(Metagame Archive) Cerebro: Pro Circuit Atlanta Primer

By Paul Ross

With Pro Circuit Atlanta on the horizon, it’s time to dust off this article for anyone who missed it last time around. I’ve updated the last section with the new end-of-match procedure announced just before PC LA, but the information has otherwise stood the test of time. Please send any questions to vsrules@gmail.com, or come up and say hi at the PC. Good luck to all!

This article is aimed at players planning to attend PC Atlanta or aspiring to compete in any high-level tournament in the future. Although some of the advice is for newer players, I encourage PC veterans to read through the article as well, because it was inspired by a couple of questions from a pro. As well as answering those questions, I’ve included some “big event” tips along the way. Enjoy!

Question 1: Player A has the initiative and recruits Two-Face, Split Personality, then Player B recruits. During B’s formation step, some effects are played, and then A chooses odds. B wants to respond, but A explains to him that he cannot respond to Two-Face’s effect and proposes to call a judge. When the judge arrives, A explains, “He had his formation, effects were played, then I chose odds.” Both players agree on this, so the judge goes to the head judge to verify his ruling, which is that you cannot respond once Two-Face’s controller has chosen odds, as at that point, the effect has resolved. Now, A never gave B a chance to respond to the triggered power, as he never announced it. It’s basically the wrong question with an absolutely correct answer, and Player B suffered as a result. I personally think (as Player A was a name player with good rules knowledge) that he cheated here somewhat. He tried to gain an advantage by not announcing the triggered power. I don’t know how often this happens, but I wanted to point it out so that judges always check if every step was played correctly when they arrive at a table.

Yeah, I’ve seen this question before, and I agree—it’s a dangerous answer. While it’s theoretically correct, it fundamentally misses the point. The point is this: If Two-Face’s controller doesn’t say something like, “At the start of my attack step, put Two-Face’s effect on the chain, pass,” then he has made a misplay (because he has to give his opponent an opportunity to respond before choosing odds or evens—the game should never be about who can say something faster than his or her opponent).

Is it a misplay that warrants an official warning? No, because it’s understandable why a player would announce a choice as he or she plays an effect that requires him or her to make a choice. Similarly, we don’t give warnings to every player who says, “Transfer my equipment to character X,” rather than, “Transfer my equipment. Any response? OK, choose character X,” even though the former is technically incorrect.

So what is the correct call? Simply rewind the game to the point before the triggered effect resolves so that Player B can respond. The next question is usually, “If Player A chooses odds too early, and Player B gets to play responses, is Player A then bound to choose odds after those responses?” The answer is no, because the game has been rewound, and that decision has been reset.

All this applies for Null Time Zone as well. You make your choice when the effect resolves, not when it’s announced, so the correct way to play it goes something like, “I play Null Time Zone. Any response?” rather than, “I play Null Time Zone, choosing Teen Titans Go!” If your opponent makes the latter misplay, simply explain that he or she doesn’t have to choose a card until resolution, and then play any responses you have, noting that he or she is not bound to choose the same card on resolution as was mistakenly announced.

I’ve read posts on how this is potentially open to abuse (deliberately announcing choice X with the intention of choosing Y on resolution), but I maintain that the best approach is to educate players with articles like this, rather than bash them over the head with penalties for announcing effects incorrectly. If every PC competitor reads this article, then anyone trying to abuse such cards will clearly stand out.

What if you play Null Time Zone correctly, and then your opponent asks something like, “What card do you name?” In this case, the ruling must be that your opponent has passed. It’s possible that he or she is genuinely confused about the timing, but a far more dangerous possibility is that he or she is trying to bait you into revealing your choice prematurely. By ruling that this question constitutes a pass, we eliminate the latter. Again, the hope is that player education will reduce the former.

So what related wisdom can we extract from this question? Well, first of all:

1. Clear communication between players is essential at a high-level tournament.

For example, both players should always know who has priority. Whenever you pass, say so clearly. If you’re not sure whether or not your opponent has passed, always ask, “Do you pass?” Below, I’ve listed some areas where communication is particularly important.

A. The attack step has a lot of potential for miscommunication, which can be largely avoided if players follow a simple script:

  • Propose an attacker or attackers on a defender but don’t exhaust them.
  • Ask, “Legal?” or wait for your opponent to say so.
  • Exhaust your attacker or attackers.
  • If you think you might play effects, say something like, “Before I pass . . .”


In addition, if you want to verify endurance loss before passing to conclude the attack, make sure you phrase it as a question. (For example, you could ask, “If I pass, both characters stun and I’m taking 1 breakthrough, right?”)

B. Both players should track both endurance totals, preferably using a pen and paper, and preferably starting from 50 and counting down. Most importantly, both players should verbally verify each and every time either endurance total changes. It should be impossible for players to disagree over endurance totals if both follow this procedure.

C. When you play a character with boost, verbally specify that you’re boosting the character as you play it. While it’s true that it’s obvious you want to boost a Sentinel Mark V if you play it on turn 5, it’s equally true that it requires little effort to say it out loud as you play it. Please make that effort.

D. Yet another area where saying things out loud is a good idea is character positioning. If you play a concealed—optional character, always verbally specify where you’re dropping it. Similarly, if you only control one character, make sure it’s hyper-clear what row that character is in. Again, it may be obvious that you want the character without range in the front row, but why not say it and remove all doubt?

I concede it might be possible to take communication too far—I once watched a PC competitor announce every character he played by name, identity, and version—but I’d actually prefer PC players to err on the side of too much communication rather than not enough.

2. Players always have the right to appeal to the head judge.

In the scenario that was described, I can only imagine the head judge didn’t get the same report that I was given, because rewinding the game to allow Player B to respond is a no-brainer. Always remember, even if a floor judge claims to have conferred with the head judge, you still have the right to appeal. You always have the right to a personal discussion with the guy (or gal) in red, even if it’s just to ensure he or she has heard your story.

