One Year Later

One Year Later

Oy.  It’s been a year.

There’s been struggles abound, adventures galore, and a lot of personal growth.  And that’s not even including the judge program.

They tell you as you grow up, that the more you age the easier things will be.  I’ve decided that’s a pile of malarkey.  Things don’t get easier, you just gain the ability to adapt more and once you’ve grown comfortable, that is when you run into a new challenge to conquer.  And let’s be honest, life would be pretty boring if everything was easily wrapped up and cataloged with pre-programmed responses.

I started this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and work through the events as I traveled down the Judge road.  I haven’t kept up with it as regularly as I’d like; being a teacher often means sacrificing not only your free time but also your free energy.  Most days when I get home it’s all I can do to wash clothes and keep far enough ahead on my grading that I’m not crushed by a mountain of papers.  Writing is a part of my soul and when I don’t have the energy to focus on it, I tend to push it aside until I can get to it.  I hope that a future change in careers will mean I have the time to write about more events, not just the ones that have really hit me hard (whether good or bad).

In three or four days, I’ll hit the one year anniversary of my very first GP.  You can read more about the event here but it’s safe to say that event changed me, and for the better.  While I had judged a largeish Magic event the previous weekend, it was here that a fire really lit inside me; I really loved this judging thing.  As an introvert, it felt like a way for me to connect with people and really make someone’s day better and that’s what I think motivates me to this day.  Judging is this odd mix of customer service, intricate knowledge, and people skills that means I always have to be prepared to think on my feet.  I think that’s why GP Charlotte was the turning point for me; if any GP could be considered the ‘Be Flexible and Make it Happen GP’ it was that one.

I’ve had a lot of amazing success this past year: I planned and successfully ran a charity tournament for a local animal shelter; I judged in my first SCG Open; and I’ve tackled the plethora of formats that Magic has to offer.  I even wrote something that ended up on the ‘Mothership’ (Wizard’s homepage) about the struggles I’ve had as lady Magic player.  That was an especially proud moment of mine and an illustration of how powerful written words can be.  Not only have I had several female players express similar struggles to mine, I even had a fellow judge call attention to the fact that he had a female judge candidate who was inspired to become a judge because of what I had written.  That, more than anything, is my proudest judge related moment to date. (I hope to meet her one day!)

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and daises.  I’ve punted rules calls pretty publicly; I had a tardiness situation where I wasn’t firm enough and it led to player backlash; I’ve dealt with upset players as both a floor judge and a head judge.

I also failed the Level 2 test twice.

I’ll admit, the second time I wasn’t prepared.  My new teaching job was robbing me of all my time and I made the mistake of taking it at a GP instead of in a quieter setting.

But the first time… the first time hit me hard.  I’m not used to failing at things; in fact, I have the tendency to avoid situations that put me in a spot where I may fail.  That’s one of the places I think I’ve grown the most since I’ve started judging; facing my knowledge and ability gaps in a way that I can understand them and improve.  Without failure there is no getting better, no moving on to the next level.

Now when I make mistakes, I don’t let them drag down into a spiral of despair.  I instead let them ground me and I examine them for ways I can improve.  I have the ability in me to be a very good judge, and in some areas I am already a very good judge, but in order to reach my potential, I have to know not only what mistake I made, but also how I got to the error in the first place.

But I know I’m growing.  Earlier this month, I judged side events at GP Richmond.  As the weekend progressed, I felt great but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that it felt too easy.  Towards the end of my second shift, I realized that it wasn’t that things were too easy but that I now had the skills to be more efficient which made me better at my job.  I also got to help coach a fellow female judge who was launching their first side event as a head judge at a GP.  I even got called a ‘SCG Stalwart’ which may have caused my heart to grow three sizes that day.

Looking to the future, I’m heading to Cleveland in the middle of June to judge another GP under Riki Hiyashi.  I was on the main event floor for his first GP in Indianapolis so I feel extremely grateful and fortunate that I get to judge under him for his last GP as well.  Fingers crossed that this will also be my first event as a Level 2 judge.

I’m hoping to check ‘Judge an Event Out of the U.S.’ off my judge bucketlist but only time will tell if that becomes a reality.

But more than events, more than simple rules knowledge, judging has helped me grow as a person.  Confidence has always been a weak point but continuing to receive concrete evidence that I can do things correctly, and even well, has pulled up my self confidence, not only as a judge, but as a person.  I still continue to struggle with depression and anxiety but overall I am a happier person.  Having to evaluate not only myself, but also other judges, I’ve learned to explain myself more concisely in order to help a fellow judge grow.  It’s like using my teaching skills but turned up to eleven.

Writing this blog has been an exercise in courage.  I still get nervous teaching in front of my students sometimes so tossing out my words for (potentially) all the internet to see can be unbelievably nerve wracking.  But if my words and experiences can help just one person besides myself, it will all be worth it.

I’m nowhere near out of steam.  I aim to keep my passion and drive for judging for a very long time.

Here’s to another amazing year of events, players, and new and old judge friends along the way and I hope you’ll join me for them all.

Will You be my Manatee?

When I first envisioned writing about mentoring, I had a particular image in my head; the wise, older individual overseeing the younger person as the future successor.  Now, while that isn’t completely wrong, it’s also very far off from what really happens when we look at mentoring in the judge community.  Whether it’s polishing rules knowledge, increasing soft skills tied to player relations, or the logistics of running events of all sizes, no judge comes to the program with all the skills they need honed and ready to go.

