Eh-xemplar Highlights – Spotlight on the Stars, part 1

Mike Gyssels, L2

Mike Gyssels, L2

Editor’s note: A big welcome and thanks to Mike Gyssels for putting this one together, ably assisted by David Poon. 

Hello Everyone and welcome to the second installment of Canadian Eh-xemplar Highlights!

Last week, Canada’s newest L3, the ever Lansdellicious Chris, gave an overview of just how many exemplary actions were recorded this Wave, and he walked us through what we can learn from those numbers. Importantly, Chris also outlined the visions that three of Canada’s L3s have for the exemplar program and how they each qualify actions as exemplary.

The discussion on social media in response to Chris’s article was very active – and there are those who rightfully believe that you shouldn’t diminish your standards simply to fill a ‘quota’. The emphasis should be on ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’. The good news is it is possible to do both!

This week, David Poon and I take you through a number of high-quality recognitions from Wave 9, to further explore the kinds of feedback Canadians have received. If you wrote a recommendation that was deferred, or if you’re an L1 or isolated L2 looking for ways to have the amazing work of judges around you–and your own work–recognized, then follow me, dear reader!

Let’s start our exemplar trip across Canada with some of this country’s most exemplary from the past wave. As featured on Judge of the Week, both Mike Hill, from Ontario, and Brenden Gansner, from B.C., set their minds, legs, and hearts to the improvement of the judge community in their areas and at-large. As a new L2, Mike focused on developing his mentorship qualities while Brenden went out of his way to contribute a spectacular training ground for new, experienced, and also prospective judges with his GP Vancouver Judge booth. Below, the Eh-xemplar team has broken down some of the best exemplar writing to detail the fine work these folks did!

Mike Hill

As one of Canada’s newest L2s (as of February 2017), Mike stepped confidently into his new role as a community leader. While Mike was always known as a particularly skilled L1 who should “just take the test already,” and had for years functioned as a pillar of the Toronto MTG community through his work at FacetoFace Games, this year he has invested a considerable amount of time into expanding his reach as a mentor figure in the Ontario judge community.

Graham Schofield wrote this exemplar:

Since becoming an L2 Mike has just kept on growing as a leader and mentor to other judges in the area. He has made a point to reach out and invest in the development of other judges in the area. Mike has ambitiously and confidently continued to challenge himself and expect more of his judging abilities, including head judging the May Open, and working to help judges who are having issues with their conduct at events. Mike conducts himself with the expertise of a much senior judge, but without any condescension.

So, why have we chosen to highlight this exemplar?

  • For its specificity:  The author points out two focal points through which Mike has proven to be exemplary: he stepped into a head judge role, leading a large team of judges very early in his L2 career, and he has extended his mentorship capabilities beyond just new or potential L1s, providing support for judges already in the program.
  • For its praiseworthiness: Mentorship is great and L2s are expected to create L1s as part of their contributions to the program, but Mike has stepped up to help out a number of judges, both L1s and L2s, to help those judges reach their potential in the program.
  • For its relevance to community growth: Like I said, Mike has always been a great tournament judge, but this exemplar points out that he’s now using his experience to mentor judges who haven’t had as much success in their player interactions, contributing to the betterment of his store and other stores in the area, and promoting positive, inclusive tournament spaces.

We reached out to Graham to ask about Mike’s relationship to the judge community in Toronto:

MG: What do you look for when writing an exemplar?

GS: In general for exemplars, I’m looking for people who are a positive influence on an event or community. I have a mental metric of the standards I expect of judges based on my understanding of their experience and level, so when people exceed my expectations I’m happy to exemplar them. I’m happy to use recognitions as encouragement for judges who perform tasks at events that aren’t flashy or draw attention, but ultimately help the event, like trying a new deck checks technique or boosting morale when an event is experiencing problems.

MG: What motivated you to exemplar Mike, especially for his mentorship and teaching when so many people tend to recognize Mike for his impressive efforts as a tournament judge?

