Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thank you for Grand Prix Indianapolis

What an amazing event. So many people stopped by or used social media to congratulate me and comment on what a well-run Grand Prix it was. And it really was, wasn't it? The player meeting got started at 9:02 and we finished in 10 minutes, prompting David Ochoa to Tweet:

Things hummed along from there. The last match of Day 1 finished at 8:09pm. That's 73-minute rounds on average, when I've been told that anything under 75 is good. Day 2, even better. 9:03 to 3:31 for 65-minute rounds, and the Top 8 finished at 6:04pm with a flurry of Lightning Bolts from Brandon Burton.

It helped that the Modern format is in a fast place. Burn decks like the one that Brandon won with are all the place, and in general, aggressive strategies like Affinity, Valakut, and Infect are favored over true control decks. Heck, even the control decks have fast closeouts with Bolts and Snapcasters, or a quick Nahiri/Emrakul finish. But there were two other Modern GPs this weekend with fewer players, and we kept pace or better with both.

It takes more than one person to make an event like this happen, and while I'm happy to be the front man for the band, I have to thank all of my band mates.

First of all, Alan Hochman, the TO. I'm sure that it's never a comfortable feeling to have your event be someone's GP Head Judge debut, but he was supportive and encouraging all the way through, looking to make it a celebration of this milestone. He and I share a birthday, and that kind of random detail made this feel like it was meant to be. The staff he put together, both for his stage staff and the judges, was integral to the event's success. This can't be said enough. When you have people like John Alderfer and Rob McKenzie devoted to TO business instead of floor judging, that's a small loss to get a huge gain. I didn't interface with those two much, but I felt their constant presence, making things run smooth in the background.

Speaking of those judges, CJ Crooks, as Judge Manager, helped me navigate through staff selection and scheduling. At this event, CJ reminded me that I had tested him for Level 2 in 2011, and I'm proud of what influence I've had on his judging career. CJ gave me a lot of leeway in putting together the squad that I wanted, and I thank him for having faith in my selections. CJ is another great judge in his own right, one of my favorites to work with on the floor. In his role as Judge Manager, he was usually pretty close by on the stage with me, and his attitude was a constant uplifting factor for me.

Jeff Morrow and Jared Sylva, my two Appeals Judges in burgundy. Fun fact. These two were the ones who recommended me for Level 3 way back in 2009. They have been constant mentors, friends, and partners in my long career. Back in May, I told Jeff that I would HJ of this GP and asked him to come. Despite the fact that he was already planning on being in Indianapolis for GenCon just a few shorts weeks prior to this event, he made the quick turnaround. Jared never let there be any doubt that he would be there, despite having a Pro Tour in Australia and the New Jersey Invitational on his docket in the weeks leading up to Indy. Those are the kinds of friends I have.

Kali Anderson. In 2010, at the Atlanta Open where I interviewed for my job with StarCityGames (the first time around), Kali certified for Level 1. Our paths became pretty intertwined since then, and I enjoyed watched her blossom first as a judge, then as a scorekeeper, and now I get to have lunch with her almost every week day as her coworker. Having her as the main event scorekeeper was reassuring from a skill perspective first, but also from a familiarity perspective. It was like being a pitcher who has a personal catcher. You can get so much done without even speaking about it.

Jarrod Feight. He's a new one to the roster. I worked with him last May at a Dallas Open that I attended basically to "cycle" for miles. He caught my attention, and we've struck up a friendship and working relationship. He recently had a baby, but he came out from Dallas to support me. He came through big by delivering one of the best Day 2 Team Lead performances on his first try.

I could keep going and going. Eric Dustin Brown and Patrick Vorbroker came out despite Head Judging their own tournaments the following week in Richmond. CJ Shrader, who doesn't venture out of the Southeast all too often. Jeff Higgins and Scott Neiwert from Portland, following in the wake of their own GP there a few weeks prior. A lot of people made choices and sacrifices to be here, to be here for me.

In some sense, the preparation for this event goes back years. The people I've met and the relationships I've made with them are what made this event the success that it was. I'm a fan of stacking my decks when it comes to judge staffs of events that I Head Judge. And for this one, I never stopped stacking. You should see the people I contacted who couldn't make it. Eric Levine, recently returned from Japan, had to make some hard cuts in events so as not to overload his schedule. Jacob Milicic attended a wedding. (Someone else who I can't recall at the moment also attended a wedding, but probably not the same one.) The good news, especially for Jacob, is that we are running it back at GP Milwaukee in December. Pastimes and Riki Hayashi, take two. This one's Limited, so the degree of difficulty goes up. Let's do it again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Ichiro is my Hit King

Ichiro Suzuki is one of my heroes.

