My very first live encounter with Sheldon Menery was negative. It was GP Oakland, my very first GP. The format was Sealed, Mirrodin with Darksteel. My deck was deceptively bad. It turns out that Solar Tide is one of the worst block Wraths of all time, too slow and too unreliable to make much of a difference.
But enough about ghosts of girlfriends and formats past. I got summarily bounced out of the GP with a 1-3 record, losing to GP LA Top 8er Mat Marr in my final round. After that, I signed up to volunteer on the next day to become a Judge (I passed, possibly a story for another time). For the rest of the day, I wandered the floor watching matches. I watched Eirik lose to PTR playing for Day 2. PTR dispatched him and said, “Good luck tomorrow. Oh, wait.” You can think this was just an accidental slip up, or you might know PTR.
Elsewhere, I stopped to watch some drama unfold with Gerard Fabiano’s match. From what I could gather, there had been a dispute, and a Judge was called. It appeared that Gerard and the Judge had a previous encounter in the tournament because the Pro was not happy to see this guy as the first responder. Some accounts had Gerard demanding another Judge even before he could make a ruling. That’s usually a big no-no, but Gerard went one step farther. He left his seat and went to go get the Head Judge, which happened to be Sheldon, sporting the old red and black stripes. He physically dragged Sheldon back to the table and demanded that he do something about the awful ruling of the Floor Judge.
I didn’t stick around to get all of the details of what happened after that. It’s certainly possible that Sheldon gave Gerard a speech about his behavior. These days, what he did would warrant an Unsporting Conduct Warning. The Judge probably got a talking to as well. Despite Gerard’s volatile personality, the Judge probably did not handle things as best as he could. And yet, the prevailing image I took away from that exchange was a Head Judge being dragged around by a well-known Pro. This would actually color my opinion of Sheldon for sometime after.
Fast forward to Daytona Beach, the site of my second GP as a Judge, and my first meeting with Sheldon since Oakland. He wasn’t there as a Judge. Living in Florida, he had hosted a bunch of the high-level folks for a preceding week of debauchery (read: EDH). He was around the site wearing a black WotC shirt, so it’s possible that he was there in a different capacity as well.
At one point during the weekend, I worked up the courage to talk to Sheldon, no easy feat if you’ve ever seen him in person. Basically, the man is built like mountain, and not the cardboard, red-mana-producing kind. Sheldon’s arms look as thick as a normal person’s legs, and when he strikes the pose–you know the pose I’m talking about–he is amongst the top five most intimidating people on the planet.
What I said to him, and what he said back to me are lost in my memory. It wasn’t a very long conversation. In fact, what I do remember is that it was downright curt. To be fair, he was probably very busy, and this was back when I was still a relative nobody. (I was, however, somebody enough that Brian David-Marshall knew me. We had an interesting conversation that weekend.)
It wasn’t until Pro Tour Hollywood that I got a real good look at Sheldon Menery, both figuratively and literally. As it turns out, his arm is not thicker than my leg; it’s thicker than both my legs combined, and my neck, and I’m just full of it.
What surprised me the most about Sheldon was that he was actually a human being. In general, all high-level Judges strike an imposing figure, but like I said earlier, Sheldon was the imposingest. At one point, I talked to Evan Erwin of “The Magic Show” fame, and we agreed to film a funny intro for his show. In it, I was trying to say the typical “Hi, this is Riki Hayashi, and you’re watching ‘The Magic Show,’ “ but kept getting interrupted by an off-screen “Judge!” call (voiced by L3 Lee Sharpe). After the third try, I finally got the full intro out without being interrupted. That’s where I wanted the clincher.
My plan was to have Sheldon walk up to me with a glare on his face and silently point me back to the floor to work instead of messing around with Evan. Could I get Sheldon to agree to such a silly video? Regulars to the Show know that he did agree to it, rather readily, and we pulled off one of the most popular intros ever.
At the time, I was a bit surprised that he agreed to do it, because of that stern exterior of his. But over the course of that weekend in Hollywood, I got to see a lot of Sheldon, especially on Sunday when I was assigned as his Executive Officer (or XO. Can you tell this guy has a military background?) Sunday was just the Top 8, so not a whole lot happened. In fact, the running joke was that I was Sheldon’s secretary, fetching him coffee. While I did get him his coffee, I also got some unprecedented access to him and a front row seat to the Top 8. All in all, it was a very enjoyable and educational stint as a secretary. In particular, seeing Sheldon worrying about his airline reservation really drove home the “human” aspect. You would never see Chuck Norris worrying about such things. He would probably just punch the air and make a plane fall at his feet.
