Failure

I want to take a second and talk about failure.

I’ve discussed in previous posts about my aversion to failure; how the fear of it drove me to near panic at SCG Baltimore.  It’s a word and concept I hate and when it gets close to rearing its ugly head I tend to throw anything I can at it to keep it at bay.  But sometimes we can’t avoid it and it comes knocking not matter the effort we put forth against it.

Judging is important to me (I hope that’s been evident so far anyway).  I like to think I have an affinity for it; despite being an introvert, I have ‘people skills’ in spades and interacting with players and fellow judges is honestly my favorite part of the job.  Throw in a dash of education to make players even better slingers of spells and you have everything I could want in a hobby or profession.

The judge program, rightly so, has levels of certification.  They’re built in fail safes to make sure that the judges Tournament Organizers tap for their events know the rules, the tournament procedures, and can hand out appropriate penalties for the betterment of players and the tournaments themselves.

I’ve been a level one judge for little over a year at this point.  To be completely frank, I didn’t really do much judging until about six months into that certification.  Then I judged five events in six weekends, got hooked, and the rest is history.  The judge program is such a welcoming and supportive place and I’m happy to have found it.  I have no doubt I will be a judge for a very long time.

It was after GP Charlotte that I really decided I wanted my level two certification.  Working a large event was nothing like I expected (in all of the best ways, even with WLTR eating tournament results and spitting out new side events) and I knew I wanted more.  To get there, I needed that next step in my judging career because as much as I want to, it’s just not feasible in my budget to do more than a few big events in a year.

For me, a few just doesn’t cut it.

And when I want something I have a tendency to drop everything and go for it with a single-mindedness that has lost me friends in the past.  In my head, it was the perfect time to move forward.  The school year was almost over, the minimum time limit had passed, I’d judged the appropriate number of events in the past, and with blog posts on several events up on Word Press, my Regional Coordinator had given the okay for it to cover my tournament report obligation.

I’d also heard from a few people that I was ready to make the plunge into the process; to quote my friend and mentor Zak DeLadurantaye: “You’re ready to be an L2 when you start acting like an L2.”

But there was a small worry in my brain that also pushed me forward; summer gave me enough free time to delve in but once I started my new teaching job in September I wouldn’t have time to pursue it any longer.”  That fear drove me as much as my passion did.

To say I jumped in with both feet is honestly a massive understatement.  I soaked in everything I could.  I asked questions and advice of every L2 I knew, mostly through Facebook.  One of the L2s I met briefly in Charlotte from Brasil, André Tepedino, quickly became another one of my mentors as he led me through several difficult questions and scenarios (and with English not being his native language!).

Brogan King was a fabulous stress sponge for me; she calmed my anxieties about judging and applying to events several times, offering up her own cover letters on multiple occasions so I would have a basis to work from.  That support was no doubt instrumental in getting me accepted to GP Charlotte.  She and Liz Richardson fielded so many questions during SCG Spring states in May, which was my first big Comp REL event.  Their calming presence keep my nerves at bay.

Sean Linkous, was also consistently there as he has been since I began the process of becoming a judge, served as a sounding board for my anxieties and my fears while pushing me forward and reminding of all the great things I had done and was doing.

I posted my desire to conquer the test on Facebook, asking for questions which turned into a huge thread covering several different aspects of judging and sent me digging through the rules and policy for days after.

Brendan Whatley walked me through the answers of complicated, yet common issues found in eternal formats.

The chat birthed by the need for roommates in GP Indy soon became a separate testing ground where Zak and another Great Lakes judge Spencer Cole grilled me on various aspects of judging.  This took on another life entirely as I drew my line in the sand and made my desire to test at GP Indy known.  The chat morphed into a weekly video call where Zak (often with assistance) led myself and a few other L1s who were also interested in testing for L2, through the intricacies of the both the IPG and Comprehensive rules.  They were a fantastic resource as they fostered several discussions and really let us dig into the meat of why the rules worked the way they did and how policy has been shaped and molded by the judges who wield it.

