My First Review – Joe Wiesenberg

Welcome back to another edition of My First Review.

A judge’s first review usually comes from an event they’ve judged, but rarely is the event their first. Why is that? Perhaps there’s just so much going on when you judge that writing reviews falls by the wayside. It could be that, as judges, we have to go out of our way to observe our fellow judges.

But what if there is another way to observe a judge? A way that doesn’t distract you from what you’re trying to do at an event?

Despite the name, Judge Center does not actually require reviews to be written by judges at all. If you’re not busy running the event, observing another judge’s performance can be much easier. To see what’s possible in this scenario, I give you the first review of California L3 Joe Wiesenberg, author of the excellent Feedbag column on this very blog. I could say more, but I’ll let the review speak for itself, take it away Joe!


Joe Wiesenberg
Date: June 15, 2012
Event: Grand Prix Trial, San Diego, California, USA
Reviewer: Joe Wiesenberg,
Level 1, Observer
Billy San Juan,
Level 1, Head Judge

Billy San Juan
Billy San Juan

Strengths: Billy is one of the most enthusiastic judges I’ve ever encountered, which is saying something in a program composed of volunteers. While a new judge, Billy is a very visible and well-liked member of his local community. I’ve never seen him be anything less than extremely friendly and he builds new relationships very easily, which is a huge asset when it comes to helping judges be seen as helpful members of the community rather than buzzkills.

I observed Billy acting as Head Judge of a GPT, his first event acting alone at Competitive REL, and he did an excellent job of keeping the event moving at a reasonable pace and interfacing with players in the GPT who were unused to playing at Competitive.

I was impressed with the way Billy handled a situation involving a spectator answering a ruling before Billy was able to. Billy recognized that he needed to maintain the confidence of his players in his ability as Head Judge and took the spectator aside to discuss why that behavior was not appropriate, but he did so in a manner specifically tailored to that player, who made the error out of a desire to be helpful and exercise his own rules knowledge rather than a desire to undermine Billy’s role.

Billy also did an excellent job of using me as a resource. While I wasn’t able to judge the event, I made myself available for most of it in case Billy had any questions or concerns, and he didn’t hesitate to approach me in situations where he was uncertain. However, he never did so in view of his player base except once when he did not know the answer to a rules question, which did a very good job of maintaining his presence as Head Judge rather than someone inferior to me.

At this event, Billy had an L0 shadowing him and he did a superb job of making sure his judgelet was exposed to a variety of situations and using the extra pair of hands to help the event run even more smoothly.

Areas for Improvement: Billy should spend some time thinking about what he’d like to get out of judging and in what capacity he’d like to judge in the future. If his goal is to work on Competitive REL events, he definitely needs to improve his knowledge of the IPG, particularly the philosophy behind the various infractions.

For example, Billy announced at the start of a round that players needed to ensure they were desideboarded for the random deck check that was about to be conducted, which was fantastic from a customer service point of view but allowed anyone legitimately trying to cheat the opportunity to reverse the behavior with no consequences. I had a quick discussion with him to point this out and I feel that a stronger understanding of the philosophy behind the IPG will eliminate similar errors in the future.

Billy’s rules knowledge is solid, but he does have some ways to go before he’s really fluent with the rules, even for what’s expected of L1’s. Billy is aware of this, but it seems to cause him to doubt himself in some situations. At the GPT he did a good job of issuing authoritative rulings and only used me as a fallback once when he was certain he did not know the correct answer.

However, when answering rules calls at regular REL events he will frequently ask me to confirm his ruling, and I’m not sure if this is because he’s legitimately unsure of the answer in these cases or if he just feels better having a confirmation. In either case, I would encourage him to cut the apron strings and let his rulings stand on their own in these situations unless he is certain he won’t be able to provide the correct answer. This typically happens at regular REL, with players who know and trust him, so it will improve Billy’s knowledge and delivery in an environment where damage to the player’s enjoyment would be minimal.


Writing my first review as an observer rather than a judge on staff may have been the kick in the butt I needed to begin writing reviews: not being personally invested in the event made me more aware of how the event was progressing and how the judges were performing. After writing one review I began carrying that awareness over to events I was on staff for, and that’s helped me write a number of reviews since then.

I wrote this review of Billy after he head judged a GPT while I was running the store. In addition to being one of the local judges I work with most frequently, Billy has been one of my closest friends in the judge program. I wanted to review him because I felt I had actionable feedback that would help him improve as a judge.

In this case, the impetus for writing the review came from his awesome customer service, very efficient event and staff management, and method of handling the deck check process. These observations gave me specific points to build the review on, and the rest of the commentary followed easily after that.

It’s worth noting that this is the only review I’ve written in the third person (“Billy”) rather than using first and second person pronouns (“I” and “you”). The latter helps reviews feel more personal, and it’s been recommended to me that the third person should be reserved for providing difficult feedback that’s better delivered in a clinical manner.


Being an observer gave Joe a lot of breathing room to observe Billy, but there was a disadvantage: less time to interact with the judge during the event. Joe mentioned that he didn’t really talk with Billy about his goals in the program to refine the “areas for improvement” portion of the review. In actuality, Billy has pursued a path in the program that best fits his excellent customer service skills rather than the traditional progression in the judge ranks. Overall, I really enjoyed Joe’s review, which includes more detail than you’d expect from a first review and provides a fresh approach to observation.

Interested in seeing your first review featured here? Email us. Be sure to include

  1. the review itself, including the headers.*
  2. a brief backstory on the how and why the review was written.
  3. your reflections on the review and lessons you’ve learned since.

*You must get permission from the subject of your first review before submitting it for publication. If your subject does not give you permission to use the review, please submit only the story and your personal reflection on the review.

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