Stefan Letica: Judging AGP Richmond

Judging AGP Richmond is a special look into the Force of Will Judge process from testing to floor application. The newest judge, Stefan Letica, provides us an exciting glimpse into the experience it takes to become a judge. So, if you are interested in judging AGP events or are just interested in taking a peek into the world of judges, check out Stefan’s article below!


Hi, everyone! I’m Stefan Letica, an aerospace engineering undergrad at NC State University and a newly minted Level 1 Judge. My primary TCG is Force of Will, and I dabble in Magic: the Gathering. I previously played and judged Yu-Gi-Oh!, and now I only judge for that game. I had my first Force of Will judging experience at AGP Richmond, and I was asked by a fellow member of that event’s judge staff, Ruben Sanchez, to write this article. So here goes!

Before the event

The original AGP Richmond was scheduled for late January. I had several assignments to do the next week (and at that time I was not prepared to take any sort of judge test!), so I decided to skip the event and focus on school. As it turned out, the event (and school) were cancelled due to a massive snowstorm, so I ended up going to draft at a friend’s place at UNC.

The rescheduled event date was March 5-6. This happened to be the first weekend of my spring break, and I decided that I had the resources and the time to make the drive up to Richmond for the event. I preregistered a week in advance, with the thought of taking the judge test on the back of my mind but not my priority. Around Tuesday of that week, I decided that I would rather try to judge the event, as my friend Jorge Chacon had been talking constantly about how prepared he was for the event and had piqued my interest.

At the time, I had been answering ruling questions in the Force of Will TCG – US and Force of Will Judge Questions Facebook groups (when I could get to them) and basically running the Rulings section of the Fowtcg.us forums. After reading up on what the judge exam would entail, I read through the tournament policy, specific floor rules, and penalty guidelines. I studied the CR in more detail than I ever had before, and asked questions of my friends Alston and Jorge when I found something intriguing or confusing. I left for Richmond Friday feeling less prepared than I was comfortable with, but I figured If I can’t get there this time, I’ll at least make some connections, get some experience under my belt, and retry in Charlotte.

The Judge Test

Before leaving, I decided to make a handy tool that I use often when judging Yu-Gi-Oh! – a penalty reminder. It’s a small slip of paper with the penalty codes and brief descriptions written on it, that fits into a toploader. It’s an extremely efficient tool and is very handy when trying to keep the game moving while writing down infractions. I’ve seen many Yu-Gi-Oh! judges, even the most experienced ones, use these – they’re extremely helpful and easy to make!

fow-judge-infraction-card

One Side of the Infraction Card

After finishing everything I had to take care of before leaving, I picked up my friend Stephen Schneider from his house and began the three-hour drive to Richmond. I asked him to quiz me on any questions that he could find in the Force of Will TCG – US group, and we spent the entire three hours talking about the rules. By the time we arrived in Richmond, my mind was in full gear and ready for the test. I had no idea what to expect, but I had heard from other judges that the exam was really tough. Only one person at AGP Dallas passed! Stephen and I arrived right before Alston, Donovan, and Jorge, and Jorge and I spent the 90 minutes before leaving for the exam site studying the policy documents one last time.

All five of us decided to go, with Alston, Donovan, and Stephen acting as “moral support”. We arrived at the Hilton about 30 minutes before the exam was to take place. We chatted with the Head Judge, Stephanie Shaw, the tournament organizer, Robert Hebert, and the scorekeeper, Matt Kozmor, before being briefed on the exam. We also met a couple of judges that were planning to take the exam – I specifically remember talking with David Nikolaus and Justin Klinger about being a L0 judge and the Fire/Water/Darkness aggro deck that their group was planning to play in the event, respectively. Then we all found spots around the hotel lobby, Steph passed out the tests, and we began.

Obviously I can’t talk about what was actually on the exam. If you’d like to know more about the exam, you can read about it here, under the section “What is the structure of Judge Level 1 Test?”. It took me around one hour to finish the exam, and I took longer than most of the other people that were there taking the exam. At the time I had finished, I felt like I had done reasonably well on it considering how I had felt beforehand, but I couldn’t tell if I had passed or not.

After we were all done, Steph, Robert, Matt, and my group went to eat dinner at a sports bar across the street from the hotel. I hadn’t eaten all day, so that was a welcome relief! We were told to be at the venue by 8 AM the next day, and sent off to get some sleep.