As an aside, I can’t adequately express my gratitude to Zak for putting those calls together.  They were so fantastic and I hope that other judges pick up this technique use with their level ones and twos.

On one of these calls, John Temple (a level three from the Great Lakes) gave me a piece of very sage advice: if you can test *anywhere* but a GP, do it.

Turns out, not only was it sage advice, it also ended up being timely as well.  My dear friend, fabulous judge mentor, and all around great human Eric Dustin Brown (colloquially now referred to as 3DB) attained his level three judge certification, an eventuality that everyone who knows him knew he would reach.  We spoke, set a date for the week before GP Indy, and went to work.  He sent me questions via Messenger, quizzed me when we worked together at SCG Baltimore, and otherwise supported me as July bled into August.  His reviews of my performance pushed me and kept me motivated.

The more I did, the more I asked, the more I pushed myself, the more I realized I have never wanted anything more in my adult life than to earn my level two judge certification.

All throughout this I was consistently taking hard practices and policy practices via judge center.  In the beginning, they kicked my ass but as the test grew closer my scores got better.

I started to feel like I could really pass this test.

Considering how I started this post, you’ve probably figured out the outcome of my test.  It was deliberate.  I wanted you to see how much time effort that not only I put into it, but of some many judges of all levels.  They were all rooting for me; they all gave up personal time to talk, coach, and encourage me.  I hadn’t worked so hard toward a goal since my graduate program.

But… I still failed.

Going over the test, EDB gave me the option to hear my score first or to go over the items I missed.  I elected for the latter, knowing that regardless of the outcome I would be too emotional to absorb and learn from my mistakes. As the questions began to make a small pile I couldn’t help but count.  Towards the end I knew it was too many and I began to bite back tears.

I ended up missing two questions too many.  I was also haunted by the number two in my results; on my second run through of the test I changed two answers and the items that I was unsure of came in pairs.

Once we were through everything, I knew my emotions were beginning to slip through.  There were a few tears but I held it together as we continued to talk.  The entire time, EDB handled it with finesse and tact; the fact I was upset was obvious but he knew I needed professionalism in that moment.  The news hurt but the fact that it came from Eric, the person I look up to most and kind of judge I want to be, it stung a little less.

I was so close; there were a lot of questions that I got correct which had caused other judges problems.  Every question I missed I narrowed to down between the almost right answer and the correct one.  That only highlighted that I was ready to take this test; it just so happened that lady luck handed me items I needed to work on in pairs.

Finally EDB looked at me and said, “Don’t let this test beat you.  You were almost there; don’t stop.  The next time I put a test in front of you, I know you’ll crush it.”

We parted ways with a hug and I made it back to my car before I broke down into sobs.  I cried most of the two hour drive back from Richmond.

I put my everything into this process and it was almost good enough.  I’d be lying if part of me didn’t feel like throwing in towel and being done.  I don’t handle failure well; logically I know it’s a part of life but when it happens I’m more likely to head anywhere but toward the object of my failure.

But that would have been such a disservice to everyone who helped me prepare the first time which is why I had to show you the time and effort that goes into molding a level 2 judge.  All that effort is still there; it’s just that now I’ve been given more time to build on that knowledge, to strengthen my foundations so that when I reach that level I know the ground I stand on will be firm and un-moving.

And although I haven’t reached level two yet, I’m still a damn good judge.  Being a level one is nothing to be ashamed of; you’re still a judge.  You still get to be a pillar of your Magic community.  You still get to educate players and shape them into better versions of themselves.  You still get to be a leader is this game we all love so much.

I think what I’ve taken away from this the most is to embrace the failure.  Examine it; pick through its nuances.  Really get to the meat of the issue at hand and shake loose every piece of information you can.  Because without mistakes, we can’t grow.  You remember far more when you stumble than when you breeze through.  The lessons learned through failure become part of you; they stick to your soul and guide your future self toward betterment.

Forge failure into the tools of success.