GS: Basically, due to some scheduling and personality conflicts, Mike took on a leadership role at the recent judge meetup on very short notice–and he did a great job. People just assumed he had prepared it, where he had been thrown in at the last second. And further, there is a judge who is in need of some mentorship, but for one reason or another won’t work with me. I sort of asked/demanded Mike help out with the issue and he has taken it in stride.

He also stealth-certified a new judge in our store, a person who needed some very specific support and guidance to get to a point where they could test.

MG: Awesome stuff! What would you say, then, are the main skills that Mike best models for the judge community that make him exemplary?

GS: Mike has a great attitude that makes him flexible. He is very good at being able to make and stand by decisions while in the thick of things. He is always a judge I can trust to take on new challenges with positivity and eagerness. Mike just recently certified to L2, but even when he was just a senior L1 he was mentoring other judges and judge candidates proactively and confidently. I kept comparing his performance or ability to deal with problems and asking myself ‘would I be impressed if a L2 did this.’
Part of what makes Mike so awesome as a judge, colleague, and leader in the community is that flexibility that Graham highlighted, which brings us to this nomination from Ryan Nightingale:

Mike, your involvement in bringing the Toronto judge community together has been exceptional. Organizing, planning, and facilitating such a large gathering (with F2F, the pub, the escape room, as well as planning the seminar) must have taken a lot of time, but the way you made people feel welcome and brought the community (which often lacks cohesiveness) together is worthy of recognition.

Again, this exemplar is awesome

  • for its specificity: Mike is a natural leader, and his work at events is proof enough of that, but what made his work last wave exemplary was commitment to building the community by hosting a mini-conference.
  • for its praiseworthiness: Mike went above and beyond to bring judges together, putting together an additional conference for area judges, hosting the event and facilitating the activities on his own. Likewise, in context of Graham’s nomination, we get a sense that Mike stepped in when organizational chaos erupted, taking over the event mid-preparation and doing an amazing job!
  • for its relevance to community growth: as a member of the Southwestern Ontario judge community–and the Canadian Region–I’m acutely aware of the problems Ryan notes here. It can be challenging for our community to feel cohesive when we are stretched so thin, but Mike’s mini-conference–and his decision to schedule a team-building escape room, over foil support, was a smart decision that displays Mike’s sensitivity to the pulse of our local community.

Ryan likewise had this to say about his decision to exemplar Mike this Wave:

MG: What was your main motivation for writing a nomination for Mike? What about his “involvement in bringing the community together” felt exemplary to you?

RN: The Toronto and GTA community has long had issues with cohesion, but I believe efforts towards that are still, or even especially important and valuable. People have occasionally tried and largely been unsuccessful in the past to host events that would bring Toronto judges together.

MG: What has made developing cohesion in the GTA so tough? And what did Mike do to make the judge meetup a success?

RN: The GTA is a large area, and most stores have in-house judges, so those allegiances and sometimes employments mean that judges don’t often work for multiple different stores. Likewise, big tournaments where we can meet and work with new people are reasonably rare. So, where there have been failed attempts to bring everyone together for a meetup, nobody has gone the extra mile to make it happen. Mike did. His personality, empathy, thoughtfulness, and his ability to go out of his way to make everyone feel included really made this particular event a success.

Brenden Gansner

It’s no secret that judges love working GPs–they’re a great opportunity to work with colleagues from the far reaches of our international community and to engage with a massive number of players, playing all kinds of different events. It can thus be a tough disappointment to manage when one is not accepted for a GP. Brenden was not accepted to work at GP Vancouver, but he took that news in stride, and he instead focused his energies into an outstanding project, procuring materials and space to run a Judge Booth. As a result, he provided interactions and support for everyone wandering by between events, and netted two newly-certified judges! Many judges took notice of Brenden’s great work, including his RC, Jon Goud:

Let’s talk about how awesome the ‘judge booth’ at GP Vancouver was. You were denied from the event and your reaction was to drive down and create materials of your own expense to drive down to the GP anyway? This alone would have been exemplary, but the booth was tremendously popular. You had a tablet with visual rules questions for people to answer, you spoke about the judge program, and we even roped in an L2 to administer two (passing) L1 tests. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! Well done sir 🙂

So, what makes this exemplar so Goud?