Growing up, I was bombarded with the stereotype of the weak, unathletic Asian. Popular culture said that I had to be good at math and science, but bad at sports because of my smaller body and bad eyesight. I played sports, but I never expected to be among the best. In high school, I played on the tennis team. Being a college town in California, there were quite a few other Asian kids on the team, and we did very well... but we weren't football or basketball players, so we weren't cool, and I didn't feel like an athlete.

When Hideo Nomo came over from Japan to play baseball in the Major Leagues, it was a big deal for me, especially because he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team that I grew up with. It meant a lot to me to see a Japanese player holding his own against Major League teams because it challenged the narrative of the unathletic Asian. But there was still the nagging doubt that "he was only a pitcher" and a Japanese hitter would never be able to cut it here.

Enter Ichiro, the first hitter to cross the Pacific. He was a star in Japan, and like Nomo, he wanted to test himself against the best. He tested himself and he succeeded beyond imagination, becoming not just a star, but a superstar here. There was a period of time when he was frequently the lead story on Sportscenter. He broke records, stunned crowds, and inspired a nation.

Especially as we've learned about the fraudulent stats and the records that fell during the Steroids Era of baseball, Ichiro represents a purity and a beauty of the game. He never hit for great power; his game was founded on speed, hitting, hustle, and respect for the game. I once watched an interview where he talked about how he took care of his equipment, despite being a millionaire who could buy more gloves and cleats a hundred times over.

Today, Ichiro got 2 hits, moving his career hit total, combining those from Japan and the US, to 4,257. That's significant because it surpasses Pete Rose's career total, the Major League record. This doesn't mean that Ichiro has the record now. But his accomplishments are significant. They are significant to me, as a Japanese man. They are significant to the nation of Japan, proving that its stars can be your stars. It is significant to all of those nations and people who have been told that they can't. Growing up, I never would have believed that I would see someone who looked like me playing in, let alone dominating an American professional sport. Ichiro made me believe.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Calling a Professional REL Draft

At Professional REL events, PTs and GP Day 2s, the booster drafts are subject to a timed calling procedure where all of the draft tables follow along to a called script that is read over the microphone. This is done to get all of the players drafting in synch and make sure that nothing goes wrong. It's a lot easier for judges to spot problems when everyone is doing the same things at the same time. At Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad, I called both of the booster drafts to start the days, and I thought I'd share a few notes and tips from that. At this point in my career, I've probably called about a dozen such drafts, and I've gotten things down to a science.

Always prep some water. Talking a lot makes your throat dry, and you'll want to have a glass or bottle of water at the ready so that you can take some swigs during the draft. Of course, don't drink so much that you will have to go to the bathroom.

I like to write out a script with all of the times for picks written down, and make marks next to the times depending on what pack I'm in. I also write down some key script situations like the review period and any quick instructions that I want to give the players. Normally, this is stuff like removing sunglasses and turning hats backward so judges have clear line of sight to player's eyes to make sure that they aren't wandering. For PT SOI, there were additional instructions about the sleeved cards like not being allowed to remove the cards to look at the backs during the draft. For the timing, I just use my stopwatch. I've heard that an app exists for this, but I don't have it.

Keep it short and simple and enunciate the key words. "Pick up," "draft," "pass," and the number of cards left in the pack are the keys. Everything else you say is close to filler that doesn't really matter.

Proper enunciation is especially important at the PT where there are so many players for whom English is a second or third language. If all they have to listen for are the words "Pick up," "draft," and "pass" that's enough for them to get through this process. Adding more words, especially long and complicated words, is a recipe for potential confusion.

Make eye contact with your Head Judge (or whoever is on the floor reacting to pack irregularities). When each pack is opened, the players are given time to count the cards face down and confirm that they have the correct number. They may also be looking for any discernible markings on the backs of the cards as well. If they discover any errors, the players will call for a judge, and the normal procedure is for the player to get a replacement pack. This might take up to about half a minute, and it's in the best interests of the entire process to just wait to start the clock on pick one while that table sorts this out because the alternative is to split that table off (more on this shortly).

You should also keep an eye on the floor during the draft process. I like to scan the room to see if there are any judges who look like they are responding to a call of some sort. If the problem can be solved in a matter of a few seconds, again it's best to pause the entire draft between picks to keep everyone together. If you don't, that table with the problem may need to be split off with a judge on the scene calling their draft separately. The floor judges should communicate with you in some fashion if the table is okay and you can continue.

