Stephan Classen

Hello, Aloha, and Guten Tag judges!  This week, your Judge of the Week is one very close to this project, Stephan Masao Classen!  He’s an L2 from Hilo, Hawaii, and was nominated by Josh Stansfield, who had this to say:

Stephan managed to successfully transition from running sub-100 player events locally to running a 375-player SCG Legacy Open with aplomb.  His preparation was excellent, and his leadership was effective.  He’s also a very friendly guy who judges like to be around. On top of all that, he takes orders for Macadamia Nuts and carries $60 of them on an airplane just to make other people happy.  😛  He also helps run some kind of judge project, I think… He better not just delete this nomination, either. 🙂


Tell us a bit about yourself.
I took my L1 test in December, 2004.  Then, sadly, the DCI lost my paperwork, so I officially was certified when it was found in March 2005.  I tested for L2 in fall 2012, thanks to Aaron Hamer and David de la Iglesia.  I became a judge at first because my community needed it.  I had been running tournaments and events since I was 15 years old for multiple card games, and this was an opportunity (from past L3 Don Barkauskas) for me to bring judging to Hawaii, when I finally returned.

Stephan ClassenOccupation: Researcher for a University Experimental Oyster Hatchery

Favourite card: Mystic Snake!  It’s the original spell- creature that I liked.  And it’s Simic colors!

Least favourite card: Life and Limb.  I’ve had its interactions explained to me several times, but it’s still tricky.

Favourite format: Sealed Deck.  Not a usual answer, but it brings out different sets of cards and skills from people.

Commander General: Tetsuo Umezawa.  Because I’m tired of combo decks.

Favourite non-Magic Game: Braid.  If you haven’t tried it.  Do so.

Best tournament result: 8th at a PTQ!  I was throwing up the entire day, and running to the restroom between rounds.  Not the most stylish of moments.  I even look sick in the top 8 photo.IMG_1799b

Random fact about yourself: I only have 2 nationalities.  German and Japanese.


Tell us your favourite judge story.
There are so many great stories.  I personally just really like meeting new judges, or ones that this project has featured that I haven’t met before, since it’s kind of like I already know them.  There are moments like passing out product at Vegas, or deck checking all foil decks at Atlantic City, and our recent mini-conference in Honolulu that were all great highlights, however!

stephan mini conference

Tell us more about the recent mini-conference.
It was an idea to gear up the Hawaii judge community to grow into just that: a community, seeing the push to get more contact between judges. So I had planned on trying to get a conference around the upcoming Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir (in Honolulu), to really inspire judges and let them spectate the Pro Tour itself.  But then a new L1, Rob Palevac really wanted to push for a meeting of judges sooner, and so I helped him set it up, and we (4 of us) all crashed at his place for the weekend PTQ and conference.  We had great games, a judge dinner, some decent seminars, and some awesome discussions together.  All topped off by an appearance to our little mini-conference by Uncle Scott Marshall!

How did you get involved in Magic in the first place?
I got involved in Magic when I was nine years old.  I was getting really excited about fantasy things (dragons, angels, goblins, elves, the important things) and I saw these “Magic” cards in an video arcade prize display.  A week later, I watched some college students playing the game while I waited for my mother to be off work.  180 tickets later (for just one booster), and I was hooked.

So you got your first boosters from a video arcade.  What set were they?  When did you hear about judging?
It was a single Revised booster.  I then found singles and a starter much later.  I didn’t get dual lands until like… Invasion.  Judging for me in the mid-nineties was this mystical program you heard about, but no one I knew had ever met a judge.  We were kids in Arizona or Hawaii.  Big tournaments were always just way too far off to get “trained” by an L3.  We didn’t have any real judges in the city I was living in, until we met Don Barkauskas at the Champions Prerelease.


How has being a judge influenced your non-Magic life? Have you been consistently judging since 2004?
I feel like it lets me travel and gain new perspective on managing, customer service, and things done well within the game I love.  I haven’t consistently judged at all; I was without a solid store to judge at after 2007, but then I finished my bachelors in science and did work around the US, far away from tournaments and card stores.  But man, I played or judged at any opportunity that I could.  Then I came back into judging in 2010 when the local store in Hilo, Hawaii closed down.  It’s been a wild ride, but it brought me to L2 and being as involved as I am now.  And now it’s a great opportunity to meet new friends, see old ones, and travel to visit them both!

