Just a Judge

A bit more than a year ago, I wrote a post about my experience as a female Magic player.  It somehow made its way onto Reddit, and from there, on to Wizard’s front Magic page.  I look back on that fondly; the reaction was more positive than negative, and it gave a lot of female players a chance to say, “Me too.  I’ve felt this.  I’ve had something similar happen to me.”  It gave them a chance to feel like they weren’t alone.

Most people don’t know what sparked that article, what put my fingers to my keyboard and in a manner of an hour or so post it in a pretty raw form for all to see.

I was angry.  Actually, angry doesn’t begin to come close to what I felt.  I was incensed, furious, raging over one of the largest miscarriages of justice I had seen: the conviction and ‘sentencing’ of Brock Turner.  My fury took the form of words and I opened myself up and spilled out everything that had hurt me while playing, everything that had made me feel alone, everything that made playing the game that had grown to be such a part of my life difficult.

I don’t know why I did it.  Maybe at some deep level I hoped that by addressing the incidents I had experienced first hand, we could keep things from being as bad in the Magic community.  A lofty goal to be sure, but if speaking out meant that even one more female player had the courage to call out the bad things that were happening to her or one more male player realized what he was doing was wrong, it was worth it.

That post was very player-centric, as I had only recently become a judge so I wrote about what I knew.

This time I’m once again writing about my experiences, only this time as a woman judge in the Program.

I’m once again writing because I’m angry; because something small happened today that was the proverbial last straw; because the past two large events have been the most emotionally draining and hardest of my judging career.

I’m writing because while the Program is vocal about change, I continue to see the same things happening.

I’m writing because I’m so tired of bringing up the same concerns again and again and again to concerned faces who lament with me about what happens but mostly don’t push hard enough to change things.

Two weeks ago I judged Nationals in Richmond.  (There were three female judges on staff. Total.  Only two staffed for Friday.)  I started off my Friday with an email explaining that I had received my first decline for staffing for a GP.  Logically I knew it was bound to happen, but as we head into the world of a single Tournament Organizer for Grand Prixs, it put me in an anxious place so I separated myself from the group so to speak and worked on helping get the event set-up before the doors opened.

Turns out I misread my schedule and wasn’t supposed to be in until later.  Oops.  My (then) team lead was nice enough to adjust my schedule to make up for having worked longer than needed, and after a nice lunch with a fellow judge, I checked in with my new team lead, and talking things over with him, I went over to begin to handle moving top four results of Last Chance Trials to one spot.

Soon after my most recent ex-boyfriend showed up and my emotional well-being went to shit.  I was going to detail the exact events that happened, but frankly, revisiting them will probably do me more harm than good.

I was upset because he was there; not because he was in the same space, but because I had asked him to stop messaging me, a request he subsequently ignored.  I was upset because it was very obvious he was approaching me because I was relatively alone and he walked to talk. I was upset because he pulled the same stunt a few months ago at another large event in Richmond, made me feel cornered and trapped and I had already told him after it happened that it wasn’t okay.

Long story made short, he played in a Last Chance Trial not to gain byes, but to stay near me because I was handling top four placements.  I know this because he scooped to his opponent in top four and then hung around.  I know this because he tried to talk to me, twice.  I know this because it took another judge on Saturday asking him to leave me alone or be escorted out of the venue for him to stop.

It shouldn’t take a male judge asking a male player to stop doing something in order for that player to not do it.  Fun fact, female judges have autonomy outside of their male counterparts and deserve the same level of respect, but we don’t get it.  I was harassed at my job because a man decided that my wishes weren’t important enough to be respected, especially since they didn’t match his own.

I almost didn’t leave the venue for lunch Saturday because I was worried about a confrontation, most likely a verbal one but every woman knows there’s always the what if factor.  We live in a world where men kill women who ignore their catcalls.

I spent way too much time in the bathroom controlling tears, even breaking down once in the judge area, though I made sure I was facing away from everyone else because you don’t want to be the girl crying or you get labeled the ’emotional’ one.  You don’t want to be the one that attracts drama and issues, especially as we move into a world of a single Grand Prix tournament organizer.  Women are stereotyped by society as being lightning rods for drama, so anytime something dramatic happens the fear that someone (usually a man) will use it as an excuse to exclaim, “Ah ha! I was right! This is why women don’t belong/can’t be trusted/are unsuited to the task at hand!” is so strong.  When women ‘stick out’ negatively, consequences of those negative interactions are unfairly put on all women; this doesn’t happen for men.

