Adventures in Team Leading

Jack Hesse, Level 2, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Jack Hesse, Level 2, Madison, Wisconsin, United States

SCG Cleveland, April 25-26, 2015
Roles: Floor Team Lead Saturday, Flex Team Lead Sunday


This event was to be my 7th Star City Open that I’ve worked at, and at the behest of some of my judge peers, I requested a Team Lead position. I had my first TL gig at SCG Indy earlier this year (Modern PIQ “Not-Deck-Checks” Team), and I had a great time doing it. However, prior to the day of, I didn’t actually know I was going to be the Team Lead. I think I managed all right, though. Thankfully, this time it was abundantly clear that I was leading the Floor and Flex teams on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, so I had time to prepare.

The first thing that occurred to me as I started my mental preparations was, what exactly are these teams responsible for, and what exactly is my responsibility with respect to leading these teams? The Floor team is relatively simple (watch Magic, make sure the floor is evenly and well-covered, break up judge clumps), but the Flex team … Much less so.


Some brief background, for those unfamiliar with the structure of SCG Opens. Until this year, SCG weekends have been (usually) two tournaments: a Standard Open on Saturday, and a Legacy Open on Sunday. (And side events both days, of course.) Fortunately/unfortunately, the size of these events keeps increasing, which correspondingly increases the number of rounds, which correspondingly increases the total length of the tournament, which correspondingly increases the length of the working day.

So, SCG made the decision to start doing GP-style weekends–one large Open event split across two days, and two “Premier Invitational Qualifier” events run alongside Day Two of the main event. This new paradigm started in early 2015. Because of this new paradigm, a lot of the old “standard operating procedures” have been needing to be redefined. And we’re all learning as we’re going.

Teams on Sunday were divided roughly into six: Standard Open, Modern Deck Checks, Modern Not-Deck Checks, Legacy Deck Checks, Legacy Not-Deck-Checks, and Flex. On my Flex team, four of the five judges were also assigned to other teams. I imagined it was such that those four judges would primarily serve their “other” teams, with the understanding that they could be pulled off to do something else.

My role as this team’s lead? I imagined that with three events scattered over the floor of a convention hall (plus sides), it was going to be incumbent on me to be aware of the needs of the event(s), figure out who’s available, and assign team members as able. A brief email exchange with Standard Open Head Judge John Alderfer confirmed this.

Day One

My Floor Team consisted of William Colley, Craig Reeder, Nicholas Cummings, and Dan Regewitz. Will and Craig are experienced L2s, Dan is an L1 on the cusp of L2, and Nick is an L1 who mostly plays, but likes judging too. I had a brief team meeting, where I was perhaps a little too apologetic for being a “TL n00b”, but they were understanding and humored my attempts at leadership.

The day was mostly uneventful from a TL perspective. We set up table tents, we covered the floor, we took some calls, I broke up some judge-clumps, etc. I worked with the other TLs (Anthony Bucchioni, Jeremy Toma-Cooper, Karl Wiesling, Riki Hayashi) to figure out breaks, and we executed our plan accordingly.

From a pure floor judge perspective, I did encounter a handful of interesting situations, though. One involved a match I was watching, where I saw a card in play that is commonly played in sideboards, but not main deck. It seemed like they were in Game One, so I did some investigating. I asked the Scorekeeper who was playing at the table I noticed it at, dug up their decklists, and confirmed: it’s a sideboard card. I let the Head Judge know what was up, and went to go talk to the players. Turned out they were just wrapping up their match–it had been Game Two, not One. Whew.

The second one involved a situation that I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to go discuss in detail. I will just mention that there were specific things that I could have done much better in handling it, and I have internalized lessons learned.

The third one was much more light-hearted and fun, involving some sweet Standard tech: Pyxis of Pandemonium. It was a Green/Red deck of some sort, facing off against an Esper Dragon/Control deck. G/R had two Pyxises in play (Pyxes? Pyxi?), one of which had fourteen cards exiled under it (seven from each player). Esper attacked with Dragonlord Ojutai, and G/R cracked the first Pyxis. Esper revealed (among other things) a Temple of Deceit, and Dragonlord Silumgar. G/R revealed (among other things) a Temple of Abandon, and Dragonlord Atarka. I got a series of questions about this situation, which would not be unexpected. First, I thanked them for making my day with this awesome play, and second, I answered their questions. I’ll leave the exact answer to “What happens?” as an exercise to the reader. 🙂

The fourth one was a Marked Cards situation. I was sitting on a match with about ten minutes left. I looked at the player’s library, and saw that it wasn’t stacked up perfectly evenly–there were small gaps between some of the cards (but not others). I asked to inspect the player’s library, while instructing them to keep playing. Sure enough, the gaps were due to foils. I paused the match, explained the situation, issued the TE-MC penalty, and got them playing again with a small time extension (the couple-three minutes it took to explain what I found). I talked with the player after the match, and gave him some pointers (manually un-flex the card, acquire replacements, etc.).

Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize at the time, was that when I asked the players to “keep playing” while I was inspecting the deck, the players didn’t. Which I completely understand. How am I going to be able to focus on playing while there’s a judge sitting next to me poking around in my deck? I found out the next day, talking Ryan Hoffman on the Event Staff, that the player was upset. Not about the Marked Cards (which the player understood), but that I didn’t give them a long enough extension. I agreed. I apologized to Ryan, and I told him that if they came across the player again, that I’d love to have a chance to apologize to him. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get another chance to talk to the player. So if you’re reading this, R/G marked cards guy, Sorry!)

My personal highlight of the day, however, came during the last round when I sat down with Craig, who had been shadowing my Team-Leadership. He provided a number of excellent observations about my team-leading from that day, and correspondingly a similar number of excellent suggestions for team-leading the next day. Mostly, it involved giving my team clear direction, asking about break preferences, doing a team-building exercise of some sort, and keeping official team business concise and to the point. He told me he was going to be following up the next day with my team members and see how well I did.

Day Two

My team members included Doug Isenberg, Jacob Milicic, Matthew Tuskey, Karl Wiesling, and David Incorvati. Doug, Jacob, Matt, and Karl were each assigned to another team in addition to my team.

So, Day Two the fun day. Not that Day One wasn’t fun, but this was where the big challenges lay ahead for me. I had a game plan, though. I joked that I was basically going to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, but it was really about constant communication and information. Touching base on a regular basis with my judges and with the other team leads. “How you doin’ over here, need someone?” Or, “Hey, Legacy needs someone to cover for them while a bunch of them are on break, can I grab so-and-so?” In addition, I’d regularly check in with all three Head Judges (since I found out my team was expected to help out with Standard, too) and the Event Staff (especially Sean Heath, who was handling Sides).

It required a lot of planning and foresight up front, and flexibility (as the name of the team suggests). Taking Craig’s suggestions to heart, one of my primary goals with the Flex Team was to make sure that all my judges knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing at any given point in time. When I had to reassign one of my teamies somewhere else, I made sure they knew exactly where to go, and whom to report to (“Hey, you’re gonna help with a targeted deck check next round while Modern Deck Checks is on break. Meet up with so-and-so, do the deck check, then report back to so-and-so to help with floor coverage.”).

Another challenge was figuring out breaks, and then keeping track of who’s on break and when. Complicating things was the staggered schedule of Modern and Legacy. The rounds never sync up, and during the break rounds, they were often a full half-round apart. For the Not-Deck-Checks teams, it made sense to just send them out whenever (not necessarily corresponding to their specific event’s round turnover), and to grab my Flex people to cover beginning-of-round procedures and floor coverage.

Towards the end of the day, the main gap-filling involved the judges who were on half-round breaks, and finding things to do for the stragglers who were done working Standard for the day. It so happened that those two things coincided nicely: ”Hey I’m done with Standard, need me for anything.” “As a matter of fact, Dave needs a half-round break, and I need someone to cover Sides.”

There were a couple things I didn’t take into account, however. First, I figured that the Deck Checks teams were pretty fixed, with little flexibility. But I realized later in the day that they each had a Team Lead and two team members, and if I reassigned the Flex member somewhere else, the Team Lead could easily have done the deck check with the other DC team member (though I’d have to account for the TL being off the floor). The other thing was tear-down at the end of the day. I assumed that someone other than myself was coordinating that, and some of the people that ended up helping were a little confused by the lack of direction. In retrospect, I should have been proactive with checking with the Event Staff and/or the Head Judges to figure out tear-down “stuff” beforehand.

There was one other big challenge that I didn’t quite meet with 100% success: Taking care of myself. I didn’t prioritize hydration and breaks for myself nearly enough, and by the end of the event, I was way more wiped (physically and mentally exhausted, in pain, and hungry) than I needed to be. I had a hard time figuring out a great way of getting myself off the floor, though. I was worried what would happen if I was off the floor and somebody needed something. I think all I really needed to do, though, was to touch base with the other TLs and the HJs to let them know. Or maybe set an expectation with others before (“Hey, I’m on break when Legacy is in Round 6, if anybody needs anything, see another TL or a HJ.”). I’m not sure the best way to go about this would have been.


All-in-all, it seems like the event was a success both from an overall “event” perspective, and from the perspective of my and my teams’ roles. I got lots of positive feedback from just about everybody I worked with and crossed paths with, including specific “atta-boy” recognitions from the HJs. I’m not gonna lie, that felt really good. I was exhausted, but I felt incredibly accomplished. I tell people that Judging is a lot of work, hard work, but very rewarding work. I experienced all of those extremes this weekend. And I would gladly do it all again!

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