Friday, March 17, 2017

Rocks and Rocks - What to do When You're the Reach

In the past, I wrote a post about Rocks and Reaches, a theory on how to select your Team Leads when you are a Head Judge. The basic idea is that you want to balance between (solid) rocks and (people who are) reaches. But what do you do when you, as Head Judge, are the reach?

The first part of the equation is to recognize when this is the case. The easiest scenario to imagine when you are the reach is when you are the HJ of your first large event that actually requires you to divide up your judge staff into teams. Beyond that, you should think of tournaments in tiers based on complexity, expected attendance, and the quality and quantity of judges on your staff.

Recently, Paul Baranay went with a "rocks and rocks" setup for his TLs. Now, Paul has been there and done that. He's certified as a Grand Prix Head Judge. He has head judged multiple Opens, including a 677-player Standard Open.

But this event was set to be something special, a Team Constructed Open, the first of its kind. At the time Paul chose his TLs, we were already trending towards reaching our seating capacity of 300 teams (900 players), and indeed it happened a few days later. Also, being Teams introduced plenty of uncertainty in terms of how the event would run. I would not necessarily call Paul a reach, but the entire situation was so. And that's why Paul chose the TLs he did and sent them the following message:
" 'Rocks and reaches' works great for lots of events.
This event, however, is a 'rocks and rocks' situation.
I chose you for these roles because I knew you would do a great job in spite of any challenges that the event throws at us."

It was a cute turn of the phrase that emphasized exactly the right things for this event. A Head Judge's time and bandwidth is already constant assault at this kind of event, and every strong leader that you put into place to reduce some of your burden will help you.

As a counter-example, I was talking with Jacob Milicic, who recently head judged his first ever SCG Classic in Indianapolis. Jacob is someone who is big on feedback and judge development, and with those interests in mind he went with two less experienced TLs. There's nothing inherently wrong with that rationale, but according to Jacob, "Looking back on it, I should've gone with two rocks for my team leads, or even a rock and a reach. Selecting my leads the way that I did set me up for a more-challenging day than I would've liked for Head Judging my first SCG Classic."

The next time you're set to be the Head Judge of something that you expect to be a challenge, consider surrounding yourself with a bunch of rocks.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Changing the Culture

Yesterday, discussion broke out on Twitter about the fact that there were zero women on any of the #PTAER Pro Tour Team Series Rosters. Many people were quick to cite the fact that there are currently zero Gold or Platinum level women in the game. Discussion then began about why that is the case, and it's at least a credit to those involved in the discussion that I didn't see any arguments about women being worse at the game itself. But there is a participation problem.
Two years ago, I did some quick eyeball counts of the number of women playing in SCG Opens. Across nine events, the average was 12.7 women per Standard Open, or a hair over three percent of the field. Participation in Legacy and Modern Classics was slightly less, but those tournaments have such small sample sizes per weekend that it's hard to put much stock in them. I haven't taken any counts recently, but my gut says that it is more. I'll ask someone to do a count this weekend in Richmond.
While there's always room for improvement, I like to think that SCG Tour events are a friendly and welcoming environment for women. It helps that our stage staff and judge staffs always have a strong representation of women among them, and we take matters of harassment seriously. Like I said, things could be better though. One thing I'd like to see is a sign that more directly addresses this, as has been displayed by other TOs and event organizers. While our Tour regulars know us and our values, newcomers don't, and placing a sign that addresses and allays concerns right up front can send a powerful message and establishes a tone. I'm also going to bring it up to add this to our opening announcements.
Education among judges could be better too. Judge conferences often feature a "Women in Magic/Judging" seminar. I've attended a few of them, and even among what a consider to be a more enlightened crowd, there are cringeworthy moments, especially of audience men-bers mansplaining things to the women giving the talk. Yeah.
But we need to move forward in education beyond just "this is a problem" into "this is how we address the problem." We have reached a decent level of saturation of awareness in the Magic community, but we don't know how to deal with it. This is most evident in the number of Twitter posts that shifted the discussion from the #PTAER team representation to the issues at LGSs.
Yeah, those Local Game Stores aren't always friendly. I recall one FNM in a city where we were holding an Open that weekend where a random person came up beside me while I was watching a match and said, "Are you, Chinese? (Me: 'No.') Korean? ('No.') What are you then?"
In that moment, I was speechless. I was powerless. I've felt that way at other LGSs as well. Nothing as personally dramatic as this, but the all-too-familiar phrases "that card is so gay!" or "I got raped by Affinity." We've been at a place for years where we know that these are unacceptable things to say, so it can be demoralizing to constantly fight against it over and over again.
A few people on Twitter mentioned that they feel more comfortable at larger events than an LGS. I feel the same way, and I wanted to explore a few reasons why.
* Smaller spaces, same faces - If you run into an unpleasant person at a GP, you walk away, and chances are good that you never see them again. At an LGS, if you meet a bad seed, you're likely to be within earshot of them throughout the night, and there's a strong possibility that you flat out get paired against them. If you run into that same person week in and week out, it becomes much easier to just walk away from the store.
* Their house, their rules - At a GP or SCG Tour event, I am in charge, or at least in a position where I have agency over the environment, and there's something to be said for having that kind of power. There's also a responsibility to use that power wisely and compassionately, which I try to do. At a random LGS, I am a visitor, and in that kind of environment, it can be difficult to speak up against hurtful words. If it's this hard for me, I can imagine how hard it is for others.
I don't get out to local events often, but for the game as a whole, they are the lifeblood of our community. Players find and play the game there, and some percentage of them get invested and graduate to the higher tiers of competition. It's painful to think about how many players we lose at the LGS level because of the issues we keep hearing about. If you're reading this, it probably means you survived the meat grinder. Something, or maybe a someone kept things going for you. If you're a store owner or a local judge, you have direct control over the kind of environment that your store fosters. But you also have control if you're a regular at your store. Other players know you and the example you choose to set can help everyone to be more thoughtful with their words.
For my part, I'll continue to keep my house in order at SCG Tour events and the GPs I make it out to, and also continue to work on educating judges, not only in speaking up, but how to speak up, because the messenger matters a lot in turning the tide of the culture. I've written more about this in the past. You're no good as an authority figure if you're isolated from your audience.
In closing, this is important to me, now more than ever. In America, we were subject to a rude awakening with the election of that guy. There's nothing we can do about that. This is what we can do. We can win the small battles. People think that attendance at large events have plateaued. Sure, maybe for now. But imagine what attendance would be like if we had more than 3% women at these things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thank you for Grand Prix Indianapolis

What an amazing event. So many people stopped by or used social media to congratulate me and comment on what a well-run Grand Prix it was. And it really was, wasn't it? The player meeting got started at 9:02 and we finished in 10 minutes, prompting David Ochoa to Tweet:

Things hummed along from there. The last match of Day 1 finished at 8:09pm. That's 73-minute rounds on average, when I've been told that anything under 75 is good. Day 2, even better. 9:03 to 3:31 for 65-minute rounds, and the Top 8 finished at 6:04pm with a flurry of Lightning Bolts from Brandon Burton.

It helped that the Modern format is in a fast place. Burn decks like the one that Brandon won with are all the place, and in general, aggressive strategies like Affinity, Valakut, and Infect are favored over true control decks. Heck, even the control decks have fast closeouts with Bolts and Snapcasters, or a quick Nahiri/Emrakul finish. But there were two other Modern GPs this weekend with fewer players, and we kept pace or better with both.

It takes more than one person to make an event like this happen, and while I'm happy to be the front man for the band, I have to thank all of my band mates.

First of all, Alan Hochman, the TO. I'm sure that it's never a comfortable feeling to have your event be someone's GP Head Judge debut, but he was supportive and encouraging all the way through, looking to make it a celebration of this milestone. He and I share a birthday, and that kind of random detail made this feel like it was meant to be. The staff he put together, both for his stage staff and the judges, was integral to the event's success. This can't be said enough. When you have people like John Alderfer and Rob McKenzie devoted to TO business instead of floor judging, that's a small loss to get a huge gain. I didn't interface with those two much, but I felt their constant presence, making things run smooth in the background.

Speaking of those judges, CJ Crooks, as Judge Manager, helped me navigate through staff selection and scheduling. At this event, CJ reminded me that I had tested him for Level 2 in 2011, and I'm proud of what influence I've had on his judging career. CJ gave me a lot of leeway in putting together the squad that I wanted, and I thank him for having faith in my selections. CJ is another great judge in his own right, one of my favorites to work with on the floor. In his role as Judge Manager, he was usually pretty close by on the stage with me, and his attitude was a constant uplifting factor for me.

Jeff Morrow and Jared Sylva, my two Appeals Judges in burgundy. Fun fact. These two were the ones who recommended me for Level 3 way back in 2009. They have been constant mentors, friends, and partners in my long career. Back in May, I told Jeff that I would HJ of this GP and asked him to come. Despite the fact that he was already planning on being in Indianapolis for GenCon just a few shorts weeks prior to this event, he made the quick turnaround. Jared never let there be any doubt that he would be there, despite having a Pro Tour in Australia and the New Jersey Invitational on his docket in the weeks leading up to Indy. Those are the kinds of friends I have.

Kali Anderson. In 2010, at the Atlanta Open where I interviewed for my job with StarCityGames (the first time around), Kali certified for Level 1. Our paths became pretty intertwined since then, and I enjoyed watched her blossom first as a judge, then as a scorekeeper, and now I get to have lunch with her almost every week day as her coworker. Having her as the main event scorekeeper was reassuring from a skill perspective first, but also from a familiarity perspective. It was like being a pitcher who has a personal catcher. You can get so much done without even speaking about it.

Jarrod Feight. He's a new one to the roster. I worked with him last May at a Dallas Open that I attended basically to "cycle" for miles. He caught my attention, and we've struck up a friendship and working relationship. He recently had a baby, but he came out from Dallas to support me. He came through big by delivering one of the best Day 2 Team Lead performances on his first try.

I could keep going and going. Eric Dustin Brown and Patrick Vorbroker came out despite Head Judging their own tournaments the following week in Richmond. CJ Shrader, who doesn't venture out of the Southeast all too often. Jeff Higgins and Scott Neiwert from Portland, following in the wake of their own GP there a few weeks prior. A lot of people made choices and sacrifices to be here, to be here for me.

In some sense, the preparation for this event goes back years. The people I've met and the relationships I've made with them are what made this event the success that it was. I'm a fan of stacking my decks when it comes to judge staffs of events that I Head Judge. And for this one, I never stopped stacking. You should see the people I contacted who couldn't make it. Eric Levine, recently returned from Japan, had to make some hard cuts in events so as not to overload his schedule. Jacob Milicic attended a wedding. (Someone else who I can't recall at the moment also attended a wedding, but probably not the same one.) The good news, especially for Jacob, is that we are running it back at GP Milwaukee in December. Pastimes and Riki Hayashi, take two. This one's Limited, so the degree of difficulty goes up. Let's do it again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ichiro is my Hit King

Ichiro Suzuki is one of my heroes.

Growing up, I was bombarded with the stereotype of the weak, unathletic Asian. Popular culture said that I had to be good at math and science, but bad at sports because of my smaller body and bad eyesight. I played sports, but I never expected to be among the best. In high school, I played on the tennis team. Being a college town in California, there were quite a few other Asian kids on the team, and we did very well... but we weren't football or basketball players, so we weren't cool, and I didn't feel like an athlete.

When Hideo Nomo came over from Japan to play baseball in the Major Leagues, it was a big deal for me, especially because he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that I grew up with. It meant a lot to me to see a Japanese player holding his own against Major League teams because it challenged the narrative of the unathletic Asian. But there was still the nagging doubt that "he was only a pitcher" and a Japanese hitter would never be able to cut it here.

Enter Ichiro, the first hitter to cross the Pacific. He was a star in Japan, and like Nomo, he wanted to test himself against the best. He tested himself and he succeeded beyond imagination, becoming not just a star, but a superstar here. There was a period of time when he was frequently the lead story on Sportscenter. He broke records, stunned crowds, and inspired a nation.

Especially as we've learned about the fraudulent stats and the records that fell during the Steroids Era of baseball, Ichiro represents a purity and a beauty of the game. He never hit for great power; his game was founded on speed, hitting, hustle, and respect for the game. I once watched an interview where he talked about how he took care of his equipment, despite being a millionaire who could buy more gloves and cleats a hundred times over.