  • Its specificity:  We’re told exactly how and what Brenden did: Brenden wasn’t staffed at the GP, so he ran a Judge Booth, and we’re likewise told why those actions were exemplary: he did it all of his own volition, at his own expense. Jon has even detailed the outcome that proves Brenden’s efforts were positive for the community: two new L1s!
  • Its praiseworthiness: We’re shown that despite rejection, Brenden did something awesome. We’re also shown that his perseverance and efforts tangibly paid off (in the form of new judges).
  • Its relevance to community growth – It’s pretty clear here that Brenden’s efforts are contributing to the growth of local judges, both in quality and quantity.

However, it wasn’t just local judges that took notice. Here’s what Steffen Baumgart, Project Lead for Judge Booth, wrote about Brenden:

Brenden, you approached me a while ago to run a Judge Booth at GP Vancouver 2017 and after getting the okay together with a couple of instructions, you did not simply run the booth, but prepared handouts, a big sign, the laptop and basically a whole “player experience” around it, to run it for the whole weekend, often times all by yourself. On top of that, you wrote a very detailed, helpful and awesome report for the Booth project, snapped a dozen pictures and, most importantly, spread the knowledge and fun in rules questions to a lot of players at the GP. You really showed that spreading rules knowledge and education can be as fun as running a game show at an event, while at the same time giving us in the project very valuable feedback! Keep it up! 

This exemplar is super-specific, detailing all the experiential benefits that passers-by encountered that weekend. All the specifics are definite boons for the community, and the reach that the Booth had is clearly shown to be immense. Despite not being at the event, Steffen paints a pretty vivid picture of what happened, and even hints that you can find more details via Brenden’s official report on the Judge Booth blog!

We reached out to Steffen to ask about Brenden and their motivations for Judge Booth:

DP: What motivated you to write an Exemplar, as opposed to a review?

SB: Since it wasn’t a working experience I wanted to highlight; writing a review would’ve been somewhat besides the point. My goal was not to give private feedback to Brenden about how he could run the booth better at the next GP, but rather to show other people that what he did was (in my opinion) very exemplary. He set himself a goal (to bring a fun and educating project to a live event with thousands of players) and worked very hard to reach it. In the end, not only did he himself and the players at GP Vancouver profit from it, but the judge program as a whole (there were several new L1s certified at the booth) and the [Judge Booth] project itself gained a lot.

DP: What was most impressive to you regarding what you wrote about?

SB: I only found out after I submitted the recognition that Brenden wasn’t even on staff for that GP, but rather had to cover his own costs all by himself just so that he can attend the event and teach the players about rules, instead of playing at the GP!

To sum up, Steffen adds:

SB: This was one of the easiest exemplar recognitions I ever had the pleasure to write. 🙂 Thanks again, Brenden!

Eh-xemplary Highlights, Wave 9

While these two judges were truly eh-xemplary examples from Wave 9, and their nominations likewise highlight many of Lansdell’s goals for the Canadian arm of the project going forward, we’re also here to share with you some of the other golden nominations submitted this time around!

To Brendan Capel from Jeffrey Orom“You’ve always been the leader of the central Alberta judging staff and the keystone of the magic community in Edmonton, not only for judges, but players and TOs as well. You’ve repaired TO relationships, led monthly judge meetings, and always been available for advice and knowledge. I can’t imagine anyone else having the same impact on the community.”

This Wave, our focus has been on community building and leadership, and it’s evident here that Brendan has a knack for both of those things. Jeffrey’s nomination does an excellent job nailing down our three central tenets of a good exemplar.

