Hello Judges! This week we head out to the US west coast to find this week’s Judge of the Week: Billicent (aka Billy) San Juan, an L1 from San Diego! He received his L1 at…some point in the past, and as you’ll soon find out has quite a few stories to tell! Take it away, Billy!
Why did you become a judge?
I became a judge more so for the people than the Magic. I’ve always been the type of person who enjoyed working behind-the-scenes to help events run. It’s a source of pride for me when people have a good time.
Occupation: Doctoral Level Graduate Student in Clinical Psychology (Dissertation topic: Adolescents and Trading Card Game Culture), Clinical Intern at Pasadena City College Psychological Services, Pro Tour Event Host with Wizards of the Coast. Also, I’m Batman. But shh, don’t tell anyone.
Favorite Card: So this is completely random, but Nearheath Pilgrim.
Least favorite card: I don’t think I actually have one.
Favorite Format: Draft and Commander. I hope to one day host a Commander draft.
Commander General: Karona, False God. I’m known at my local game shop for this deck, which has been described as “The Tornado in the Corner.” It’s a chaos deck I created after a few of the regulars mocked me mercilessly for my first attempt at a Commander deck. After being teased, I vowed that if I couldn’t have fun… no one could.
Favorite non-Magic Game: SkyMiners. It’s an up-and-coming game that has finished development and is currently trying to get on Kickstarter. I hear the guys who created it are frickin’ awesome. Sexy, too.
Best Tournament Result: Not getting kicked out of the tournament for playing horribly.
Random fact about yourself: I have performed several “Psychic Surgeries.” It’s nothing more than sleight-of-hand, but it is fun to watch and even more fun to do. I’ve also convinced people that I am a psychic and can bend spoons with my mind.
Tell us your favorite judge story.
There’s so many to tell! I suppose one of my favorites was during the Portland Judge Conference. I was presenting on customer service. The Conference Organizer, Riki Hayashi, was trying a new format where we were holding mini-seminars rather than large, didactic groups. Well, I happened to be giving my second presentation next to Cascade Games’ Tim Shields. Tim was giving a presentation on… I believe it was working as a tournament organizer? We decided to call an audible and combine our two groups into one mega-meta seminar on customer service with a focus on emotional awareness and psychological concepts. Tim and I work well off of each other, and I still get compliments on that seminar to this day.
GP Las Vegas is composed of a million stories, many of which are my favorite. They include problem-solving with master problem-solver Aaron Hamer, working with the dream-team to stuff product into bags, and having Heather Dawn look at my bruised and twisted ankle while members of the Lady Planeswalkers watched on and took pictures. One of the stories that stands out is a conversation I had with the security guards, an elderly Filipino couple who did not seem like they should be security guards. I was on a lunch break and had a conversation with them. In the chaos and madness that was GP Vegas, it was nice to get to know these two people. They had a daughter in San Diego studying in college. They moved from the Philippines, and enjoyed living in Las Vegas except for the heat. They had no idea what Magic: The Gathering was, or why everyone was so excited about it (and they were shocked when I told them about the prizes). The most memorable part of this exchange was when they gave me their phone number (they wrote it on the back of a land card) and told me that if I needed anything while I was there, I could call them. It was a touching gesture and meant a lot.
There was one time during GP San Jose when I roomed with Joe Wiesenberg. And Joe woke me up. Because I was snoring. At least, that’s what was objectively happening. Joe thought I was dying. No hyperbole… he literally thought I was asphyxiating on my death bed. Nope. I just snore something fierce, apparently. I felt really bad… but I was also really happy that I didn’t die.
There was another time when David Zimet and I drove up to LA to meet with Natasha Lewis Harrington. She was hosting a learn-to-play Magic event at a local in-patient mental health facility. While we were there, one person mistook David as his parole officer, one lady told David she loved him, and another lady told David that he had a very nice shirt… in a very provocative fashion. That being said, I don’t want to spread any mental health stigmas or misconceptions. The residents absolutely loved the experience and we all had a lot of fun. To my surprise there were actually one or two seasoned players in the group who most likely would have kicked my butt if we had played. If anyone has contacts with facilities like this, I highly encourage hosting similar events. It’s a great community service you could provide.
I once had the benefit of practicing a role play scenario with Jeff Morrow and Sean Catanese. After the role play, I shook the hands of the players. Jeff looked at me and implied that it was creepy to do that. Someone mentioned that it was a “Billyism,” and Jeff looked to Sean. Sean nodded at him and smiled as if to say, “Yeah… yeah it is…” It was pretty surreal and hilarious.
