Soon after I made L1, I realized that, other than my mentor, I didn’t really know many judges in the area. I wanted to build more of those connections. If nothing else, just to have someone to tell my judge stories to other than my partner who was quickly growing tired of them! I lived in Madison, WI where almost every store had a judge for FNM, but I quickly realized that few of them knew each other very well. So one week I picked a restaurant that was open late and close to a few of the stores and invited any judges in the area to join me after their FNMs.
The first week it was just me and my mentor, but over the next few months it slowly grew until we were getting 7-10 people most Friday nights. Sometimes we told stories of the corner case calls we took or challenging players we dealt with. Sometimes we got into discussions of rules or policy, or the mechanics of an upcoming set. Sometimes we just de-stressed after a long night, talking about anything else BUT the Magic we had just been playing and judging. In the two years I went to those post FNM gatherings, over beers and late night snacks I made some good friends, built a lot of connections and learned a heck of a lot about Magic and judging. The fact that a number of other people did too, and it kept going for a while after I moved away, is one of the things I’m proudest of.
I’ve been a community organizer for more than 20 years, and one of the things I love most about the MTG Judge world is how easily those communities come together. As I traveled more and met judges from around the world (and especially since joining JA) I’ve come across so many different practices judges have implemented to connect with each other. Regular karaoke outings, group dinners once or twice a month, picnics, chaos drafts, and so many more. I’ve talked to folks where every time they got together they dove deep into rules questions, and others where the whole point was to get to know each other outside of Magic. Judge get-togethers can take almost any shape or form, but in almost every story I heard the same themes: building friendships, finding people to go to with questions, giving newer judges a chance to connect, helping more experienced judges learn who they could turn to when they needed a break.
Now, for some of us, things like that may hold no interest, and that’s just fine. For others, they would be happy to attend, but wouldn’t be interested in organizing a gathering. But if the Community Bard title rings true for you the way it does for me, you may think this sounds like a lot of fun, or something you want to try and start in your own area. To that I say: Jump on in! Reach out to judges in your area and see what kind of event they might be interested in. If there aren’t enough judges who can easily gather in person, start a regular online gathering, where you check in about how folks are doing, talk about judge things, and then play some games together. Try one thing and if it doesn’t work, try something else.
Like with so many other things in our judge world you’ve got people in your area and all over the world who you can talk to and bounce ideas off of. Post about it in your local judge social media groups, ask your mentor or other more experienced judges you look up to, and/or ask about it in the community corner channel of the JA Discord. If you find something that works, post about it in one of those places and see who else you inspire!
Judge conferences are great and will always be an important part of how we build judge communities. That being said, they aren’t (and shouldn’t ever be) the only way judges can come together. So if you love community, want to get the chance to learn more about judging and Magic, need an outlet for your stories, or just want to make some friends and have some fun: Ask some fellow judges if they want to grab some late night food after your next FNM.
The Judge Academy staff wants to hear all of your interesting late-night-at-the-diner too-much-coffee fueled judge stories. Reach out to us on the Discord or by email anytime!