Friday and Saturday should’ve been amazing judge days; instead I spent them stressed and harassed. Sunday he didn’t show up and I had a great day.  Until the ‘Diversity’ talk.

Do you know how exhausting it is to always be the ‘expert’ on women’s experiences in judging?  To be asked time and time again to rip open old wounds so you can tell male judges what happened to you so that maybe you have one more man will believe you because it came from you directly?  To sometimes feel that you never get to be the expert on anything rules or policy related, only on what makes you and other women upset?

Look, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be having these talks, because we should, but instead of it being a round-table discussion of issues it became two women laying out their grievances to a table of mostly silent men.  Some of them looked like they were slightly interested, others just looked bored.  A very small number did try to engage us, though for a few it felt forced.  I eventually had to step away because I was tired of exposing my past hurts to the table to just feel like what I was saying was valid.

It perhaps wasn’t the best idea to have this talk at the end of a three-day judging weekend for a lot of us but I didn’t leave the table with much hope that what I said had any real effect after the blank faces and general feel that people felt obligated to come instead joining us of their own volition.  Also, without a way to disperse the discussions that are had at each event, we’re looking at multiple instances of women having to publicly produce the things that hurt us again and again, and that will drive us out just as much as the overt and subtle sexism will.  I don’t want to seem overtly critical; I think with more organization and advertising, these talks are and can be important but I left this particular one more bruised than hopeful.

At the end of the day, I just want to be a judge.  But I can’t be.  I get to be (these are a conglomeration of things that have happened to myself and others):  miss, or sweetheart, or being interrupted more, or appealed more, or talked over, or bossy, or ‘You lost to girl?!’ I’m “can I get your number” or catcalled as I walk to post pairings.  I get to be ignored while my male colleagues converse with one another, only being talked to when it becomes necessary.  I get ‘helped’ with more tasks when there are greener judges.  I get told to smile more because my neutral face is not pleasant enough.  I get beat down for being excited about a fellow woman being my head judge for a large event for only the second time ever.  I get to have never had a female Grand Prix head judge.  I get dismissive team leads who assume I’m going to do a worse job than a L1 on their first event.

I get to look out onto a sea of faces and see very few that are women like me.

I get to have a player ask me if blowjobs are something that can be exchanged for a match result.

I’ve been doing more events lately and I’m starting to, very incrementally, get more and more tired.  It’s not the tired from traveling or being on my feet for hours at a time or dealing with complicated boardstates and rules interactions.  I’m getting tired of working twice as hard to have my voice heard and not even heard as much as my male counterparts.

It is exhausting, infuriating, frustrating, and sometimes I feel, not worth it.  I’m not giving up, because pushing against it means it will be easier for the women judges who will follow me, but just once I want it to not be.  And frankly, we can’t do it on our own.  We need men to listen, and more than that, we need men to engage.  Call out each other on your problematic behavior; don’t make assumptions about our ability without, I dunno, talking to us first; when someone interrupts us, interrupt them back.  I’m getting tired just writing these sentences because I have lost count of the times I’ve said, or read these sentiments.

Women just want to be able to go to an event and judge; set goals and push to achieve them; interact with players as positively as they can.

I just want to be a judge, friends, but I need your help to get there.

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Sanctuary

Sanctuary

 

It’s pretty much a given at this point that this blog has become a place for me to air my personal experiences as a way for myself, and sometimes others, to grow and learn.  I’m not the best at keeping up with it regularly and tend to only put fingers to keyboard when the universe moves me but through word of mouth as well as recognitions, I do believe my words can, will, and do help people.  That’s why I put myself out there, so to speak, to let people know they’re not alone, that they aren’t the only people going through these experiences.

I know it seems like I’m rambling, but stick with me.  I’m doubling down even harder on being open and vulnerable.  We’re gonna get real personal, real fast, but I promise there is a larger point to be made than simply discussing my personal life.

Outside of judging, it’s been a very rough year for me.  Towards the end of last year, financial stumbling blocks and an unforeseen living situation began the snowball effect of thrashing my mental health.  At 29 years old, I had never expected to go back to living with my parents.  Once I left for college at 18, I hadn’t really ever come back to reside there for long periods of time.  But the transmission died in my old car, I was forced to buy a new one, and not two days after moving to a new place and my car dying, my living situation became untenable and I had to attempt to find somewhere to live, so back ‘home’ it was.

I… don’t have the healthiest relationship with my mother.  There’s love there, but when we share the same living space it doesn’t really show up.  Most of the tension comes from the mental image she has of what she wants her daughter to be, and at the time a 29-year-old living at home who hated her job and resented being treated as if she was still a teenager didn’t really fit the mold.  We bickered, we fought, there was yelling and tears occasionally, but at the end we would mend things as well as we could and move on.

