The Riki Rules – Mostly Harmless


A little over a year ago I wrote my final article for Starcitygames with a clever (or so I thought) message embedded in it via the first letter of each paragraph: “So long and thanks for all the fish.” I have no such clever word game this time, just a statement that this will be my final article for ChannelFireball.com and I’m very sad about that fact.

The End

And it’s not just this website that I’m quitting. This may very well be my last article for any strategy website; the end of a great run of “The Riki Rules.” I don’t quite believe it myself. And all of that is chump change compared to the biggest change of all in my life: I’m moving to Virginia.

2010 has been an amazing year for me. I ran in my first half marathon, lost 25 pounds, and landed my dream job. That’s a solid list of accomplishments. Maybe they don’t match up with what you want to do. I’m sure most of you probably have “qualify for the Pro Tour” somewhere high up on the list, and it may be hard to understand how I can relate these things to succeeding in Magic. From my perspective, one of the qualities that has helped me succeed, and that many players lack, is willpower. More on that later.

It’s that final accomplishment that now has me on the verge of relocating; come July I will be starting up as an Event Specialist for Starcitygames, helping to run their excellent Open Series of tournaments… for a living. And to think that I was really excited about finishing the half marathon. Suddenly, my entire life is about to get turned upside down. It will pretty much be new everythings. But that’s all in the future for me.

Two years ago, I read Tom LaPille’s excellent article “Wizards School” in which he chronicled how he went about achieving his own dream of landing a gig with Magic R&D. Zac Hill has also been known to write an introspective piece or two evaluating where he is and where he wants to go. These two men were important templates for me, both really smart, passionate guys who found a way to make it to the top of Nerd Mountain. While I couldn’t follow their exact blueprints for success–being a Pro Tour player was high up on their credentials for R&D gigs, and largely irrelevant in the judging field–I found myself studying the underlying lessons in their methodology and applying it to my own quest.

One important lesson is that sometimes desire isn’t enough. I see this all the time amongst the PTQ grinders. They grind and they grind, and ultimately they don’t get there. I’m not talking about winning a PTQ and making it to the show. I mean that they never get good enough at the game to be a constant threat to make Top 8, or they are never that feared opponent. Over the course of the last few years, maybe they’ve tasted a scant one or two PTQ Top 8s. That’s great and all, but the true warriors see that many Top 8s per season and walk away with the blue envelope if they are lucky.

I was that guy. I got my one PTQ Top 8. I made Day 2 of a GP. That was it, the height of my Magic career. Meanwhile, the people around me were winning GPs and National Championships. Yeah, it’s a little rough being in the same town as LSV and having Paul Cheon come to town to boot. Seeing what those two had to do to achieve what they did opened my eyes. They woke up and fired up MTGO. They money drafted. They cube drafted. They playtested whatever format was relevant to them next, including Vintage if there was a Power tournament on the horizon. They played more MTGO (and watched a lot of Law and Order) until it was time for bed.

I couldn’t keep up. What they did to stay at the top of their game, I could not replicate. And I wasn’t good enough at the game to keep up with them without the same amount of practice (or more). I loved playing Magic, but I didn’t love it that much. What I did love was judging.

Maybe you’re where I was. That’s a lot more likely than you being the next LSV. However, you’re probably still deluding yourself into thinking you can be the next LSV. Frankly, you’d be lucky to find yourself being the next Jon Loucks. That’s not a knock on Jon. He’s a good friend, and he’s achieved more as a player than I ever did, including qualifying for multiple Pro Tours and making a name for himself as a rogue designer extraordinaire. With the way he thinks about the game, I believe we will see him in R&D someday. But chances are that he will not win a GP or a PT during his career (although I would love for him to prove me wrong on that one). But again, all things considered, you the average reader would be lucky to have his career arc.

Post-playing, at least on a semi-competitive level, I’ve carved quite the career arc myself, culminating in landing this dream job. Is it more or less realistic for someone to expect to be able to follow in my footsteps rather than LSV’s or Jon’s? Maybe you can’t get all the way to doing this for a living. There are only so many jobs out there to grab whether your joy is making the game, making videos about the game, or running the events. However, making it to the Pro Tour, either as a player or a judge, is a reasonably attainable goal for most of you. It just takes some planning and perseverance.

