Conference report – Thessaloniki 2018

Vasileios Vachtsevanos L1, Greece 

Vasileios Vachtsevanos L1, Greece 

Vasileios is a L1 from the industrial city of Ptolemaida, Greece. After taking a break from judging to graduate in Physics, Vasileios is back, more active than ever and chasing the elusive Level 2. Unverified reports paint him as a cornerstone of the local commander community – he has declined to comment.


It is a matter much discussed, laughed and worried about. The diversity of Europe East – or Great Balkans, or Ottoman Empire, or Slavic Europe and friends, you get the puns. However, with each year that passes, the region strengthens, partly thanks to our previous RC, Giorgos Trichopoulos (and soon his heir Yuval Tzur, but more on Yuval later!) and partly due to the fact that the judges within the aforementioned region have the “Balkan mentality”. Although this time I did stick around for only a little, I witnessed the same events as I remembered from my last conference (Back in 2016 at Struga). Obsessively trading cards, light-hearted disputes over TCG or MCM prices, family talks and “Who wants to play commander?” For most judges the events started Friday night, with the first arrivals. Alex Papageorgiou hosted a welcome commander session at the hotel and an evening tour. How it worked out and ended might be a story for him to tell us in a future post! At my review we will sternly dissect the talks and the organization of the event – time schedules, relevance of the topics discussed and professionalism.

Part I – The Gathering

The room of the conference was indeed small, but miraculously we had plenty of space and everyone found a seat. We did begin quite late (half an hour later than expected), but as they say, when in Rome, do as Romans do. As such, when in Greece, ignore timelines.

We began with an official announcement. Yuval is now the new RC! It was a cheerful moment. Although we all did love George, it was a peaceful and friendly change of leadership. Yuval is well-liked and known amongst us, and George will help him at the start of his reign.

After the bittersweet news, Giorgos began his talk about the proper way to conduct an investigation. This is a topic discussed many times, but it is the best one to start a conference. New and returning judges learn from experience, examples and the logic behind an investigation. To the point and short, without many examples but with no fewer than necessary, we did understand the true nature of investigating an incident. It’s complex, weird and uncomfortable, but necessary, doable and liberating once properly completed.

Following George, Alon took the reins and gave a talk about a most gruesome matter; DQs and what follows. It is a tight rope for those among us who own a store, a scary decision for some younger judges as some fear players’ reactions, some feel guilt, but some even enjoy it in a sadistic and twisted way. No matter how one personally feels, Alon outlined the necessary conditions to give the penalty. He referred to some events from the past as test cases and allowed us to ponder them in small groups, giving us both the feeling of how tricky and harrowing it is to make the choice, and especially fast. Thankfully the previous talk equipped us with some wit, and most cases were correctly assessed by all teams.

Then, we proceeded to a lunch break

Part II:  Split Second (I)

After an elongated (as we said- when in Greece…) lunch we returned to the conference room, where Edward gave us an introduction on ways to spot counterfeit cards. It seems that we lack central guidance as a judge community, thus a talk on the matter by an “old dog” was more than illuminating. He came equipped with fake cards and real ones (specifically dual lands) and at first tried to trick us by letting us alone to decide the fakes and the reals. We were not the A team, but we did not fail hard. After this process he taught us about some tricks, the flash light through a card, the patterns printed from the ink and the coloring (on old cards at least). It was both eye-opening and a pleasant experience.

After that talk we were divided in two groups. I will mention the talks that I attended and also add a fellow judge’s view (Kostas Pakas) on the ones that I missed.

Vladimir was as he was during the last conference I watched him give a talk, smiling and to the point. He did a great job explaining to us how to find (or become) a Leader. He explained how Leaders are both born and made. We were introduced to the merits required for a person to become a good leader and how to make the most out of them. A leader must not only be social, but able to handle logistics, quick to react and most of all inspiring the trust of his team. The word team is chosen on purpose, since a leader must see his helpers not as subordinates to boss around, but as important members of a team to nurture and help.

