When I first ran Magic events they were for Dorian Redburn nee Anders and I’d get a fist full of packs and a lunch for a day of judging.  I referred to it as my “moonpie” compensation scheme and I did that until I certed officially as a Level 1 judge.  I quickly got to L2 after an active 10 month period and have been there since and at most events, I get between a box and two boxes of product a day which comes out to about $8 an hour and is unimpressive overall but is enough to justify burning days and destroying feet to do it, until today.

I was asked by Cyborg 1 to run a GPT this weekend so I suited up in my black judge duds and black market suspenders to run an event of probably 30-50 people, possibly on the upper side if history proved true.  A total of 12 people showed and I couldn’t bring myself to accept full compensation so I offered to be paid entirely in whatever snacks from the store I could consume.  Here I was, with 12 people, not really having to answer any rules questions, vastly overdressed compared to those walking in and out, staring into the middle distance unable to bring myself to just read something, and eating moonpies.

I’ve come full circle.  I’m getting out.

Our report time was 8:00 AM, all of us, that is which is something I’d never encountered previously at a GP.  We stared blankly into the middle distance while sorting basic lands (something that I think should be included in judge exams) and listening to how the task assignments for the day would have the constancy of a desert rain puddle.  For a few brief periods, I had a judge candidate/judgeling/level zero to proctor and I began working my magic.  Most judges go over rulings with protojudges, I focus on more prosaic concerns.

Me: The three most important questions you’ll ever receive are “where are the bathrooms”, “how much time is left”, and “uh, what does this card do”.  Most of the time you’ll be answering the first two so don’t feel bad if you don’t know the last one occasionally.
Judgeling: So rules knowledge isn’t important?
Me: No, it’s very important for a tournament, but you don’t need to be the expert all the time.  That’s like expecting a librarian to memorize rather than locate books.   It’s important to have your docket of speeches prepared.
Judgeling: Like what?
Me: When I start a booster draft I introduce myself “hi, my name is Terry Robinson and I’m a level two judge from Philadelphia.  I do two things: run 8-mans and screw up judge calls.  Remember that before you raise your hand.”
Judgeling: I think I understand, do you have any other advice?
Me: Wash your judge shirt inside out to reduce wear on the logos.

I was flattered when my name came up during his interview.  I don’t know in what context, but I still felt good.

Before going to bed last night I popped in the ear plugs and I didn’t hear anything from my room mate, even after I took them out.  Seems like we both discovered that his snoring is tied to his posture so what he fell into bed and went to sleep, that was a snore-free position.

My job for the day was PM public events meaning that I ran something on the order of 14-18 8-person events like booster drafts but I had my expectations set high by the fact that the morning crew who arrived at 9 left at 3 after breaks giving me the expectation that I’d have a glorious six hour day.  At around 5:30 I politely asked when the PM crew would be released and the coordinator said “the hall closes at 2 AM but we’ll cut off events at 8 PM”.

Me: So, the morning crew worked 5.5 hours and got a break and we’ll be on for 10 hours or more?
Him: *pause* Yes.

Normally, I’d be mad, but I respected the coordinators look of “this man is right and I can lie now and be hated later or be right now and be hated briefly”.  After a bit of thought I realized that the GPT and PTQ crews would also be hosting long days so I shifted my internal victim to the chorus of internal homunculi mocking the weakness of the AM crew.  The evening plodded on and the tenor of the evening improved when all the uptight judges got punch-drunk and accidentally smiled.  At one point during the PTQ finals a judge I had previously called Sgt. Sunshine broke into a panegyric in praise of the teamwork element of high school basketball and there was a brief discussion of beer prices at different sports complexes.  At around 11 PM I had hit my limit and asked to leave.  The organizer thanked me and asked me to get something for him from the judge area.  I parted the curtains and was met with a feast of Italian takeout.  Few things fight fatigue better than chicken Alfredo with bacon.

Finally, I made peace with an “enemy”.  Yesterday, I asked my car mate to go to dinner, he mentioned that he was going to eat with another judge.

Judge 1: Hey, can I bring someone to eat with us?
Judge 2: Sure, that should be fine, who is it?
Judge 1: Terry.
Judge 2: Oh… We don’t have enough food for him.

Today we talked:

Him: So why does it seem like I’m always insulting you?
Me: Well, say there’s a 1 in 5 chance of you accidentally insulting someone and you define a “bad series of interactions” with 3 mess ups.  There’s a 1 in 125 chance that you’d blow your first meeting with a person.  There were about 60 judges here so it’s a coinflip as to whether or not you’ll alienate someone at a GP.  I just happened to be that person.
Him: That is the most bullshit usage of probability I’ve ever heard.
Me: Thank you.  I’ve been practicing.

