The Anatomy of a Recognition

A message from Kim:

“While things are more or less in place for Wave 3 of Exemplar, we’ve decided to wait until the week after the MM2 GPs to open the wave and explain the changes in a blog post. We’ll be doing this next week regardless of the mailing status of Wave 2; there have been some complications on this which have led to some delays, and I’ll update you on that as soon as I have more information. For now, though, please enjoy this guest post about recognition messages, informed by what we have observed over the last two waves. Thanks!”

Written by Jack Doyle
Level 3, United Kingdom

Hey all. With Wave 2 of Exemplar all but wrapped up, we have a lot of data to work with. Namely, we have over two thousand recognition messages that are shared with the world. This short(ish) article aims to publicise some great recognition messages, and to ward off some bad practices that can lead to the recognition being rejected. Rejection of recognitions is something that no-one wants to have happen, and hopefully this article will let us avoid more of that.

Non-English recognition messages

Just a quick word to reiterate that you can by all means write Exemplar recognitions in a common language between the author and the subject (it’s ideal if the subject can actually understand why they’re being recognised!) and there won’t be any issues with the recognition. We have a highly trained squad of ninja judges ready to read and approve your recognitions in a variety of languages!

Recognition vs. Reward

This is one of the phrases that the Exemplar team has been using since the very start, and the key point is that it reflects the vision of Exemplar very well. We are recognising judges for their actions. We are showing judges that the things that they do have an impact on things larger than themselves and their surrounding area. What we are not doing is paying or compensating judges for those actions. With the knowledge that the majority of these recognitions carry foils, it is of utmost importance that we are not rewarding judges in this way.

“Dave, thanks for all the work you did at the PTQ in Madeupistan.”

“You work hard as the main judge for our local store. Keep it up!”

“Peter, congratulations on finally making L2!”

These are a couple of example recognitions that could be improved in a few ways.

Firstly, they are very task-oriented. They send the message that by doing a task, you will receive a recognition. They lack focus on the personal impact that the judge had on the person who recognised them, or on their local community.

Secondly, they are often very short. While the length of a recognition should have no bearing on whether it is appropriate or not, explaining the reasoning behind why the recognition is being given often gives the message the power to show completely uninvolved individuals the impact that the person had on others.

So, what do some good recognitions look like? Well… (some of these are from Wave 1 as well)

From Yonatan Kamensky to W. Matt Williams:

“Matt, back in San Jose when I impulsively grabbed the mic from you mid-sentence, you did not confront me, but rather saw to the needs of your event. Furthermore, you expressly arranged for us to have a conversation about what happened. You immediately diffused what was an egregious error of diplomacy on my part, and turned it into an opportunity for mentorship and reflection. The tact and skill with which you approached the situation is something I can only hope to emulate. Thank you!”

This recognition calls out a very specific point of behaviour, and then discusses how the judge dealt with it, what it meant, and how it had impact on the recognising judge. It gives detail and reason, and allows others to see exactly how a shaky situation was handled skilfully.

From Phil Rose to Robert Greise:

“On the first day of the new PPTQ system, Rob committed to travelling with me 3 hours to a judge a PPTQ with only a week’s notice. He was well-prepared for judging one of his first Competitive REL events with very little time to prepare, and he helped make my day much easier. Thanks Rob!”

This is a recognition that calls out a very specific, task-oriented bit of behaviour (coming to judge a PPTQ at short notice) and then effortlessly describes how that judge was prepared, ready, and contributed above expectation at an exemplary level.

From Mitsunori Makino to Riccardo Tessitori

“Riccardo, In various ways, you have tried to adjust cultural difference between Japanese and Program. Sometime it is joyful cultural communication. Sometime it is difficult conflict. You have patiently heard us and trusted that we understand a good way with good spirit. Mitsunori”

When a recognition really makes you consider the effects that a single person has had on so many, it shows that the recognition is balanced in the behaviour it observes and the belief in that behaviour of the person who wrote it. Mitsunori calls out Riccardo’s contributions to Japanese GPs and judges very well in this humble recognition.

From David Lyford-Smith to Nick Hall

“Nick, you took care of some players who were rattled by an investigative ruling I made. You noticed they were feeling bad and went out of your way to find their friends so they could feel better. Your care for your fellow Magic people was inspiring to me – thank you.”

