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The Riki Rules: Level 3 in Kyoto

Pro Tour Kyoto, March 1, 2009 3:30pm

I am standing on a balcony overlooking the Public Events area of PT Kyoto. Behind me, in a small room, John Alderfer, Mark Brown, and David Vogin are debating my fate. They are my L3 interview panel. Having just stepped out of the room after my role-playing scenario, I can think of only one thing:

Is this the end of the journey?

I look down and see Johanna Virtanen working Public Events. I think she looks up and sees me. It’s too far away to make proper eye contact. I think about waving, but am too dejected to make such a cheery action. If she sees that I’ve seen her, she will probably try to signal a “how is it going?” to me.

I’ve come all this way to fail.

I’m not quite sure what to do with myself if I don’t pass this interview. I mean, life will go on for me. I will continue to judge, but the past year has been such a rollercoaster ride filled with success; stopping that steady stream of success seems like it could lead to a complete collapse of my mindset and passion.


GP Philadelphia, one year ago

GP Philly is my first tournament since passing my Level 2 exam. The plan is already in motion to get to Level 3. The minimum requirement is one year as an L2. Philly is an all-important first step on this climb because it is Head Judged by L4 John Carter. There’s no question that amongst the Judges that I admire, he is at the top of the list and I savor every opportunity to work with him and learn.

Before the event, I do the usual HJ e-mail exchanges with Carter and mention that I am interested in studying my Team Leads carefully with an eye on filling such a role later in the year. At the time, this seems like a reasonable progression to me. Carter apparently disagrees and sends me a very cryptic response of “You may be Team Leading sooner than you think”¦” I wonder. I worry. I forget about it.

During one of the latter rounds of Day 1, I am talking with James Elliott on the floor. This is my first tournament of many with James. We hit it off, although it is hard to imagine someone that wouldn’t hit it off with James.

Another Judge comes up and interrupts our conversation. “Carter wants to talk to you two.”

Gulp. That doesn’t sound good at all. Does Carter think we are loafing off? We are talking about serious Judge issues, I swear, like what we want to eat for dinner. We go to the front stage and Carter looks down at us from his intimidating perch. “What are you two doing tomorrow?” Latrine duty, I think. We did something horrible and we don’t even know it.
But there was that cryptic e-mail from him, so I take a chance and say, “Team leading?”
“Is that a question or a statement?” he asks.
“Both,” I say, not quite confident enough to make it a statement alone.
“Well, that’s exactly right.”

Relieved to not be scrubbing toilets on Sunday, James and I walks away. The panic doesn’t set it until much later. That night, I stay up late reading up on everything I can get my hands on regarding Team Leading. I take copious notes of everything I want to accomplish.

The assignment goes off without much of a hitch. It is a huge confidence boost to not only be able to lead a team of half a dozen Judges on deck checks, but also the fact that Carter believed that I would be able to do it, even if I didn’t believe it myself initially.

US Nationals, Chicago, seven months ago

“So I was scheduled to do a 2-on-1 with you, but I have to back out, and someone else will be handling it.”

That’s Adam Shaw, L3 from Connecticut, telling me I don’t know what. What the heck is a 2-on-1 and why does it sound like I’m going to get accosted by two other Judges in the showers?

As it turns out, 2-on-1s are common mentoring meetings at most major events where two L3s sit down with one L2 and discuss “¦ anything. Level 3 doesn’t necessarily have to be a topic of conversation, although it obviously comes up quite a lot.

At one point, Eric Shukan from Boston tells me that he is Adam’s replacement, but also backs out. By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, I’m wondering if I’ll just get passed over. I’ve been judging the Top 8 all morning, which has kept me out of touch with the rest of the staff.

When the time finally comes, it is Chris Richter of “Ask the Judge” fame and”¦ Adam Shaw back on the job. We sit down and before we can even get into the thick of things, Jason “Lems” Lemahieu joins us. A second Jason, Ness from Canada, also sits in for a bit. It is an impromptu 4-on-1.