The level of mentorship that flies around the judge program is what makes it so unique.  It’s not something that’s defined by levels, age, or experience.  I’m lucky to have met and worked with so many judges of different levels in my journey through the program most of whom happily embrace mentorship.  The great thing about mentoring is that sometimes it’s a very pointed, on purpose kind of action.  A judge comes to you for help or growth and so you provide guidance to best of your ability.  You talk through their issues; give them advice as you can; help them push for and reach their goals.  It doesn’t even have to be something big; maybe they don’t quite understand the intricacies of WER so you spend the afternoon tweaking their skills.  It may have just been an afternoon to you but now each time that judge works with that program you can bet they’ll remember you and the help you provided.

The other kind of mentoring can happen quite on accident.  You’re chatting with a judge and the next thing you know you’ve shared ideas back and forth about tournament logistics or how to make your local game stores more inclusive.  To some this may seem to be a simple sharing of ideas but it’s also a little piece of mentoring that’s been shared between colleagues.

Manatee me
Everyone can be a manatee!

But let’s say you’re more in category one than two.  Someone has come to you for advice, seeking guidance on the tumultuous journey that can be working your way into the program.  Very few people can make it through this process without help; the sheer amount of information you need to acquire as you move forward can seem insurmountable; beginning this journey often looks impossible.  I had a great first mentor in the program, and the mentors that have followed have all approached mentoring with similar techniques.  I’m going to share a few things that I believe they did right.  This structure gave me the confidence and drive to keep going even after stumbling here or there.

Make it okay to make mistakes. As a society, we look at mistakes as things to be avoided at all costs but in actuality mistakes are how we learn.  I can all but promise you that you will and do remember your stumbles much more than you remember your easy journeys.  Creating an environment where they can be confident enough to jump and know that someone is there to catch them if they fall is a powerful thing.  It also means they’ll be comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

Explain things in plain terms.  Nothing will make your ‘manatee’ more frustrated than you wrapping your explanations in jargon.  Yes, they do need to learn the terms and vernacular of judging but it is best to ease them into things.  Lower stress and frustration means that they will absorb things better.  It also means a happier them and by proxy, a happier you.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics.  People will come to from all different backgrounds and with varying levels of rules and policy knowledge so you’re going to want to set a baseline.  It will give you a place to start and them a place to build from.  Understanding your limits is empowering because once you know where they lay you can push past them.  Even if they insist they don’t need it, make a baseline anyway.  They’ll be thankful once it’s done.

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  Nothing is worse than reaching out and finding silence.   Mentoring can be exhausting or overwhelming but fully retreating isn’t an option.  If it’s becoming too much let your ‘manatee’ know.  Self-care is important, in every aspect of judging.  Conversely, if your ‘manatee’ is too quiet don’t be afraid to touch base to make sure they’re still on board with the process.  Life gets busy; it could be that they need a small pause.  However, sometimes people also realize that this isn’t what they thought it would be.  It’s okay if you have some people drift away.

Be present.  The most important thing you can be is there.  Let them know you care; that you want to see them be successful as much as they want to be successful.  That doesn’t mean you have to give yourself entirely to mentoring but caring goes a very long way.  Sometimes all someone needs is the knowledge that someone else believes they can do it in order to push themselves.  Simple support and belief can make all the difference between success and belief.

Mentoring is a tough but rewarding experience.  Sharing failures can be hard but when you share successes it makes up for the stumbles along the way.  Don’t let your preconceived notions get in your way either; anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be a ‘manatee.’

Let’s help build each other up to make the program stronger.

(Photo credit to Paul Johnson, L2 Judge out of New Zealand)

Perceptions and Intrepretations

CorrectionThe original post stated that the person who gave me ‘constructive feedback’ claimed to be a judge.  I misheard him during the interaction and have since edited the post to reflect that he was just a player.  Sometimes you don’t perceive things correctly; it happens. It doesn’t change the fact that they shouldn’t have done it but it’s also good to recognize that your own perceptions will always color your interactions as well.

Disclaimer:  As this post is about perceptions, what I write here is colored by my own perceptions of the incidents that happened during the below mentioned IQ at Victory Comics.  I have purposefully not included names as public shaming is not the way to fix a problem and instead hurts much more than it helps.  This post was hard to write because of emotions tied to it so if parts are unclear that may be why.

Most of the time when I finish an event I’m full of happy feelings and new knowledge to help me continue my journey towards Level 2.  Not every tournament is amazing, nor is every tournament smooth, but I have never finished a tournament feeling worse than when I started.

Until I judged an IQ this past Wednesday.

A lot of what we do in judging is supported by rules and policy that are explicit and can be followed easily.  But not everything in policy can be black and white because it would leave no room to bend before breaking.  Therein lies the places in judging that have to be left to the judge’s interpretation; whether or not we can perform a back up, if a player has been cheating, how much time must pass between actions before we call it slow play, as well as others.  While opinions on these may be similar they still differ between judges and situations.

Other aspects of what we do are tied up with concerns like making sure our tournaments run smoothly, that our scorekeeper has to deal with as little stress as possible, that players have a good of a time as we can manage, and that we perform well for the TO that is compensating us for running their tournament.  Players, unless their judges, often don’t know just what goes into a good tournament; to them we’re black or blue clad officials that help if there’s a problem, or more rarely give them a ruling they don’t like in which case we become ‘that judge.’

For most of the IQ, things went well.  I punted my first call (like you do) but didn’t let it get to me.  I had a lengthy investigation into a player discrepancy over whether a burn spell had gone to a player’s life total versus their creature (made more complicated by the players’ ages as younger players can sometimes be more intimidated by judges and get more nervous when involved with a judge call).  I even had a DDLP (Deck/Decklist Problem) game loss appealed to the HJ; it’s not every day a player thinks to do that.  All of these things would’ve made a great post but what happened in the last few rounds of the tournament stuck with me a lot more.