After Hollywood, I left Sheldon some feedback at the Judge Center. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I wrote some of the things I did because frankly I was naive. To his credit, Sheldon didn’t have me assassinated or worse, booted from the Judge Program. Since then, I’ve learned a lot, from Sheldon and from other Judges, and my views on various subjects have evolved to the point where at Regionals this past weekend, I found myself in a mirror situation to the feedback I gave Sheldon. A relatively new Judge was advocating a hard line, by-the-book approach to something, and I was telling him that we needed to look at the bigger picture. What’s that they say about your parents?
The parallels between me and Sheldon are all the more interesting when you consider the conversation we had at US Nationals. It was a very brief one outside the bar. Sheldon was on his way to Scott Larabee’s ten-year anniversary celebration with WotC. I commented that ten years was a long time to be in this business, and that I had no idea what I would be doing in ten years. Sheldon made a simple remark that could have just been a throwaway statement: “Who knows? In ten years you could be me.”
At the time, I didn’t really think much of it. But as my goals have solidified, and I’ve come to a better understanding of who I am in the grand scheme of the DCI, I would be lucky to end up as Sheldon in ten years. Clearly he’s had a vast influence on me in terms of writing as a Judge. I’ve also discovered the many similarities in our judging styles. Going back to my first encounter with him, I was struck by the fact that the HJ was friendly enough with the Pro to allow him to get dragged to a table. While I’m not really a “dragged” kind of guy, I do have very strong ties with several prominent Pros (maybe even some who write for this site). I’ve been cautioned to watch out how I let those relationships show up in public. It’s an eerie parallel.
On June 12-14th, Superstars will be hosting its second $5K Standard tournament in San Jose, California. I will be there just like at the first one, except not quite. Amongst the changes, I will be Head Judging this one, partly due to my awesomeness and only a little bit due to the unavailability of Toby Elloitt and Jeff Morrow.
The other big difference is that I will be running our first Judge Conference. What is that exactly? Would you believe me if I said that I don’t quite know? I have heard other people talk about Judge Conferences, so I guess I have a few ideas about what should happen. But I’m still doing research to make this an event that people will want to attend again in the future. Let me know in the forums if you have any good ideas.
One of the main goals of a Judge Conference is just getting to know people. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of people, but most Judges don’t work as many events as I have. I’m looking forward to taking all of the Judges and would-be Judges in my area and giving them a chance to meet each other, discuss their goals, and see if they can’t help each other along in their journies.
We will also have some informational and instructional seminars. Here are a few highlights so far:
Luis Scott-Vargas will be giving a short seminar on balancing playing and judging. As you might imagine, he has quite the unique perspective on this subject. Despite his busy schedule, Luis finds the time to Judge an occasional GPT or PTQ in Northern California.
Between me and Eric Levine, we will cobble together a seminar on PT Honolulu, which should include brief summaries on all of the seminars there as well as any other Judge news. This seminar will also include some tips for those Judges who are interested in branching out and exploring the exciting world of the Pro Tour, particularly relevant with PT Austin coming up later this year.
Depending on how things shape up, we should have several other seminars lined up (anywhere from 2-4 more), and plenty of time for a roundtable discussion on general judging topics. We will also have a Judge Draft and/or EDH games for socialization and general face-smashery. Experiment Kraj will accept all comers. More details will follow as we lead up to this event. There will also be plenty of time for Judge certification, and I already have a few early candidates who hope to be ready to test by then.
If you are a Judge, and you would like to participate in the Judge Conference, please contact me at the e-mail address below. As an added incentive, Judges who RSVP will receive free entry to one Superstars event that weekend (this includes the main event on Saturday, or any of the side event Drafts or Constructed tournaments). If you are an aspiring Judge, we would love to have you show up as well. You’ll get a free entry as well as long as you have a referral from a certified Judge you’ve been working with. Basically, this is just to prevent all of you freeloaders from taking advantage of us. See, I’ve thought of everything. And of course, if you use your free entry and skip out on the Conference, I’ll have to release the dogs that spit out bees.
Until next time this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.
Rikipedia at Gmail dot conference
Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums
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