(Metagame Archive) Ask Not What Your Card Game Can Do For You, Part 3

By Ben Kalman

 Last week, I looked at tournament etiquette and what the Vs. player should expect from—and contribute to—the tournament scene.

This article will look at the flip side. Now that we know the player’s responsibilities, what are the responsibilities of those running the show? Judges have as much responsibility towards the game as the players do, if not more, for it is the judges whose words and deeds reflect upon the tournament scene itself. If the judges act improperly, the entire scene is despoiled. Judges are arguably the most important factor in a tournament—even moreso than the players themselves—because without judges, there is only chaos. And good judges are hard to find—most of those who know the rules back to front and are really ensconced in the game are players, which leaves a shortage of quality judges who can act and react to every situation with forethought, impartiality and knowledge.

Why judge a tournament in the first place? This is a question that I have heard people repeatedly ask—after all, if you’re judging, you can’t play. And judging is stressful. Having to deal with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of gamers, some of whom think they know—and may very well know—the rules better than you do can be harrowing. Simply put: Judges judge because they love the game, though, admittedly, most judges don’t complain when the rewards are distributed . . .

Still, judges are dedicated souls, and they are, in return, granted power, but with great power comes great responsibility. They are responsible for ensuring that a tournament goes smoothly, by the book, and most important of all, fairly. 

So here are a few things to consider before volunteering as a judge.

Be fair. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Being fair is often the most difficult part of judging. You have to come up with a way to work out difficult situations while being 100% impartial, adhering to the rules, and keeping both sides as satisfied with your decision(s) as possible. Note that I did not say “happy” with your decision(s), as, in many (if not most) cases, at least one side will walk away unhappy. But if they feel that you were fair, then you can walk away knowing you made the correct decision.

So how do you do this? First off, you must listen to all sides. That means that you have to weigh the stories of every involved party before coming to a final decision. This is very difficult, as you’ll have to judge for yourself who is trustworthy and who is not, which rules the situation falls under, and, most importantly, you must cast off all partisanship—you can never let your personal feelings towards someone, be they negative or positive, interfere with your decision making. The instant you allow any outside influence to interfere with your decision, it becomes a conflict of interest. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t double-check the rules with another judge, with the FAQ, with the Comprehensive Rules, and so on, but it does mean that you should ignore other players, spectators, and bystanders, especially if you know them.

The best way to avoid conflicts of interest is to:

a)      Keep any judgment call within the parties involved, which includes leaving all spectators out of the situation, from the moment you’re called over to resolve it to the moment you make your final decision. If nobody outside of the parties involved knows what’s going on, nobody can interfere.

b)      If at all possible, make sure you do not make any judging decisions regarding people you know personally. This may be difficult if you are the only judge, or if you know just about everyone in the tournament—in those cases, simply be as non-judgmental and impartial as possible. If there ARE other judges, however, let them deal with any situation where the parties involved are specifically known to you. Now, I’m not referring to situations where you’ve simply met someone prior to the tourney, or if they’re customers in your store (although at times that can be a conflict as well). I’m talking about resolving situations regarding your personal friends or people in your private gaming circles. This can lead to major problems with either side, like friends getting angry that you judged against them, or strangers/acquaintances feeling that you were partisan and judged based on friendship rather than fact. It’s best to always play it safe and call for help in situations such as these.

Now, it may happen that a player becomes hostile after arguing his or her case and having those arguments rejected. Dealing with hostile players is a very tricky situation, especially if the player has been caught (or is accused of) cheating, The first thing you should do in a potentially hostile situation is to get someone to back you up—another judge, the tournament organizer, the store owner, or someone like that. Then, attempt to calm the player down. Remember to always remain calm and polite, no matter what the player does. The second that you become hostile yourself or sink to the player’s level, you become the guilty party and allow the player to become the victim. You don’t want the player to have any grounds to call you on your ability to be a judge.

