Want a prescription to become a better judge? Minh-Duc Vu can help give you one! Minh-Duc is a pharmacist and this week’s Judge of the Week. When nominating him, Jarrod Williams wrote, “Minh is one of the best community organizers that I know. He has organized and judged a vibrant and growing competitive event scene in Cincinnati. He manages something over 20 stores in the greater Cincinnati area and has been a workhorse in helping those stores organize and plan for the PPTQ season. He is a tireless mentor willing to educate Judges, players, and TOs. He is known for the judge box that he maintains to teach judge candidates. He even once bought out Star City of Tibalts so he could add planeswalkers to the judge box.” Read on to find out more about our latest rock star!
Name: Minh-Duc Vu
Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States
Judge start date: Approximately August 2010
Favourite card: Tenth edition Foil Time Stop. I enjoy the elegance of that card. Compare it to the non-foil and you’ll understand why.
Least favourite card: Life and Limb. I know Volrath’s Shapeshifter is historically the bigger headache layers wise, but trivia-level layers interactions always includes Life and Limb somewhere.
Favourite flavor text: “Some convictions are so strong that the world must break to accommodate them.” (from the 2007 Judge Foil version of Vindicate).
Where are you from?
I was born in Cincinnati, OH and raised in Lake Charles, LA. I moved back to Cincinnati for pharmacy school. I had to make an effort to say “Pop” instead of “Coke” but I will say “Y’all” without remorse.
What does being a pharmacist entail? How long have you been doing it?
I’m a pharmacist. It’s legal drug dealing. More importantly, pharmacists are drug experts, and we receive far more training on drugs than doctors or nurses. I only graduated from my 4 year post-graduate Pharmacy Doctorate program in 2013, so haven’t been at it for very long (Don’t call me doctor).
How would you compare/contrast your full-time job with judging?
I love my job. It is drug-drug interactions instead of card-card interactions. Also, I’m miserable at trading, so judging full-time isn’t in the cards.
How does your judging life affect your full-time job, and how does your job affect your judging life?
Judging has taught me quite a bit about time management and people skills. Pharmacy has pushed compassion and patience.
When did you certify? Who certified you?
A PTQ side event at Grand Prix Columbus 2010. Ryan Stapleton gave me the review and exam, but I also give credit to John Alderfer who gave a shot to some random kid who approached him at a PES PTQ in “Cincinnati” (Actually Erlanger, KY). Cincinnati desperately needed a judge as there were no active judges in the entire city. Considering the population of the Cincinnati metro-area; it is a huge group of players that had no judges.
When did you advance each level? Any stories associated with your various advancements come to mind?
My advancement was pretty much in line with the “Current L1s should move to L2 *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*” when the L1 change was incoming. It was an SCG Open in Indy in 2011. My advancement was pretty clean although Dan Stephens did attempt to troll me when the Oracle text didn’t print on the exam the first time.
How long have you been playing Magic in general?
I started around Ice Age. A friend introduced the game to me while we were playing the Decipher Star Wars CCG. It’s been off and on since then although a hurricane ruined my old collection.
What do you like most about the game in general?
The social aspect is the most important. I think this is truly what separates the game is the global network of places where players interact face to face.
If there were one thing you could change about the game, what would it be?Only one thing? I would change up the dividing line between artifacts and enchantments. Artifacts would only have activated abilities, and enchantments would only have globally affecting abilities.
What do you like most about judging?
Meeting fellow judges is my favorite activity. We have work to do, but we have time to get to know each other as people. The judge community is far more tight-knit that the average player community, and generally more diverse as well.
If there were one thing you could change about judging, what would it be?
Right now, I worry about PPTQs. I have had an epic struggle holding Cincinnati together as the solo L2 of the city. My best efforts of pushing others to L2 hasn’t been working, and I think I have to withdraw from more regional activities to keep my local house in order.
What sorts of things do you do on a typical week in so far as judging?
My week has changed throughout school. I used to visit 4 different stores a week. I also made a point to visit every advanced store in my area to introduce myself and leave contact information. With work, I reduced down to only 2 stores a week, but I still stop by the other stores in the area to check up.
What do you think are your biggest strengths as a judge? How did you develop them?
I have a pretty strong rules knowledge. This came from lots of rules forum frequenting, plenty of diving in comprehensive rules, and various websites including Cranial Insertion.
What do you think are the areas you most would like to see you improve as a judge? What sorts of things are you doing to work on them?
I need to work on spending time observing others and writing reviews. I admit when I have a task, I tend to focus on it and don’t spend time to observe others enough to write a review. I am currently forcing myself to write a review at every event; two if the event is two days, while taking copious notes throughout the day.
What’s your take on how the judge program has changed in the time you’ve been involved with it?
I think we threw the Rules Advisor out the window with the L1 change. I know a good number of players who know the rules very well and could help in minor rulings in the area; but have some severe flaws that make me not want them to be a L1 judge. They would make ideal Rules Advisors, but the players often disregard that moniker with the L1 shift.
What sorts of changes would you like to see in the judge program going forward, if any?
The PPTQ change has pushed a gigantic demand for L2s, which means a surge in L3 demand. I am happy the program laid out a stronger path for L2s, but the I think some areas like Cincinnati with very few, or no, L2s are going to have it rough.
What advice do you have for judges?
Always strive to be a better judge, but don’t associate being better with a level. I know some amazing L1s who focus on their store community. They run their GPTs and SCG IQs with fantastic precision and efficiency. They don’t want to travel to other events due to family, work etc., and I respect their choice. I personally chose to focus on my city, and I’m remaining L2 until that city is in order. Finding what level of responsibility you want to take in the program is important, but never be content in your abilities as a judge.