Specificity: Brendan is “a keystone” in Alberta because he organizes judge meetings and has repaired relationships between Tournament organizers, while also offering up rules knowledge and leadership advice. The thing that stands out most is Brendan’s ability to bring together different segments of the community and, while there aren’t any details attached to the reparations between stores, that is certainly due to the sensitive nature of that conflict.

Praiseworthiness: Brendan has stepped up in a huge way to coordinate judges in a vast and diffuse section of an already large region. We expect judges at L3 to take on these larger leadership projects, but Brendan’s interpersonal skills and his passion for his community have pushed him to step up to the plate.

Relevance to Community Growth: Jeffrey points out first that this judge uses his skills and ties to the community to restore the balance between feuding TOs. Strong communities, and large ones, at that, are likely to have multiple businesses in competition with one another. Finding a way to mediate conflict, to therefore provide the best possible places for your players to play, is incredibly valuable to any city with a vibrant M:tG player base.

To Alex Larente from Chris HrichinsenAlex, the hard work you have put into getting people involved in the Judge Discord chat had been outstanding. You really have a passion for bringing people together and creating a meaningful dialogue. Your commitment to keeping this ongoing has created a stable and reliable way for judges to interact regardless of distance! 

Online communities, especially in a Region as large and diverse as is Canada, help dissolve the distance that physically (and sometimes philosophically) distances us. Alex’s concerted effort to drive engagement with the Judge Discord has been really moving and if you’re a Judge in Canada you’re probably involved in at least some Discord activity–or you’re seriously missing out!

Specificity: This nomination focuses exclusively on one facet of Alex’s work as a judge: the Discord chat. Chris’s nomination is beautifully succinct and clear, and ties Alex’s very visible efforts in the judge program to all the criteria for exemplary behaviour.

Praiseworthiness: Engagement with an online community and even advertising such a community is not in itself exemplary. Instead, Alex has a noted “passion” for community building and he works hard within the chats to “create a meaningful dialogue.” This work in community development–really community creation–all comes from a Canadian L1 who has stepped up and gone far beyond what is expected of judges in his role.

Relevance to Community Growth: The Discord chat has become central the Canadian Judge identity; indeed, the judges involved in the chat from outside our Region often joke about being Canadian by association, and that the strong Canadian presence on the main server gives the impression that the chat was intended to be for Canadians. Rather, this speaks to Alex’s unmatched efforts to promote engagement with the platform among our judges, and the resultant awareness that we in Canada have of the Judge Discord. He has helped build a new community in the blogosphere that thereby brings the bright minds we have here to the fore.

To Jason Wong from Jon GoudJason has provided immense benefit not only to myself in my rookie RC days, but also to the region. He has taken the lead on developing an L2 Tester process for Canada. This is particularly important as advancement to L2 is one of the biggest blockers in the Canadian community due to the low number of L3s and the immense geographic distance between them. He took a huge load off of my shoulders, and the community will be much stronger for it. On an individual basis we always talk about judges taking care of each other because burnt-out judges aren’t great at … well … judging. On Sunday of GP Vancouver I was drowning a bit in L2 tests and debriefing all of them would have lasted much later than either I or the candidates likely wanted to wait. He offered to step in and debrief the test of the last candidate waiting while I was still debriefing another test. This meant that each L2 candidate got a quality/thorough debrief (especially important since both did not pass, so they required extra care) and all 4 of us didn’t need to delay anyone from leaving the venue. Jason’s efforts have effectively allowed me to expand the reach of the RC role at and outside of tournaments.

As L1s and L2s, we are often wowed by the work done by our great L3s, but even L3s, who carry heavy expectations, strive to build this program up and contribute beyond their regular capacities. Jon’s exemplar for Jason showcases the diligent work involved in bringing our region together, as these two pillars of the Canadian community evidently were working together to improve the quality of other judges here through higher order project creation that many of us will eventually benefit from by testing for L2 or by becoming L2 testers.