The most recent story was during the Theros Prerelease. I was at another local game shop and they had a bigger-than-expected turn out. I came as a player but jumped in to help out the judging staff. Well, halfway through the tournament Wizards Event Reporter decided to become Wizards Event Reporter-y. I don’t know the hows or whys, but there was a stall time of about fifteen minutes between every single round while we figured it out. I ended up doing some improvisational material to entertain the crowd which was well received. It included turning some raffles into big to-dos and even getting the entire store to sing Happy Birthday to a player.
Perhaps my proudest moment being a judge came on Saturday night of GP Vegas. After my team and I worked our butts off, Sean Catanese took me aside in the hallway and told me jokingly, “If I could L3 you right now, I would.” It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but it meant the world to me. It was high praise and it remains a golden moment in my judging career.
I could go on and on. I believe that every event that we attend or judge is nothing more than a series of stories woven together. Each story, as most stories, has a plot, main characters, and even a few twists along the way. And if we’re lucky, the story also has a lesson.
Tell us an embarrassing story that you’re not afraid of everyone knowing.
During one of my first GPs, I was really excited. I was completing a task and jumped up to high five a taller judge while running to one end of the event area. Sean Catanese took me aside and said in his calm, collected, Catanesey way: “Flying judges inspire chaos and anarchy.” As silly as it sounds, it was a pretty key moment in my development as a judge. As excited as I was, there is a certain level of professionalism that is expected of us.
How has being a judge influenced your non-Magic life?
Being a judge has influenced my non-Magic life in an immense fashion.
First off, it helped me through a difficult time in my life. I had a string of practicum/internships which weren’t the most supportive places, emotionally speaking. The clientele and subject matter were also pretty intense. Combine that with some difficult losses in my family at the time and it was a pretty rough few years. If I didn’t have judging events to look forward to and the judge community to make me smile, I don’t know if I would have survived that time period as well as I did. To have people tell me I did a good job, or to be in a room where everyone was sharing a collective hobby, or to have people genuinely appreciate me as a person and the work I did… all these things helped me get through that.
Secondly, I have visited locations around the world thanks to the Judge Program. Well, indirectly at least. I was approached by Wizards of the Coast to be an event host for the Pro Tour after they saw some of my work in the program (mainly the Judge Article I wrote on Customer Service and some of my behind-the-scenes work at GP Vegas). Because of this, I’ve been around the world. I’ve been to Ireland, Amsterdam, and I’m going to Spain in a few weeks. I was never the guy who wanted to travel the world, it never even occurred to me because I figured traveling would cost too much money. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d have a side-job where I travel the world. It’s amazing, and I’m thankful every day for it.
Finally, and most importantly, I’ve met some amazing people through the Judge Program. I suppose that makes sense considering that on some level we all share the same interests, but it’s also a personality thing. The friends I’ve met through it go above and beyond in their support of me, though. I remember a few months ago, I was going through some financial hardships due to a problem with school finances not coming through on time. I had a few people offer to help by lending me money. through PayPal. I didn’t take them up on it (because I’m stubborn), but the fact that good people still exist lifted my spirits (which I think I needed more so at the time). I am truly honored to be included in this group of amazing people.
What motivates you to continue being a judge?
What’s the best part about your local Magic community?
I recently moved to LA, but I still consider San Diego my local Magic community. It’s an amazing community from both a player and a judge perspective. There’s a huge player base consisting of casual friends who meet up to play Commander to hardcore competitive players who travel hours for GPs and PTQs. It’s not uncommon to play a few casual games then talk about the meta in Standard and how to sideboard against a specific deck. It’s a competitive yet casual community.
In terms of the program, we have a judge community that I believe is one of the best. We hold judge meetings up and down the county, and we’re all very well connected. The quality of judges is equally impressive. To name a few, we have Chad Havas who I consider to be one of the best people for training new candidates. We have Joe Wiesenberg who recently Level 3’d. We have David Zimet… he’s okay I guess. We have Xander, a high-profile judge known by his hashtag #afrojudge. I could list every single judge in the area and something unique they contribute. In fact, one of the biggest compliments we got was during an SCG event. Riki Hiyashi told our little San Diego group that he was impressed by us, and that we reminded him of him and his team back in the day. What a huge honor!
What is your favorite non-judging moment that happened with other judges?
Again, too many to count! David Zimet, Joe Wiesenberg, and I have had some pretty fun and interesting moments. We live in the same area and are pretty good friends, so we end up getting into weird situations together. For example, we were boarding a plane back to San Diego from GP San Jose. David had mentioned that we should have a “plan” to grab three seats in the back row. When we ended up boarding the plane, David looks back at me and says (rather loudly) “So this is where we execute our plan?” Many many people turned to look at me, including a stewardess who seemed ready to execute some sort of emergency protocol.
