Slight confession, you guys. Before two weeks ago, I hadn't been to a YCS since Meadowlands last year. I was at the North American WCQ and Worlds, but beyond that, I haven't gone to a Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series event since May 2013. The reason? Simply put, traveling is hard and costs money. And as much as I like traveling, seeing familiar faces, and meeting players and judges I've not met before, money is a thing. I can still attend events, but I have to pick and choose which ones I want to go to.

So even though Las Vegas is all the way on the other side of the country, it's freakin' Las Vegas! There's no reason not to go. And I loved the city when I was there for Worlds last year. And this was before I found out about the Travel Assist Game Mat that would be given only to judges who were traveling from far away. And then I found out that the mat has Dark Magician Girl the Dragon Knight on it. And then any doubt was removed from my mind.

This week on Black and White: YCS Las Vegas 2014! I'll talk about my experiences in the event, and reflect on what I learned and how it will affect my choices as a player going forward.

Getting To Vegas
Long story short, because the specifics don't matter, I booked myself an 11 hour transit that took me to Orlando before going to Las Vegas. I are smart. This affected me somewhat for the rest of the weekend, since it always takes a few days of regular sleep to adjust to a new time zone especially after a full day of travel… well, if you've worked a YCS, you know that getting a good amount of sleep is a crap shoot.

I got into Vegas on Thursday night and crashed at the hotel. Friday morning was spent doing some judge things in the morning, losing money at blackjack in the afternoon, and judge dinner at a buffet. Las Vegas buffets are the best. If you haven't been, I recommend.

But, of course, Friday's dinner was only a preparation for the two 12-hour days that were ahead…

Saturday – Day 1
To allow for a shower and breakfast, I got up at 5:15am. Just typing that makes me cringe. Breakfast was 24-hour McDonalds in the hotel food court. Typing that also also made me cringe. Judge call was at 7am, which is normal for a YCS. We had our standard judge meeting, going over things like team responsibilities, information that all judges need to know, and other essentials. We then setup for registration, and somewhere around 10:30 we were underway!

My position this time around was Floor Team 1 Assistant Lead. I'd be helping with the actual running of the team instead of being placed in a zone myself. I'd honestly expected to be zoned if the attendance warranted it, but we were able to simply zone the floor judges; both myself and the other Assistant Lead were assigned to float around the tournament as needed to assist in the running of the floor. If you were at YCS Las Vegas, you probably saw the length of the tournament hall from the stage to the back of the room? I estimate that I traversed that length… maybe ten times per round? And there were nine rounds on Saturday? Yeah, I did some walking on Day 1. Nothing I'm not used to, of course, but if you want to judge, you have to be ready for it; comfortable shoes are a must.

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One thing of note occurred in the early rounds. One player asked to speak to me away from the tables and informed me that his opponent objected to a routine procedure during the match and that he was 2-0'd by the same starting hand in each game. I noted the player's information to follow up with this next round. During the following round, I informed the floor judge in that zone to watch that table a little more closely, and that I would be in the zone to watch as well. We were able to resolve the situation with what we observed, and we were able to educate the player as to proper procedures. This was a good experience for all involved; if you ever suspect something is off, don't be afraid to call for a judge. Doing so in this case probably prevented a situation from occurring in a later round where it could've been more costly to take care of.

The convention center was about a mile or so from the hotel and unfortunately the venue was not off of Main Street so there was really nothing within walking distance in terms of food beyond convention center concessions. So my lunch consisted of a convention center chicken sandwich, fries and a water. It was ok, but not $12.50 ok. This exquisite culinary masterpiece took 20 minutes to prepare, so I had 10 minutes to shove it in my face before heading back onto the floor. Such is the life of a judge.

After I got back, my team lead gave me the clipboard he was carrying. I initially assumed this was temporary while he went to lunch himself, but I realized my team lead won't actually go to lunch. So now I was the acting floor team lead. I've done this before, of course, but this time felt a Little Different. I don't know if it was because it wasn't the position I started the day in, or if I was just out of practice, but things continued on as normal (the last time I lead a team was the North American WCQ nearly nine months previous). I made adjustments as necessary, completely re-zoning the floor during Round 8 after more than half of the initial players dropped from the tournament, making sure everyone got word of their new zone assignments, and confirming everyone had taken a lunch break.

In addition, I also had to make up the floor plan for Sunday and pass that along to the Public Events lead so he can plan his portion of the floor. At this point, I was being less and less on the floor, and moreso a manager-supervisor of sorts. As it turns out, old habits die hard; I kept going back onto the floor to make sure everyone was in their zones, and ended up taking a few too many judge calls when they came up around me. The worst part was I didn't even realize what I was doing until I was told this during my review at the end of the day on Sunday.

I've been judging premiere events for four years now, and I'm still learning things. I'm aware that the problems I experienced are almost completely unique and that most of you won't be in that same position, but if you take something away from this, I hope it's "look at the bigger picture". I was too busy seeing two players in front of me waiting for a judge call to remember that I was responsible for the entire tournament floor. I realize it's clichéd, but the phrase still applies.

The judges got out of the venue at 10:30pm. Not terrible, but not the ideal of 8:00pm either.

Sunday – Day 2
Sundays are less stressful than Saturdays, as there are fewer players and fewer things to manage: two rounds of Swiss competition and then a cut to the playoffs. As this was my first YCS using Battle Pack 2: Round 2 for draft in Top 16, I got to oversee what the process was. Draft Top 16 is still a new thing for both the players and the judges, but it went along smoothly. I was also able to witness some of the choices the players in Top 16 made. If you're reading this, I'm going to make a completely outlandish recommendation…

If you're serious about playing at a YCS and want to win, start drafting Battle Pack 2: Round 2 using the format described in the YCS FAQ and play some games with friends. You need to know how to properly build a deck on the fly using the cards that are passed to you. Having more experience than your opponents in a draft environment will give you a serious advantage moving into the playoffs. If you want to win, there's literally no reason not to do this.

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The playoffs and the finals went off with few problems. I had the privilege of watching the semi-finals and the finals matches in person, and I have to say, if you're a fan of good, well-played Yu-Gi-Oh, you need to read the coverage for both of those matches. They were immensely exciting to watch and I hope that comes across in the written coverage. Any prejudices you have about Battle Pack, Sealed Play or Draft Play should be promptly discarded. There's as much skill in Sealed and Draft Play as there is in Constructed, and it's also an alternative to Constructed if you ever find yourself disillusioned with the current Advanced Format.

And then after all that we cleaned up, and I got my review where I learned more about the role I was given and what I need to improve on going forward. I went back to the hotel, went to sleep for a few hours, then woke up at 3am for a flight at 6:20am. From there a thunderstorm delayed my landing in San Antonio, which made me miss my connection in Baltimore, and that same Texas storm made the new connection late as well, so I got home at 10:30pm Eastern Time. The weekend started in ridiculous travel arrangements. It was only fitting it ended in ridiculous travel arrangements.

And so ends the story of YCS Las Vegas! If you have any questions about the YCS, card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, send me an e-mail to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino