will be messed up due to preregistration inaccuracy, and if we left all of these people out, we’d have a riot on our hands. Instead, we tend to leave those folks in and assume we can take care of their erroneous numbers early in the tournament (technically not needed until the tournament is submitted, but not having one is a catastrophic error that prevents tournaments from being submitted, and the longer you wait, the more you risk one of these players no longer being available).

You may notice that the vast majority of this list is eased substantially by having accurate data. Unfortunately, online preregistration does not lend itself well to this goal, as there is no preregistration system that is integrated with the tournament software. So the various systems that are created by TOs to do registration can’t and don’t validate player information, which leads to challenges up and down all of these various lists. An incorrect DCI number can’t be caught by the preregistration system, and wreaks insane havoc with the system.

Whew. Pretty sure I’m forgetting something. But hopefully you get the idea.

And now, finally, we’re equipped to talk about the core of your real question.

What in the @#($& made Los Angeles take so long to get started?

It might not be obvious from the above, but there is a loose sequencing among all of these tasks. The ball rolls down the hill at just the right speed to launch into the cup. The cup swings in just the right way for the ball to be dropped into the funnel. And so forth.

And if somebody just tilts the first part wrong, the whole thing blows up. Suddenly you’re moving parts all over to catch the ball that’s gone the wrong direction, and it’s tough to get caught up and get the ball back onto the intended track.

In Los Angeles, we had two sets of issues. One was that the registration data came in quite late; it wasn’t finally ready until about 10 minutes before the tournament started, for various reasons. This got the whole machine started off on the wrong foot. The other was that various issues with preregistration payment processing caused a decent number of people not to be registered that should be. In a limited tournament, we can hide these because we can get people building a deck while we add people as needed. For constructed, though, you have to wait until everyone is in so that you can pair them against opponents. So it’s extremely visible when this happens.

Additionally, we decided not to tag the VIPs to make them easier to pull out, opting instead to write tools to pull them out separately. But the late-breaking data meant that setting up this tool was delayed.

Finally, once these initial tasks were delayed, getting everything else ready pushed into the first couple of rounds, so we spent a lot of time getting caught up.

Throw all of this together with the usual things that happen at large tournaments (players keeping slips in their pockets for 10 minutes while we try and hunt them down – this isn’t a made up story, this accounted for one of our longest rounds), and suddenly things feel slow.

But, you may wonder, other events have to do all these same things and don’t have these problems, so what gives? That is definitely true. But the GPs are all run by different independent TOs, and they all do things a little differently. They all have their own processes. They all have their own tools. So you can’t assume that anything that works in one tournament will be the same in every other tournament.

And, you might wonder, why are we still using this old software that doesn’t know anything about any of these new processes? Surely it’s obvious that we need new tools, right? Well, yes, it is. And they’re being worked on. But they aren’t done yet.

But what about these common processes, like preregistration, shouldn’t this just work the same for everyone? And shouldn’t it just be integrated with the tournament software and be able to do all the validation? Or even better, just be integrated with your Planeswalker Points account? Or Magic Online account? Well, yes, I agree. That sure would be nice, wouldn’t it?

So there’s the story. The problem were clear and ultimately preventable. And the right people are working on how to make the machine a little more reliable in the future. At least, the machine that this group of staff uses.

The Checklist

All right … now that things are a little less frantic, let’s turn that last post into something with more useful content.

First of all, some context on what happened. When DCI Reporter takes in the last result of a round, it then spends some time processing all of the results and getting the points for the wins associated with each player record. When that process completes, then you have the right records for generating pairings for the next round. Unfortunately, this process is not instantaneous, and furthermore, the program does not block you from doing other things while it’s processing. So if you happen to pair the round quickly enough, it will go ahead and do so with the player records it has, which will not include the points from the most recent round.

This results in completely unusable results and, for the record, is one of a vanishingly small number of things for which you absolutely must re-pair (which really is a dirty word – there are very few other circumstances in which you should ever do a full re-pairing. More on that in a future topic for scorekeepers). Which means it’s entirely and cripplingly bad.

There have been a few comments lately of the nature of, “it’s 2014, why not just fix the program rather than talk about how the program is as a given?” And while I can see that point, it’s not a useful one for run-time operations of an event, because we have to work with the software we currently have, as it currently works. Anything else is unhelpful pipe dreaming when you’re actually mid-tournament and trying to make sure everything goes well.

So, reality is, that behavior exists, and you have to work around it. In this case, the best fix is actually a bit retroactive and not proactive. You can’t guarantee you won’t run into this bug, but you can verify after the fact whether you did or not. When you finish generating pairings, the pairings by table always pop up. Takes only half a second, if you remember, to look at the top pairing and make sure it has the number of points you expect based on the round. If it doesn’t, just kill and remake the pairings.