When the subject of L3 comes up, I tell them that I am gunning for it at ludicrous speed. We talk a lot about my work back home in building the judge community. I pimp a few of the local guys coming up behind me, particularly Eric Levine and Sean Catanese, whose literary stylings you can enjoy on this very site. In particular, I tell Adam that he will be blown away by Eric the following week at GP Denver. Chris and Adam tell me that L3 is a reasonable goal by the first PT of 2009, although it will be a lot of work.

Nationals is also another step forward in the Team Leading department. HJ Jared Sylva gives me one of the two deck checks teams on Day 2. I have much more time to prepare and I do my due diligence for this tournament. I have plenty of discussion questions for the team, and I spend some time talking to them about strengths and weaknesses. I knock this one of the park, and several people compliment on the job I did.

Jared also springs a surprise on me because what’s a tournament without a surprise? On the first day of the event, he asks me “Have you ever called a draft before?” I tell him no, and he informs me “You’ll be calling the draft on Day 2.” I’ve chronicled this nerve-wracking experience of speaking in front of one hundred players all listening attentively to your instructions before. Overall, it is another huge step forward for me in both learning something new and confidence in myself.

Kyoto, Saturday night

It is the night before my interview. I hang out at the bar with Adam Shaw. We’ve done this every night after dinner this weekend. Adam and I have always been good friends. This week he has solidified his place as my best friend on the Pro Tour and it isn’t even close. Sometime during that Saturday evening he says to me, “You better pass tomorrow or I’m going to kill you.” I laugh. Adam laughs. Yet there is a lingering sense of menace.

Less than an hour later, Carter and few other Judges stroll into the bar, no doubt looking for an EDH game. I brought four decks with me to Kyoto, but I haven’t played a single game. At one point, Carter pulls me aside and gives me a “You better pass tomorrow or I’m going to kill you.” I laugh and tell him to get in line.

In fact, there are plenty of people back home in the US who would get in that line, as well as a few international friends. But first and foremost, I would be in that line.

Four months ago, Pro Tour Berlin

If there’s any moment where I feel like the wheels have come off my L3 train and derailed my wagon, this tournament is it. If there’s any sentence where I feel like I have completely mixed up my metaphors, it is the previous one.

Having been pushed out the door of L2 right into a Team Lead role by Carter, I am more than a little disappointed that this is my second Pro Tour without such a role. Of course, the first was PT Hollywood, my first ever PT and it is hard to imagine getting such an opportunity there. But for Berlin, I think I’ve missed a chance.

At PT Berlin, I don’t do much more than occupy space. This isn’t to devalue the work I put in or the people I meet. In fact, at Berlin I work with some of the most important people for my future plans for the first time. However, I don’t get any leadership roles on the floor.

The one thing I do get to do is help Peter Jahn run the “Welcome to your first Pro Tour” seminar. It is my most unique task of the weekend, and one that I will always cherish for the opportunity to meet new Judges right at the beginning of their journey like David de la Iglesia from Spain. Strangely, I never got to attend this seminar before having to give it myself. A simple twist of fate.

I have another 2-on-1, this time with Carlos Ho and Nick Sephton. They confirm that I am still solidly on the L3 track based on what they’ve seen. We also talk a lot about my local community. It is abundantly clear to me just how important this is. You can be the greatest Judge in the world with the rules, penalties, and tournament management, but equally if not more important is your community management. You have to help the players, store owners, TOs, and other Judges in your community.

The plan that I outline to Nick and Carlos is to build up Sacramento as a separate but equal fiefdom to San Francisco. Geographically, it is close enough that we can same-day travel to PTQs and such, but for day-to-day business, it is just far enough to be pretty independent.

I also mention being disappointed with the lack of new opportunities for me in recent tournaments. They tell me that if I want something, like a Team Lead opportunity, I need to ask for it. In fact, by asking I might be making the HJ’s job easier in picking roles.

