Hello Judges and welcome to another exciting installment of Judge of the Week. This week’s hero will be a great judge who knows what it means to be a Judge Dad.
Name: Mike Gyssels
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Judge start date: L1 certification August 2016, L2 certification February 2017
Occupation: IT Researcher and Analyst, and Dad
Favorite card: Mystical Teachings
Least favorite card: Splinter Twin
Favorite format: Pauper (Modern is a close 2nd!)
Commander General: Dragonlord Silumgar
Favorite non-Magic Game: Tabletop: Akrotiri; video: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Best tournament result: Spiked a PPTQ back in KTK – OGW Standard with Esper Dragons, hence my love of Big Sil. I’ve done nothing in tournament Magic since!
Random fact about yourself: I have a collection of Magic cards with quotes from published literature on them. I haven’t finished yet, but just last weekend I acquired the Legends Hellfire that had been eluding me for years!
Why do you Judge?
Wow, starting things off easy, eh? At this point, I judge because I love it. I started judging as a way to better engage with the students in my Magic clubs at the schools for which I taught. In general, Magic seemed to initiate a number of positive relationships with people, especially my students, and those relationships enhanced my love of teaching and my love of the game. My desire to teach people Magic lead me into judging and community involvement, but once I set foot on the floor of an Open, and eventually a GP, I was hooked and driven to do more, want more, judge more.
The thing that keeps me coming back each and every time is the people, especially the players (no offense to all my judge friends). As with teaching, the success stories from tournament to tournament, the “ah ha!” moments when a player figures out a rules interaction, the handshakes from a player in Las Vegas and then later in Indianapolis or New York, the smiles and the small expressions of thanks – those are what I really live for as a judge. That players recognize me and will ask for my time to explain a ruling they witnessed or that they saw on a stream is also really gratifying.
That said, I also love the mentorship opportunities available to me as an L2: sharing challenging questions and scenarios with both my junior and senior judges, and organizing study groups for my judge candidates are keys to my happiness in the program.
You were nominated for your mentoring skills and efforts in the Canadian community and on the global scale. It seems natural as you are also a teacher by trade. Do you have any general ideas and tips to bolster these skills? What is your preferred approach? Do you have any resources to recommend?
In my experience, being a good mentor means being a good listener for a few reasons. From a teacher’s perspective, when you listen well, it means you can pick up patterns in the ideas that your students have. In the case of judging, it means listening for areas that new judges commonly have problems with in their rulings or their player interactions, as well as areas where they are likely to succeed, so you can profitably foster growth in those areas.
You should also listen so you can grow accustomed to when people aren’t telling the truth. This is obviously important for investigations, but when we’re talking about mentorship it means listening for those judges who say “everything is fine” when maybe it’s not. You can start to spot people who need support or a helping hand, but won’t ask for it.
And again, as with investigations, listening means asking the right questions of your students, so you can help them find the right answers on their own, or so you can really get to know them, and ask questions that they’ll engage with. Being a good listener means showing you care. I resist the temptation to tell people how they messed up or why what they did was wrong without first asking them how their judge call / shift / event went. I know I have a great deal of difficulty being told I messed up when I’m already aware that I messed up a ruling, so for me, it’s important that judges get a chance to reflect and talk about how they’re feeling, rather than being told they made a mistake.
If you can be attuned to what other judges are experiencing, you can give them good feedback; feedback that will encourage them and generate building blocks for their next experience. Be actionable with feedback, and always speak in the positive, even when criticising. That is, avoid saying “Don’t be so stubborn about breaks!” Instead, say “Remember to take your assigned breaks; time off your feet helps you recharge!”
As a teacher and a new father, I’m also acutely aware of how my actions and words are perceived. Being a good mentor means modeling the behaviour you want to see. For example. when I’m on the floor, I try to make a point to be slightly obvious or emphatic with my body language around newer judges. When we’re having a conversation, I try to exaggerate my movements as I turn to stand so that combined, we have comprehensive vision of the floor. I also make an effort to shadow judges of all levels all the time. If someone takes a call nearby, I listen in if I can. Often, with newer judges, they might take a step away to consult. Sometimes they just want a reassuring nod after giving a ruling. Sometimes, they need a hand, but I generally wait until the judge asks – otherwise, I try to make it clear without interrupting, that I’m available if they need a quick sanity check before ruling. With senior judges, I’m always looking to pick up tips or ask for insights into complex rulings.
Also, write more reviews. Reviews give you and the recipient time to reflect. They also create opportunities to give more feedback. And they create opportunities for discourse from which you and the recipient both can grow.
