Interview with New L2 Herman Janssen

Welcome back to another edition of Journey of Discovery: Road to L2! We are celebrating Herman Janssen of Romania’s success in levelling up. Dathan Brown interviewed Herman about the highs and lows that he encountered along the way.

How did you first get introduced to Magic: The Gathering?

Back in 2007, my close friend Arne started pushing decks in my face to kill the countless hours we spent hanging out. He eventually – a few years later – convinced me (or I stopped resisting) to take his tribal Soldiers deck a spin against his Zombie horde or Madness shenanigans. As casual as it gets. In 2010, I finally got hooked and received my first duel decks – Knights vs. Dragons. In 2011, I played my first FNM, went aggro with Goblins, got my ass kicked and almost got in trouble by playing Dragon Fodder which I borrowed from my duel decks…

Soon after my first FNM, I wanted to play more at organized events and asked for a deck recommendation. My friend recommended Legacy because of the format’s awesomeness. I had 1 Reanimate in my collection. And soon I was playing UB Reanimator.

Here’s what I play across various formats:
Legacy: Miracle Control

Modern: Lantern Control

Standard: Grixis Control

Pauper: UB Teachings

Limited: Low curve aggro strategies with combat tricks

Why did you become a judge?

About 3 years ago now I started to get slowly more involved in my local Magic community. The local judge emigrated, leaving the community with just Magic enthusiasts and no judges to run events. When the event organizer got bored of it, I took over the helm and dove into managing the community full on. I am proud that I can say that I managed to do good things for the local community in the two years I’ve been managing it.

With my knowledge of the game, due to my intensive enthusiasm for Legacy, the store owner started poking me with the question “don’t you want to become a judge?”. I had seen a judge in action a couple of times, but never considered it. Actually, my oldest memory of a judge in action was a dude that sat on the tables staring at me, which made me feel like I was doing something wrong all the time. So that – flood judging – I was going to do better.

I had it sink in and read the available articles about the L1 role, tasks and requirements. It intrigued me. I was already doing half of what is required of a L1 Judge, so I decided to put my knowledge to the test. It would mean that i could facilitate the community even more than I already did. Which is where my hobby – read: passion for this game – and skillset fall together. I love organizing things, structure and quality are always my focus.

As a result, I took the L1 test at the first available opportunity (an event named Dark Challenge), which also was my first experience as floor judge and Judging a competitive event. Which was amazing!

What got you interested in becoming a L2?

So here it becomes interesting for the readers of this blog, right? My L2 story begins in the Transylvanian mountains of Sinaia. It was actually at a (my first) judge conference, which was held in Romania in February 2016. The store owner from Le&Le Games helped facilitating this conference. He dragged me with him, so maybe I would learn a thing or two.

It was at the lunch break when I got called over to a table. There I found our country coordinator, my local TO, another TO from Bucharest and our regional coordinator, Giorgos Trichopoulos. When I sat down the latter asked: “So, I heard some good things about you. Do you want to become a Level 2 Judge?”. Flabbergasted by the unexpected situation, the best answer I could come up with was, “Euh, yeah I guess…”, while staring at his huge dreadlocks.

The conversation was followed by a brief presentation of the L2 requirements and the country coordinator explaining the need for L2 Judges in our country. At that moment, Romania had two L2’s, but one was planning on leaving the country. That left one judge for the three advanced level stores that desired to run PPTQ’s. Both present TO’s promised to help facilitating me in the process by offering sufficient competitive Judging opportunities and support for travel expenses.

In the following weeks, I dove into the details of the L2 requirements. Trying to figure out if this was what I wanted. Soon I found myself staffed for the next PPTQ in Bucharest. And I have to say, I found my drive.

What was your journey to L2 like? What were some of the challenges you faced during your journey to L2?

Once I was determined on going for L2, I checked opportunities to meet with the regional coordinator, Giorgos, who I would be taking my exam with. First up: GP Prague in June 2016. With little over three months to prepare for it, that seemed a realistic goal at the time. Preparing for L1 took me two months, so it made sense to take some extra time for this one.