To give you some context, we had 80 players for this IQ.  That’s a staggering number for an instore event.  We activated our standby judge and also had to split ourselves up into two rooms.  For most of the day I hung out in the second room with the lower tables, something I’m generally fine with because most players at these tables have decided to stay in the event because they want to play Magic, and at seven rounds, it was at least two more rounds of Magic than most people get to play in a Comp Rel tournament for that price.

Round five or six (I honestly don’t remember other than that it was later but wasn’t the end of the tournament) I was sitting on a match that was in game three with about five minutes left before time.  The younger player realized he had no more outs and conceeded to their opponent.

Now, Magic players have a tendency to chat after a match, which is fine!  Part of what makes Magic such a great game is how social everything can be.  I’ve spoken several times about how Magic has brought so many wonderful people into my life.  However, when you’re running a seven round tournament on a Sunday, you want to make sure you turn over rounds as efficiently as possible so before they got deep into their conversation I asked them if they would please sign the match slip for me.  Most players I ask that of will sign it quickly, most of them not even stopping their conversation to do so.

But the younger player’s opponent wasn’t having it; they called me rude (they may have used the words ‘sort of’ but that never actually means sort of).  They went on express displeasure because they we’re the in one of the last table’s so it didn’t matter, that I should’ve just left them alone to talk about it, that I shouldn’t interrupted.

I tried explaining that it doesn’t matter what table you’re sitting at, we need all the slips in order to flip the round.  I then started explaining that if I didn’t they would just keep talking and would’ve explained more about how that would’ve delayed the tournament for all the players but he jumped in and then called me rude and ranted at me some more.  If not for his friend (who we’ll see later) filling out the slip for him and getting him to sign it, we would’ve wasted a full five more minutes while this man explained to me about how I was wrong for asking him to complete one simple task.

Maybe I could’ve explained things better but asking for a match slip and then getting berated because a player didn’t like how I handled it was also not the best way to approach the situation.  I did apologize several times as I sat there being insulted nor did I lash out.  It certainly wasn’t fun but a customer service background helps in lots of places while judging.

Fast forward to round six or seven (again my memory fails me) and I’m watching a match on the higher tables.  At this point, as tournaments do, it had shrunk down enough to fit into one room.  I wandered over to a match at one of the high tables.  There was under fifteen minutes in the round and some players at the higher tables have a tendency to get stuck in the ‘tank,’ meaning thinking through their available moves.  While we want to give players the chance to think, taking too long is also a problem.  Players only have fifty minutes to play at minimum two games of Magic so when players take too long it, whether it’s on purpose or not, it can negatively affect the chance of either player winning the match.

As I’m spectating, it occurs to me that nothing has happened for a long enough period that I’ve noticed the lull so I started counting the seconds.  When I got to sixty I informed the player that they needed to make a play.  They glanced at me and then continued to think for another ten or fifteen seconds before I ask them again to make a play at which point the player informs me, “You’re not my favorite judge right now.  Is that appropriate feedback?” before playing a land and asking in the same impolite tone and aggressive tone: “Is that a play?”

After the second prompting I should’ve given him a him a Warning for Slow Play for two reasons.  One, in case the match did go to time there would’ve been two extra turns added to make up for the inaction. And two, it reinforces (and not just for this player) that players need to play this game at reasonable pace so that we can avoid draws where possible.  But because of his reaction towards me I felt it prudent to not infract so that this particular interaction did not turn into a ‘Situation.’  At that point my head judge took over watchng the match so I stepped off the floor to gather myself and complete my tournament.

At that point I was already beat down.  Due to past experiences, when men get aggressive, upset, or angry at me it throws me off and makes me very nervous.  It means that I avoid conflict when I can (see above). I know that it’s a skill I need to work on because not every interaction I have with a player will be pleasant or productive and currently a large majority of our player base is men.  It won’t stop me from doing what needs to be done but I certainly need to work on my hesitation to confront issues that may result in a confrontation.

Sadly, the hits weren’t done.  As I started to sit on my assigned match for top eight, the player whom I had given the Slow Play caution to (and was also the friend of the player who had an issue with me asking him to sign the match slip) approaches me and asks if it’s okay if he gives me feedback.  I explained that I needed to watch this match and he says it won’t take long so I start to stand but he tells me it won’t take long and it’s okay if I just sit there.

Before I get the chance to respond he launches into his feedback: he had been watching me all day (supposedly) and thinks that I need to work on my player interactions.  He says they’ve been poor and that if I want to be a better judge, I need to speak to players better.  That he’s d still working on rules knowledge but that he’s really good with players so that’s how he knows my interactions weren’t great.  He hopes that I do come back to Victory to judge but that I come back as a better judge.

Friends, readers, judges, players, whomever is taking the time to read these words, if you take away only one thing from this post let it be this one: never scold someone in front of people.  There I was, sitting on a top eight match in progress, in a room full of players and spectators while this person told me how bad they thought I was.  All I could do was just smile and say okay because again I didn’t want to be part of a ‘Situation,’ but the whole thing was a punch in the gut not to mention extremely embarrassing.  He left and I barely kept it together long enough for a debrief from my head judge and to get my compensation.

I cried almost the whole three hour drive home.

I felt sad and defeated (and still do a day after) because I pride myself on my interactions with players.  I’m that judge that always has a smile, that goes above what is expected of me, that tries to fix things to the best of my ability, and who handles things as well as I can without letting the players see me sweat.  That’s not me bragging; those are simple truths.  So to have this judge (though I never caught his name so unsure if it’s actually true) decide to rip me apart in front of people, with his comments wrapped in the pretty package of ‘for my own good’ stung a great deal.

