The Riki Rules – Makeshift Judgequin

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Monday, January 5th – The Judge seminars were all informative, with some good clean fun mixed in. The high point for me was during John Carter’s “Q&A with the New Judge Coordinator” seminar when Paul Smith from the UK asked Carter what he thought of my column. The response was pure gold: “As it turns out, Riki does in fact rule.”

Opening apologies to Frank Iramain for spelling his name wrong last week. He joins an illustrious and sadly growing portion of the Judge population whose names I have spelled wrong. Ironically, I actually caught two other misspelled names last week and had to send Craig a quickly edited version. Insert classic “[amused- Craig]” here. [Oh, if I must… – Craig, amused.]

Saturday started relatively late for me. I was scheduled for the midday shift on Public Events, so I think I strolled out of bed around 9 or 10am. It might be a bit shocking to hear about nine o’clock being “late.” ‘Tis the life of a Judge where over half of your Saturdays start obscenely early. I’ve gotten used to it thanks to my job, and sadly my cat is now on the same sleep cycle so she likes to wake me up for food even on my days off.

I showed up at the tournament site with several things on my agenda. One was to have a sit down with Pete Hoefling. This is always a huge pleasure for me when I hit the east coast events. Ever since our first meeting at Daytona Beach, Pete has always been very generous with his time, whether just shooting the breeze or talking business. (P.S. Ben Bleiweiss is no slouch to talk to either. At Atlanta he basically previewed his 11th Edition article to me and completely blew me away.)

While I was chatting with Pete, Steve Zwanger stopped by. I first met Steve at Grand Prix: Philadelphia last year (slowly getting used to referring to 2008 as last year), where he was the lone Scorekeeper for a truly insane number of players. As someone who dons the tools of ignorance (DCI-Reporter) myself, I respected the hell out of the job he did at that event.

The reason that Steve popped by to say hi, and the reason I tracked him down after concluding my chat with Pete, was to switch shifts with him. Leading up to the event I had one major goal in mind, to be a Public Events Shift Lead. The PESL is an unusual position that is only needed at Pro Tours. At GPs Public Events usually consist of the PTQ, a bunch of 8-mans, and one or two other specialty tournaments that might garner FNM-level turnouts. At a PT-caliber event, there will typically be 2-3 large tournaments (100+ players) going at any given time, twice as many smaller tournaments, and a dozen or more 8-mans firing constantly.

Each of these tournaments needs its own Head Judge. Floor Judges are typically shared based on geography and special needs. For example, lots of Judges will congregate to get each event started as large numbers of extra hands and eyes are needed for product distribution and/or decklist counting. One or two Judges cover the 8-mans. The PESL is the general of all this mayhem, assigning Head Judges and Floor Judges to individual events, moving them around as players drop and the needs of each event change, coordinating with Steve Port’s event staff, and pulling extra Judges out of thin air when all hell breaks loose.

Clearly, the Shift Lead is a very delicate position. A bad HJ can mess up one tournament. A bad SL can bring dozens of events crashing down with poor judgment and planning. Due to the complexity of the job, it is usually assigned to L3s or higher. I am, if nothing else, always looking to challenge myself and also thought that my organizational skills would suit me well in this position, so a few weeks before the event I sent an e-mail to overall HJ Toby Elliott volunteering for a Shift Lead. Understanding that it would be unusual to give such a position to an L2, I pulled out my ace and volunteered for the Judge dinner shift.

Ah, the Judge dinner. You’ve heard the stories before. Take every public perception you have of Judges and flip it completely on its head as the very tightly wound staff finally gets its chance to unwind. The HJ and the Judge Coordinator also take this opportunity to say thank yous and make important announcements. But the show must go on. Someone has to stay behind and keep the events running with a skeleton crew while the rest have fun.

I knew that volunteering for the PM Judge dinner shift would give me the best chance at achieving my goal of Shift Leading, both because it was unlikely that anyone else would volunteer for the shift and also because the night shift would be less staff intensive.

It was also, quite simply, my turn. Judging, by its very nature, is a sacrificial occupation. Despite how much I love it and see how much the people around me love it, I think every one of us would still rather be playing. In 2008 (there’s that last year again), I had the opportunity to attend three fantastic Judge Dinners at Hollywood, Berlin, and US Nationals. There are Judges who go through entire careers without being so lucky. So as I said, it was my turn to jump on that grenade.

Despite my best efforts, Steve Zwanger somehow ended up getting scheduled to be the PESL for the dinner shift, but refusing to go down without a fight, I wrangled up Steve on Friday night and told him that I would switch shifts with him on Saturday. I figured that with everything else going on, Toby had just forgotten about my request, as I’ve mostly gotten over my inferiority complex where I think that everything I do isn’t good enough for Mr. Elliott. The truth was far simpler than that; he did want me to run the dinner shift, but there had been a mix up as to whether the dinner was going to be on Saturday or Sunday. Presto, I was the night Shift Lead. Report back at 7pm.

