Judging a Magic tournament is not the easiest thing in the world. At any given moment, you can go from being the judge everyone loves to one everyone hates. It’s just the nature of the beast.
At larger tournaments, you get to clean up trash, push in chairs, fix table clothes, tear down scenery, pack up prize walls, etc. Your shifts are often 12 hours long, sometimes more and, for the most part, you are on your feet. Throw in dealing with players, answering rules questions, talking with parents and it makes for quite the trying day.
At smaller tournaments, your duties are very similar except, obviously, on a smaller scale. Now, however, you are working a lot closer with tournament organizers who may or may not know the first thing about hosting a Magic tournament.
So why do it?
To start with (because this is what I always get asked) there are the tangible benefits: you get cards, and sometimes cash, and sometimes playmats. If you are active in the judge community, you also have a shot at getting judge foils through the Exemplar Program (this is an excellent program but not one I will detail here. If you want to know more about it, go here.).
Plus, if you so chose, you get to travel a lot. So far I have been to Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and San Diego.
For me, though, it’s the intangibles. And there is a lot of them.
Judging has allowed me to get to know, however limitedly, a whole lot of new people. I now get to converse with people from all over the United States. These are fantastic people that, if I lived in the same town as them, I would absolutely love getting together with them.
Judging allows me to help people have a better day. What does this mean? It means that I get to do something with a player or another judge to help them. Ideally this helps to improve their day, sometimes in the absolute smallest way, sometimes greatly.
I had a situation at my very first Grand Prix, Salt Lake City, where a player was visibly upset because he lost again to a deck that he had lost to many times before. Unsure of what to do, I consulted with two judges who had a lot more experience than me. I told them what I wanted to do and how I thought it should be handled. I didn’t want to give the guy a penalty, but I needed to make sure he was calmed down.
They both agreed or agreed in as much as they gave me a “go get’em Tiger” kind of answer and then sat back to watch the storm fly.
The result? Awesome. I connected with this player, talked to him about the issue, gave him some advice and, in the end, got a hug from him. I saw that same player in Denver. It made me very happy when he looked me square in the eyes, smiled, and waved.
It is always my goal to leave an event knowing that something I did impacted someone’s life in a positive way and helped them to have a better experience. Maybe they won't remember me (could be because I am not fortunate to have a name tag yet), and perhaps I won't remember them, but it is always my goal.
Connecting with other judges is another intangible. These are people who obviously share a common interest with you. How easy is it to break the ice when it’s already cracked for you? Anytime I get the privilege to go to an event I always scan the roster to see who is going to be there. When I see certain names, I smile.
The satisfaction of successfully pulling off an event is another intangible. It feels great knowing something was done successfully because you had a hand in it. I was extremely nervous (truth be told I still get nervous when I judge) when I head judged my very first competitive tournament. It was a TCG Player States event hosted at Dave’s Darts and Billiards in Casper, Wy.
This was the first time I was the only judge working a large event (large for me anyway). I was terrified I was going t mess it up. In fact, during my judge announcements I made the joke, “If you have a question, don’t agree with something your opponent is doing, or generally need some clarification, raise your hand and call ‘Judge!’ At that point I will promptly throw my hands in the air and run screaming out the front door.”
While the intent behind that was to get the players to laugh (it worked) it was truly how I felt. I was scared. In the end everything went smoothly. Players thanked me for doing a good job, and I thanked them for playing and helping to make the tournament an excellent one.
When it was all over I was proud of what we had accomplished.
Judging, in a lot of aspects, really comes down to providing top-notch customer service to all players. Which is something I strive to do. The lasting effect this has can be awesome.
But sometimes it’s the things the players do that make it all worth it.
At Denver, I had players from Colorado Springs, come up to me while I was working registration. These two players had taken part in my above mentioned first solo ran tournament and they remembered me. They wanted to stop by and say hi. We chatted for a bit about the success they’ve had and what they were hoping to accomplish at this event.
In Las Vegas I had a player come up to me with his main event playmat and ask if I would sign it. I was confused by this as I am no one famous and asked him why. He said it was his goal to have as many judges as he could sign this mat. I can’t remember if he said why, but when I signed it he thanked me for not only signing the mat but for working so hard to make GP: Las Vegas 2015 a memorable event.
Another intangible, being part of a community. Because judges tend to be awesome people and I get to associate with them. That's pretty awesome, too.
I could go on for hours about why it is I enjoy judging Magic tournaments but, I think it’s best that I stop here. Let me finish by saying being a Magic Judge is one of the better decision I have made when it comes to hobbies. It’s definitely not something I will ever regret.