Another favorite non-judging moment involved hanging out at David’s house with Danny Batterman and Joe Wiesenberg. David wanted us to try a type of drink called “kava.” It resembles poo. After some cajoling, Joe and I tried a little. To quote Joe, “It tastes like taint.” He was accurate in his description. Well, apparently kava has some relaxation effects. I found this out because I proceeded to drive home (with my girlfriend, in her car) with the emergency brakes on. $1100 later, and it remains one of my favorite non-judging moments.
Some odd things happened when I hung out with Natasha Lewis Harrington and my (non-judge) friend Erica in Hollywood. I was new to the city and they were showing me around. Some people on the streets try to sell demos of their music. One person was selling a rap demo and tried to appeal to our shared heritage as African Americans. Except that I am Filipino… and I look Filipino… and I am Filipino… and he seemed very confused when I told him. There was also a homeless lady who was dancing to the music played by one of the shops. A lot of people were avoiding her, but I decided to dance with her. Afterwards, she got a little bit of applause and we thanked each other for the dance. I was worried I’d be seen as patronizing her, but it seems that my intention was well met… to have a good dance and celebrate life.
Another memorable incident happened after GP… San Diego? I was having dinner with some judges. I was also on a Doctor Who kick, and was saying a lot of his catchphrases because that’s what all the cool guys do. We recite Doctor Who catchphrases. So when the waitress came by with an order, I said, “Molto bene!” At this point, Gianluca Bonnacchi taps me on the shoulder and, with his trademark charm and smile, says wryly: “Don’t ever speak Italian with an Italian at the table.” This was the same dinner where Nicholas Sabin and I free-styled a few rap verses and I was referred to as a “color-shifted Sabin.” It was a good night.
Hot dogs. I can’t not mention the hot dogs. Natasha, Rich Harrington, David, Joe, and I were at a Korean barbecue restaurant. We were having a good time and eating a lot of meat product… they had a plethora of different animals on the menu. We were ordering things like pork belly, brisket, and flank steak. The waiter approached us for additional orders. And Rich looks at the waiter. And I could see a glint in his eye. It was the glint of a villain who has just invented a death-ray. It was the glint of an engineer who had just invented a perpetual motion machine. It was the glint of madness.
And he ordered hot dogs.
Now, I’m sure David Zimet has never actually followed through on any homicidal thoughts. But in this moment, he came close. He could not comprehend how, in this restaurant that served delicious delicacies, someone could order hot dogs. He was rather vocal about this in an entertaining way. I think he cried a bit. To be fair, the hot dogs were pretty good.
What’s the biggest rule-breaking play you’ve ever made as a player?
My short-term memory is horrible when I don’t get sleep. Mix that in with the various humans-that-die-and-make-spirit-tokens from Innistrad, and I’d be putting two tokens in for one, or one for two, etc. That even happens sometimes during matches. I’ll forget which game we’re on, who won the first one, where I am, who I am, and the meaning of life. There was also a time when I played a turn-one Silence on my opponent during a draft match. It wasn’t a rule-breaking play, but it should have been.
If you could chat with one person, real or fictional, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I’ve been able to chat with people (both real and fictional, oddly enough). I’ve corresponded briefly with James Randi via email, who I consider one of my heroes. Ditto with Robert Fulghum. However, I’d love to have dinner with them and pick their minds someday. I guess I’m a sucker for a big fluffy beard.
What would you be doing now if Magic no longer existed?
Defending my dissertation…
What character in Magic (real or fictional) represents you the best, and why?
Is there anything else you would like to add?
There’s two notes hanging on my wall by my work station. One says, “Billy, thanks for all your hard work! See you soon my friend.” The other says, “Official Recognizer of People That Stick Around and Do Good Stuff.” One is written hastily on a yellow sheet of notepad paper. The other was written in jest on graph paper. Both motivate me when times get hard. Never underestimate the power of a small gesture.
Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements about Billy are true, and one is false. Figure out which!
1) I was once flown to Arizona for a theater contest, where I won “Best Ensemble” award with my theater group.
2) I once attended my girlfriend’s company party dressed as Aquaman.
3) I hate high-fives and hugs.The answer to our most recent Two Truths and a Lie...
Thanks to Billy San Juan for taking the time to talk to us this week! Please join us next week when we highlight another rock star of the Judge Program, and also consider nominating a judge for Judge of the Week!
by Alaric Stein and W. Matt Williams