SCG: Baltimore (AKA The Imposter Open)

This past weekend I put on a blue SCG judge shirt for the first time.  It would be my first time on the floor of a large competitive event and I was both excited and nervous.  In order to improve myself and gain more experience as I continue my road toward my level 2 certification, it as a step that I needed to take.  It’s also important to have your name and face known to the big Tournament Organizers, like Star City, because they tend to run the larger tournaments.  That was in my mind a great deal leading up to the tournament and one of the goals I set for myself was that I was going to perform better than at GP Charlotte:  I was gonna be perfect.

In the end, perfection is almost what ruined me.

As a person, I want to be in control of everything.  For me, part of that control comes from performing the jobs I am given at the most optimal level possible.  That in and of itself is necessarily a bad thing but the level at which I wish to reach is.  A lot of the things I have done in my life have come easy so reaching that optimal level only required a bit of effort.

Judging is very different.  Not only are there so many rules and interactions but the only way you can become a better judge is going out and judging events.  You may have the rules down to a science but have to work on your interpersonal skills with players.  You might be able to build a rapport with players but the mysteries of WER might elude you for a time.  I takes a very long time and a large amount of effort before you hot the point where you could be considered a well-rounded judge.  (Spoiler alert: we call that level 3.)

In order for me to get better judging, mistakes have to happen.  To quote the infamous James Kerr: “You have to mess up to get better.”

First mistake of Saturday:  deciding to volunteer for a sales booth shift.  The actual working wasn’t bad, as stressful as retail can be when things get busy, but it meant I missed judge meeting before the tournament starts.  I got to my place a mere 15 minutes before the main event started and effectively played ten minutes of catch up as I met my team lead and the rest of my team, all but one whom I hadn’t met before.  It made me feel separate from a lot of things and looking back I think it was the first step in the wrong direction for the weekend.

I was on the paper team on Saturday, which meant that we coordinated cutting and passing out slips.  The goal was to get them out as quick and efficiently as we could, a goal that was communicated to me by my team lead Martha (Skipper) Lufkin.  She also communicated all the information I missed while working the booth and trying to absorb it all so quickly was a bit overwhelming.  Again, I had no one to blame but myself.  I have a pretty embedded habit of trying to bite off more than I can chew.

Looking back on it, the majority of my day went fine.  I had several Spell Queller calls as players hashed out a new Standard format and some angling by players to see just how many turns Emrakul really steals but around the fourth round I began to feel a little disheartened.  I very much felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

I wasn’t taking enough calls; I wasn’t solving enough problems.

In my head, I wasn’t being a judge rock star which meant that I wasn’t being a good enough judge.

I was scared I wasn’t doing enough.  Scared isn’t even a strong enough word because I was downright terrified.  Terrified that someone was gonna find me out; call me out as a hack who wasn’t fooling anyone; be asked to leave because I wasn’t a good enough judge.

It was the fear more than the drive to do well that pushed me that day.  I started to feel separated from my fellow judges even as they made an effort to get to know me, attempt to make me feel more welcome on the floor it didn’t really get through to me.  I don’t know if this was their normal status quo at events (most likely this option) or if they picked up on my unease or feeling of not belonging.  I placed a barrier between myself and them and felt very much alone.

Each little misstep that happened made me feel worse, even ones that were honestly outside my control.  We had both players in a match not understand the difference between a game and match which led to a 15+ minute time extension as one re-sleeved his entire deck.  I had no way of knowing this; when playing in a high level competitive event, you just assume that your players know the difference between a  game and a match.

But when an L3 found me to ask me what was going on with the extension I still felt like it was my fault.  I had no control of the situation but I still took all the blame for it.  The judge questioning me didn’t blame me for it, he was just looking for information but I still felt at fault.

It got to the point that during round seven I excused myself to the bathroom and had a good cry in one of the stalls.  I was sure that I was messing everything up royally; even crying in the bathroom felt like a failure because I was wasting time when I could’ve been on the floor judging.

I eventually cleaned myself up and ventured out onto the floor again.  At this point I was ashamed that the feeling had driven me to tears, and that paired with a friend telling me to stop it (a response to a Facebook post), I squared up my shoulders and was ready to approach the rest of the day with  better attitude.  It worked.  My team lead even mentioned the next day that I woke up in the later rounds and really began to be a presence.