My step-father was another thing entirely.  To be frank, he resents me and having come from a generation where he walked onto a job site with only a high school diploma and landed a job that let him advance, he simply didn’t understand why I had come home.  Whereas my mother and I bickered, my step-father and I clashed.  He is very much used to always getting his way and is steeped in traditional familial roles.  Essentially, women should be seen and not heard.  That’s not a game I play and it got to the point where I would avoid him for the sake of my mom; there was more than one occasion she got between us for fear of where his anger would lead.

Things came to a head early one morning when he woke me from a dead sleep, bellowing about the latest thing I had done that he couldn’t stand.  While he was several rooms away from me, I could hear every word and this time his anger and reaction were so intense, I was scared for my life.  I scrambled out of bed, barricaded my dresser against the door and hoped against hope he wouldn’t go for the gun that was in his closet.  It was the most terrifying three hours of my life, because even after my mother calmed him down enough for him to go to work, I didn’t move for fearing of him coming back.

That ended up being the final straw for me.  Mom didn’t want me to leave but once I laid it out for her in terms she understood, she agreed that maybe I should leave.

“Mom, if I was dating a man who acted the way dad did this morning, you would tell me to leave him.”

“…you’re right.”

It was March at this point and while I had some money saved up, I didn’t make enough to live on my own in my area so I put a call out on social media to see if anyone had a place to lend.  I got one answer that would mean a much longer commute to work however once I got a look at the room (and the two lovable dogs I’d get to share my space with) I had to say yes.  I think that ended up being the first step on towards my sanctuary.

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My little piece of paradise.

While I was now in a much safer place, I still felt adrift.  You wouldn’t know it from interactions with me while judging, but the anxiety monsters were strong and my perception of myself was probably at the lowest point of my life.  It was very much starting to feel like everything I did was going to end up as a failure.

Enter GP Pittsburgh and Meg Baum and Megan Linscott.

Now this event happened shortly before I left home but some of the interactions I had at this GP, with Meg in particular, stuck with me.  It was starting to become a running gag about which Meg you were referring to as we started to get staffed more and more on the same events.

“Which one, the one with dark hair?”

“The one who smiles a lot?”

“The one with the glasses!”

“You mean Megan Linscott?”

We had a bonding session over some of these interactions and it sparked a friendship.  Towards the end of the day on Sunday, Meg got an ‘Ah ha!’ look on her face and told me to wait there while she ran off somewhere.  A few minutes later she walks over with another female judge.

“Meg, this is Megan!  I think we should take a selfie together!”

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I may look tired, but I had such a great event and I was happy.

Thus a tradition was born.

As the months progressed, my new living conditions helped me start my inner healing process.

But I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the support of Meg and Megan.  It may seem like such a small thing, but bonding over names (which is partially due to the small percentage of women judges in the program) led to kindred spirits.

And it didn’t stop with events!  It became a running joke that bled into social media, to the point where Jeff Higgins commented about us not having our own chat.  Not five minutes later I found myself in a chat with five other female judges: Meg Baum, Megan Linscott, Megan Hanson, Megan Holden, and Brogan King (who was dubbed an honorary Meg).  While I didn’t know the other Megans that well, I felt an instant sense of welcome.

Not to mention hilarity when I changed the chat name.

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But can you be sure it was me that changed it?

It could’ve just ended up being a short lived gag; it has instead become a bastion of support and a sounding board for concerns, both judge related and otherwise.  Just knowing it is there in case I need to rant or if I want to share a rough judging experience or to send cute pictures of fluffy animals has led to a huge improvement on my mental and emotional well-being. I think it was the last step I needed to really start healing from the trauma of fleeing home and the self-loathing I felt as having failed in my personal and professional life.

Fast forward a few months to now and I am happier than I have been in a very long time, possibly ever.  A large part of this was taking the leap of leaving teaching but I believe it is more so the connections I have made in the Judge Program that have helped me recover.  I now chat with at least one of the ladies in the chat every day, when before I would be anxious to send any message for fear of being an annoyance.  This casual acceptance that people are okay talking with me has spread to communications with other judges and friends as well and it has helped to beat back the anxiety monsters who lie to me and tell me that I have no friends and no one likes me.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have my bad days but they are less severe than before.

I certainly wasn’t the only one making use of the chat either.  We all rejoiced in that ability to communicate and feel validated or to help coordinate projects and idea.

