Jacob Milicic

Judges, welcome back! Our rock star this week not only has been integral to the Judge of the Week project, but he’s written about how to best coach judges and has garnered an impressive number of Exemplar recognitions. Let’s get to know Jacob Milicic!

Name: Jacob Milicic
Level: 2
Location: Madison, WI
Judge start date: July 3rd, 2014 (I did not get the required 101% exam score, but I guess they made an exception because the L1 certification went through)
Why did you become a judge? I was already fulfilling the role for my local game store and wanted to see if I could “make it official.”
Occupation: Senior QA Specialist (which does not adequately convey that I work with biochem, software, and robots)
Favourite card: Sphinx’s Revelation
Least favourite card: Temur Battle Rage
Favourite format: Modern
Commander General: Keranos, God of Storms
Favourite non-Magic Game: Eternal
Best tournament result: Top 8 Super Sunday Series at GP Louisville 2016
Random fact about yourself: I have an ongoing love affair with craft beer, up to and including homebrewing as a hobby.

How did you become involved with the Judge of the Week project?
I was minding my own business at work one day, sipping some coffee and trying to review a colleague’s report, when suddenly I see a message from John Temple saying he had too much going on with other projects and had to take a step back from leading Judge of the Week. He was asking for someone else to take over. I was surprised that I was on the list of people he reached out to, as I was the only one in the discussion not already involved with the Judge of the Week project. As the discussion unfolded we resolved to transition Michael Arrowsmith into John’s role and me into Michael’s role. John has been in the wings ever since, and his contributions to the project from that position have been instrumental to its continued success.

It was always a project I enjoyed the fruits of, and I was excited to potentially be an active part in keeping it going. And it has been genuinely rewarding work ever since!

What do you do for the Judge of the Week project?
My role is referred to within our internal team as manager. I dole out new assignments for judges who have been nominated to our stable of interviewers, work with Michael on coordinating Special Features, schedule our posts for publish, and manage our publishing schedule. It involves a lot of spreadsheet usage to track everyone’s current workloads, including the status of each of their individual assignments, and determine which resources are least-burdened by current work, giving those individuals the new assignments that come in. I also get involved when there are problems with one of our posts not yet meeting our standards for quality, and often do a final review of a post before it is published to ensure we do not publish without meeting those standards. If an interview is stuck at a certain step in our process, I determine and take what actions make the most sense within the project to get the interview moving back toward publishing. Finally, I communicate the planned publishing schedule to the team, to let our proofreader Matt Karr know how to prioritize his work and also keep everyone apprised of our plan.

One of your claims to fame is writing about “compassionate coaching.” Can you sum up what that is and how to practice it?
Compassionate coaching is, in essence, applying empathy to delivering your “areas for improvement” feedback. You observe the person’s behavior not just for what to comment on, but also how to make those comments to them in the most effective way. The goal is to communicate these areas for improvement in a way that is optimized for the person to receive, acknowledge, and be motivated to act on your points.

Invariably when this topic is broached, someone remarks in a way that implies that this feedback technique is somehow inherently disingenuous (example “but what if I am the more brutally honest type?”). This is as if to advance the idea that compassionate coaching is some kind of smokescreen for not communicating honestly in the interest of protecting someone else’s feelings.

I argue that not meaning what you are saying runs counter to one of the fundamental principles behind compassionate coaching, being that you should care about the subject of your feedback improving. Compassionate coaching must be inherently honest to be effective, as otherwise you are not giving someone the information they need to grow.

How did you get involved in Magic in the first place?
My older brother purchased a couple of starter decks from a catalog called Wargames West in a time long, long since past. I was hooked from there, bought way too much Fallen Empires, got out of the game at Ice Age, got back in briefly for Mirage -> Tempest, got back in again briefly for Onslaught block, had a longer stint in for Ravnica -> Future Sight, and finally back in and stayed in with Innistrad. It was ultimately my wife Larissa’s interest in playing more of the game that got me to the level of involvement I find myself in today, much to both her pleasure and dismay depending on how much fun she is having with the current Sealed and Standard formats.

How has being a judge influenced your non-Magic life?
Being a judge has made me a far-more confident person than I ever was, and has allowed me to make friendships that I do not 100% associate exclusively with my Magic life. It has also helped me professionally, as I have learned effective ways to communicate feedback to others at my job and how to manage resources on a team effectively. I was not particularly comfortable delegating responsibility prior to becoming a judge, but experience as a judge has helped me not only realize the benefits of doing so for any particular endeavor but also more easily identify those tasks that are good candidates for delegation.

What motivates you to continue being a judge?
The constant drive for self-improvement omnipresent within the program. I have encountered so many people that both share my drive to improve themselves and wish to facilitate that improvement in others. It is not unlike a drug in that regard, but a good drug.