The end of the day came and I was released and while I felt better about my performance in the last few rounds, the overall feeling from the day was a negative one.  Luckily, instead of dwelling on it like I would have in the past, I’ve met a lot of great people in the judge program and I started shooting messages to a few to see if they had any insight into what happened.  Spencer and Zak had the answer:  Imposter Syndrome. I fit the symptoms to a tee; I saw my day unrolling as I read the blog post.  You should read it, and everything else on the blog while you’re at it.

The next day, with the knowledge of what happened fresh in my mind, I headed into my day with an entirely different mindset.  I was ready to learn and embrace the missteps I took.  And boy, were there a bunch.  It was my first time launching, and seating side events and my whole day was shuffling players around, asking players to move and generally even trying to watch some Magic.  Granted, it could have been because there was less pressure because I was no longer on the main event but I like to think that I faced the day with an entirely new mindset.

My team lead on Sunday, Sarah Ellis, and the rest of the judges on my team were rock stars that day.  When we had to spend a few hours a judge down, together we supported one another until that judge returned and some of the pressure lessened.  I enjoyed the entirety of my day so much more than Saturday because I was able to engage my fellow judges in rules and policy talk.  We swapped stories and tips and I engaged players in conversation and banter which helped my day fly by.

The big take away from that weekend is this:  believe in yourself.  Especially with an institution like he judge program that is built in such a way that there are layers of support, push forward with confidence and don’t let your fears of failure get in your way.  If you stumble, if you fail a call, if you fail a player, there are contingencies in place to repair the mistakes that are made.  By owning up to your mistakes, you will grow as a person and as a judge.

Let your weaknesses make you stronger.

Puppies, Magic, and Foils, Oh My!

It’s been a hot minute since I put fingers to keys and I apologize for that.  My alter ego is a school teacher and we tend to celebrate the beginning of summer vacation with a lot of gusto.  I meant to write this piece weeks ago but then people in the world were awful and I think I was recovering from that too.

About two weeks ago the players in my area did an amazing thing: they raised 620 dollars for a local animal shelter.  They also donated so much food and supplies that there wasn’t enough room in their donation boxes for it all.

Shelter Food
I mean, look at it all!

I was so proud of them.  If I was the Grinch (which I am far from), my heart would’ve grown three sizes that day.  I received so many heartfelt thank yous that I wished my players could hear.  They were the real heroes; I was just the messenger delivering their hard work.

The Magic community can be a powerful place; while it sometimes has a bad reputation, it is mostly filled with good, big hearted people who like to sling spells.  I recognized this early on but it wasn’t until I became a judge and started establishing myself as a visible part of the community that an idea wiggled its way into my brain.

This is not only about how I threw together this tournament but also why every community who can support one should do the same.  It fosters such a sense of community that it may be powerful enough to pull stores in the area together.

The idea first presented itself while I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook.  Since I started judging, my social network has grown to include several judges and other Magic folks outside of my area.  I paused at one of the events a judge friend had shared.  Someone was throwing a draft tournament and all the proceeds were being donated to a local cat rescue. I remember thinking how cool that was and how I would easily pay 15 or 20 bucks for a draft if it meant the money was going to a good cause.  I also mentally lamented about the fact that my area would probably never do anything like it.

That’s when I paused and realized there was no real reason why a tournament like that couldn’t happen here.  Maybe someone had just never taken the time.

I dropped into the Mid-Atlantic judge group and posted about advice on how to get one fired.  My fellow judges had some very solid advice about how to go about doing things.  The most common piece of advice was something the effect of:  you’ll have a lot of people who will play just to do some good in the world but to really make sure your tournament is successful, you need some kind of prize support that will draw the Spikes out to play too.

Therein lied my first problem:  I personally didn’t have a lot to offer in prize support and I knew if I went to a store and asked for both space and product for a tournament where they weren’t receiving any of the entry fees, I would likely be laughed out of the store.  I’ve worked at a LGS (local game store) and I understand that they have to make money to survive and continue giving players a place for Magic.

