Embracing The Chaos – Days In The Life Of A Worlds Head Judge

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Thursday, December 3rd – When Pete asked me to come back to StarCityGames.com to write this column, it was clear that it was primarily to be about EDH. I asked him what I could write about, and he said “anything.” I’ll stay Magic-related, and tell you about what it’s like to be the Head Judge of a World Championships.

When Pete asked me to come back to StarCityGames.com to write this column, it was clear that it was primarily to be about EDH. I asked him what I could write about, and he said “anything.” I’ll stay Magic-related (since I’m sure no one but me would find my thoughts on, say, counterpoint in old English keyboard music, or how comedy is a nearly-dead art, interesting), and tell you about what it’s like to be the Head Judge of a World Championships.


Normally for non-U.S. shows, I fly in the day before to try to get a handle on the jet lag. In this case, we (that’s me and Gretchyn, my wife) had some months back found a cruise leaving Venice and arriving in Rome (well, Civitavecchia, about 40 km away) on the day that I needed to be there. We had gotten lucky with Princess having a 2-for-1 deal on the cruise. I would hesitate to pay full price for it, but half off, it was a no-brainer. Plus, there’s nothing like twelve days in the Med to get you relaxed enough to face the largest-ever judge staff at the largest-ever Worlds Main Event. Side note: if you have the chance, see the amazing Pompeii and Ephesus.

We put into port very, very early in the morning, and were off the ship by about 10am. Fellow L5 Riccardo Tessitori, who lives in the Roman suburb of Frosinone, came to pick us up for the hour-ish ride into the city. While it would have been great to spend some time in Rome with the woman I love, it was straight to work. I hit the 1pm staff meeting, where show manager Witney Williams ran down the specifics of this particular venue. It was a beautiful site, as I hope you saw from some of the photo coverage, but it was laid out somewhat unusually for us, with the Main and Public Events halls separated by about 30 meters, and the latter being on two floors, so after the introductions (while there are some core folks from WotC and the judge community as most every show, there are also new folks each time) the entire staff did a walking tour of the place.

After checking in on the folks at Public Events, which had opened at 2pm, DCI Tournament Manager Scott Larabee and I went through the judge kit to make sure everything we needed was in there. It’s easy to overlook some of the material logistics that go into a show, but we have to make sure we have everything needed for all four days, such as three sets of table numbers (one for the individual competition, one for the teams, and one for the draft), stamped draft product, deck lists (each draft at a professional event has its own color-coded deck list), basic lands, pens, score pads, sleeves for the players, and administrative tools for the judge staff, like paper cutters, rubber bands, and folders. It’s hardly glamorous, but it’s part of what we do.

We had some Level 5 meeting stuff to do in the afternoon, so I sat briefly with Riccardo and the other L5, Toby Elliott, whose wife Jen was also in attendance, and had gotten together with Gretchyn to poke around Rome while we were working on the future of the DCI. I had hoped to get a little rest in, but this meeting and that went straight into the high-level dinner, which always sounds like it’s going to be loads of fun, but ends up being more of an excuse to get everyone together to meet some more. The meal, at the Taverna di Porta, some 100 meters away from the front of the site (and a place we’d return frequently during the weekend) was pretty good, and the wine selection was most excellent. I was sitting across from L4 and fellow wine geek Seamus Campbell, so we dove into the list, eventually selecting a Super Tuscan from Antinori (2004 Pian della Vigna). It was a little young, but still well worth drinking.

Dinner ended, and folks were itching to play some EDH, but there was a small problem for me. Unlike most shows, where the WotC staff and the sponsored judges are all at the same hotel, we were split in Rome due to the size of the hotels near the site (simply not enough rooms). Unfortunately for me for the play of EDH, I was at the staff hotel and everyone else at the judge hotel. Since it was already late, I figured that sleep would be more worthwhile (I actually just typed “better,” but then went back and corrected myself, since there’s little that’s better than playing EDH with a group of friends late into the night). Responsible choices ftl.


