Silvestri Says – Judge Retrospective

Instead of a normal end of year review, I want to take a moment and comment on my past two years of working in the judge program. My primary job over these past two years has been running tournaments at ChannelFireball’s Game Center. As a result, I’ve done somewhere in the range of 1000 events over my career. I feel this gives me a unique viewpoint that only a handful of other judges share, simply on the basis of volume.

One of the key differences between being an everyday judge and a weekend judge is how connected you are to your local player base. One of the keys is to not get too involved when your judge cap is on, because you can’t be biased.

Another major difference is burnout. No matter how good you are, at some point repetition takes its toll, and dealing with the same people and the same questions starts to tick away at your sanity. Eric Levine lasted the longest in his role as tournament organizer/judge ruler at ChannelFireball and did a good job of keeping a fair and reasonable stance with his players, but by the end of his tenure he was pretty much exhausted. I don’t blame him in the least, as a lot of the enjoyable parts of being a judge become rote and boring as time goes on. A lot of it has to do with interacting with the same people over and over again, as one bad day can set up a cascade of miserable interactions for the next month. While most players won’t care if they get annoyed at a judge at a random tournament, they will almost certainly say something to you or your boss if they know you’ll be there five days a week for the foreseeable future. This is something I observed but did not appreciate until I had done judging as a 9-5 job four or five days a week.

In simple terms, the amount of diplomacy you get to play while still enforcing the rules is a high wire act. I feel like too many judges write this aspect off and play their judge encounters just to get out of them as quickly as possible.

Here are the main six types of players I’ve encountered at the LGS level.

The New Guy

Self-explanatory. New guys always include a random factor in how knowledgeable they are about Magic and the rules in general. I’ve had 10-year old kids come in that caught on to everything by the end of the night, and I’ve seen people my age show up, fail to ask any questions, ignore all directions, misinterpret a lot of rules and get disqualified for rolling dice to determine a winner. It’s a mixed bag for sure, and the only hard and fast rule is always try and be patient with them when answering questions.

In the end you want your community to grow, so just try to keep an eye on them for the first few tournaments so they come back for more. At pretty much any respectable LGS I’ve ever been too, the regulars usually do a good job of being patient with the new guys.

RNG Is The Devil

These tend to be the guys who I trust least with anyone new to the store and I’ll try to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get too out of hand. I’m sure many of you know that feeling when the same guy complains about his horrible draws/mana/opponents’ bombs for the 12th week in a row. While you can engage with them, at some point your sanity will run out. I highly recommend setting boundaries when dealing with these players and occasionally pointing out their reputation so they cool down a bit.

Nobody wants to be That Guy, they just tend to fall into that role. I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with them over the past few years, though I’ll still occasionally indulge and point out all the mistakes they made in a game if they’ve whined too much to their poor captive audience.

Reasonable Human Beings

They come because they enjoy human interaction and playing tournament Magic. Bread and butter of most stores and tournaments.

The Regular

Usually falls under the above header, but there are definite exceptions where they feel like something is owed to them for being a member of the store. I’ve heard way too many stories from players who have gotten preferential treatment from judges or store employees. If you’re a judge and you need to investigate a friend or somebody you know, don’t assume that because you know this guy, obviously the opponent is full of it. It’s a terrible mindset to have and can bite you down the line if you want to judge competitive level tournaments.

EDH Player

Many that know me understand that I do not play EDH/Commander on a normal basis. I will occasionally pick it up if someone hands me a deck and I know the table, and even then I bow out if anyone starts taking five minute turns. However, I totally get why other people play it, and you can go crazy nuts if you enjoy it. There are also some really wacky board positions that can occur that make for some interesting judge calls at times. It helps that the majority of judges do enjoy the format, so they tend to relate well to these types of players.

Usually these players are pretty laid back when they do play in tournaments and I find they get along with the majority of players. There are two issues that have constantly cropped up over time though. The first is that players tend to get used to acting a certain way in an EDH game that has no business at a tournament table. This can be readily apparent in people’s attitudes when the usual social contacts are off the table and the only goal becomes winning. This rubs some the wrong way and they can take it out on people, though they really have no right to complain when both players signed up for the same tournament.