Newer players are often hesitant to appeal a ruling because, to borrow from the wise words of Messrs. Donais and Elliott, they fear they might be “being a dick.” I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. It’s your right, and you should feel completely free to exercise it. If a player decides to abuse the privilege and appeal every ruling, then he or she will quickly become known to the head judge, and not in a good way. For everybody else, though, know that the option to appeal is there, and use it when you need it.

One more general comment on the subject of calling judges: if you’re unsure whether or not to call a judge, then you probably should. If you’re uncertain about anything, it’s always a good idea to ask a judge, and it may be a bad idea to ask your opponent. Simply raise your hand and yell, “Judge!”

Question 2: Slow play. Fast players realize that it’s good to put slow players under time pressure. However, there should not be a disadvantage to those playing a little more slowly (whatever the reason). I have to admit that I am not the fastest player, but I just need time to think through all the options I have.

Details: Turn 5, off-curve deck, many options on both sides. Player A has the initiative, and Player B is recruiting. Player A calls a judge and explains that Player B is already 2 minutes and 15 seconds into his recruit step. Now, Player B is certainly under pressure as the judge is waiting and watching, which makes things go even more slowly, as he has been interrupted in the thinking process. I do not like the time counting of the other player here. He was already planning this and nobody really is able to figure out how long he took for this round already. What do you think about this?

The issue of slow play is certainly a complex one. Players like you defend their right to think through important decisions, while many others bemoan the frequently long waits between PC rounds. Who’s right? Well, the starting point must be that PC rounds should not take significantly longer than 30 minutes each.

Breaking it down, 30-minute rounds mean that each player has just 15 minutes to make all the decisions associated with his or her deck. That’s 15 minutes to lay every resource, recruit every character, arrange every formation, propose every attack, and ponder every recovery. So to address your first point, players can think through all the options they like, as long as they are each able to do so within 15 minutes.

If you require 25 minutes to make those decisions, it’s not fair to force your opponent to squeeze his or her decisions into the remaining 5, and if you both require 25 minutes, it’s not fair to force every other player to wait an extra 20 minutes for your match to finish. Yes, it’s a complicated game with lots of decisions, but if 300 players of the same game are waiting for you, you’re playing too slowly.

Looking at your scenario, if a judge saw a player burn more than 2 of his or her 15 minutes on a single recruit step, that player would definitely get a slow play warning. But in your scenario, the judge didn’t see it. When it comes to slow play, a judge can only rule on what he or she witnesses, not what one player says about another. Rather than secretly timing your opponent  . . .

3. If you suspect your opponent of slow play, call a judge sooner rather than later.

A judge’s options are far more limited when called to watch a slow game with 2 minutes left compared to a slow game with 20 minutes left, and yet players seem reluctant to call their opponents for slow play before it’s too late. Again, this is not “being a dick.” I think most, if not all, players would like a faster PC, and this is where it begins.

Judges only have the relatively blunt weapons of warnings and game losses to combat slow play (and both were handed out at PC LA, and both will doubtless be handed out in Atlanta). But to be most effective, these weapons need to be directed by the player community policing itself. If you’re concerned about slow play, it’s far more constructive to call a judge on a slow opponent rather than complain to a judge while you’re waiting between rounds. The earlier you call one, the better.

How early? Well, assuming an average game lasts 7 turns, each player has roughly 2 minutes per turn to make all of his or her decisions. Given that later turns are usually more demanding, you’ve got to buy time with more efficient play on the earlier ones. If an opponent takes the “full” 2 minutes to agonize over decisions on turn 2 or 3, then your game is likely to go long. Another approach is to keep half an eye on surrounding matches. If more than one player has dropped his or her fifth resource, and you’re just finishing your third turn, again, your game could be in danger of timing out.

When you call a judge on a slow opponent, it is far better to do so between turns if possible, rather than mid-decision. Wait until the recovery or draw phase, and when the judge arrives, say something like, “Our match is lagging. Could you please watch us for slow play next turn?” As in your scenario, I’ve seen players take their time with their build, then call a judge to hurry their opponents on theirs, and I agree that it’s borderline unsporting conduct. Judges are aware of this tactic, so there’s certainly no need for the opponent to feel unduly pressured in such cases.

Let me conclude by saying I’m not completely without sympathy for slow players. In fact, as anyone who has played me in a post-PC friendly game will vigorously attest, I’m one myself. So what would I do if I were to play at a PC? Above all, I’d choose a deck I could play quickly. Even if I were convinced that EMS was the best deck in the format, I would reluctantly conclude that it’s not the best deck for me, because I can’t play my half of a game in 15 minutes. Once I’d chosen a fast deck, I’d practice against popular decks until common decisions became second nature. At the event, I’d make sure to be seated as early as possible each round, shuffle quickly and efficiently, and try to power through the opening turns of each game.

If all of us more “methodical” players adopt the same practices for PC Atlanta, hopefully, we’ll see fewer matches timing out. However, if a match does time out, it’s important that both players know the . . .

4) End-of-Match Procedure

There are no draws in Vs. System, so if your game times out, finish the current turn. If there is no winner, play one additional turn. When endurance totals are compared at the end of that turn, the player with the greater endurance total wins. If endurance totals are tied, the player who has the initiative when endurance totals are compared loses the game.

After a match concludes, both players should sign the result slip and then call a judge. The judge will verify the result and sign the slip. Once collected by a judge, the result on a slip is final.

That’s the end of the match, and this is the end of the article! Thanks for reading, and please pass this on to any friends attending PC Atlanta. Your comments (and rules questions) are always welcome at vsrules@gmail.com.


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