At the end of Saturday at SCG Baltimore, I reviewed my notebook in amazement at the number of complex calls I had taken. Calls that made me wonder about the motivations of players who shuffled an opponent’s library when counting how many cards remained in the library. Played an Oath of Nissa through their own Chalice of the Void on 1. Used a Polluted Delta to find a Mountain. Twice.
The event felt like a series of one investigation after another. Where did they all come from? In GP Richmond a few weeks earlier, calls seemed much simpler. Were the players in Baltimore just sloppier? Cheatier?
I actually think the difference between the two events had more to do with me. I’d changed. And the change had a lot to do with some of the most important feedback I have ever received.
Between Grand Prix Richmond and SCG Baltimore, I paneled for L3 at Pro Tour Amonkhet. My panel tested my investigations with two separate role-playing scenarios. During those scenarios I demonstrated a major deficiency in my investigations skills and subsequently failed the panel.
At the end of my panel, we reviewed my investigations. My panelists pointed out tangible things I failed to consider: significant advantage, nervous behavior, evasive answers to questions, as well as strategies I could have used to better understand player motivation. I left that conversation with a much clearer idea of how to spot cheating and a set of strategies I was ready to implement.
Despite the excellent feedback I received, failing the panel hurt. I worried that this failure would change how people viewed me as a judge. The failure was too significant for me to hide from it or hope it would go away quietly. In those first moments after the panel, the failure felt enormous, heavy, and insurmountable. But two things helped me step back and regain perspective on the experience.
First, the panel finished in time for me to return to the floor to judge the final round of the Pro Tour. And I was still the same judge that I had been before that panel—I could still contribute to making that event run well. I could still answer calls with confidence and diplomacy.
Second, after asking me the inevitable question “Did you pass?”, my judge friends commiserated with me. Then we returned the event and life as usual. I hadn’t suddenly become a pariah or an embarrassment. That one failure didn’t erase our previous shared experiences and successes.
The support of my friends allowed me to process my frustration and disappointment with a focus on the future rather than the past. Yes, I had demonstrated a major deficiency in investigations at the time of that panel. But that didn’t mean I needed to allow it to remain a major deficiency moving forward. I had been looking forward to head judging an SCG Classic in Baltimore as a new L3. And I realized that letting the panel failure define me would do a disservice to that event as well as my fellow judges.
So I worked on improving my investigations mindset. I prepared to apply what my panel judges had shown me about myself. I’ve always tended to trust my instinct and fix a situation quickly—without fully exploring how the players might have gotten themselves into the situation. You know how we often “assume you’ve ruled out cheating” when we discuss policy? I do that. I assume. Without asking the questions that actually rule cheating out.
On Saturday morning in Baltimore, I was more nervous than usual. I was hoping to take at least one call that would allow me to practice my new awareness of investigations. Here’s my first call from Round 1:
My opponent cracked a Polluted Delta at the end of last turn, searched up a Mountain, and then used Lightning Bolt on my Birds of Paradise. Now it’s my turn. I resolve an Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and prepare to pass the turn. At the end of my turn, my opponent also cast and resolved Thought Scour, targeting himself. After Thought Scour resolved, we noticed that he had fetched the Mountain with the Polluted Delta. What should we do?”
I almost laughed at the situation. I wasn’t expecting an investigation so soon! And I finished the call knowing that I hadn’t just assumed. The questions I asked made me confident in my ruling.
I used to tell people that I just hadn’t encountered many “investigative” calls as a judge. As I reviewed my notebook after that weekend, I realized that wasn’t the case at all. Investigations had popped up everywhere; I just wasn’t noticing them. Feedback helped me confront that weakness. And the judges around me reminded me that failure doesn’t have to define me. I am defining who I am—one event, one call, and one response to feedback at a time.