I know this feels very much like I was just talking about my experiences to garner sympathy, but that is far from the point.  I listed my experiences in order to better illustrate a point: find your sanctuary in the program, in your living space, in life.  Having a space you can flee to, whether actually fleeing or going off on a tirade to welcoming ears, is integral to your success and happiness.

In the Program, outside of the mentor/mentee process, I went on my own for a long time.  I was raised in a way that viewed asking for help as weakness.  I think it hurt me in the long term and I now firmly believe that if I had had a place like the Meg chat when I started out, I would been in a better place in judging and in life.

The term safe spaces seems to get thrown around with derision most often in our current climate, but it’s a term for a reason.  Form one that can go with you, and even when you’re standing on your own feet, you can know you have the support of those who care and who want your success as much as you do.  It’s invigorating, empowering, intoxicating, and it helps you believe that can do anything.

Speaking of accepting places, I had another motive to sharing my story.  I’ve recently become involved with a project I’m really passionate about.  The Collected Company Mentorship Project came about from the desire to empower and connect female judges to help them achieve their potential in the program.  Check it out!

Growing Pains

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Edit: someone pointed me in the direction of a  another great article on failure written by Riki Hayashi that was posted on Paul Barany’s

blog.

Folks, I did it.

I did it, I did it, I did it.

I, finally, passed my L2 test and now have the honor and privilege of calling myself a Level 2 judge.

A lot of the experiences I have posted about in this past year have been the stumbles and downright failures I have made along this wide and varied journey.  Some people may think that by focusing on the challenges means looking at my journey through a negative lens but I would have to vehemently disagree.  In those missteps, in those frustrations, in those moments of embarrassment and frustration and anger, I discovered my drive and passion for this program and for my personal journey through it.

That’s not to say that I should completely ignore the good experiences, for there I often found reprieves and joys that helped me recharge so that I could keep moving.  But if you ignore the challenges you also ignore the growth that’s been made and to do that would be not only a disservice to myself and my unwillingness to be beaten but also to the friends and mentors that have helped me along the way.

I, personally, think that in the Judge Program (and honestly in a lot of aspects of life) we don’t talk about failure enough.  Today, the Feedback Loop posted an excellent article written by Erik Aliff about his failed Level 3 Panel.  Scott Marshall faced a combat call that ended with a mistaken ruling on coverage for GP Denver (December 2016) and posted his apology to the player in question once the event was over.

Besides these two awesome examples of publicly shared stumbles, you’ll be hard pressed to find more examples of judges sharing items in this way.  (At least, I was.)  It also seems that I’m not the only one to notice the deficiency.

I was recently the recipient of an Exemplar Recognition for my post on the IQ where tough player interactions caused me to have a bad day.  I won’t quote the entirety of his words, but Arthur Halavais penned some strong thoughts that I believe will stick with me for a long time to come:

“Often, judges feel that they need to appear invulnerable while they judge, and are unwilling to ask for help, either with the event or with themselves. You bucked this trend by being willing to talk about your frustrations and ask for support from the community. Next, you took the opportunity to write a blog post about the day. While you had the option to minimize the poor encounters and talk about positive parts of the event, you fearlessly tackled a topic that was still hard to write about, and in doing so you focused on the opportunity to use your negative experience as a chance to teach other judges and to help them grow.”

First of all, holy cow can this guy write!  Secondly, this struck a chord with me and reaffirmed my motivation for keeping this blog.

Look, I get why admitting mistakes can be so hard.  There is such a large stigma attached to failure.  In the Judge Program, it can often feel like one mistake will mean the difference between being staffed for an event or never working again, and in the future world of one Tournament Organizer Grand Prixs, or viral and heinous Reddit threads, for example, it seems understandable but feeling as if perfection is the only way forward is damaging not only to yourself but the Program as a whole.  No one can be, or should expect to be, perfect.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive for excellence and push to be the best you can be, but to expect perfection of yourself, and by association your colleagues, is not feasible.

I’m also not saying that your only focus should only be on the negatives.  That also doesn’t do anyone any good.  Instead look for and strike a balance between the good and the bad.

My background in education has been nothing but a boon to me in the judge program, and one of the first things they teach you when you learn the fundamentals of education is that students will learn the most when first faced with failure.  When we choose to ignore the mistakes we make we are removing ourselves from potential learning experiences.

I almost stopped after I failed my L2 test for the second time because I was simply not used to the hardship that can come with wanting something that hinges on academic knowledge and missing the mark not once, but twice.  If I kept going, I was going to have to acknowledge the fact I wasn’t quite good enough a second time and frankly, self reflection is one of the hardest things a person can face.

