This past weekend I had the privilege of being on staff for a RPTQ held locally. I was very excited about it (I mean what’s better than getting to send players to the Pro Tour?) and went into the day hyped up about judging for the fifth time in six weekends. Each new event I had learned something new and was looking forward to the knowledge the RPTQ would give me. As it turns out, this one would teach me one of the hardest lessons every judge learns.
I started the day by running later than I intended. While not late for call time, I arrived flustered because my day didn’t begin like I wanted it to. This carried into my demeanor for the first hour or so as I could very easily be described as being spastic. My excitement had morphed into simple nerves and it showed. Some of it was the RPTQ being my first time judging a sealed event at competitive REL, some of it was the fact that it was a RPTQ at all (again, Pro Tour), but mostly it was my worry about working with three judges whom I had never worked with before in a very close setting. The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was judging with my local L3, Josh Feingold. He has a reputation of forgetting more about magic than many judges ever learn and I didn’t want to make a mistake in front of him.
Problem is when you focus on making mistakes it puts you in the mindset of what you don’t want to do wrong instead of what you want to do right.
Sealed procedures went off smoothly. I took a lot of calls clarifying numbers and initialing places where players made simple written mistakes. It was honestly easy and gave me a good read of the mood in the room. You could tell which players had opened good pulls and the ones who already believed that their chance for an invite slipping away.
The next three rounds went off smoothly. I answered a few calls but they were all easy, with one even being solved before I got there because the players took time to reread the card. I was judging with two other judges, both L2s, Jennifer Dery and Phillip Wulfridge. They were friendly and answered all of my many questions as my nerves continued to grow.
Then in round four of six I get the call. A player called for a judge and I quickly head over to answer the call. He hid a card in his hand and tried to whisper something to me but I signal that we should step to the side so that I can better assess what he’s asking. once we’re out of ear shot he shows me a Hanweir Militia Captain and asks me if it goes on the stack every upkeep and if it checks on resolution.
I’ll admit it: I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment and I didn’t correctly hear the first half of the question. I glanced at the card and saw the if clause, the second question he asked fresh in my mind so I answered in the affirmative and the player moved back to his game. I’ll admit a second thing; I honestly forgot that if clauses only go on the stack once the requirement has been met, not before. When he walked away I was very unsure of my ruling but I felt like calling him back and asking for one of the higher level judges to also field the question would have wasted more time than necessary, especially if my doubts were wrong.
Lesson learned: never let a player leave if you’re unsure. Get clarification whenever you need it. Ask for help because that’s why the judge the system is in place. We support one another and are there for clarification when our brains refuse to process information.
My uncertainty came back to haunt me a few turns later when a judge got called to the same match. The player who asked me for a ruling was explaining what I said to his opponent and that player thankfully called a judge to explain things better. I walked over to listen, my stomach dropping to lower than my feet. Jennifer was the judge who answered the call and she explained things better than I did. The player then requested a back up due to the incorrect ruling I had given and this got the head judge involved who went over to assess the situation.
I got to stand there while the player loudly (but not belligerently) explained what I had gotten wrong and that he’d made plays accordingly. He then requested a back up to the point of casting the creature. The head judge assessed the situation and rightfully ruled that a back-up could not be performed because too much had happened between the current game state and the time of casting Hanweir captain. The player accepted his ruling and went back to playing but I could tell he was upset about the events and rightfully so.
I stepped away from the table and Jennifer Dery came up to check on me. She asked if I wanted a hug, which I declined (at that point I might have started crying if she hugged me), and then explained that everyone makes this mistake at least once in their judging career and that it sucks but all you can do is learn from it and be better next time. In fact, all the judges shared their own experiences with this situation, and it helped, but I still felt like the worst person in the room.
That feeling caused me to shut down for a good thirty minutes. I wasn’t a good judge at that point; I just happened to be a person in a black shirt and black pants watching the room. I even went to go hide behind the computer and input match results while I dealt with how poorly I was feeling (I would continue to use his as a crutch the rest of the event).
I know I can’t be perfect; no one can. But I would be lying if I didn’t have thoughts about getting to level 2 without ever making a mistake. I don’t like being wrong, especially when it can mess up someone else’s day when I am. I am very hard on myself and in my head this mistake suddenly loomed over everything. To me it seemed like I wasn’t worthy of being a judge anymore and I felt like everyone in the room now viewed me as unable to continue my job.
This may seem silly to you, but I tend to magnify any of my mistakes until they are all I see and that’s why I shut down on Sunday. I’m not proud of my reaction but I am proud of what I did once I calmed down. I asked my fellow judges advice on how to approach the player in question after my mistake and they all basically gave me the same advice: be genuine. Own up to your mistake and apologize and clear up any other confusion the player may have regarding the situation.
I took a breath and, waiting for a lull in the match, I sat down next to the player who was waiting for his opponent to sideboard going into game three. I asked if I could speak to him and he agreed. The apology was hard but heartfelt. Explaining my misunderstanding and owning up to my mistake lifted some of the gloom I was feeling and his reply lifted the rest (it turns out changing his play would’ve only given him one more turn). I even thanked him for handling the situation with class and not getting irate while it would’ve been understandable to do so.
The rest of the day finished without a hitch and I got to be part of my first called draft and I also got to send some very excited players to the Pro Tour. It was a nice way to end my day because the pure happiness the players expressed was infectious. Considering the location that this RPTQ was sending players, I would’ve been excited to win as well.
Overall, not my best showing. I was more reserved because of the beginning bumps in the road and the unfamiliar judges I was working with. By focusing on the negative feelings these situations gave me set myself up for a bad day. I need to make it known that the judges I worked with did everything in there power to make me feel comfortable and included. It was my personal feelings of insecurity that come with new people that colored my experiences and the events that happened.
I can only take this experience and learn from it. You can believe I’ll never forget how intervening ‘if’s work again.