The GP started well and my judge team members were unremarkable allowing the day to move quickly with rounds usually shorter than 75 minutes.  We received fewer players than our maximum capacity so we didn’t need to break up into zones of any sort letting me linger with the losing players who are often an interesting combination of funny and angry.  One the one hand, someone has to lose.   Just as with professional tournaments, even if everyone there is amazing, someone will lose.  On the other hand, there’s usually a reason that people are so bad and the more I lingered at the back the more obvious this became.  Here are three examples:

##Warning Magicspeak ahead##

  1. Two players sit down to play a game and player A leads off with a Cabal Therapy naming “Vampire Hexmage”.  The other player reveals his hand to show two and discards them and then yells “we’ve never played before, what are the odds that you’d pick my combo piece?!”  I scanned the play surface for something suggesting shenanigans and saw that the exasperated player had two foil Merit Lage tokens in sleeves on top of his deck box.
  2. Player A leads off with a Leyline of the Void and player B is effectively toast in that he’s playing Dredge.  Player A drops two Dark Confidants who swing for a total of 8 but that hit him for 16 life from reveals.  Player B gets two Narcomoebas into play, Player A attacks and blocks the two Confidants… I’d consider this a mis-play but player A snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by playing another Confidant and reveals a Leyline and Force of Will on the next two turns causing him to die.
  3. Player A gets out Leyline of Lightning from his opening hand.  Player B smiles and Pithing Needle’s it first turn.  You’re so good.

The current judge shirts aren’t available in my size and when I asked why the response was “they were made in Europe”.  So, on the way to Columbus I stopped by my mother’s house who’d volunteered to sew the appropriate patches in place.  I received my patched shirt and drove to Delaware to pick up my co-pilot.  The ride started out dull enough until we got to Lancaster whereby the driving became “old timey” and we were passed by horse-drawn wagons.  I’m still not sure why, but there was a section where everyone seemed to be driving on the shoulder with the center two lanes being entirely clear of traffic.  We again hit traffic in New Stanton and made it to Columbus two hours after my target time.

I went to the event venue to meet my room mate, gave him a key, and went to bed happy in the fact that my last-minute arrangement would cut the price of my stay in half.  These feeling ended when I discovered my room mate snored liked a buzz saw.  Normally this is just hyperbole but I’ve never encountered someone who was able to have a single snore extend for such time.  As an experiment, I synced my breathing with my room mate and his snore nearly outdid my breath.  The sound had that timbre that pops up when something is slowed down; maybe this was the snoring equivalent of whalesong.  I only got about 4 hours of sleep but added a new To Do item: get earplugs.

This weekend will hold GP: Columbus at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.  GPs (short for Grand Prix) are large Magic: The Gathering tournaments open to the public which often have days of play in excess of 10 hours.  These events span two days and require dozens of judges to run, additionally, these are days largely consisting of walking and standing.  I’ve done six or seven such things before and while I’d call them neither awesome nor horrible I wouldn’t consider them “fun” in the traditional sense as I could achieve more joy through most other endeavors.   GPs help me keep contact with other judges, sharpen my skills, interact with players at a different scale, and let me see how other organizers run events and this learning easily justifies the time.

A few weeks ago, introductory notes started going out about who the judges were and in reading them I found two patterns.  New judges said things like “I look forward to having fun” and experienced judges focused on things like “I like knitting”.  Another common thread was new judges seemed to hope the event would break a size record, some of the more experienced ones simply hoped it broke the 1400 person barrier for the judge compensation to increase.

The Pre-Release

There were 130 people at the West Chester pre-release, there were 71 people at Cyborg 1’s.   The event was dull.   Two kids were applying to be judges and I ran into a recurring phenomenon of “I know the rules and have no friends, I want to be a judge”.  These types of applicants flounder through their first event as they have no idea how to approach players and haven’t played at enough events to know.  I’m an event and experience judge, not a rules judge (although I know the rules as well as I need to).  At the end of day we did a review of how the judges did and the other proctoring judge and I compared notes.

His List:

  • Did not have full knowledge of how layers worked
  • Did not know differences between characteristics and abilities
  • Not familiar with penalty guidelines

My List:

  • Did not push in chairs or pick up trash
  • Did not smile when approaching players
  • Did not find jokes funny

Thoughts on M11

Quite simply I hate M10 and M11 from a flavor standpoint.  Every Magic set has a story to tell with unique cultures and plots and antagonists and heroes and M-series core sets write over this with a broad brush of generic fantasy.  Flavorful cards that drip with lore and involvement with the narrative are washed away with crap you could find in “AMAZING TALES #19” or some other beige-box malarkey.

Example:  Bloodthrone Vampire

Rise of the Eldrazi Flavor Text: Some humans willingly offered up their blood, hoping it would grant the vampire families the strength to stave off the Eldrazi.

M11 Flavor Text: “The underclass often forget that they are not tenants, or servants, but property.”

The M11 text is pure drivel and references to “underclass” and so on are shortcuts taken by the lazy who can’t convey the idea otherwise.

