“From the dawn of time he came; moving silently down through the decades, judging many excellent events, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known he was among you… until now.”
Well, not really. Plenty of judges, organizers and players have all taken notice of this fine judge over the years. We are proud to present your Judge of the Week…Eric Smith!!!
Name: Eric Smith
Location: New York City
Judge start date: Initial Cert- L2 July 1998 // L3 Cert.- July/Sept. 1999
Occupation: Molecular Biologist
Favorite card: Ali from Cairo(card as a whole)//Dakkon Blackblade (art and flavor)
Least favorite card: Humility
Favorite format: Booster Draft
Commander General: One of my dark secrets is that I do not play commander. But I have just picked up the set of 2017 Commander decks and hopefully that will jump start me in the format so the next time I get asked this question I have an actual answer.
Favorite non-Magic Game: This is hard as I like many other games. But the one that has had the most impact on my life is D&D.
Best tournament result: PTQ win (Don’t ask how I did at the PT….)
Random fact about yourself: I am a good whistler.
How did you get involved in Magic in the first place?
As mentioned above I have been a gamer more or less all my life. And in the fall of 1993 I got a call from a friend of mine who had been at Gen Con over the summer. He told me about this radically new game that had been the talk of the convention. It was called “Magic”. And I had never heard of it. I remember thinking “well how great could it REALLY be”. A few weeks later I ran into another friend who had also been at Gen Con and asked him about this “Magic” game. He described it as being kind of like “War” (you know, the game where you flip playing cards from two decks and the highest one wins). Needless to say, this was not the most encouraging of reviews. Still, over the next few months, I kept hearing people talk about this new game. So one day I went down to a store called Cerebral Hobbies in Chapel Hill and got a starter deck of Revised. I opened it and found a Shivan Dragon looking back at me and was pretty much hooked on the game from then on.
Why do you Judge?
My reasons for judging have changed over the course of my career. Initially, before there was even a judge program, I was always the “rules guy” that people went to when they had questions about how cards worked. So, when the judge program got started (back in the days of first striking Sengir Vampires vs many, many Scryb Sprites), it was a pretty natural transition to make. And, at about the same time, I moved from North Carolina to New York City and judging was a way for me to interact with this new Magic community (which was centered at the famous Neutral Ground). I quickly found that I both enjoyed working/running events and also that I was pretty good at it, so I followed up with official certification. Soon I found myself in the role of head judge for Gray Matter Conventions, and for a large number of years my focus was on running events in the NE region like PTQs, States, Regionals, and the big regional Pre-Release events. My motivations to judge had moved from just knowing the rules to being a part of the competitive event scene and having the responsibility to keep it running well. I also had the chance to directly mentor a number of judges who were part of the core Gray Matter staff and it was motivating to see them become great judges themselves. Now, of course, all of these event types are no more (and both Gray Matter and Neutral Ground are also things of the past), so I have had to look for other motivations to stay with the program and redefine what part I wanted to play. I found that since I have been judging for so long it has become how I interact with the Magic community and I have made many friends in the program. These days I travel mainly to GPs and SCG Opens to maintain that involvement and to keep in touch with friends I only get to see at those events. I also enjoy working with newer judges (and let’s face it, given how long I have been hanging around, basically everyone is a newer judge) who are bringing their own brand of energy and enthusiasm to the program and finding out that I can still learn a few new tricks….
What challenges have you faced or are you facing to become a better judge, and how have you worked to overcome them?
One of the main challenges I faced as a judge was that I am by nature on the introverted side of the spectrum. However, being a Magic Judge is all about interacting with other people (both players as well as other judges at the larger events). So I found that I needed to work on building up my confidence level in giving rulings during events. Once I moved into a HJ role this same confidence building was needed so that I could improve on all of the interactions that I had to have with my event team to keep things on track. More recently I have found it a challenge to keep up with the changing nature of the program and what it means to be an L3 in the new new world order. And I am still working on this particular challenge so I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Who have been some of your biggest mentors in the Judge Program, and what did they teach you?
When I started in the judge program there were many fewer judges around and the opportunity to work closely with other more experienced judges were similarly restricted to being on staff at large events like Pro Tours and Nationals. Thus I didn’t really have a specific mentor in the program. Rather I made my own way and tried to take inspiration when I had the opportunity to work with judges from other regions who might have a different take on how to do things that I felt were an improvement on how I approached the same issues. It is also the case that I had a few “anti-mentors”. Before I became a judge I had had some experiences as a player where I observed some judges who were, shall we say, not performing optimally in that role. From that I gained some insight into what sorts of things I didn’t want to be doing myself.
What positive aspects has the Judge Program contributed to your everyday life?
My time in the judge program has changed my life in a number of ways. Probably the biggest thing that I have brought into my day to day existence is the self-confidence, especially in social situations, that I have gained through being a judge. While sometimes it does feel like “Eric, Head Judge” is the flip side of “Eric, Scientist” I have been able to draw on that HJ persona in other aspects of my interpersonal interactions.
What are some tips you have for other Judges?
Get more sleep, wear comfortable shoes, and make sure to drink enough water… And, most importantly, remember to have some fun with everything you do with the program.
What is your favorite non-Magic hobby?
Basically all other types of games. I have been playing RPGs and board games for most of my life and don’t really see that changing any time soon.
Tell us your favorite Judge story.
Well, I am going to tell you two stories: The first is my favorite judge story that was told to me by another judge. The second is my favorite personal judge story.
So, this first story was told to me by Elaine Chase back in the days when she was a judge and not, you know, running the Magic brand. Anyways, the story goes like this: She was working with a new judge candidate at an event and gave him a hypothetical scenario to see what his response would be. “Say you are walking by a match, and you see two players playing what looks like a normal game. Then you notice that one has a Humility in play and the other has Living Plane in play. But it is clear that the game has been going on like this for a while and both players are still casting spells and playing out new creatures. What do you do?”.
The candidate’s answer?
“Keep on walking.”
I have always loved that story.
My favorite personal story involves a pre-release that happened so long ago that I have actually forgotten what set it was, other than it was the winter set. I know that it was a winter set as the story also involves a huge blizzard that hit New York on the Saturday night of pre-release weekend. The pre-release was being run at Neutral Ground and we had hurried to finish up all of the Saturday events to get folks home before the storm hit. Overnight we got a lot of snow, and the city more or less shut down. Still we had not officially cancelled the Sunday event and the doors were supposed to open at 8am. It was up to me to get over to Neutral Ground and open things up. I get up way too early and head out on foot across the city. I find myself walking down the center of Fifth Avenue, as it is easier going than the unshovelled sidewalks and there are absolutely no cars or busses or cabs about anyway (or other people for that matter). Muttering to myself about just how silly a thing this was to be doing I made the turn onto 26th street and continued my trudge to Neutral Ground. Only to find myself stunned a few minutes later as I saw four players huddled in the doorway waiting for me to arrive. The best part of this was that they had all somehow gotten into New York from different parts of New Jersey… To this day I am not sure how they managed it but I learned never to stand between a Magic player and a pre-release.
Many thanks to our JotW, Eric Smith, for all of his hard work and dedication over the years. But there is one more thing before you go, Eric!
Two Truths and a Lie
- I have played saxophone for a President of the United States
- I have performed publicly as a fire-eater
- I have sung “New York, New York” with a Rockette
David Lyford-Smith was not an extra in Midsomer Murders, his sister was!