Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Hugo and Nebula Project

A few months ago, I made an announcement on Facebook that I was going to read all of the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novels. These are the two highest honors that a Science Fiction novel can achieve, and the best of the best will sometimes win both in the same year. As of 2013, there are 62 Hugo winners and 49 Nebula winners. (The Hugo has been in existence longer and has a number of years where two novels tied.) When I started this project, I had read 16 Hugo and 13 Nebulas.

Since posting about it and putting together my checklist, I've read 5 novels, 3 double-winners, and 2 Hugo winners. There are still 8 double winners that I have yet to read, which can shorten the process a little. The biggest roadblock for me may be the number of tangents I go down while reading. For example, I read Dan Simmons's "Hyperion" and sucked into a tangent reading the four sequels. I'm also now interested in reading a few other Dan Simmons novels now.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

State of the Region

It has been just over a year since I accepted the role of Regional Coordinator for the Northwest United States, and that makes it a decent point at which to take stock of things. When I first started as RC, I was in "survival mode," trying to simultaneously learn the ropes of being an RC and to learn the people and peculiarities of a region that I did not yet live in (I was in Virginia until June of this year). As my understanding of the region took shape, I identified several regional goals:

1) Develop new L3s. This year, the NW gained a new L3 in March, Jeremy Behunin from Odgen, Utah. This promotion was kind of a cheat because Utah itself was absorbed into the NW in January, something that I negotiated for when I accepted the role, partly because I wanted Jeremy in my region (both because he is an excellent judge, but also a close friend), but also for a longer term goal of mine which I will get to.

Before Jeremy, the last new L3 promotion in the NW was... Aaron Hamer, former RC, promoted to L3 in 2006. So the rest of the L3+ in the region are even older than that. There's nothing inherently wrong with that--their collective experience is a huge boon for their communities--but I believe that it is always better to mix new with old.

However, at the time that I took over, there were no prospects on the horizon. There were a few solid L2s who for one reason or another had not moved from "expert L2" to "L3 candidate." (There's no real line here, but it's more about perception combined with the judge personally deciding to make the jump, but you should definitely be an expert L2 before looking to make this switch.)

What a change a year makes. Looking ahead at 2014, I don't want to name names and place undue public pressure on people, so I will just say that I think we have 3 or 4 strong candidates for L3, and more interest buzzing in advancing. I will say that L3 is not for everyone, and if you're an L2, you shouldn't feel obligated to try to become an L3, nor should you ever feel shame that you are "only an L2." Especially at the regional level, L2s are the backbones of our communities. They do the lion's share of work at Competitive REL events, and serve as leaders of communities. But if you find yourself aspiring for more, or already doing work above and beyond, you should talk to me (or your RC if you are reading this from another region--Hi!) and explore your options.

2) Fill the gaps. At this time last year, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska had zero L2s. Now Wyoming has 4 and Montana has 1. These are huge steps forward for these states in terms of being able to run more Competitive REL events without having to import judges, and more importantly, in their ability to certify new judges and become self-growing communities. Idaho, a state that started my term with 1 L2 judge (with 2 recently moving away), has also gained 2 new L2s and looks poised for several more. Alaska, you're next.

I've also tried to focus my efforts on developing the secondary cities in various states like Spokane, Washington and Eugene and Medford, Oregon. While the states of Washington and Oregon are doing well by pure numbers, they are severely imbalanced towards their Seattle and Portland metro centers.

3) Conquer and divide. When I first became RC of the "Northwest," I asked Andy Heckt and Cristiana Dionisio to give me the states of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado (the first was in the Southwest and the latter two in the South). Why? Because I like games of territory conquest like Risk. Also, I wanted to consolidate these states and the current NW holdings of Idaho and Montana under one regional flag. Talking with Jeremy, he helped me see how these states had a lot more in common with each other than other parts of their region.

Ultimately, I would like to see the Mountain Region become its own entity, separate from the Pacific states. (I've waffled back and forth on which side of the divide Idaho should go on.) Right now, that isn't a viable option; mostly the numbers don't work out for a split... yet. However, we've seen some great growth in these states, and we're on the right track, which is why I'm sharing this idea more publicly now. I'd like the judges in the region to be involved in growing this idea and the region.

