12 Years of the Pro Tour (Part 3)

As I find myself flying to Las Vegas to be part of a history-making event, I find that I am compelled to finally finish my series on my many years of judging the PT. Why does this event provoke this reaction, you ask?

It’s because the single biggest difference between the PT (and GP) events of a dozen years ago is not the judging, the players, the rules, the policy… it’s the nature of the event itself!

When I decided in 2002 that I would like to take a shot at judging a PT, I had tremendous (if not unreachable) expectations. I expected a fabulous show, with big name players and judges–people that I had only heard of in a text-only usenet forum (or mailing list) or read about in an issue of The Duelist.

Aside: The Duelist was a magazine printed by WotC a great many years ago covering the kinds of things we now read about on a daily basis on many websites. It features puzzles, spoilers, and everything you would expect from a magazine (advertising, classifieds, letters to the editor etc.) along with event coverage and behind-the-scenes bits. It was great, but suffered from a common problem of magazines in that it was often outdated before you received it.

The Duelist Magazine, Urza's Saga issue

The Duelist Magazine, Urza’s Saga issue

Back to the topic at hand. I applied for PT Houston in 2002 expecting a great show, an awesome thing, something totally beyond my experience. And boy, was I disappointed. The PT was held in a hall where the only route there involved walking across a huge, baking parking lot. The only food available was from the venue vendors–which were not particularly exciting. The feature match area? Very small. In terms of venue and player count, it was very close in size to a GP. I couldn’t help but feel that it was “just another Magic tournament.” Nothing felt special or different.

Add to this the fact that my spouse at the time was not particularly supportive of the whole “spend the weekend judging” thing. Plus, when I talked to the judge manager about having to leave, he wasn’t particularly empathetic. I didn’t feel like I would be missed. I was mentally crushed underfoot, demoralized. To be honest, this feeling is the reason it’s taken me so long to finally finish this series; it’s one of those feelings that lingers.

Today, going to a PT is special. It is clear how much time the WotC staff puts into picking locations for the PT. Even when it’s not at an awesome location like Hawaii, there are always things to do nearby. There is food. There are special features at the event like making a piece of art or turning yourself into a token. The feature match area is HUGE compared to that of 12 years ago, complete with an army of producers backstage. I know there are those who complain about coverage for one reason or another–and obviously things can always be improved–but the work put in to make these happen is mind bending.

Today at a GP, there are artists and dealers and feature match viewing areas designed for spectators. There are side events for every player type from the top-tier Spike that just had a bad day in the main event to the casual EDH match. There are playmats as souvenirs. There are THOUSANDS of players, people who share your love of this crazy game we call Magic.

When you go to a PT after having seen even a moderately-sized GP, you know the people in the room–both playing and judging–are the elite. Often, you know both sets. And that, my friends, is what is the biggest difference between judging a PT more than a decade ago and judging a PT today. The Magic Pro Tour is special; it is indeed an achievement to be there, regardless of whether you are a player or a judge.

We all have our activity Wax/Wane over time… and, looking back, it’s a bit of a wonder that I continued on as a judge. Yet, I’m glad I did. Going into this weekend I am once again nervous and excited like I haven’t been for an event in a long time. I know that I will learn from it. With this event, I know that I will be reaping the rewards and come away with friends, knowledge, experience, and even some tangible items. It will not be easy… but how often is the easy path truly the most interesting?!

Grand Prix events are special, too. And that, my friends, is why this trip has inspired me to finish my series. Join us for one, and help Make Magic History.

PS: Speaking of History… check out JudgeCast #120, where I join the hosts and discuss the Magic Judge Hall of Fame and the Old Days of Judging. Also keep an eye here for my MJHoF ballot!

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