Yesterday (8/9/14) I played in GP Portland. It was a Team Sealed event and my teammates were Adam Shaw and David Lyford-Smith, two fellow Magic Judges (L2 and L3 respectively, although Adam is a former L4 recently returned to judging). It was really fun to play with them and I especially enjoyed our interplay during deck build, as I snatched up the aggro Boros cards and DLS took the Grindclock. Adam quickly settled on Mono-Green with a Twin Pines Mauler. We ended up 2-3 on the day and dropped. It was fun playing, and I especially enjoyed our interactions with all of our opponents.
What I didn't enjoy was our interactions with judges. I understand that it is unusual to see high-level judges playing in events of this caliber, and I'm okay with drawing a crowd. Jeff Morrow pointed out that I bring another level of celebrity factor to the table, in general and also by being the RC of the NW where this GP took place. Again, that's all fine. In Round 1, several judges birded our match in plain clothes, presumably before their shift started. They said nothing, acting as spectators should. I also want to say that I did not mind all of my friends asking what our record was when they ran into us between rounds. Although we didn't play as well as we would have liked, I had no shame about losing, and appreciated the support I got from people. It's very important that I establish that. Asking about our record, cheering or commiserating with us, is perfectly acceptable.
What I did take issue to was judges stopping by our match and saying things unsolicited. Two examples:
I lost my match and was packing my stuff up to move over to help Adam, who was now in a tight Game 3 to decide the entire team match. I play with the lounging Brian Kibler playmat. With the recent update to USC - Minor, I've seen a lot of chatter about where the line is on various things. One of those lines that gets discussed is anime girl sleeves and playmats. How much skin is too much? When does a provocative pose cross the line? This judge apparently thought it would be funny to say "I think that playmat is a little too provocative." I said nothing, gave him a glare, and moved over to help Adam.
Another round, I had finished my match (don't remember if I won or lost), and moved over in between David and Adam to be able to help both of them. Earlier that day, we had overheard a judge saying that you could not move chairs around to sit between your teammates because it would be a fire hazard. That's reasonable, but puts the 3rd player in an awkward position. Standing behind your teammates puts you in a position where you can see their opponents's hands, and that isn't fair to have an extra set of eyes with that vantage point. To solve this, most 3rds would crouch or kneel behind their teammates. That's what I was doing, with my legs extended out into the aisle. The aisle was narrow enough that my legs were over 50% across the aisle. A judge walking the aisle said "Excuse me, but you're causing a fire hazard by kneeling like that." I wasn't sure if he was serious, so I looked up, and he said something that made it clear that he was joking. More glare, more silence, and back to watching teammates.
There were a couple of other times that judges stopped by our match and said stuff, but I don't remember the specifics too well. Those last 2 struck out because I was already salty from losing a few rounds in a row, and I was really fed up with the constant needling. At past events, I've gotten judges watching my match say things like "I'm going to hang around and watch you for Slow Play." I also see a lot of judges take pride and joy--PRIDE AND JOY--in giving a fellow judge playing in an event a penalty of some kind. There's also the typical "Oh, you lost? I guess that's why you judge."
The strangest part about all of this is that non-judge players, are super friendly and supportive when they see me playing. Some of them are downright giddy. And at least locally, perhaps because I've played a lot recently and had moderate success, I don't get comments like "I thought judges were bad at playing." This could also be a factor of several other prominent Portland judges being fairly successful players.
I get it. These are typical ways that friends show affection through jokes and ribbing. And while I advocate for judges to treat players as friends (certainly versus as enemies), there's a point where things can get too familiar, and it seems that judges playing in tournaments is one of those points. You see, when a judge plays Magic, they are making a choice. You should respect that choice, and treat them like players. If you are "friends outside of the tournament," maybe some friendly banter is appropriate, but that should be seriously tempered and evaluated on context. Would you go up to a player who had just lost a match, even a good friend, and make a joke about their playmat being inappropriate (when it clearly isn't)? Would you stop by just to comment on how you want to give them a Warning? I certainly hope not.
If you do want to make a comment, you should think long and hard about it. If you've got that level of rapport with the player, then good. That's a start. If it doesn't make you look like an ass, then better. And here is where context is king. There are other players around. They may or may not know that the player you are talking to is also a judge. Now you just look like you've drive-by douched someone. Good job. I'm often left to deal with the aftermath of explaining that I am a judge and that other judges are getting their yucks at my expense. I often get sympathy from my opponent, because yes, it does suck... constantly.
And there's the kicker, Mr. Comedian. You aren't the only one. It happens almost every round, sometimes twice in one round. There is a pervasive culture of this type of judge-on-player/judge abuse, and I'm tired of it. When I Tweeted about my negative experience, several other judges threw in their comments that it had happened to them. Why are we so supportive of each other when we are working, but such dicks to those who choose to play? I don't know. I've done it myself in the past, but after this experience I will be curtailing that behavior, and I encourage you to call me on it if I ever do it to you in person or online.