This isn't just a call to action for the Mountain States. I don't think that the Pacific States have reached enough saturation to be considered for their own separate regionship. The Judge Program has grown by leaps and bounds, but a lot of that has been big getting bigger, by which I mean that the metro centers have gotten a higher concentration of this growth. It's time to spread the butter with the knife.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Running the Portland Marathon

Three hours, fifty-eight minutes, fifty-six seconds


That was my net time for the Portland Marathon (time from when the gun fired was 4:03:25). For 26.2 miles, that was 9 minutes, 7 seconds per miles. The results website also has a lot of other neat information. For example, I finished in 1759th place, ahead of 5054 other runners, so I was in the top 26%. Among men, I finished 1210, ahead of 2066, good for 37%. For men in my arbitrary age bracket (35-39), I was 224th, ahead of 296 for 43%.

So there you have it. I barely made my initial goal of running a marathon in under four hours, but didn't make my stretch goal of 3:45. For the first 17 miles, I was actually on a fantastic pace to make my stretch goal, but got a cramp at mile 17-18 that slowed me down. I had to pull off the side of the race and stretch out my calf, at which point the pace runner for 3:45 passed me. From that point on, I had to run at a much more conservative pace and take frequent breaks to stretch to ensure that I could even finish. Even then, I almost lost in completely at mile 25 as muscles seized up to the point where I honestly thought that I would have to retire from the race and get medical attention. The decision to keep going was not an easy one, and I'm paying the price today, a few days after the race, as I am pretty much walking around at snail speed.

Right after finishing, the overwhelming emotion I felt was relief that I had actually made it. I also heard Tasha cheering for me right before the finish line and really just wanted to see her, but there were several hundred feet of food stations after the finish line so I loaded up on chocolate milk, fruits, bread, whatever I could grab. Then I had to pick up my "Portland Marathon Finisher" T-shirt, take a finisher photo, and get some other free goodies like a medal and other nick nacks. It felt like another mile before I finally made it out of that area back to the public zone. Thankfully, that area was set up with specific letter ranges for "reunion areas" and I headed to the range for "H."

Tasha was there waiting (since it took me so long to hobble over), and when I found her I just fell into her arms and started crying. A weight, maybe the weight, finally lifted off of my shoulders and I felt like I could let my emotions out. The pain of those last few miles, of wanting to give up, being oh so close to giving up. Then it was the memories and emotions of the months leading up to this moment, the training and the preparing. It all hit me at once.

When I first scheduled this marathon, we noted that it was opposite GP Oklahoma City, a Legion event. Tasha and I both love working for the Ports and Legion, and she has even more personal investment because they were her "home PTO" back in Minnesota. She briefly thought about going to the GP while I ran the marathon, but I asked her to stay precisely for this reason. I wanted her there at the finish line (kind of) to hold me at the end. It reminds me of the scene at the end of Jerry Maguire. Part of his sappy speech is that the night wasn't complete because he couldn't share it Dorothy. In that moment, after running a marathon, a sad and lonely task, Tasha completed me.

Inevitably, people ask if I'll run another marathon. I've read on a few websites that it isn't a good idea to think about this until some time has elapsed since the race because there are so many complex emotions that go along with this decision. I'll let you know after my week is up.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Picture This (You staffed for an event)

As Regional Coordinator, I've been on a bit of a profile photo kick lately, meaning encouraging judges to add profile photos to Judge Center and Judgeapps, and personally taking photos of people whenever possible (although it would help if I could remember to bring the extra shirts to all the events I go to). The reason is simple: I don't know you. Yes, yes. We worked together at that Grand Prix or SCG Open once. Maybe we were even on the same team. Here's the thing; I do a lot of these events, and I meet a lot of people. And while I wish I could remember every single person I've ever come into contact with at a Magic tournament, it just isn't in the cards because I work so many dang events.

And that's just me. It turns out there are other judges out there who have a hand in choosing staff for events. These are the other RCs around the globe, select Judge Managers for GP TOs, or maybe the good old folks at StarCityGames. These people help choose staff for events every week, and on average they probably get around a lot less than I do.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, some people put in a lot of effort into their event application cover letters, maybe even a thousand words worth of effort, to make sure that the people staffing the event have relevant information about their experience as a judge. Those types of cover letters are greatly appreciated, by the way. But then inevitably, some of these awesome cover letters are not accompanied by a profile photo, and I am left to scratch my head. I kind of recognize the name and I feel like I've worked with this person, but I don't remember.

Adding a profile photo to your account is a simple way to help people remember you. It can't take the place of a solid review or dinner with another judge, but every little bit helps, and it's a step that not enough judges are taking right now.

