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.

Flabbergasted

Was yesterday even real?

I have been in a constant state of shock and awe over how events unfolded.

The day I wrote it, I had a lot of my judge friends share it and congratulate me on a job well done.  It warmed my heart and helped stoke the fire to keep writing.  I even had a friend explain in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to quit.

I woke up yesterday and was excited that my post had been shared about 200 times on Facebook from the site.  I mean, how cool was that?  People enjoyed what I wrote enough for it to part of their personal lives.  At its core, that is the point of this blog; to take my words and have them affect lives in positive way.

Then at around 11 or so I logged into my blog to check my stats and had my first (of many) shocks that day.  I had almost three thousand views on my blog now.  That was crazy!  A GP sized number of people had found their way onto my site and read my stuff.  I even had some comments, most of which were super supportive.  I checked where the views coming from and the number one list was Reddit.

I don’t know who put my post out there, but if you’re reading this, thank you so much.

I started reading through the comments when my phone started blowing up.  Some players in my local area had seen the article and tagged me in our Facebook group.  It was getting enough attention that it was the top post in the MTG Reddit and was even trending to the front page.  I was floored; the comments and views started rolling in and I felt a little off put from the attention.

At 3pm I got a message from my good friend Roger. “You made the Magic the Gathering Website!!” and he sent a screenshot of my post being featured on the Daily Magic Update for June 8th.  It was featured with heavy hitters like Seth Manfield, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Eric Froehlich.

Y’all, I actually fell out of my chair.

This is why your teachers tell you to not lean back too far.

It was an indescribable feeling.  I posted my freak out on Facebook, along with the screenshot of the page, and the support from my friends was amazing.  (My favorite comment was the request to sign a baby.  I’m pretty sure he was kidding, but with Magic folk you never really know for sure.)

Even this morning as I’m writing about the whirlwind that was yesterday, I still can’t believe it happened.

But this post isn’t just so I can gush.

I’ve read the comments, both good and bad, on my blog, on Reddit, on the posts that I can see on Facebook and I want to address some of the responses.

But it doesn’t happen at my store

I feel like a lot of what I posted on Tuesday was the negative and I also feel like, after a friend reinforced this feeling through his constructive criticism (Thanks Zach!), I could’ve ended my point better.

One of the most common comments I have seen boils down to this:  I’ve never seen this.  I doubt it’s as bad as she is portraying it to be.

If you have the privilege to go to store where they make sure to combat this behavior, that’s wonderful and I am happy for you.  These are the kinds of places that we should be building in our community!  And if you’re doing your part to make your local game store a welcoming place I salute you for that because that’s the way it should be.

However that is not everyone’s reality, especially in the competitive Magic scene.  There has been at least two times that I have been to SCG States in Richmond that I have been the only woman playing, in a field of at least 70 other players.  As a woman, or any other minority for that matter, being the only one is incredibly intimidating.  It didn’t matter that at this particular event the TOs were fantastic (seriously the Richmond, VA stores are amazing; if you have time you should read this about how they schedule events each season) and welcoming there was still that air of not exactly belonging.

‘But how do I fix a problem I don’t see?’ you might say.  Change your language, even in casual conversations with friends.  You could be using words and phrases that are sexist, racist, homophobic, without realizing it.  Or maybe you have friends that say some questionable things sometimes but you shrug it off because they’re a friend and you don’t want to shake things up.  Confront them even if it makes you uncomfortable.  A person who says certain things in private is more likely to say these things in public too.

Let your friends, family, colleagues know that you don’t stand for the comments and the attitudes.  I know that this can be so hard; it’s a problem I personally have.  I have a group of friends that use the verb ‘rape’ like you would use any other verb, especially when describing a victory (‘Man, this card just raped your face!’ etc., etc.).  It makes me cringe every time; as a rape and sexual assault survivor, the casual use of the word upsets me but these are very close friends and I worry about upsetting them.

It’s time to get over that so I can make things better for the next person.

You should be flattered that someone is asking you to coffee

Women don’t go to big Magic events or game stores to find a date.  That’s not the expectation or the reality.  They’re there to play Magic, or board games, or storming the castle in a roleplaying game.  They have a set agenda in mind for their time; you hitting on them is not part of the plan.

The coffee question was my experiences rolled into one blanket statement.  It covers the several times I’ve been hit on or asked to dinner or coffee while participating in a hobby I love.  This is not the scenario where it’s thirty minutes after our match and we’re still sitting at our match table exchanging battle stories and getting to know each other better.  This being asked to coffee while declaring my attackers; it’s the fear of retribution that can come from refusing to accept or give a number (and we live in a world where refusing male advances can have deadly repercussions). It’s the awkward exchanges which make you feel so uncomfortable you’d rather scoop up your cards and leave than stick around.

If you really like someone, take the time to actually get to know them before pushing them for date.  And realize that they still may refuse you; it doesn’t make them uptight, or rude, or a ‘bitch.’ No person is obligated for any action involving someone else.

Why are you complaining in a blog post when you could just speak up when it happens

So speaking up is hard.  When these things happen, you’re filled with emotions and saying anything is difficult it that situation.  I personally bottle up anger; I don’t like being angry and I respect my local game stores so much that I don’t want to cause a scene.  This may be the wrong way to handle it but it’s what happens.

When you’re in a venue far from home you don’t know what could happen when you speak up as a minority.  The judge program is amazing and it’s full of awesome individuals who do everything in their power to make a player’s experience the best it can be.  But there’s always the threat of ‘he said, she said’ and I’ve experienced the frustration when someone (not a judge in this case) did not believe me about a negative interaction with a male player.  I’ve not been back to that store since.