Enter the first of many super heroes: Nicholas Sabin.  He’s my regional coordinator and pretty much one of the most awesome judges I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  He kind of swooped in like Superman, but I have a feeling he’d rather be compared to Batman.  But in this case, he was actually Bruce Wayne; willing to share his bounty for a good cause.  He asked me some questions: who was going to judge, what REL (rules enforcement level) would the tournament be played, where was the money being donated to, etc.  At that point I only had the basics figured out so he tasked with solidifying the details and then we could chat again.

I was now a woman on a mission and when that happens I get things done.  I dropped into the store where I play, Comic Kings, and brought it up with my friend Patrik who runs all things Magical at the shop.  He was all about the idea but had to pass it by the big boss and I would hear from him in a day or so.

Those few days were torture; I now had the bit firmly in my teeth and I just wanted to run with it.  When I get excited about something, my enthusiasm knows no bounds, but I also knew without a place to play this would never happen anyway.  When I got the confirmation that they would love to host for free I was over the moon.

Until I realized I still didn’t know where the money would go.

I thought on it for a long time; there are a lot of bigger organizations that do wonderful things for the world but those didn’t really feel like they fit right.  I’d started to realize that this could be a chance for some real community building and for that to happen to its fullest potential, the recipient needed to be local to the community as well.  I wanted Magic to do some good in the world, even if it was just my local world.

My brain wandered but then it redirected itself back to the original inspiration and I was struck with how silly I was being.  A lot of people love animals, so why not throw it to benefit the local shelter.  I even had a contact on the inside; getting someone on the phone should be easy.

Y’all, it took weeks and several visits before I was able to talk to the right person in the shelter.  I almost gave up; I saw this little dream I created inching further and further away and I started to think it would never happen.  Then I finally got on the phone with Amanda, who was in charge of community relations for the shelter and I explained my idea to her.

She was so happy and excited and it filled my heart with such joy.  She even agreed to bring out a few of the shelter dogs which made me the most excited.  Magic and dogs?  Match made in lovable heaven.

One last obstacle lay in my path:  I needed to find a judge.  When talking with Nicholas Sabin, I had originally volunteered to do it myself because I didn’t feel comfortable asking another judge to essentially work for free.  But again, he was a super hero and not only offered prize support for the event but also support to give to a judge working the event.

I ended up asking my friend and rock star L2 Jeph Foster if he would head judge the event.  He accepted, graciously giving up his opportunity to go to GP Columbus that same weekend.

It turned out that I hit a gold mine by asking Jeph to judge.  Not only was he super excited about the event, but he also made a stunning flyer to advertise it as well.

IMG_0643
I mean, look at how pretty that is?

Together, the both of us advertised in the weeks leading up to the tournament.  (I know people in my local Facebook magic group as well as the people tied to my personal Facebook page must have gotten sick of it toward the end, but I was determined to make it as successful as possible.)

The community as a whole also rallied behind us and the tournament.  The flyer was shared countless times on Facebook and I dropped flyers off at other stores with their permission.

But that wasn’t the best part.

Our community Magic scene can be very combative.  Stores don’t always play nice and work together, which as a judge trying to build up a community can be very frustrating.  The stores know it but still refuse to budge on certain things.  A lot of my players have voiced concern that my goal to unite the stores in my area is a lost cause, but it’s one of my goals on my large judging to-do list and I will get it done.

Turns out charity helps lay down a lot of that groundwork.  I contacted more stores in the area about possibly contributing and the outpouring of support blew me away.  I had two separate stores donate boxes or packs of Magic cards.  I also had other players throw in more prizes as well, including a World Magic Cup Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and several playmats from Jeph, and my other judge friends Austin Whitehead, Eric Dustin Brown, and Brogan Elizabeth King.

The day of the tournament was beautiful, if hot, and once the doors open the donations just started rolling in.  We ended up having 31 players, just short of six rounds, and  Jeph ran a smooth tournament and I could tell the players were enjoying it (door prizes after every round helps).  I hopped from player relations to making sure the dogs and shelter volunteers were hydrated and as cool as we could make it.