This tournament I learned that not every one is going to be great.  I learned that not everyone is going to like you but at the end of the day as long as you’re confident with what you did it’s okay if not every player believes that you’re a good judge as long as you know you are.  I learned that sometimes we have bad days caused by more that just ourselves.  I learned that I’m not going to ever let the bad days stop me and I’ll be right back to being awesome when I head judge an IQ at the same place next week.

But mostly I learned to praise in public and scold in private.  I will never do to someone what was done to me.  Build each other up, support the cracks; don’t tear each other down.  Because when you do, all that you leave behind is tears and pain.

Eternal Extravaganza 6: Can I Get an Appeal?

Edit: I had originally named a card as Pendelhaven when I actually meant Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.  It has since been corrected.

This weekend I embarked on a first time judging adventure: being on staff for an eternal format event (Legacy and Vintage).  Legacy is full of Force of Wills and Insectile Aberrations while almost nothing is banned in Vintage.

Eternal formats can be intimidating; not only are they filled with cards whose text is confusing at best and downright wrong at worst (trust me, oracle text is your friend), but several of the decks in the room were easily worth two or three times the value of my car.  I was happy to not be on the deck checks team for this event; handling that much value would have absolutely made me jittery.

I went into this weekend nervous; not only had I never really played either format but I also had never really judged either of them as well.  Another judge gave me a sage piece of advice when I brought this up:  know your basics and it doesn’t matter what format you’re judging, the answers will still be the same. Just that one nugget of info helped calm me down and see that no matter what kinds of cards people might be slinging, they’re still Magic cards and they still follow all the same rules.

Sometimes all you need is someone else to give you a little sanity check to help bring things back into focus.

As with every judge weekend, I was excited and raring to go.  Our head judge for the event was  L3 Abe Corson.  I had been on his team for at least two GPs and knew him to be a kind and knowledgeable judge.  He’s one of the judges that I tend to put in the category of: ‘will forget more about Magic in his lifetime than I will ever learn.’

Now, usually at larger events like this, you will get much more interaction with your team lead and the other floor judges than you will with the head judge. The head judge is there to handle appeals or tricky calls, put out fires, and check in with team leads to make sure their event is going as smoothly as it an.

Little did I know but Abe and I were going to be interacting a lot during this Legacy tournament.

I’ve discovered that players who tend to stick with only on particular format over others all tend to share certain personality quirks, at least when it comes to handling judge calls.  For Legacy players, a lot of them assume that they know more about their deck than you do.  It can lead to Legacy players being a little bit prickly when it comes to judge rulings.

My first adventure into the world of Legacy Magic involved Thalia and Arlinn Kord.

“Judge!  It’s my opponents upkeep and I just noticed that I cast Arlinn Kord while I controlled a Thalia.  I then cast Gaddock Teeg and passed the turn.  The problem is I only have six mana sources.”

It seemed like a pretty straight forward call to me.  Smelling like a potential back up, I asked a few more questions; ‘Had the active player drawn for turn?’  ‘Had anyone played any other cards?’ ‘Do both players agree to the description of what happened?’

I felt proud of my self; the information I had gleaned from the players was concise and clear.  Like most judges, I didn’t enter the program with inherent skills surrounding investigations and it is an area I’m actively working to improve.  However, no matter how certain I was, backing up without the approval of the head judge is a huge no-no, so I popped over to my head judge, cried out the phrase that will stop most judge conversations, ‘I have a potential back-up’ and then explained the situation that had been presented to me.  Even better, my head judge agreed with my assessment so I headed back to the players and explained my ruling and the need for a backup.

The player who committed the error was not happy.  ‘I thought that if an error happened and we went too far, that we couldn’t go back and fix it?’ I explained that because their opponent had not yet drawn their card for turn, no significant game actions had passed so a backup was our best option.  At that point they got a little agitated and said, ‘Not to be rude or anything, but can I get an appeal?’

Judging big tournaments means that there’s a leadership structure in place.  No one is right all the time, and when players know that they can potentially protect themselves from a bad call, it lessens their stress and helps keep moods up.  That system is appealing a floor judge’s ruling to the head judge, though if the floor judge running to your call is the head judge and you want to appeal you’re out of luck.

Now, I felt to the core of my bones that my ruling was right, but I could tell from the way they phrased it, that they had maybe had judges in the past who might not have acted graciously when asked for an appeal, so I smiled and told them I would be happy to grab the head judge.  I trotted back to Abe, explained I had an appeal, and proceeded to shadow him for the rest of the call.

I’ve been actively judging for less than a year at this point, so I know that my investigation skills are new and growing, but I can only hope to be as good as Abe one day.  In roughly a minute had all of the information, including a crucial step I missed; that the player whose upkeep it was had activated and resolved a top ‘spin’ (looking at and rearranging the top three cards of their deck.) I’d consider that a significant game action, as did my head judge, so he overturned my ruling and we handed out infractions (GRV/FTMGS) and kept the boardstate as is.  He also took a few seconds to explain why, and let me know that my initial ruling had been correct but the revelation of more actions changed things.  I thanked him and moved on.

The next round, I was sitting on a match between Grixis control decks.  Active player (AP from here) swung in with a little creature and a big creature.  There was some conversation about damage then AP passes their turn only to glance at their life total pad and begin to scrunch their eyebrows.

“You should be dead.”

“What?  You only swung in with delver.”

“No.  I swung with the Angler too.”

At this point Non-Active Player (NAP) realized that they had missed the other creature attacking and placed their head in their hands with a groan.  Luckily I had been sitting on the match so I could jump on the issue without waiting for them to necessarily call me. Again, my investigative skills were put to the test but this was a much tougher call, not to mention match ending if I ruled in AP’s favor. It’s a personal opinion of mine that if the call I make is potentially match ending it is time to find the head judge and talk it over with them.  So back I went to Abe and again I was relaying the fruits of my investigation.

