Sunday, 28 May 2017

Trains, Near Escapes and Grand Prix Montreal 2017

Hello friends, and welcome back to Exile!  

My recent travels once again took me back to the city I love, and even allowed me to lay my hands on the sacred ground of my heroes!  Come along with me, and we can take a look back together at the fun and diversions to be found at Grand Prix Montreal 2017!

Getting There Is Half The Fun

Grand Prix Montreal is always one of my absolute favorite Magic events of the year, with 2017 becoming my third year in a row of making the pilgrimage for Magic and sight seeing.

Due to necessity, in previous years I had always been the one who ended up driving our travelling group from Exile to Montreal (it's around a 7 hour drive from my area to the city of Poutine and Hockey).  This year we decided to mix things up and took the Go-Train from Barrie to Toronto, and then climbed aboard a VIA Rail train from Toronto to our destination in Montreal.  

It was so much nicer being a passenger and being able to relax and enjoy the commute, and I would absolutely recommend taking a train somewhere to anyone considering it.  Anyone who has flown recently will recognize some familiar conveniences immediately, including AC outlets at your seat to keep your electronics charged, as well as an attendant who occasionally will come along with a cart full of drinks, snacks and light meals for purchase.  The WI-FI was free, and good enough to check your e-mail and Facebook messages during the journey.  The reliability of the connection was pretty spotty at times though, so I wouldn't recommend depending on it to do anything taxing like streaming movies or playing online games.

Having Fun in Montreal

If English is your only language and you've never been to Montreal before, you may be wondering just how welcome you might be made to feel once you get there.  Having been to Montreal multiple times now, I feel like I can safely say that it's probably not nearly as uncomfortable as you might imagine.  

Yes, the signage and menus being only in French may take a little bit to get accustomed to, but the movie theatre we went to had only english language movies playing (there were no badly lip synced, french speaking Guardians of the Galaxy to be found anywhere), and while all the fast food menus in places such as McDonald's and Mucho Burrito may be written in French, the employees taking your order seem more than willing to speak with you in English.  In fact, the customary greeting almost everywhere we went to was "Bonjour, hi!"

Wednesday night in Montreal was movie night, and Thursday would give us an exciting 24 hours in Montreal to freely explore the city and have fun without any Grand Prix sized distractions.  During the day we took advantage of Montreal's Metro (subway) system to explore locations of interest without walking ourselves into exhaustion.  We couldn't go to Montreal this year without taking the opportunity to visit what is likely one of Canada's most well known gaming stores, Face To Face Games Montreal (aka Jeux Face a Face).  In what was certainly a very unexpected revelation to me, as we were preparing to leave the iconic retail location we noticed a surprising neighbour directly across the street from Face To Face: the store behind organizing GP Montreal itself; Game Keeper!    

Face To Face Games, Montreal

A somewhat surprising neighbour, Game Keeper is 
located across the street from Face To Face Games

Once our desire to visit local gaming stores was satiated, it was time to move on to the main attraction of the day, an escape room at A/Maze: Montreal Escape Game.

The Great Escape (Thursday)

In order to not ruin the experience for anyone else who may follow us, I will not be discussing the puzzles we faced or any specifics of the escape room we entered at A/Maze.  

What I will say, is that we chose to test our luck in their 'Military Facility' scenario, and I was very pleased with the high quality experience they provided us.  Laser beams and virtual reality helmets were only a couple of the many things that would await us inside, and it was clear that A/Maze had put a great expense into ensuring a memorable experience.

   A/Maze Escape Rooms:  5 stars, would recommend to others.

The Great Escape (Friday)

After a pleasant day of playing side events on Friday, we were off to try to re-capture the excitement of the previous evening by once again challenging ourselves with an escape room adventure.  This time we would turn to the experts at Escape Masters Montreal.

Our chosen adventure was their 'Spy Room' scenario, in which you need to find a way to stop a giant time bomb from blowing everyone up while also solving a mystery.

Unfortunately, our experience in this escape room was not satisfactory, and we all left after a little more than 60 minutes feeling like we had been cheated out of our victory.  

Without going into specifics, one of the 'rules' for this particular scenario was that once you have used an item to solve a puzzle, you leave it behind and it won't be needed again.  At one point in our adventure we discovered a hidden lock somewhere and used a key we had found elsewhere to unlock and open the lock.  What we would not be told until after time had run out is that this lock we had discovered is actually broken, and apparently you could pull open the lock box it was attached to with any item.  The fact that the key we had did indeed fit into this 'broken' lock and turn it, would eventually cost us the game, as we had then discarded the key, thinking it was already used.

It's a real shame, as we had solved literally every other puzzle in the room with around 8 minutes to spare, and once we were told that the key was still in play we solved the final puzzle in less than a minute.  So close to victory...

Escape Masters Montreal:  3 stars (out of 5). Would not recommend the 'Spy Room'. 