As far as resources go, I would recommend The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The book is a relatively simple read, though it’s by no means easy. While the book isn’t explicitly about mentorship, it had a profound impact on me in Teacher’s College and helped me develop the empathic elements of my teaching practice.
I have a ton of PDFs and other books if folks are interested in teaching philosophy. Many of them, again, are quite short reads, but have a lot to offer in small doses.
You have put a lot of work into your local community of London in Ontario. You even organize a charity event for it. Would you be so kind and share a thought or two about such experience? Have you observed any impact on the atmosphere in the community based on such endeavour?
I will admit that growing and healing the community here has been a challenge. I have at various times been angry, sad, and frustrated, sometimes nearly to tears because of some of the behaviours directed toward me, to other players, or more broadly to groups of people. I started playing Magic in Toronto, and made trips 3-4 times a week to different stores, with different playgroups, and rarely did I run into players that I had any negative experiences with. No community is perfect, but when I moved to London, I very quickly decreased my weekly playtime to one FNM at only one store. It was tiring and altogether not fun anymore playing Magic, and that bothered me.
I still judged, but I traveled a lot for it. I often made trips both Saturday and Sunday back and forth to Toronto to judge FacetoFace Opens followed by Sunday Showdowns, to get the experience to level up, but also so that I could experience the game in a place that was more welcoming.
Since getting L2, though, I’ve made concerted efforts to bring that atmosphere to my stores here. My goal has been to bring new players in and nurture a friendlier environment by speaking out against bullying, sharing in moderating duties on our Facebook Communities, and by engaging more with the community. Making my way out to play so that I can meet with and get to know people, and so I can generally try and be a positive influence instead of avoiding the negativity has helped me take the problems in stride and focus on the positives. It’s a symptom of the privilege I experience that I could walk away unscathed most of the time, and I felt that eventually I had to make more out of my privileged position to stand up for those people who aren’t so lucky as I am.
For all the issues about which I’ve reached out to my RC, Jon Goud, to fix, there is a lot to like here as well. For example, my cat Spirit, has become somewhat of a sensation for being nauseatingly cute and profoundly derpy.
When I announced the charity tournament, the response was overwhelming. Players and stores have come together to donate cards, packs, playmats and other memorabilia. Even Wizards sent us some goodies! Players are eager to contribute within their means, and I’m always touched by donations regardless of size.
Through the creation of this tournament, I’ve come to know and spend time with players I never thought that I would, and I’m grateful to those players for giving me a chance, even when I was, for some time, maligned for trying to “shake things up” by cracking down on the bullying and bad behaviour to which players had become accustomed.
The Forest City Magic Community Cup takes place on November 26th, the day after London’s first regional Judge Conference, so it’s going to be an exciting and exhausting weekend for me – and I encourage anyone interested in coming out to support us to do so! It’s going to be a great time.
What has been your favourite Magic event that you’ve judged?
GP Toronto 2017. It was a real challenge. Everything was on fire all the time and yet the players were totally unaware. Kudos to an excellent staff on that one!
What is your favorite non-judging moment that happened with other Judges (or after event story)?
Singing Hybrid Theory and Meteora (R.I.P. Chester Bennington) back-to-back in their entirety with Jason Wong, Seth Black, Graham Schofield, and Kaitlin McLachlan to stay awake on our way-too-late nighttime drive to Syracuse. Nothing brings friends together like In the End.
What challenges have you faced or are you facing to become a better judge, and how have you worked to overcome them?
Somewhere inside the unholy trinity of Work Life – Home Life – Judge Life I often lose myself. Not long before becoming L2, and just before finishing up my last high school teaching job, my son was born. I spent a summer unemployed, then taught at a college in Sarnia, an hour plus away from my home. Commuting daily was an incredible strain. To maintain and progress as a judge, I would travel on weekends up to Toronto as well to take advantage of the experience, and to make some extra money, which became increasingly important as my contract in Sarnia expired in January of 2017.
Most parents will tell you that their kids are everything. In many ways they really are. Theo is the love of my life and I would do anything for him. That said, raising kids is also incredibly hard. When they’re infants, they don’t sleep when you want them to, or eat when you want them to, or generally do anything that you want them to. And that’s really hard.
I had to make a number of sacrifices when Theo was born in order to be with my family and be there to raise my son. I was, after all, 25. I had just finished my 6th year of post-secondary, scored a teaching contract my first year out of school, and I was living in Toronto and loving it, but I had to make some compromises to be with my new baby and my partner.