The tricky part here was that I had been watching the match.  I saw what was certainly a legal attack, and what was certainly a legal choice of not blocking but I hadn’t heard the conversation as well as I’d liked.  But, unfortunately, I believed that everything that had happened in the match had been perfectly legal and that NAP had lost this game because he had honestly not seen the second attacker.  Again, Abe agreed with my assessment after discussing it with me so I went back to the match to relay my decision.

NAP looked crushed. I’m a firm believer in the ‘soft skills’ of judging; interacting with players, customer service, making sure they have as good of a tournament as they can which was not happening here at all.  I gave them a few seconds to process it all and then offered, “If you’re uncomfortable with my ruling, you do have the right to an appeal.”  NAP looked like I had given them a sliver of hope replied, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to appeal.”

I was much more okay with this appeal due to the messiness of the situation so I popped back to Abe and brought him back to the match.  Again, Abe worked his magic (pun very much intended) and pulled out the conversation that had happened over damage.  Both players agreed that NAP had said, ‘One…?’ which is much more ambiguous than ‘I go to one’ or ‘I take one’ and Abe overturned my ruling for the second time that day.

Getting overturned two rulings in a row can be a tough pill to swallow for any judge, which Abe may have been worried I was feeling because he again made sure to note that overturning these calls had not been because of my poor judge knowledge and more that when he sat down, he was able to gather information that I had missed in the initial investigation.  Both times that information was crucial enough to change the outcome of the call.

IMG_1111

I would go on that weekend to almost get appealed two more times.

The first was a tricky Tabernacle call where the player was not happy with the ‘resolve the default action’ ruling but because the head judge came back with me as I gave the ruling, and showed the player the relevant rules text he eventually drop his objections and played on.  The last tricky call actually happened the second day while I swiped a call from the vintage tournament (my side events had been pretty quiet) involving missed delayed zone triggers (starring the same player from the Tabernacle call) but after some grumbles he agreed with my decision.

Overall, this weekend showed me how much I had grown as a judge, and honestly as a person.  In previous posts I’ve discussed my almost crippling fear of failure and in the past months that I have been judging and writing this blog (the very act of putting my thoughts into space also terrifies me) I’ve actively been working on those fears.  Eight months ago, when I first began this judging adventure, if I had been appealed and overturned two calls in a row I would’ve spiraled into a deep pit of anger and despair at myself.

But if there’s one thing that’s been good about failing the Level 2 test twice and being faced with the holes in my knowledge it’s that failure has become a bit of a friend, albeit the acquaintance who invites themselves to movies and talks through the whole thing so you really don’t want them there all the time.

I also look at these interactions less like failures and more like opportunities to learn (which is what failure really is about).  If neither player had appealed, the full story would have never been out in the open for either of these two calls.  I also wouldn’t have been able to observe a better experienced judge handle these investigations.  My repertoire of skills wouldn’t have grown.

So don’t take getting appealed like a bad thing.  If you’re right, usually your call will be upheld.  If you’re wrong, it means your error was caught and there will be one less player who’s now less likely to call a judge for fear of the wrong ruling.  Or, even better, you’ll be overturned and when the head judge leaves, they’ll not only leave behind a more educated player, but also a more educated judge.

Judging Feels: Victory Comics

Trigger Warning: subtle mention of suicide.

Preface:  this started as a piece to highlight the awesome store I judged at for Aether Revolt prerelease.  But then, as my writing tends to do, it went somewhere else instead.  This blog is intended to be a personal place for my thoughts that I happen to share with the whole world.  While I still want to do a piece that will examine more closely the things that Victory does to build such a great community, this is much more about my more recent struggles and how working at Victory reminded me to keep going.

Sometimes life gets busy; it gets buys in ways that keep you away from the things that you’ve grown to love and replaces them with hardships instead.

That’s where I’ve been living for the last few months.  I’ve been dealing with some very personal demons and facing the harsh reality that being an adult sometimes means that the people you perceive as being close and trustworthy may in fact not be completely honest with you. You may have to retreat to places that are not the most welcoming or easy to deal with.

My mental health has not been where it needs to be.  There was a stretch of a few weeks where I almost lost my hold on things; I was real close to making a choice there was no coming back from.  I had a plan and I was ready to follow through with it.

Magic got me through.  Judging got me through.

Preparing for events, reviewing policy, discussing rules interactions and cool corner cases helped me push aside the dark thoughts for a time so that they didn’t push me over the brink.  I have a very hard time asking for help.  But discussing Magic cards? No problem.

I’m not completely on the other side of it yet, but I am much closer than I was even a week ago.

It’s amazing how much one day can change your outlook on things.

This summer I decided that I wanted to start a series on the blog that targeted Local Game Stores (from here on out abbreviated as LGS) who in my own opinion were doing things to help change the reputation of the LGS in general and who were working on building a better, more inclusive environment for their players. Let’s be honest, a lot of LGS have a reputation of not being the most welcome places sometimes; I wanted to highlight ones that were working to help change things.

But then I got busy with large Magic events, my new job started, my car and trusty travel companion of over a decade blew its transmission, and I had to change my living situation very quickly (and to an environment that was not conducive to mental stability).  I’m not trying to make excuses, but I do want to illustrate the circumstances I was dealing with.  I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water in every aspect of my life which almost led me to my breaking point.

Enter Aether Revolt prerelease at Victory Comics in Falls Church, Virginia.

