Wave 18 Vanguard: Jeff Zandi

Written by David Hibbs Level 3, Texas, USA

Four years ago, I joined the Exemplar Program team.  Since that time, I have reviewed a tremendous number of nominations, and I have read an even larger number of them when they have been posted.  I have smiled, and I have said things like “that’s amazing!” I have read stories of grace during a fire and of keeping calm during medical emergencies.  And, as of Wave 16, I have even teared up at reading a nomination.  

While I was reviewing submissions, a piece of writing from Samantha Harr appeared that forced me to walk away for a breather. I have added some line breaks to it where I personally read them, but the following is otherwise what appeared in my review page:

I’m not going to lie.  Reading these words even now leaves me more than a little verklempt. This is a stellar nomination. It is specific; it is exemplary; it is something that others can strive for.  It even demonstrates an exemplary behavior on the part of the writer–stopping to observe and consider rather than simply sulking in annoyance. If that was all there was to it, I would simply mash the “promote” button and move on.  

But that isn’t all there is to it.  As many of you know, we lost Jeff Zandi to a heart attack this year—not even 5 days after the event for which this was written. 

In these 247 words, in this one encounter with Jeff, a judge outside of our region identifies and distills a huge part of his essence.  She captures some of what he has meant not only to me, but to our state, to our region, and to parts unknown.

It isn’t possible to entirely sum up a legend, a godfather, a hero, or a friend in this space.  Yet, Samma honored Jeff in a way that he treasured—in the carefully selected written words I enumerated above. (Jeff also had a love of numbers, you see.)

Of the many ways to honor the man so many of us knew, respected, and loved… it is my privilege to present a very special tribute. Based on the nomination from Samma, Jeff is our Vanguard selection from Exemplar Wave 16. 

We had a few unique challenges delaying the process on this piece of art, which is why we are using it now.  What delayed us on this process were a few legalities and a bit of coordination. We knew from the moment this nomination was selected that it would be something special for a huge number of people, and we wanted to do something special with it in order to let more people enjoy it.  

In discussions between Rob McKenzie, Bryan Prillaman, and myself we decided first to make it a larger piece of artwork than just a token. We also knew we wanted to acquire the original piece for Jeff’s family, and we discussed the rights for reproducing and reusing the art.  Thanks to some help from Sara Mox, I am thrilled to say that Jeff’s family will receive not just the full-size original. They will also be receiving the rights to use the art when and where they see fit–which means that it can be used for items for family friends such as the Guildmages, and they can use it for promotional items like playmats for the Jeff Zandi Memorial tournament–an event which was added this year to the Hunter Burton Memorial Open, which was so important to Jeff.

I think the timing of this release could not be more appropriate.  I am both honored and humbled to have this chance to tell this story at the end of my term as Jeff’s Regional Coordinator and as part of the Exemplar team that has reviewed these 48,000 or so nominations.

As you probably already know, the judge selected as our Vanguard gets to choose their token type and provide input into the artwork.  Obviously that wasn’t possible in this case, so we did something a bit different: I asked his family. His son Lawson (a skilled Magic player in his own right) and his wife Willa (who has served as a scorekeeper for many events) chose a 2/2 Knight with vigilance to represent Jeff on our tokens. 

Jeff was a contributor to the judge program and to the greater Magic community for even longer than I have been.  He was an avid player since the game’s inception (he proudly used his same 4-digit DCI number from beginning to end) and was certified as a judge at Pro Tour Dallas 1996.  He used the game as just one of his many bridges to meet, support, and serve others.

During his 22 years, 2 months, 23 days as a judge, he always made others feel welcome, valued, and cared for. His heart, ever the size of Texas itself, had room for any who needed it.  As a senior L2, he stood for order and for mentorship and his pen was mightier than his sword. 

I don’t think they could have chosen a better symbol. 

From this point, the next step was to provide some ideas for a setting and how he could be presented. I sent Ken Meyer had pictures of Jeff.  I located references for the Guildmages logo. I suggested a location which Jeff loved; a place where he so often took others for nachos, fajitas, and friendship. With these and a few other suggestions, Ken ran with the inspiration.  He put them together in a coherent and beautiful presentation, and I think he has truly outdone himself.

I hope these tokens and this piece of art mean as much to the rest of you as it does to me–and I cannot wait to see these in print.