(This is a post that I started back in 2011, on my flight home from Worlds where I had just been promoted to Level 5 the night before. I didn’t get a chance to finish it then, and had mostly forgotten about it since. I’ve finished and expanded on it here for publication in 2013.)
Anyone who’s been judging for more than a few years knows that it’s not the travel opportunities, the constructive feedback, nor the foils that keep us doing this thing – it’s the people. Having been in this community for almost 10 years, there are clearly many people to whom I owe a great deal of thanks, and despite how long this list turns out to be, there’s no way it could ever touch everyone who’s had an impact on my judging career, and thus, my life.
We’ll start with the most obvious of them all: Chris Richter. Chris was the judge at my very first FNM, and honestly, I could write an entire article about how he welcomed me first into the general Magic community, then pulled me into the judge community, but I’ve got lots of others to thank this time around. As a Level 3, Chris tested me for levels 1 and 2 at his home, and was the very first person I called to tell when I was promoted to Level 4. It was a true honor to be able to return the favor and announce his promotion to Level 4 at Pro Tour Philadelphia.
Chris didn’t just recognize my potential to become a judge, but went out of his way to actively mentor me to make sure I didn’t slip through the cracks. He gave me rides when I didn’t have a car, convinced me to travel to my first event by plane, and showed me what the program is all about. In the process, we’ve become great friends, and I’m still not sure who I should be thanking more: Chris for getting me into the judge program, or the judge program for allowing me to meet Chris.
I don’t remember exactly where I first met Toby; I think we actually slowly got to know each other over IRC. However, I do remember the first time we really worked closely together. A new policy had just come out, Out of Order Sequencing, and I hated it. So I did what any over-achieving Magic Judge would do… I volunteered to present a seminar on it! Toby offered to be my go-to reference for the article, and after LOTS of back and forth, I was sure of two things. 1) Out of Order Sequencing was awesome, and 2) Toby was even more awesome.
Over the years, Toby’s been one of my high level judges I interact with the most. It’s been discussions with Toby which have most helped shape how I view cheating, how to properly handle corner cases, and frankly – pretty much everything else. Even today, we’re constantly sanity-checking each other, and even as a Level 5, there’s very little that makes my day more than Toby replying “what Lems said” on the Level 4 or Level 5 mailing lists.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Riccardo and I didn’t always get along Whether it came from miscommunications, misunderstandings, or just honest-to-god disagreements from two people who are so passionate, we seemed to always be butting heads over something. I’d have been just fine if Riccardo and I just stayed out of each others’ hair. Luckily for me (and the rest of the program), Riccardo was having none of that. Time and time again, Riccardo would reach out to me to try to clarify our most recent tiff, to apologize for something, or to tell me that I’m wrong! The most important part was that Riccardo insisted we’d come together and work through it, and time and time again, we did – each time coming out better than we were before – and I am very grateful for not just his friendship, but the lessons learned as well.
You’re in the program for a while, you move up through the levels, thinking you have a near-perfect understanding of everything you’ve been working with and on. Then you have a discussion on any old topic topic with Kevin, and your mind is blown. Kevin’s way of thinking about rules, policies, and situations is in a league of its own. Conversations with Kevin over the last few years have helped me to think about and to understand things in a new, and much deeper, way.
I have DLI to thank for way more than the custom “Lems” jersey he had made for me that left me speechless. He’s been a true inspiration to not just myself, but to judges all across the World. We share a passion that it’s so important to see others share, because it reassures you that all your efforts are being put to good use. He’s the kind of guy that you know will come through for you, and in turn, makes you try even harder to make sure you come through for him.
I’ll be the first to admit that some luck played a big role in my involvement with the judge program. Having Chris Richter be the first judge I got to know, while playing at Steve Port’s store, is just not even fair. I am very thankful for not just the opportunities, but also the blunt feedback and lessons that Steve has been able to give me over the years. Without Steve, I clearly wouldn’t have judged on a Magic Cruise, and maybe never would have played on the Pro Tour, but it goes beyond that. Steve has given me insights into the business aspects of tournaments, the best way to deal with customers, and has been a great example of following your dreams and making the impossible possible.