Today, Ichiro got 2 hits, moving his career hit total, combining those from Japan and the US, to 4,257. That's significant because it surpasses Pete Rose's career total, the Major League record. This doesn't mean that Ichiro has the record now. But his accomplishments are significant. They are significant to me, as a Japanese man. They are significant to the nation of Japan, proving that its stars can be your stars. It is significant to all of those nations and people who have been told that they can't. Growing up, I never would have believed that I would see someone who looked like me playing in, let alone dominating an American professional sport. Ichiro made me believe.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calling a Professional REL Draft

At Professional REL events, PTs and GP Day 2s, the booster drafts are subject to a timed calling procedure where all of the draft tables follow along to a called script that is read over the microphone. This is done to get all of the players drafting in synch and make sure that nothing goes wrong. It's a lot easier for judges to spot problems when everyone is doing the same things at the same time. At Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, I called both of the booster drafts to start the days, and I thought I'd share a few notes and tips from that. At this point in my career, I've probably called about a dozen such drafts, and I've gotten things down to a science.

Always prep some water. Talking a lot makes your throat dry, and you'll want to have a glass or bottle of water at the ready so that you can take some swigs during the draft. Of course, don't drink so much that you will have to go to the bathroom.

I like to write out a script with all of the times for picks written down, and make marks next to the times depending on what pack I'm in. I also write down some key script situations like the review period and any quick instructions that I want to give the players. Normally, this is stuff like removing sunglasses and turning hats backward so judges have clear line of sight to player's eyes to make sure that they aren't wandering. For PT SOI, there were additional instructions about the sleeved cards like not being allowed to remove the cards to look at the backs during the draft. For the timing, I just use my stopwatch. I've heard that an app exists for this, but I don't have it.

Keep it short and simple and enunciate the key words. "Pick up," "draft," "pass," and the number of cards left in the pack are the keys. Everything else you say is close to filler that doesn't really matter.

Proper enunciation is especially important at the PT where there are so many players for whom English is a second or third language. If all they have to listen for are the words "Pick up," "draft," and "pass" that's enough for them to get through this process. Adding more words, especially long and complicated words, is a recipe for potential confusion.

Make eye contact with your Head Judge (or whoever is on the floor reacting to pack irregularities). When each pack is opened, the players are given time to count the cards face down and confirm that they have the correct number. They may also be looking for any discernible markings on the backs of the cards as well. If they discover any errors, the players will call for a judge, and the normal procedure is for the player to get a replacement pack. This might take up to about half a minute, and it's in the best interests of the entire process to just wait to start the clock on pick one while that table sorts this out because the alternative is to split that table off (more on this shortly).

You should also keep an eye on the floor during the draft process. I like to scan the room to see if there are any judges who look like they are responding to a call of some sort. If the problem can be solved in a matter of a few seconds, again it's best to pause the entire draft between picks to keep everyone together. If you don't, that table with the problem may need to be split off with a judge on the scene calling their draft separately. The floor judges should communicate with you in some fashion if the table is okay and you can continue.

At PT Shadows Over Innistrad, Riccardo had an unusual request that I had never considered before, but it led to me trying something new out. Shortly into pack three, he came over and told me that one table was a pick behind (about 30 seconds), and asked me to slow down to allow them to catch up. That way, the split off table can be synced back up with the rest. This usually means just holding the rest of the draft in between picks until the one table catches up. But because Riccardo used the words "slow down," I decided to try that instead. I added a couple of extra beats between actions, as well as slowed my pace of speech. I'm not actually certain that the one table managed to catch up properly, but I like how it played out for the crowd as opposed to the usual "We are going to wait for this one table to catch up" announcement that has happened in the past.

Interacting with the caller. In general, don't do it. If you have to say something to the caller, the best time to do so is right after a pack is picked up and the time limit has been announced. Right there, there's a window of 10-30 seconds depending on where you are in the pack.

I've seen a few questions about calling drafts at local events like PPTQs. This generally isn't a good idea. I once subscribed to the idea that since someone from the event is likely to go to the PT, it was a good idea to give them that experience. Well, now PPTQs are one step removed from the PT. Also, what experience? The experience of following instructions like "pick up the cards now"? Also, with PPTQs having smaller judge staffs, you're taking one judge out of commission during the draft, a judge that could be watching for wandering eyes. You're better off just letting the players zone draft.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

To Four and Back

Back in 2009, during my L3 panel, I memorably told my panel that I wanted to be L3 because it was the next step in the process, and that eventually I wanted to be L4, and then L5...