One of the things I like most about success in judging is that it is largely independent of luck. It doesn’t take luck to become a Level 3 judge, at least not in the same way it does to win a PTQ. As a player, you’ve lost a game to luck. You’ve seen entire matches hinge on the lady. And we all remember that one tournament where the scrub somehow lucksacked his way to victory past many more deserving players. The constant presence of luck in the game and its seemingly whimsical twists of fate seem to cheapen our efforts. It can be tough to slave away all week in playtesting only to face three bad matchups in a row and be knocked out of the tournament “because of luck.”

This type of narrative doesn’t play out when I’m judging an event. I don’t curse my bad luck when I get a difficult call about a life total dispute. Actually, I do curse my bad luck, but never out loud. The resolution of the dispute–how well I judge–has nothing to do with luck. It’s all about applying my past experience, rules knowledge and problem-solving ability. There is a very linear correlation between those skills and success as a judge. As I’ve advanced, different skills have also been tested like leadership, mentoring, and booming announcement voice. I don’t think I had these skills when I started; largely I’ve developed them as I’ve needed them, sometimes taking one or two events to really understand and perfect them. Arguably I’m still working on some.

If you really want it, then go all out, whether you are a player or judge. I see people expect to qualify for the PT off of some pretty half-assed efforts. They don’t go to all the PTQs in their local area, let alone those in adjacent areas. Some of this depends on the specific geography of where you live. But take Zaiem Beg for axample. In addition to his local Seattle PTQs, he’s driven to the semi-regional Idaho, Vancouver and Portland ones. That’s probably a normal grinder’s schedule, but for the past year Zaiem has been on a mission and flown to Alaska and Denver for PTQs as well in addition to LCQing at the domestic PTs and making his fair share of GPs.

It’s the kind of schedule that you would expect a qualification out of, and the fact that he didn’t get there is exactly what I’m talking about in terms of effort-to-results in playing versus judging. Assuming he studied his rules and policy appropriately, Zaiem would have made L2 off of a work schedule like that (although I’ve had talks with Zaiem on this subject and he isn’t all that interested in judging).

Earlier I mentioned willpower. It takes a lot of it in order to complete a race as long as a half marathon. It’s going to take even more to run the full marathon I plan on running later this year (although I now have to find a new race out east). Losing weight is a constant battle of wills against time, the treadmill, and the temptations of all the good food around you. The past two or three years of judging has taken a similar amount of devotion. While tournaments are fun, the constant travel can wear on you, especially when you have to make a bunch of red eye flights in order to make it to all the events without using up all of your vacation time at work.

In all of these journeys, I’ve never had a moment of doubt. Sometimes I like to say that I am too dumb to fail. When you run a race, the only way to fail is to stop running. I’ve tried to do this judging thing the same way. There have always been vague finish lines out there, but until you actually turn the final corner and see it, it doesn’t much matter how far they are. You just keep running.


In closing, I want to thank Jon, Mashi, Luis and the rest of the ChannelFireball/ Superstars crew for giving me this outlet for the past year+. Like I said, this is probably it for “The Riki Rules.” It has become increasingly difficult to write these because so much of what I do at tournaments as an L3 has nothing to do with the players and is more administrative background work like certifying judges. My plan is to write more judge education type articles for www.dcifamily.org, our judge community website. I may also run a personal blog there for shorter event report content. I will also explore the possibility of writing a book (or an e-book, whatever the heck that is) on my journey with this new job. If you absolutely must have your Riki Hayashi fix, check out Judgecast, a podcast that I record with Sacramento L2 judge Sean Catanese. You can find it at Mananation and Mtgcast. We’re up to episode #11 now, and I will be handing over co-host duties to L1 Jose Boveda while I transition to the East Coast where I can hopefully Skype in as a guest on a regular basis.

It has been a real treat writing these articles for your education and entertainment. I hope that you will continue to read the judge-related works of some of my close friends like Eric’s “Tolarian Academy,” the various writers in “The Justice League,” and some of the other exciting projects that I’ve heard bandied about. Keep following me on Twitter for updates on whatever projects I pick up in the future. Thanks for reading. See you at an event soon.

Rikipedia at Gmail dot trample
Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums
Japjedi47 on AIM
Riskypedia on Twitter

P.S. Alexei Gousev, L1 judge and my successor as the store judge in Davis, says “hi.”

39 thoughts on “The Riki Rules – Mostly Harmless”

  1. It was good to have you and I’m sad to see you go. Good luck in Virginia!

    (and yes, I knew about this before the article went up, but I still wanted to give Riki a send-off!)