For Judge Center, photos need to be 300x300 pixels or smaller. I've fooled around with various programs and each one has fairly straightforward ways to edit a photo's size. If you don't yet have an official "Magic Judge" shirt, don't fret. Really any black button up shirt will do. You can crop it so that it is shoulders up, or just not worry about a little logo on your chest. It also helps if you smile. No one wants to staff that frowny face.

EDIT: and thanks to David de la Iglesia, fabled judge photographer, here is a link to information on how to add your profile photo to your Judgeapps account. I spy a Sam Straus profile photo.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Montana Judge Conference

Going into this past weekend, the state of Montana had just 5 L1 judges listed in Judge Center. And despite what you might think of Montana, there are Magic players out there. I flew out to Head Judge a PTQ in May and we had almost 100 players turnout for it in Bozeman, MT. That's not bad at all, and it is the kind of attendance where the area needs to have several L2s so that they can run Competitive REL events without importing the entire staff (for this PTQ, we also had two L2s, Ashton Chapman and Scott Neiwert come in from out-of-state).

At that PTQ, I tested one local, Jonathon Mortenson for L2, but unfortunately he did not pass. Other than that, I spoke to a bunch of people about judging but no one seemed particularly ready to take the L1 exam. Speaking with Ashton and Sara Erickson (one of the owners [along with her husband Lincoln] of the store that held the PTQ, Rook's Comics and Games), we agreed that the area needed a shot in the arm, something to drive up interest in judging and serve as a rallying point. It seemed like an ideal place to run a Judge Conference.

Having just planned and run a conference after GP Portland, I was burnt out on Super Mega Conferences attached to GPs and SCG Invitationals. While they certainly bring some value to an area, these have tended to be in population centers where judges aren't lacking in learning opportunities. Plus, organizing seminars for 100+ people is a huge amount of work, and one where I feel like there are rapidly diminishing returns in terms of real education, especially for the GP grinders who get to four or five of these per year. It's gotten to the point where I don't even want to attend these Super Conferences. (See: previous blog about social anxiety.)

Given the positive relationship I had with Rook's, and its geographic centrality--being in the middle of nowhere means that everyone from the edges of nowhere can get there--Bozeman seemed like the ideal place to hold this. Sara and Lincoln also scheduled an SCG Super IQ for the weekend to draw in more judges and players from the area, and I reached out to my local Coordinators to see who could make it. Luckily, we found a weekend where we were only missing one of them from the Rocky Mountains. We also got an expected surprise when Jess Dunks applied. Jess is from San Jose, but it turns out that his family is in Great Falls, Montana just a few hours away.

As we started the weekend's festivities with the Super IQ, I posted on Facebook, asking for guesses as to how many judges we would end up with. Most guesses ranged from 7 to 10, and two very optimistic people guessed 15. (LSV guessed that we would lose a judge and end up at 4. Always the jokester, that LSV.)

In terms of results, it is hard to argue with what we achieved. All in all, 11 people passed their L1 exam all of them from Montana. That's right. We ended the weekend with 16 total judges in Montana. We also got Montana's very first L2 judge, Jonathon Mortenson, who smashed his retry. Two other judges tested and passed for L2, Jonathan Gildersleeve and Lee Fisher from neighboring Idaho. As pure numbers, it was a decent weekend. As a percentage of attendees, it was an amazing weekend. For a state that started the weekend with 5 judges, this was earth-shattering.

We had one more advancement, or official recognition of sorts. For a few months now, I've had a group of State and Metro Coordinators operating together. Montana was the sole exception. It was under the watchful eye of Ashton from Idaho. With the sudden growth in Montana, it seemed right to name a new State Coordinator, and only one person made any kind of sense here: Sara Erickson. Her enthusiasm, drive, and love for her community were what made this weekend happen in the first place. I just got to use my position as RC to make it an official conference with foils and such.

I am already hearing about some friendly competition between Montana and Wyoming to see who can get more judges. I am quite familiar with these types of "judge drives," having master minded California's victory over the sovereign nation of Spain. What I love is that Wyoming SC Nole Clauson already has the right idea with contests like this. "My goal is to find people who are already doing the work as judges in their local stores and make it official by giving them the test." Right on, Nole. Advancing people just for the sake of numbers has never been a winning formula because those people often just lapse quickly, or they do a very poor job as judges. Maybe this is even a thing that Idaho can get involved in. (According to Judge Center, Idaho has 12 judges and Wyoming has 9. First to 25?)