Day 1 of the event, and most of my work is actually already done. One of the jobs of the HJ is to schedule the entire judge staff – both for the Main Event and Public Events. It’s a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to make sure everyone, especially on a staff of 103, gets ample opportunity to work, learn, and enjoy all at once. After all, we’re all volunteers, and I’d hate for someone’s volunteer time to be drudgery. The schedule consists of four shifts: one for the Main Event, and three different ones (AM, Mid, and PM) for Public Events. Public Events gets three shifts since they start early and run much later than the Main. There is usually a L4 or senior L3 shift leader at Public Events, and they manage the day’s staff, although I had in advance assigned the Head Judges of the scheduled tournaments, like the PTQs. I figure it’s better for someone to know they’ll have a leadership assignment beforehand than just showing up to “Surprise! You’re HJing a 300 player PTQ – now!” This is especially valuable for formats like Legacy or Vintage, where a HJ might need a little refresher course before diving in.

There are also leadership assignments for the Main Event, which is broken down into teams: Deck Checks, which is obvious; Paper, who is responsible for hanging pairings and standings and distributing results entry slips; and Logistics, who is responsible for everything the other teams aren’t. I decided to try something slightly different here. Normally, there are two deck check teams. Given that we had a relatively large staff, I went instead with three checks teams, rotating one team off each round, so that there were still two teams doing checks and the third team was covering the floor or helping out wherever required.

One note from the Standard portion, and a trend I hope continues: There were zero penalties given out for decklist errors. This made me very happy. Giving players a few extra minutes before we collected the decks (not to mention reminding them to make sure their counts came to 60/15) paid great dividends.

The day went mostly smoothly until the high-profile DQ late in the day. I’m not going to go into too many details, but I will tell you it wasn’t a decision taken lightly, nor was it a decision I made without consulting some very smart people. Ultimately, it was my call, and I accept full and complete responsibility for the decision, but I think it’s an interesting side note for you to know that I’ve never DQ’d a player at a professional event (that’s PTs, Worlds, and GPs) without consulting at least two other high-level judges or DCI tournament officials. The idealist in me would be happy to never again need to DQ someone, but the practical side can’t shrink from it when it’s warranted.

Almost immediately after we were done, we went into a “seminar” that we’ve done the last two events called “Meet the L5s.” It’s where the L5s in attendance sit in a panel and field whatever questions folks throw at them, from personal stuff to the future direction of the program. It’s a nice opportunity to be able to talk about the concerns judges have about the program, and even nicer to be able to get to know them better. We’ll continue to do this at each Pro Tour, and although I suspect many of you non-Judges might get bored, you’re all welcome to attend. If you’d like deeper insights into the Judge Program and its people, come on down!

We hung around afterward for a few and did some business, but by that time, Gretchyn and Jen were chomping at the bit for dinner, which we had promised them an hour earlier. We grabbed the last remaining folks in the auditorium – Seamus, Scorekeeper extraordinaire Nicholas Fang, the Larabees, and Finland’s most excellent L3 Johanna Virtanen – and headed out. Again there was good Italian food (which, in Italy, they just call “food”) and wine. I know there was EDHing after, but it was back to the room for me, since the wakeup call was coming early.


It’s important to me when I HJ to set a positive example. I think the person in charge should come in earlier and leave later than everyone else. Since I’d rather spend my time while other folks are there taking care of them, I show up about an hour early to make sure all the paperwork and whatnot is done. Apparently, the people opening the hall hadn’t gotten my memo. The good news is that there was a café across the piazza from the venue, and I had some delicious cappuccino and a nice pastry.

Draft day is a bit more of a logistical challenge than Constructed, since there are different table settings for draft and construction. We used the rectangular tables to both draft and build, and I have to say that I’m a bigger fan of the round draft tables. I get that it’s more expensive and logistically difficult to have them, but for one thing, at the rectangular tables, players seem like they succumb to the temptation to peek more often. I’d love to find some cost-effective, efficient anti-peeking device for drafts.

The day went mostly smoothly, to the point where I could step away (although still nearby, in case they needed me—which, of course, happened) and sit with Toby, Riccardo, Judge Manager Andy Heckt, and Judge Emeritus and European Organized Play Manager Gis Hoogendijk, and have a deep discussion about the Judge Program’s Future. The program has moved into a more mature phase of its development. In days gone by, we were happy to survive and do good events. Today, we have the opportunity to do much more for both the players and the judges. We’re working on initiatives that will help us continue to run world-class Magic tournaments at all levels of play while providing some value-added services to everyone in the DCI, player and judge alike. The discussions involved things like organizational pillars and defining global responsibilities—mostly it’s planting trees that I hope you’ll see the fruits of very soon.