This is but one of a number of things that can and should be getting checked reactively to prevent any issues from turning into real problems. Here are some more:


– Always check your points, every round. They are listed on the pairings next to your name. Make sure you look at your own row, and make sure you look at your points rather than your opponents. Many players seem to use table number as a substitute for checking points, and while it’s generally true that higher records mean lower table numbers, this is not a guarantee. Fixed seatings can force tables into unexpected ranges. Seatings are sometimes done randomly for a variety of reasons. There is no real substitute for actually checking your points, and if an error has been made, there’s only a limited window during which it’s reasonable to fix.

– Always check your result slip to make sure your name is on it and that you’re playing the right person. A few times a tournament, somebody sits at the wrong seat, plays the wrong person, fills out the result slip, and turns it in without ever seeing the issue. This leads inevitably to confusion, and generally to penalties and game losses. You don’t want to be that person, nor to receive any of those things.

– Always check your result slip to make sure it is accurate before you sign it. It’s a document. Which you are signing. With your signature. Do I really need to say more about this? What would your mother think?


– The aforementioned pairings check to make sure the points stuck.

– Make sure you check for last minute drops after you think you’re done. If a judge is helping you manage the drop list (and they probably should be, if we’re talking about a large event), one always seems to manage to sneak through.

– Make sure you check to see if you sent your coverage files to the coverage team. I actually recommend you leave your e-mail client in the Sent Items folder and title your e-mail messages with something descriptive and easy to parse so that you can easily see at a glance what you’ve sent and remind yourself to do so if you’ve forgotten. This is often the slow link in getting pairings/standings/results up on the coverage site, which makes players grumpy.


– Make sure you’ve checked that you’ve got all the pages you expected out of the printer before you run off. Being in a hurry doesn’t help if you don’t have all your materials, and printers unfortunately still run out of paper.

– Check your result slips as you put them down on the tables. It only takes one stuck piece of paper to make you redo a ton of work.

– Double check a player’s result when they hand you a slip. They should have done so before they signed it, but … well, you know.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, of course. If you’ve got your own tips, please let me know!

What Happened?

There’s a crowd of people sitting around table 243, including a pair of judges. Things seem a bit tense, understandably so, as a few minutes ago, a little bit of sloppiness in communication lead to a huge disagreement about whether this creature attacked or not, and before you know it, an eight minute extension was issued after the judges finally sorted out what actually happened and got the match ready to go again. Which is a bit of an unfortunate coincidence, since this match also got deck checked this round, which was another seven minute extension (a fast deck check, really). We’re finally entering extra turns now, though, and whether it’s because it’s an interesting match or because it’s the last match going, either way there’s a gaggle of people watching.

It’s two minutes into the round, and a frantic and upset player runs up to the desk. He was already late to start with and trying to rush to his seat, so he’s already under duress. The inevitable and universal first statement comes spilling out.

“I’m not on the pairings.”

Here we go again.

“We have you dropping last round, did you not mean to?”

“No, that got entered wrong.”

And now the usual ritual of finding the table number and pulling out the slip.

“This says you lost and dropped, what happened?”


Depending on the person, some different variant of mumbling and bumbling around why they might sign something you didn’t verify ensues. Three more minutes pass while we verify what happened with the opponent, and validate that no funny business was afoot.

Problem is, this player wasn’t near the bottom of the standings, they were actually X-1, so they’re in contention. Can’t really just give them a bye, nor can we just match them against one of our lower ranked players because getting the matchups right is actually a tournament integrity issue. So now we have to issue what’s called a cascade, in which we break a series of pairings and mix-and-match them to get valid pairings. This affects four tables this time, and it’s already now seven minutes into the round, and by the time all is said and done, now we’ve got four tables of people who are starting to play a good twelve minutes into the round, with full time extensions (since for most of them, at least, it wasn’t their fault).

“Player X and Player Y, please report to the main stage. Immediately.”

The immediately is an extra bit of urgency, since it’s the third time we’ve called them, and theirs is the last match slip that we don’t have, despite having triple-checked our stack of sorted slips for it and having sent multiple judges to verify that the table is actually empty. Eventually, perhaps we’ll tack on the public shaming clause – “the entire tournament is waiting on you right now.” For now, though, we’re still hoping they get the message and come up on their own.

Finally, one of them ambles up.

“Where’s your result slip?”

“I brought it up.”

“Are you sure? Can you do us a favor and check your pockets?”