Of course, things weren’t that simple. As I mentioned earlier, the PESL sometimes has to break the glass in case of emergency and the 2-Headed Giant event was just such an event. Expecting a turnout of around 60 teams, they got twice that many, and Gustavo recruited me to help get the tournament set up. He also pulled in half a dozen extra Judges from the Main Event, which is always overstaffed for professionalism.

If being an L2 Shift Lead was a mountain to climb, being the HJ of that 2HG tournament as an L1 might as well have been Mt. Everest for Claudia Nellessen from Germany. Twice the players. Twice the staff. Twice the success. There were a lot of Judges stepping up and doing impressive things that weekend. Claudia may have been the best of the bunch, navigating her way through that monster event. After helping her get the tournament up and running, I departed the floor for a couple of hours until my actual shift time came up, when Claudia was still managing things like a rock star.

Taking the PESL clipboard from Gustavo, I evaluated the needs of each tournament and kept coming up one or two Judges short for my staffing list, so I had to start poking around the midday shifters to see who might be willing to stick it out during the Judge dinner. I polled them all on how many dinners they had attended in the past and their willingness to stay. I wanted to make sure that I got all of the first-timers off my floor for sure, and I have to admit that I was also leaning towards letting people go who showed a willingness to stay because that is the kind of spirit that should be rewarded.

When I got to Naoki Umesaki, he was adamant about being allowed to stay, typical Japanese right there. But he made it a little more personal when he insisted that “If Riki-san is staying I must stay.” We had spent a lot of time together on Friday, working, eating at Texas de Brazil, and chatting after dinner, and I guess I had made quite an impression. In fact, most Japanese people I meet are quite impressed with my command of the language despite being a career American.

I insisted that Naoki had to go to dinner, while he practically begged to stay on the floor. We got into a rather standard Japanese bowing contest (“No, no, I insist”) where the goal is to bow more times and more deeply than the other person. Obviously given his vast experience, he won the contest. But I still had several secret weapons at my disposal.

Enter secret weapon number one, R. Jared Sylva himself. If you know “the Robot,” you know that he epitomizes hard work and sacrifice. At PT: Hollywood, we basically got into an Americanized bowing contest over who would stay and work while the other went to eat meat off of swords at Fogo. So as I was getting out-bowed by Naoki, Jared strolled up from the Main Event and asked if I need any help. Typical Jared, but perfect timing. Between the two of us, we were able to shame Naoki into leaving, and Jared went to go put his stripes back on.

I had traded one ridiculous martyr for another, and one who had already previously fallen on the sword for me. I wasn’t exactly happy about the turn of events. Enter secret weapon number two, Eric Shukan. Eric was the only L3 I had scheduled on my evening staff, so I put him as the replacement HJ for Claudia on the 2HG event, which still had well over 60 teams still in it.

It might seem weird that I’m talking about replacing an L1 with a highly experienced L3 and acting like there’s a huge problem. Well, there was. I had asked Eric how many Judges he would need to effectively manage his tournament and he told me three, less than half of the staff that had been on the event during the midday shift. The problem was that I only had two people available and they were both fresh volunteers. Every certified Judge on my staff was running their own show and I was patching holes with the L0 volunteers that had mercifully showed up. So Naoki, then Jared, was to be the sacrificial third Judge to work with Eric, until he came back to me with a good news/ bad news situation.

Bad news: The 2HG decklists were an absolute mess. Due to the lack of actual 2HG registration sheets, it takes 3 separate sheets for each team to register their pool, one for the entire card pool, and one each for their decks. Whoever had filed the decklists away had stapled the three pages together but hadn’t uniformly put one of the sheets on top. So the alphabetical folder had some filed by player A, others by player B, and yet others by the team that had registered the pool.

Good news: Due to the mess, Eric could not pull lists to do deck checks and only needed two guys. When Jared came back, I told him the situation and explained that his services would no longer be needed. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Jared, you did this for me at Hollywood. Get the hell out of here,” I said. Grenade fallen on. Debt repaid.

Having sorted that out and gotten all of the midday people out of there (save for Ben Bowers, which is a different story), I was now running with my final staff. Smooth sailing? Hardly. The Public Events TO Cedan Bourne waved me over to the stage. “Your 8-man guy is drowning,” he said. Uh oh.

After putting each of my certified Judges as the HJ of the five remaining tournaments, I was forced to put an L0 on the 8-mans, of which we probably had just over ten at that point. I organized my staff this way because the 8-mans tend to run themselves with few rules problems. It’s mostly just a difficult logistics job of finding places to seat the drafts, running around to get results and announce pairings, and hustling back to the stage when the staff tells you that another draft is ready to fire.