Day 1: Swiss

I woke up at 6 AM on the morning of the 5th. I showered and went down to the hotel lobby to eat breakfast while the other guys were showering. We left for the venue at 7:15 and got there just in time.  The judges were immediately asked to help set up the room for the event – standard judge procedure. I should mention that I was extremely nervous at this point – something that I would laugh off later. Jorge, David, and I set up table numbers while the rest of the judge staff helped manage the crowd outside the event hall. Right after we finished setting up tables, the venue staff started removing tables from the rows that we were already using, so we had to do them all over again!

After the room was set up, the judge staff was called to the front of the room so that Steph could assign us to positions on the judge team. She appointed Van Vu as the floor team lead, and me as the stream judge! This set off the nervousness all over again – not only was my first judging experience at a fairly large event, but it was going to be on display for anyone watching the stream! Jorge restored my confidence by assuring me that since I was the stream judge, I had probably gotten the highest score on the exam the night before, and was the most well-equipped for that position.

We registered the 160th and final player, and Steph began the player meeting. I headed over to Table 3 to collect the players for the stream match. After Steph was finished, I informed the two players that they needed to come with me, as they had been selected for the stream that round. After some light talk, they began playing. Because we were on stream, I kept track of their round time. The only real issue during Round 1 was with sideboarding – if you watched the stream, you’ll notice that they took nearly 6 minutes. Here’s where I goofed – I was so nervous that I forgot to tell them that they had only three minutes for sideboarding, and I couldn’t remember if I had or not. After the round, I told Steph about my error, and she took care of the issue by explaining to the players that it’s inappropriate to take that long during sideboarding as it holds up the event (and delays the game itself). During the middle of the round, a player walked up to me while I was at the stream table and asked where he should turn in his match slip! I had no idea, so I asked him to talk to another judge, but before I finished, the guy running the stream came running over to furiously shoo the player away. I hadn’t realized that we were also mic-ed up – another thing to worry about!

The rest of the rounds went fairly smoothly. There weren’t any really notable ruling questions from players, other than one – in one of the middle rounds, a Dream of Juliet was cast targeting a Lancelot that had two Necromancy of the Undead Lords on it. The player went to re-add the Necromancies from the graveyard, and I stopped him and told him that since the Necromancies aren’t destroyed by game mechanics until AFTER Dream of Juliet finishes resolving and rule processes occur, they aren’t actually in the graveyard when Lancelot re-enters the field, so they can’t trigger. Another interesting situation occurred when a Refrain’s ability was used to put a Lancelot added with an Ame-no-Habakiri to the hand. As it resolved, they asked me if Ame-no-Habakiri would still deal damage to the player, and I told them no – but the Lancelot still deals its damage to the target resonator, since Last Known Information dictates that it had 1000 ATK when it left the field.

I planned to go help Van Vu, the floor team lead, as a floor judge after each stream round was over, but all but one of my stream matches either went into time or went all the way up to time. The thing is, I didn’t feel that the players were slow playing (for the most part) – the matches actually took that long. Lots of thought is involved in making plays with Reflect, especially when you’re on stream and the pressure is high. The majority of slow play penalties I issued were regarding sideboarding – you have 3 minutes to remove the cards you’re taking out, put in the cards you want from the sideboard, and shuffle your deck and present it to the opponent. I would remind the players when they had 30 seconds to finish sideboarding. These matches were on stream, so we needed to show that the rules laid out in the policy documents were being closely adhered to.

The infraction system in Force of Will functions categorically – there are seven different Game Error penalties, nine Tournament Errors, four Deck Errors, five Unsporting Conduct errors, and four Cheatings. In the Game Error, Tournament Error, Deck Error, and Unsporting Conduct categories, penalties upgrade (in most cases) as follows: Warning -> Warning -> Game Loss -> Match Loss -> Disqualification with prize. What most players (of all TCGs, not just Force of Will) don’t realize is that a Warning is literally just that – there’s no extra penalty associated with it. The purpose of the Warning penalty is for the judges to track errors so that if repeat offenses occur they can be dealt with accordingly. As long as the problem is fixed the first time it’s pointed out, there’s no further issues and your day can continue unimpaired. So if you get a Warning, it’s not the end of the world – just fix the problem and you won’t have to worry about it anymore. The penalties are only upgraded if they’re in the same category – so if you have two GE3s and one GE1, you have three Warnings, and getting another GE1 will net you another Warning. The system is necessary to keep repeat offenses from getting out of hand. At Standard Rules Level events the Head Judge may refrain from upgrading as they see fit, but the upgrade pattern is followed at Competitive Rules Level events.