Passing the Level 2 test was hard.  Facing my faults and not quitting was harder.

As a final note, I beseech those of you reading this that if you take away only one thing from this post, it be this:  embrace failures the same why you embrace successes and there is nothing you can’t do in the Judge Program or in life.

One Year Later

One Year Later

Oy.  It’s been a year.

There’s been struggles abound, adventures galore, and a lot of personal growth.  And that’s not even including the judge program.

They tell you as you grow up, that the more you age the easier things will be.  I’ve decided that’s a pile of malarkey.  Things don’t get easier, you just gain the ability to adapt more and once you’ve grown comfortable, that is when you run into a new challenge to conquer.  And let’s be honest, life would be pretty boring if everything was easily wrapped up and cataloged with pre-programmed responses.

I started this blog as a way to organize my thoughts and work through the events as I traveled down the Judge road.  I haven’t kept up with it as regularly as I’d like; being a teacher often means sacrificing not only your free time but also your free energy.  Most days when I get home it’s all I can do to wash clothes and keep far enough ahead on my grading that I’m not crushed by a mountain of papers.  Writing is a part of my soul and when I don’t have the energy to focus on it, I tend to push it aside until I can get to it.  I hope that a future change in careers will mean I have the time to write about more events, not just the ones that have really hit me hard (whether good or bad).

In three or four days, I’ll hit the one year anniversary of my very first GP.  You can read more about the event here but it’s safe to say that event changed me, and for the better.  While I had judged a largeish Magic event the previous weekend, it was here that a fire really lit inside me; I really loved this judging thing.  As an introvert, it felt like a way for me to connect with people and really make someone’s day better and that’s what I think motivates me to this day.  Judging is this odd mix of customer service, intricate knowledge, and people skills that means I always have to be prepared to think on my feet.  I think that’s why GP Charlotte was the turning point for me; if any GP could be considered the ‘Be Flexible and Make it Happen GP’ it was that one.

I’ve had a lot of amazing success this past year: I planned and successfully ran a charity tournament for a local animal shelter; I judged in my first SCG Open; and I’ve tackled the plethora of formats that Magic has to offer.  I even wrote something that ended up on the ‘Mothership’ (Wizard’s homepage) about the struggles I’ve had as lady Magic player.  That was an especially proud moment of mine and an illustration of how powerful written words can be.  Not only have I had several female players express similar struggles to mine, I even had a fellow judge call attention to the fact that he had a female judge candidate who was inspired to become a judge because of what I had written.  That, more than anything, is my proudest judge related moment to date. (I hope to meet her one day!)

But it hasn’t all been sunshine and daises.  I’ve punted rules calls pretty publicly; I had a tardiness situation where I wasn’t firm enough and it led to player backlash; I’ve dealt with upset players as both a floor judge and a head judge.

I also failed the Level 2 test twice.

I’ll admit, the second time I wasn’t prepared.  My new teaching job was robbing me of all my time and I made the mistake of taking it at a GP instead of in a quieter setting.

But the first time… the first time hit me hard.  I’m not used to failing at things; in fact, I have the tendency to avoid situations that put me in a spot where I may fail.  That’s one of the places I think I’ve grown the most since I’ve started judging; facing my knowledge and ability gaps in a way that I can understand them and improve.  Without failure there is no getting better, no moving on to the next level.

Now when I make mistakes, I don’t let them drag down into a spiral of despair.  I instead let them ground me and I examine them for ways I can improve.  I have the ability in me to be a very good judge, and in some areas I am already a very good judge, but in order to reach my potential, I have to know not only what mistake I made, but also how I got to the error in the first place.

But I know I’m growing.  Earlier this month, I judged side events at GP Richmond.  As the weekend progressed, I felt great but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head that it felt too easy.  Towards the end of my second shift, I realized that it wasn’t that things were too easy but that I now had the skills to be more efficient which made me better at my job.  I also got to help coach a fellow female judge who was launching their first side event as a head judge at a GP.  I even got called a ‘SCG Stalwart’ which may have caused my heart to grow three sizes that day.

Looking to the future, I’m heading to Cleveland in the middle of June to judge another GP under Riki Hiyashi.  I was on the main event floor for his first GP in Indianapolis so I feel extremely grateful and fortunate that I get to judge under him for his last GP as well.  Fingers crossed that this will also be my first event as a Level 2 judge.

I’m hoping to check ‘Judge an Event Out of the U.S.’ off my judge bucketlist but only time will tell if that becomes a reality.

