Judge interview header

(Disclosure: The author of this piece plays Magic: The Gathering, but does not live in the region where CJ Shrader judges, nor has had any extend­ed con­tact with him pri­or to inter­view­ing him.  The author has also not had any extend­ed con­tact with oth­er affect­ed judges or named par­ties in this inter­view.)

(Author’s note: This inter­view was con­duct­ed via email.  Transcripts of that email are avail­able upon request.)

Back on December 21st, 2015, play­ers of Wizard of the Coast’s (WotC) pop­u­lar card game Magic: The Gathering (MtG) found some very unusu­al news await­ing them under their Christmas tree:  thir­teen judges from the Southeast region of the United States had received 3 mon­th sus­pen­sions from orga­nized play; this includ­ed the Southeast’s Regional Coordinator. Explanations soon fol­lowed, as the sus­pend­ed judges spoke out: WotC alleged that the sus­pend­ed judges were behind con­tent leaks of pri­or sets that cul­mi­nat­ed in a mas­sive spoil­ing of newest set Oath of the Gatewatch con­tent. What fol­lowed this announce­ment was a mix­ture of out­rage, increduli­ty, and calls to boy­cott WotC over what play­ers felt was a mis­han­dling of the sit­u­a­tion.

We are e-mailing you regard­ing your Failure to Notify Wizards of the Coast of the Dissemination of Confidential Material. A report was filed and reviewed by the an inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion com­mit­tee. This group reviewed the report and all of the state­ments from the peo­ple involved and have come to the fol­low­ing deci­sion.” –Email to Judges caught up in the sus­pen­sions.

SuperNerdLand writ­ers cov­ered the sit­u­a­tion as it unfold­ed, and now — over a mon­th after the affect­ed judges were unsus­pend­ed — we sit down with one of those affect­ed judges to get an inside look at just what hap­pened.

That judge is CJ Shrader, long­time MtG play­er, judge, and co-host of the pop­u­lar pod­cast JudgeCast.

We are pleased to sit down with Shrader and hear his side of the­se events.

More infor­ma­tion on the sus­pen­sions and the sur­round­ing dis­cus­sions can be found in the SuperNerdLand arti­cles linked above.

So, let’s start off with an intro­duc­tion.  Many peo­ple in the Magic com­mu­ni­ty know who you are, but some of our read­ers might not.  Would you intro­duce your­self for them?

Sure thing, I don’t expect most peo­ple in the wider Magic com­mu­ni­ty to know me 🙂

My name is CJ Shrader, I’m a Level 2 judge from Smyrna, GA, I’ve been a judge for approach­ing 6 years (Plus or minus 23 days). I’ve been play­ing Magic on and off since Mirage (Author’s Note: 1996), and came back into the game seri­ous­ly around Zendikar (AN: 2009).

Since then, I think I’ve always been sort of a rule stick­ler (It’s not fun to play Monopoly with me) and so the rules aspect of judg­ing always appealed to me. So, one day, I signed up to judge an SCG (AN: StarCityGames) Open (My first com­pet­i­tive event I’d ever been to! It was a dif­fer­ent time then. I had to go to a store to get a DCI num­ber just to take my Rules Advisor), I was test­ed, and I got my L1.

I was also always a fan of the pod­cast JudgeCast, which start­ed around the time I was inter­est­ed in becom­ing a judge. Many years lat­er, I noticed the pod­cast wasn’t real­ly updat­ing and Jess Dunks and I both con­tact­ed Sean Catanese (one of the founders) about tak­ing it over. And thus, a leg­endary team was formed.


Typically, what would you say your duties as an L2 con­sist of?

The pro­gram describes L2 judges as “area” judges. Where L1s typ­i­cal­ly are store judges and stick to one store, we tend to work with mul­ti­ple stores in the wider area.

Generally I’d say the duties of an L2 are to head judge PPTQs (AN: Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers), work as floor judges at GPs (AN: Grand Prix), and train and men­tor judges to L1.


judge interview side 1And to put this on the record – WotC does not com­pen­sate you for judg­ing, cor­rect?  Any com­pen­sa­tion comes from the Tournament Organizer (TO)?

That is cor­rect. WotC doesn’t com­pen­sate us as judges, that respon­si­bil­i­ty falls on the TO. So if I work a PPTQ, SCG Open, or GP, the TO pays me.

