Tuesday, February 25, 2014

SCG St. Louis and the Problem with L1

"Nice Grand Prix you got to Head Judge."
-a bunch of random judges

This past weekend, I Head Judged St. Louis Standard Open. It was my first time at the helm of an SCG Open since I left the company last December. I'd been to St. Louis several times during my days with SCG. Attendance there has mostly fluctuated between 450-550 for the Standard Opens. If you had asked me the night before, the high I would have told you is 600, which would have been a fine, record-breaking event for that location.

We broke that mark with at least 30 minutes left in registration, and we quickly entered "we need more space" mode. Sam Straus, the SCG Show Lead, responded admirably (he also had to recruit 9 additional judges), but I know from experience that getting convention centers to suddenly turn on a dime and get this done quickly is not what they are designed for. We threw a bunch of judges at this problem, and that helped, but we still seated for the player meeting a good 45 minutes late. Yuck.

When you are dealing with delays, it is important to message things correctly to the players. They are standing around, waiting, and they know that something is wrong because the tournament isn't starting. Sam did exactly what I would have done (and have done in the past); he told the truth ("we have more players than we expected and need to set up more tables and chairs") but more importantly, he apologized.

We ended up with 762 players. This blew away our projection by 200. It was the third largest Open ever, and second largest not attached to an Invitational, which traditionally inflates attendance, especially when there has been a Gold Rush. And as I alluded to with the opening quote, it is on par with the lower end of GPs these days, which is weird to me because I remember when 800 for a GP was mind-blowingly huge. How the times change.

What I didn't have was GP-level staffing. For comparison, GP Santiago, which had right around the same number of players, had 49 judges, 10 L1s, 32 L2s, and 7 L3s. The numbers for SCGSTL were... less. Initially accepted staff was 27 judges, 14 L1s, 12 L2s, and one lone James Bennett as my L3 on the floor. We added 9 L1s at the last minute. This is an alarming contrast, and my day as Head Judge was defined by it. For most of the day, I was in survival/fix-it mode.

This isn't meant to throw my staff under the bus. Everyone put in a phenomenal effort, and some people's value to an event isn't accurately represented by their level. My primary example for this is James Elliott, an L2 who I trust "as an L3." There were also several L1s who "should probably be L2." However, in the vast majority of cases, levels are a good shorthand for experience and knowledge, and unfortunately L1s just aren't going to cut it on the floor of these types of events anymore. I say "anymore" because it used to be the case that L1s would be fine Floor Judges for a Comp REL event. But several years ago, the definition of L1 was changed to no longer include Comp REL stuff. L1s are now "store judges" and are not required to know the IPG, the backbone of policy at Comp REL. L1s who know the IPG and judge Comp REL regularly are the judges who "should probably be L2."

GPs get this. Except in rare circumstances, L1s are no longer approved to work on the main event of a GP. If they do work the main event, it is usually to work closely with a mentor with the expectation that they will test for L2 that weekend or in the near future. Other than that, L1s at GPs are largely relegated to side events, where they judge Regular REL or smaller scale Comp REL events.

As the larger SCG Opens continue to get small GP-level attendance, it becomes important to staff them that way. When judges are trying to manage an event of this size, there just isn't as much time and resources that we can allocate to the training and mentoring of L1s who want to be L2. Like I said, it's survival mode. Judges who regularly work these events should be L2. That doesn't just mean changing a number. It means changing their knowledge, training and testing them on the IPG and Comp REL policy. TOs like SCG should take this into consideration when staffing, and we as judges should endeavor to get people to the right level to help TOs make the right decisions.

If you're an L1 and you like judging Comp REL, you should be an L2. Study the IPG. Talk to your mentors. Level up. If you're an experienced L2, you don't necessarily have to level up. L3 is a large commitment. I get that, and it isn't for everyone. However, there is probably more you can be doing to support your community of L1s who want to be L2. You can't give them the physical L2 exam (only an L3 can do that), but you can train them. Don't just "certify and forget" your L1s. Take care of them. Teach them. Build a community, not just of judges, but good judges.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Take Your Application Seriously (if you want us to take you seriously)

As Regional Coordinator, I am frequently asked to comment on judge applicants from the Northwest Region for events like Grand Prix and SCG Opens. Depending on the size and location of the event, other senior judges beyond the RCs may also be asked to comment. I've noticed a trend recently towards joke application cover letters. Some examples:
* A judge quoted William Shakespeare's "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech from the play "Julius Ceasar"
* A judge quoted the entire song lyrics for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"

I get it. You've applied to a ton of events and you're tired of typing the same things over and over again. Plus, maybe you've worked for this particular TO before so you feel that they "know who you are and what you can do." Be that as it may, why go to the above lengths to intentionally test that theory? Have you considered that you aren't quite as great of a judge and indispensable to the event as you think to be able to pull this off? If you're tired of typing the same thing for every event, may I suggest just saving a template. Of course, if you do that make sure to change the city/event/organizer names in the letter.