If you are unable to calm the player down, either warn him or her if he or she is not out of control and has not directly abused you as a judge, or disqualify him or her if he or she is beyond reproach. Remember to treat each case individually, but do not tolerate any abuse from a player, as it is against the rules to harass or abuse a judge. You don’t want to be perceived as weak or powerless in front of the players—you are the tournament authority, and you must remember to maintain that authority.

Asserting your authority as a judge, however, does not grant you the right to be a jerk. Never abuse your power! No matter what happens within the tournament, you must maintain your dignity and demeanor as a judge. Having authority does not give you the right to treat players unfairly, abusively, or improperly. Remember that you are a representative of the game and an unofficial Upper Deck ambassador, and you must conduct yourself as sportingly as the players, if not more. The second that you abuse your power as a judge, you lose your right to be a judge, with no exceptions. It is easy to be authoritative—even dictatorial—without being unfair, undisciplined, or abusive.

Finally, be prepared for anything. Being a Level 1 judge is not enough, on its own, to judge a Vs. tournament. I don’t mean that you need to raise your level, rather that passing the test is only the first step towards being a judge. You must know all of the cards and how they work. You must keep up with the card errata. You must read the FAQ for each set. You must know the Basic and Comprehensive Rules back to front. You must know the system policies, tournament policies and penalty guidelines as if you wrote them.

You do not have to memorize everything—this is not a closed book exam. But if you do not read through everything at least a few times and understand what you have read, you will not only not know where to look for the answer when a problem arises, but you may not even understand exactly what the problem is. And you must understand the problem in order to solve it.

Which is not to say that you must be infallible. Nobody is perfect, and it is expected that judges will make occasional mistakes. Heck, even Alex “I AM VS.” Charsky is known to have made a mistake once in his life (it was when he was twelve and involved lab mice, steroids, and a quarter ounce of vanilla pudding . . . actually, it’s best not to ask . . .).

However, and this is very important, do not repeat a mistake you’ve made. The worst thing that you can do—and I’ve seen this happen repeatedly in tournaments—is to intentionally make the same mistake multiple times in a single tournament simply because you’ve already made it beforehand. Precedent is not an issue in a tournament—what’s done is done, and if the situation arises again, you cannot retroactively return to the error you made, and you should therefore make sure not to relapse and allow the mistake to repeat itself. Instead, make the correct call the second time around. There is no excuse for a judge who realizes he or she has made a mistake and lets it go throughout the rest of the tournament, simply because he or she has already allowed it once and feels it’s unfair to let one person get away with it and nobody else. That is a ridiculous argument—in a baseball game, if an umpire blows a call at first, will he subsequently call everyone else out on a close play? Of course not! He will make each call on a case-by-case basis, reacting to every play as it presents itself. The same thing should occur when judging a tournament—if you blow a call, simply correct yourself the next time the situation comes up. Learn from your mistakes, don’t repeat them.

If you have any questions about Judging, or if you have a problem with a judge you’ve encountered, send an email to judge@upperdeck.com.

If you wish to become a judge, the Level 1 test is located at ude.com/op/certprogram.aspx.


(Metagame Archive) DC Origins Card Preview: Tower of Babel

By Brian-David Marshall

I am looking forward to playing with DC Origins for a number of reasons. The cards in this new set do several things extremely well. They capture the flavor and history of the characters and distill them into powerful character cards, plot twists, locations, and equipment. The set’s artwork also lives up to the legacy of great artwork that is associated with one of DC’s highest profile properties.

The affiliations all seem very exciting from both the perspective of a tournament player and a comic book fan. Batman is one of the most well recognized characters in the history of modern media, and his adversaries have achieved similar iconic status. The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, and many others are recognizable to people who have never even picked up a comic book in their lives.

More hard-core fans of Bruce Wayne’s nighttime activities know that Batman’s most formidable foe keeps a lower media profile than the rest of his rogue’s gallery. While most of Batman’s foes have a history of mental disturbances, Ra’s al Ghul isn’t quite your normal, everyday criminally insane super villain. Ra’s al Ghul is a 600 year-old (or so he claims) criminal mastermind bent on cleansing the earth to create a new Eden in its place. No one knows his true name but he has also been called The Demon’s Head.