It was amazing to watch the players interact with the dogs, but it also brought the attention of the people shopping in the area that day.  Each time I went outside, the volunteers were talking to someone new.  Inside, I could tell that my players felt good about the good things they were doing for the community.

All told we raised $620 and enough supplies to fill up the trunk of my car as well as almost the entire interior.  When I dropped off the supplies, the employees at the shelter just watched with big grins as I brought in armful after armful.  Even more exciting; the money we raised was able to pay for heartworm surgery for (in my opinion) the cutest dog there, Ranger.

Now a full month and a half later, I still have people talking about it.  More than a few have asked me if I’m planning on doing another one (it’s certainly in the back of my mind).  I’m hoping that continued philanthropy and cooperation between stores will help push my area toward a better, more positive Magic scene.

Our work is far from done, but with the help of players and stores, we can make that concept a reality.

Oh!  I almost forgot the best part:  we helped get two of the shelter dogs who showed up (the Dachshund Charlie and the yellow Labrador) adopted!  Keep scrolling to gush over their adorable faces.

 

Charlie
Charlie
Lab
Sadly, I never got this cutie’s name.
Marigold.jpg
Marigold
Ranger.jpg
Ranger ❤

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Thoughts and Prayers

Trigger warning: violence, gun violence

I sat down yesterday and tried to write.  I organized an amazing charity tournament at my local game store for the animal shelter nearby.  We raised a bunch of money and donated a mountain of supplies that filled and then spilled over their donation boxes.  The volunteers and staff members were full of bright shining smiles and thanks for our efforts.  But no matter how many times I started to write, I couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Which is why this post is about something else entirely.  These are going to be non-Magic waters we’re treading in.

I figured out why I can’t write about the amazing things my players did on Sunday.

I’m angry.  In fact, I am seething.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of the heart wrenching tragedy in Orlando.  Fifty lives were taken away from us.  Fifty futures cut short by a bigot with too much access to firearms.  Fifty of my brothers and sisters shot down while they were celebrating their lives.  ‘The worst mass shooting in United States history’ they’re calling it.

Because an angry man with an agenda had access to weapons no civilian should be able to get their hands on.

It has stricken me to my core.

I’m bisexual, a fact not widely known, and in my world, who a person loves is the business of the person and their lover.  Period.  Now I feel like if I ever found the woman of my dreams, we could get shot on the street for holding hands, for holding hands, because someone decides that their personal feelings outweigh the sanctity of my life.

That’s exactly what this was:  a hate crime. A man decided that his view of the world is more important than the happiness of others.  His entitlement led to these murders and whatever ties he may or may not have with terrorist organizations notwithstanding.  His was an agenda of fear and hatred, one which is working.  The vitriol I have seen flowing out of the people’s mouths about individuals following the Muslim faith makes angry and sick.  By focusing on that, you are taking away the real root of the problem: homophobia and way too much access to guns.

I wish I could say that this is the first shooting to affect me on a personal level, but it’s not.  And that makes me even angrier.

I remember sitting on the floor of my babysitter’s house as the news covered the tragedy at Columbine.  The image of the student climbing out of a second story window with bloodied jeans will stay with me until I die.  I was too young to process the fear and sadness I felt.  School was a safe place, school was a place for learning but now I would never look at school the same way.

I was scared to go my school for a week.

I was attending classes at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007.  My idyllic college experience was shattered when another individual (I refuse to name the shooter), who had no business with a gun, stole the lives of 32 Hokies.  So many lives cut short before really finding themselves, professors who guided and inspired.  I remember the fear of not knowing where my friends were, of messages sent but not replied to, of phone calls that would ring and go to voice mail.  Even typing these words, the pain and panic comes back.

That was supposed to be the end. It was the worst mass shooting in America’s history at the time. This was the event that was supposed push this issue to the forefront of Congress and something was going to done.  After all, we read and heard ‘our thoughts and prayers are with Virginia Tech’ and ‘Today, we are all Virginia Tech’ so that had to mean changes were coming, right

Weeks passed, and we still hurt but the world slowly moved on and the politicians who gained publicity from our grief were now conspicuously silent.  We have continued to mourn for nine long years and nothing has changed.