Overall, a lot of people said a lot of nice things and thanked me for running this conference, but here are the superstars that really made it happen. My role was to have an idea, get people excited about the idea, put them in places to succeed, and let them do great work.

Presenters: Tasha Jamison ("So you want to be an L2" and "3-2-1 Combat"), Scott Neiwert ("So you want to be an L1"), Ashton Chapman ("Your Judge Community"), Nole Clauson ("Your Judge Community"), Jess Dunks ("Layers"), Adena Chernosky ("Training your local players"), Cassidy Meczak ("3-2-1 Combat"), Jeremy Behunin ("Handling Abilities"), and Bryan Spellman ("Judge Jeopardy") [I also presented on "Handling Illegal Actions."]

MC: Ashton Chapman who kept us running right on time.

Testing Coordinators: Tasha Jamison, Scott Neiwert. That was a lot of advancements. They pretty much enlisted every L2 we had to do exam debriefs.

Super IQ Judges: Jeremy Behunin, Tasha Jamison, Nole Clauson, Jonathon Mortenson, Goeff Dearing. It was a great event and I hope we can see more like it in Montana.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

You, Me, and SeaCat Makes... Four

To say I've seen it all with SeaCat (Sean Catanese) is not too far off, at least when it comes to his Magic judge career. I didn't personally test him for Level 1, but that was because I only just tested for Level 2 that same day, both under Toby Elliott. We spent a lot of time together over the next two years, plotting and pushing each other to greatness.

While I jet-set around the world and sped my way to L3, SeaCat was the one who kept the home fires burning. He worked diligently to build the grass roots base of judges in the Sacramento area. I knew that he was the one who I wanted to test for L2 first, and in my haste, I screwed things up. I gave him the test before he was ready, twice, and I bore as much responsibility for those failed exams as Sean. Those exams taught me a very valuable lesson about letting knowledge be the driving force behind whether I should test someone, not passion because in the latter, Sean was never lacking. I am grateful that Sean stuck it out with me. I grew up a lot during that period, and third time was the charm. As a tribute to our own double advancement earlier, Sean turned right around and tested Jose Boveda for L1 that day. The three of us podcasted together, turning Judgecast into a household name.

When I needed a driving companion to make the five-hour trip to LA tolerable, Sean was there, and together we helped forge stronger bonds between Northern and Southern California. The state feels a lot smaller these days, but back then, there was almost zero contact between the sides. The best fruits of the North-South outreach, David Zimet. We'll get to him later.

One of the lessons that I have always tried to put to practice has been "train your replacement." When I left California to work for SCG in Virginia, I felt that I had succeeded in that. Sean look on more and more of the leadership in the state, and one year later he advanced to L3 at PT Philadelphia 2011. I wasn't on staff for that event, but as soon as I heard that Sean had passed the written exam (the part that I felt would give him the most trouble; the interview panel would be a cakewalk), I jumped on the next flight to Philly so that I could be there in person to congratulate him. Shortly after that, he was named the Regional Coordinator of the Southeast United States, again no surprise given the work he was doing.

Last year, I joined him among the ranks of RCs, taking the reigns of the Northwest region in anticipation of my move to Portland. I've taken a lot of how I handle being an RC from my talks with Sean. As Darth Vader said, "The student has become the master." Well, the master just ascended again, this time to Level 4 at GP Oakland, a fitting tribute given that he now calls the city of Oaks home. My biggest regret is that I couldn't be there to congratulate him in person again. I was in Baltimore instead, Scorekeeping the SCG Open there. Had I known that he would be promoted, I would have dropped everything and flown out to Oakland, just as I had in Philly. But L4 promotions are kept very tightly kept secrets. And I suppose it is fitting that I wasn't there. Several people asked me if I was proud of Sean's promotion. Of course, I am extremely proud of everything he accomplishes. He's one of my closest friends. But I detect that people are asking me if I am proud like a father is of his son, as if I still lord over Sean, and his accomplishments should somehow validate me. I haven't felt that way in years. He's done so much without me. I am proud to stand by him as his friend. I will be proud to stand at his side when he HJs his first GP. That one I won't miss under any circumstances. Better tell me when for that one.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Anxiety

This is something that I've been wanting to write for awhile now, but could never muster up the courage to. You see, I have a problem. This isn't one of those joke problems like "what am I going to do with all of these frequent flier miles?" This is a very real problem that affects my day to day life and sometimes affects my ability to be a good judge.