Ra’s al Ghul has extended his life through periodic dips in his alchemical pools known as Lazarus Pits and amassed a fortune over the centuries to fund his master plans—plans which have put him squarely in the path of The Dark Knight. He considers the Batman his most worthy opponent—Sherlock Holmes to his Moriarty, if you will—and had designs on wedding him to his daughter Talia in hopes for an heir to his empire. He also nearly wiped out the population of Gotham City with a virus of his own fiendish design.

I am just giving you a little background to build anticipation for League of Assassins cards in DC Origins, the newest set to be released for the Vs. System trading card game. Ra’s al Ghul is the centerpiece of this new group, and if you are a fan of the Doom cards from the Marvel Origins set, you will be trading for these cards as soon as they hit the stores.

There is one card in particular that struck me as inordinately powerful. I had a chance to speak with Dave Humpherys this past weekend about today’s preview card, and he told me that it actually had to be reigned in because it was too powerful otherwise. Upper Deck R&D had to constrain the card’s effect so that it only affected the attack step. Take a peek at this bad boy and you will quickly see what I mean.

This one is a keeper, boys and girls. Even limiting its effect to the attack step doesn’t stop it from being one of the most powerful and disruptive plot twists in the game’s short history. As you can see, its effect could be devastating during the recruit step: “Sorry, did you want to play that Thing, Heavy Hitter? Maybe next time.”

During the attack step, this card has all sorts of ramifications, and you might want to consider adding some more Not So Fasts to your decks in preparation for the League of Assassins deck this set is sure to spawn—decks that will surely include more than a few copies of this card.

One of the first and most obvious uses for this card is against decks that rely on cheap, efficient characters to do maximum damage on the early turns and rely on team attacks to deal with larger characters on the later turns. A well-timed Tower of Babel will eliminate the possibility of a team attack, and, depending on how your characters are arranged, it could prevent your opponent from making any attack whatsoever.

That is just one use against one deck. Ra’s al Ghul is a criminal mastermind. I’m sure there’s no shortage of like-minded individuals out there who will work on building decks that are up to his high standards.

(Metagame Archive) DC Origins Card Preview: The Joker, Jokers Wild

By Patrick Sullivan

When the Marvel TCG was first released, my friends and I picked it up as soon as we could and played quite a bit. With regards to both Limited and Constructed, we were quite pleased with the way that the game was designed. The games were fast-paced, but they still required a lot of strategy to play well. When we started playing the game, everyone in my group of veteran TCG players said “I think I just messed up” nearly every turn, which in my opinion is a sign that a game is made really well. In all honesty, I seriously doubt any of us are playing the game close to perfectly, in spite of all the hours that we’ve collectively devoted thus far.

There was one major problem with the game, though, as far as I was concerned, and that problem manifested itself in a variety of ways. In a fundamental sense, the problem was that a character’s most important characteristic was its ATK/DEF compared to its cost. Special abilities paled in comparison to high ATK/DEF stats. Also, there seemed to be a pretty standard template for what the ATK/DEF to cost ratio of any character would be. If you look only at a character’s ATK/DEF values and cover up the rest of the card, you can guess with 99 percent accuracy what the cost of that character is. The final manifestation of that core problem was that the set curve of characters’ ATK/DEF stats to cost seemed fairly prohibitive in terms of future card design. Think of it this way: Is there a single character in the whole Marvel Origins set that you would even consider playing if it cost 1 more resource point, or is there a single character that wouldn’t be terribly overpowered if it cost 1 resource point less?

The upcoming DC Origins set, much to my delight, has moved away from this sort of rigid cost/size curve to introduce characters with poor ATK/DEF to cost ratios that have exciting special abilities, and also the flip side of that, characters with awesome ATK/DEF to cost ratios that also have serious drawbacks. One of the most exciting cards of the former category is The Joker, Jokers Wild, which I predict will be a card that makes an impact in Constructed.

