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.
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.