Brook Gardner-Durbin is a Level 2 Magic judge and a competitive Magic player. I had the opportunity to play some odd, two-headed giant-esque “pack wars” with him as my teammate at GP:LA. Although the game itself was odd and, not at all what Brook or I had in mind for drafting, Brook made the most of it by changing the rules (he pulled out a Sharpie and crossed out words to our benefit) and basically trying to make the game fun. When we went looking for subjects for Five Questions, Brook obliged.
To contact Brook he can be found on Twitter, here
Judging takes a vast amount of knowledge of the Magic rules, Infraction Procedure guide and the Magic Tournament Rules, how do you stay current on it all?
Once you’re up to date, it doesn’t actually take much to stay current. There may be a couple tweaks now and then, but they’re usually timed to coincide with set releases, so it’s not like you have to set aside an hour a day or anything. Besides being an L2 judge, I’m also among the more competitive players around my area, so I’m strongly incentivized to stay current on the latest rules updates by that as well. I’ve definitely won games in competitive tournaments because I knew of the latest rules tweak and my opponent didn’t, so both sides (judging and playing) help each other.
Grand Prix is a lot of fun, what was the most fun you have had at a Grand Prix?
Playing: Probably GP LA, where I played Jeskai Black. I’ve never felt more comfortable with a deck and prepared for a large tournament, and that deck was simply broken. You’ve never had fun until you’ve locked someone out of the game by Soulfire Grand Master-ing a Kolaghan’s Command to make them discard during their draw phase, or rebought a Dig Through Time.
Judging: Probably GP Albuquerque. ABQ was my fifth GP judging, and it felt like I had enough experience that I could really contribute to my team for the first time. I have plenty of experience judging competitive events, but being head judge of a 50 person event and working at a GP are miles apart, so my first several events I could tell I was a little out of my element. It felt great to see that going away and be able to really help out.
At Grand Prix Albuquerque you had a ruling on slow play that drew the attention of a pro player. Can you explain to us what happened?
It was close to the end of round, so I was looking around for matches that were still going. We (judges) want to make sure the players are playing at a reasonable pace, and that they hear time called when the round ends. Players are also more likely to be shortcutting or generally trying to play fast when it’s close to time, so it’s more likely something goes sideways. I found a table with no other judges and sat down to watch, and it happened that Matt Sperling was also watching. After time was called, I asked one of the players to pick up his pace, and later, when he didn’t, I gave him a warning for slow play. It’s a common misconception that once the time in round is called and you’re on turns, you don’t need to worry about time at all anymore, but players are still expected to play at a reasonable pace. After the match, the player was unhappy with the warning and argued that the game state was complicated enough he didn’t deserve it. I explained that the game hadn’t gotten complicated in one turn — no one cast Warp World or The Great Aurora, there was no “End step, cast 3 Collected Companys” … Yes, the game was very complicated, with at least a dozen creatures on both sides, but it grew over many turns. Judges should be happy to grant extra time for a sudden change, but when only one thing is changing on each side per turn, players don’t get extra time to reach a decision. I also told the player that, as always, he was welcome to appeal my ruling. He did, and we went together to talk with the head judge, who ultimately upheld my ruling. Matt Sperling thought I handled the situation well and ended up writing a little about it, giving me kudos on Twitter. It wasn’t anything terribly exceptional — I’m sure plenty of other judges handled similar situations at least as well that same day. My ruling was only special because it happened to be watched by a name pro player, famous for being a bit of a curmudgeon, who decided to write about it.
Here is what Matt Sperling said of the call
“I was watching game 3 of Eugene Hwang’s round 12. This was the finals of my pod and I was curious who would take it down. Eugene and his opponent played at a reasonable pace in my opinion in an EXTREMELY complex game. More complex than probably any of the judges or spectators fully realized, as Eugene’s opponent had the ability to pseudo-scry his entire library 3 cards at a time with Duskwatch Recruiter and had to set up a lethal attack at some point in the next few turns by locating 1 copy of an aura that gives flying and another that gives trample. Meanwhile, Eugene had 10 creatures of his own and a crusade that gives vigilance, and had lethal of his own via evasion in a few turns. Just one of the more complex games I saw in a very complex format.