My first reaction when I saw The Joker was quite simply to laugh. I just imagined playing a 3 ATK/3 DEF character on my third turn and getting blown out of the game by my opponent’s much larger, more straightforward play. While The Joker clearly doesn’t shine if played on turn 3, the way it can affect both your opening hand and refuel your hand later on in the game makes it a very powerful card.

First of all, The Joker allows you to get rid of your opening hand if it contains The Joker, and redraw an opening hand with an extra card. This is a simple yet significant advantage—an extra card is worth enough that it’s probably worth throwing away any opening hand that contains The Joker. Having an extra card in your hand makes your draw both more powerful and more consistent, and being able to start your first turn with an extra card at nearly no drawback makes The Joker a relevant card before the game even begins.

The fifth turn is where The Joker can really shine. An aggressive Constructed deck needs to play two different games. It needs to get off to a very fast start to overpower a slower deck, and it needs to make sure it has enough power to finish off a game that has gone on longer than would be hoped. It is often difficult to play both sides of this effectively. Most 0-cost equipment is excellent on the first or second turn of the game, allowing for increased early damage and favorable trades. However, as the game progresses, such a card is often not worth the card itself, as the bonus is simply too small relative to how large the characters get at that stage of the game. In the right deck, The Joker makes it possible for a deck to play both sides of this game very effectively.

Imagine a deck filled with lots of 0-cost equipment, quick aggressive characters, and combat-oriented plot twists. You can burn your plot twists and equipment forcing through early endurance loss and making favorable character exchanges, and when you are about to run out of gas, play The Joker to refill your hand. If you are able to empty your hand by the fifth turn, The Joker simply reads “Draw five cards,” cards which will hopefully include more plot twists, efficient creatures, and cheap equipment. While playing a 3 ATK/3 DEF character on your fifth turn might seem a bit underwhelming, the fact that your board position should be favorable at this point (considering all the plot twists and equipment you have used to power through the early game), combined with the five additional cards you are drawing, should more than make up for his weak statistics.

Playing The Joker requires a very specialized deck (and that’s without even factoring in the Loyalty drawback). To really maximize him, a deck will have to be able to consistently empty (or almost empty) its hand by the fifth turn. However, a deck capable of doing this will generate a huge advantage from all the extra cards. This, combined with the opportunity to mulligan into an extra card, makes The Joker excellent in spite of its very weak ATK/DEF. I personally expect The Joker to make a difference in the way aggressive decks are built, with a focus on overwhelming early in the game and refueling with The Joker on the fifth turn. Not only a very powerful card for Constructed play, The Joker also represents the Vs. game system incorporating characters with a wide range of ATK/DEF for costs with a variety of special abilities and drawbacks to compensate. I expect The Joker and cards like him to change the game significantly, and for the better.

(Metagame Archive) DC Origins Card Preview: Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

Roy Harper, the orphaned son of a U.S. Ranger, has undergone many changes since his introduction to the DC universe. Growing up idolizing the Green Arrow and training extensively with a bow and arrow, Roy’s debut as a true super hero came in More Fun Comics #73. Drawing beads alongside his hero (and at that point, legal guardian), Roy actually manages to draw a shot before Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), a deed which earns him the name “Speedy.” Speedy went on to become a member of the Teen Titans, replacing founding member Aqua Lad, and would eventually be referred to as a founding member himself. Armed with a quiver of tricks similar to Ollie’s, Speedy became a vital member of the team and continued to look up to Queen.

All that would change, however, when Oliver Queen teamed with the Green Lantern and Black Canary to fight terrorism. Without his mentor for support, Roy turned to drugs and became an addict. Helped through his addiction by Green Lantern and Canary, Roy then turned his sights on a different battle: fighting the war on drugs. Becoming a government agent, he added a number of more modern weapons to his repertoire, and after a long line of disillusioning experiences, he hung up the Speedy moniker forever. What remained was a new Roy Harper; even faster and more decisive, the new Roy took advantage of his excellent marksmanship instincts through the use of various firearms. Able to turn virtually any available object into a deadly weapon, he took on the name Arsenal. (New Titans #99)

Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter
Character, Teen Titans, Recruit 3
Exhaust a Teen Titans character you control >>> Roy Harper gets +2 ATK this turn.
Activate, KO a resource you control >>> Stun target character with ATK less than Roy Harper’s ATK.