At PT Shadows Over Innistrad, Riccardo had an unusual request that I had never considered before, but it led to me trying something new out. Shortly into pack three, he came over and told me that one table was a pick behind (about 30 seconds), and asked me to slow down to allow them to catch up. That way, the split off table can be synced back up with the rest. This usually means just holding the rest of the draft in between picks until the one table catches up. But because Riccardo used the words "slow down," I decided to try that instead. I added a couple of extra beats between actions, as well as slowed my pace of speech. I'm not actually certain that the one table managed to catch up properly, but I like how it played out for the crowd as opposed to the usual "We are going to wait for this one table to catch up" announcement that has happened in the past.

Interacting with the caller. In general, don't do it. If you have to say something to the caller, the best time to do so is right after a pack is picked up and the time limit has been announced. Right there, there's a window of 10-30 seconds depending on where you are in the pack.

I've seen a few questions about calling drafts at local events like PPTQs. This generally isn't a good idea. I once subscribed to the idea that since someone from the event is likely to go to the PT, it was a good idea to give them that experience. Well, now PPTQs are one step removed from the PT. Also, what experience? The experience of following instructions like "pick up the cards now"? Also, with PPTQs having smaller judge staffs, you're taking one judge out of commission during the draft, a judge that could be watching for wandering eyes. You're better off just letting the players zone draft.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

To Four and Back

Back in 2009, during my L3 panel, I memorably told my panel that I wanted to be L3 because it was the next step in the process, and that eventually I wanted to be L4, and then L5...

Around the same time, at a Grand Prix, I told people that my judging goal was to become L4 so that I could Head Judge a Grand Prix someday. I also told them that my non-judging goal was to run a marathon...

To understand these statements is to understand me. I'm driven. I'm passionate. I express those things openly and honestly. And I take the long view on things.

It took me five years to meet my goal of running a marathon. During those years, I thought about it a lot. I trained for it. I thought about quitting on my goal, but ultimately I kept going because it was something that I was passionate about it.

It took me even longer to get promoted to L4. During those years, I did roughly the same. Both took longer than I expected way back then.

I see a lot of judges who have lofty goals. "This is how I must have sounded to people," I think to myself when I see these proclamations on Facebook. I can't blame people for doubting me, because I am now the doubter. But while I may doubt, I resolve to not stand in your way because you may be like me. You may keep trekking for years.

Around 2011, two years after my promotion to L3, I thought that it might be realistic for me to get promoted. It wasn't. I didn't. There was also a point where I thought it might be realistic for me to get kicked out of the Judge Program.

I had moved to Virginia to work for SCG for the first time, and I slotted into what I believe is my natural role in life, shadowy second to a strong first. My first in this case, as he has been for many years since, was Jared Sylva, my manager at SCG and Regional Coordinator for what was then the Southeast Region (basically what is currently the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions combined).

Florida, as is its way, was causing drama, and I started snooping around and asking questions, as is my way. Until I got a sternly-worded e-mail from the Godfather of Florida, Sheldon Menery asking me why I was meddling in his state. I thought that was it for me. The proverbial cement shoes. Ultimately, I didn't get the shoes, and somehow I became good friends with many of the judges that I was snooping on.

I think it was in 2012 that I started to think that I didn't want to get promoted anymore. I'm not quite sure if that was true, but I certainly said so a lot. It was probably like when you are attracted to someone who you think is "out of your league" and you tell yourself that you aren't interested even though you are. It's a defense mechanism to keep yourself from getting hurt. It had taken three years, but I finally started to see the gap in where I was and where I wanted to be.

The same was true for my other goal. Living on the East Coast, I had become lazy and fat, and nowhere near the shape I had been when I ran my first half marathon in 2010, just before leaving California. Two things happened and things started to turn around for me.

First, I became Regional Coordinator for the Northwest Region at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in October 2012. This happened while I was still living in Virginia, but a move to Portland, Oregon was already in the works.

Shortly after that, I made a weight loss bet with Kali Anderson, the "Battle Cat Challenge" and started to take running seriously again.

Both of these things changed my life, and really put my life onto the right tracks. Working as RC showed that I was willing to work for the Judge Program, and not just for my own goals. I believe that this has always been true of me, but I certainly haven't shown it, and I may very well have been lying to myself.

In 2013, I settled into the region I was coordinating and ran my first marathon. I may not have thought about L4 all year. (Probably not true.) Being RC gave me the space to do the kind of Grand Architect-like planning that I enjoyed.

Then it happened. IT HAPPENED.

Kevin Desprez approached me about L4. I want to say that this was at Grand Prix Nagoya in April. He may have approached me about it at an earlier event, but I was more focused on my RC duties. But by April of 2014, the end was in sight for my two-year plan as RC. As an aside, I'm very happy to see the the 18-month terms in place the various leadership positions.