Around the same time, at a Grand Prix, I told people that my judging goal was to become L4 so that I could Head Judge a Grand Prix someday. I also told them that my non-judging goal was to run a marathon...

To understand these statements is to understand me. I'm driven. I'm passionate. I express those things openly and honestly. And I take the long view on things.

It took me five years to meet my goal of running a marathon. During those years, I thought about it a lot. I trained for it. I thought about quitting on my goal, but ultimately I kept going because it was something that I was passionate about it.

It took me even longer to get promoted to L4. During those years, I did roughly the same. Both took longer than I expected way back then.

I see a lot of judges who have lofty goals. "This is how I must have sounded to people," I think to myself when I see these proclamations on Facebook. I can't blame people for doubting me, because I am now the doubter. But while I may doubt, I resolve to not stand in your way because you may be like me. You may keep trekking for years.

Around 2011, two years after my promotion to L3, I thought that it might be realistic for me to get promoted. It wasn't. I didn't. There was also a point where I thought it might be realistic for me to get kicked out of the Judge Program.

I had moved to Virginia to work for SCG for the first time, and I slotted into what I believe is my natural role in life, shadowy second to a strong first. My first in this case, as he has been for many years since, was Jared Sylva, my manager at SCG and Regional Coordinator for what was then the Southeast Region (basically what is currently the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions combined).

Florida, as is its way, was causing drama, and I started snooping around and asking questions, as is my way. Until I got a sternly-worded e-mail from the Godfather of Florida, Sheldon Menery asking me why I was meddling in his state. I thought that was it for me. The proverbial cement shoes. Ultimately, I didn't get the shoes, and somehow I became good friends with many of the judges that I was snooping on.

I think it was in 2012 that I started to think that I didn't want to get promoted anymore. I'm not quite sure if that was true, but I certainly said so a lot. It was probably like when you are attracted to someone who you think is "out of your league" and you tell yourself that you aren't interested even though you are. It's a defense mechanism to keep yourself from getting hurt. It had taken three years, but I finally started to see the gap in where I was and where I wanted to be.

The same was true for my other goal. Living on the East Coast, I had become lazy and fat, and nowhere near the shape I had been when I ran my first half marathon in 2010, just before leaving California. Two things happened and things started to turn around for me.

First, I became Regional Coordinator for the Northwest Region at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in October 2012. This happened while I was still living in Virginia, but a move to Portland, Oregon was already in the works.

Shortly after that, I made a weight loss bet with Kali Anderson, the "Battle Cat Challenge" and started to take running seriously again.

Both of these things changed my life, and really put my life onto the right tracks. Working as RC showed that I was willing to work for the Judge Program, and not just for my own goals. I believe that this has always been true of me, but I certainly haven't shown it, and I may very well have been lying to myself.

In 2013, I settled into the region I was coordinating and ran my first marathon. I may not have thought about L4 all year. (Probably not true.) Being RC gave me the space to do the kind of Grand Architect-like planning that I enjoyed.

Then it happened. IT HAPPENED.

Kevin Desprez approached me about L4. I want to say that this was at Grand Prix Nagoya in April. He may have approached me about it at an earlier event, but I was more focused on my RC duties. But by April of 2014, the end was in sight for my two-year plan as RC. As an aside, I'm very happy to see the the 18-month terms in place the various leadership positions.

By GP Chicago in June, I had said yes to the dress and several people congratulated me privately as we set up a plan to hand off the RC position and announce my promotion. In July, we started the process of vetting my replacement as RC, Jeremy Behunin.

Then my world fell apart. I won't comment on my divorce other than to say that it happened.

It led me a real dark time in my life. I received a lot of support from my friends. I owe them a lot, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. One of those friends was Jeremy, who I asked to be installed as my replacement as RC immediately rather than wait. And I asked for my promotion to be put in indefinite hold while I worked through things. I was sad. I was angry. I did things that I am not proud of and got a warning letter. I also won't dredge up the details of that other than to say that I have apologized sincerely for my actions.