There have been some pretty epic joke cover letters, but those are few and far between. One thing that sets them apart is that they are actually funny or it's clear that the judge put some real thought into the joke. In that case, if it is also a judge who we "know who you are and what you can do," I'm okay giving a pass on the joke. How can you tell? Well, it's the same way you have to get comfortable with judges on the floor before you start cracking jokes. I would just caution you to be more conservative in your cover letter joke than you would be in real life for the following reasons:
* you're not as funny as you think.
* jokes may not come off as well in text form.
* you don't know the full extent of your audience. What if you make an inside joke to the Judge Manager, but the Tournament Organizer doesn't find it as funny?

This trend of joke cover letters seems to fit in with a general attitude where judges don't take each particular event seriously. That's a shame. Yes, there's still plenty of lip service to good customer service, giving and receiving feedback, and working hard. And yet, I feel that more and more, many judges are just in it to grind, as if they might get Planeswalker Points for judging all of these events. Or at the very least, they feel they are gaining valuable experience.

Instead of making a joke, maybe you should be telling us (the people reading the application) what you will do to make this event special, and I mean really special, because like I said every judge promises that they will work hard. "My goal is to set the record for pushing in chairs at an event, which is currently 507" would get my attention because:
* it implicitly promises good work.
* it is a subtle joke. No, there isn't actually a record, but implying such (and setting an arbitrary bar) is funny.
* at least it is a specific goal, and not just "I want to have fun and meet a bunch of new judges," which is my least favorite "goal" because everyone should be doing that automatically.

If you just post song lyrics, all I've gotten is:
* you like Rick Astley and/or like to Rickroll people.
* you may spontaneously sing and dance on the floor of the event.
* nothing about what kind of judge you are and what you will do for the event.

Even if I know you and like you as a person, I'm not sure I want to staff the above person to WORK an event. A cover letter is your chance to sell yourself. Do you really want part of your lasting legacy to be this joke? Think about that. You're applying to judge an event, not for comedy night at the local club. For more information on what you should put into your cover letter, I refer to this excellent resource by my good friend Nicholas Sabin, The Killer App.

Monday, February 17, 2014

1000 MIles - Week 6

Friday: 6.8 miles
Sunday: 2.5 miles
Monday: 9.5 miles
Tuesday: 9.0 miles
Week Total: 27.8 miles
Year Total: 133.6 miles

Last week, I decided to start upping my mileages. 9+ was a little too much though. After the second one, I strained my calf and had to sit on the shelf for a few days. I'm going to scale back to 7-8 miles for now and work my way up. I've also started doing some reading on recovery tips.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

MTGO Good Guy of the Week: Gallium

More Swiss queue action of the Theros variety (because I like to play as much Magic per draft). I had been on a roll, or at least what constitutes a roll for me with a 3-1 in a Sealed Daily with an amazing Prophet of Kruphix deck with both Bident of Thassa and Bow of Nylea. I lost in the 3rd round to a blitzy RB Aggro deck, the kind that I love to play. Those Erg Minotaurs can be quite problematic at times.

After that, I 3-0ed a Swiss Draft and suddenly had delusions of mediocrity. Could I get enough QPs for the MOCS Qualifier? It turns out that you need 15 for the preliminary tournament. Alas, even that seemingly modest amount is out of my reach, and I quickly proved it with Drafts of 2-1 and 1-2. At least in the last losing effort I met this week's MTGO Good Guy of the Week: Gallium.

In this Draft I had a ad BUG deck with double-color spells in each color (Bident, Nylea's Disciple, Keepsake Gorgon, etc). I had a lot of trouble settling on colors, and by the time I had realized by train wreck status, I couldn't round up enough mana-fixing to cover for it.