Studying I did mainly independent. At each competitive event I got to practice, I brought a printout of the IPG, MTR, or section of the CR, with highlighted areas to discuss with my mentor. Tons of hard practice exams in the Judge Center and a L2 practice exam at 84% further, I felt ready.

I booked my AirBNB, took a 12+ hours bus ride to Prague and also enrolled to the main event, since it was Legacy. Day one I met up with Giorgos to establish a moment for testing: Sunday morning. Yes, I expected to perform poorly at the main event. So I went along and played some events and went 4-4 at the GP.

The next day I was well rested and ready to shine. I arrived at ten in the morning and started my quest to find Giorgos. Who was hard to find and once found incredibly busy judging at day two of the GP. It would probably be in the afternoon he had time to set me up, so I signed up for a draft. Then I went to find Giorgos, who was in a meeting which took something like an hour. When he got out the already printed exam was lost and the searching for it took some time as well.

Once I finally was set up in a small warm room with no air conditioning, I spent the next three hours completing the exam. There were around eight questions I wasn’t certain about. And another six which had overlap and I decided to follow the same method in answering them. When finished I had a very good feeling about it and was confident I passed it.

Then the result: 70%. My enthusiasm quickly faded. There was no time to go over the questions and mistakes, so I was left with a strange aftertaste. No motivation to play any more side events or even do sightseeing. I realized it was a mistake to make the trip all by myself. The disappointment of failing was bigger than expected, even though I anticipated the chance of it.

A week later I had a Skype call with Giorgos. A handful of questions I answered right at that moment that I had done wrong at the exam. And the earlier mentioned six questions I answered in the same fashion, all wrong. Though I was close! So with some clear set out study targets I was up on my feet again soon. The next opportunity to test would be six weeks later at the summer Judge conference in Macedonia. Normally there is a three months cooldown period, but Giorgos was willing to make an exception in the benefit of the Romanian MTG communities.

The studying had pretty much the same approach as before. Mainly independent with a practice exam here and there. Again, planning the trip. This time by car and convinced my girlfriend to come along and make a little road trip out of it. It turned out to be a beautiful holiday.

But I still wasn’t L2. At the conference another person was in charge of the L2 testings, who also wasn’t informed. I should have been more proactive in timely reminders. Instead I spent my time studying under the assumption that once agreed upon, it is set unless communicated otherwise. After stressing for about 24 hours I got the chance to present myself to the the person in charge of L2 testing. My reasons for going for L2 were clear and accepted with no doubt. But when I had to present how and what I improved since my last attempt six weeks ago, I couldn’t specify anything, since I had been studying simply everything over and over again.

Politics started to play a role, because if I would fail, they would have to legitimize their decision of making an exception on the three months cooldown rule. Finally it came down to one question. Answer right, take the exam. I answered wrong and will never forget how planeswalker redirection works when combined with other replacement effects.

After the two long exhausting trips and somewhat poor experience of the happenings around ‘both’ exams, I was kind of done with the whole thing. It wasn’t until October 2016 that I considered studying for L2 again. The TO’s were asking me about it and still wanted to book me for upcoming PPTQs. 

I came to realize that I underestimated the whole thing a bit. But did not want to go down the same path again after the disappointments which almost made me quit Judging. That’s when I went looking for a Dutch mentor to coach me on my path to L2 with the comfort of my native language. I contacted the Benelux regional coordinator Richard Drijvers and presented him my motivation and experiences so far. He quickly set me up with fresh L3 Anniek van der Peijl who was highly motivated to help me where needed. This is where the success story continues.

In the first week of November I had a Skype call with Anniek. As I was going to do things differently this time, I put aside all notes from previous exams. The most important step I made to get started, was opening a document with my planning per week and a clear target: GP Utrecht in February.

After getting to know Anniek a little, we discussed my short term goals – the first topics I wanted to study. As well as our next Skype call moment, one week from the first. From here on out it went smoothly. Every week I had my one or two areas or specific rules that I wanted to explore, study and discuss. Anniek supported me with on topic challenging scenarios and articles, which was extremely helpful!