By GP Chicago in June, I had said yes to the dress and several people congratulated me privately as we set up a plan to hand off the RC position and announce my promotion. In July, we started the process of vetting my replacement as RC, Jeremy Behunin.

Then my world fell apart. I won't comment on my divorce other than to say that it happened.

It led me a real dark time in my life. I received a lot of support from my friends. I owe them a lot, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. One of those friends was Jeremy, who I asked to be installed as my replacement as RC immediately rather than wait. And I asked for my promotion to be put in indefinite hold while I worked through things. I was sad. I was angry. I did things that I am not proud of and got a warning letter. I also won't dredge up the details of that other than to say that I have apologized sincerely for my actions.

I thought about quitting judging.

I didn't quit. I can't quit it. I love it too much. But my relationship with the Program and my reputation had been damaged. For a long time, I shied away from asking if L4 was still on the table because I was afraid of the answer being no, and I again defaulted to a defensive position of saying I wasn't interested at the time.

I was still interested. I still wanted it.

I moved back to Virginia to take (approximately) my old position at SCG. I finally felt happy, and over the summer of 2015, I finally started to make noise (privately) that I was ready. But they weren't ready. This was about the time that discussions were starting on the future of the Judge Program. In fact, I participated in one such discussion at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar (October). I was brought in on these discussions as if I was already on the inside, but I wasn't on the inside.

By now you know that part of the discussion was about abolishing Levels 4 and 5, so while I was trusted to participate in this planning, there were people who felt that it would be disingenuous to promote me to a Level that wouldn't exist in a few months.

This dragged on for months and I did my best to keep my stiff-upper lip. For the second time, I felt so close and yet so far. In some sense, I had the part that mattered the most, the respect of my peers. They had acknowledged (twice!) that I was worthy of promotion to L4, but for the second time I would be denied the public accolades. Was that important to me?

Yes and no. Despite all of my big goal-setting and social media bluster, I am a rather shy person. I turn off my Facebook wall on my birthday because I don't want a thousand people all posting on it.

But I talked with my girlfriend, Sarah, and we felt that a public showering of love was important less so for me, but more for the public. I am a known, public figure in the Judge Program, and we felt that they deserved to celebrate my promotion (and we wanted to celebrate with them).

As the calendar turned to 2016, that seemed less and less likely. The changes were solidifying. 4 and 5 were going away. I resolved to travel less.

That was when Grand Prix Vancouver hit my schedule. Originally, I hadn't planned on going, but they put out a call for more judges, and I thought "why not?" Then due to the expected attendance, Jared, the Head Judge, put me on the schedule as a Support Judge, meaning I would be wearing burgundy, something I had previously done only at Japanese GPs and the strange, all-burgundy World Championship event.

I thought that would be it. I thought they would promote me there. Obviously it didn't happen. In retrospect, I suppose I could have asked (I was even rooming with Jared at the event), but again, gotta be coy.

On Sunday of the GP, I sat down with Jared, Aaron Hamer (WotC Judge Manager), Kevin Desprez (L5), and Chris Richter (L4). We talked about the upcoming changes. We talked about me. They told me that they did believe in me, and that they would push for an answer to the question to finally be resolved by the following week at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.

By now you know that this was the event where I was finally promoted to Level 4. Even as Aaron told me (on Wednesday?) that it would happen and that I should book a flight for Sarah to come to Atlanta, I didn't believe it. Even as Kevin, the Head Judge of the Pro Tour, told me that they would announce it on Saturday, I didn't believe it. (In fact, they announced it on Friday. I'm actually not sure if I misheard him, or if this was the final little fake out.) Even as Jared stood up and started to talk about me in front of the assembled judges, I didn't believe it.

Was it self doubt? Did I feel like I didn't deserve it? Was it all of the twists and turns that this journey took? Do I believe it now? Yeah, I guess I do.

The response was overwhelming. John Temple told me that the post announcing my promotion on the Magic Judges Facebook page got the most impressions in history (or something like that). My Twitter feed blew up with mentions and favorites. People in the hotel bar on Friday night kept coming up to congratulate me. It was everything I thought it would be and had wanted for so long.

And it was all set to go away. The clock was ticking before I even picked it up. Yes, I knew that this was the reality, and I was okay with it. I needed this, more badly than I realized. Not because 2008 Riki needed to rack up this achievement. But because 2014 Riki needed this closure.

So yes, I did know that I would be Level 4 for just a couple of months. The rug wasn't pulled out from under me. I made the most of my time by judging a single tournament as an L4, a 21-player IQ in Roanoke. Funny how things work out.