I’ll never forget how I felt after my first weekend with James Mackay (Pro Tour Austin, 2009). I left that weekend with that fuzzy feeling inside that just made me want to devote even more to this program. As soon as the schedule for the next round of Pro Tours was posted, I immediately emailed James to hopefully coordinate us both judging the same event the next year. After a rousing weekend of some great nights at the bars, and even greater days at the Pro Tour (I MIGHT have that backwards), we were still chatting through the judge dinner. After they announced the L4 promotions at that event (neither of us), we both turned to each other and immediately said: “I totally thought it was going to be you!” Well, lucky for us, it did end up being both of us – just not then. 🙂 Thanks for reigniting a spark that helped keep me going for years to come.
I have Andy to thank for a lot of opportunities in this program. That should be obvious. However, I have a lot more to thank Andy for than that – perhaps nothing as much as his pure passion and devotion to this program. If people really knew how many hours Andy spent running this program, they’d be thanking him too. And it’s not just him sitting in meetings at WotC for hours on end – it’s him talking to Level 1s and 2s on the phone. It’s him reading every single email that comes his way. It’s him going to bat for people whenever needed. It’s him talking us up when we need a pick-me-up, and talking us down when we’re overreacting. Without me seeing this much passion above me, I’m sure I would’ve settled for a much lower involvement long ago.
I’ve never been to Finland, but thanks to Johanna, I’m an expert in everything from saunas and Salmiakki to dish-drying cabinets. More seriously, Johanna has become a great friend over the years, even though she lives 3000 miles away. Whenever I needed help with something, she’s always willing to lend a hand. Whenever I needed to vent about something or get a second opinion, she’s been there. (And even when SHE can’t always be at an event with me, she uses her judges at mules to make sure I still get my Salmiakki fix.) Thanks for the years of friendship, flame-!
Just one more in the streak of “people I met on IRC,” Turner and I hit it off immediately. Turner’s drive for excellence, and unwillingness to accept anything less, is obviously something that resonates with me. More though, I appreciate that Turner is vocal about the kind of leaders he wants to work for and with. Turner’s been not just a great pal, but a great source for seeing what others value in leadership.
While no longer an active judge (due to employment at WotC), Lee was one of my first role models in the program. He’s another one of those guys I first met on IRC, and I was in awe of not just how willing someone could be to help mentor a total stranger, but how effective he was at it. The thing I’ll credit most to Lee is helping me understand that Magic players are human, and playing “technically correct” isn’t always the best way to play, or judge, Magic. As I became obsessed with black and white rules, Lee was constantly challenging me to use context, to exercise my judgement, and to try to use proper reasoning to drive decisions.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grew up in a program where Sheldon was THE face of the judge program. His leadership and presence helped give validity to the niche concept of judging trading card tournaments and make it be something that I could and would take seriously. Beyond that, he made time for me. When I had traveled to my first Grand Prix, Sheldon was the Head Judge, and he not only mentored me on-site, but also took the time to review me afterwards. In the years to come, Sheldon would continue being a role model and was pivotal in my progression to levels 4 and 5.
Helene Bergeot, Scott Larabee, and everyone else at Wizards who supports the Judge Program
As I mentioned when talking about Andy, it’s really important to know that those above you share your passion, and there are few people who share the same passion about their careers than the people at Wizards of the Coast. Sure, Helene might not know how to play Magic, but I can assure you that her drive for the game and the entire community is unparalleled. It’s both refreshing and motivating to hear Scott Larabee talk about his excitement for everything Magic related – not just new tournament ideas he’s been working on, but even new sets and cards. It’s easy to stay invested on the level I am when I know that Organized Play has such strong leadership.
Like I said at the beginning, despite how long this got, it doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of all the people who’ve taken time out of their lives to work with me to accomplish something together and help better each other. For every ruling we’ve taken together, for every discussion we’ve had, for every email / forum post / IRC conversation we’ve exchanged…