I thought about quitting judging.

I didn't quit. I can't quit it. I love it too much. But my relationship with the Program and my reputation had been damaged. For a long time, I shied away from asking if L4 was still on the table because I was afraid of the answer being no, and I again defaulted to a defensive position of saying I wasn't interested at the time.

I was still interested. I still wanted it.

I moved back to Virginia to take (approximately) my old position at SCG. I finally felt happy, and over the summer of 2015, I finally started to make noise (privately) that I was ready. But they weren't ready. This was about the time that discussions were starting on the future of the Judge Program. In fact, I participated in one such discussion at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar (October). I was brought in on these discussions as if I was already on the inside, but I wasn't on the inside.

By now you know that part of the discussion was about abolishing Levels 4 and 5, so while I was trusted to participate in this planning, there were people who felt that it would be disingenuous to promote me to a Level that wouldn't exist in a few months.

This dragged on for months and I did my best to keep my stiff-upper lip. For the second time, I felt so close and yet so far. In some sense, I had the part that mattered the most, the respect of my peers. They had acknowledged (twice!) that I was worthy of promotion to L4, but for the second time I would be denied the public accolades. Was that important to me?

Yes and no. Despite all of my big goal-setting and social media bluster, I am a rather shy person. I turn off my Facebook wall on my birthday because I don't want a thousand people all posting on it.

But I talked with my girlfriend, Sarah, and we felt that a public showering of love was important less so for me, but more for the public. I am a known, public figure in the Judge Program, and we felt that they deserved to celebrate my promotion (and we wanted to celebrate with them).

As the calendar turned to 2016, that seemed less and less likely. The changes were solidifying. 4 and 5 were going away. I resolved to travel less.

That was when Grand Prix Vancouver hit my schedule. Originally, I hadn't planned on going, but they put out a call for more judges, and I thought "why not?" Then due to the expected attendance, Jared, the Head Judge, put me on the schedule as a Support Judge, meaning I would be wearing burgundy, something I had previously done only at Japanese GPs and the strange, all-burgundy World Championship event.

I thought that would be it. I thought they would promote me there. Obviously it didn't happen. In retrospect, I suppose I could have asked (I was even rooming with Jared at the event), but again, gotta be coy.

On Sunday of the GP, I sat down with Jared, Aaron Hamer (WotC Judge Manager), Kevin Desprez (L5), and Chris Richter (L4). We talked about the upcoming changes. We talked about me. They told me that they did believe in me, and that they would push for an answer to the question to finally be resolved by the following week at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.

By now you know that this was the event where I was finally promoted to Level 4. Even as Aaron told me (on Wednesday?) that it would happen and that I should book a flight for Sarah to come to Atlanta, I didn't believe it. Even as Kevin, the Head Judge of the Pro Tour, told me that they would announce it on Saturday, I didn't believe it. (In fact, they announced it on Friday. I'm actually not sure if I misheard him, or if this was the final little fake out.) Even as Jared stood up and started to talk about me in front of the assembled judges, I didn't believe it.

Was it self doubt? Did I feel like I didn't deserve it? Was it all of the twists and turns that this journey took? Do I believe it now? Yeah, I guess I do.

The response was overwhelming. John Temple told me that the post announcing my promotion on the Magic Judges Facebook page got the most impressions in history (or something like that). My Twitter feed blew up with mentions and favorites. People in the hotel bar on Friday night kept coming up to congratulate me. It was everything I thought it would be and had wanted for so long.

And it was all set to go away. The clock was ticking before I even picked it up. Yes, I knew that this was the reality, and I was okay with it. I needed this, more badly than I realized. Not because 2008 Riki needed to rack up this achievement. But because 2014 Riki needed this closure.

So yes, I did know that I would be Level 4 for just a couple of months. The rug wasn't pulled out from under me. I made the most of my time by judging a single tournament as an L4, a 21-player IQ in Roanoke. Funny how things work out.

I don't think the short tenure diminishes my promotion (or Matteo Callegari's, who was L4 for an even shorter time that me). This isn't about what I did as an L4, but what I did before it in order to reach that point, and what I will continue to do regardless of the number that is next to my name.

