Events have always been something of a tricky balancing act for me. Interacting with other people is probably my favorite part of the judge program. On the other hand, and this gets forgotten sometimes,
THE EVENT COMES FIRST.
I recently had the good fortune to be asked to head judge SCG Worcester. Going in to Worcester I had several goals:
- Learn something from everyone I talked to, and teach that person something new. (Note that this is a goal I set for every event)
- Spend time talking with every judge on staff.
- Have breakfast or dinner with all the L3s on staff. (There’s a reason and it’s not being exclusive, I promise.)
So, did I reach those goals? My god no. I did try my best, however, and there are tons of things to get from this.
Why did things go wrong? Well, to start off, THE EVENT COMES FIRST.
There were 32 appeals, 2 DQs, and a player who had a seizure. It’s quite a bit to come back from that. Before we get into some more abstract stuff, two of the appeals are worth talking about.
Albert is playing Norbert and casts Thoughtseize. Norbert casts Brainstorm in response to hide a card and then the players resolve both Thoughtseize and Brainstorm correctly. Then during Albert’s end step Norbert announces “crack this fetch” and puts a Scalding Tarn into the grave while reaching to change his life total. Norbert then immediately realizes and says “actually no, I’m good.” Albert of course appeals and would like Norbert to crack his fetch.
The floor judge ruled that Norbert did not need to fetch, and I upheld. Here the important thing for me is the way Norbert handled everything. He took all of the actions at once, and did not pause or otherwise indicate he was done. Norbert also did not wait for responses and before really finishing his action decided against it. Albert was, of course, quite angry.
Our second appeal of note was quite similar. Aaron is playing Infect and Naomi is playing Miracles. For the purposes of this question the archetypes are less important, except for two pieces of information; Aaron’s deck has roughly 20 ways to buff his creatures, and Naomi’s deck as targeted removal that is cheap to cast.
Aaron attacks Naomi with a Blighted Agent and says “pump my guy”, placing a Vines of Vastwood on the table. Aaron indicates he’s passing priority, both with a hand wave, and a pose that indicates his action is complete. Naomi, after a substantial pause, announces that she has a response. This prompts Aaron to note “Oh wait, I’m casting Invigorate instead of Vines of Vastwood.” Of note, Aaron has mana, but did not tap any for Vines. The floor judge’s ruling was a Game Rules Violation for not paying any mana. I ended up overturning the call. What’s the difference here? Well, in this case Aaron has given every indication that they have completed their action of casting the spell. In fact, Aaron has specifically waited until after asking for responses to realize their error. If Aaron had given any clue that this was the wrong spell (announcing Invigorate for example) then things may have gone a different way.
So, those two calls are a little tricky. In both cases there’s some measure of “have to be there” to feel comfortable with the situation. Something to consider about all this is the message we send. If in the second instance we let Aaron wait for Naomi to respond and then change his mind we will encourage Aaron to never be clear again. Why would he if instead he can get all the information he would like? Going back to the first situation we also can’t let the opponent turn the turn structure into a race to respond. Someone immediately announcing no response can’t force a player to take an action when they’re not really trying to do so. Remember that our rules and policy and philosophy aren’t a hammer. Let players play the way they’re trying to play, please!
Great! Now that the rulings stuff is out of the way most of you can click the back button! Let’s talk about the goal of spending time with everyone on staff. How close did I get? Well, to be quite honest, I got pretty close. I ultimately failed, and realized about halfway through Saturday I was going to fail. Why is that?
THE EVENT COMES FIRST.
Once the appeals started tallying quickly I knew I was going to be short on time. So I ended up spending time with about two-thirds of the staff. I had to be judicious in my selections and so I made some choices that in hindsight I’m pretty happy about.
One of the things that happens, not just in the judge program, but in all sorts of areas, is attention being paid to the next “best and brightest”. And to some extent that’s great! Also, if anyone tells you that they don’t know who the ‘best and brightest’ are then they’re not honest with themselves. Looking back at the staff list (it’s been six weeks now, I mean c’mon), I’ve got CJ Stambaugh, John Brian McCarthy, and Elliot Raff as the names that I’ve heard about through various channels. So, to be clear, this is neither an endorsement, nor a condemnation, merely a statement of “these three have some hype” which usually means L3 consideration. Now, those three I also, as it turns out had the least interaction with on a personal feedback basis at the event. I’ve since touched base with them, but purposely avoided it in person. Why is that? Glad you asked!
Bryan Prillaman once told me, and he may have stolen it from someone else, he’s Flerrrda after all, that L3s are unicorns. I didn’t really buy into that for a while and then it became very apparent. Quite frankly, a lot of judges don’t get as much face time with L3s as some others and I wanted to change that up a bit. Wow am I glad I did. Do we need another L3 telling CJ that he’s good? Naw, probably not. Are there others who could use feedback? Absolutely. Also, knowing this allowed me to sort of let the experienced judges go on auto pilot. I know that Michael Arrowsmith is going to knock it out of the park. Let me focus on AJ Kerrigan instead. Let me observe Megan Linscott, etc. In fact while I have a moment, let me brag on those two. I was impressed by the insights you both brought to our discussions. Your points of view made me take a closer look at how we do things in Florida, and the southeast in general, and I’m better for it. I hate to not delve into details there, but I haven’t asked if I can, and I would consider it a violation of confidence to disclose good or bad things said with the expectation of privacy.
