Welcome back, judges! There are rock star judges, and then there are rock star judges. This week’s honoree falls into the latter category. Toby Elliott recently was selected to the Magic Judge Hall of Fame based on his numerous contributions to the judge program. Time to find out some more about him!
Name: Toby Elliott
Location: San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States
Judge start date: June or July 1999
Occupation: Engineering manager at a software company
Favorite card: Essence of the Wild
Favorite format: Drafto! More Drafto! The only constructed format I play is Commander.
Favorite non-Magic game: ARAM (the all random all mid game mode of League of Legends)
Congratulations on being named to the Magic Judge Hall of Fame! How does it feel to have been selected?
It’s obviously an honor, and going in with such dear friends as Jason Ness and Scott Marshall is special. Honestly, though, it’s not something I think about too much. Sheldon used to joke that I was happy as the power behind the throne; the throne has never been the goal. I get satisfaction from taking things apart and making them better. Being recognized for it is nice, but it isn’t sustainable motivation and this is advice that I give to a lot of judges. You need to find your own fun in the program. The program cannot find it for you, though we’ll do our best to support you when you do find it.
How would you sum up how you got to where you are in the Judge Program?
Right place, right time, right skills.
The story of how I became a judge is pretty well known. I won the first Urza’s Destiny PTQ in Boston and found myself with nothing to do over the summer, so I volunteered to help out with the judging. I turned out to be pretty good at that and became a fixture in Boston, then California.
I became a regular on the professional circuit at a time of opportunity. The program was reconfiguring itself and needed skills that I happened to possess – willingness to question everything, the ability to break things down to their component parts and rebuild them to something whole, and comfort operating in unknown environments. I became the person who parachuted into the unknown. Need to run a 2HG Pro Tour? No problem!
While this was happening, I was poking at the program. I didn’t have a mandate, I just messed with stuff that seemed interesting. I wrote the original “Welcome to L3” document and a bunch of work on best practices for proctoring exams. I wrote a bunch of stuff about handling errors that led to Andy asking me to tackle the IPG (which mostly consisted of me going section by section and trying to get consensus from the L4 community). The communication rules, shortcuts and out-of-order sequencing were all me asking if there was a better way and throwing stuff at the wall until it stuck. I accidentally invented End-of-Round procedure at a GP; I was team lead for the Logistics team and just assumed that was something we always did. I tried a bunch of other stuff that wasn’t as good, and it’s been rightly confined to the dustbin of history.
I couldn’t do that without help, of course. Tons of judges have offered support, feedback and wholesale improvements to some of my primitive efforts. Most importantly, nobody told me “you can’t do that,” so I did. And, here we are.
Many judges probably have only the loosest or most basic understanding of what it means to be a L5. What does it mean, really? What would be a typical day as a L5?
If there’s a typical day for an L5, nobody told me.
Today was reasonably quiet. I read up on all the major Magic websites, discussed a ruling with the L3s, toyed with a potential piece of policy for BFZ and a piece of policy for Commander, worked on the staff schedule for PT Vancouver, received a first pass on the staff for GP OKC (but, that’s 3 events away, so I won’t do much with that for a bit) and hung out on IRC in the judge channels. Oh, and I drafted with one of my regular groups. Typical Wednesday.
Being a Level 5, in many ways, means being prepared to lead anything. If I had to run a GP tomorrow, or spontaneously talk for half an hour about Slow Play, or do a press interview without warning, I need to be ready. Wizards could call me up and say “we have a new mechanic coming out in January. Can we make this work in tournaments?” and I’d better be able to provide good feedback right away. It means I’m entrusted with authority over a major component of the program and have to shepherd policy responsibly. It means being an inspirational figure to judges for whom my style resonates. It means writing a lot of email.
You were one of the head judges of the largest Magic event of all time. What were some of the lessons you learned, either personally or about the Judge Program as a whole, through being part of GP Vegas 2015?
It was mostly applying all the lessons from the previous GPLV, where we learned a heck of a lot the hard way! We knew that we needed to use multiple levels of team, since there were ~350 judges to coordinate. We knew that when there were this many Head Judges, you needed someone on stage who didn’t take appeals and was solely responsible for overall coordination.
Ultimately, at an event like that, there are two things that are incredibly important:
1) You have to plan, plan, plan. Spreadsheets everywhere! Lots of pre-event emails, way more than for any normal GP
2) You have to be prepared to abandon that plan once everything starts to happen and not stress out too much about it. Roll with the punches.
What you have going for you is an understanding player base. They know you’re dealing with an exceptional set of circumstances. The expectations aren’t high, so when you make the effort and pull it off, they go home happy, even if it wasn’t perfect around the edges. In the end, everybody worked their butts off, and we ran a great event.
One of the key contributions you have made to the Judge Program is your blog, Policy Perspectives. How did you come into the role of starting that blog?
It kind of happened. I used to post update announcements to the Judge-L mailing list. When that was decommissioned, I needed somewhere to post them, so I fired up a blog. Then, since I had it, I started posting other policy musings and stories to it. That fluctuates a lot depending on whether I have topics I want to ramble about, or if my focus is elsewhere. It’s a bit of a time commitment, since I don’t want to post something dry unless I have to, so if I can’t take the extra time to make it entertaining, I usually won’t post.
Looking back, there’s some good posts in there. Maybe nothing as great as the old epic DVD commentaries (Ruling by Intent!) or “Lies my Old PG Told Me”, but I’m proud of stuff like “The Five Worst Triggered Abilities of All Time (So Far)”, “J-Mo”, “Nine Paragraphs on Overthinking Triggers” and “N[o]”.
What sorts of things would you like to accomplish in your judging career going forward?
Yikes. No rest!
Ultimately, when I step down, I hope it’ll be because I’ve left the program in a good place. That’s my goal.
You were part of the promotional video for the Conspiracy set. What was that like? And are there any other things of that nature in your future?
It was fantastic. I had a ton of fun with all the other players and the Loading Ready Run crew. It was basically an excuse to hang around with a bunch of people with whom I had a ton in common. Our shared love of Magic in general and draft in particular was unifying, and Conspiracy being so much fun didn’t hurt!
By the way, that’s not my judge shirt in the teaser video, and I’m wearing jeans so they could only shoot me from waist-up. Since I wasn’t judging, I didn’t have a uniform. When we brainstormed the general framework for it, we had to scramble to find a shirt – fortunately Andy had one in his desk! Also, that’s a field right outside WotC headquarters; turn the camera around and you’re a couple feet from the building.
I’m not aware of anything like that coming up, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And Wizards has my number. Call me!
Two Truths and a Lie
Two of the following statements are true and one is false. Figure out which!
1) I wrote the Boston Red Sox chapter for the first edition of Baseball Prospectus.
2) I have been personally thanked by the Queen of England for services rendered.
3) Multiple Victoria’s Secret models have told me how much they love my cheesecake.
If there is a judge who is also doing something exemplary, please nominate a judge TODAY!