“Oh … uh … sorry,” and the inevitable sheepish crumpled up slip from the pocket. No matter how many people we tell that they need to bring their slips up right away when finished, this will always happen.

Little-known fact about DCI Reporter – it won’t let you insert players mid-round, even if you intend to give them a bye or otherwise can perform one of the rational fixes that would be possible when a player is inadvertently left out of a tournament. In this case, it’s a simple miscommunication by which a series of players with byes who were given free entry to the tournament (in exchange for doing some promotional work) weren’t actually put into the system.

The round’s actually over, and we have all the slips. But since the software wouldn’t let us put those people into the tournament until the round was properly over, now we actually have to take the time to insert those players, and manually add their byes round-by-round (another fun software quirk) before we can get around to pairing the next round.

“Player X and Player Y, please report to the main stage. Immediately.”

The immediately is an extra bit of urgency, since it’s the third time we’ve called them, and theirs is the last match slip … well, you get the idea.

Player Y walks up, and Arthur (the quite accomplished and upstanding judge – let this be a lesson that things happen to everyone and you have to stay vigilant!) asks, “we’re missing your result slip, where is it?”

“Um, I handed it to you, remember?”

Arthur reaches into his pocket, and then prepares for public shaming.


It’s been a few minutes now, and the judges are positive – there’s nobody left playing on the floor. Certainly not the 20 matches of missing slips that the software is waiting on.

Is there an errant judge walking around with a pocket full of slips? While one judge starts circulating the word to do a pocket check, another follows the usual first step of going to the group of judges sorting the slips and checking whether they slipped through somewhere. And lo and behold, there they are. We might never know why – sometimes there’s a stack set to the side for entering penalties that the scorekeeper accidentally forgets to enter the results for. Sometimes a judge gets confused and passes a stack of slips directly to the sorters rather than putting them in the box to process. Sometimes the sorters take from the wrong pile and end up with a stack of slips that hadn’t been entered yet. Doesn’t actually matter so much, the minutes are gone either way.

It’s fifteen minutes after the round has completed, as evidenced by the timer slowly counting up in the corner of the room. Pretty long turnaround time between these two rounds, really. So … who’s fault was it?

Perhaps you didn’t receive a Batterskull at a recent Grand Prix (or perhaps you received more than one – I certainly hope you’re ashamed of yourself …). Pretty obvious what happened … right?

Hopefully you’re not as sure as you were a few minutes ago.

The Logistical Quirks of Large Tournaments

Some basic data that might be handy for people to know in the wake of Grand Prix – Richmond (and any future large tournaments).

Some basic ground rules before I get started, though:

1) Much of this stuff was originally devised/sorted out/turned into tools by the European scorekeeping cadre, so consider this blanket credit to them for much of this data. Federico Calo, Martin Golm, and others I’m sure I’m not even aware of should be recognized for doing the best they can with the tools we’ve got. Speaking of which …

2) This is going to be another one of those posts where, “well, the software shouldn’t work that way,” isn’t going to be a valid answer, unfortunately. For now, what we’ve got is what we’ve got and we have to do the best we can under those confines. Arguments that some of these “decisions” aren’t the best possible for tournament integrity are well founded and reasonable, they just aren’t anything that we can address with the tools we currently have on hand. It’s an issue that people know about, though, and it is being worked on.

All righty, let’s go.

First of all, let’s talk about the degrees of large. There are actually two different axes that people are talking about when they refer to large tournaments. In one sense, they’re just talking about a large number of players, and this runs into a potential software limitation that changes how we have to run tournaments that have more than 1998 players. In another sense, they’re talking about those big tournaments that need to be split into multiple flights, which tends to happen because of operational or staffing limitations.

These are two different types of large which are linked, but not the same. A tournament with more than 1998 players must be split, is the only rule – you cannot have an unsplit tournament that size. However, tournaments with less than that can be split or not at the whim of the staff.

For all practical purposes, this means we should talk about three types of tournaments. “Small” (< 1998) unsplit, small split, and large split.

The first of these is straightforward – it looks a lot like your friendly neighborhood FNM, if your store just got bigger and invited a whole lot more people. All of the logistics, rules, tiebreakers, etc … operate basically the same. The one exception is that this tournament is probably being run using DCI Reporter rather than Wizards Event Reporter, which means that you might get hit by the DCI Number checksum issue. Let’s set that aside.

