Monday, 9 January 2017

My path to becoming a judge... and yours?

Hello readers, and welcome back to exile!

Since 2017 is just beginning, I think this is a perfect time to take a look back at the beginning of my journey into judging - and explain why it will be so much easier for you now, if judging is something you are interested in pursuing.

In The Beginning

A long time ago, in a gaming store far far away... or specifically; during the summer of 2014 at a gaming store close to me, I was often answering other people's rules questions that came up during FNM.  I had studied the rules a little, and passed a (now obsolete) test called the 'Rules Advisor' exam.  Passing the RA exam didn't actually give me any authority to do anything new or special, but it did show other people in my local store that I had a good grasp of how the game generally works and that my answers could probably be trusted. 

As our local gaming community grew in size, our FNMs naturally got bigger as well.   These bigger FNMs would lead to people wanting to see what it felt like to play in something bigger or more prestigious.  Eventually our store decided to take the next step and hire a certified magic judge to come in on a Saturday and officiate a Grand Prix Trial for us.   This was the very first taste of competitive level magic that most of us had ever experienced, myself included.

Unfortunately, it didn't make sense for our local store to continue bringing in a judge from another area to officiate GPTs for us on a regular basis as the costs were difficult to offset.  There was only one solution that would make any sense - one of our local players would have to step up and become a judge, so that the rest of us could continue to play in these exciting new tournaments.

My Road(Trip) To Judging - A Long and Winding Road

I had known for quite a while that I wanted to become a certified judge, but I had no idea how to make that happen.  One of the problems of living in exile is that there aren't the same opportunities or resources available to us in small rural towns that people living in larger cities get.   My road to becoming a judge would begin with a road trip to Grand Prix Ottawa 2014.

None of the players at my local game store (or LGS) had ever been to an actual Grand Prix before, but we had heard whispers and tales, often spoken in hushed voices, of these magical events which would last for 3 whole days.  We heard of entire halls filled to their limits with vendors selling every possible magic card or collectible you could imagine - nothing was impossible to find at a Grand Prix, and new tournaments were beginning almost every minute of the day.   Some of us felt the call of the GP in our hearts, and we made plans to travel the 5+ hours of driving from our homes to Ottawa to see for ourselves just how big this game we enjoyed could actually get.

On a cold November morning I packed up some cards and clothes and drove off to pick up three of my fellow gamers, and we were off to Ottawa for my first ever Magical-Road-Trip-Adventure™.   I find it humorous to point out that GP Ottawa did not actually happen in Ottawa.  Instead, the event was held in the city of Gatineau, Quebec which is directly across the river and Provincial border from Ottawa. I mention this mostly as an excuse to bring up the fact that since we were technically spending three nights in Quebec we decided to do what everyone should do when they visit 'La Belle Province', and we went out to enjoy some genuine Quebec poutine for dinner.  You haven't lived until you've eaten poutine in Quebec!  There were some 'Legendary' stories not involving magic or judging that came from this road trip, but those will have to wait for another time to be shared.

I remember that I was talking to my friend Ed on the Sunday afternoon of the GP between events when he pointed out two judges talking to each other, not far from where we were standing.  Ed suggested to me that I should go introduce myself to them and explain to them the difficulties I had been having in becoming a judge due to a variety of reasons, with geography and distance being two of the largest hurdles.

I took a minute to take a breath and prepare my thoughts, and then I walked over and asked if I could ask them a couple questions.  Both judges were quite happy to oblige, and I briefly explained that I had been a rules advisor for a long while - about 8 months by this point, but could not get any assistance in becoming certified as a judge from anyone.   One of the two judges introduced himself to me then as Michael, and he immediately offered to sit down with me and take some notes as I explained both my frustration and how I wanted to become a judge to help my local store's community continue to grow.

Michael was a rock star of a judge that day, as after he had taken notes on all the relevant details he told me that he wanted to speak with someone who could help my situation, in order to finally get me on the road to judging.  Michael gave me a time and place where I could find him later on that day, and when I went there he was waiting for me with the news that I was going to be actually speaking to the Regional Coordinator for all of Canada's judges in a 1 on 1 meeting.  I was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak with someone that important to the judging community, and Michael led me to a private office where I was introduced to Gavin Duggan, the (then) Regional Coordinator of Canada.

Gavin was a genuinely personable guy, who sat and listened to me as I explained to him my situation and all of the hurdles I had been facing in my effort to become a judge.   Gavin had a judge in mind immediately that he wanted to put me in contact with, so that I could begin the judge candidate process. I was then given an e-mail address so that I could get in touch with the Level 2 judge who would become my online mentor, Eddie.  I came home from my first Grand Prix with a ton of awesome memories, a few stories, some new cards, and most importantly; a way to finally achieving my goal of becoming a magic judge.