It goes to time and on turn 4 of extras Eugene’s opponent has to craft the lethal attack or he will die on turn 5 to a flyer he cannot stop. But like he can’t just turn his guys sideways he has 3W give target human double strike. He has a 4 mana aura that gives trample, he has an equipment. Tapping one mana too much or too few could cost him this game. Brook Gardner-Durbin was, I believe, the judge who observed the extra turns and he gave the player plenty of time, a lot of time, before interjecting at all. But eventually, he had to say something, and did. When the pace of play still was not acceptable (in both Brook’s and my opinion) a warning was issued for slow play. Brook’s method and timing of delivering the warning were correctly calibrated to move things forward rather than escalate any kind of pissing contest, again in my opinion. I’ve seen these situations go every which way, as I’m sure many readers of this rant have too. It’s not always the judge’s fault when things go south of course (and nobody, player or judge, is perfect – I’ve gotten heated in the past more than I’d like to repeat), but the judge’s approach is certainly an important variable.
After the match, the player who received the warning asked Brook about it and Brook calmly again explained the rationale for the warning at a high level AND politely offered that the player could still appeal the warning, despite the match being over.
Obviously, I’ve been critical in the past of judges who fumble on very discretionary rulings and/or scenarios where bedside manner is critical. Just thought it was worth shining a light on someone who I thought stepped up very nicely in a really complex situation (“what do you mean slowplay, time has already been called?” is something I’ve seen, as is “fuck off” if players feel rushed, or if the judge comes in at the wrong time with the wrong tone).
Eugene’s opponent also deserves credit for finishing his match and then calmly discussing the warning with the judge afterwards, both because he didn’t blow up, and because he didn’t use tournament time to have that chat.”
-Matt Sperling, very temporarily NOT Sick of It.
Aside from judging, you are known for being a competitive Magic player, too. What’s the best you’ve done at a higher level tournament and what were you playing?
I’ve won the Montana State Championships three times, each time with a base UW control deck. I have several other near misses — once I lost the finals to a friend when I forgot to de-sideboard after the semi finals, earning me a decisive game loss. Twice I’ve given a decklist to a friend, they beat me in the semi finals and go on to win the event. The closest I’ve gotten to qualifying for the Pro Tour was two RPTQs ago, when I lost the Mardu Green mirror 2-1 in the quarterfinal playoffs. I made day two at the last SCG Invitational and at GP LA, both times with Jeskai Black.
If you were told you had to pick one game and that was the only game you’re allowed to play for a month, what would it be and why?
Magic, and it’s not remotely close. Magic is usually the only game I play in a month anyway. I play very little in the way of video/computer games, and I don’t play board games or any of Magic’s closer competitors at all.
I’ve tried some other games, but they just felt like cheap ripoffs of Magic. WoW is maybe the most egregious copy-paste-tweak of Magic. I’ve played two WoW tournaments and lost finals of both. Both times I went in to the LGS for something else, someone said they had a deck and there was a tournament starting in ten minutes, and I said sure. It’s close enough to Magic that being thrown in was no problem — some variants of Magic like Commander or Planechase are further away from “normal” Magic in my eyes than WoW. Maybe I’m just biased and would enjoy other games more if I gave them more of a chance, but from the little I’ve played of WoW, Pokemon, Netrunner or Force of Will, they didn’t seem to offer anything Magic didn’t.
Maybe I’ve just been attached to Magic too long. I came to the game when I was quite young. When I was in first or second grade, I remember thinking I didn’t see the point of reading, and wondering why I should bother putting in the effort to learn how to read. Then WotC printed every card in Fallen Empires with four different arts, and I couldn’t play Magic by memorizing the pictures anymore, and I got it.
© 2016, Patrick Cossel. All rights reserved.