Welcome back to Judge of the Week! This week’s rock star Judges for the Win and is a known leader and strong mentor on and off the floor. Congratulations, Dave Elden!
Name: David Elden
Location: Ft. Wayne, Indiana, USA
Judge start date: August 31, 2013
Why did you become a judge? Like many judges, I started doing “judge stuff” before I was certified. I always had a keen interest in the rules, so I became known as a “rules guy” in my store. When I went to college, I organized a weekly draft with my friends. That sort of thing. I avoided the Judge Program for a long time, though, because I’d had a string of bad experiences with certified judges. I had come to believe that judges as a whole were arrogant, dismissive, focused on their own community rather than the players and thoroughly convinced of their own infallibility, and I didn’t want to associate with people like that. Eventually, I decided that being bitter about it would do no good. I certified for L1 well aware of the pitfalls I had to avoid and vowed that I would use my position to advocate for the players as best as I could.
Occupation: I’m an engineer at a company that makes burners. Typical applications include home heating and commercial cooking.
Favorite card: Brainstorm. This card embodies everything I love about Magic. It’s so simple, but leads to immensely complex decisions.
Least favorite card: Blood Moon. The true epitome of a non-interactive Magic card.
Commander general: N/A
Favorite non-Magic game: Super Smash Brothers Melee
Best tournament result:
Serious/competitive REL – 12th at an SCG Classic
Regular REL – once won 3 game days in one weekend
Random fact about yourself: In high school, I was an accomplished Scrabble player. I founded a club for it at my school and even won a couple of local tournaments.
Recently you received a shoutout on JudgeCast for taking on a team lead position at SCG Louisville on short notice. What was that like?
I remember getting a message from Jess Dunks as I was riding down at around 11PM. You know something’s up when your head judge is contacting you the night before an event. It turned out that due to airline-related delays, the judge originally scheduled to lead the deck checks team for the main event the next day wasn’t going to be getting in until around noon. Jess asked if I would be comfortable taking over until then. I was reminded of my previous SCG Open, where I was asked to fill in for the day 1 side events team lead who had to withdraw a few days prior to the event. I received a lot of positive feedback from that performance, including some Exemplar recognitions, which gave me the confidence to say yes here. Despite some challenges, we got through the beginning of the day with relatively low stress. After the originally scheduled team lead showed up, he and Jess talked it over and asked if I would continue as team lead for the rest of the day.
Any suggestions for people stepping into a leadership role?
I actually like the challenge of taking on a leadership role on short notice because it forces me to think on my feet. I feel particularly well-suited to this type of challenge because my personal leadership style is very light on preplanning anyway. I think a lot of judges overplan when stepping into leadership roles because everyone likes to feel like they’re well-prepared. Unfortunately, for many things, it’s just not feasible to plan more than a couple of rounds ahead. Instead, when I’m in a team lead or head judge position, I generally only think about two or three tasks at a time, the next two or three things that need to get done. If you can’t keep up with everything by doing that, it could be a sign you aren’t delegating enough. On the other hand, trying to plan much further ahead than that can lead to a lot of wasted effort, since plans invariably change in response to future events. Being able to predict the next few things that will need your attention takes some skill in tournament logistics, but once you have that down, I think it’s the least stressful and most effective way.
Another thing that was brought up at both those events was your stellar communication. Can you share any tips?
Strong communication takes on heightened importance if you’re going with a light preplanning style as described above. Frequent communication with the head judge and your team members should be the norm. When communicating with team members, a lot of people favor making lots of announcements to their whole team a few times throughout the day. This style is obviously attractive as the least work-intensive and seemingly most efficient. Unfortunately, there are some systemic problems that make this approach less effective. First, the more people you’re addressing, the less likely it is each one understands the message you’re trying to convey. This is primarily because it’s difficult to speak so that more than a few people can hear you in a crowded convention hall. Additionally, the more people are in a group, the less comfortable people will feel asking questions, so even if someone can make out the words you say, it’s no guarantee they will understand them.
A more effective approach is to pull as much content as possible out of all-hands team meetings and deliver it in the form of one-on-one conversations on the floor a short time before the information will become relevant. Yes, this is a lot more work for you both in the form of more time spent giving instructions and more energy making sure you’ve passed the message to everyone who needs to know it. But I’ve found this makes a dramatic difference in how effective your communication is.
You’re also known for your judge blog. Can you talk a bit about it?
I am the author of the blog Judging For the Win on the Magic Judge Blog Portal. I’ve been writing and publishing articles about rules, policy, philosophy, and best practices on a monthly basis for a few years now. Probably my best-known contribution to the judge community are the New Set Digest articles I publish whenever a new set is released. These summarize material about new cards and mechanics together with changes in the MTR, IPG, and CR. My goal is to publish a single article that judges can read to familiarize themselves with all the changes that happen when a new set comes out instead of having to reference a bunch of different sources and learn about these changes separately.
How did you get started writing it?