I made the decision to pen my words in a post rather than speak them out loud.  That doesn’t change their impact.  I’ve seen so many women share stories similar to mine which have both angered me and warmed my heart.  The testimonies alone should be proof that this is a problem that still needs to be addressed in both the casual and competitive Magic scene.  Take the frustration you may be feeling at me for writing this and use to do some good in the world.

I still can’t believe what happened yesterday, but I am so happy that so many players and judges agree with my sentiments.  I can only hope that this will change the minds of others.

Thank you all for giving my words a chance and together let’s make Magic better for everyone.

Why Words Matter

This post is going to have a bit of a different flavor.

It should be pretty obvious at this point that I love Magic.  It’s an escape when things get too stressful at my teaching job.  Mechanics test the logical side of my brain the same way chess did in high school.  The storyline keeps me engaged through the card art and stories posted in Uncharted Realms.  Best of all, it’s let so many amazing people into my life through the playing and judging community (at least half of my friend circle plays or judges Magic on the regular).

Magic has even saved my life, but that’s a story for another time.  This is about the words we use when playing Magic and how they affect the environment around us.

At this point I’ve been playing Magic for close to four years. I jumped in the deep end and started with Commander (which was EDH at the time).  It was fun because everyone’s deck had a theme, and while I often lost games, I died in a different way almost every time.  I enjoyed the variety; coming up with a new theme every week or so and throwing a deck together around it was a blast.

Then I went to my first FNM, was handed a GW humans deck during Phyrexia/Innistrad block and there was no going back.  My EDH play group was fun but not super competitive.  Standard was competitive and that made it even more fun.  I didn’t grow bored waiting for a player’s infinite combo to go off or have to sit through four other players’ turns.  I had to think a lot more about how I played things and when I played things.

I was hooked.

But the overall attitude was very different.  The game store I played Commander at averaged about twenty players each night the league was going on.  The game store I went to for standard averaged 70 people for an FNM.  The number alone was intimidating the first few weeks but as I got to know more people at the store it got easier.  There were a lot of friendly faces and a lot of people helped me learn how to play my deck better (like not playing five creatures on the board when Day of Judgment was a legal card).

The first weeks were frustrating but fun.  I had to completely change how I played Magic but I began to adapt to the quicker round structure and faster games.  I even started winning a few and that only served to increase my drive to get better.

There was another big change:  I was one of two or three girls playing in a field of sixty or more Magic players.  My Commander play group had almost as many lady Magic players as men so the gender disparity being so large struck me as odd.

Then I got smacked in the face with one of the reasons why more women weren’t playing with me.

I sat down across from my opponent and introduced myself.  One of his friends was sitting next to him and he blurted out something like the following:  “Man, you get to play a girl.  I hope you don’t lose.  That would be embarrassing!”

I physically recoiled back from the statement I was so shocked.  What did my gender have to do with my playing ability?  I also felt, not for the first time, that I was suddenly the representative of women Magic players, and that if I lost, it somehow meant that all women were bad at Magic.  It didn’t matter that I was still very new to Standard; it didn’t matter that neither of these guys knew my ability to play Magic.  I had been reduced down to my gender and was somehow made less because of it.  I had been equated to being a less capable player and that a loss to me would somehow be embarrassing.

I really wanted to win that match, but I lost.

I felt awful, like I had somehow let people down.  The gloom was strong enough that I left that FNM early and didn’t play FNM for about a month after that.  The whole experience had left a sour taste in my mouth and I honestly considered not going back, all because someone decided something about me without knowing me.

I did eventually go back.  I was determined to get better and I have.  I don’t have a natural affinity for the game that some players have but I began to find the colors that I could play best and the kind of deck I’m best with.  I put in the work, began to go to bigger events, and playtested in my free time.  I got better and I could be counted in with an average, good Magic player.

But to several male players, especially at large events, my playing ability still didn’t matter.  How did I know?  Here’s a sampling of the comments I heard while playing:

“Did your boyfriend teach you to play?  I’ve never seen a girl play Magic before.  Do you have a boyfriend?  Do you want to grab coffee later?  Man, I get to play against the cutest player in the room, I’m so lucky!  Well, this is going to be easy.  I’m surprised your husband lets you play (I’m not married).  What’s a pretty thing like you playing a complicated game like this?”

I could go on, but you get the idea.

I’ve had players refer to their cards (which usually depict a female character) as bitches, sluts, whores, and hoes. A friend, who is married, had a player write his number in the notebook she keeps score in without asking for it.  I’ve been there while that same friend has been hit on so much that it got to the point I had to step in to dissuade the man from following us to our car.

These experiences all happened while I was player.  I thought they would end when I became a judge.

My very first night judging, I had a player demand that he wanted ‘a real judge’ with the feeling that he didn’t like my call because I was ‘a girl.’

I even had someone question my staffing for a GP because of gender.

I haven’t even touched on the things I’ve heard said about race, sexuality, and mental capability.

Recent decisions not related to Magic prompted me to write this for several reasons but the point I’m most trying to get across is this:  my gender does not make me less of a person.  It does not mean that my inherent capability to play or judge this game is any less.  And it certainly doesn’t affect my ability to judge in the least.

As a player or as a judge, be aware of the power behind your words.  You can either build someone up or tear someone down with what you say.

Be the reason someone wants to play Magic.