The Magical Apprentice

It wasn't long until I was getting frequent e-mails from my new mentor.  Eddie had a few candidates that were all simultaneously pursuing certification, and so he would send each of us e-mails with questions of hypothetical situations that could come up at a tournament.  I was really motivated to impress him, so I diligently answered his e-mails as quickly as I could and got to work studying up on all of the suggested documents that a new judge would need to be familiar with.  Eventually Eddie told me that he would need me to attend an event that he would be judging at so that he could evaluate me in person.

The event would turn out to be a Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ) happening in Oshawa, Ontario.  Oshawa is almost a full 2 hours of driving from where I live, and the event would be happening in late January so I knew it would likely be a treacherous drive through snowy weather.   Sure enough, when I got up that morning it was a virtual blizzard with snow plows already out and clearing the highways, so I knew it would be a long and stressful drive to my first ever day of judging at a Competitive Level.

Pro Tour qualifiers are a type of Premier Magic event that is no longer in use in our current system.   These old school PTQ events would often bring in 150 to 300 players (or more!), all of whom would be showing up with dreams of winning the main event that day and qualifying to fly off to some far off location to play against the best Magic players in the world at the next Pro Tour Event.  Try to keep in mind that up until this point I've only ever officially judged a couple small FNMs at my local store.  I really had no idea what to expect when I left home that morning, I just knew that if my store was ever going to start hosting competitive level tournaments again I needed to get it done.  With that in mind, it was 5:45 in the morning and I had my Timmies coffee in hand, I was wearing a black dress shirt and had a red pen in my pocket, and I was on my way to attempt to become my area's first certified judge.

The event was a long day of hard work for me.  I'm not ashamed to admit I was very nervous that day, as I had a lot of respect for the impressive prize that all of the players there were competing for, and I did not want my inexperience to negatively affect anyone else's day.  Fortunately, judges are experienced enough to know not to send a completely new candidate into the proverbial lion's den without some support and guidance.  Throughout my whole day I was supervised, assisted and mentored by some of the senior judges on staff, and they constantly gave me words of encouragement and suggestions on how I could improve.  Eventually Eddie told me that the feedback he had gotten from the other judges was that I seemed to be doing okay, and that he could feel free to allow me to write my Level 1 certification exam.   This meant if I managed to pass my written exam I would be driving home that night as an actual certified Level 1 Magic Judge!

Spoiler Alert:

 I passed.  😅

Level Up!

In the time that has passed since then, I have worked a multitude of events of all sizes, passed my Level 2 certification, flown into the United States to judge multiple Grand Prix, and certified three brand new Level 1 judges.  That's right, I'm now the proud papa of 3 little baby judges of my own!  If you happen to be near Owen Sound, North Bay, or Elmvale and while playing Magic at the local gaming store there if you meet a friendly, knowledgeable and helpful Level 1 judge, tell them that Jason says hello!

Your Road to Judging - A Short and Simple Trip

If you've been reading this blog because you are considering becoming a judge yourself someday, allow me to help you get started on your road to judging.  First of all, you'll need to know what the process of being a judge candidate involves.  You can find out all about the various levels of magic judges and the requirements for earning each level by clicking HERE.

As of when I am writing this blog post, there are currently 3 separate levels of magic judges:

  • Level 1: Regular REL in-store judge: The first step to judging.   Mostly judging more relaxed events at your local store, ie. FNM, pre-release, Game Days.  Also, L1s can head judge GPTs!
  • Level 2: Competitive REL judge: These judges are the ones who comprise the bulk of the staff at large events, ie. Grand Prix, PPTQs, RPTQs.  Level 2+ judges are able to head judge PPTQ events, and certify new Level 1 judges.
  • Level 3: Premier Judges: Currently the highest level of judges we have, Level 3 judges are the leaders in our judging community.  L3s can head judge RPTQs and certify both Level 1 and Level 2 judges.  Select L3s can be certified to head judge Grand Prix, as well as be chosen to become the Regional Coordinators for all judges in their region.

No one can become a judge without having someone mentor them and help them prepare to join the judging community.  All you need to do to begin is reach out to a current Level 2 judge in your area, and they will either be able to help you with the process or put you into contact with someone better suited to assist you.  If you are in a situation like I was, and you do not currently know of anyone in your area who can help you, fear not!  As I mentioned, I am now a Level 2 judge myself and I will gladly help anyone interested, either by mentoring online or by helping them get connected to the right mentor in their region.  Feel free to comment below if you need help getting started, I want to see that no potential judge gets left behind!

And thus ends this long and winding trip down memory lane. Thank you again dear readers, for once again joining me as I travel along my Path to Exile.


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