The more events I do, the more I realize that I like regular REL events more than Competitive ones.  I think it comes from my passion for teaching; there’s a lot more opportunity to educate players, especially at a prerelease, than at an Open for example.  The players are happier and those good vibes and that helps me keep a positive and upbeat attitude through my judging day.

I worked at Victory this past Sunday.  I could tell I was in for a ride as soon as I walked in; the store was packed!  It very much resembles a Tardis; the store appears tiny on the outside but is actually pretty large, spanning through three rooms.  That was part of the reason there were two judges slated to work that day; myself and Matt Wall, a L2 from Baltimore.

Matt was an awesome judge to work with.  We swapped stories and he handed down several key pieces of sage advice as the day wore on.  I had an incident where there was the suspicion of too many promos in one sealed pool (it turned out they players had irregular product and thought because they opened two they could play two) and while I didn’t exactly botch the investigation, it could have definitely been handled better.  He talked me through it later and with his lessons I know that the next investigation I conduct will be better for it.

The other reason we needed two judges: we had 90 players at our noon prerelease!

That’s a crazy number.  Stores in my area would be happy with half of that at a competitive event.  The numbers were like that all day.  I had 12 teams for the Two-Headed Giant event I head judged and our final event at six launched with at least 40 players.

All in all, it was a crazy busy day full of happy players and well run events.

But I’m not here to just gush about the players who welcomed an out of area judge with smiles and excitement; I have to try and explain why they did so.  Victory is run as an inclusive, family friendly comic and gaming store and the employees work hard to make sure it maintains that atmosphere.

Samantha Harr is one driving force behind the success and welcoming atmosphere at Victory; she continuously pushes for inclusion and making the store a safe space for all players regardless of sexuality, gender identity, or race.  As events manager, she promotes monthly events such as LGBTQIA+ comic nights; has a monthly Lady Planeswalkers meeting; and helps lead a children’s night and learn to play for Magic as well.  On top of all that, she’s a rockstar L1 judge who continuously pushes herself to be better and has a bright future in the judge program.

She’s joined in this endeavor by Sydney Weaver and Caitlin Hartnett.  I learned this weekend that these two come as a pair and together they exude such a welcoming and friendly aura that I instantly felt like I belonged.  Along with Samantha, these amazing ladies not only run prerelease but they turn it into a huge celebration, decking out the entire store in the theme of the set.  When I walked in, there were wanted posters for the members of the Gatewatch, streamers in red and hold hanging from every surface above, and  wall decorations proclaiming support for the revolution.  It was mildly surreal and super fun.

I was even informed that there was a cake on Saturday decorated to match. A cake!

You better believe I’ll be back for Amonkhet.  There’s rumors flying around about wearable Bolas horns.

I’ve written before about how uncomfortable I’ve been in places while playing the game I love so much.  I wish with all my heart that I had found a place like Victory when I was first learning how to play; my history with gaming stores and with Magic would have been so different.  I am not upset about my history (it helped me become passionate about working to achieve equality for minorities in Magic) but less heartache and embarrassment and anger would have also been a benefit.

This single day full of warmth, smiles, and acceptance helped ground me in ways I hadn’t been able to find in the past few months.  It also rekindled my love of Magic and judging, and reminded me of the positive impact a single judge can have.

Thank you Victory Comics; thank you players; thank you store employees and fellow judges.  You helped save me.  I have way too much left to do in my life to stop now.

Failure

I want to take a second and talk about failure.

I’ve discussed in previous posts about my aversion to failure; how the fear of it drove me to near panic at SCG Baltimore.  It’s a word and concept I hate and when it gets close to rearing its ugly head I tend to throw anything I can at it to keep it at bay.  But sometimes we can’t avoid it and it comes knocking not matter the effort we put forth against it.

Judging is important to me (I hope that’s been evident so far anyway).  I like to think I have an affinity for it; despite being an introvert, I have ‘people skills’ in spades and interacting with players and fellow judges is honestly my favorite part of the job.  Throw in a dash of education to make players even better slingers of spells and you have everything I could want in a hobby or profession.

The judge program, rightly so, has levels of certification.  They’re built in fail safes to make sure that the judges Tournament Organizers tap for their events know the rules, the tournament procedures, and can hand out appropriate penalties for the betterment of players and the tournaments themselves.

I’ve been a level one judge for little over a year at this point.  To be completely frank, I didn’t really do much judging until about six months into that certification.  Then I judged five events in six weekends, got hooked, and the rest is history.  The judge program is such a welcoming and supportive place and I’m happy to have found it.  I have no doubt I will be a judge for a very long time.

It was after GP Charlotte that I really decided I wanted my level two certification.  Working a large event was nothing like I expected (in all of the best ways, even with WLTR eating tournament results and spitting out new side events) and I knew I wanted more.  To get there, I needed that next step in my judging career because as much as I want to, it’s just not feasible in my budget to do more than a few big events in a year.

For me, a few just doesn’t cut it.

And when I want something I have a tendency to drop everything and go for it with a single-mindedness that has lost me friends in the past.  In my head, it was the perfect time to move forward.  The school year was almost over, the minimum time limit had passed, I’d judged the appropriate number of events in the past, and with blog posts on several events up on Word Press, my Regional Coordinator had given the okay for it to cover my tournament report obligation.

I’d also heard from a few people that I was ready to make the plunge into the process; to quote my friend and mentor Zak DeLadurantaye: “You’re ready to be an L2 when you start acting like an L2.”

But there was a small worry in my brain that also pushed me forward; summer gave me enough free time to delve in but once I started my new teaching job in September I wouldn’t have time to pursue it any longer.”  That fear drove me as much as my passion did.