The second are tournaments that stay under the software size limitation, but are split for staffing, space, or other reasons. This was quite common, in the past, in Grand Prix events in Europe, though is less common these days. Through some clever trickery, the aforementioned scorekeepers figured out how to separate out the tournament so that half of the players could be pulled out into a separate self-contained tournament, and then re-integrated back into a cohesive whole for the second day. The key here is that the split is a temporary condition for the first day, and from a calculation and reporting standpoint, the two halves merge into a single event in which we merely artificially bifurcated pairings. Everything otherwise works the same way you might expect a single tournament to work, including tiebreaker math, which will carry forward into the second day.

One quirk I will mention, though – the split does mean that some of the safeguards in place to prevent some irritating situations from popping up don’t work, which requires some extra vigilance from players and staff alike. For example – having the same player in the tournament twice is obviously a problem, not only from a tournament standpoint (we don’t love giving away free byes), but also from a reporting standpoint (since the system kicks this out as obviously illegal). It’s fixable, but non-trivial, since we have to remove the duplicate record of that player having been paired against somebody in the first place. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue because DCI Reporter will notice and reject the attempt to add a person a second time. Except … it can’t always once you’ve split things. So it’s very important that you make sure that you actually are missing before you ask to be added back in. It’s a rare tournament in which at least one person just didn’t pay attention to which flight they were in and went and got inserted into the other one.

Generally speaking, one of the scorekeepers will be primary, and they’ll be able to check both sides, so worst case, you should try and sort out which one that is and ask them to check if you really can’t find yourself, but much better to just be really careful to check the posted list and make sure you aren’t just missing your name (especially if you’re in the right-side column of a page – these lists are often printed with multiple columns in a page, unlike your usual pairings posting).

Finally, we’ve got the mega-giant tournaments, the ones that are two-thousand people and beyond, split into two, if not three or four flights. So far there’s been just the smallest handful of these, but all signs are that this might not be true for too much longer.

Here’s the gist of the issue here. DCI Reporter only supports a total of 2000 (technically, 1998, but who’s counting) players in a single tournament. To make day 1 work, we split the tournament down into manageable chunks that are under this number, but there’s a catch. These are truly separate tournaments that are not associated with each other at all, as the trickery used to bifurcate a single tournament into multiple flights and then recombine them still requires that all of the players who played, regardless of flight, can be inserted into the single combined tournament. The different trick used in this case is to rely on the fact that we haven’t (yet) reached a point where more than 2000 people qualify for the second day, so if we take all the people who make it out of day 1 and put them into a new tournament, we’ll stay under the magic number.

There are, of course, side effects to doing this. First is that we’d like to preserve as much data as we can as we create this new tournament. We can carry forward the points using a trick by which you can assign any number of points in value to a bye, so two placeholder players are created to play each other and then drop (these are the Placeholer Players you might have seen in the results/standings of Richmond) in the first round of the new tournament, and everyone else who qualified is given a bye with a value equal to the points they earned on the first day. This also explains why all the paperwork for round 10 (the first round of the second day) say round 2 on them – round 1 was this dummy bye round.

Tiebreakers, however, don’t work. They’re calculated based on the matches you’ve played and the other players you’ve played against and … oops … we just removed all that to get under the cap. This has caused not a small amount of consternation on Twitter. In technical terms, what happens to tiebreakers in a tournament of over 2000 people (and only in this case) is that your tiebreakers are reset, everyone’s starts day 1 with a bye, and then you play six more rounds. You’re paired based on overall record, though, rather than day two records, which is correct for the tournament at large but can make tiebreakers feel weird depending on whether someone has taken losses on day 1 (which don’t count for tiebreakers) or on day 2 (which do). Here’s the generalized rule that you should remember:

Tiebreakers reward players for playing against players who have performed better during the rounds that count toward tiebreakers.

A good rule of thumb for this is that losing earlier in rounds that count is worse, and losing later is better, but this is just shorthand and isn’t guaranteed (it just tends to mean you play weaker competition for more rounds, but you can’t say this for sure).

The “during the rounds that count toward tiebreakers” is the vital part here. In most tournaments, that’s all rounds and you can just ignore this. In these extremely large events, though, that is specifically referring to day 2.

There’s nitty gritty math involved in the tiebreakers which you can look up in the Magic Tournament Rules if you are so inclined. But the rule of thumb above will get you most of the way there in a practical sense.

Finally – because the match history is erased, we also don’t have a record of who’s played who. This means that playing somebody on day 2 that you played on day 1 of one of these tournaments is allowed and occasionally happened, In Richmond, one pair of players played in both rounds 9 and 10, back to back. Awkward!

Everything else is behind the scenes craziness to get all of these workarounds to actually work and beyond scope here. If you’re curious about anything else or anything else seems odd, though, feel free to ask.

