Sean Catanese, L4

Hola there Judges,

This week, the Judge of the Week project has a special guest, one of those judges that always impresses you with both his politeness and his interest in providing his colleagues with the best learning experience. Don’t miss this Level 4+ Series interview with Sean Catanese.

seancataneseName: Sean Catanese
Occupation: Enterprise Risk Management Program Manager
Favorite card: Planar Guide
Least favorite card: Sundering Titan
Favorite format: Legacy
Commander: Riku of Two Reflections
Best tournament result:
Top 16 of a Modern PTQ (Bant aggro)
Top 4 of a couple CFB Legacy $1Ks (TinFins).

How did you become an L4+?
I actually don’t know the specific decisions that went into my promotion. That discussion remains private, but I have some general ideas. The corps of L4+ reflects the needs of the Judge Program Manager at WotC and, as the program grows, my specific skill set has become more needed. I have an interest in resolving conflicts and potential drama between judges. Those sorts of distractions really can harm the Program in the long run if they’re not managed, and sometimes a Judge does something that requires some kind of sanction (like a suspension or demotion). My time as an RC for the US Southwest gave me some opportunities to demonstrate an interest in that kind of conflict resolution. I also served as Judge Manager for a few shows (GP Vegas among them), and proved a skill for managing large groups amid changing circumstances. Those skills matched with a specific need the Program has, so I was given this leadership opportunity.

What’s it like being an L4+? What would you like the community to know about what being an L4+ is like?
I’ve been L4 for less than a year still, and have only a few GP HJ experiences under my belt, so I’m still learning. That’s one of the things I like most about this position: the challenges remain new even if the events are outwardly similar. Being an L4 also means I spend most of my Judge Program time focused in one area. That focus can make us rusty in other areas, so if you feel like one of us has made a mistake somewhere, speak up!

What is your primary role as an L4+ in the judge community?
My main areas of responsibility are conflict management and misconduct.

Every Judge does some form of conflict management in the course of his or her duties. My role is to create some tools and foster the discussion where, as a community, we demonstrate our interest in safe spaces and welcoming environments.

On the misconduct side, consider that we have 5,000+ Judges now, and not all of them are fantastic ambassadors for the game or representatives of the Program. When something goes wrong and a demotion or suspension is in order, I’m involved in managing that process. My main goal in that effort is to ensure we have a consistent, fair approach.

Sean L4

What are you currently working on within the judge program?
I helped with the new language on Unsporting Conduct – Major. I’ve also been involved in launching the Exemplar Program blog and preparing the logistics for the first wave(s) of recognitions to be made through the program. You can learn more about the Exemplar Program here.

What motivates you to do what you do within the community? 
My sense of purpose is tied strongly to my interest in making the world a better place. I tried this in politics long ago, and when that didn’t work out as I had hoped, I found the Judge Program was a way to focus my community organizing and social justice interests in some modest way, but still keeping it fun.

What is the best part about the Judge Program in your opinion?
Everyone says “it’s the people”, and they’re right, but I want to focus on something else in this answer: our players. The satisfaction of a job well done is multiplied tenfold when a player comes up to one of my judges or to my organizer and thanks him or her for  an awesome event. That kind of interaction is one of several things that keeps me going and makes this worthwhile.

How do you communicate the goals or values of the judge program to the greater community? Which of these would you like to see pushed more?
I have my blog here, I also try to convey the values and interests I care about in communicating with my event staff.  Something I tell every Judge at the start of my GPs is this:

“There are thousands of other Judges who wish they could be in your shoes right now. We might have turned them away when they applied or they might have simply not been able to make the logistics work for them. Many of them aren’t quite ready for this role yet. Think back to what a GP meant when you were a Level 1 Judge.  All of these Judges want to be right here with us, but they’re not. You are. Today is a huge opportunity for you. You owe it to all those other Judges and to yourself to approach this opportunity with an honesty of effort and integrity of purpose. Have a goal. Share it. Write it down. Commit to it. You have earned this opportunity through hard work, through sacrifice (my wife reminds me of this lovingly), and by gaining the respect of your peers. You have the trust of our TO and you have my trust, too. Take care of one another, take care of yourselves, and make the most of this day.”