This is such a simple concept that it completely blows me away. Ask and ye shall receive! Can it really be that simple? I put this to the test by going up to Seamus Campbell, the HJ for GP Atlanta in a few weeks, and pretty much demanding a Team Lead position. I also ask for face time with two specific Judges on the staff in order to get to know them better and do what I can to assist in their development. I get to do all of these things and it is a hugely positive experience for me and all because I asked for it.

For Worlds, I run the same game and ask to be Shift Lead on Public Events. I skip over asking to Team Lead because as special as it would be to do this at Worlds, it isn’t really that different from doing the same thing at a GP. Shift Leading is a unique challenge to the larger events

Kyoto, on the floor

There are two L1s of interest to me at this tournament, Damion Guy from North Carolina and David de la Iglesia. Damion tests for 2 and doesn’t pass. David is likely to test in the near future. I talk to other Judges about them, particularly those who have worked with them in the past. I do this to both gain a better understanding of them so that I can give more directed feedback, and also to get other Judges to notice them. I think this is something that an L3 should be doing at a tournament, keeping an eye on people and making sure they are getting the proper attention and feedback.

One of the keys to Judge promotions is that the person should already be functioning like the Level they are going for. For L1s, we put them on the floor and make sure that they are capable of floor judging and fulfilling the role of an L1. For L2s, we like to see that they are capable of teaching other Judges and bringing them up. Since my harrowing and educational experience as Public Events Shift Lead at Worlds, I’ve felt like an L3 already and have just been waiting for the opportunity to test. I asked Jeff Morrow for a recommendation at Worlds, and he was happy to do it, but he felt that PT Honolulu would be more appropriate than the Kyoto date I was aiming for. I grudgingly agreed with this plan despite my ambitious goal to test at Kyoto. Despite my fast track, I have a lot of respect for the system and for the opinions of people I trust, like Jeff.

GP Los Angeles, A month and a half ago

My goal for GP LA is to be lazy. This sounds like a terrible goal until you consider that the most common critique I get is that I tend to work myself into a coma. I resist my usual urge to jump all over every single call, instead letting other people get to them first, observing their ruling, and offering feedback.

While I am on the floor being lazy, Carter stops by for a chat. He asks me if I might consider testing in Kyoto. Apparently there is a lack of L3 candidates for the event. And rather than put all of those high level Judges to waste, they are considering giving me an early shot. “Of course. My plan was to be ready to test in Kyoto all along,” I tell Carter.

I am so elated over this news that I end up working really hard for the rest of the weekend. Oh, well. You can’t win them all.

When I see Toby Elliott, he smirks gleefully and asks Carter to be on my panel. I welcome this. Very few people know my strengths and weaknesses better than Toby.

Kyoto, sometime during the interview

At one point, I do something unusual. Toby is sitting in as an observer during this portion. Later, he tells me “Just based on what I saw, I thought you were done for. Someone interviewing for Level 3 should never say that.” When he tells me that, I am suddenly very glad that he wasn’t on my panel.

At another point, David Vogin gets a little weird on us. He’s not happy with my answer and wants clarification. He starts to draw a graph of a “Judge development scale.” The graph sputters, and not one of us has a clear idea of what he is trying to draw. We all have a brief laugh about. It is a welcome moment of levity in an otherwise stress-filled space. Then comes the role-playing.

Everything I’ve ever heard about the role-playing portion of the interview, which is admittedly very little, indicated that it is essentially a Kobayashi Maru, the legendary Starfleet Academy exam from Star Trek. The Kobayashi Maru is an unwinnable scenario designed to test how candidates deal with such situations. James T. Kirk is the only person to actually pass the test. He did it by rigging the computer. There is no such out for the L3 interview.

I can’t divulge the details, but the role-playing leaves me dazed. I gaze out from the balcony and I get all these weird flashbacks of the people I’ve talked to and the things I’ve done in order to get this point only to fail.