Dispatches from Richmond

Grand Prix – Richmond. Second-largest Magic tournament of all time. More players, measured in thousands, than sleep, measured in hours. Plenty of things to be learned and stories to be told from the logistics of this gargantuan event, but for now, two areas I’d like to focus on, inspired by two judges who came in with the goal of avoiding being mentioned by name here. Talk about temping the fates.

First up – Shawn “Super Grande” Doherty (who reminds us that when in doubt, always buy the Super Grande. Long story from Valencias past), who sadly does not avoid this remedial lesson on result slips for both players and judges alike.

Let’s play a little game. I’ll show the result slip (with names and other identifying marks blurred to protect the innocent and guilty alike – the blurring itself is not a trick and never part of the solution) and you tell me what the problem is. A little later on, we’ll go over your answers. These are all real result slips submitted over the course of the Grand Prix, and if any of these or anything like this is you, then you’re inadvertently (I hope) contributing to making things harder and take longer. Ready to play?




3. WP_20140308_005





















Phew. Answers to follow. In the meantime, an interlude inspired by David de la Iglesia, who I hear also was trying to avoid mention by name (Oops!), who wishes I would spend more time talking about happier things.

Credit appropriately, but steal shamelessly. There are good ideas all around you, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t steal the best of these and make them your own. A great example of this which has at least partially spread over the last year is Kevin Desprez’ drop list by player number, which speeds drop list processing by an order of magnitude at the small cost of creating the player number list so people can look up their numbers.

Here’s one that debuted in Richmond, courtesy of Riki Hayashi – the tilted result slip box, or simply “the wedge”, modeled by Riki and his first beneficiary, Kali Anderson.


In Kali’s effusive words, the net effect of the tilted box is that people actually look and see that slips are lined up and are instinctively encouraged to orient their slip as well. Gravity assists and keeps things in a single orderly pile, which solves a lot of the problems that can slow you down during mass result slip entry.

Less new, but no less germane, David himself’s emphasis at the end of round on getting away from the stage and out in the field to find any matches that are going on. Still need to get to posting on end of round procedure, but the seek and destroy method that is the outstanding table list makes much more sense when it’s a small handful that need to be located than when there are still a hundred matches going on that simply need some widespread coverage.

And on the staffing end of the world, some interesting preregistration innovations coming from some late night discussions with Jared Sylva, which … well, that’ll be a story for the future, I suppose.

All right, enough cheerful for now. Let’s talk about those result slips, shall we? Some of these are player problems, some are judge problems – anyone can mess up a slip.

1) (Judge) You can infer from the front, but it’s clear from the back, this is a classic No Show penalty. Except … without the penalty in an easy to parse sense. Technically, the information is there, but by only putting the data on the back, now you have to flip the slip over, when a No Show is simple enough to express on the front. More problematically, the player who didn’t show up wasn’t dropped, which leaves the scorekeeper wondering whether that was intentional and the player should be kept in. In this case, it turned out just to be a judge oversight, but mash all this together and you end up with a slip that takes way longer than it ought to in order to decipher and verify.

2) (Judge) Closer … sort of. At least this says “No Show”. But who’s the judge? And why is the score missing? So really, just as difficult to file (though, pro-tip – just use yourself for no show penalties if you can’t figure out which judge it was, since it’s pretty straightforward) . And just as disruptive, because you have to skip that beat to think about it.

3) (Player) Why is this player’s name circled? If you haven’t picked it up yet, you will by the end of this post – the unusual is the enemy of the good (unless something actually unusual happened). There seems to be a small subset of players that think it’s helpful to circle the name of the player that wins. While this might ordinarily merely be benignly unnecessary, it also is the case that some judges circle names to indicate a penalty, meaning that this requires extra work to see if there’s a penalty. And again, anything out of the ordinary requires a bit of investigation, so just don’t do this.

4) (Player) Tardiness penalty here indicates a game loss. But the final score is 1-0. Was it probably the case that this was a 2-0 victory? Yes. Enough so that if time is short, we’ll just assume it that way. But is it possible that you didn’t finish any real games and the real score is 1-0? Yup. And it’s also possible that you just screwed up filling out the result dealing with the game loss. And either way … yup, another one of those results that makes you stop and think, which totally harshes our mellow.

5) (Judge) This one’s a bit more subtle. Looks like a no show that turned out not to be a no show, so the judge has crossed that portion out so that the player doesn’t get dropped. So what’s the issue here? It’s subtle, but as you see, there is a different penalty instead, and there isn’t the usual mark that suggests that you should turn the slip around to find it. The judge’s signature hints at this, if you notice this – turns out, the signature field is actually one of the least noticeable, though, as you’re moving quickly through slips, as it isn’t in the main eye flow. In this case, the weirdness of the crossed out no show will probably slow things down enough to notice and look, but it’s still safest to put a mark by the person getting the penalty …

6) (Player) … a mark kind of like this. Except this slip has no penalty. My best guess is a player left this mark, for a reason I can’t discern. Don’t do this. It looks like a penalty and slows things down.

