Talk to any judge that’s been in the game long enough, and he will probably tell you that the experience of wearing the stripes has changed him. (The same applies to whatever you would call our new shirts. I don’t think anyone has come up with a cool nickname yet.) In every instance I’ve heard of, this change has been for the better, but what exact effect the experience has on the person will always vary.
I don’t want to come off like I think I’m special, but I do feel that my (almost) four years involved with the DCI has shaped who I am more than it has a lot of others. The main reason for that being my age.
I started judging while I was in high school, and am now waiting to turn 21. This age certainly isn’t unheard of in the judging world, but it is unusual at the Grand Prix / Pro Tour level. In fact, in ever GP and PT I’ve attended, with the exception of Seattle, I was the youngest Judge on staff.
So why am I talking about my age? Or my development as a person at all? Well it has a lot to do with my development as a Judge, which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. So I’m giving you the inside scoop into my insight. I’m going to go through my development in the past fifth of my life, which will give you an idea about how the judge program develops itself in more ways than just knowledge.
2004 — Darksteel Prerelease
Don’t worry, I know how to count, and I do realize this was more than 4 years ago. This event was actually my first interaction with a certified judge.
I was playing in the trios event, and was registering my first ever decklist. After I finished filling it out, I realized I had put my played cards in the total column, and the total cards in the played. I called for a Judge, and was approached by my (now) good friend, Mike MacPhee. I explained what happened, and, with a very straight and serious look on his face, he came out and said it.
I’m sure my jaw must have dropped to my knees, as he kept his composure for a few more seconds. Eventually, he broke down and started laughing.
“I love doing that.”
I got as much of a kick as Mike did out of this situation, and was glad to see that the event was being run by guys that knew how to have fun. I can’t stress how important it was for me to have my first experience with a judge be a pleasant one. Let that be a lesson to the rookies out there. When dealing with players, make sure you’re act friendly, even if you’re handing out a penalty. It makes a huge difference for the players.
2006 — BC Champs
Here, I am judging my first event. I’ll be honest, the main reason I was doing this was an attempt to score some free packs, which I didn’t even end up getting (more on that later)
Going into the event, I figured I would be on easy street. I’d been playing Magic for over 10 years, so how could I not know the rules? I was sure that I’d breeze through the L1 test and any questions that might come up. The really strange part about this is that I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence while I was in high school.
I’m sure you can guess how that day ended.
I was actually able to answer most of the rules questions that players had for me. For the ones I didn’t know, I double-checked with another Judge, so at least the event wasn’t jeopardized by my misplaced confidence. But I was only able to answer roughly half of the practice questions correctly from William Laycraft. In my pre-test interview with Jason Ness, I was only able to name 4 state based effects (now state based actions), and I got a lackluster 48% on my exam.
Speaking of William Laycraft, and Jason Ness, I can’t imagine a better pair of guys to welcome me to the judge program.
The most interesting experience for my first event was handing out my first penalty. A player had recorded a 14-card sideboard, and was getting a game loss for it. Since this was not only my first time judging, but also one of my first experiences with competitive events, the idea of a game loss was alien to me. I felt guilty handing out the penalty. All I saw was the mistake the player had made; I hadn’t even considered the advantage this player could gain from the error.
So the event came to an end, and I was expecting some number of packs. Jason informed me that since I was a new judge taking the test, he was treating me as a volunteer, and I wasn’t getting compensated this time.
How did I feel about this? I didn’t even care. Despite failing a test, and leaving with no physical objects in my hands, I was happy to do it, and was excited to have another go.
2007 — Future Sight Prerelease
I was coming to take my L1 test again, and after my dose of humility from my last event, I studied quite extensively. I went over all the documents, and took tons of practice exams. This time I passed with 78%, and yes, I was able to name every single state based effect. (Now state based actions!)
Judging a prerelease is a whole lot of logistics. Building sealed pools, handing out products, and a whole lot of garbage. Doesn’t sound like an opportunity that someone would jump at. Despite this event being less active than my last one, I still had a blast. I knew by now that judging was for me.
By now, I had been well informed of my greatest weakness. I was shy, quiet, and lacking in confidence. It doesn’t matter how good a judge you are, if you don’t possess these qualities, then you have something to work on. All these things can be overcome, but you have to work on it.