Specificity: In my opinion, the most significant part of this recommendation lies here: not only did Jason take on leadership in the development of the L2 tester process, but he also volunteered extra time to engage directly with L2 candidates, thereby growing the program and simultaneously bailing out a friend.

Praiseworthiness: Again, as the highest level achievable in our current program, L3s are seemingly always doing great things for judging at large, but here a judge is taking steps to overcome “the biggest blocker in the Canadian community” when it comes to personal growth, but also community development (as it is difficult to get L2s to all the places that need them). Likewise, Jon notes that with Jason’s help, he has been able to expand the role of the RC to better serve a Region that is so geographically diverse and expansive, it could have 5 RCs.

Relevant to Community Growth: I want to focus here on the importance of debriefs, since I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about how the L2 tester program will benefit community growth. Failing tests is hard. Setting an expectation and not achieving that goal often spells the end of a particular project for many people, myself included. Jason’s work at the GP meant that the judges who did not this time join the ranks of L2 had the opportunity to destress, ask questions, and talk privately and personally to someone that I know to be great motivator and mentor. It’s really important that Jon included not just Jason’s nationwide efforts, but also his personal connections with judges as it is incredibly important that as our Region grows, and as we grow and enter or integrate new communities, that the strengths of our bonds with one another grow as well.

To Martin Goulet, on behalf of Jay Hunter,“Martin has made himself the very heart of a Magic community here. His commitment to the game is amazing, but his ability to engage and encourage players of all levels really puts him to a higher level. He showcases approachability not just answering single instance in-game questions, but also trying to encourage understanding of the rules that go along with those rulings, whether by talking with players one-on-one after, or encouraging players to ask him ruling and judge questions through his store’s burgeoning stream. He also actively tries to develop your understanding on your own; we both enjoy great chats whenever a new set comes out dissecting new cards and rulings, like Exert from Amonkhet. There are definitely 9-5 judges that will be there to do what they need to, but Martin has shown that he is more of a 24/7 one.”

Jay’s nomination is important to the growth of the exemplar program, first because it showcases another way to have your voice heard–write-ins! It’s obvious that Martin is central to his community, but because that community centralizes on his store, there aren’t always folks around to see the great work Martin does!

Specificity: Jay has done an excellent job of fleshing out the more emotionally driven reason for giving Martin an exemplar (that being, Martin is “the heart of a Magic community.”) How does Martin pump that lifeblood? He answers questions at all kinds of events, but also he sits down with players to explain those rulings more clearly when he’s not taking time away from a match. He also provides a judge questions segment on his store stream to get people interested and involved! Likewise, Martin takes time to explain and explore new rulings, both to better himself as the main judge for his store, but also to help others around him learn.

Praiseworthiness: Martin clearly goes above and beyond. As Jay notes, Martin is “more of a 24/7” judge, always willing to help his community, and to utilize the various avenues available, in store, online, and in uniform. Mentorship is an important L2 quality that Martin employs as an L1 in his area, which in itself is praiseworthy. But, coupled with his emphasis on player experience, helping not just judges, but also players to better understand how and why the rules work, and to try and eliminate the feel-bads by doing so, is exemplary indeed.

Relevance to Community Growth: Here’s where we can return to Jay’s “heart of the community” metaphor–Martin’s work fosters interest and love of the game for new players, maintains a positive and safe environment for everyone involved, and his passion for rules and policy drives interest in the Judge program. Recently promoted to L2, I’d be very surprised if we did not see new judges popping up in Martin’s area shortly!

