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.