The Shirt Doesn’t Matter






These iconic Dragonlords are one of the focal points of the most recent set, Dragons of Tarkir. The clans of Tarkir now bear their names, and while their leadership styles may differ wildly, none can deny their power and might. They are some of the most prominent build-around cards in Standard, frequently discussed and highly played.

Much like the spotlight of Magic is currently on the Dragonlords, being Head Judge of a large event means getting a lot of the attention, both good and bad. Even more importantly, being Head Judge means having ultimate authority for the players, the other judges, their rulings, and the event itself. This authority manifests itself in ways both large and small, all the way up to the ability to disqualify players for cheating.

For some people, this responsibility is a powerful motivator. For others, it can be paralyzing.

For me, and perhaps for most people, the reality is somewhere in between.

Shortly after I became L2, I desperately wanted to Head Judge a Pro Tour Qualifier — the old kind, where the winner directly won an invite to the Pro Tour. In the Northeast of the United States, PTQ’s were significant affairs, usually attracting a hundred people or more, and with a correspondingly large number of judges on staff.

To be perfectly honest, this desire was driven primarily by a desire to demonstrate my leadership abilities and to be “the guy” — that is, the guy in charge. While these motivations are powerful and certainly helped drive me to improve, I have come to realize they are very divergent from the qualities that make someone a truly great Head Judge. At the time, I was interested in holding a position of authority for authority’s sake. I did not yet understand that power isn’t something you possess, but rather a tool you wield.

Much like the Dragonlords are literally immense, being the Head Judge means that everything you do is magnified. One cost of this position is that your actions are subject to greater scrutiny, as Riccardo Tessitori could certainly tell you. But in my mind, this cost is far outweighed by a greatly enhanced ability to make an impact on the event, both directly and indirectly. Authority is a tool, and nowadays, I focus on actively using that authority to create a great experiences for both players and judges.

But as I said before, that was not always the case.

My desire to run a PTQ reached an apex when a local store was given the opportunity to run their first ever PTQ. I was the judge who worked most closely with this store, so the TO asked me to recommend an appropriate Head Judge for their PTQ.

I wanted to suggest myself, to jump up and down and shout that I would love to help them with this. Even though I had been L2 for just a short period, the PTQ would not be for another four or five more months. Surely I would gain a great deal more experience by then; after all, I already knew I was going to be working several Grand Prix, so I’d be sure to learn a lot by then, right?

As much as I wanted this, something about the idea didn’t sit right with me, so I asked my RC for advice. Through talking with Shawn, I realized that I shouldn’t be focusing so much on my own goals and my own advancement. The truly important thing was doing what was best for the store, and that meant ensuring that they had a rock-solid first PTQ.

Ultimately, I wrote back to the TO and suggested that he recruit Eric Levine to be their Head Judge. I ended up as Judge Manager for the event, which gave me a chance to work closely with Eric.

One of the things I remember is that, for Eric, running that event was no big deal: it was just another event. This isn’t to say that it was effortless, but nor was it a stretch. Eric didn’t need to remind the judges on staff that he was the Head Judge, because we all knew it, and we all trusted him. Thinking of Eric as the Head Judge for that event was as natural as breathing.

I learned a lot about what leadership means that day.

Leadership is not something you can put on or take off like a red shirt. It’s something you are. It is not something that can be given or held, but instead has to be earned. As judges, this ideal is one aspect of what we are striving to become. Unlike on Tarkir, the power structure is not fixed. Collectively and individually, each and every one of us can grow, advance, improve.

The shirt doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do with it.

I’d like to thank Chris Richter for his excellent judge article, “Authority, Command, and Leadership,” which inspired and shaped this one.