I suffer from social anxiety.

More specifically, I develop anxiety in larges masses of people, like World-War-Z-crush-of-zombies sized masses, and the associated noise. If this seems odd for someone who spends a majority of his weekends at airports and large Magic tournaments, let me explain. Those two places have a degree of order to them, and in particular it is a degree of order that I have conquered.

Let's take airports. I have 1K status with United, which is the highest status you can earn. This gives me access to the cheater lines at check-in, security, and boarding. Especially with United going to a clearly demarcated five-tier boarding system, I rarely have to wade through the masses anymore. During layovers, I beeline to the United Club, where I can hide out from crush of bodies. It's a nice quiet place to read e-mails and have a beer. About five minutes before boarding is scheduled to start, I make my way to the gate and try to time my arrival so that I can get right on the plane.

At Magic events, I am in charge, oftentimes literally as the Head Judge or Event Show Lead. When I get up in front of 600 people and make a pun like "We would hate for your Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to become a Tabernacle of Ginger Ale" I don't feel nervous just because all eyes are on me. I actually like it because of the quiet and sense of order. Similarly, the mass of bodies when pairings are posted does not bother me. I know exactly where all those players are going and what they are doing. Even when I am wading through those players with the pairings in my hand, I am in control; a loud "judge coming through with pairings" will part the players.

Order and control. These things keep my anxiety down. In contrast, I suffer very bad anxiety attacks in Japan's subway system. There are way too many people crammed into way to small a space for my comfort. And unlike players at the pairings board, they don't move out of the way just because I tell them to. When a train stops, there are two streams of people fighting against each other, and despite what you might think about the polite demure Japanese stereotype, things can get brutal.

Yesterday, I suffered a pretty bad attack at a soccer match. Well, not even at the match. Outside the stadium on the way to the match. My anxiety level was building for a while leading up to the stadium as we saw more and more soccer fans--rowdy soccer fans. When the stadium came into sight, I lost it. I could feel the crush of people in my future. I could hear the chanting in my head. I stopped dead in my tracks and could not move another step forward. Tasha had to lead me away from the stadium back to the car and we went home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Getting my MOJO Back

I wasn't even supposed to be here...

Since moving to Portland, I had spent exactly one weekend in town, the M14 Prerelease, and that was only because there was a community-wide moratorium on large Competitive REL events (read: GPs and SCG Opens) on Prerelease weekends. Gen Con Weekend was supposed to be my second break, another no-GP, no-Open weekend. Then Rob McKenzie decided to get married. Or more correctly, he decided to have a camping/gaming weekend to celebrate his nuptials with his gamer friends. Despite moving all over the place and ending up in Portland, Oregon, Tasha maintains deep ties with the Minnesota judge community, and I've been honorably adopted into the fold as well, so we got invites to this shindig.

I am always down for some airline travel, but in this case the price was not right. I try to maintain a certain cents per mile standard when it comes to my flying, especially when it is not to an event (since that can offset costs). So Tasha and I booked our flights with our redeemable miles, a bank of extra "money" that we save for occasions just like this. Meanwhile, sometime between now and then, the next installment of MOJO (Magic Online Judge Open) was announced. This is a MTGO Sealed tournament open to any certified judge to play in. Back during the first MOJO (played with Rise of the Eldrazi), I made Top 8.

This year, the two tournaments fell on weekends where I would unavailable to play, not very surprising with my schedule. One of those was Gen Con / Rob's camping party. The other is the SCG Philadelphia Open Weekend. Thus, it didn't even occur to me to register for an event that I couldn't play in. Free avatar for playing? Nope. Don't care. Free Sealed product? I have enough product online from other sources. As the saying goes, I came to game.

One day before we were supposed to fly off to Minneapolis for games and more games with Rob and friends, our cat Sedna got sick. We took her to the vet and she mostly checked out okay, but she would need two forms of medication to get better. I'm very much the doting father when it comes to these things, and Tasha could see how worried I was so we quickly agreed that it would be best for us to stay at home with her for the weekend and look after her.

I called up the airline to see what options we had for cancelling our flight, and it turned out that status is even better than I thought. The agent on the phone told me that since the flights had been booked using miles from a 1K status account (mine), it could be completely refunded, miles and fees (only about $20 total). With that out of the way, I came to the realization that we could play in the first MOJO event. Tasha had actually registered for MOJO on the off chance that something changed. I guess she's like that. I'm not like that and I didn't register for an event I wasn't planning on attended "just in case." I posted the following on Facebook:

"Had to cancel trip to Minnesota to stay home with Sedna. Realized that meant we could play in MOJO. I hadn't registered because I didn't expect to be able to play. Blow out."

