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.