For any time spent out­side of events (Testing can­di­dates, men­tor­ing, JudgeCast), there is no com­pen­sa­tion. The clos­est thing is the Exemplar pro­gram, but that is focused on call­ing out exem­plary behav­iors more than “do some­thing cool and get a foil.”

The one excep­tion was PT Philly a few years ago, which I was on staff for. I was com­pen­sat­ed direct­ly by Hasbro for that event, as WotC is the TO for its Pro Tours. Had to sign a con­tract and every­thing.


And most of the work that you, and oth­er judges of your rank and high­er do, is work that wouldn’t be com­pen­sat­ed?  Training judges to L1, the JudgeCast, etc?

Yep, I’m not com­pen­sat­ed for test­ing judges or JudgeCast. In fact Jess Dunks pays our server costs out of pock­et.


So, let’s talk about the Leadership group that WoTC blamed for a series of leaks start­ing with Dragons of Tarkir, and most recent­ly for the Oath of the Gatewatch, as well as the events lead­ing up to the noti­fi­ca­tion of sus­pen­sion let­ters being sent out.


It is worth men­tion­ing that their lat­est arti­cle did not say we were respon­si­ble for all the leaks, which I appre­ci­ate.

The lead­er­ship chat is some­thing that formed nat­u­ral­ly over time on Facebook. It con­sists of SE judge lead­ers and basi­cal­ly is just a group of friends more than any­thing. We pro­duce a thou­sand mes­sages a day talk­ing about…anything. It’s hon­est­ly rarely Magic, we’re not exact­ly pro play­ers.

Of course we would dis­cuss any spoil­ers that might come up, like any Magic play­ers. Adam Hubble post­ed some spoil­ers in there occa­sion­al­ly (some real, some not) although a few we seemed to be get­ting ear­lier than the aver­age pop­u­lace:

1) I didn’t remem­ber this one and had to be told after­ward, but we were given a cou­ple of cards from Dragons of Tarkir on imgur links. They were already avail­able on red­dit and had 100 views each, so the­se didn’t real­ly stick out.

2) There were a few cards from Magic Origins. The only one I remem­ber is the trans­form­ing Chandra. I don’t remem­ber if the­se went pub­lic or were already pub­lic as I don’t exact­ly research where every card comes from. Once again, it’s not like the­se are the only spoil­ers we ever saw.

3) There were some cards from BFZ on drop­box links. I was at work so I nev­er actu­al­ly saw the­se cards, as they’d already been removed by the time I saw them.

4) I think every­one knows the next part, but we also got three spoil­ers from Oath of the Gatewatch. Those were Kozilek, Wastes, and Mirrorpool (I think). The first two were on twit­ter with­in 30 min­utes of being post­ed in our chat, so at first we didn’t know they came from our chat but rather some oth­er source that had post­ed them around. Eventually, Hubble was able to deter­mine they did indeed come from our chat direct­ly though.

After that hap­pened, I wasn’t involved as much, but this is what my under­stand­ing is:

– A few days lat­er, a per­son from WotC (Not Helene or Hamer…someone we nev­er hear from) called Hubble and effec­tive­ly start­ed mak­ing legal threats again­st him. This num­ber came from an unknown num­ber and Hubble had con­cerns about his cit­i­zen­ship, so he first said he got the cards from red­dit.

– Hubble then called Justin Turner, our Regional Coordinator, and Turner was able to con­firm this was a legit­i­mate call from some­one actu­al­ly at Wizards and part of their fraud depart­ment.

– After that, Hubble got in con­tact again and this time coop­er­at­ed ful­ly, answer­ing any ques­tions he was asked. Turner also coop­er­at­ed ful­ly, and we were told to if we were con­tact­ed (We were not con­tact­ed).

I know dur­ing this time, WotC also asked Turner for a list of every­one in the chat so that they could fol­lowup with us for more infor­ma­tion in the inves­ti­ga­tion. I believe Turner got a promise that there’d be no sanc­tions again­st us before shar­ing that info. As we know now, that was a lie.

Some time passed…a few weeks I think? Maybe a mon­th?

On December 19th, Hubble and Francisco got let­ters say­ing they were sus­pend­ed for 2 years. We thought the mat­ter was han­dled here, as we were nev­er spo­ken to.

2 days lat­er we each start­ed hav­ing let­ters trick­ling in over the course of a few hours. We were pret­ty sur­prised, to say the least.


The threats lev­eled again­st Hubble…are you at lib­er­ty to say what they con­sist­ed of, and if any­one else con­nect­ed to him received threats of a sim­i­lar nature?

