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.