I hate wasting time. When I have to be, I can be amazingly patient. It doesn't mean I like waiting. I chuckle to myself at work from time to time about my job. The twist is the majority of my profession revolves around a timer. I tap my feet and fidget while I wait for the timer to count down ten more seconds. I wish I could be the kind of person to be so nonchalant about life. I wonder how relaxing it could be to just sit back and wait for the timer to go off in a couple of minutes. I can't. I'm sure I can find something to do in those two minutes. After a little bit of thought, I can usually find some little menial task to pass the time until the buzzer sounds. Over time, I have simply accepted the fact my life isn't complete unless I am busy in some fashion.
Therefore, it drives me nuts when I go to an FNM. Too often the 7 o'clock start time turns into 7:30 or even 8:00. Sometimes I blame those darn college students and their carefree attitudes. Look at me, the person with nothing to do so I am going to take my sweet time. Moving on. After two rounds of Magic, I have to drop because I made a promise to my wife to be home by 10 o'clock (cue the sound of a whip cracking). The college crowd always looks perplexed as I head out. My answer is incomprehensible. I might as well be speaking in a foreign language. A few of the elder players tend to understand. Maybe a simple nod of the head here and there. A simple guy gesture saying, "Sorry man. We hate to see you go, but we understand. You have responsibilities and you are all grown up. You have to get up real early with a long trip to the parents tomorrow followed by an important social function later that night. You need your sleep if you are going to function properly tomorrow." Don't worry, I am not trying to get up on a pedestal here and preach about the rudeness of players being late. I'm definitely not trying to do that. Besides, complaining doesn't solve anything. What we need are solutions.
The New FNM
My last couple of Magic outings have been at a newly formed group in Northfield, MN. It is 30 minutes closer than my other options. Before, I would go after work to hit up an FNM in Rochester, MN. This meant having to drive instead of taking the bus and a 45-minute nap. Also, parking is horrendous for employees with a minimum 20-minute walk. Hitting the Rochester FNM resulted in a really long day with getting up at six, working, hanging out until the FNM, and a 45-minute drive home. An 18-hour day became a grueling experience. I enjoyed it and hated it at the same time. My game play suffered as well from the long hours. Every once in a while, I would question if the whole effort to play at a Magic FNM was really worth it. With the Northfield playgroup, I get to take a rejuvenating nap on the bus home (cause I'm old), eat with my wife, head out to Northfield, start playing Magic promptly, and I even get home at a decent time. I'm happy and my wife is much, much, much happier.
Comparing the two groups along with other experiences, a big factor for a positive experience was time. Besides with what I stated in the previous paragraph, the big problem with the Rochester group are the 30-some players who show up. The Northfield group is much smaller with eight or so players. The smaller group is more manageable. The rounds quickly begin again as the last two players get done. My wife has been seasoned over time. I called her briefly in between a round. She asked if we started playing. I informed here I had just finished my second round of matches. "Already," she responded. If I bring larger events into the picture, the wait for the start of the tournament can get even longer as tournament organizers wait for stragglers before the tournament. The time between rounds can be ludicrous. When I brought along a good acquaintance to his first Grand Prix in Minneapolis, we both got done with the round and 5 minutes were left on the clock. He asked if we had any time to do anything. I laughed. I dragged him outside for a breather, got some food, had a conversation about the pros and cons of the European currency switch to the euro, got my Ph.D. in underwater basket weaving, and shopped the vendors for some cards. Roughly 30 minutes later, the next round postings were finally going up. Great Emrakul be dammed if you finish a round early.
A little piece of advice to the new players out there who are planning on going to their first big tournament: be prepared to find something to do the two hours between rounds. Don't expect every round to fire on the hour every hour. I'm not trying to deter. I just don't want the noobs patiently waiting around for the next round when it just might be awhile. Bring friends to chat with or get in some side games between rounds. Get done early, go grab some food, shop the vendors, go talk to an artist, challenge a gunslinger, and track down a Pro Player to ask them for their autograph. Trust me, professional players are always will to talk to the general public and sign cards. If you plan ahead, bring some decks along for some constructive criticism. Don't be deterred by their initial reaction. They are just trying to be modest and humble since they are icons and all. Professional Magic players are always willing sacrifice their time for the greater good of the game. They are the Tiger Woods of Magic.
Anyway, this all got me thinking. Why do we have to wait for all 30 players? Why do we have to throw everyone into the same bracket? I'm sure I will hear some say that's just way it is. Sounds an awful lot like "It's the way we have always done it." Okay, grandpa. We can take the horse and buggy to church.
The Final Four
For events with a larger playgroup, it would be nice to have multiple brackets. Any time a group of eight players show-up, a bracket fires. This way a bracket could fire at 6:00, 6:30, 6:45, and 7:00. At the end of the night, the top player from each bracket gets to play in the Top 8 or Top 4. I think a multi-bracket system has many benefits. For players with busy schedules, it allows people like myself to show up and begin playing earlier. This is all because of a less stringent start time. I no longer have to wait for that last person who called to say they are going to be ten minutes late. To be fair, I have been that guy in the past. I show up at 7:05 to only find everyone is already playing. It sucks cause I just wanted to play. Now, I am stuck watching other people play and waiting patiently for people to get done early for a side game. It's tough to do without looking needy. Or... I just go home. One thing I really like is the ability to hit the Top. Let say, I win my bracket, but it's already 10:00 and I have to go home. I can still drop and hit some kind of prize pool. Its irritating being 4-0 and having to drop knowing I am missing out on the FNM card or some kind of other prize.