It wasn't meant as a complaint, nor a cry for help. I was just describing what happened to me that day. I got several kind offers from folks to use their accounts because they would be unable to play. I have a very personal MTGO account name, Manriki Hayashi, and I wouldn't want other people playing on it, so I've never taken to account sharing or borrowing. Andy Heckt reinforced this by posting in the thread, " Do not use someone else's account. It is a violation of T&C (Terms and Conditions)." I know people violate this all the time, but as judges we should make sure that we hold ourselves to a high standard of conduct, especially in a public forum, and especially when it's for a free event.

Tasha decided that she wanted to MOJO at Guardian Games here in town with some other judges. It seemed like a chill way to spend a Saturday morning, so I agreed to come along and bird her or just write some reviews, when I got an unexpected gift. Andy Heckt had pulled some strings and gotten my account added to the upcoming MOJO event. I didn't ask for it. I don't even think that I strongly implied that "it sure would be great if..." It was something that Andy did independently out of the kindness of his heart and I greatly appreciated it. I know that there were probably other people who didn't forgot to register and would have liked to have played, and I sympathize with them a lot. It's why I usually don't ask for favors like this; I have a pretty strong sense of "you play the hand that you dealt yourself." When I missed the deadline to apply to judge GP Oakland, I asked Judge Manager Jess Dunks about the possibility of being a Scorekeeper for the event, rather than a judge. He offered to let me get in my application late (and pretty much guarantee that I was on staff( because I'm an L3 and we're still at a point in time when L3s rarely get rejected from GPs (although it happened to me this year for GP London). I appreciated Jess's offer, but didn't want to abuse the system like that so I politely declined. I didn't hear back on SKs, but they eventually got Kali Anderson for the main event and she's an excellent choice for them.

If I was willing to decline Jess's offer to get on staff for the GP, why didn't I also turn down Andy's MOJO offer? The difference is that the damage, or the kindness in this case, was already done. Andy had already talked to someone and added me to the event. It wasn't like I was competing for slots in the tournament. For Oakland, adding me and Tasha would have certainly taken spots away from other judges, judges who had applied for the event on time, and that was something I wasn't willing to do. (This is slightly different from events that put out a late call for L3 Judges after applications have closed; in that case, there is a need at the event that still requires filling. With over a dozen L3s on staff, this wasn't the case for Oakland.)

Back to the MOJO. I wish that I could make some grand gesture like Chris Pikula when Helen Bergeot told him that he was getting a Sponsor's Invite to PT Dublin. He announced that any winnings would be donated to Jon Finkel's charity, Gamers Helping Gamers. It just doesn't have the same ring if I were to donate a handful of booster packs versus hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars. The best way for me to repay Andy's kindness was to have fun with a bunch of judges. Tasha and I biked to Guardian Games, which is a treat to be able to do, and another reason I love Portland.

We had 7 judges gathered at Guardian Games. It was their new location, which I hadn't been to, and let me just say that I am looking forward to spending more time at this place and running events here.

My pool lacked heavy hitting bombs, but it did have a good Sliver synergy going with 2x Predatory, 2x Manaweft, 2x Battle, and a lone Galerider Sliver. That was the entirety of my Slivers (with a Clone thrown in that became a Sliver whenever possible); if I had more, I would have played them. The deck was a GB (no black Sliver, but I had 2x Liturgy of Blood and 2x Wring Flesh) base splashing for the Slivers, Clone and Time Ebb (which I never cast). Unfortunately, I lost the document that I had put all of my opponent's names on, but I remember I only played against one judge from the US that I had worked with. The rest were from Russia, the UK, the Czech Republic and China. It was great to have short chats with these international opponents. It's really the best part about MOJO; it gives you a sense of just how wide this community really is.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Introducing Your NorthWest State and Metro Coordinators + other news

To help assist me in my role as North West US Regional Coordinator, I've selected some judges from around this great region to be my eyes and ears among other things. For the most part, if you live in these areas, you should know these judges. The whole reason I approached these judges was because of their local involvement and leadership, and their communications with me regarding those local communities. I wanted to preserve the nomenclature of "Coordinator" because it is something we have all grown to recognize and understand in relation to the RC role. While I love hearing from judges in general, these individuals are going to be much better points of contact for most local matters, and the people I would be deferring to anyway if I needed information on a local issue. The distinction between State and Metro is that those cities have large judge populations and require a little extra "coordination." As we discuss these roles and see how they develop, I'll have more to say about who to go to for what needs, . Until then, it never hurts to keep all appropriate Coordinators in the loop. Without further ado, here are your State and Metro Coordinators with contact e-mails (fill in appropriate punctuation).