In fact, it has gotten worse.

My second year teaching we had a lockdown at my middle school. A sixth grader noticed one of his fellow students place a gun in a locker and ran to tell security.  The fear and pain came back as I sat with my middle schoolers against the wall and under desks, my body between them and the door, ready and waiting to spring up if needed.  ‘Are we going to be the next sad headline?’ shot through my head as we waited.

That student saved the life of every person in school that day, but that should not be the reality we live in, where an 11-year-old can find a gun that easily.

Then Sandy Hook happened.  Someone broke the news to me while I was teaching conjugations to my eighth graders and I had to step out of the room to compose myself.  Later that night I read the accounts of teachers who saved and tried to save their students and my heart bled again.  These too were my people and they were taken from me too soon.  Children, who are the future of the world, snatched away by a man wielding semi-automatic weapons he should have had no access to.

This time, I thought.  These were children!  Young children, who no one could blame from existing.  Young teachers had lost their lives in a career where that should never be a threat.  Now, we’ll see those thoughts and prayers turned into actions.

I remember the anger, the sadness, the shouts for change.  I remember them fading away as time went on and nothing changing.

Today, June 14th, is the 166th day of the year.  We have had more mass shootings than days in the year, the number sitting at 179 as of 11am. No other first world country has this problem.  Period.  You can do the research yourself and discover this fact easily.  Why is it here of all countries that changes never happen?  I know why, but I am one voice who can’t compete with the pockets being lined by the NRA.

I don’t want your fucking prayers.  I don’t want your fucking thoughts.  I don’t want any one-shot statuses on Facebook only to forget next week.  I don’t want one more moment of silence.  I don’t want to see another vigil.  I don’t want to watch another president give a speech about this kind of tragedy.

I don’t want to be murdered for my job, where I go to school, who I love.

Keep your thoughts and prayers and moments of silence and give me a world where I don’t have to live in fear of being part of the next mass shooting headline.

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.

This Checks on Resolution, Right?

This past weekend I had the privilege of being on staff for a RPTQ held locally.  I was very excited about it (I mean what’s better than getting to send players to the Pro Tour?) and went into the day hyped up about judging for the fifth time in six weekends.  Each new event I had learned something new and was looking forward to the knowledge the RPTQ would give me.  As it turns out, this one would teach me one of the hardest lessons every judge learns.

I started the day by running later than I intended.  While not late for call time, I arrived flustered because my day didn’t begin like I wanted it to.  This carried into my demeanor for the first hour or so as I could very easily be described as being spastic.  My excitement had morphed into simple nerves and it showed.  Some of it was the RPTQ being my first time judging a sealed event at competitive REL, some of it was the fact that it was a RPTQ at all (again, Pro Tour), but mostly it was my worry about working with three judges whom I had never worked with before in a very close setting.  The final nail in the coffin, so to speak, was judging with my local L3, Josh Feingold.  He has a reputation of forgetting more about magic than many judges ever learn and I didn’t want to make a mistake in front of him.

Problem is when you focus on making mistakes it puts you in the mindset of what you don’t want to do wrong instead of what you want to do right.

Sealed procedures went off smoothly.  I took a lot of calls clarifying numbers and initialing places where players made simple written mistakes.  It was honestly easy and gave me a good read of the mood in the room.  You could tell which players had opened good pulls and the ones who already believed that their chance for an invite slipping away.

The next three rounds went off smoothly.  I answered a few calls but they were all easy, with one even being solved before I got there because the players took time to reread the card.  I was judging with two other judges, both L2s, Jennifer Dery and Phillip Wulfridge.  They were friendly and answered all of my many questions as my nerves continued to grow.

Then in round four of six I get the call.  A player called for a judge and I quickly head over to answer the call.  He hid a card in his hand and tried to whisper something to me but I signal that we should step to the side so that I can better assess what he’s asking.  once we’re out of ear shot he shows me a Hanweir Militia Captain and asks me if it goes on the stack every upkeep and if it checks on resolution.