Draft Till You Drop (Saturday)

While we were walking to our Friday night escape room adventure, I had the misfortune to step off on a broken piece of concrete and roll my left ankle.  Although it didn't hurt very much during the escape room immediately after it happened, I awoke on Saturday morning in a lot of discomfort and was immediately aware that my performance in judging that day would absolutely be affected.  In a lucky turn of events (for me, at least...) I had heard that the main event was slightly over staffed for Saturday, and so I quickly took a buy-out offer of free Magic Drafts all day instead of working.

Another judge whom I had traveled with, Bradley Sinopoli had also taken the buy out for Saturday and so we were on a mission to do as many Amonkhet drafts as possible during the day.   Thanks in large part to my complete lack of skills in drafting, I was able to consistently be eliminated from each draft after only playing one round of Magic, and so I was able to cram a full TEN drafts of Magic into my Saturday at GP Montreal.  

Bradley however, is a jerk who tends to win far more matches of Magic than I, so while he played in fewer events than I, he ended up winning more prize tickets as well.   Jerk.

A 'token' of my appreciation, for your
Level 1 judge and my pal, Bradley.

"And now, your Main Event of the Weekend..." (Sunday)

Sunday was a truly exciting day for me, as I got to do some new things for the first time, which doesn't happen very often once you've worked in a few Grand Prix events as I have.

Being assigned to work Day 2 of a Grand Prix is a bit of a compliment for a judge, as there is a lot on the line for players, including significant amounts of money and the opportunity to gain a small degree of fame in the community.  Day 2 of Grand Prix events are held at Professional REL, which means that this is as serious as any magic tournament can be.  Pro Tours and the World Magic Cup are the only other events that I can think of that also compete at Professional REL.  

Early in the morning our team leader sat down with us and handed out tasks we would need to accomplish throughout the day.  One such task was one that I had always secretly wanted to do in the back of my mind, and so I immediately volunteered for it.  On Day 2 of Grand Prix Montreal, I got to run the official time clock for the main event.

GP Montreal Round clock selfie!

One of the other tasks that was handed out to our team was that we would each be taking turns handling the judge duties for the feature match / coverage area of the event.  After our team meeting had ended, I had told my teammates that I would happily pass on being responsible for watching the coverage matches, as I had never done it before and in my mind I had built it up to be a very intimidating task.  

During any given round of a Grand Prix, there is usually 3 to 4 matches being played in a cordoned off area of the venue, where each match being played is being recorded live and broadcast out to viewers all over the world thanks to modern video streaming capabilities.  These feature matches are usually comprised with some of the game's most popular and recognizable players, and while people at home are watching these matches, there will be one or more judges assigned to stand over these games and observe.  If there is a judge call during a game on stream, we naturally would want someone to be right there to assist immediately.

Interestingly enough, fate would not allow me to skip this important task for the entire day, as just prior to the beginning of the 15th and final round of swiss my Team Lead came up to me and said that he wanted me to be the coverage judge for the final round.

I'll be honest here, mostly for the benefit of any other judges who might happen to read this blog; I was nervous as I walked past the crowd barrier into the coverage area.  I had butterflies in my stomach again, for the first time in a long time.  It's still easy to feel nervous when taking on a new task for the first time, but I was also confident that all of my previous experience would be more than enough to handle anything that might come up.   

As I had expected, those butterflies subsided fairly quickly once the round officially began, and my years of experience as a floor judge had me actually feeling quite comfortable and enjoying myself by the time the feature matches began shuffling up for their respective game 2's.  

Me, inside the Feature Match area, Round 15 @ GP Montreal 2017

My hand even made a quick cameo on the broadcast stream, when I took a moment to verify that a 'Glimmer of Genius' had been resolved correctly.

Maybe I should get a 'mani/pedi' before my next time judging on camera?

The glorious end of Grand Prix Montreal

You might be reading this right now and thinking to yourself that the life of a Magic Judge is so glamorous, with the prestige of being on camera and working near some of the World's best players and judges.  Don't be fooled.  Immediately after this round ended, my task of Main Event floor judging was complete and I was reassigned to 'event teardown'.  I literally went from schmoozing with the best players in town, to pulling table cloths off and folding them up neatly.  Judging is a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of hard work!  😉  

All in all, I spent 6 days and 5 nights in Montreal this year, with some of my very best friends and I was even able to bring my son along as well.   We had a lot of laughs, we had some thrilling escapes and some near misses as well.  Fast food was eaten, cards were drafted and many great memories were made.

Oh, and before we end this look back at Montreal, I have to send congratulations once again to Chris Lansdell on reaching Magic Judge Level 3 status, it's a big accomplishment which reflects an incredible amount of work.

That's all I have to share with you for this week friends, coming up next for me is Grand Prix Las Vegas in 2 weeks, followed Grand Prix Toronto in July.

Life is pretty amazing these days, and I assure you that things are only going to get even more awesome as we go along. 

Until next time, I'll be here if you need me - on this pathway through exile.


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