Alaska State Coordinator - Eric Heyne - efheyne[]alaska[]edu
Colorado State Coordinator - Scott Marshall scott_j_marshall_jr[]yahoo[]com
Hawaii State Coordinator - Stephan Classen - drakk2[]yahoo[]com
Idaho/Montana State Coordinator - Ashton Chapman - thedicu[]yahoo[]com
Oregon State Coordinator - Riki Hayashi - rikipedia[]gmail[]com
Washington State Coordinator - James Lee - councillour[]yahoo[]com
Utah State Coordinator - Jeremy Behunin - jeremy.behunin[]gmail[]com
Wyoming State Coordinator - Nole Clauson - nole_clauson[]yahoo[]com

Denver Metro Coordinator - Bryan Spellman - bluesaddict[]gmail[]com
Portland Metro Coordinator - Aaron Henner - saruden[]gmail[]com
Seattle Metro Coordinator - John Carter - sagency[]yahoo[]com

In addition to these Coordinator positions, I'm in the process of setting up Regional "Managers," with the completely arbitrary distinction being that Coordinators are for geographic areas and Managers oversea Region-wide projects. The first Manager is Tasha Jamison, who will be the L2 Testing Manager. This is mostly for you L2 candidates who live far away from a local L3; if you're close to an L3, you should just be talking with that person. Tasha can be reached at stagedtheology[]gmail[]com and would love to help you with best study practices, what you can be doing locally, and finding an opportuntiy for you to sit down with an L3 to test. Of course, it never hurts to CC me on those as well, although even if you don't, I imagine that the information will get to me.

I'm also looking for other Managers, the first being a Tournament Report Manager (spoiler). I would prefer someone not named already in this post, to spread out the workload, and some amount of writing or copy editing experience is preferred. And if you can think of something else you'd like to see to make the NW Judge Community even better, let me know.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Being Johnny Carson and the Tyrannax Painting

Last night, the SCG crew took me out to dinner. At the conclusion of eating portion of the evening, Sam Straus clinked him glass, stood up, and made a speech about farewells and art.

You see, I love original Magic art. I now own over 20 paintings ranging from historically significant (Breeding Pool) to I-love-the-card (Grand Architect) to Raaaarrrggh (Carnage Wurm). As a collector, I love giving Magic art to people as gifts, especially if the card carries some amount of significance for the person. The story of Chris Pikula being re-united with the art for Meddling Mage is one of my favorites. I personally helped my friend John Suarez get the original for Delraich by Todd Lockwood, one of his two favorite pieces of all time (the other is Nether Spirit and I am also on the hunt for it).

When Nicholas Sabin left the SCG office last month, I helped secure the original painting for Gorilla Titan by Heather Hudson. It wasn't a high priority want like Suarez's Delraich, but it was something that I felt was... well, Nicholas Sabin. If he were to have a totem animal, I imagine it would be a giant gorilla looking for a banana. So it wasn't a big surprise to me when Sam presented me with a wrapped painting and print.

In fact, it was so not a surprise that I handed Jared Sylva a card sleeve that I had personally sealed in front of his eyes one month prior. As he unsealed the sleeve, people started to whisper. "What's going on?" "Did he really?" Tasha just shrugged as if to say "What did you guys expect? He's Riki Hayashi."

Jared opened the sleeve and pulled out the card inside. He read it aloud, "Carl Critchlow, Fifth Dawn, Tyrannax." Someone to my left gasped, "How is he so good at this?" because when I revealed the print, it was indeed Tyrannax signed by everyone at SCG and the judges from the Baltimore Open I had just HJed.

How did I know? Well, in true Monk fashion... here's what happened:

Some time ago, I went to Margo's desk (Sam's wife) to talk about some travel things I was training her to do after I left. To the side of her desk, I saw a flat cardboard package that looked suspiciously like something I would transport an unframed painting in. I looked at it perhaps a little too long because Margo caught my stare and put it aside. Of course, that was when I knew it was for me. You could say that I've learned a thing or two about human behavior and investigations during my time as a judge. Most importantly, I've learned never to let the other person know what you know, or what you care about. So when she put it aside, I turned back to the work we were discussing and didn't press the issue.