At the end of his talk, Vladimir proposed for us to do a team building exercise. Needless to say, we utterly failed at the first try. Some things are like Fight Club. We should never talk about them!

During this talk, fellow judges were introduced to the proper way both to approach players , but also on how to behave in tournaments with different REL. Mojo managed to clarify that our approach during a friendly neighborhood FNM is quite different from that of a major event. He also pointed out some problematic players’ behaviours and how to deal with them. For younger members of our community this was quite a fascinating way to choose what image they will create for themselves. The friendly judge that attends every FNM is not necessarily as friendly and lenient during a World Series. This does not mean that we make façades, but rather that we can adopt to the environment presented to us. More on big events would be presented the next day.

Part III – Armageddon

At the end of the first split-talks we were all gathered and divided into teams. Each team was assigned a “TO” and we acted as Judge Team for an event. Each team had different scenarios and each included some sort of a mishap and human error. Our duty? Be the Judge the event needs. The “TO”’s then assessed our responses and evaluated our independent thoughts and teamwork. Overall it was a great workshop, for it both trains a judge for unexpected scenarios and routine errors. The whole conference being shifted 1.30 hours later made it harder for us to try more scenarios. However, devoting half a day to such a workshop would be quite the spectacle. I would recommend this Workshop to be the Sunday Funday Workshop!

After this, we ended the day with most of the judges having a night out and enjoying themselves.

Part IV – Split Second (2)

Day two started with two different talks, one more technical and one more lighthearted.

Georgi described the feeling of judging in a big event. Well, he did more than this, but at the end of the day, the awe and tiredness from a multitude of people is what remains scarred in our memories. In this talk, Georgi prepared judges for undertaking and handling bigger events. Most of us are already used to FNM, pre-release events (well, in Greece at least, we never go over 30 people in pre-release events nowadays) and some may remember the GPTs. Being able to be part of a team of more than 2 people and having a role may be frustrating at first, but Georgi emphasized the proper notion and knowledge, so that a newcomer to a big event won’t be lost and feel helpless amidst the chaos of players and sleeves we must remember to collect.

Oh boy, where do I even begin. First things first, Alex was my mentor while training as a level 1, is a fellow commander player while in Thessaloniki and also, I am a fan of his style. Saying that he was overdressed for the event is an understatement. The room was also darker than usual and the PowerPoint presentation was full of pop culture references. In retrospect, all this extravaganza was actually making it easier to not lose our attention. Alex did talk about some hazy waters. Back-up, “partial” back-up, deviation and finally “Full” back-up. It was a nightmare. Everything a judge wishes to avoid was right there. And we had to offer solutions! After a lot of brain stretching and maybe some painkillers we were able to answer most of them (NOT PERSONALLY- I actually went full rogue at most of them).

Part V – Swan Song

The final talk, the “State of the Region” is almost always the swan song of a conference. It is then that the RC thanks us all for participating and asks for feedback. Yuval informed us about the future of PanEurope East conferences. There is an idea about making smaller, local ones biannually and one big each year or vice versa. In our new RC we did see a man with a lot of will to offer to the region and with the former RC openly endorsing him. This made us feel closer as a region.

After this event, Klaus Lassacher, a guest Judge to the conference, made a Trivia workshop. There we were separated in teams, answered questions of pop knowledge (MTG and Judge World related) and played pantomime. Every team took a reward – I think on purpose! It was a great way to blow away some steam and chill before each one took his way back home – or went to play some Europe East commander!


The conference was indeed great. The location of the hotel, the venues where the judges did go for lunching and as well as the conference hall were all detailed perfectly. The hall as I mentioned previously seemed small, and that was because it could split into two smaller rooms. This was extremely handy and easy for us to change rooms when necessary. This year’s T-shirts were also great. Simple and casual. I would like to add that Elli-Eirini Osmantzikidou and Alex Papageorgiou also did a great job with assisting the event to go smoothly, as they arranged most of the festivities. Also Tom Fizz Reshko was our dedicated photographer! If we overlook the time schedule override, it was a most brilliant event, raising the bar for future events!