Roy Harper ◊ Arsenal, Sharpshooter portrays Roy at the beginning of his re-teaming with the Titans. Gone is the happy go-lucky boy with the quiver of trick arrows and the plucky air of the sidekick. This is the Roy who can kill a drug dealer with a blunted table leg at forty paces—the man who would go on to lead the Titans when Nightwing left them.

Let’s break the card down. As a 3-drop, he’s quite viable, though not outstanding, having slightly above-average ATK and slightly below-average DEF. Like most of the Titans-affiliated characters, he’s passable on his own, but his real strength kicks in when he has buddies surrounding him. Range lets him hide in the support row while using his effects to squeeze off fatal shots at the opponent or to participate in group attacks, which is good, since that 3 DEF won’t carry him into the late game all on its own.

Roy’s effects are really interesting. First up, any Teen Titans character you control can be exhausted to give Roy +2 ATK for the entire turn. I like to think of it as Starfire or Dove taking her action for the turn to support Arsenal by hucking him a nearby object to beat people with. It’s a great effect since it adds utility to all of your Titans. There aren’t any restrictions on when you can do it, so an opponent will often have to be wary of announcing an attack against Roy. As a surprise tactic, it’s especially awesome since the buff sticks for so long. The ideal situation comes when your opponent has the initiative. He or she attacks Roy, you commit a Titan or two to a buff and slap a plot twist on him to keep him from getting stunned. He stuns his attacker and is then free to launch another attack with his increased ATK. Nasty.

It’s a nice alternative to team attacking. Instead of committing a bunch of small characters to a team attack and losing out on breakthrough, you can get them all to pump up Roy, which lets your attack deal breakthrough. For Titans that have an ATK higher than 2, it can be a bit of a costly commitment, but for a lot of the smaller Titans characters, it can actually result in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This situation is likely to come up, since the Titans have a lot of smaller members with nice effects but low ATK. The team packs eight characters that are 2-drops or smaller, and a lot of them make great candidates for Roy-fodder. One of the big mechanics of the Teen Titans team affiliation is exhaustion with benefits—they tend to have a lot of options for gaining strength this way. Roy is just one example of this quality.

Arsenal’s second effect is a bit easier to interpret: he’s sniping people. Sure, you could use his first effect to feed him ATK bonuses and then take someone out, but the real strength of this effect rests in its synergistic potential. Give Roy a Twin Firearms, and suddenly he can take out most 4 and 5-drops if he’s in the front row. Team him with the Brotherhood, and Savage Land can make him a threat to virtually any character. Pair the Titans with the Fantastic Four, and the result is a truly killer crossover, as Roy can pop multiple characters in one turn via Cosmic Radiation. The effect isn’t cheap—losing a resource you control usually hurts. But with so many of the Titans bearing the new boost keyword mechanic, it’s easy to build a deck designed to steadily grow a field presense and then scale it back without subjecting yourself to a shaky balance on your curve, and if your weaker Titans stick around, they can work together to lay a serious hurting on your opponent.

Look for Roy to be a great pull in any Limited format. In Limited, he’s very difficult to approach offensively once he’s backed up by a few of his Titans teammates, and if you can pull off a double stun with him over the course of a single turn, it can be game-breaking. The fact that he’s an average 3-drop stat-wise gives some good insurance for those situations in which using his effects isn’t that appealing.

Playing Arsenal is a commitment, both to the Teen Titans team affiliation and to how you intend to use your resources. But he’s a versatile character that fits well into the Titans’ themes, and he’s difficult to attack safely. He should see a good deal of play once the Vs. System’s first DC set hits the tournament scene.