You were nominated by Josh Stansfield for being a good leader, but also bringing macadamia nuts to judges.  What inspires you to inspire other judges?
I like to have people be happy, and give them opportunities they wouldn’t if I weren’t around.  I know that I sometimes put too much emphasis on what other people think, but I feel I’m happiest if people around me are having a good time.  Mac nuts were an idea when I had my first team lead (for SCG: Los Angeles fall 2013), since I wanted to share a little of Hawaii with the judges on my team.  This quickly turned into bringing orders of nuts and coffee to anyone that knows I’ll do this.  Of course, some people don’t want ground coffee, others don’t like spam flavored mac nuts!  It’s getting trickier!

tshirt low res

What’s the best part about your local Magic community?
The community itself.  We have a really close knit group of people, but we’re also super welcoming to new-comers.  Players talk and help each other with decks, and gather to do things together in evenings; even hosting parties and events together.  Of course, this also means we joke about each other, and so we have a really active Facebook group, and some great times.  We’ve even (at one point) made shirts and a playmat.

What is your favourite non-judging moment that happened with other judges?
It just happened at GP DC [2014]!  Aaron Hamer[/card] and I were touring Washington DC, and he bought quite a lot of astronaut ice cream.  He opened our team meeting on Friday stressing the importance of buying astronaut ice cream at any museum that sells it, which lead to each team member talking about it.  Which led to him bringing out a package, and sharing it with the entire team.  Now all of you need to go find some and eat some yourself!  (Note: I didn’t buy any, which, by his standards, is a travesty!)

The photo may be somewhat blurry, but that's astronaut ice cream!
The photo may be somewhat blurry, but that’s astronaut ice cream!

So you were recently at GP DC, which is rather far from home.  Was that your favorite event?  If not, what’s been your favorite magic event that you’ve judged at?
I know some judges will disagree with me, but I really enjoyed GP Las Vegas.  While the large crowds of people were a bit intense, the Modern Masters sealed was amazing, the vendors excellent, most of the L2+ judges I had ever met were there, I got to help prep product, and watched “LV” stamping of a foil Tarmogoyf, not to mention that so many people pitched in and help prep sealed pools.  The drafting party afterwards was so much fun too!

How do you have fun during events?
I work.  Actually, the judging part of the event is one of the things I really enjoy, and interacting with players and other judges makes me happy.  If we can discuss a good rules scenario, or policy as well, all the better.  At Vegas, for instance, we had a long talk with a player about how you no longer can “win and lose” at the same time.  Any large event is really an opportunity for me to interact with other judges and players and bring back ideas to my local area.

If you were a creature what would your creature type be?
Wolf, now.  Josh Stansfield has started calling me Stephanwolf, (like Steppenwolf), and since I already have the token, it’s stuck.

stephan wolf

Do you collect Wolf tokens then?  What would it have been before, since you said “now”?
Haha, actually, I don’t collect the tokens, no.  Before it might have been turtles, and our local artist player has made me the lord of oysters, but this one is the closest to official.  Plus, bonus nickname!

What hobbies do you have outside of Magic?
I snorkel since I’m in Hawaii, and play board games.  But I also put a lot of time into event planning and community development, for games and social events.  I help run board game and LAN nights at a community center, but Magic takes up a lot of time these days.

Proudest moment of your Judge life?
Passing my L2, and being handed a Balance playmat at the GP San Jose Judge Conference.  I had missed the deadline to get one mailed to me, and receiving one like this was amazing.  I’m also really happy to be part of this (and other) projects, as I really like being able to feature judges from around the world.

What character in Magic (real or fictional) represents you the best, and why?
I’ve always been a fan of Jodah, Archmage Eternal of the Unseen.  He worked hard to have a plan for everything, and would keep a clear head when things went south, especially in a world covered by ice and snow.

Two Truths and A Lie
Two of the following answers are true, figure out which!

1. I own a complete set of Arabian Nights, promos, alternate versions, and comics included.
2. I once got a date because I’m a magic judge.
3. I don’t know the difference between a kraken and an octopus.

The answer to the last Two Truths and a Lie...
Sergio Garcia unfortunately did not make the top 8 of a GP however, he did make top 10!


Thank you, Stephan, for a great interview!  See you all next week, Judges!

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