To say I jumped in with both feet is honestly a massive understatement.  I soaked in everything I could.  I asked questions and advice of every L2 I knew, mostly through Facebook.  One of the L2s I met briefly in Charlotte from Brasil, André Tepedino, quickly became another one of my mentors as he led me through several difficult questions and scenarios (and with English not being his native language!).

Brogan King was a fabulous stress sponge for me; she calmed my anxieties about judging and applying to events several times, offering up her own cover letters on multiple occasions so I would have a basis to work from.  That support was no doubt instrumental in getting me accepted to GP Charlotte.  She and Liz Richardson fielded so many questions during SCG Spring states in May, which was my first big Comp REL event.  Their calming presence keep my nerves at bay.

Sean Linkous, was also consistently there as he has been since I began the process of becoming a judge, served as a sounding board for my anxieties and my fears while pushing me forward and reminding of all the great things I had done and was doing.

I posted my desire to conquer the test on Facebook, asking for questions which turned into a huge thread covering several different aspects of judging and sent me digging through the rules and policy for days after.

Brendan Whatley walked me through the answers of complicated, yet common issues found in eternal formats.

The chat birthed by the need for roommates in GP Indy soon became a separate testing ground where Zak and another Great Lakes judge Spencer Cole grilled me on various aspects of judging.  This took on another life entirely as I drew my line in the sand and made my desire to test at GP Indy known.  The chat morphed into a weekly video call where Zak (often with assistance) led myself and a few other L1s who were also interested in testing for L2, through the intricacies of the both the IPG and Comprehensive rules.  They were a fantastic resource as they fostered several discussions and really let us dig into the meat of why the rules worked the way they did and how policy has been shaped and molded by the judges who wield it.

As an aside, I can’t adequately express my gratitude to Zak for putting those calls together.  They were so fantastic and I hope that other judges pick up this technique use with their level ones and twos.

On one of these calls, John Temple (a level three from the Great Lakes) gave me a piece of very sage advice: if you can test *anywhere* but a GP, do it.

Turns out, not only was it sage advice, it also ended up being timely as well.  My dear friend, fabulous judge mentor, and all around great human Eric Dustin Brown (colloquially now referred to as 3DB) attained his level three judge certification, an eventuality that everyone who knows him knew he would reach.  We spoke, set a date for the week before GP Indy, and went to work.  He sent me questions via Messenger, quizzed me when we worked together at SCG Baltimore, and otherwise supported me as July bled into August.  His reviews of my performance pushed me and kept me motivated.

The more I did, the more I asked, the more I pushed myself, the more I realized I have never wanted anything more in my adult life than to earn my level two judge certification.

All throughout this I was consistently taking hard practices and policy practices via judge center.  In the beginning, they kicked my ass but as the test grew closer my scores got better.

I started to feel like I could really pass this test.

Considering how I started this post, you’ve probably figured out the outcome of my test.  It was deliberate.  I wanted you to see how much time effort that not only I put into it, but of some many judges of all levels.  They were all rooting for me; they all gave up personal time to talk, coach, and encourage me.  I hadn’t worked so hard toward a goal since my graduate program.

But… I still failed.

Going over the test, EDB gave me the option to hear my score first or to go over the items I missed.  I elected for the latter, knowing that regardless of the outcome I would be too emotional to absorb and learn from my mistakes. As the questions began to make a small pile I couldn’t help but count.  Towards the end I knew it was too many and I began to bite back tears.

I ended up missing two questions too many.  I was also haunted by the number two in my results; on my second run through of the test I changed two answers and the items that I was unsure of came in pairs.

Once we were through everything, I knew my emotions were beginning to slip through.  There were a few tears but I held it together as we continued to talk.  The entire time, EDB handled it with finesse and tact; the fact I was upset was obvious but he knew I needed professionalism in that moment.  The news hurt but the fact that it came from Eric, the person I look up to most and kind of judge I want to be, it stung a little less.

I was so close; there were a lot of questions that I got correct which had caused other judges problems.  Every question I missed I narrowed to down between the almost right answer and the correct one.  That only highlighted that I was ready to take this test; it just so happened that lady luck handed me items I needed to work on in pairs.

Finally EDB looked at me and said, “Don’t let this test beat you.  You were almost there; don’t stop.  The next time I put a test in front of you, I know you’ll crush it.”

We parted ways with a hug and I made it back to my car before I broke down into sobs.  I cried most of the two hour drive back from Richmond.

I put my everything into this process and it was almost good enough.  I’d be lying if part of me didn’t feel like throwing in towel and being done.  I don’t handle failure well; logically I know it’s a part of life but when it happens I’m more likely to head anywhere but toward the object of my failure.

But that would have been such a disservice to everyone who helped me prepare the first time which is why I had to show you the time and effort that goes into molding a level 2 judge.  All that effort is still there; it’s just that now I’ve been given more time to build on that knowledge, to strengthen my foundations so that when I reach that level I know the ground I stand on will be firm and un-moving.

And although I haven’t reached level two yet, I’m still a damn good judge.  Being a level one is nothing to be ashamed of; you’re still a judge.  You still get to be a pillar of your Magic community.  You still get to educate players and shape them into better versions of themselves.  You still get to be a leader is this game we all love so much.

I think what I’ve taken away from this the most is to embrace the failure.  Examine it; pick through its nuances.  Really get to the meat of the issue at hand and shake loose every piece of information you can.  Because without mistakes, we can’t grow.  You remember far more when you stumble than when you breeze through.  The lessons learned through failure become part of you; they stick to your soul and guide your future self toward betterment.

Forge failure into the tools of success.