I'm still in pursuit of big things. In fact, I want even bigger things. I want to run an ultra marathon (50+ miles). Yeah, that's crazy. For judging, my focus right now is to promote the cause of feedback and reviews, increase global participation in it, and on a more personal note, to help all the great judges around me get to Level 3. The show must go on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jason Reedy, Southern Gentleman

My very first exposure to Jason Reedy was just before Grand Prix Atlanta 2008. I no longer have a record of the very first interaction, but I recall him reaching out to me prior to that event that we were both on staff for. This was somewhat unusual because he was from Virginia and I was from California and the event was in Georgia. Who was this guy asking me for advice and to work with me at the GP?

It turns out that he was from Roanoke, Virginia, home of THE StarCityGames, and our fates would become inextricably linked by that store. He didn't work there yet; he was just a local Magic player interested in judging, and happened to hear great things about me from the two upstanding citizens who did work for SCG, Jared Sylva and Nicholas Sabin, whom I had befriended at separate events in the past year. I was intrigued. Any friend of theirs was a friend of mine, so I fired off an e-mail to GP Atlanta Head Judge Seamus Cambpell asking to be teamed up with Reedy (no one I know has every called him Jason).

There are a few details I remember about our interactions in Atlanta:
* Reedy was an L0, and my instructions as his floor mentor were to stick to him like glue and make sure he had adequate support on rulings. I abandoned this plan after 2 or 3 rounds, telling Seamus that "he doesn't need any help."
* Reedy drove us from the staff hotel to the venue and vice versa. At one point we got seriously turned around and had a Labyrinthian moment where we could see our destination from the highway but couldn't navigate the proper off ramp to get there.
* We also got a ride from the TO, Jeff Williams on one of the trips in his yellow sports car that we nicknamed Bumblebee.
* At one point on the floor, we were competing to see who could get to judge calls first. I bent over to pick up some trash, and the match right next to me called for a judge. I stood up and took the call. From Reedy's perspective a few rows away, he said that I "appeared out of thin air" further cementing my legendary status in his mind.
* We stayed up late in the hotel lobby drinking, playing EDH, and talking the night away. At one point we ran out of booze, and we bought some from a group of players that had a bucket of cheap beer.

Over the next few years, Reedy and I crossed paths several more times until our stars collided. In 2010, I moved to Roanoke to take a job with SCG and help spearhead the fledgling Open Series, which had grown out of a 5K Series. As a local judge, Reedy was a pretty consistent face at those events, until a few months after I came aboard, the realities of running such an expansive tournament series caught up with us and we hired a few more people to join us on the road, including one Jason Reedy.

Riding in a van with Reedy to a random city is a great experience. Look no further than the Driving with Judges podcast for the great stories and songs that can result from this. Rooming with Reedy is also quite the experience. Just make sure that you have powerful earplugs.

The World Championships in San Francisco 2011 will be remembered for a lot of things. It was the last "public" Pro Tour, with a full expanse of Side Events that GPs are just starting to catch up to. It was also Sheldon Menery's last event as an active Head Judge. And players might remember this event as Planeswalker Points farming central. This was the very brief period when you could qualify for the PT via PWPs and the side events at Worlds were offering some ridiculous multiplier (8x?)

But for those us from SCG and the Mid-Atlantic, this was Reedy's show, the event where he passed his Level 3 panel. I can't tell you how impressive of a feat this was. I mean, sure, becoming an L3 is quite impressive in general, but Jason Reedy had previously struggled to pass the L1 exam, taking it three times.

I guess that's why nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Reedy. A few years ago, he started to ask me questions about Japan, and made a couple of job/judging related forays to the country. So up and moving his family there? Sure. Sounds about right.

And to be missionaries, no less. That's the other thing about Reedy. He loves his family and he is deeply devoted to his religion. We've never really talked about it, and I consider that to be a shame. I myself am not a religious person, but I have a lot of respect for those who are, and who walk their path without feeling like they have to drag me onto it. Still, if it's that important to this great friend, this rock of integrity, I feel like I missed out by not getting to know that part of his life better.

Then again, our story isn't over. It turns out that I make semi-annual trips to Japan. This is just the next evolution of our saga. What's the saying? This isn't "so long"; it's just "until next time."