I don't think the short tenure diminishes my promotion (or Matteo Callegari's, who was L4 for an even shorter time that me). This isn't about what I did as an L4, but what I did before it in order to reach that point, and what I will continue to do regardless of the number that is next to my name.

I'm still in pursuit of big things. In fact, I want even bigger things. I want to run an ultra marathon (50+ miles). Yeah, that's crazy. For judging, my focus right now is to promote the cause of feedback and reviews, increase global participation in it, and on a more personal note, to help all the great judges around me get to Level 3. The show must go on.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Jason Reedy, Southern Gentleman

My very first exposure to Jason Reedy was just before Grand Prix Atlanta 2008. I no longer have a record of the very first interaction, but I recall him reaching out to me prior to that event that we were both on staff for. This was somewhat unusual because he was from Virginia and I was from California and the event was in Georgia. Who was this guy asking me for advice and to work with me at the GP?

It turns out that he was from Roanoke, Virginia, home of THE StarCityGames, and our fates would become inextricably linked by that store. He didn't work there yet; he was just a local Magic player interested in judging, and happened to hear great things about me from the two upstanding citizens who did work for SCG, Jared Sylva and Nicholas Sabin, whom I had befriended at separate events in the past year. I was intrigued. Any friend of theirs was a friend of mine, so I fired off an e-mail to GP Atlanta Head Judge Seamus Cambpell asking to be teamed up with Reedy (no one I know has every called him Jason).

There are a few details I remember about our interactions in Atlanta:
* Reedy was an L0, and my instructions as his floor mentor were to stick to him like glue and make sure he had adequate support on rulings. I abandoned this plan after 2 or 3 rounds, telling Seamus that "he doesn't need any help."
* Reedy drove us from the staff hotel to the venue and vice versa. At one point we got seriously turned around and had a Labyrinthian moment where we could see our destination from the highway but couldn't navigate the proper off ramp to get there.
* We also got a ride from the TO, Jeff Williams on one of the trips in his yellow sports car that we nicknamed Bumblebee.
* At one point on the floor, we were competing to see who could get to judge calls first. I bent over to pick up some trash, and the match right next to me called for a judge. I stood up and took the call. From Reedy's perspective a few rows away, he said that I "appeared out of thin air" further cementing my legendary status in his mind.
* We stayed up late in the hotel lobby drinking, playing EDH, and talking the night away. At one point we ran out of booze, and we bought some from a group of players that had a bucket of cheap beer.

Over the next few years, Reedy and I crossed paths several more times until our stars collided. In 2010, I moved to Roanoke to take a job with SCG and help spearhead the fledgling Open Series, which had grown out of a 5K Series. As a local judge, Reedy was a pretty consistent face at those events, until a few months after I came aboard, the realities of running such an expansive tournament series caught up with us and we hired a few more people to join us on the road, including one Jason Reedy.

Riding in a van with Reedy to a random city is a great experience. Look no further than the Driving with Judges podcast for the great stories and songs that can result from this. Rooming with Reedy is also quite the experience. Just make sure that you have powerful earplugs.

The World Championships in San Francisco 2011 will be remembered for a lot of things. It was the last "public" Pro Tour, with a full expanse of Side Events that GPs are just starting to catch up to. It was also Sheldon Menery's last event as an active Head Judge. And players might remember this event as Planeswalker Points farming central. This was the very brief period when you could qualify for the PT via PWPs and the side events at Worlds were offering some ridiculous multiplier (8x?)

But for those us from SCG and the Mid-Atlantic, this was Reedy's show, the event where he passed his Level 3 panel. I can't tell you how impressive of a feat this was. I mean, sure, becoming an L3 is quite impressive in general, but Jason Reedy had previously struggled to pass the L1 exam, taking it three times.

I guess that's why nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to Reedy. A few years ago, he started to ask me questions about Japan, and made a couple of job/judging related forays to the country. So up and moving his family there? Sure. Sounds about right.

And to be missionaries, no less. That's the other thing about Reedy. He loves his family and he is deeply devoted to his religion. We've never really talked about it, and I consider that to be a shame. I myself am not a religious person, but I have a lot of respect for those who are, and who walk their path without feeling like they have to drag me onto it. Still, if it's that important to this great friend, this rock of integrity, I feel like I missed out by not getting to know that part of his life better.

Then again, our story isn't over. It turns out that I make semi-annual trips to Japan. This is just the next evolution of our saga. What's the saying? This isn't "so long"; it's just "until next time."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pass the Salt

I hate Exemplar Salt.