But more than events, more than simple rules knowledge, judging has helped me grow as a person.  Confidence has always been a weak point but continuing to receive concrete evidence that I can do things correctly, and even well, has pulled up my self confidence, not only as a judge, but as a person.  I still continue to struggle with depression and anxiety but overall I am a happier person.  Having to evaluate not only myself, but also other judges, I’ve learned to explain myself more concisely in order to help a fellow judge grow.  It’s like using my teaching skills but turned up to eleven.

Writing this blog has been an exercise in courage.  I still get nervous teaching in front of my students sometimes so tossing out my words for (potentially) all the internet to see can be unbelievably nerve wracking.  But if my words and experiences can help just one person besides myself, it will all be worth it.

I’m nowhere near out of steam.  I aim to keep my passion and drive for judging for a very long time.

Here’s to another amazing year of events, players, and new and old judge friends along the way and I hope you’ll join me for them all.

Will You be my Manatee?

When I first envisioned writing about mentoring, I had a particular image in my head; the wise, older individual overseeing the younger person as the future successor.  Now, while that isn’t completely wrong, it’s also very far off from what really happens when we look at mentoring in the judge community.  Whether it’s polishing rules knowledge, increasing soft skills tied to player relations, or the logistics of running events of all sizes, no judge comes to the program with all the skills they need honed and ready to go.

The level of mentorship that flies around the judge program is what makes it so unique.  It’s not something that’s defined by levels, age, or experience.  I’m lucky to have met and worked with so many judges of different levels in my journey through the program most of whom happily embrace mentorship.  The great thing about mentoring is that sometimes it’s a very pointed, on purpose kind of action.  A judge comes to you for help or growth and so you provide guidance to best of your ability.  You talk through their issues; give them advice as you can; help them push for and reach their goals.  It doesn’t even have to be something big; maybe they don’t quite understand the intricacies of WER so you spend the afternoon tweaking their skills.  It may have just been an afternoon to you but now each time that judge works with that program you can bet they’ll remember you and the help you provided.

The other kind of mentoring can happen quite on accident.  You’re chatting with a judge and the next thing you know you’ve shared ideas back and forth about tournament logistics or how to make your local game stores more inclusive.  To some this may seem to be a simple sharing of ideas but it’s also a little piece of mentoring that’s been shared between colleagues.

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Everyone can be a manatee!

But let’s say you’re more in category one than two.  Someone has come to you for advice, seeking guidance on the tumultuous journey that can be working your way into the program.  Very few people can make it through this process without help; the sheer amount of information you need to acquire as you move forward can seem insurmountable; beginning this journey often looks impossible.  I had a great first mentor in the program, and the mentors that have followed have all approached mentoring with similar techniques.  I’m going to share a few things that I believe they did right.  This structure gave me the confidence and drive to keep going even after stumbling here or there.

Make it okay to make mistakes. As a society, we look at mistakes as things to be avoided at all costs but in actuality mistakes are how we learn.  I can all but promise you that you will and do remember your stumbles much more than you remember your easy journeys.  Creating an environment where they can be confident enough to jump and know that someone is there to catch them if they fall is a powerful thing.  It also means they’ll be comfortable coming to you when they have a problem.

Explain things in plain terms.  Nothing will make your ‘manatee’ more frustrated than you wrapping your explanations in jargon.  Yes, they do need to learn the terms and vernacular of judging but it is best to ease them into things.  Lower stress and frustration means that they will absorb things better.  It also means a happier them and by proxy, a happier you.

Don’t be afraid to start with the basics.  People will come to from all different backgrounds and with varying levels of rules and policy knowledge so you’re going to want to set a baseline.  It will give you a place to start and them a place to build from.  Understanding your limits is empowering because once you know where they lay you can push past them.  Even if they insist they don’t need it, make a baseline anyway.  They’ll be thankful once it’s done.

Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  Nothing is worse than reaching out and finding silence.   Mentoring can be exhausting or overwhelming but fully retreating isn’t an option.  If it’s becoming too much let your ‘manatee’ know.  Self-care is important, in every aspect of judging.  Conversely, if your ‘manatee’ is too quiet don’t be afraid to touch base to make sure they’re still on board with the process.  Life gets busy; it could be that they need a small pause.  However, sometimes people also realize that this isn’t what they thought it would be.  It’s okay if you have some people drift away.