SCG: Baltimore (AKA The Imposter Open)

This past weekend I put on a blue SCG judge shirt for the first time.  It would be my first time on the floor of a large competitive event and I was both excited and nervous.  In order to improve myself and gain more experience as I continue my road toward my level 2 certification, it as a step that I needed to take.  It’s also important to have your name and face known to the big Tournament Organizers, like Star City, because they tend to run the larger tournaments.  That was in my mind a great deal leading up to the tournament and one of the goals I set for myself was that I was going to perform better than at GP Charlotte:  I was gonna be perfect.

In the end, perfection is almost what ruined me.

As a person, I want to be in control of everything.  For me, part of that control comes from performing the jobs I am given at the most optimal level possible.  That in and of itself is necessarily a bad thing but the level at which I wish to reach is.  A lot of the things I have done in my life have come easy so reaching that optimal level only required a bit of effort.

Judging is very different.  Not only are there so many rules and interactions but the only way you can become a better judge is going out and judging events.  You may have the rules down to a science but have to work on your interpersonal skills with players.  You might be able to build a rapport with players but the mysteries of WER might elude you for a time.  I takes a very long time and a large amount of effort before you hot the point where you could be considered a well-rounded judge.  (Spoiler alert: we call that level 3.)

In order for me to get better judging, mistakes have to happen.  To quote the infamous James Kerr: “You have to mess up to get better.”

First mistake of Saturday:  deciding to volunteer for a sales booth shift.  The actual working wasn’t bad, as stressful as retail can be when things get busy, but it meant I missed judge meeting before the tournament starts.  I got to my place a mere 15 minutes before the main event started and effectively played ten minutes of catch up as I met my team lead and the rest of my team, all but one whom I hadn’t met before.  It made me feel separate from a lot of things and looking back I think it was the first step in the wrong direction for the weekend.

I was on the paper team on Saturday, which meant that we coordinated cutting and passing out slips.  The goal was to get them out as quick and efficiently as we could, a goal that was communicated to me by my team lead Martha (Skipper) Lufkin.  She also communicated all the information I missed while working the booth and trying to absorb it all so quickly was a bit overwhelming.  Again, I had no one to blame but myself.  I have a pretty embedded habit of trying to bite off more than I can chew.

Looking back on it, the majority of my day went fine.  I had several Spell Queller calls as players hashed out a new Standard format and some angling by players to see just how many turns Emrakul really steals but around the fourth round I began to feel a little disheartened.  I very much felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

I wasn’t taking enough calls; I wasn’t solving enough problems.

In my head, I wasn’t being a judge rock star which meant that I wasn’t being a good enough judge.

I was scared I wasn’t doing enough.  Scared isn’t even a strong enough word because I was downright terrified.  Terrified that someone was gonna find me out; call me out as a hack who wasn’t fooling anyone; be asked to leave because I wasn’t a good enough judge.

It was the fear more than the drive to do well that pushed me that day.  I started to feel separated from my fellow judges even as they made an effort to get to know me, attempt to make me feel more welcome on the floor it didn’t really get through to me.  I don’t know if this was their normal status quo at events (most likely this option) or if they picked up on my unease or feeling of not belonging.  I placed a barrier between myself and them and felt very much alone.

Each little misstep that happened made me feel worse, even ones that were honestly outside my control.  We had both players in a match not understand the difference between a game and match which led to a 15+ minute time extension as one re-sleeved his entire deck.  I had no way of knowing this; when playing in a high level competitive event, you just assume that your players know the difference between a  game and a match.

But when an L3 found me to ask me what was going on with the extension I still felt like it was my fault.  I had no control of the situation but I still took all the blame for it.  The judge questioning me didn’t blame me for it, he was just looking for information but I still felt at fault.

It got to the point that during round seven I excused myself to the bathroom and had a good cry in one of the stalls.  I was sure that I was messing everything up royally; even crying in the bathroom felt like a failure because I was wasting time when I could’ve been on the floor judging.

I eventually cleaned myself up and ventured out onto the floor again.  At this point I was ashamed that the feeling had driven me to tears, and that paired with a friend telling me to stop it (a response to a Facebook post), I squared up my shoulders and was ready to approach the rest of the day with  better attitude.  It worked.  My team lead even mentioned the next day that I woke up in the later rounds and really began to be a presence.

The end of the day came and I was released and while I felt better about my performance in the last few rounds, the overall feeling from the day was a negative one.  Luckily, instead of dwelling on it like I would have in the past, I’ve met a lot of great people in the judge program and I started shooting messages to a few to see if they had any insight into what happened.  Spencer and Zak had the answer:  Imposter Syndrome. I fit the symptoms to a tee; I saw my day unrolling as I read the blog post.  You should read it, and everything else on the blog while you’re at it.

The next day, with the knowledge of what happened fresh in my mind, I headed into my day with an entirely different mindset.  I was ready to learn and embrace the missteps I took.  And boy, were there a bunch.  It was my first time launching, and seating side events and my whole day was shuffling players around, asking players to move and generally even trying to watch some Magic.  Granted, it could have been because there was less pressure because I was no longer on the main event but I like to think that I faced the day with an entirely new mindset.

My team lead on Sunday, Sarah Ellis, and the rest of the judges on my team were rock stars that day.  When we had to spend a few hours a judge down, together we supported one another until that judge returned and some of the pressure lessened.  I enjoyed the entirety of my day so much more than Saturday because I was able to engage my fellow judges in rules and policy talk.  We swapped stories and tips and I engaged players in conversation and banter which helped my day fly by.

The big take away from that weekend is this:  believe in yourself.  Especially with an institution like he judge program that is built in such a way that there are layers of support, push forward with confidence and don’t let your fears of failure get in your way.  If you stumble, if you fail a call, if you fail a player, there are contingencies in place to repair the mistakes that are made.  By owning up to your mistakes, you will grow as a person and as a judge.

Let your weaknesses make you stronger.