7) (Player) Nothing here but scores and signatures, what could possibly be wrong here? Well, tell me – is that first number a 1 or a 2? Yes, next to the second number, it’s more clearly a 1 since the latter one looks clearly like a 2. But you did the comparison. Bam, flow interrupted. Please write your numbers clearly.

8) (Player) This is super-clear, and it seems like it ought to be a good thing to be explicit about what you’re doing, so this should be exemplary, right? Well … not exactly. A mark in the drop column can also be clear, and the note is text that I now have to stop, read, and parse. Disrupted again. You’re probably tiring of the recurring theme at this point, but keeping things normal is vital. The attempt at clarity is absolutely appreciated. I recommend you keep things clear for a drop by just initialing in the drop column.

9) (Judge) This is like 7, but it’s worse, because now it’s in a different pen, and in this case, specifically a red pen. This usually signifies a judge mark, and usually judge marks mean to pay close attention. You actually can infer quite a bit based on pen types/colors, but in this case, that backfires. There was no penalty or anything else here, was just a random mark.

10) (Judge) This is an interesting combination of lessons from 8 and 9. Different color mark means it was filled in after the fact, and red suggests judge. But it’s the winner dropping. This is, in and of itself, out of the ordinary. I actually had multiple cases of this over the weekend, and sometimes it’s actually the winner dropping, and sometimes it’s filled out wrong and the wrong person getting dropped. As a player or a judge, it’s vital that you drop the right person. And here is a case where we’re already dealing with something that isn’t normal, so take the time to make the note. “Winner dropping” or some other short note would clear this up quite well, and this is the sort of oddity that actually deserves a note to explain, unlike back in 8.

11) (Judge?) Simpler again. Blank spaces in the game results area are bad. They take some time to decipher – yeah, they usually mean 0, but not always. And in this case, the red pen gets me again … did a judge fill this out? Would that be because the opponent didn’t show? Are we missing a no show drop here?

12) (Player) One of them wants to drop twice? The other one doesn’t want to drop at all? I see this about once or twice a tournament. No idea what possesses someone to think we wanted the result written down twice, side-by-side, but there it is. Don’t do this. Marks in the drop column are serious.

13) (Player) Is that first player dropping or not? Kind of looks like a mark, that was then half-heartedly crossed off. I actually can’t remember whether this was a drop or not after we called him up, but I shouldn’t have to – what’s even worse than unnecessary clarity is total lack of clarity. Don’t make the extra marks if you really are dropping, and make sure you fully cross out or correct the mark if you aren’t. When in doubt, call a judge and have them help you.

14) (Judge) Game loss for … what? Probably tardiness. Which judge do I ask to confirm? If you do nothing else, when you issue a penalty, at least put your name so we can get details from you afterward if you remain busy.

15) (Both) I don’t know whether a player or a judge wrote that note, but there’s culpability here either way. A judge should be involved in this sort of situation. And once they are, they should make it clear what’s happening. Conceded and left for lunch, then is going to keep playing? Or conceded and dropped?

16) (Judge) It’s like the zombie 1, 4, and 11, but worse. There’s a penalty there on the back, but utterly no sign that it’s there. And the front is a disaster – 1 vs. blank?

17) (Judge) This one is super-subtle and also not that bad. All the data is there, but it’s in a place where it could easily be missed. The right tournament result will happen, as the player will get dropped, but the fact that there is a No Show penalty to assess might get missed since it was written in that nebulous signature place that is only sort of noticeable.

18) (Judge) Who is WS? There was more than one in this tournament. Assuming that I can recognize your initials or cat-scratch signature (in the case of the second one) is folly. Write out your name, please.

19 (Player) Sooooo many no shows. So many. This was round 8, and there were this may no shows, with under 300 matches total. These are a pain and take a ton of time – seriously, stop that.

20) (??) There’s no penalty written here, front or back, and the loser is circled. I never did make heads or tails of this, but whatever it was, whoever caused it should stop doing that.

Whew! Lots of ways to get these simple things wrong. Let’s band together and go for a little more of the good idea to steal, and less of the messed up result slip to deal … with.

Drama Causing Information

If you’re pretty new, DCI might mean nothing to you (and even if you’re only vaguely new … “Duelists Convocation International” was long lost to the vagaries of time). It’s been pretty well purged out of the lexicon at this point, except for one artifact – DCI Numbers.