Gallium had a solid mostly-black deck. In Game 1, I had a good draw, which means I had all my colors, including a Voyaging Satyr which gave me access to all of my double colors. I kept control of the ground with Returned Phalanx and Keepsake Gorgon, and Gallium was stuck on 4 lands for a while. I thought things were looking good in Game 2. I flooded the ground with Centaurs, but he took to the skies with Harpies. Although I was able to Sip of Hemlock his Insatiable Harpy wearing a Thassa's Emissary, the life swing was too much for me to race against.

In the third game, I ended up in a situation with four lands--but no blue sources--with a grip full of blue cards. I cast Disciple of Phenax and he showed me Swamp, Island, Sip of Hemlock. I took the Island, hoping to color screw him--and I'll admit that I got greedy here--I wanted to take his Sip of Hemlock with my Psychic Intrusion down the line. This took me longer than I would have liked, as I didn't draw the blue source, and when I did cast Psychic Intrusion...

Gallium Swan Songed it. For some people, this might be a rage-tilt trigger. If fact, I had an opponent rage-tilt at me because I cast Stymied Hopes. "I can't believe you're playing that card." In this case, Swan Song started a dialogue between us. It was the ice breaker. Gallium noted how he loved the flavor of the card. I actually like the art a lot. In terms of game play, the 2/2 actually helped me a little against his horde of harpies. However, I was on my back foot the whole way. My greed with the Disciple earlier cost me as a Sip of Hemlock did 2 to me and I lost a flying blocker. When it finally looked like I had stabilized the board, at 1 life no less, Gallium dropped a Whip of Erebos. Even then, I had outs but didn't draw one and we chatted a bit more about our decks. Again, not ground-breaking interactions, but a pleasant experience given the MTGO standards.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

1000 Miles - Week 4 and 5

Week 4 was a lost week due to GP Vancouver leading directly into me being sick. I spent most of Monday through Wednesday bed-ridden after the GP. The result was:
Thursday - 4.2 miles in the morning, 2.7 miles in the evening
Week Total - 6.9 miles
Year Total - 77.1 miles

I bounced back in Week 5, fully healthy and ready to make up ground.
Friday - 6.2 miles
Sunday - 6.0 miles outdoor track, including sprint intervals
Monday - 6.5 miles
Tuesday - 6.5 miles (48:18 10K)
Wednesday - 3.5 miles (22:38 5K)
Week Total - 28.7 miles
Year Total - 105.8 miles

MTGO Good Guy of the Week: KeithPPowers

I probably fire up MTGO once or twice a week to draft. Most of the time my opponents are the quiet type. I don't mind this at all, as I often play this way. Maybe they don't understand English well enough to table talk. Maybe they have a slow computer and don't want to waste time chatting. Maybe they just want to play Magic: the Gathering.

Other times I encounter those players. The ones that inspired Radha Rudyak to write this article. Of course, this behavior isn't limited to MTGO. Many online games suffer from this. Anonymity is a powerful enabler of bad behavior. From time to time, I see my friends post on Facebook about playing against these players.

I want to do the opposite. I want to tell you about people I play against who are fine, upstanding MTGOers. This week, that player is KeithPPowers. I ran into him in the finals of a triple-Theros Swiss Draft. I had a U/W heroic deck and he had nearly mono-black with a white splash. The match was great. It went to 3 games and each game was well contested. We had a few comments about our decks, and especially our money rares. He had a foil Nykthos (powering out double Gray Merchant of Asphodel) and I had a foil Master of Waves. In Game 1, I was light on lands and couldn't break through his Asphodel Wanderers--yeah, generally a bad card, but they did the job of slowing me down and powering up his devotion for Nykthos and Gary.

In Game 2, I got an Order of Heliod onto my Triton Fortune Hunter and used my Ephara's Warden to tap down his Wanderer (I love it when a sideboard plan comes together). Game 3 dragged on for a bit in stalemate fashion as I didn't draw a second white source for my Wingsteed Rider. By the time I did, he had an army that ran past my Yoked Oxen and Traveling Philoso-Bears thanks to Mogis's Marauder. Before Game 3 started, I told him that I would be writing this blog and asked him if it was ok to use his username. It's not necessary to do that, but it's the polite thing to do.

Over the course of 3 games, we exchanged maybe a dozen comments total. It wasn't like we became best friends, and it is probably less table talk than you might have at Friday Night Magic. But it was on MTGO, and that made it significant. When I spoke earlier of anonymity, maybe the fact that his username is likely his real name played a part in KeithPPowers being a pleasant opponent. Whatever the reason, I hope that telling stories like this will improve the culture. Thank you for the fun match, KeithPPowers.