What in your opinion is the greatest challenge for the judge program at this time to overcome?
Our scale and span of control are increasingly difficult to manage. We have just over a dozen L4+ and 24 RCs, with about 120 L3s beyond that, but a Program population of roughly 30 L1s and L2s for every one of those leaders. RCs have a system of area captains and similar sub-regional leaders, but the prospect of losing cohesion in the Program, where deserving Judges go unnoticed and unrecognized, is real and it needs to be managed. It’s something we’re working on at higher levels, but it’s also not a problem with just one solution.

Who are (or were) your role models in the Judge Program? What are (or were) their certain qualities that drew you to them?
Adam Shaw – Adam doesn’t mince words. When you make a mistake, he lets you know. When you do something well, he’s equally direct. He values authentic connections among judges as more than just colleagues or Facebook acquaintances. Those are qualities I strive to live up to, but can sometimes find difficult. It’s especially difficult to maintain deeper friendships in the face of the Program’s now-epic scale. He still does it well.

sean Catanese
Cafe Intermezzo.- “My order there was the vegetarian sandwich adding bacon.”

Jeff Morrow – Jeff mentored me intensely to get to L3. We spent lunch hours walking through the UC Berkeley campus and eating at the (now sadly burnt-out and bulldozed) Cafe Intermezzo, all the while talking about the Judge Program’s philosophy and how and why we do the things we do. He shaped my outlook and reinforced my resolve that there were truly good things that I could achieve through Judging. He also is a champion of the idea that Magic Judging and real life need balance to succeed in either arena. That’s something I remind myself of almost daily.

Riki Hayashi – Riki was instrumental in my decision to pursue L2, and he kept me motivated after failing my exam the first two tries. Riki was at my side when we started JudgeCast, and he was the Judge Manager for my first time at the helm of a GP (Sacramento 2014). Beyond the program, though, I’m training for my very first 10K run in September, and in spite of a great geographic distance between us, Riki’s a primary motivator for me to get in shape and succeed there, too.

Billy San Juan – Billy is one of the most enthusiastic people I know. He’s always looking for ways to improve the experience of people around him, and conversely that seems to get him noticed rather often. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made related to this game was recommending Scott Larabee bring in Billy to work the front table at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze in San Diego. That work ethic and genuine interest in the well being of others is something I try to bring to my events, and Billy sets an example in that regard especially.

How has being a judge influenced your non-Magic life?
In late 2009, my “real life” job laid me off. My wife lost her job in that same month. We eventually lost our home at that time, and our lives went through some intense changes. Throughout that ordeal, though, I had the support of my friends and second family in the Judge program.

What do you feel needs to be improved in the Judge program?
Four years ago I was lucky enough to be staffed for Worlds in Chiba, Japan. My wife. Lindsay, joined me on the trip and we went a week early to see some of the country. One of the people I met on that trip was a brand and marketing executive for a clothing company. We started talking about Magic and our discussion immediately focused on the male-dominated culture in the game. “If only you could make this more appealing or interesting for women, too,” he said, “you could double your customer base in short order.” Since that time, the culture has changed somewhat, but women still comprise too small a segment of our players and our Judges. The game’s 20 years old now, and I think it has 20 more years in it, too, but to get there we’re going to need to embrace an ethic and culture which openly welcomes a more diverse set of players. This is as much within the Judge Program’s control as it is in the control of WotC. We set the tone of our local communities. We are gatekeepers, and we need to throw the gate open wide.

Sean Catanese hj GP Detroy '13

What is the largest change that you’ve brought to the Magic rules/Policies or the Judge program?
Unsporting Conduct is in the midst of a revision, and I think our new language reflects some strong improvements. Guiding how we address problematic behavior within our own ranks in a fair and consistent manner has also been important.

What is the strangest card interaction you have seen in a tournament?
After hours at a GP last year, Karn restarted a four-Judge commander game where he had previously exiled a Chains of Mephistopheles. With about 20 levels of judge and WotC R&D folks at the table watching and playing, it still took a moment before we realized that Chains wouldn’t do anything to our opening hands in the restarted game. In that moment, we all felt, in sequence, uncanny confusion followed by intense despair, followed by relief and a little embarrassment.

