As many Magic players know, Grand Prix provide a unique experience. A hall full of hundreds – if not thousands – of people whom you haven’t met, decks and formats you’ve never seen, and vendors, pros, spoilers and artists combine to give the event the feeling closer to that of a convention rather than a large tournament.
However, for many, GP Melbourne was a disaster. I’m not talking about the percentage of Eldrazi decks in the room, but the organisation of the event by ‘Chainlinks‘.
The events began on the Friday before the main event: a last chance to get your byes, get your cards, get your head in the game, and get a feel for the field. Players were forced to stand out in the brisk Melbourne morning for 45 minutes longer than advertised while waiting for the organisers, but when 9:45 came, the hall filled with the press of over 500 people trying to register for their byes, side events and ID tags which contained their winnings for the weekend.
At the time of opening, the front desk was manned by a single judge taking side event registration and the line quickly ringed the inside of the hall. By 12PM, they had achieved maximum efficiency for the day and the line for non-VIPs was reduced to a 90 minute wait.
Many of the players in the first few hours had to sullenly leave the line and rejoin the rear upon finding that the tournament organiser had neglected to establish EFTPOS capabilities or stock the hall with one or more ATMs, forcing players without cash to embark on a 20 minute round trip to a fuel station. Only the artists and vendors brought EFTPOS machines.
The artist and vendor area was incredibly well organised, with ample table room for both parties. RK Post, Ryan Yee and Luis Lasahaido seemed to be in great spirits and were amazing personalities to meet. It was great to be able to share a joke or a story with an artist as they signed your precious cards and to hear their tales of the day and of their art.
Once players had braved the registration line and their grinder or side event had fired, they were faced with another problem inside the events themselves. Seating space was abysmally scarce on day one and only got worse as the hall filled with other events and spectators. At one point, a grinder was held up from beginning because a player flat out refused to play in the small space they were given.
‘Playspace Issues’. A player was instructed to play in the black area.
It is quite possible that the ‘Stitcher Geralf’s Lab Escape Room’ that Wizards had stationed at the event had cut into a significant portion of the play space, but the reality is that this was another example of poor planning by the event coordinator.
It was not all doom and gloom, though. Notably, throughout the weekend, Chainlinks had placed at least three water stations on each wall. These were always well stocked, and players found it amazingly helpful to be able to walk a few steps out of the way to refresh themselves after a hard match.
Much to the confusion of the unregistered players, registration for the main event was to begin at 4PM on the Friday. This meant that players wanting to grind for byes had no way of knowing if they’d make the main event, especially given that there were only 150 slots remaining.
Day One of the main event began as it always does, with a shockingly early morning and a player’s meeting at 9AM. Again, the cold Melbourne mornings greeted the players as they made their final tweaks, copied their decklists and wished their friends and teammates good luck and good topdecks. Chainlinks had rented a second, smaller hall for the comfort of the 1105 competitors, side events and spectators.
“Seating for the players meeting has been posted at the front of each hall” came the call across the PA and players filed into the main hall to find their seats. And then abruptly stopped. The seatings, all 1105 of them, had been placed in a location between the two entries, causing a massive traffic jam which led to a half hour gap between seating being posted and the beginning of the meeting. This trend continued throughout the day despite the main hall pairings being moved to outside. By the time that round 4 had come and gone, the tournament was over an hour behind schedule.
Many Grand Prix these days are transitioning to some form of electronic pairings. Most common is to post pairings and seatings online or to produce a cheap and simple app which players can download. By implementing such a system, Chainlinks would have reduced player frustration significantly and would have had the event run closer to the schedule they and the players had expected.
During the second round, side event tables were being cleared to make room for the influx of players with two byes. Players were quite surprised to see Hélène Bergeot, Director of Organised Play for Wizards of the Coast, also moving chairs and tables. While Ms Bergeot gained infinite respect from me for this, the fact is that she should not have had to perform the duties of a member of staff hired by the Tournament Organising entity.
Also during this round, the familiar call of “Judge” was heard. While not unusual in itself, the judge call caused a large amount of talk in the hall. A player had purchased the VIP package which had included a fresh pack of sleeves for use in the main event. The player had found at some point in the game that their Huntmaster of the Fells flipped face could be seen through these sleeves. The judge was forced to issue a game loss for marked sleeves and, on appeal, the head judge was forced to uphold the ruling. The player was told that taking the issue to the tournament organiser was the best course of action, but the ruling could not be overturned, no matter how unfortunate it was.
From this point, the only debacles were the seating space and time for rounds to begin, which reduced as more and more people dropped from the event.
The top 8 of the event was similar to what players have come to expect in this ‘Eldrazi Winter’, with three Eldrazi Decks (two UW, one GR), three Living End, one Melira Combo and one Zombie Infestation (a list similar to Raph Levy’s as piloted artfully by Jason Chung).
In the finals, David Mines of Brisbane took down Maitland Cameron of Victoria with what one spectator quipped were “The sickest rips [he’d] ever seen”, rolling removal into Reality Smasher, into Drowner of Hope to take down his mirror opponent.
No love lost between these (Eldrazi) Titans. 1st – David Mines (left) and 2nd Maitland Cameron (right)
During the final match, in the sideboard period between games two and three, a scream was heard from amongst the crowd. We all turned, rather alarmed to find two people embroiled in a game of Magic, rather than the violent scene such a scream usually precludes. As it turns out, the table was a game from the Chaos Sealed event, and one player was trying to avoid losing his bomb to a Red-Hot Hottie. A judge asked them to quiet down, to which the screamer replied “But judge, its Comp REL, we have to do what it says on the card”. A great bit of banter that really showcases the lighter side of this great game.
If there was one word to describe the weekend’s experiences, it would be ‘disorganised’. There were very few massive errors throughout the piece, but the smaller annoyances added up to frustration for many players. Without a review of policy and implementation for Chainlinks, it will be difficult for them to continue in the tournament organisation business.