What was your biggest mistake as a judge, and how did you bounce back from it?
Probably the biggest mistake was a bit of miscommunication between myself as a head judge and my floor judge about back-up authorization. I trusted the floor judge so I didn’t go into detail of where the backup should go, but the floor judge went back one step too far, which resulted in very different result. The match was also on camera. I know Twitter blew up after that, and the floor judge took quite a bit of heat for it.
What was your proudest moment as a judge?
I think my proudest moment was Grand Prix Cincinnati. I spent long time on my travel guide, and preparation for different breakfasts, and other little goodies for the judges. I felt the community of judges was essentially visiting my house, and I wanted to make their stay as comfortable as possible.
How much time do you spend judging? And how does that break down? In other words, how much of it is actually running tournaments versus having policy discussions versus maintaining correspondence versus traveling, etc.?
I still check rules forums on a daily basis. I tend to not jump on rulings unless it’s late at night to give newer judges or judge potentials a shot at answering first. So that’s only about 15 minutes a day. I read Cranial Insertion each week as a quiz for myself, so that’s 30 minutes a week. Otherwise, it depends on the events. If I have to compose team lead / head judge emails or coordinate staffing for events, I’ll spend the 1-2 hours on the event every few days.
What is your favorite moment with other judges outside the context of running a given tournament?
Probably judge dinner after Grand Prix Cincinnati. I fortunately budgeted enough money to buy a round that night.
What do you think were the toughest obstacles you have had to try to overcome as a judge? How did you do it?
I had to overcome fear of being hated. You know your rulings is correct and someone’s day is going to be soured and they may curse your name for a while, but you have to stand by your ruling. Some people will not be happy, but you have to stand firm, speak politely, and keep a clear head. The ease comes with experience and realizing that the players will get over it over time.
The obstacle I am still working is slow play. It is the hardest yet simplest problem to have, but the mindset shift is still in progress.
What is your favorite deck and why? Least favorite?
Not sure I have a favorite deck, I guess burn decks are my favorite because they rarely go to time. Least favorite goes to super durdle combo decks piloted by inexperienced players. Take your pick: Eggs, High Tide, Jeskai Ascendancy.
What is the crown jewel of your Magic collection, and how did you come to own it?
The card I show off the most is the Final Judgment alter by Eric Klug. Basically, it ended up looking like a cross armed Sheldon Menery with a Judge Dredd hat looking down at you.
Who is/are your Commander general(s) and why? Your favorite planeswalker?
Currently I have ten commander decks, so I won’t list them all. I enjoy building on a budget, I make commander decks that TCG mid for less than 50 dollars. It’s a challenge, but I find it enjoyable. The lists are online and I update them at least monthly. (Recently, darn you Hornet Queen for jumping in price).
I like Venser. Mainly because I think his character resembles my personality.
What are your favorite non-Magic games and pastimes? How long have you been enjoying those? What is it that you enjoy about those?
I recently started playing more board games. I fortunately have a group of guys who will play board games on Friday nights when Standard gets a bit dull.
What is your best tournament finish?
4th place at a 70 man Prerelease in Zendikar with a blue-red deck. My local players looked at my miserable deck and wonder how I pulled it off.
What method(s) do you find best to sharpen your skills as a judge?
Read, do, get feedback, and then repeat.
Who are some of the judges you think are unsung heroes of the program?
As said, the L1s and L2s who focus more on local communities are the most unsung of heroes. The players in that area are immensely grateful for their service, but they don’t get the recognition they deserve. Cincinnati is thankfully positioned where I can hit a GP or a SCG Open with little effort several times a year; so I don’t count myself among them.
How would you describe your local judge community? How about your local player community?
My local judge community is an eclectic bunch that I mostly certified myself. I have a high focus on people skills as it is far harder to train. I am constantly developing judge potentials or my L1 posse. My local players are nice guys but with the city being such a large size with no central hub store; it’s a rough federation of smaller communities.
How do you keep your energy up during events?
The main point is to keep busy. Just standing and watching magic requires a lot of focus and attention. If you ever feel tired, start moving a bit. Pick up trash or push in chairs. Or run to get Cinnabon on a break….mmm…Cinnabon.
What was the most surprising thing you’ve experienced as a judge?
The surprising thing is to get judge questions when you are doing something else. I was working in a pharmacy and a player came up to the consultation window to ask a judge question.
If you could make your own Magic card, what would it be?
Resolve target spell, activated ability or triggered ability.
Who do you consider your role models in the program?
I see certain persons to be icons of different aspects I aspire to. Off the top of my head: Steven Briggs is a model of how to keep a positive attitude while maintaining authority. I look at Dan Stephens on maintaining a judge-life balance.
What was the toughest (or weirdest) judge call you remember having to make?
My weirdest call was a player asking “Do I have to?” It was Blue-Black faeries vs. Green-White…something. Either way, the Green-White player mulled to 5 and kept on the draw. Blue-Black Faeries player fetched for a shock, and cast Thoughtseize. The cards in hand were 4 lands and a Obstinate Baloth. Yes, you have to.
Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements are true and one is false. Figure out which!
1. The last five sanctioned Magic events Minh played in go back to 2010.
2. Minh carries a pack of over-the-counter medications with him to every Magic event.
3. Minh still can’t get the new Wizards account thing to work.
Judges, we would love to hear more about some awesome stories and awesome judges! If you believe one of your local colleagues is doing an Exemplar’s work, this might be your chance to make him an upcoming Judge of the Week, so nominate a Judge TODAY!