I don’t know what was specif­i­cal­ly said to him. I sent him a mes­sage see­ing if he want­ed to expand on that, but I’ll leave that up to him (AN: Hubble was con­tact­ed by Shrader but was unable to recall the exact word­ing of what was said to him by WotC, due to hav­ing been shak­en up by the inci­dent.  An update to this inter­view will be amend­ed if and when he can recall WotC’s state­ments).


Was the “Godleak” of the Oath of the Gatewatch Expedition Lands/mythics also some­thing that was sup­pos­ed­ly the leadership’s respon­si­bil­i­ty? 

Those ini­tial arti­cles sure made it sound like we leaked that too, but we sure­ly didn’t. I mean, if you think about it logically…we had a source for leaks, and one of those leaks got out. You think that guy would ever share leaks with us again? Of course not. We saw those cards at the same time as every­one else.


The imme­di­ate aftermath…I remem­ber there was a lot of anger from Turner, and a few oth­er judges, in the /r/magictcg threads dis­cussing the sus­pen­sions.  I remem­ber Turner say­ing that he was going to go pub­lic about their treat­ment, but that nev­er mate­ri­al­ized.  Were the sus­pend­ed judges under some sort of gag order while you filed appeals?

We were nev­er ordered or forced to stay qui­et. And Turner did go pub­lic in the JudgeCast episode, it’s just a lot of work to write up an arti­cle and I think all of us were burnt out on it. Of course the amount of writ­ing I’ve done on Reddit and here could have been an arti­cle if I’d bit­ten the bul­let and done it :)

judge interview insert 1

I believe what Turner shared was that Aaron Hamer asked him to not dis­cuss this stuff pub­licly until after the appeals were com­plete. Turner and many oth­ers agreed, as they felt that dis­cussing this pub­licly would hurt our appeal chances. So it wasn’t a man­date or any­thing, it was a choice we made.


Now I remem­ber that bit from your pod­cast, about being asked not to go pub­lic on the sit­u­a­tion until the appeals were han­dled.

How do you feel the sit­u­a­tion was rep­re­sent­ed by WotC’s PR pieces?  I seem to remem­ber you ref­er­enced a few arti­cles that didn’t fair­ly rep­re­sent the sit­u­a­tion that end­ed up being amend­ed after some of the judges con­tact­ed WotC.

Yeah, just to be absolute­ly clear we were asked not to dis­cuss it pub­licly, but it’s not like we were forced into it. I don’t want to act like they were threat­en­ing us, they just felt it would help our case in the long run not to dis­cuss it too much yet.

The PR pieces…weren’t good. They labeled us as thieves when we nev­er stole any­thing, and heav­i­ly implied we were respon­si­ble for mul­ti­ple leaks when we weren’t. Once again, I don’t real­ly blame Helene for that…she didn’t do the inves­ti­ga­tion and I have a strong feel­ing there was a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion between the divi­sion of WotC that inves­ti­gat­ed us (Legal? I’m not sure. It wasn’t the Player Investigation Committee is all I know) and with the “faces” of WotC.


Do you think that the sus­pen­sions prox­im­i­ty to Christmas was an inten­tion­al move by WotC, in an attempt to delay address­ing the sit­u­a­tion?

The sus­pen­sions being so close to Christmas…I hon­est­ly don’t know why that was. I can tell you that WotC report­ed it’s sec­ond quar­ter of loss­es short­ly there­after, per­haps there was pres­sure from Hasbro to make a good impres­sion? I could also see two argu­ments, one more mali­cious than the oth­er:

1) WotC knew we were going to get sus­pend­ed, and thought may­be we wouldn’t have any events those last two weeks of December any­way, so they were basi­cal­ly giv­ing us a two week “reduc­tion” on our sus­pen­sions? Since if the sus­pen­sion didn’t hap­pen then it prob­a­bly wouldn’t hap­pen until January. So this idea would be mis­guid­ed, but at least it’d been made with good inten­tions.

2) WotC knew that the com­mu­ni­ty is quick to let issues blow over, and doing it over Christmas would give peo­ple plen­ty of time to just for­get about it and move on as they do. This seems like­ly, but at the same time I just don’t know if they are that mali­cious. Obviously if this was the plan then it back­fired.


There was some­thing I was a bit con­fused about, in your pod­cast.  You men­tioned that the Judge Conduct Committee (JCC) also sus­pend­ed you guys from judg­ing, which appar­ent­ly they shouldn’t have done?  Can you elab­o­rate on that, or tell me if I’m off base on any­thing?