(Nuts and bolts for people not closely associated with the Judge Program. We have a system via which we recognize each other's great deeds. Many of us receive additional gifts as a result of these nominations. This is called the Exemplar Program.)

Some people seem to be complaining about the system because they didn't receive any recognition. They compare themselves to others around them that do, and rather than turn the fire inward to find ways to be even better, they resort to jealousy and calls to cancel/overhaul the entire system since it is clearly broken.

There are also accusations of what have been dubbed "circles of bros" by some, essentially meaning that we all just keep nominating each other. In a similar vein, some deride the entire enterprise as a popularity contest. I'm popular. I have a close-knit group of friends among judges that some number of nominations both ways comes out of. Am I part of the problem?
Reading this type of stuff makes me sad. These people are so negative about something that has brought me so much joy, both in the giving and the receiving. There is usually one nomination per wave that brings a tear to my eye, and I've had people tell me the same about my nominations of them. It drives me to be excellent and to stay worthy of the esteem that is written in the nominations. I also use my own nominations to try to drive my friends to greatness as well.

I know that I work hard, have an impact on the lives of many judges, and I deserve the nominations I've received, but it sucks to be told that it's just because I'm popular or because I know so many judges. It can really take the wind out of your sails. My reaction is to blow harder. (That sounds weird.) I didn't use all of my nomination slots this past wave. Partly this was because the nomination window closed on a Sunday when I was at an event. I had given this feedback in the past, and it got changed to something like a Wednesday, but then it changed back. I don't know why, but it took me by surprise, and I didn't have the energy to put in some more nominations.

I now regret that. If my words and nominations have power, I should seek to use as many as I have. Even on a reduced schedule, I go to more events than most, and I spend more time than all but a handful of people reading Tournament Reports. I see greatness all around me, and I will say so. This extends to Judge Center reviews as well. With the advent of Flash Feedback reviews, I feel more comfortable just entering a review that says "This thing you did was great. Thanks." These might be placeholders for future Exemplar nominations, or they might not, but at least the thing was said to the person.

To that end, I've also been entering nominations more proactively. As a newly-minted L4, I get 15 nominations. I've already entered 3. I intend to use all of them, and if I run out of slots, I will reach out to my RC as I have told others to do.

This dish has too much salt for my liking. Complaining about the complaining is just adding more salt. Time to double down on the sugar. I acknowledge that the system is not perfect. But I refuse to believe that the answer is to take it away. It has brought me too much joy for me to believe this.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fear and Restrooms in Charlotte

What this blog post won't do: it won't answer your burning questions about Grand Prix Charlotte and what is going to happen there. Why? Despite the fact that I work for SCG, I don't make all the decisions. However, the people who do make the decisions are aware of the issue, and they are in discussions with WotC. That's all I can ask for in this situation, and as is my way, I will wait patiently. I ask you to do the same and have some faith in the leaders of our community who have, in my opinion, always shown sensitivity and respect on topics pertaining to inclusivity (if "exclusivity" is a word, why isn't that one, spellcheck?)

While I can't tell you anything meaningful about GP Charlotte, I can share my personal thoughts. I'm upset. I've heard the reaction in our community to the situation in North Carolina referred to as "fear mongering." I think that's partly right. People are afraid. The climate in America seems to be shifting to one of intolerance and hate. The fear is that this type of intolerance will gain momentum in breadth and in depth. The fear is that the people who hate will feel emboldened to hate more, to hate bigger, and to act upon their hate.

I don't understand that fear myself on a visceral level, but I absolutely respect it. I've had people look at me a little too long, probably because I'm Asian (or maybe because I had blue-colored hair!), but I've never been afraid that they would beat me up, or even kill me. So I consider myself to have lived a pretty safe and privileged life in that regard. Others aren't so lucky. They read news stories about cops shooting people who look like them. They hear about people like them being groped by TSA agents because they don't look like they are supposed to. Humiliation. Fear. It's real.

I don't feel the fear, but I will not belittle others for feeling it. I will try to ease their fears. I will support them. I will stand with them on the Internet, I will stand up for them in person, and I will say that this is not okay.

Ultimately, I think this Tweet sums up my feelings best:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Fallacy of Experience

How many Grand Prix do you need to judge before you have enough experience to become a Level 3 Judge? Ten? Twenty?

How many times do you need to be a Team Lead before you are good at it?

When is good enough, well, good enough?

Based on the title of this blog and my penchant for rhetorical questions (What's the point of all these rhetorical questions?) you might have guessed that I am coming down against the idea of "experience" being a useful measure of someone's judging ability. Clearly, if you try to reduce this to black and white, experience does matter; someone with ten years of experience judging is going to be much better at it than someone with one year of experience. However, what I am arguing against is the mentality that there is a linear progression between those two points, and simply piling on repeated "experience" is enough to become a better judge.

