One of the most patient and intelligent personalities on the Pro Tour scene, Junior Super Series Head Judge James Lee agreed to fit us into his busy schedule. Here's what he had to say.
Sideboard: You're known far and wide to be "the" Junior Super Series Head Judge. Can you fill in our readers on your credentials?
James Lee: Well first off, I don't think I'm "the" anything judge. I only consider myself to have the good fortune to work with the finest judges in the world, and that's allowed me to pick up a few habits that allow me to do an effective job here. I think the only thing that I bring is that I truly love the participants in this event, be it players, judges or families involved.
Sideboard: What about the participants make them so special in your eyes?
James Lee: First off, they still seem to genuinely care about being good players. By this I mean playing with fairness and integrity. For example: How often, on the Pro Tour do you hear a player call for a judge to report that he must take a game loss because of a minor sideboarding error?
Sideboard: Second of all?
James Lee: It is this and a clear effort that I see in these participants trying to become better that energizes me for this event every year. I see in them not just hope for the future of our game, but the future.
Sideboard: How many years have you done this?
James Lee: This is my second year as the head judge of the JSS Championships. I have been a judge for junior level events for over five years, and I would not hesitate to focus my attention on such events for some years to come.
Sideboard: Do you think that the spirit you see in these competitors is mostly due to your guidance, their spirit or their individual upbringings?
James Lee: I believe it is definitely the latter two coupled with the excellent judging by the many unsung heroes in the field that we never see at the higher-level events.
Sideboard: Today you've been running the JSS Open, a qualifier to see who the last competitors in tomorrow's championship will be. How have things been running?
James Lee: Very smoothly. We are already finishing the event before the scheduled registration time for tomorrow's event. Certainly we benefited from the size of the open this year with 86 participants, however I must credit the efficiency of my judging staff and the fact that players are doing their best to play effectively and efficiently.
Sideboard: Give us an idea of how good these kids really are. How would a JSS Champion fare in a fifty game series against the US Champion?
James Lee: I feel that in the standard environment, where the Junior Super Series takes place, the JSS Champion would take no less that 1/3 of the games against the US Champion. Our junior players today are markedly better, more aware and more connected to the larger playing population, than even just a year ago. More players are studying tech online, more are linking up with existing Pro Tour teams, and the concept of scouting for tech during the grinders is at an all time high. Also, the junior players are not afraid to try new tricks that often surprise even the pros.
Sideboard: Last year, your opening speech was much heralded and maligned, mostly due to its reported forty-five minute length. Can we expect a repeat?
James Lee: Absolutely not. I learn as much from these events as the players do. Tomorrow promises to be a long day of as many as ten rounds of competition. I will be a man of few words.
Sideboard: Who gives you more trouble: the players or the parents?
James Lee: Definitely the parents. The players understand the game and the expectations of the competition much better than their parents. They understand the place and severity of the varying levels of penalties. Every penalty given to a participant can result in an extended educational session with their parents. It is difficult to finely balance between satisfying the concern of a parent and the embarrassment of a child.
Sideboard: What was the worst display of sportsmanship you've ever seen from a parent?
James Lee: I cannot answer this question. While I have faced many enthusiastic, frustrated and even angry parents, no one of them ever communicated disrespect for me, or a lack of love for their child and consideration for the other participants. I cannot fault the consideration a parent has for their child, so I feel myself fortunate to report that I cannot think of an incidence of poor sportsmanship from a parent. Perhaps this is why I enjoy these participants so much
Sideboard: Obviously, the parents of these competitors care about them a great deal to come all this way to see them try to fulfill their dreams. Surely, a parent has at one time or another, become carried away of even silly in their demonstrating their concern for one or many competitors. Does any incident concerning said emotions stand out?
James Lee: Not yet. In my work with teens, I have experienced kisses from mothers and fathers capable of lifting me off my feet (Not the meanest feat). However, the professionalism of the Junior Super Series has so far shielded me from such antics. It's been pretty sedate.
Sideboard: Before we finish this up, is there anything else you'd like to communicate to the readers out there in Internetland?
James Lee: Yes. I am sure most of you know a young Magic player who is eligible to compete in a Junior Super Series. I hope you'll encourage him or her to pursue these events for as long as they are able. Do not seek the glories of the Pro Tour too soon: play here, where the game is still Magic.
Sideboard: Great. Thank you for your time, James and good luck tomorrow.
James Lee: Thank you very much.