When I come back into the interview room, Carter is there with the panel. Mark explains that usually there is a debrief session where they go over my good and bad parts before giving me the news. However, as Carter is scheduled to give his usual Q&A seminar and he wants to be present for the moment of truth

“Congratulations. You passed.”

Maybe those aren’t Mark’s exact words. It’s funny how a moment can be so singularly important to you, literally something you’ve ached to achieve for months, and yet the details escape you. I’m pretty sure I shake a bunch of hands, and we break up the party with the plan to reconvene after Carter’s seminar to do the debrief.

At the bottom of the stairs, I run into Adam Shaw, my constant companion that weekend. Seeing Adam there with the inquisitive “did you pass?” look brings forth a wave of emotion that I don’t even realize that I have been holding back all weekend. I mutter sheepishly that I passed before breaking into some hiccupped sobbing. And once it starts I can’t stop it. I make my way around the tournament hall finding friends of all persuasions, Judge, player, staff. It’s amazing the different types of people my life has been touched by in the past two years.

The tears come again when I see LSV. He is on break, waiting for Nassif to finish topdecking his semifinals opponent to death, birding over Gerry, Ocho, and Utter-Leyton in the Legacy tournament. It has been a wild ride for the both of us. His ascension culminated at Berlin, and although he came dangerously close to a repeat, Kyoto is my day. He gives me a simple side-by-side embrace and lets me release my emotions for a bit, knowing what I’ve put myself through to reach this point.

The rest of the day, I soak in congratulations aplenty. The artists hold a special signing session for the Judges. I get some prints, but also make the purchase of my lifetime as I buy the original art for Opposition, my favorite Magic card of all time. (When I told Jeremy Fuentes that I would be playing in an upcoming Extended PTQ, he said “But Opposition isn’t legal.”)

Judge Dinner is within walking distance, which is nice. (Although we walked to Judge Dinner at PT Berlin, I would hesitate to call it “walking distance.”) When we get there, I have to do some quick translating between Carter and a waitress during which it comes to my attention that this restaurant is a super buffet. Basically they will keep bringing out food and drinks for the duration of an hour and a half. They will keep bringing out”¦ drinks for the duration of an hour and a half.

This turns out to be a recipe for… fun! I sit next to Seamus Campbell and we continuously keep each other’s glasses full. On the other side of me, Carlos Ho keeps bringing more plates of delicious from other tables.

Once people get their fill of food, the mingling begins. I collect a few more signatures for my foil Rule of Law collection. I do not sign one myself. When the waitress announces last call, there is a frantic rush of shouting, hand-raising, and counting.

We settle in with our final drinks for the night (somehow I end up double-fisting beer and plum wine), and Carter takes the stage. Various people stand up and soak in applause.

Ryan Dare keeps interrupting and Carlos comes up with the phrase of the evening “Shut up, Ryan,” which gets shouted collectively about two dozen times over the rest of the evening.

When it comes to my turn to stand up, Carter says, “I’m especially happy to announce here in Japan, our newest Level 3, Riki Hayashi.” It is a moment that I will never forget, and if I ever do, I can go back and watch David de la Iglesia’s overly dark video of the proceedings. I’ll spare myself from writing about the embarrassing details. If you must know, see for yourself.

When I get home, I get showered with messages of congratulations from around the world. There are also some inquiries from my friends who are on or want to be on the path to L3. They want to know how I did it; how did I go from L2 to 3 in the literal 365 days. I’ve sprinkled some details from journey and useful tips throughout this article, but it mostly comes down to one rather simple thing.

In the movie “The Replacements,” the coach played by Gene Hackman is asked at halftime what his team needs to turn the game around. His response, “Heart. Miles and miles of heart.” That is my final piece of advice to those of you who are in pursuit of seemingly impossible dreams, whether it be Level 3, winning a Pro Tour, or getting a date with that beautiful blonde.

Miles and miles of heart.

Until next time this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

Rikipedia at Gmail dot levelthree
Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums
Japjedi47 on AIM

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