I’ll admit it: I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment and I didn’t correctly hear the first half of the question.  I glanced at the card and saw the if clause, the second question he asked fresh in my mind so I answered in the affirmative and the player moved back to his game.  I’ll admit a second thing; I honestly forgot that if clauses only go on the stack once the requirement has been met, not before.  When he walked away I was very unsure of my ruling but I felt like calling him back and asking for one of the higher level judges to also field the question would have wasted more time than necessary, especially if my doubts were wrong.

Lesson learned:  never let a player leave if you’re unsure.  Get clarification whenever you need it. Ask for help because that’s why the judge the system is in place.  We support one another and are there for clarification when our brains refuse to process information.

My uncertainty came back to haunt me a few turns later when a judge got called to the same match.  The player who asked me for a ruling was explaining what I said to his opponent and that player thankfully called a judge to explain things better.  I walked over to listen, my stomach dropping to lower than my feet.  Jennifer was the judge who answered the call and she explained things better than I did.  The player then requested a back up due to the incorrect ruling I had given and this got the head judge involved who went over to assess the situation.

I got to stand there while the player loudly (but not belligerently) explained what I had gotten wrong and that he’d made plays accordingly.  He then requested a back up to the point of casting the creature.  The head judge assessed the situation and rightfully ruled that a back-up could not be performed because too much had happened between the current game state and the time of casting Hanweir captain.  The player accepted his ruling and went back to playing but I could tell he was upset about the events and rightfully so.

I stepped away from the table and Jennifer Dery came up to check on me.  She asked if I wanted a hug, which I declined (at that point I might have started crying if she hugged me), and then explained that everyone makes this mistake at least once in their judging career and that it sucks but all you can do is learn from it and be better next time.  In fact, all the judges shared their own experiences with this situation, and it helped, but I still felt like the worst person in the room.

That feeling caused me to shut down for a good thirty minutes.  I wasn’t a good judge at that point; I just happened to be a person in a black shirt and black pants watching the room.  I even went to go hide behind the computer and input match results while I dealt with how poorly I was feeling (I would continue to use his as a crutch the rest of the event).

I know I can’t be perfect; no one can.  But I would be lying if I didn’t have thoughts about getting to level 2 without ever making a mistake.  I don’t like being wrong, especially when it can mess up someone else’s day when I am.  I am very hard on myself and in my head this mistake suddenly loomed over everything.  To me it seemed like I wasn’t worthy of being a judge anymore and I felt like everyone in the room now viewed me as unable to continue my job.

This may seem silly to you, but I tend to magnify any of my mistakes until they are all I see and that’s why I shut down on Sunday.  I’m not proud of my reaction but I am proud of what I did once I calmed down.  I asked my fellow judges advice on how to approach the player in question after my mistake and they all basically gave me the same advice: be genuine.  Own up to your mistake and apologize and clear up any other confusion the player may have regarding the situation.

I took a breath and, waiting for a lull in the match, I sat down next to the player who was waiting for his opponent to sideboard going into game three.  I asked if I could speak to him and he agreed.  The apology was hard but heartfelt.  Explaining my misunderstanding and owning up to my mistake lifted some of the gloom I was feeling and his reply lifted the rest (it turns out changing his play would’ve only given him one more turn).  I even thanked him for handling the situation with class and not getting irate while it would’ve been understandable to do so.

The rest of the day finished without a hitch and I got to be part of my first called draft and I also got to send some very excited players to the Pro Tour.  It was a nice way to end my day because the pure happiness the players expressed was infectious. Considering the location that this RPTQ was sending players, I would’ve been excited to win as well.

Overall, not my best showing.  I was more reserved because of the beginning bumps in the road and the unfamiliar judges I was working with.  By focusing on the negative feelings these situations gave me set myself up for a bad day.  I need to make it known that the judges I worked with did everything in there power to make me feel comfortable and included.  It was my personal feelings of insecurity that come with new people that colored my experiences and the events that happened.

I can only take this experience and learn from it.  You can believe I’ll never forget how intervening ‘if’s work again.