Be present.  The most important thing you can be is there.  Let them know you care; that you want to see them be successful as much as they want to be successful.  That doesn’t mean you have to give yourself entirely to mentoring but caring goes a very long way.  Sometimes all someone needs is the knowledge that someone else believes they can do it in order to push themselves.  Simple support and belief can make all the difference between success and belief.

Mentoring is a tough but rewarding experience.  Sharing failures can be hard but when you share successes it makes up for the stumbles along the way.  Don’t let your preconceived notions get in your way either; anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be a ‘manatee.’

Let’s help build each other up to make the program stronger.

(Photo credit to Paul Johnson, L2 Judge out of New Zealand)

Eternal Extravaganza 6: Can I Get an Appeal?

Edit: I had originally named a card as Pendelhaven when I actually meant Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.  It has since been corrected.

This weekend I embarked on a first time judging adventure: being on staff for an eternal format event (Legacy and Vintage).  Legacy is full of Force of Wills and Insectile Aberrations while almost nothing is banned in Vintage.

Eternal formats can be intimidating; not only are they filled with cards whose text is confusing at best and downright wrong at worst (trust me, oracle text is your friend), but several of the decks in the room were easily worth two or three times the value of my car.  I was happy to not be on the deck checks team for this event; handling that much value would have absolutely made me jittery.

I went into this weekend nervous; not only had I never really played either format but I also had never really judged either of them as well.  Another judge gave me a sage piece of advice when I brought this up:  know your basics and it doesn’t matter what format you’re judging, the answers will still be the same. Just that one nugget of info helped calm me down and see that no matter what kinds of cards people might be slinging, they’re still Magic cards and they still follow all the same rules.

Sometimes all you need is someone else to give you a little sanity check to help bring things back into focus.

As with every judge weekend, I was excited and raring to go.  Our head judge for the event was  L3 Abe Corson.  I had been on his team for at least two GPs and knew him to be a kind and knowledgeable judge.  He’s one of the judges that I tend to put in the category of: ‘will forget more about Magic in his lifetime than I will ever learn.’

Now, usually at larger events like this, you will get much more interaction with your team lead and the other floor judges than you will with the head judge. The head judge is there to handle appeals or tricky calls, put out fires, and check in with team leads to make sure their event is going as smoothly as it an.

Little did I know but Abe and I were going to be interacting a lot during this Legacy tournament.

I’ve discovered that players who tend to stick with only on particular format over others all tend to share certain personality quirks, at least when it comes to handling judge calls.  For Legacy players, a lot of them assume that they know more about their deck than you do.  It can lead to Legacy players being a little bit prickly when it comes to judge rulings.

My first adventure into the world of Legacy Magic involved Thalia and Arlinn Kord.

“Judge!  It’s my opponents upkeep and I just noticed that I cast Arlinn Kord while I controlled a Thalia.  I then cast Gaddock Teeg and passed the turn.  The problem is I only have six mana sources.”

It seemed like a pretty straight forward call to me.  Smelling like a potential back up, I asked a few more questions; ‘Had the active player drawn for turn?’  ‘Had anyone played any other cards?’ ‘Do both players agree to the description of what happened?’

I felt proud of my self; the information I had gleaned from the players was concise and clear.  Like most judges, I didn’t enter the program with inherent skills surrounding investigations and it is an area I’m actively working to improve.  However, no matter how certain I was, backing up without the approval of the head judge is a huge no-no, so I popped over to my head judge, cried out the phrase that will stop most judge conversations, ‘I have a potential back-up’ and then explained the situation that had been presented to me.  Even better, my head judge agreed with my assessment so I headed back to the players and explained my ruling and the need for a backup.

The player who committed the error was not happy.  ‘I thought that if an error happened and we went too far, that we couldn’t go back and fix it?’ I explained that because their opponent had not yet drawn their card for turn, no significant game actions had passed so a backup was our best option.  At that point they got a little agitated and said, ‘Not to be rude or anything, but can I get an appeal?’

Judging big tournaments means that there’s a leadership structure in place.  No one is right all the time, and when players know that they can potentially protect themselves from a bad call, it lessens their stress and helps keep moods up.  That system is appealing a floor judge’s ruling to the head judge, though if the floor judge running to your call is the head judge and you want to appeal you’re out of luck.

Now, I felt to the core of my bones that my ruling was right, but I could tell from the way they phrased it, that they had maybe had judges in the past who might not have acted graciously when asked for an appeal, so I smiled and told them I would be happy to grab the head judge.  I trotted back to Abe, explained I had an appeal, and proceeded to shadow him for the rest of the call.