I’m an uncompromising person, though, so instead I tried to do it all. And for a while I did do it all, but time waits for no man or something like that, so the sacrifice was, in many ways, my well-being instead. I drove up to Toronto regularly, as noted above. I would often arrive home at 3am, only to drive back to Sarnia at 6am on Monday. When I went to GP Vegas, my partner sent me some videos of my son saying his own name for the first time, and so I spent most of that night crying.
I think this question was supposed to end with me describing how I’ve worked to overcome my major challenges, but to this point, I’m still trying to figure it out. I will say that I’ve made an effort to regiment my weekly schedule and get more sleep, more family time, and more nutrition on a day-to-day basis. Those extended weekend GP drives still bite me pretty hard sometimes, but a rigid bedtime, as well as nights in with my little one have provided me a great deal of emotional stability, so that those long weekends become adventures rather than chores.
Judging is really hard sometimes, but for all that I’ve put in, I’ve been rewarded sevenfold in friends, experiences, memories, and personal growth.
Who have been some of your biggest mentors in the Judge Program, and what did they teach you?
First, I wouldn’t be in this role without Rick Miles who certified me and who is my co-pilot to oh so many FacetoFace Toronto events; and Graham Schofield who provided me with the countless Competitive REL tournaments that helped get me to L2 (and made me an expert in judging Frontier). These two have been leaders in Southwestern Ontario for some time, and I’m immensely grateful to them for their continued efforts to make our communities better places to play.
Likewise, I can’t say enough about the leadership team in Canada; Jon Goud and Jason Wong have pushed me at the right times, lifted me up at the right times, given me the freedom to experiment and take charge on regional projects (like our budding blog). I know that I can count on them when I need resources or when I need a shoulder or just when I need a laugh. We’re really lucky in this region that somehow we’re so far apart most of the time, and yet our judges feel like one big family. We owe that to strong, compassionate leadership.
Proudest moment of your Judge life?
Receiving 12 exemplars last wave. Standing on a chair above a swarm of about 100+ players, HJing my first Open at GP Toronto. I announced to them that, after a long 9 rounds, anyone who stayed to finish their last match would receive 100 prize tickets, no matter what place they finished. This announcement was met with uproarious applause. I have struggled in the past with my judge voice, so to get that many players to listen to me, inside a GP hall, without a microphone (even if they were cheering for prize tickets), was still really special – and quite hilarious, truth be told.
What is your favorite non-Magic hobby?
Playing recreational sports, especially hockey. I gave it up for over 10 years at the beginning of high school for a number of personal reasons and really started to miss it in the past year, so I saved up some money (i.e. sold some Magic Cards) and bought back in. Curse me for being a goalie, of course, because equipment is probably 3 times as expensive for goalies than for non-goalies. Thankfully, WotC banned Sensei’s Divining Top, so I didn’t need my Miracles cards anymore!
What would you be doing now if Magic no longer existed?
I think about this more than I should, perhaps because I have a bit of a mercurial tendency with my hobbies, so I have often thought that maybe I should get out of Magic because of the cost or because I don’t have time. I don’t really know where I’d be without it, though. Where other hobbies have faded, or have been tied closely to a group of friends, or a context (say being in Grad School for English, where I spent a lot of time reading and writing poetry), Magic has transcended most of those segmentations in my life and I’ve made a lot of friends and memories playing and judging this game, which helps me fall more in love with it every single day.
If you were a Planeswalker what would be your ultimate?
I drafted some ideas with help from locals in my community:
-7: Exile up to three target permanents (because you’re no fun and don’t like memes)
-8: The game ends in a draw (because you like boring, never-ending EDH games where no one wins)
-10: If a player would concede the game, instead each player shuffles his or her hand and graveyard into his or her library and draws 7 cards. (fingers crossed for Unstable!)
-15: Draw cards equal to the number of cards in your library. For the rest of the game, if you would draw a card from an empty library, instead discard a card. You get an emblem with “Whenever you discard a card, target opponent puts the top 2 cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard. If those cards share a colour, repeat this process.”
But I think the most accurate would be:
-6: Search your library and graveyard for any number of cards named “Capsize” and put them into your hand.
If you were a creature what would be your creature type?
Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements are true and one is false. Figure out which!
- I taught myself to juggle with hockey pucks in about half an hour while waiting to be picked up after hockey practice.
- One of my cats is worth ~$8000.
- I LOVE seafood; like can’t stop, won’t stop at seafood buffets.
If there is a judge who is also doing something exemplary, please nominate a judge TODAY!