The day ended a bit ahead of schedule, which made me very happy. I had actually had very little time to socialize with my dear friends Riccardo and his wife Cristiana, and had barely seen my wife since Wednesday. Riccardo and Cristiana took us to a Calabrese restaurant (Calabria is the region of Italy down in the boot; it’s the part of the toe that’s kicking Sicily) somewhere in the city. They served a dish called (I hope I have it spelled correctly) nduja, which was basically a creamy shredded pork sausage in a very spicy sauce. I absolutely loved it. There was other food too, but nduja was the star.

By the time we made it back through Rome’s traffic (which was thick, even late on Friday evening), it was time to turn in. Gretchyn was catching a very early flight back home, and I’m apparently turning into an old man who has to be in bed at a decent hour.


Once again, it was in early (although I’ll confess that I lingered over the cappuccino and pastry) to prep for the day. I reviewed the day’s judge assignments and started writing notes for review. Reviews are an important part of the judging process, since they remind folks of the good things they did over the weekend and hopefully also identify any areas for improvement. Judge reviews are definitely not a grading system, but a method for helping folks be the best they can be.

Team day has always been my favorite at Worlds because of the spirit it evokes. We have little flags for each member of the team, and they carry them to the tables while they’re playing their matches. Even though the players are competing, there is just feeling to the room that’s fun and interesting. I also like the three-format layout. Drafting would be interesting, but it’s obviously terribly time-consuming. Maybe I’ll suggest a draft as the team final for an upcoming year.

Saturday ended more than an hour behind schedule due to a little administrative issue dealing with our host nation that had to be resolved to make sure the players who were getting paid got paid. It was mostly just a paperwork deal, and I’m sure it irritated the players, who were thankfully very understanding about the whole thing.

Unfortunately, finishing late put the kibosh on anything other than eating and sleeping. I went with the Larabees and the world’s other best scorekeeper, Federico Calò, and his wife Fiorella to a restaurant a block down from the hotel. Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed. Fortunately, when we asked them what they could do for us, and they put together a few meat and cheese trays, cooked up the last of their pizza dough like it was foccaccia, and opened a few bottles of wine. It was seriously one of the best meals I had all weekend. It was simplicity defined, and the company didn’t hurt in the least.


Sunday is generally (and thankfully) the least interesting day for a Worlds Head Judge. After setting up to make sure that everything is going to work right, like putting highly-qualified people in important places, the only thing to do is watch in case it doesn’t. Fortunately, there were no issues with any of the Top 8 matches, and it was an easy day. Unlike a Pro Tour, there were the added Team Semis and Finals, which added to the length of the day. We ended up leaving the hall heading for Judge Dinner with no time to return to the hotel to change (which is why you’ll see me in pictures from this one either still in my HJ shirt or my lucky Sunday RTFC T-shirt.

The perfect exclamation point to the weekend, Judge Dinner is where we have the opportunity to really let down our hair, and enjoy the company of our fellow judges. I sat with Japanese L3 Takeshi Miyasaka, a Japanese judge named Daisuke (whose last name I didn’t get) who was actually a player at the event and L4 Jason Ness. Jason, Miyasaka-san, and I shared a few bottles of Antinori Tignanello, one of my favorite Tuscan wines while chatting about everything and nothing in particular. After dinner, I mingled around the room a bit and shared in the new judge tradition of wearing silly hats (a habit traceable to one L4 Carlos Ho, of Panama, recently of Spain).

The best part of the evening is always the recognition and celebration of folks who got promoted over the weekend. Big props to new L3s Nico Glik from Spain, and Ute Kronenberg and Jens Strohaeker from Germany, and new L2 Claudia Nellessen, also from Germany. Well-deserved all. A good weekend for our Teutonic friends. There were some other awards and recognition, speeches, celebrations, and thank yous for jobs extremely well done, and finally, good-byes.


Got up extremely early, and spent the next 17 thankfully-uneventful hours getting home. It was a great event, with just a few bumps in the road. The major downside from my perspective was that I played zero EDH all weekend. We’ll have to correct that for Pro Tour: San Diego.

Next week, I’ll tell you how Hazezon Tamar helped me Embrace the Chaos on my return to the Armada Games EDH League. See you then.