It helped me that it was a quiet period at work, so I had the chance to study daily between one and four hours. With lightning speed we went through my targeted areas for improvement. Followed by a retake on the areas I was already quite solid on, yet still learned a lot about them. It was now clear that I have underestimated it all this time. By the end of December I was ready! Scored 92% on a L2 practice exam, but didn’t stop there. With 2 months until the exam, I wanted to stay sharp and on top of it. The next month we went in depth of obscure corners of the rules and policy documents, which resulted in attentively studying chapters 4 until 8 of the comprehensive rules. I learned many minor details which occasionally are relevant and get asked in L2 exams. With each chapter studied I made notes and formulated questions about wording and interactions with other rules, which I would discuss with Anniek the next week. A week until the exam I did another L2 practice exam with a glorious 96% result. The days before the exam I was in the Netherlands at my parents. In all quiet I went over all notes about things that I learned in the last months plus read over the IPG and MTR two more times. The last day before the exam I did two hard practice and two policy practice exams and hit 100% on each of them. I don’t think I was this well prepared for any exam before in my life.

The next day, Friday, I met with Anniek at the venue of GP Utrecht. Both nicely in time, we found a quiet corner of the venue’s restaurant. Two hours later I finished. 94%!

What advice do you have for aspiring L2s?

  1. Do not underestimate the exam and/or overestimate yourself
    The exam is not easy. I made the mistake of assuming that I already knew most things and skipped studying areas while I wasn’t aware of minor details of them. It’s not an impossible task. Just prepare yourself well, so you won’t have to make expenses to just fail an exam.
  2. Make a realistic plan and stick to it
    The Judge Program is highly based on own initiative. Don’t expect your mentor to tell you exactly what to do. Self-assessment is an important aspect of the Judge life. Once you are motivated to become L2, make a plan for yourself. Don’t overload yourself with work. Instead split it up in digestible bites and take breaks to let the information sink in. Find a routine that works for you and include contact time with your mentor. I found it very helpful to have a weekly Skype session, so I had something to work towards every week. That way, every meeting with my mentor became a valuable discussion. Also, don’t plan too tightly. Leave yourself some wiggle room so you have time to study additional aspects or just repeat the matter a couple of times before going into your exam.
  3. Take notes, many notes
    Learned something from a practice exam? Write it down. Saw another Judge doing something cool? Write it down. Basically, just make notes of everything. By writing it down you immediately help yourself remember better. Plus you can read it back later. It’s a small time investment with a huge payoff.
  4. Bring along a buddy to hang out with after your exam
    Whether it is to celebrate with or to forget the disappointment, it’s much better in two!
  5. Be up to date
    Official documents get often revision. Make sure you are on top of it. Read the articles or blog posts about these changes to understand the reasoning and what exactly changed. These topics are excellent discussion topics with your mentor by the way!
  6. Don’t play Magic before your exam
    It’s only distracting. Just keep all that information fresh in your head. After your exam there are plenty of opportunities to play magic.

Is there anyone you would like to thank for getting you to L2?

Adrian Teodorescu and Mihai Birsan, for being an inspiration and their feedback.

Giorgos Trichopoulos and Richard Drijvers for their support in the trajectum to L2.

Lehel Valics and Christian Cascaval, for supporting me with opportunities to practice Judging at competitive.

Anniek van der Peijl, for excellent mentorship, pleasant communication and taking all the time I asked for to support me achieving my goal.

What is next for you now that you’ve made L2?

Within a week I noticed that suddenly I have so much more free time on hand now I’m not constantly studying and doing practice exams. I have been enjoying writing and have been aspiring to produce some content for the Judge community. I am happy I quickly was offered the opportunity to write for this blog right here. During writing my experiences, I got inspired for a next article (about successfully managing a local community). I got in touch with some regional content creators who would love an helping hand, so I’m strongly considering that. And maybe do a presentation at a conference some time.

Of course I hope to be accepted for a Grand Prix some time. But in the meantime I will continue gaining more experience judging.

Thank you all for taking the time to ready about my experiences. I sincerely hope it contributes to your path to L2, or other ambitions. Big ups for Dathan, for the opportunity to write for this blog and his enthusiastic feedback.

See you on the floor!

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