This recognition explains the circumstances and nature of the behaviour, and the direct, almost measurable, impacts thereof. Nick spent time looking after players in a manner that few judges achieve – the very definition of going above and beyond.


As some of you may be aware, there were recognitions made in Wave 2 that were rejected. There were very definite, considered reasons for which the team rejected these recognitions.

Recognitions lacking detail

One of the categories that recognitions were let through for, this time. In Wave 3, recognitions that are vague will be under more scrutiny. Providing examples of the quality you are recognising in a judge is a way to bring in the outside community into why this person is exemplary. Very short messages that don’t say very much may be well deserved – so take the time to tell the world about the awesome person you’re recognising.

Recognitions as Rewards

As spoken about extensively about, recognitions that directly rewarded a task were rejected. Examples such as “Congratulations on Level 2!” or “For certifying new L1s in your area” with no additional comments. Some salvageable recognitions (i.e. with solid grounds for a recognition, yet misleading or poorly written) were talked about with authors to improve.

Thinking about whether just doing the task is enough to get recognised is a great tool to avoid this kind of rejection. If someone in the future did that task, would they be recognised? If yes, it’s almost certainly a direct reward, and unsuitable for the Exemplar programme. If not, consider what made doing the task something to be called out – what made it exemplary behaviour?

One of the things seen in Wave 2 was copy and pasting the same or a very similar recognition message to different people – if this is something you are doing, you are very likely to be falling afoul of this concern.

Recognitions of non-judges

The Exemplar program is a system set up by judges to recognise other judges. To that end, we rejected a few recognitions that came through that called out exemplary behaviour in uncertified judges. Put bluntly, this is a system for judges, and we can’t accept recognitions of non-judges. Instead, motivate them to get certified!

Recognitions of judges for non-judge or inappropriate reasons

To the same end, we had a few recognitions that were of certified judges, but recognising behaviours, activities, and contributions, that were not about judging. There were a few examples of “thanks for being our local Tournament Organizer” or “hey you were great in your role as setup crew for Grand Prix Madeuptown!”. While (to my knowledge) we didn’t see any get rejected for this particular area, it’s best to ward off doing this – we’re only going to get more Exemplar recognitions as judges are promoted. We agree that contributions to scorekeeping are very much appropriate to judging.

Some of the recognitions loosely rejected under this banner were those that were just inappropriate. There were a couple of “hey, thanks for letting me crash on your floor” and “thanks for giving me a lift” recognitions that don’t mesh with the underlying philosophy of Exemplar. Inappropriate recognitions were either reworked with the authors, or rejected entirely.

Recognitions requested to be anonymous

We had a few recognitions that were requested to be posted anonymously. We had a major infrastructure overhaul between waves 1 and 2, and combined with the peer-to-peer recognition program that we’re trying to foster, anonymous recognitions were rejected after confirmation. Our position is that if you want to call out some awesome behaviour, it shouldn’t be a problem for your name to be attached to that. If that’s a problem for you, we highly advise talking to your Regional Coordinator about the judge that you want to recognise. As of this time, we can’t accept anonymous recognitions through Exemplar.

Recognitions “for encouragement”

This is one of the things that was quite disappointing about some of the wave 2 recognitions submitted. There were a few “I hope this will re-ignite your passion for L2” and “I hope you’ll come back to judging because of this” recognitions. There are a limited number of recognitions for each judge, and submitting recognitions that clash directly with the underlying point of the program borders on a waste of that recognition. Be sensible and think if you are *just* thinking about “who should I give foils to” then you are probably not thinking along the right lines for Exemplar.

Recognitions with in-jokes

This isn’t one of the reasons that recognitions were rejected this time around, but it was patently obvious that a few recognitions were written to be intelligible for one other person. Remember that these recognitions are public and are going to be read by people across the world. Keep them free of in-jokes or vague references to events and keep them PG-13, please!

This article doesn’t aim to belittle the contributions of judges simply because of the way that their recognition message was written – far from it. What we’re trying to do is to disseminate the reasons that recognition messages were rejected in Wave 2, so that we can educate judges and reinforce the philosophies of the Exemplar program.

As usual, any contributions, ideas, and concerns can be e-mailed to – please, please use that address as opposed to other means of communication. If you believe things need to change, we’d like to know directly!

Jack Doyle
Level 3, United Kingdom
Exemplar Team