  2. Kenyon Colloran

    You’ll be missed. And it makes me sad to lose one of the only English language writers who also understands Japanese.

  3. Hope to see you around roanoke, gl in the future. Need more harms way articles 😛

  4. Good luck on the best coast, Riki. I always enjoy reading your articles and I’m going to add the Judgecast to my subscription list.

  5. Your articles will be missed. I will still see you at the Open Series Events (working on my second bye) along the east coast and at the Invitational.

    Stay strong brother.

    Will you be attending the Grand Prix in DC?

  6. Sad to see you go, but it’s good to get more talented organizers here in VA. Hope to see you at some events!

    P.S. This article showed me a lot of my flaws as a player, so thank you for all you’ve done and are continuing to do for the game.

  7. We shall miss thee Riki. Never forget, the Asylum is all around us. Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.

  8. I will miss you and your articles very much Riki. Even though I do not comment often I have been a big fan of your articles. You have a way with words most the other writers here lack. I enjoy your wit and your passion for the game.

    Know that you are missed. And where ever you go I wish you all the luck in the world. I am happy you got the job of your dreams.

    You are an inspiration Riki and a leader.

    Fare thee Well Good Sir.


    P.S. Where ever you go, there you are! 🙂

  9. Riki, thanks for writing your articles. ChannelFireball will miss the content you provide with the perspective of the judge. It is always interesting to hear about odd interactions that come up in judging.

    To be perfectly honest, your writing may well have impacted the way I approach the game of magic just as much as lsv’s. The reason I say this is that card valuation and the other information he offers are important, but learning about how the advanced rules interactions work is just as important.

    Your analysis of chess clocks was top notch as well. Time rules are difficult and continue to challenge the rule makers. Seriously, why dont we all just play a deck that DOESNT require shuffling 12 times a match?

    Douglas Adams FTW!

  10. Good luck with your future endeavors Riki! It’s sad to see you go, your articles gave us all a deeper understanding of the game, and for that I salute you.

    Having grown up in Virginia, my only advice is to make sure you have air conditioning and a dehumidifier for the summertime lol =)

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  12. dude, thank you for all those wonderful articles!!

    I really hope you like VA. It’s a wonderful state which has it all: grits, Shenandoah (make sure to call in advance to ask if it’s going to be foggy that day!) and of course there’s Norfolk!!! 😀

  13. Sad to see you go / stop writing. It was always good stuff… no where we will go to call out cheater scumbags who mise wins on the PT! 8-(

  14. I must say Riki it will be very sad to see you go as your view on the rules and different areas has helped me and many others understand better both the game and the trials on the other side of the table.

    Thank you for everything you’ve done for all of us,

  15. Another fellow Virginian here – make sure your house has good heating and cooling, and congratulations landing that dream job!

  16. Congrats on landing the Event Specialist position! I hope it brings you just as much joy and satisfaction as event management brought me.

    I’ve greatly appreciated your articles over here, and certainly agree with everyone else: You will be missed.

  17. Congratulations on the new job and good luck in Virginia. You leave behind an excellent judging legacy and a high standard for those that will follow you.

  18. sad to see you go riki… guess I’ll have to make sure I make time, whenever I’m back east, for us to have more great late dinner conversations

  19. Riki,

    I just wanted to say thank you for your efforts to build a Magic community wherever you write: TCGplayer, StarCity, and now ChannelFireball all felt the impact of your style and class.

    I look forward to seeing you in VA more frequently, since I guess you will be putting together events in Richmond quite a bit, I hope?

    If anything ever convinced me to try to become a judge, and give up the Magic PTQ scrub lifestyle, it’s definitely you.

    Thanks again,
    Tom Trovato

    P.S. I still have the Exalted Angel judge foil promo you gave me in a prominent place in my binder for everyone to see.

  20. I can’t imagine judging. I love playing Magic way too much to go to events on a regular basis and not play.

    And I’m going to bleeping get there. I promise you that. I haven’t been playing this game as long as a lot of people, so I have to make up that time by working my butt off.

    Good luck and congratulations, Riki. You deserve good things in life.

  21. Savage Seahorse

    Weak Riki. Your claims of quitting are more transparent than a smoker on new years. See you at the next stop writing about your amazing revelations from the Virginia Metagame.

  22. I just judged my first tournament last weekend, and your articles have always been very helpful to me. Good luck with the new job and your writing will be missed.

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