Later that day, I talked to Tasha about what I had seen, and I got the "I am hiding something" vibe from her. I cut the conversation short because I realized that they had enlisted her aid in figuring out the best painting to get me. Obviously we talk a lot about want lists and what to prioritize for our purchases. I had also recently shared a Google doc with her that tracked various paintings (that I own, that I want, that other people own, that other people want).

I started to poke around and look at the current status of some of my wants and very quickly hit on the fact that Carl's Tyrannax had sold recently. Now Carl Critchlow hasn't really been in the Magic art limelight recently, and Tyrannax is not a high demand card or piece of art, so I found it suspicious that it was now unavailable. That's when I asked Jared to be a witness for the sealing of my guess.

At the Baltimore Open, the suspicious flat cardboard turned up yet again under Sam's chair. As it turns out, he had brought the print for all the judges to sign, but again I did not press the issue, look inside the container, or otherwise acknowledge its existence. Never let them know that you know.

Despite having an accurate guess about what the painting was, it was still an amazingly heartwarming gift, and only reinforces my love for these guys, despite their less-than-sneaky ways (Sam, please turn in your Dimir pin now). It also makes me want to work even harder to get more pieces of original art into the right hands. If you've got a piece that you love, let your friends know. You never know what might happen.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Portland?

Portland. Where the dream of the 90s is still alive.

I'm going to put that adage to the test because for me Portland is where the dream of my future is on the line. I've been asked more than once "Why Portland?" and I'm going to try to answer that right now.

I first fell in love with Portland because of a view from I-5, the major North-South Interstate on the Pacific Coast. My friends and I were driving up to play in GP Seattle 2005 and I had decided that the best way to do this was to leave Thursday evening and "red-eye" the 11-hour drive. We hit Portland sometime before dawn. There was a massive freeway interchange in the middle of the city that happened over a river, so bridges and interchanges were crossing all over and around each other and on both sides you could see a beautiful skyline. I remember thinking how pretty it was and that it looked like a nice place to live.

I guess my next encounter, so to speak, with Portland was with Seamus Campbell, the resident Level 3 Judge from the city. We met at GP San Jose 2007, my first as a judge. Our friendship grew over the next year; we were roommates for PT Hollywood the following spring, my first PT and where he was promoted to L4, so memorable for both of us! He was inspirational and influential in my journey, including providing some of the best advice and feedback I got on my final push to become an L3.

Seamus and I would talk occasionally online and one thing that came up was bicycles. My hometown of Davis, California at the time was known as a very bike-friendly city, and by some metrics was the #1 in that category in the country. (It doesn't make some lists due to its relatively small size ~60,000 people.) Anyway, Seamus would rib me about Portland overtaking Davis on this list or that from time to time, and I suppose that when I started to like the idea of Portland as a destination. Ever since living in LA, I've had an aversion to big city life, especially the infinite traffic, and it appealed to me that here is this bigger city that can still offer the charm of good biking.

As I got more and more involved in Magic: the Gathering as a judge, I entertained the notion of someday working for the parent company in Renton, Washington (suburb of Seattle), and the idea of living in the Pacific NW started to take supremacy in my mind. The weather was nice--sure it rained a lot--the food and culture were diverse like California, and I avidly followed the exploits of the Japanese baseball players on the Seattle Mariners led by Ichiro Suzuki.

As the months went by, so did my aspirations for working for Wizards of the Coast, and things shifted back towards old PDX (btw, as a frequent flier, it is clearly another feather in the city's cap that it identifies so strongly with its quirkly airport code). It also helped that the older I got, the more hipster I became, sweater vests and all. Portland was where I needed to end up.

Everything changed for me when I met my fiance, Tasha Jamison. Suddenly I had a real future to think about, and it became important to balance both of our dreams and desires. Luckily, like so many other things in our lives together, those matched up perfectly. After GP Seattle 2012, I convinced Tasha to spend a week in Portland at Seamus's to explore the city and see if it was the place we wanted to live after she finished her Masters degree at Virginia Tech. It was. The bike-friendliness, the diversity of world cultures and food (especially the huge Japanese grocery store Uwajimaya), the focus on green, and especially important the number of companies there that specialized in her desired field of humanitarian logistics. At the end of the week there, Tasha agreed that we should move to Portland. We have just over a week until we arrive for good. Almost there.