So there are two sus­pen­sions a judge can go through, though usu­al­ly one results in the oth­er.

1) A WotC sus­pen­sion. This means we can’t play in or judge events. Basically, it’s WotC’s ball and they can take it away if they want to.

2) A judge sus­pen­sion. At this point we’ve gen­er­al­ly lost the abil­i­ty to judge events, but this sus­pen­sion removes our abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in judge pro­grams and projects, includ­ing the judge forums. It is our opin­ion that this sus­pen­sion should not have been applied to us, as we did not do any­thing mali­cious and we were nev­er inves­ti­gat­ed by…anyone, real­ly.

judge interview insert 2

WotC can’t decide to sus­pend us from judge pro­gram work because the judge pro­gram is a sep­a­rate enti­ty, but the Judge Conduct Committee did not want to make a sep­a­rate deci­sion than WotC’s ill-investigated deci­sion. We feel like this was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to show our inde­pen­dence from WotC. Also WotC was telling us “We don’t/can’t sus­pend you from the judge pro­gram” while the JCC was say­ing “WotC sus­pend­ed you, there­fore you’re sus­pend­ed from the pro­gram.”

You can read the head of the JCC’s thoughts on the sus­pen­sion here for a dif­fer­ent view.


Now that it’s been almost a mon­th since you and oth­er judges were unsus­pend­ed, how do you feel about the future of the Judges pro­gram, and for MtG in gen­er­al?  Do you think the­se bans set any kind of prece­dent that we as play­ers or judges should be wary of?

If you’d asked me a mon­th ago, I prob­a­bly would have given a worse answer.

I actu­al­ly don’t think WotC will let some­thing like this hap­pen again. There will always be leaks, and the peo­ple who attempt to spread them pri­vate­ly to their friends will always be the ones to be pun­ished. The peo­ple who hide behind anony­mous user­names (ie, the true ones caus­ing a prob­lem) and post­ing them online will always get away with it, because vague threats can’t solve those prob­lems. But at the same time, I real­ly want to believe that over­re­ac­tions on this scale sim­ply won’t hap­pen again, that the busi­ness will learn to talk to itself a lit­tle more.

That being said, WotC has said they will com­mu­ni­cate more with us (judges specif­i­cal­ly, but even play­ers). I don’t believe it and I don’t think it will hap­pen. I don’t think they will mag­i­cal­ly start using the Regional Coordinator Advisory Committee, and I think they will con­tin­ue to make deci­sions and qui­et­ly sus­pend peo­ple for made up rea­sons. They just won’t do it again for leaks.


With this in mind, what are some things play­ers and judges can do to pre­vent sim­i­lar treat­ment in the future? 

Wizards would say you should report spoil­ers as soon as you see them. I don’t think this is a player’s respon­si­bil­i­ty nor is it a rea­son­able request. I also don’t think it’s a judge’s respon­si­bil­i­ty as we are not WotC employ­ees.

So if you’re not will­ing to do that…nothing can pre­vent sim­i­lar treat­ment. We just have to have faith that WotC will not do this in the future because they said they wouldn’t. If they do, we have to react loud and strong­ly like we did this time to show WotC we are dis­pleased. They will try to ignore it at first, they always do, so it has to con­tin­ue until they can’t ignore it any­more. Most Magic “con­tro­ver­sies” blow over in about 3 days, and that’s because of us (the com­mu­ni­ty) just find­ing some­thing new and los­ing inter­est. If you’re unhap­py, con­tact twit­ter and cus­tomer ser­vice and let them know. I’m sure post­ing on Reddit just isn’t enough.

Got a lit­tle ram­bly there but I hope that gets the point across.


Any last words for the peo­ple read­ing?

I think I’ve been neg­a­tive enough. I just want to thank every­one for all the sup­port, it real­ly meant a lot to all of us sus­pend­ed. Some peo­ple are still sus­pend­ed, I don’t want to for­get about them, but I can’t thank every­one enough for all the kind words, mes­sages, and posts we saw dur­ing that time. Without those, we prob­a­bly would have quit a week into it and just been done with the entire thing, but see­ing that peo­ple cared real­ly meant a lot.

For addi­tion­al views on the sus­pen­sions, JudgeCast has an episode ded­i­cat­ed sole­ly to the sus­pen­sions, guest star­ing the Southeast Regional Coordinator Justin Turner, and can be lis­tened to here.

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