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.


  1. I am agree totally with this. As a store owner and L1 who has played a bunch of competitive Magic I think the baseline for a L1 judge need be placed a little higher. We should certify judges as Level 0 and ask them to work for a time at events to get how to run them. They should become grounded not just in answer questions but working with players (and other judges). They should also learn WER. This time spent as an apprentice should give them a firm base to build upon as they level up. As a store owner I had a L1 for an event and he had never worked with WER and basically said that as an L1 all he has really done at events was tell people to move, clean up trash, and carry sealed product. I had not event tested at the time, but was more familiar with the IPG and WER than he was, and in my experience this isn't an isolated case. I think stores and TO's have a responsibility to provide experience and mentoring to people interested in judging. When someone asks me how to become an L1 the first thing I tell them is to judge local events and shadow an L1 before they ever consider taking the test.

  2. @Anonymous: When I used to be a judge, it was as an "Arena Judge", which is probably the closest thing to FNM that I can think of. So you're suggesting bringing something like this back?

  3. Ive been on staff for these"mini GP" SCG events, and its survival mode for everyone. It makes the day longer, the work harder, and makes it easy to forget we do this for fun. Sure SCG compensates us (better than any other non-GP I'm aware of) yet adding 2+ hours of work to the day, at a higher stress level, can leave an icky taste in my mouth at the end of the day.

    We feel you riki. And I couldn't agree more. SCG events used to be a training ground for L1s looking to L2 (thats where I sharpened my teeth) but it can't be the whole staff.

    SCG events are also where L2s start getting leadership opportunities, but if you spend ypur whole day hand-holding, its easy to lose sight of the goals of the day, which is leading a team on your tasks, not just double checking their work on badic skills.

    If you like big events and you're L1, start at GPTs in your local area, then PTQs then after a couple SCGs you should be ready to decide if L2 is for you.

    1. I thought my name would pop up here: its chad. :)

  4. That is all well and good, but I am an L1 and have no ability to test. I missed passing the L2 test by two questions almost 8 months a ago but with no possibility to retake the test anytime in the future. There are no L3s within good distance of me and testing at events is a mess at best.

    1. And now it is affecting my ability to get into events because they see my L1 status and pass me over for an L2 with less experience.

  5. Please contact your Regional Coordinator ( We have the ability to help you test.

  6. In my area, there are 7 L1s, 2 L2s, and a few candidates for 3 stores. Most of our judges don't work in store, meaning that there isn't much opportunity for them to judge. SCG provides a wonderful service to these judges when they accept them to work events. By changing Opens to the GP staffing formatting, these judges lose out on a place to judge and the valuable experience of working a larger event.