From the Judge Feedback form to Jeremy White – // From the judge feedback form: “Had a great experience. Played multiple events over the course of two days and the head judge was very personable, fun, fair and did a great job. Made for a good inclusive environment.” This feedback was from the pre-release weekend, and I’d like to highlight the “inclusive environment” feedback here. Pre-Releases are, for many, the only sanctioned magic they play all year. Creating a safe bridge between the kitchen table and the LGS is, in my opinion, one of the most important things we can be doing for the health of the game. It sounds like you are headed in the right direction – great work 🙂

As our illustrious RC once said: “Feedback form. Feedback form. Feedback form.” Written, calculated feedback is invaluable to our growth as individuals in the program, and ultimately to the strength of Canadian Judges on an international stage. Getting your TOs and players to write you reviews thus not only helps you learn, but helps others in the community get to know more about all the great work you do, even when no judges are watching!

Specificity: Jon has used this submitted feedback to demonstrate an incredibly valuable point: not everyone is a tournament Magic player, so developing inclusive and safe spaces, especially at events like pre-release where your kitchen table freeform players and your PPTQ grinders come together for brief night of levity.

Praiseworthiness: Jeremy’s focus on fun and fairness, and therefore on inclusivity at the store in question, made this player’s weekend. They attended multiple events under Jeremy’s purview, and he really stepped up and maintained a great atmosphere, especially when Pre-Release events tend to drag sometimes for those involved in 3, 4, and sometimes 5 events in a row. Likewise, as Jon said, creating avenues for casual players to first set foot in an FNM is so incredibly important to Magic.

Relevant to Community Growth: For some players, myself included, the first pre-release can brick wall desire to play at a local game store for an extended period of time. Jeremy’s efforts to maintain an upbeat, inclusive space not only makes players more likely to come back, but also gives them a point person to reach out to as they begin their journey in the world of LGS Magic.

From Jan de Vlaming to Tyrone Cabral – Tyrone has done a fantastic job in developing the player community at one of our LGS. Every event or FNM he does there he spends his time making sure that everyone feels welcome and that nobody leaves the store having had a bad experience. If someone had a rough night at modern Tyrone will talk with them, ask them how they felt their games went, how their deck played, if there was anything they thought they might have wanted to do differently; he makes sure that he engages them and turns a bad evening into a positive experience. He’s also been working very closely with the store owner and TO in order to offer more competitive geared events for the community. The community at Play N Trade would not be the same without him. 

Jan’s exemplar is excellent for its focus on the players in the community. Implicit in a lot of exemplars is the fact that, yes, a good tournament took place, and yes this judge was working that tournament, so therefore players benefitted from this judge, but Jan focuses on how Tyrone actively makes the experiences of his players better from week to week. I know that I personally could be be less competitive when playing in tournaments, and we have all oft heard tales of “the judge who uses their knowledge to rules lawyer,” but this exemplar showcases how judges can and should, as experienced members of the community, reach out and help their players blossom.

Specificity: Jan calls attention to all the little behaviours that add up to Tyrone being an excellent ambassador for Play n Trade, but also for the Judge community: he talks strategy, encourages players who had a tough night, helps them modify decklists, and engages with everyone to ensure they have a good time.

Praiseworthiness: Judges are expected to run good tournaments. Good judges tend to help connect their players to certain resources and sometimes answer questions about upcoming tournaments, and of course, to run good tournaments. Great judges never “turn it off,” and Jan’s exemplar shows us that Tyrone really is great–he is constantly helping out his players, functioning in a teaching and mentorship capacity, and making everyone feel welcome and included, regardless of the tournament or player.

Relevance to Community Growth: Tyrone is, evidently, central to the health and to the positive atmosphere at his store. He works actively to help out new or less experienced players, thereby increasing the skill level in the room and overall making tournaments more fun for everyone. At the same time, Jan points to Tyrone’s efforts to organize tournaments for all types of players, so that spikes have a place to grind their axes and new players can have fun learning more about organized Magic before stepping into the arena, as it were. Tyrone is clearly attuned to needs of his community and to all the segments therein, and he uses that knowledge to make Play N Trade a great place!

That’s it for Wave 9 Eh-xemplar Highlights! Wave 10 wrapped up this week, and we’re anxiously waiting to hear about the great things Canadians are doing (and, of course, the great exemplar nominations they’re writing!).

Until next time!

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