FINAL JUDGEMENT: Meet the Judges

Who are these strange men, these Level 4 people who make strange rulings in distant lands? Sheldon provides a handy introduction.

There are but a handful Level 4 or higher Judges in the DCI. Level 4 is the plateau that many strive for and few reach. From their depths of the rules knowledge to their breadth of tournament experience, these are the best of the DCI’s best. Some of them you know, some of them you don’t. This week, I’m going solve that problem.

We have to start with the only active Level 5, DCI Tournament Manager Jeff Donais. If you don’t already know Jeff, you don’t know high-level Magic. If you want to get inside Jeff’s skull a bit, take a peek at Ferrett’s most excellent interview with His Holiness HERE. What’s most remarkable about Jeff is his dedication to the folks that come to work major events. He makes sure that at least once (a majority of the time, more often) during each event, he takes all the Judges — from the most renowned internet writers to the most junior Side Events workaholic — out to dinner. You haven’t spent an evening out until you’ve spent one with Jeff Donais. One way or another, you’ll never be the same. When he’s not holding court at a major event, Jeff likes romantic walks on the beach, kittens, and tearing up foil rares.

The guy whose name has been in the news most recently is the prodigal Collin”You ain’t cheatin’ here” Jackson, who laid the judicial smackdown on the miscreants at US Nationals. Collin is one of the foremost rules experts in the world, challenged only by DCI Rules Manager Paul Barclay (and an unnamed hunchbacked Latvian savant with four eyebrows who can recite the Comprehensive Rules forward, backward, and skipping every other word). Collin, who had attained Level 3 by the age of fifteen, has just finished his freshman year at Yale (or is it the DeVry Institute of Trucking? I always get them confused).

For my money, the best Level 4 in the world right now is Mike Donais, who is also a member of the Wizards of the Coast R&D team. Mike holds the perfect balance between maintaining the integrity of the DCI and the marketing necessities of WotC as a whole. What makes Mike most remarkable is that he is overcoming two handicaps that would debilitate a lesser man: First, he’s Canadian. Second, he’s Jeff Donais’ brother. Helen Keller didn’t have it so rough, yet Mike has come through with aplomb. I salute you, sir.

Some people say that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand the Magic rules; Dan Gray is proof that that might not be true. A NASA technical writer, Dan is credited with being the first Judge to ever say,”Shut up and stop arguing with me, or I’m going to kick your butt from here to Boise.” A long-time rules guru of the first order and net rep, Dan is also a major tournament organizer on the West Coast. His favorite games are Pai Gow and Chicago Cubs baseball — where .500 is about the best you can hope for.

Speaking of major TOs, Mike Guptil, proprietor of Professional Event Services, rules the northern tier roost from the suspiciously-named Clinton Township in Michigan. I’ve only had the opportunity to work with Mike once (PT Chicago ’99) because he’s taken a little time off from major events recently to start a family. Obviously generous to a fault, it was Mike who picked up the tab for the big white stretch limo ride for ten of us from the hotel to Gino and Georgetti’s. We had a great meal, and from what I’ve heard, it’s supposed to be one of the best steakhouses in America. It’s also the kind of place where the well-dressed must check their shoulder holsters at the door.

Legendary R&D member Mark Rosewater is also credited with being a Level 4 Judge. Author of such flavor text as”Sorry we burned down your village, here’s some gold,” Mark is likely to be found at the Feature Match area of the Pro Tour. It’s Mark (sometimes with a hand from Randy Buehler) that chooses which pairings go into the Feature Match pit. An indefatigable conversationalist, Mark is also the creator of the”Red Zone” play mat and the ever-popular”Question Mark” series.

Rounding out the North American Level 4s is Massachusetts native Nat Fairbanks. If you’ve ever seen Nat, you’ll understand why no player has ever argued one of his rulings. Like Mr. Guptil, my experience with Nat has been limited. I’ve only worked two events with him (PT London ’99 and PT Chicago ’99). I will say that I enjoyed his spirited conversation over English ales.

The only Level 4 in the southern hemisphere is Australia’s Chris Zantides, who is currently the DCI Policy Manager. Chris is commonly regarded as the most well-dressed of high-level Judges, though I think he made some fashion mistakes last year in Brussels. It was mostly due to his luggage getting sent to Cleveland, but still…Who wears rayon? Chris is a gentleman of the first order, which is something to be said for someone who comes from a place that started out as a prison, where the toilets swirl the other way, and where the kangaroo is the species with the highest average scores on college entrance exams. Chris expressed to me a distaste for the popular Australian food stuff”vegemite.” After he told me what it is, I can’t say as I blame him.

Leaping to Europe, we find the smallest of all the Level 4s, Frenchman Cyril Grillon. It would actually take five Cyrils to make one Nat Fairbanks. Cyril currently resides in Belgium, employed by the WotC European office. Cyril, whose name is pronounced”surreal,” is one of the kindest, most gentle souls you’ll ever meet.

Poland boasts long-time Level 4 Jakub Wysoczanksi. Jakub doesn’t get to make it over to the States much, but he’s a powerful presence in Europe. He’s known for always bringing a great gift that he shares with all his Judge friends — high-octane Polish vodka. Trust me, the Russians are second best.

Although he’s not listed on the worldwide Judge locator, England’s (and WotC UK’s) Carl Crook is one of the original Level 4s. Carl is probably the non-North American Judge with the most professional event experience. Another gentle giant, Carl is known to have an unnatural fondness for Cyril (personally, I think they make a cute couple, but I don’t think Cyril agrees). It was Carl that taught me a great deal of what I learned in the early days, for which I’m eternally grateful.

Last but certainly not least is Denmark’s colorful Thomas Bisballe Jensen. Thomas is a trendsetter in the field of having a good time, having broken several records for gaiety during Berlin’s 1999 Love Parade, which happened to coincide with the second-ever European Championship. An engaging storyteller, Thomas is a solid and steady Judge, and an anchor for the Judge Certification Program in Europe.

These are the world’s Level 4 Judges, the DCI’s elite. To a man, they are exemplary representatives for the DCI, and Magic as a whole. I find the game very safe in their influential hands.

And that’s my Final Judgement.

Sheldon K. Menery