Tell us a story of a challenge or problem at an event, and what did you and your teams do to overcome it?
About two years ago, my friend Nick Rutkowski‘s (L2 from the Bay Area) backpack was stolen out of the back of a car. His cube was in it, and it was very very valuable. A year later, we were working a PTQ together. Walking the floor, Nick noticed his very distinctive custom playmat, which had also been in the backpack, sitting in front of a player in the event. Nick’s reaction was of course an emotional roller coaster. He did an amazing job of keeping his cool in this stressful moment, leaving the floor and getting backup.

We drew upon the experience and knowledge of the other judges at the event, one of who, Vicente Davis, introduced me to the person who now had the cube. Let’s call him James. It turned out that only a week prior, James had recovered the backpack from a car in an impound lot about two hours inland from the place where it was stolen. Not finding any contact information for an owner, James had shared some of the contents with his friends, including the mat, and begun deciding which pieces to sell and which to keep.

Before I sat down with James to talk about the issue and negotiate its return, I worked out some details with Nick (like what kind of reward he could offer), and played out the conversation with the other strong communicators we had on staff, including Louis Fernandes. It was important to come to James as a friend of the person whose property he had recovered and not an authority figure or a representative of the TO or Judge Program, but still someone who could help him and Nick resolve this conflict. We sat down in a quiet corner of the venue and talked it out. That day, Nick had his playmat back as a gesture of good faith, and a real hope of complete resolution soon.

James was on a similar roller coaster. He didn’t want to be perceived as a thief (and he absolutely isn’t, to be clear). He had seen the cards as an investment rather than the recovery of something that had been stolen, and now it felt like he was being asked to let it go at a fraction of its value. He had a sense of loss now, too. A couple days later, after some soul searching and more conversations, we met at his local store. James got his reward and Nick’s sincere thanks, and Nick was reunited with his cube, miraculously almost completely intact a year after it had been stolen. All of the people involved in this – from the event staff, the organizers, the local store, and the friends of both James and Nick – were integral to arriving at this compromise.

The real moral of this story is that crises can be overcome by working together with the people around you, by respecting both sides in a conflict, and by asking for help when you need it.


If you were a creature what would be your creature type?
Definitely Squirrel Advisor

What’s the coolest event you have ever been to, and why was it so amazing?
For a few years now, Crazy Squirrel Game Store has run a tournament to benefit their local food bank in Fresno, California. The whole store (not just Magic) runs events like this for a couple weeks, but the last time I was there for their Magic tournament I was just astounded by the community’s generosity and enthusiasm. For them, in this moment, Magic was a means to an end beyond the game itself, and that’s one of the coolest things I think we can accomplish here.

What’s the farthest you have ever traveled for a Magic event?
I traveled to Worlds in Japan back in 2010 with my wife, Lindsay. We went to a national park in Yudanaka, where there were monkeys playing in the hot springs. She played her first game of Magic, and had her first draft (with Richard Garfield and his son, Schuyler, in her pod). She also got to be a Swamp in the “big Magic” game. Without her involvement in the game and her support of my interest in judging, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now.

How do you not lose your mind?
My wife, Lindsay, keeps me sane much of the time. She recognizes when I’m taking on too much or when I feel off-track. She also motivates me to keep work, life, and Magic balanced.
Editor-Thanks Lindsay!

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

1. I chose the name of my cat, Rafiq, because it’s similar to Rafiki, my favorite Disney character.
2. I chose the name of my cat, Rafiq, because Rafiq of the Many was my favorite commander at the time.
3.  I chose the name of my cat, Rafiq, because it means “friend” or “companion” in Arabic.

The answer to the last Two Truths and a Lie...

you might surprise to know that actually Chris was the Barbados under-12 chess champion!

Thanks Sean for letting us share your thoughts for this L4+series and giving us this excellent interview. As always, a big thanks to the Judges for following us, see you next time!


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