If you’ve never played in a tournament before, you don’t have one yet. When you show up, we’ll get you one, no problem. You are absolved of everything else in this post.

The rest of you, among the easiest way to make staff miserable is to not know yours or have it on you. This happens a lot, and while staff tends to be in good customer service mode and tells you it’s not a problem, I’m here to tell you that every single one of them is turning around afterward and grumbling about it. What’s the big deal, you may ask, as you’ve been told we can look it up for you? Well, let me tell you …

1) Looking them up is painful and slow. It takes quite a while to do, which could hold up the registration process, unless an additional staff member is allocated for this purpose (which happens, but just means less staff to do other things), and even then, that line can get to be pretty long, which is also bad for you. Why does it take so long? Well, first it’s entirely online based, which can be spotty depending on the location. Additionally …

2) If you’re doing this once, I bet you’re the sort that’s done this more than once. Maybe every time. And I bet instead of looking you up, a couple times they got lazy and just got you a new number – after all, what’s the harm? And really, you just need a name to get a new DCI number, don’t bother filling out the rest of the form. Well, because of that, you and all the other people with your same name doing this, now when we try and look you up, there’s a whole bunch of entries that match your name. And none of the other data we might use to tell which one is you isn’t there, or you can’t remember it. What now … oh right, somebody is probably just going to give you yet another new number, and the cycle of misery continues.

3) Or maybe, you preregistered, and you didn’t know yours, but the darn registration form wouldn’t let you register without one (gee, I wonder why …). So you typed in a dummy number – success, now you’re in the tournament! Except, you aren’t, since you need a number to play. And you didn’t show up on site since you didn’t have to register, so now we either can leave you out, and then try and catch you in the morning (work we don’t need), or we can put you in with a dummy number and then fix it (surprise – work we don’t need). Bonus in that latter case, if somebody manages to forget to find you and make you fix it, suddenly it’s the end of the weekend and we can’t submit the tournament because of an illegal player.

If preventing this isn’t enough for you, there are benefits for you as well. First off, if you’re entitled to Byes, they’re registered by your DCI number, so if you don’t use the right number, you won’t get your Byes without a scare, an appeal, and a long wait in a line (with a bonus tournament delay to boot). You’d think that anyone playing seriously enough to have Byes wouldn’t have this problem, but it happens multiple times every Grand Prix and it freaks people out every time. Same deal happens if you write unclearly and somebody types your number in wrong. Secondly, earning those Byes in the first place requires you to gather Planeswalker Points (in the common case, at least), which also is tracked by – you guessed it, your DCI number.

A couple of other useful things to know about DCI numbers:

1) At a Grand Prix, the database that we use for DCI numbers is an older one that hasn’t been updated for a long time. If you keep showing up for Grand Prix and wondering why your name is always wrong, this is probably why (when you enter a DCI number, if there’s a known name, it auto-populates the name and so we ignore whatever you write for your registration for expediency). There’s nothing we can do about this in the short term, you’ll need to ask to manually fix your name, or just get used to whatever it’s auto-registered as. The easiest way to fix this, by the way, is the correct it on a result slip. This causes the least disruption.

2) If you swear you have the right DCI number and at a Grand Prix, you’re being told it’s invalid, you might be victim of the great checksum design … I don’t want to say failure, but … failure. If you have only played local tournaments at a store using the local store software, and that store typed your number in wrong the first time, they might have landed you with a technically invalid DCI number. Numbers have a checksum, much like a bar code, to help try and cut down on the number of data entry errors. Unfortunately, with the local store software, they decided it would be better customer service to drop this digit, so that you wouldn’t face the case where you were told your number was invalid, even if you thought it was. So now you’re walking around with an invalid number that happens to work at your store. Now that you’re at a Grand Prix and using the older software that respects the checksum, though, there’s no way to make that number work. You’ll need a new one, and I’d advise you suck it up and merge your old number into this one and get used to it, as it will work wherever you go (more on this below).

3) If you think you have the wrong DCI number listed, and your number is less than 10-digits, take a closer look at the number before you go to try and get it corrected. If the last X digits of the number match yours, then it really is your number. The story here is that numbers used to be shorter, and as the program grew, they kept having to lengthen the numbers. The way that they did this, was to add digits to the beginning of your number in a way that made the checksum continue to be valid, so if you have dummy numbers at the beginning of your number, that’s actually your full expanded number. Using either the shortened version of the long one is valid, though I’d encourage you to get used to the full one  since typing in the full number allows the checksum to work and will guard against data errors. If it actually is a truly wrong number, then go get it corrected (and again, doing this on your slip is the best way to do this unless it impacts Byes).