To be fair to my volunteer, Joe Dzuiba, the 8-mans were divided between two sections of tables separated by a wide walkway. That made it much more difficult that a normal event in terms of the pure distance that he had to cover to monitor all of the 8-mans. When Cedan gave me the bad news, I had zero additional personnel to spare. Suddenly I was wondering if I had made a mistake in letting Naoki and Jared go. In my vain attempt to show off how altruistic I was, I had cut myself down to the absolute minimum staff and had no leeway in case of an emergency like this.

My only recourse was to see if I had another L0 capable of running the 8-mans. The reason I had chosen Joe for the job was because he was a scheduled volunteer as opposed to a walk up, meaning he had some prior experience and/or preparation compared to the “Hi, I’m interested in judging” volunteers that we typically get throughout the day. Praying for a miracle, I approached Rob Stuart, an Australian who had been brought to me by Aussie L3 Lindsay Heming, the gothest Judge you will meet (second place Diane “Urchin” Colley).

“Tell me about your judging experience, Rob,” I probed.

“Well, I’m an L2, and I’ve—”

I interrupted him right there. Level 2? Somehow I had misunderstood Lindsay (I blame his thick Australian accent). Rob was indeed a walk up, but he was a walk up L2 looking for some experience and to meet some more American Judges having just moved to Boston. How lucky! I immediately did some staff shuffling, putting Rob as the HJ of the Legacy tournament, and moving Matthew Jones from Legacy to 8-mans.

But before I did, I had to be sure this would stick. “Can you handle this?” I asked Matthew. When he started to give me a typically fast affirmative, I stopped him. “I need you to think very carefully. Are you sure you can handle this?” He thought about it for five seconds, and when he said “yes” I knew everything would be fine. You just don’t think that long about something, say “yes,” and fail. And most importantly, when he got to somewhere in the area of 15 events, he told me he needed some help. Not only could he honestly assess the situation, he was willing to admit when he had reached his limit and ask for help.

To assist him, I had Ben Bowers just wrapping up the Top 8 of the PTQ. As I mentioned earlier, Ben was the lone holdover from the midday shift. He had been scheduled for the night shift, but like me he had been recruited early, so he was my first candidate to go home, which was why I had him on the PTQ I had inherited going into the Top 8. I let Ben take a short break before asking him to patch the 8-mans for one hour before leaving.

Things settled down after that as event after event wrapped up. The Legacy tournament. Wes Humenczuk’s Ravnica Block Sealed (a truly awesome format). The monster 2HG event. Then our final 8-man finished and all we had left was Mike Zimmerman’s Xbox Standard tournament. After that tournament ended, I headed back to the hotel lobby where I sat with Cedan and Marc Dudda from the events staff. They gave me a lot of great feedback, the stuff that I did right and a few things I could improve in the future. And I hope there is a future, because I truly felt in my element running things.

I slept in even later on Sunday, which was a laid back day of Judge seminars. I got a little bit of information about the Judge dinner from my friends. Three Judges were promoted to Judge Emeritus, Mike Guptil, Gis Hoogendijk, and Collin Jackson. Riccardo Tessitori was promoted to Level 5, Frank Wareman and Kevin Desprez moved up to Level 4 and Mitsunori Makino to Level 3. The best part about Mitsunori’s promotion was that he came up to me all excited and said, “I can now sign one of your Rule of Laws!”

The Judge seminars were all informative with some good clean fun mixed in. The high point for me was during John Carter’s “Q&A with the New Judge Coordinator” seminar when Paul Smith from the UK asked Carter what he thought of my column. The response was pure gold: “As it turns out, Riki does in fact rule.” The roflcopters went flying. Carter went on to explain that anything that made Judges relatable to players as human beings was a good thing. That’s been my goal from beginning, so it was good to get such a strong endorsement from the top.

Sunday night we had another rowdy gathering of Magic and Judges at TGI Fridays followed by lots of EDH in the hotel lobby. Eric Levine played a game of Werewolf (a variation on Mafia) with Richard Garfield, his daughter, and a bunch of R&D members and Judges. Apparently Mark Rosewater had Eric executed first because Eric had some kind of sick read on him. We went to bed unnaturally late, got up earlier than we would have thought possible, and got a ride to the airport courtesy of James Elliott, who has taken it upon himself to be the taxi service of the DCI, ferrying something like a dozen Judges to the airport. Eric and I had a horrendous time getting home. Our first flight to Minneapolis was delayed, so they put us on a flight to Atlanta, which was delayed, so they put on a flight to Los Angeles. When we finally got to San Francisco, our luggage, having gotten on the original delayed flight through Minneapolis, was waiting for us. And so ended the journey.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

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