My own history as a judge colors my position on this subject. Before making Level 3, I judged 6 Grand Prix, 3 Pro Tours, and a US Nationals. PTs were larger and crazier than they are today, and GPs were smaller (800 was considered large), while US Nationals was somewhere between the two. I think it's reasonable to average out those events and call the aggregate an equivalent of 10 GPs worth of experience by today's standards. Before getting into a comparison with today, I want to digress a bit.

Seven years ago, Jeff Morrow wrote an article about the growth mindset. To sum up his article, there are two different mindsets, the fixed and the growth mindset, which he distinguishes as such:

"A person with the fixed mindset believes that characteristics like intelligence, talent, and aptitude at a particular activity are essentially fixed qualities. A person with the growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that aptitude, talent, and even basic intelligence can be improved with effort and practice."

As Jeff points out, the Judge Program is fundamentally built around the idea of the growth mindset. We are truly a cult of self-improvement. Jeff specifically calls out improvement as a result of effort and practice, whereas I think the current focus on experience incorrectly leans more heavily on existence and luck.

Experience and existence are remarkably similar words, and they can look similar in application, but they aren't the same thing, and the differences matter quite a bit. Earlier I pointed out that I had 10 "GPs" worth of experience before testing for L3. These days, that's a drop in the bucket for a road warrior L2 in the United States, but that's partly because there are so many more GPs in this country, as well as the Tour, which while not the same as GPs today, do overlap somewhat with GPs from "back in the day."

In fact, with the schedules of the GP and Open Series being what they are, judges in the US can easily get twice the experience that I did in a single year. But there I go using that word, "experience," in a place where I don't think it applies. What I mean to say is that a judge can exist at 20 GPs and SCG Opens in a single year, but that their experience doesn't increase in anywhere close to a linear fashion to match that.

Abe Corson hit on this in his recent interview for his 100th Review Milestone. When I asked him why he had written so many reviews in 2012, he cited that there were fewer events that year and "...the only reason I had any hope of keeping up with this pace was that I just wasn’t as active as I am now. 2012 was before the increase in number of US GPs, so there weren’t as many entire-weekend-consuming things for me to get sucked into. There was at the same time fewer experiences about which to write and more leftover time for me to do it."

I mentioned luck being a factor that people lean on in terms of their experience calculation. What I mean by luck is that judges exist at events and hope that something happens that tests them or teaches them. This is similar to the request to "give me feedback" in the hopes that someone else sees and comments on something you've done. It's a very passive approach to learning, and it's one that plays into a more fixed mindset because you aren't exerting your own effort and practice to grow; you are waiting for someone else or something else to come along and teach it to you.

Existing at fewer events meant more time to think about those events, internalize lessons, write reviews, and yes, gain experience. It's counter-intuitive but you should go to fewer events to become a better judge.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Feedback as a Scorekeeper

Matt Braddock recently asked me (and Jennifer Dery) for some tips on giving feedback from the tournament role of the Scorekeeper, a role that Jenn and I have both filled at Opens and Grand Prix. Matt was primarily asking about SKing local tournaments like PPTQs, but I think the concepts translate well because the types of interactions that you have don't change that much in scale compared to other aspects of tournaments.

The most striking difference of the scorekeeping seat is that it is just that, a seat. Depending on the size of the tournament, you may be stuck in your chair for a majority of the round. Even if you aren't actively entering results, it behooves you to stay in the area to field questions like "How do I drop?" and those rare times that you do get away from the chair are better spent getting fresh air, coffee, or lunch.

This means that you are going to be limited in the interactions that you have with judges in the event. You are rarely going to have the opportunity to shadow someone on a judge call or appeal. When you think about it, this is the lifeblood of judging: the intersection of rules and policy knowledge with customer service skills. What can a Scorekeeper provide feedback on without these things?

One of the people that an SK can help the most is the Head Judge of the event. Your seat, while not ideally situated for floor interactions, is in a good place to see a lot of the things that the HJ does in the tournament, chief among them the HJ opening announcements. During these announcements, Floor Judges are often busy with other tasks like distributing player rewards, collecting decklists, or distributing match result slips (if the announcements happen at the beginning of Round 1). Unless there are some late registrants, the SK is generally free to listen to the announcements and provide some much needed feedback on them.