What’s the best part about your local Magic community?
Madison is full of excellent Magic players who are also just quality people. There are 5 stores that I know do events at least on a prerelease basis if not beyond that, and events are happening every day of the week. The community is thriving and the people are great. What is not to love?

What’s the biggest rule-breaking play you’ve ever made as a player?
While this isn’t a rule-breaking play, it is one I feel terrible about. Larissa and I won two games of 2HG at the Khans of Tarkir prerelease through me casting Deflecting Palm choosing one of our opponents’ attacking creatures. The opponents could have assigned the damage to Larissa, and Deflecting Palm would have done nothing. But neither they nor I knew that at the time. To be fair, everyone involved assumed it worked the way that I wanted because otherwise why would I, someone who knows the rules, put the card in my deck and play it in that spot? It was unintentional on my part, and I felt really bad about it after I discovered my error. 

If you could chat with one person, real or fictional, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
My Aunt Edwina. We lost her back in 2009 to cancer. She was a professional scientist like I am, an environmental chemist, and also was an enormous nerd like I am. It was always a joy to talk with her and it seemed like I had just moved to the Midwest when suddenly she started taking turns for the worse. I felt robbed of so many opportunities to talk with her more and learn more of her life story. She was an amazing woman and incredibly fun to be around.

What is the strangest card interaction you have seen in a tournament?
A player had an Ancestral Vision coming off of Suspend, and had been Ghost Quartered in upkeep. Their opponent had a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and an Eidolon of Rhetoric in play. They asked if they were required to pay 1 and cast their Ancestral Vision, since they had another spell they wanted to cast instead that turn. The tricky bit here was they had “instinctively” floated mana from the land that had been hit by Ghost Quarter. While Thalia cannot force you to activate mana abilities, you are required to cast the suspend spell on resolution of the trigger if able, and if there is already mana in your pool you must use it to pay her tax.

This mostly sticks in my head because I was about to rule that the player was not compelled to cast Ancestral Vision, but then looked up Suspend to confirm and saw that casting the spell was not optional.

How do you have fun during events?
I really enjoy watching Magic. If I’ve got a block of time I need to kill, I’ll pull up some coverage or someone’s stream and watch games of Magic. For me, that aspect of the job is quite fun. I also love talking about rules, policy, and aspects of the Judge Program with other judges. Sometimes you find out someone you just met this morning has some keen insights that expand your understanding in some way, and that experience is fantastic.

What do you see as your greatest strengths as a judge?
I consider myself a quality mentor of other judges. I genuinely care about the development of each judge I work with, and I think that comes through in the quality of coaching I give, the attention to detail contained therein, and the personal nature of those interactions. This attention can often take the form of attempting finding ways to communicate ideas that will be more-likely to be received and digested. Being sensitive to how others think, operate, and what type of learning works best for them helps considerably.

Ever since becoming an L1, I have prided myself on my knowledge and understanding of the Magic Comprehensive Rules and our policies, and this is a tool I continuously hone. It seems I am forever finding areas of the CR I was less-educated on, and this excites and motivates me into uncovering that information and internalizing the major concepts to make me more-effective and more-accurate in my rulings. I do not believe I am by any means a guru of the level of, say, Nathan Long, but that is the level of competency I strive for and I think it shows.

What are the areas you feel like you would most like to work on?
Rob McKenzie talked with me about working on my presence, and I agree this is an area I struggle with. I feel as though I do not get “having” presence as a concept, since it seems to be predicated entirely on how others react to you. I often hear myself being characterized as “reserved” by other judges, including ones I have interacted with a lot. That does not align with my self-image, so clearly there must be things I am doing that are giving people the impression that I am closed off. Amusingly, one of the pieces of actual, actionable feedback Rob gave me when we discussed this can effectively be summarized as “be you, but taller.”

I also feel I could still stand to improve in the area of investigations. I’ve been talking with CJ Crooks off and on about this topic, and he has been an incredibly useful resource in giving me scenarios to chew on and helping me find ways to flex my ill-used “spider sense” muscles when presented with situations one might encounter on the floor. I do not feel as though I am incompetent in this area, but I want to be far better than merely adequate.

Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements are true and one is false. Figure out which!

  1. My first college major for two years out of high school was vocal music performance, as a tenor. I switched schools and majors, ultimately receiving my complete education in Biochemistry.
  2. While I frequently enjoy craft beers now, it was not until a few years ago that I was able to do this as I formerly had a consistent, adverse reaction to consuming hops that was unpleasant.
  3. Back when I had more free time, I used to routinely practice various martial arts, including Karate, Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Classical Fencing. I even taught Fencing classes on numerous occasions!
The answer to the last Two Truths and a Lie...
Nemesio Bolaños did not lose a playmat in the middle of a gang fight.

If there is a judge who is also doing something exemplary, please nominate a judge TODAY!

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