I’ve been actively judging for less than a year at this point, so I know that my investigation skills are new and growing, but I can only hope to be as good as Abe one day.  In roughly a minute had all of the information, including a crucial step I missed; that the player whose upkeep it was had activated and resolved a top ‘spin’ (looking at and rearranging the top three cards of their deck.) I’d consider that a significant game action, as did my head judge, so he overturned my ruling and we handed out infractions (GRV/FTMGS) and kept the boardstate as is.  He also took a few seconds to explain why, and let me know that my initial ruling had been correct but the revelation of more actions changed things.  I thanked him and moved on.

The next round, I was sitting on a match between Grixis control decks.  Active player (AP from here) swung in with a little creature and a big creature.  There was some conversation about damage then AP passes their turn only to glance at their life total pad and begin to scrunch their eyebrows.

“You should be dead.”

“What?  You only swung in with delver.”

“No.  I swung with the Angler too.”

At this point Non-Active Player (NAP) realized that they had missed the other creature attacking and placed their head in their hands with a groan.  Luckily I had been sitting on the match so I could jump on the issue without waiting for them to necessarily call me. Again, my investigative skills were put to the test but this was a much tougher call, not to mention match ending if I ruled in AP’s favor. It’s a personal opinion of mine that if the call I make is potentially match ending it is time to find the head judge and talk it over with them.  So back I went to Abe and again I was relaying the fruits of my investigation.

The tricky part here was that I had been watching the match.  I saw what was certainly a legal attack, and what was certainly a legal choice of not blocking but I hadn’t heard the conversation as well as I’d liked.  But, unfortunately, I believed that everything that had happened in the match had been perfectly legal and that NAP had lost this game because he had honestly not seen the second attacker.  Again, Abe agreed with my assessment after discussing it with me so I went back to the match to relay my decision.

NAP looked crushed. I’m a firm believer in the ‘soft skills’ of judging; interacting with players, customer service, making sure they have as good of a tournament as they can which was not happening here at all.  I gave them a few seconds to process it all and then offered, “If you’re uncomfortable with my ruling, you do have the right to an appeal.”  NAP looked like I had given them a sliver of hope replied, “If you don’t mind, I’d like to appeal.”

I was much more okay with this appeal due to the messiness of the situation so I popped back to Abe and brought him back to the match.  Again, Abe worked his magic (pun very much intended) and pulled out the conversation that had happened over damage.  Both players agreed that NAP had said, ‘One…?’ which is much more ambiguous than ‘I go to one’ or ‘I take one’ and Abe overturned my ruling for the second time that day.

Getting overturned two rulings in a row can be a tough pill to swallow for any judge, which Abe may have been worried I was feeling because he again made sure to note that overturning these calls had not been because of my poor judge knowledge and more that when he sat down, he was able to gather information that I had missed in the initial investigation.  Both times that information was crucial enough to change the outcome of the call.

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I would go on that weekend to almost get appealed two more times.

The first was a tricky Tabernacle call where the player was not happy with the ‘resolve the default action’ ruling but because the head judge came back with me as I gave the ruling, and showed the player the relevant rules text he eventually drop his objections and played on.  The last tricky call actually happened the second day while I swiped a call from the vintage tournament (my side events had been pretty quiet) involving missed delayed zone triggers (starring the same player from the Tabernacle call) but after some grumbles he agreed with my decision.

Overall, this weekend showed me how much I had grown as a judge, and honestly as a person.  In previous posts I’ve discussed my almost crippling fear of failure and in the past months that I have been judging and writing this blog (the very act of putting my thoughts into space also terrifies me) I’ve actively been working on those fears.  Eight months ago, when I first began this judging adventure, if I had been appealed and overturned two calls in a row I would’ve spiraled into a deep pit of anger and despair at myself.

But if there’s one thing that’s been good about failing the Level 2 test twice and being faced with the holes in my knowledge it’s that failure has become a bit of a friend, albeit the acquaintance who invites themselves to movies and talks through the whole thing so you really don’t want them there all the time.

I also look at these interactions less like failures and more like opportunities to learn (which is what failure really is about).  If neither player had appealed, the full story would have never been out in the open for either of these two calls.  I also wouldn’t have been able to observe a better experienced judge handle these investigations.  My repertoire of skills wouldn’t have grown.

So don’t take getting appealed like a bad thing.  If you’re right, usually your call will be upheld.  If you’re wrong, it means your error was caught and there will be one less player who’s now less likely to call a judge for fear of the wrong ruling.  Or, even better, you’ll be overturned and when the head judge leaves, they’ll not only leave behind a more educated player, but also a more educated judge.

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.