Some things to consider when listening to announcements:
* Are they too long? You can only hold players' attention for so long. Stick to the essentials. Consider what announcements could wait until later.
* The use of humor in announcements can be controversial. I personally like them. Whatever your preference, if it is used, that's ripe for commentary.
* Did the HJ sound good? This usually encompasses two things. First, do they have a good announcement voice? Generally, it is better to speak in the lower register when addressing a group, especially when not using a microphone. Second, speed is an important thing to monitor. People tend to talk faster when they are nervous, and this can be to the detriment of announcements.
* On a related note to sounding good, were they prepared?

If your event is using match result slips to record penalties that's a great route to interacting with judges about IPG policy. Especially as we transition into a new era of Hidden Card Error (HCE), we will all be exploring the nuances of this infraction. As the Scorekeeper for an event, you are the only person who sees all of the infractions that are issued, so you can spot trends and especially common mistakes that judges make. My scorekeeping and blogging associate Jennifer Dery makes it a habit of writing about such common issues here.

End of Round procedure is another point of interaction between judges and scorekeepers. Smaller tournaments might not have much interaction here besides a quick check like "Table 10 and 14 are the last two playing." At larger events, there is definitely a lot more going on, making it ideal fodder for discussion and feedback.

Those are just a few ways that you can think about feedback from the scorekeeper's seat. There are certainly other ways. For example, if you can negotiate one round to spend some time on the floor, it's a great mental break in addition to an opportunity to interact with judges in a more traditional manner. The point is that being a scorekeeper doesn't have to be the death knell to you giving feedback to others.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flash Feedback

It’s been said that the Judge Program is a Cult of Self-Improvement. It seems that within that there is a sub-Cult of Long Windedness. Reviews today are just longer than they were 7 years ago. But does that mean we are better off? (This blog was going to include stats to back this up, but I... didn't want this to get too long. Maybe I will write a follow up.)

There’s no question that the average review today is more substantive and full of meaningful feedback. It’s a natural consequence of our evolution as judges and our use of this feedback tool. But as a result, fewer reviews are being written. (The entire Judge Program is writing more reviews, but the average per judge has gone down.)

That’s feedback that is being left off the table. Hopefully, you’re still getting a chance to provide that feedback face-to-face, but if it isn’t making into the written form of a review, there’s still some lost momentum there.

In our modern Cult of Long-Windedness, there is a popular lament as to why a judge hasn’t written a review for another judge: “I didn’t have enough material.” Translation: “The review isn’t long enough.”

I’m here to call BS and lead a movement to remove this excuse from our vernacular.

I get it. I really do. More feels like “better.” I am probably the inadvertent leader of the Long-Winded Cult, and I know for a fact that receiving reviews from me has injected people with the false notion of what a review (or an “L3 review”) should look like. Just look how long this stupid blog post is!

Feedback ungiven just disappears into nothing. It’s a waste.So writing anything has got to better than sitting on an unfinished review that is “too short.” So with that, I introduce to you the titular concept of Flash Feedback.

Just write that review. Don’t mind how short it is. In fact, work on making it shorter. Using Twitter has been a wonderful learning experience for me in terms of word economy, and I would like to set an analogous bar for Flash Feedback: 140 words (instead of characters). Challenge yourself to enter a review with 140 words or less.

Note that isn’t for all reviews. Some reviews should be longer and more in-depth. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to recognize what feedback should be long and what feedback should be short. Flash Feedback is about taking away the stigma of the “too short” review, and getting in the habit of entering your feedback, no matter how short you think the content is. In fact, you’ll probably find that you need to do some creative editing in order to get your Flash Feedback under the limit. That’s a great practice to get into in general, and will serve you well even when you write your long reviews, because the best writing should always be trimmed a bit.

Finally, here's an example of a Flash Feedback review that I wrote. It is exactly 140 words, but that includes that first introduction line, and doesn't include a link to this blog itself. I'm on the fence right now about whether to include those into my word count in the future, although I will definitely continue to mention that it is Flash Feedback. I've also omitted some biographical details about the event itself, which serve only to elaborate on the details that the drop down fields do not cover, and aren't really a part of the feedback.


This is a Flash Feedback review.

You got appealed twice to me (I was Support Judge). 1st was a typical Kolaghan's Command vs. Spellskite. 2nd was Ugin’s -X exiling colored artifacts. You were right and I upheld both times. We talked about how to explain rules to players by using examples that are related, namely Electrolyze vs. Spellskite.

I also showed you the system for tracking Warning numbers on slips. This is an underrated way you can help yourself remember to ask if a player has prior Warnings, and it can help the Scorekeeper.

Other than this, we only had short interactions, but I am left with the overwhelming impression that you are a friendly, hard-working judge. I’ve been told this by others, so it was good to confirm it for myself, and to put a face to the name.