2008 — GP: Vancouver
Finally, it was my shot at the big leagues. When I applied to judge the GP, I figured that it was staffed entirely by the most elite individuals that the DCI had to offer, so I wasn’t expecting to be put on the staff. I now know that staffing for GPs is usually filled with lots of locals and judges of all levels, but at the time I was very happily surprised that I was going to a Professional REL event.
The event got an unfortunately low turnout, for which I blame Extended. For me, this wasn’t all bad, as all the high level judges at the event got to spend less time working, and more time mentoring the younger guys like me. Most of my feedback was business as usual
“Max needs to engage in conversation more.”
“Max needs to display more confidence.”
Same old, same old. I did gain a lot of useful knowledge and feedback though, so not only did I improve as a judge, but I also came to realize that there were people from all parts of the world that were more than happy to help me improve. I started to realize the real magnitude that was the judge program.
2008 — GP: Denver
This was my second GP, and my first time traveling for a Magic event. I was here to take my L2 test among other things, so this event was preceded by a whole lot of studying.
Other than the passing of my L2 test, this event was highlighted by an interesting event that has come up in one of my previous articles, but I’ll give a simple recap.
A player forgot to reveal a card for Wren’s Run Vanquisher, and I gave him a game loss for Failure to Reveal. HJ and then L4 Riccardo Tessitori, L4 Scott Marshall, L4 Jason Ness, and L5 Toby Elliot all assured me that I was wrong, and I wasn’t convinced. This was a great sign for me, as it demonstrated that my confidence was starting to grow. When you can debate with 17 levels worth of judge at the same time, then it means you’ve got some gusto. Of course, I was wrong, but I still took the moral victory.
At the end of the event, Riccardo came up and handed me a foil Zur the Enchanter, who I had told him in an email was my general. I asked him what he wanted in exchange, and he responded with…
“Just a smile.”
Yes, ladies and gentleman, Riccardo Tessitori is actually the nicest person in the world. He also was the first one to truly make me realize that I wasn’t just part of an organization… I was part of a family. It was a great moment for me.
2009 — Gottacon
A BC-based gaming convention that was running for the first time. Magic was just a portion of the event, so we had just a few judges. This was my first time Head Judging a large event as an L2.
At about 2am on Day 2, a player was being aggressive with one of my L1s who was relatively new to the game. The guy was (and still is) a great judge, but when you’re rather new to the whole experience, a player being overly aggressive with you can really throw you off, and stopping conflicts can be very difficult, especially when they are centered around you.
I not only knew I had to stop this guy for the good of the event, but I was angry that he was acting in such a disrespectful to someone that I considered a pupil. Afterwards, I reflected on the situation, and I came to a realization: the judges I trained were like my children. That is in no way meant to sound creepy or condescending. I just want to stress that I was really starting to care about the judges that I mentored, on more than a professional level. These people are a part of the family that I’m in, and I felt the need to protect and help them in their time of need.
2009 — Pro Tour: Austin
This was my second PT, after Honolulu in June, but I bring this one up for two reasons. I had always judged well at past events that I traveled to, but never quite as well as I normally judge at Vancouver events. Austin changed all that. It took 14 months, but I now feel completely at home while judging on the road, and it makes events a whole lot more fun.
Another big thing that happened in Austin was the promotion of Carlos Ho, and Ingrid Lind-Jahn, and the amazing reception they got. It was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever seen, and showed me what a fantastic thing it can be to be a regular judge on the Pro Tour.
2010 — Gottacon
I’m glad that I was able to trade weeks with David, as it means I got to include the second annual Gottacon that I was once again Head Judging. I had at least six players come up to me and thank me for doing such a great job. At dinner, I even had one of my locals offer to buy the entire judging staff a drink, which I thought was too awesome. The connection that I was making with some of those players gave me my most recent revelation. The judges aren’t the only ones involved in this family. I realized that my fellow judges are more like my older and younger brothers and sisters, whereas the players are more like the children, in the sense that judges are there to take care of them and keep them safe. Together we make up not just a Judge family, but a Magic family.
I know it’s cheesy. I don’t care, because I know it’s true.
Until next time, stay out of the penalty box.