Whew, that’s a lot about a simple number, but it causes a lot of grief. It’s a ten-digit number (or less, but more on this in a bit), though, so this can be very simple. You know what else is ten digits? A phone number. Biggest hint I can give you – program it in as a phone number right now. Call it “DCI Number” and type it in as a phone number. Now you’ll always have it. If you can’t remember it, go to and click the link saying that you forgot it. Likewise, if you have multiples, there’s a link on the bottom of that site for combining those numbers. Take the time to do this and have a single number that is yours for good, which you always have on hand. This is better for you, as you’ll get registered faster and more smoothly, as well as getting all of the credit for all your tournaments on one account. And it’s better for us because you won’t be one of those problem children that makes us grumpy.

Plus, I continue to jokingly threaten to start using a Sharpie to write DCI numbers on people who need them look up. Who knows when I’ll snap and actually do it – don’t take the risk of being the first.

Golden Ticket

A lot of players seem to think of their result slip as a burden, that thing you have to walk up to the stage when you really want to get some food, or hang out with your friends, or watch the interesting match that is happening right next to you. Maybe you’re one of these players.

Many things would go better if you’d change your frame of reference. The damn thing is a golden ticket. No, you aren’t going to win a chocolate factory. But you worked really really hard to win your match and I can tell you from plenty of experience, you’re going to be pretty upset if you don’t get your three points for it.

Your result slip is the voucher for your three points.

Treasure it. You worked too hard to get it to screw it up in five seconds. Make sure the darn thing is filled out right (this is why we make you sign it – read the damn thing before you sign it). And then, as the winner, take the slip up and claim your points. Double check it before you put it in the box while you’re at it – it’s pretty disruptive when you feel the need to come back a minute later and dig through the box or “just make sure”.

Some of you are going to finish your matches early and be tempted to stuff it in your pocket to turn in later. You’ve got plenty of time, after all. Cut that out. Seriously. You’re probably going to forget. You are contributing to the roughly 10 minutes that players cost to the tournament because of missing result slips (and this is just a fraction of the full cost to tournament time that we suffer because of players … but more on this later). This happens. Every. Single. Grand. Prix. If you hate how long these things take, stop making it worse.

Not rocket science. Fill it out right. Check your work before you sign. Turn it in right away. Profit.

Y U No Show?

It’s getting late. You’re not in contention anymore, and your buddies have just finished their matches and you’re finally ready to go get some food and commiserate about all the bad beats. So, you pack up your stuff and out the door you go.

News flash: You are a jerk.

Wait, what? Wasn’t the whole point of Swiss that you could play as many rounds as you wanted, then stop playing? Well, yes … but … you didn’t tell us you were leaving. Therefore:

1) You got paired against somebody. That somebody probably paid some real money to, you know, play Magic. Especially later in the day, not in contention, these people are still in because they want to meet some new people and play some Magic. Sitting around doing nothing for an hour is pretty close to the opposite of this.

2) Even worse, that somebody got to sit there for 10 minutes, just in case you were running late rather than not showing up at all.

3) A judge had to verify that you were missing and handle the result for your opponent, eating up limited floor resources that could be used answering questions faster.

4) Tardiness is a penalty, which needs to be registered. So that judge had to fill out the penalty on the result slip, and the scorekeeper had to register it in the system (which would, at best, be non-zero work that disrupts doing other result entry, but even worse, the current penalty filing interface is … um … let’s go with mind-blowingly awful, so the impact here is a really serious hit of time). More cost to limited resources.

This is all trivially avoidable. Just tell us you’re dropping. If you haven’t turned in your slip yet, mark your drop on the result slip, that’s what the drop column is for (to be fair, you probably figured this part out). If you have, though, come up to the main stage by the scorekeeper – there’s always a drop list or some other way to register a late drop, as long as we haven’t paired the next round. Just don’t wait until the last second to do this, come drop as soon as you know you want to leave.

If it turns out you didn’t know until the last second, and we already had to pair the round, please have the courtesy to find your pairing and go concede to your opponent and mark the drop. Still bad that they don’t get to play (hence, not waiting until the last second), but it only takes a minute and it saves them the ten-minute wait and saves the staff all of the administrative overhead.

Technically speaking, with the change to Planeswalker Points and the fact that losses don’t count against you, there are no real consequences (yet … crossing my fingers that this will change someday) to not doing this besides the abstract hit of a penalty in the system.

Except that you’re a colossal jerk.

Don’t be that jerk.