The issue that came up the most by far was Lancelot’s mandatory attack trigger. While it may not be obvious from looking at the card text, Lancelot’s attack trigger MUST be placed on the chase each time it attacks, and when it resolves it checks Lancelot’s ATK and then continues based on the result of the check. You MUST declare a target for the ability each time Lancelot attacks, and a lot of players forgot to do this. The infraction in this case is a GE3 – Missed Triggered Automatic Abilities. If you don’t understand why this trigger is relevant, think about it like this – your opponent is swinging with a Lancelot and they also control another resonator, let’s say a Cthugha. You control a Cheshire Cat and are holding a Rapid Growth in your hand. Your opponent swings with Lancelot and in the priority sequence following attack declaration you play your Rapid Growth targeting the Lancelot. But which resonator should be dealt 700 damage? Your opponent never declared a target for the trigger! It’s a complete mess that involves revealed private information and several infractions, and that’s why we have infractions for things like that.

My nervousness started to fade around the middle of Round 2, and was gone completely by Round 5. By the end of the day, I was confident that I had done my job successfully and was looking forward to Day 2 and the Top 8. After announcing the Top 8, Robert informed the players that they would begin Day 2 at 9AM the next day, and asked the judges for Top 8 to be on site at 8:30AM. My group left the venue and tried unsuccessfully to find a place to eat for around 45 minutes before finding a diner near our hotel that was still open. After an incident involving Jorge’s affinity for weather, we went back to the hotel and crashed hard.

Day 2 – Top 8

I got up at 6AM again the next day, and since we had taken two cars, I left by myself for the convention center as everyone else was waking up. I arrived at 8:20AM and found a parking spot in the deck, and conveniently found that the door from this deck opened into the convention center right next to our ballroom. The size of our room had been halved, since there was no AGP to be played on Day 2. Van, Steph, Matt, and I were in charge of Top 8, and we began by deck checking the entire Top 8, as is standard procedure in pretty much any card game. After we finished, we took a Top 8 picture, then seated the players. I got to handle streaming for the first two rounds of Top 8 – the “Trip to Worlds” round and the “Paid Trip to Worlds” round. It was really interesting watching the players fight for something they really wanted. At the beginning of Top 8, Matt was enlisted to help with the live stream, so Jorge was called away from the ARG staff to help with Top 8. The rest of the judges went to either help run the ARG Circuit Series FoW event or play in it. Steph took over the handling of the stream for the final round, so Van and I handled the 3rd-4th playoff (playing for the bronze Faria and playmat). When that match was over, Van and I chatted for a bit while waiting for Steph to finish with the finals. Then we went to talk to Robert about closing out the event.

After everything was said and done, Robert pulled me aside and told me that I had passed the judge exam. I was ecstatic – while I suspected that I had passed, there was still some satisfaction in hearing it concretely. After taking care of my preregistration, I went to mingle with the rest of my group. Jorge taught me how to play Netrunner while we waited for their friend to finish with the Vanguard tournament so we could go eat ramen. When their friend made Top 8 in the Vanguard event we decided to go without him. The ramen place didn’t open up until 4PM (we finished at 1:30), but when we headed over we discovered that their friend had forgotten that it was Sunday and the ramen place was closed! We ended up eating Chinese food and then leaving for home. Stephen and I drove all the way back home reminiscing about the weekend and making plans for Charlotte.

Conclusion

Why am I going into all of this boring detail? I’ve written over four pages and just finished talking about the weekend, and spent a lot of time in filler detail. The answer is this – no matter what we say and do, at the end of the day, judges are human just like you. We’re capable of making mistakes, we’re capable of experiencing emotions (well, at least most of us are), and we’re capable of being friendly. Nobody likes giving out infractions and upgrading penalties – it’s necessary to maintain the integrity of the event, but it’s no fun to ruin someone’s day. Something I wanted to touch on that really stood out to me about the community – only once did I hear any sort of negative feedback about an infraction I gave, and that was because I was the one making the mistake. As someone who has played several other card games, that was incredible to me – the players were polite, friendly, and just as interested in the integrity of the event as we were. I didn’t have a single slow play warning contested, nor did I have a single game rules error warning argued. I was astounded at just how much fun everyone seemed to have, even as they were losing the game or getting bad draws. Even in Top 8 the players displayed great sportsmanship. Obviously I can’t speak for what may have happened after everyone left the venue, but I left the venue feeling really great about the job our judge staff had done and about the Force of Will community as a whole. You guys are awesome, and I hope that the positive attitude always keeps up.

I had a great time hanging out with my friends, and making new friends with the entire judge staff. Steph did an excellent job as the Head Judge, and the floor team did a great job as well. I look forward to seeing everyone in Charlotte, judge or play, and I hope that those who try the judge exam again get there this time!