Fort Wayne has an active judging community, and we have meetings every month to keep our skills sharp and discuss changes in the program. I started preparing material to talk about and keeping notes on these proceedings. Then, I got a WordPress blog to share these with other judges in our area. Eventually, it was brought up that a lot of the material had broader interest than just Ft. Wayne judges, so I looked into getting on the Judge Blogs site and the rest is history.
Anything else you’d like us to know about it?
It’s not a rules blog. I hear people refer to it this way a lot, and I understand why. The most read content, including my New Set Digests has a definite rules slant, and I’m pretty well-known as a rules guy personally. But Judging For the Win is so much more! As the title implies, I want to help people improve in every aspect of judging. Rules knowledge is certainly a piece of that, but it isn’t the whole pie. My content on philosophy and best practices may not be as well-known, but it’s more representative of my long-term vision for Judging For the Win.
What would you be doing now if Magic no longer existed?
I would be playing some other game. I’m very competitive, and I’ve played about 5 or 6 other games at a club or tournament level. I might fall back on one of them, or I might pick something new out that I’ve wanted to try but haven’t made the time for.
Tell us your favorite judge story.
Walking the floor at a States event, I saw a player play a Khalni Garden and put a card from his sideboard facedown as the token. Of course, my judge instincts kicked in right away and I walked up to tell him not to do that. But then, I paused. Maybe I could do better. I walked up to the scorekeeper, secured an approximately card-sized scrap of paper, and drew (using the term loosely here) a cartoonish likeness of a sunflower on it. I returned to the table and explained to the player why we don’t like to see people using facedown sideboard cards as tokens, offering him the use of the token I had just sketched instead. He thanked me, took it, and continued his game. A month or so later, at a different tournament, in a different city, I saw something strange on a table and walked closer to investigate. As I neared the table, I saw it was the same player using the same token that I had made for him. He had saved it and even put it in a sleeve. I was overwhelmed. In that moment, I had something that comes to us judges far, far too infrequently: incontrovertible, objective, physical evidence that I had made a player’s day better. It’s a memory I cherish to this very day. It’s a feeling that I hope every judge can have at least once in their career.
What is your favorite non-judging moment that happened with other judges (or after event story)?
It was at GP Sao Paulo last year. I was sharing a meal with a group of judges from that event after spending the day exploring the city with Yukio Victoria and on our way to hang out at a local game store. Things like this really typify why I love the Judge Program. Learning Portuguese, traveling halfway around the world, meeting these wonderful people, there’s no chance I would have had any of those fantastic experiences if I wasn’t a judge.
What’s the biggest rule-breaking play you’ve ever made as a player?
When I was just starting out, I saw a Mask of the Mimic in a collection that I had inherited from my cousin. The card struck me as unusually powerful, so I immediately put a playset in my deck. For several games I thought I could target a “creature card” in my library and essentially use Mask of the Mimic as a Crop Rotation for creatures. I cackled with glee as I promoted my Soltari Foot Soldiers or Thalakos Sentrys into my one-of Akroma, Angel of Wrath and assured my incredulous opponents that this was definitely how that card worked.
What is the proudest moment of your judge life?
Towards the end of last year, Patrick Cobley and I were put in charge of organizing the first judge conference in Ft. Wayne’s history. We pulled all the stops. We secured a beautiful venue, set up a Twitch channel to live stream the seminars, even baked cookies for the attendants. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching something like that come together after months of planning. It was a lot of hard work, but we got a lot of compliments on how well it was run.
What character in Magic (real or fictional) represents you the best, and why?
I’d say Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. His opinions of what cards and decks are good in a format are always very close to mine, and his preferences of what style of deck to pilot are very similar to mine too. I always root for him when he’s in a feature match, and he’s one of my favorite Magic writers to read also. I’ve gotten to talk to him a couple of times and he’s a really great guy.
If you were a Planeswalker, what would be your ultimate?
0: Draw three cards, then put two cards from your hand on top of your library.
Like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, my real ultimate would be Brainstorming every turn until the opponent was buried by card advantage. Mine is templated different because unlike Jace, I know rule CR 401.4, which renders the “in any order” part of this ability superfluous.
What are some tips you have for other Judges?
Play Magic. In tournaments. There’s a widespread joke that judges can’t play Magic or are bad at Magic. I think this type of attitude does tremendous damage to the judge community’s reputation among players. Seeing you playing in events fights the widespread perception that judges are distant, unapproachable, or uninterested in the tournament environment. Giving yourself perspective as a player is invaluable in providing the best customer service to players in tournaments you’re judging. It’s no accident how many former L4 and L5’s played on the Pro Tour. So borrow a deck and play. If you mainly judge FNM’s and prereleases, make a point to play in some of them. If you judge competitive REL, try to play in at least one GP or SCG open per year.
Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements are true and one is false. Figure out which!
- I once had to get someone a DCI number so I could enter him in an event and assess him an Unsporting Conduct penalty.
- I won a ROE prerelease in Shanghai despite not being able to read any of the cards.
- I have at least one of every FNM promo that’s been released since I started playing Magic.
If there is a judge who is also doing something exemplary, please nominate a judge TODAY!