This Checks on Resolution, Right?

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.

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GP Charlotte: How I Fell in Love with the Judge Program

So I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and write about my experiences judging at GP Charlotte this weekend.

Needless to say, it was not the GP I expected.

I went into it nervous: not only was this my first GP on staff, it would be my first large Magic event as a judge, period.  No getting my feet wet with a SCG Open or a large RPTQ because who has time for that?  But I stayed with friends who talked with me the night before being on staff Friday (Thanks Brogan and Eric!) who shared their stories and advice and it helped calm my nerves.  It also helped that I wasn’t on staff till 3pm the next day and I could sleep in a little longer.  (I’m not a morning person.)

The next day I hit the first hurdle of the weekend:  the shirt I ordered didn’t fit.  I’ve struggled with weight for a long time and recently I’ve been taking very strong steps to change that but it stung to put on that and not have it fit.  There was a mild moment of panic that convinced me this would mean I couldn’t be on staff (seriously anxiety riddled brains are so dumb), but I just as quickly realized how silly I was being and went back to the judge manager (thanks for being so understanding, Riki) to explain the situation and got a larger shirt to wear.  I had no more time to be upset or nervous: it was time to get to work.

Turns out On Demand Events can be kind of slow on Fridays.  I was eased into judging with an awesome team which included L2s and my L3 team lead Casey Brefka that had all judged more than me.  They were full of advice and filled the time until shift was over with judging stories and personal looks into their lives.  I shared pictures of my cat with a fellow cat lover Dave Tosto.  My brain was picked by Zach DeLadurantaye who was questing for information to help ease transitions into big events for L1s and L2s new to judging big events.  There was teaching shop talk with Casey who was looking forward to new one-on-one teaching job as a music professor.

One of the best parts was working with one of the first friends I made in the judge program, Sean Linkous.  Sean just being there helped ease my anxiety as I got used to working with so many new people.  My inner introvert was screaming at me to run and hide but I quieted that part of my personality and just enjoyed interacting with players and judges.  In my core I’m a people person and that, added to my love for the game of Magic, is what led me to judge program.  I only fired two drafts and a few Commander pods but I interacted with players the entire time until my shift was done and did my best to make sure the players were having a great time.  Most Magic players are good, fun people and I was happy to see them at my side events.

Then Saturday happened.  I don’t need to go into the details at this point;  much of the Magic community has been discussing it since the misstep occurred.  My day started by helping to start and run a 300 person sealed event, an event I thought would be the biggest side event of the day (little did I know), if not the weekend.  Star City Games recently introduced something called the infinity badge; you pay a flat fee and get entry into all of the scheduled challenges all weekend.  What this means for players is that they can sign up for a sealed event, get their product, and drop to play in another event (SCG wisely was not letting anyone double queue into two events at the same time).

As event runner, this meant an extra level of difficulty because it’s bad customer service to potentially have almost half of your players not have a round one opponent.  This is where my head judge Eric Dustin Brown devised a solution; a line set up where players would come to us to drop and once we checked their name off a list we provided their product.  It worked like a dream and led to a lot more happy players and smiles.  I continued to walk around during deck building with a list of names for players who saw their card pool, didn’t like it, and wished to drop.  Overall things went smoothly and once round one started I got a real chance to watch Magic being played.

The focus on my own event was high and I hadn’t listened to any of the announcements regarding the main event all day.  I’d checked in with my local friends playing modern before my shift started and nothing had seemed awry at all.

Then the announcement for random pairings happened, followed by the offer that any player who doesn’t agree with the decision may drop and receive an infinite challenge badge.  I was sitting on a match about to go to time when it happened and I was caught by surprise so much that I gasped out loud and unfortunately broke the flow of the match I was watching.  I apologized to the players who went back to their match but I continued to sit there wondering about how my friends were doing when the next announcement came:  They would be adding more events to the challenge schedule, which included two more sealed events.

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

My original break was pushed forward and when I came back I was drafted into the first of two new sealed events of the evening.  No big deal, I just handled the equivalent to an old PPTQ so this would be fine.

Except this one would have almost 700 players.

…what?

At this point I felt caught up in a storm.  I’m sure the panic showed on my face but then Nicholas Sabin showed up, head judge of the event and my regional coordinator.  He spoke to the judge team of North Carolina being his home and how it was our job as judges and representatives of the event to show southern hospitality to these players who were clearly not having the best day.  I took the words to heart, squared my shoulders, and got ready to work as I was swept up into a gaggle of judges (Just what is a group of judges called?) getting ready to hand out product for the event.

Product handling was chaotic but effective (despite my own goof ups at counting) and as players got up to leave with their product to drop I was able to direct them to the correct places to do so.  I patrolled the column of 12 or more tables they gave us, answering questions as players built decks, congratulating players on sweet cards pulled, and guarding belongings as they waded through a sea of people to the land station.  I realized something as I was moving from place to place: I was having a blast.  I was part of the solution to a problem for several hundred players that day and by keeping my outlook positive and staying upbeat the players would feel and act the same.  They didn’t care about what was going in behind the scenes; all they saw was the judges being awesome at what they do.

After a pretty awesome exchange with a whole table of players (since they were at the end of standings several of them were dealing with no-shows) during which I showed the most effective way to get a judge once the ten minute wait was over, I turned to find Nicholas Sabin waiting and he asked if I had really never judged a GP before.  I was filled with pride from the compliment and rode on that feeling through the rest of my long shift.

I need to be clear:  I was just one of several rock stars that evening.  The entire judge staff, on each of the added events as well as the main event and on demand sides, worked a longer shift than they expected.  They also did everything in their power to make sure the players left feeling good and better than when they dropped from the main event.  They checked on their fellow judges to make sure they were drinking water, eating a quick energy bar or two, or getting off their feet as needed.

At the end of the day I was sore and hurting but I felt so very accomplished.  Nicholas Sabin even brought over a bunch of promo foil Judge’s Familiars and signed them for us with the event name and the number of players.

I’m keeping that forever and consider it my first ‘judge’ foil.

The weekend was filled with introductions, smiles, firm handshakes, and hugs from old friends and new. I felt like I’d been adopted into a big, happy, diverse family full of people who love the things I love.  It solidified my decision to join the judge program and my desire to push for my level.  This weekend was when I really fell in love judging and I hope to be part of it for years and years to come.

These words are as personal as I get online and they don’t even come close to expressing how honored I was to be part of the judges who helped improve the day of so many players.  I can’t wait to do it again (though this time maybe I can sweet talk WLTR into cooperating).

First GP, best GP.

Get at me, Level Two.  I’ve got this.