Wannabe Pros

See the Levine Trench for this.

You can be fine at Magic, rage at your bad beats, and not be a total jerk to your opponents at the same time. Honest!

Moving on, I want to clear up a few common misconceptions regarding judge roles.

Scorekeeper vs. Head Judge

Scorekeepers get to be the aloof grumpy ones of the judge group, largely because they have the thankless task of timed data entry, with problem fixer and makeshift programmer thrown in for good measure. The number of wacky tricks needed to make DCI Reporter and Wizards Event Reporter do what you want is kind of mind boggling. It’s something I take for granted now, but in the old days the completely unintuitive layout made it difficult to just add late players or make accurate draft pods.

Some of my favorite features/bugs of all time:

• Entering a player name with certain characters or spacing will cause it to revert to Unknown, Unknown in the system.

• For a long time fixed seating was basically broken in WER, when you unpaired players and repaired them, they would end up at an existing table. This would have unexpected consequences, ranging from random errors that only required hitting “OK” to solve to completely eating the tournament.

• Manually editing tournament files in Notepad to get around certain time/round bugs. Also to decrease registration time by manually splicing tournament entry files together.

• DCI-R Draft Pods with odd numbers of players, 45 being my all-time favorite since it splits every pod into 7-man pods. Why have something reasonable when instead we can make everyone suffer? Thanks DCI Reporter!

And so on… the important thing is that while the SK will interact with players and do their best to find and correct any match errors in a timely manner, they are ultimately responsible for seeing that the tournament concludes accurately at a reasonable time. This means they are sometime shielded from the player base, because they are often too busy to be bothered.

Head judges also want to see the tournament conclude at a reasonable time, but their priority list can shift toward making sure any TO needs are met, reviewing judges, handling appeals, and generally keeping the tournament running smoothly. When the tournament is run well and has a good staff, the HJ may as well not even exist except for appeals. When the tournament starts going to hell, the HJ will be the one that saves the day. Unless it’s a Reporter related mishap in which case the power and responsibility falls entirely on the SK.

So if you ever wonder why the guy sitting behind the computer seems to be ignoring you, it’s because he’s trying to make the tournament a fun and quick experience for everyone.

Three Things I’d like to See out of the Judge Program

First, an official training program for certain positions, better accountability, and a better way to teach certain aspects of the judge program, specifically GP/PT team aspects and scorekeeping in particular.

There is a dearth of competent scorekeepers and no good way to learn outside of watching and being taught by someone who is better. Since there are so few people that meet the high-end criteria required for 200+ tournaments, this is a particular challenge for many regions of the world. I understand the concept of shadowing and I’m happy that it works as well as it does, but sometimes you don’t have that option. You can learn so much from a simple two-hour focused course, and I’d love to see both implemented for positions in the future. Judge conferences are already very close to this and it wouldn’t take much to have a few useful training seminars.

Second, Judges need better work-to-pay ratio. Judges work ridiculous hours at larger events for pay that usually doesn’t match their specialist role at a tournament. Certain tournament organizers have been doing a better job by providing better incentives as of late. Frankly, TOs and Wizards should feel lucky they haven’t had to pay for twice as many workers in large part thanks to how resourceful and hard-working many judges are. It’s one thing when the incentives for judging an FNM aren’t very good and quite another when you’re given an important role in making marquee MTG events great.

Third, better channels for players, judges and TOs to give feedback on events, judges, and TOs. It’s just less confusing and easier to find ways to do it in public spots instead of hidden away behind DCI Center links that only a handful of people even know exist. As far as event feedback goes, there’s been some better communication in that regard with ptqfeedback@wizards.com and the wizards.custhelp.com site. I think it should be mandatory that this information be made public knowledge at Pro Tour Qualifiers, though. It’s a simple little reminder that these events will and should be evaluated by those who play in them.

I could go on and on about this, but it is the holidays and I imagine many of you have relatives to hide from and gifts to give. So I’ll leave off here and if there’s interest I’ll write a little more detail on the judging side in the future. Next week we’ll join the holiday spirit with a little Cube talk and go over Standard one final time before the new year. Happy holidays and Feliz Navidad everyone!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: josh.silvestri@gmail.com

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