One area where I’ve always respected Magic’s creative team is that they don’t waste terms.  The very first set included Pearled Unicorn,Thicket Basilisk, and Scathe Zombies setting the template of “adjective + creature” as the naming convention for the game.   M10 and M11 destroy this and we wind up with crap like Crystal Ball (<Scrying Sheets), Stone Golem (< Limestone Golem) and generic verb spells.  Ugh.

Tournament layouts have an almost fung shui-like ability to manage the gestalt of an event.  This venue was arranged in a pattern I call the “Vanishing Sunset” whereby the rows start out nicely spaced and start bunching up at one gets to the back of the room were table 1 was situated.  Row 1 was simply not navigable by a man of my size and was more akin to low COPE activity where everyone has to sit down at once rather than a Magic tournament.  Row 2-4 had an interesting spacing whereby I could fit down the row sideways but at the cost of every player in the direction I was facing being hit in the back of the neck with my junk.  Depending on temperature, my scrotum would be either just square with the chairback or simply brush over it grazing it in the manner that makes men cringe requiring a gallop-like motion to navigate rows.

Over the day, we developed ways around the shortcomings of this arrangement.  We’d put down match result slips before the first row of players were sat and a smaller judge handled rows 2-4 and I took 5-8.  Around round 4, though,  the diminutive judge went to lunch and I was stuck covering the floor.  The format was straight forward so I thought I could escape judge calls.  Five minutes later a hand flies skyward and a player yells “judge!”.

Me from the side: Yes?
Him: *Waves me over*
Me: I can get to you, but at the cost of my scrotum.  I’ll come over, but if you ask me some bullshit question about a hypothetical that has nothing to do with the current board state, I will make you feel my pain.
Him: Ok.
Me: Would you still like to ask your question?
Him:  It’s ok, I’ll figure it out.

That’s what I thought.

Nick D brought me the new judge shirt back from PT: San Diego and I was excited to try it on.  The previous judge shirt was creatively termed “the zebra stripes” and had the dubious distinction of turning into a midriff-bearing shirt if the wearer was over 6’1″ or had a dunlopus majoris protruding more than three inches.  I was going to start the next paragraph with the phrase “I put on the new shirt” but putting on implies several things such as the gowning process being free of grunts, cries and panhoots and of being easily reversible.  I more accurately applied the new judge shirt and later peeled it off.   The arms were splendidly sized but my first attempt to pick up garbage would have turned the button line into a sartorial fragmentation grenade (Magic players: I was tempted to make  a Triskelion joke).   I nearly lost my shirt when another player said “Bruce Banner, I just hit your car.”  This was the largest shirt available.

My mass is exceptional and I fully recognize that I should incur extra cost due to it .  I pay more for food, clothing, transportation, health insurance, and the niceties that streamline corpulent living but among all possible communities that would require clothing of exceptional size the Venn Diagram of sedentary, pedantic, and gourmand  which coalesces with “WoTC judge” should be the acme of need.  I’ve heard a large judge took to his shirt with scissors and made patches of the embroidery to put on a larger shirt (which mentally led me to another card allusion).  I enjoy judging and don’t wish to abandon it, but should it become necessary I may need to start scouring for an embroiderer, shirt laster, or personal training.  God forbid the latter.

Preparing for tournaments is a process of continual refinement.  I found that I’ll stay more hydrated by consuming two 1.5 liter bottles of water than a single gallon bottle as I won’t tote the gallon bottle around.  I found that if I count to three before delivering a ruling, I’ll probably give a better ruling.  Finally, I found that the easiest way to keep an area clean is to remove trash as it accumulates.  Once a trash depot appears on a table it will become a magnet for other garbage.

My goal for improvement this tournament was to not flash players while picking up garbage.  The judge shirt is a bit shorter than I prefer and bending over either involves me contorting like I’m wearing a miniskirt or doing an impromptu plumber impression.  So, I decided to simply wear suspenders which bring the pants up higher causing more coverage and conveniently concealing my dunlop. So, I asked who I thought was the head judge intending it to be a joke and to show my cleverness:

Me: Can I wear suspenders Saturday?
Him: I don’t know, they’re not part of the official uniform.
Me: So?  They keep my pants up, that seems like a good thing.
Him: Let me think about it.  I don’t know, I’m going to leave it up to the head judge.

2nd conversation with other guy who was the head judge

Me: Can I wear suspenders Saturday?
Him: It’s not part of the uniform, why are you wearing them?
Me: …to keep my pants up.
Him: I don’t know, let me consult some other judges.
Him: Hold on.
Him: Ok, I asked some higher-level judges and we’ve come to a few conclusions.  Maybe.  First, are they tasteful?
Me: They’re black.
Him: Ok, you may wear them, but there’s disagreement, so we’re not going to allow them at PTQ-level events or higher.

It appears alternate modalities of keeping ones pants now requires a pardon from the president or the pope.