Location: Deerfield, NH
Photography: Rick Salamin
NH’s first judge conference was held, as organizer Rob Castellon described it, “literally in the middle of the woods,” at the scenic Longview School in Deerfield, NH. We were able to use a large gathering hall as our main room, and several classrooms as other seminar rooms. While we were essentially 10 miles from any civilisation, we still had plenty of food, as several judges volunteered to grill and roast hamburgers and hot dogs for our judge lunch!
We had 42 judges attend the conference, with Zach Whipple testing for, and achieving, L1! Congrats to Zach!
Now to the meat of the conference!
While I did not personally attend every seminar, I can absolutely comment on the highlights from those I attended. The day began at 11:00 AM, with Rob Castellon giving a brief opening statement and then discussing tournament shortcuts. Rob reminded us of the new change to the “combat” shortcut; the active player will now receive priority in the beginning of combat step, instead of passing directly to the declare attackers step. I also learned some new shortcuts, like activating multiple abilities in a row; the default shortcut is to resolve each ability individually unless the player specifies they maintain priority. For example, if the active player attempts to activate Siege-Gang Commander three times and their opponent responds with a Sudden Shock, only the first ability will be on the stack when Sudden Shock is cast, and the active player will only get two damage. The day was off to a good start, with some interesting material on shortcuts.
The next seminar I attended was “Road to L2,” given by organizer Jeff Emery. Jeff briefly discussed all the L2 requirements and explained them simply; once he was convinced that we understood the requirements, he then proceeded to give some more general advice on growing and learning as a judge. For example, Jeff explained that as you mature as a judge, it is important to be able to keep emotions under control, maintaining neutrality during decisions.
After a lunch of hamburgers and pasta salad, and some discussion on FNM changes with other judges, I returned to a classroom for Chris McGuire’s “Slow Play” seminar. Slow play, somewhat unsurprisingly, proved to be a much-disputed topic, as nearly every judge in the room offered opinions on the best method to prevent slow play, and the differences between the Slow Play and Stalling penalties. Chris moderated the discussion while moving through his slides and offering new points for debate; we discussed whether the often-given verbal “caution” is the best way to approach slow play, since a player could be given several cautions from different judges and never get so much as a written warning. Chris also went over the Four Horsemen combo, one of Magic’s infamous combo decks, and when it qualified for receiving slow play warnings. Ultimately, for me as a Level 1 judge with relatively little competitive experience, being able to learn more about what constitutes slow play, and the best ways to approach it, was extremely helpful.
Then came the most interactive – and craziest! – seminar: “Cheating / Investigations,” given by Jonah Kellman. After giving a brief overview of the definition of cheating, Jonah handed out proxied legacy decks to half the judges in the room, and instructed them to play games against each other – while cheating as much as possible. The other half of the judges answered judge calls and tried to conduct investigations. Since everyone was trying to cheat, judges were being called constantly, and we had to investigate as best we could for any number of issues, from drawing sideboard cards to playing extra lands to casting spells with the wrong colors of mana. Jonah was also close at hand to answer questions and offer advice on investigations; it was a absolutely hectic yet educational experience!
Finally, I attended Kate Skelly’s seminar on Regular REL. Kate uses a very simple and effective technique for judging at Regular: make sure the players are having fun while educating them on the rules. She was quick to remind us that Regular REL is not about DQs, or Spikes “getting” new players. Instead, her strategy when a mistake occurs is to remind the players, especially newer or less knowledgeable players, to play carefully, and fix the game state as best she can. As she put it, while the Magic rules are still the same at Regular, our penalty document is much more flexible! I enjoyed this seminar a lot, as it was great to hear from an experienced judge on how to make sure your players are having a good time, and not taking too much of a heavy-handed approach.
This conference was a great deal of fun (probably helped by the fact that Rob brought his dog, who spent most of her time walking between the rooms and bringing smiles to our faces). The location was very nice, and encouraged community-building by keeping us in the area even during lunch. All the seminars I attended were excellent, mixing fun and education in the right amounts. The presenters did a great job encouraging discussion, while still directing their seminars to teach less experienced judges. I look forward to many more NH, and more generally Northeast, conferences!