[Note: FNMs can't be split into brackets like this, but organizers can now sanction two FNMs and run one earlier and one later. -ed]
For those out there not hot on the bracket idea, there is another option. Like I said, I haven't always been the most punctual person. I show up and everyone is already slinging their $2 Baneslayer Angels. I simply want to play. I wish the system allowed me to hop into the tournament. I agree; it would be unfair to place me into the tournament with something like a bye. The concession; add me to the system with an automatic match loss. I don't care about my rating. Again, I just want to play. For those tournament players out there, this loss does not hurt a players rating. Yes, the player would get a penalty for joining late, but it's only within the tournament; the late player would not damage that 2100 rating. Okay, this option would not work for a draft, but nothing is perfect. For any other constructed tournament, it is feasible.
I suggest all this in the hope of getting the maximum amount of players playing Magic. I may be wrong, but it is my belief most players just want to play. Why are we turning away players because they simply showed up late? Secondly, I do really feel like time constraints are one of the bigger barriers for Magic players. It sucks to wait and it sucks to be late. It sucks to be unable to attend a FNM in the Twin Cities because I can't make the 6:30 start time. I could make it to my destination by 6:45, but not 6:30. Do I really want to drive 45 minutes and pray the playgroup starts late like they typically do? Do I really want to drive 45 minutes and sit around till 7:30 while I wait for those college students to show up?
Five Turns Too Many
If anything makes for a long tournament experience, it is those players who thought 50 minutes just wasn't enough. It may seem small, but five turns morphs into ten minutes. Add this up for every round of game play, the extra time for five rounds equals 50 minutes. It's worse for any big event with nine rounds. As such, I have to question the five extra turns after time policy. The best way to approach this problem would be to sit down and make a list of the pros versus cons. The positives are super small. Actually, the positive is only about two. We let two players finish a game. That's it. Even with those extra turns, I rarely find those extra turns to actually matter. One player already had an advantage. The extra turns merely cemented the deal. The other more common occurrence: those extra turns don't matter. The game was a draw before five turns and resulted in a draw after five turns. Again, five extra turns matter to two players.
The negative effects of five turns are a lot bigger especially in the context of a Grand Prix. A thousand players or more attend such big tournaments. It feels incredibly rude to some extent for a thousand or so players have to wait for a few players to finish one game. Don't worry, I'm sure those 1000 players wanted to spend that time buying cards, selling cards, or staring at the ceiling. Sarcasm aside, long tournaments don't make players happy. We came to play Magic. Players don't flock by the thousands to sit around waiting. Long tournaments not only affect players, but judges, tournament organizers and everyone else involved. I'm sure many event staff would appreciate a short day. If I were on the event staff, I would love to spend that extra time playing EDH with fellow staffers, maybe going out with old friends over some food and possibly a drink or two. Unfortunately, every round at the tournament went to time with extra turns. It is midnight and all those poor staff members are too tired and go directly to bed. Those poor staff members.
The real question, why do we need five extra turns? Why isn't 50 minutes enough? Personally, I think those players should be penalized for slow play. Fifty minutes should be enough time. Besides, I also believe players should be responsible and be aware of the time remaining. When 50 minutes are up, you are done, period. Not done playing, too bad. Maybe you should have played a little faster. It was your opponent playing slowly? You should have called a judge. Weren't aware of the time? Get a watch. Not familiar with the deck? Not my problem you failed to test and practice with the deck enough. Complicated board state? So what. We don't see football quarterbacks asking everyone to move slower so they can have time to think because there are too many players on the field. It's called a sport. Tournament Magic is a sport. Complicated board state? Too bad, you have two seconds to make the choice about attacking. It is called making a decision. In short, five extra turns should be considered for elimination from tournaments.
Wasting My Breath
Recently, I had conversation with some of my management staff about process improvement and best practices. The gist of the exchange had to do with the mental barriers with the change. A significant barrier is the actual proposal for change. There is a standard knee-jerk reaction from anyone. People take it personally and interpret the proposal as negative. You are wrong is what they hear. Wrong? How about better? We have found a better way of doing things. However, people don't hear better. It has been said this is because people are afraid of change. I'm starting to believe with my experience this is untrue. People are afraid of wrong.
Wrong is given, a fact of life. Every moment of every single day, everyone is doing something wrong. Whether it is overcooking a steak, not exercising, not telling your spouse you love them, not spending enough time with the kids, not being the best we can be, building bad decks, or making incorrect plays. It is a fact. It revolves around the axiom that nothing is perfect. Therefore, the goal of life is to strive for better.
Anyway, maybe I'm wrong and just wasting my time.