Oh hey and while we’re here, let’s talk about some internal changes I can/will be making. This event makes me realize how hard of a balance judging really has become. Some of the feedback I got from several people was “I wish I talked to L3 judges more.” This makes me look at Florida. In the past we had regular meetups. Sean Copeland Justin Turner, Matt Williams, CJ Crooks, Michael Fortino, Todd Palmer and I would all meet up and argue, discuss, debate, pick apart everything and quiz each other. If that sounds bad I apologize, but that’s our personality here. It made us all better and really it’s worth noting that we got a lot of good judges from that. Truthfully our second generation of judges also came from these discussions and many leveled up to L2 and became community leaders. So, what happened?
Life happens! We all got busy, and no one really picked up the discussion times. Community suffered and education suffered as a result. I haven’t been the only one in our community to notice this. CJ Crooks has recently posted on our regional forums about a desire to reintroduce some of those old discussion days and it’s been met with overwhelming positivity. All of the L3s have made plans to attend. Judges are hungry for that interaction! One of my favorite people, Michael Puccio, talks about how real the thirst is. Thirst for knowledge has never been more apparent and we can’t wait!
A challenge now, for those of you who are not as active/involved at the store level: Change that! It doesn’t have to be FNM, it can be cube night, it can be a draft night, I mean geez it can just be a board game night (please make sure it’s WotC brand though!), anything to just be involved. Some of our most recent hall of fame inductees are very active in their local stores. So, why is this so hard? Glad you asked that as well!
Judging is very much a liquid. However much space you allot, judging will gobble it up and ask for more. Around nine months ago I took a six month hiatus. While I was gone I had to look at why I was so tired, and see if I could fix it. The answer was actually relatively simple. I had a lot of projects, the things I enjoyed the most about events were not happening, and I was not spending time with the community.
Well, projects were easy to fix. I finished the ones that were outstanding, and handed the others off until I was ready to come back, or they were completed. As for events, that was more complex. The thing I enjoy the most about events is interacting with other judges, and specifically my team. However, with the ever increasing size of GPs and of course the fact that THE EVENT COMES FIRST, my team was often sort of tossed into the air and used to do whatever we could do to make players happy and have a better time. Quite frankly, that’s how it should be. It did make me reconsider my position a bit however.
So how am I enjoying events again? Well, for one I’m significantly less rigid in who/how I’m trying to teach people. For a long time my primary goal was teaching my team things, and if we got distracted, or otherwise fractured that plan fell apart and I would follow up with emails later. As a result I enjoyed events less and got tired of them. Now I am to focus on whomever needs help, on anyone who wants to learn. Being less rigid has been a great help, allowed for much more mentoring, and really opened me up to seeing and hearing a great many ideas on how to change everything. It’s really helped me appreciate my time on the floor more, and for that I’m grateful.
Come on now, this article can’t be all roses and sunshine! There’s an elephant in the room that’s worth discussing, and that’s balance. Realistically anything I do online is going to take time from working with people in person. How do you strike that balance? Well, in a dream world we can teach others to be teachers and build up for us. John Carter once told me that we should always be training our replacement. I’ve always remembered it and tried to do as much, but pedagogy is easier said than done. So what’s the real answer? Do the best you can. Do what’s right for you. Above all else try and leave the program and community better than you found it and no one’s going to fault you.
So on to bullet point three up there, having a judge dinner with the other L3’s on staff. There was once a tradition at GPs of team leads getting together before the event and having breakfast and a discussion. At some point that fell by the wayside and after some discussion at a GP it was mentioned that maybe things like this would help morale. Let me be clear, I think getting small groups of judges together to have fun and interact is a fantastic idea and I will absolutely do it again. Being able to discuss issues in a quiet, more intimate environment was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a long time. There was little chat about the actual event, but instead there were program discussions, policy chats, local area stories, all of the things that I appreciate from events. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this type of thing (breakfast at the regional PTQ) and I can only say that it’s reinforced my want to continue the practice.
So, what comes from all this? Well, some fun calls, a lot of events, and really a renewed sense of purpose for the program. I’m reclaiming some of my former items (thank you again Jeremy Behunin!), making some changes and improvements, and working on an annotated MTR. I’ve built up some stronger relationships with judges outside of my region (5 similar minded L3s can become something of an echo chamber), and most of all I’m looking forward to judging some more. Please find your passion in the program, and there’s no harm in experimenting to find it, and then follow that. We’ve got a great, wonderful, diverse group of people and someone is going to love the same thing you do! Thank you for reading this long semi-rambling, drunk dial of a tournament report and if I can help you find your place in the program please let me know.
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