They'll be at every tournament, but might never pick up a card. They'll know every match result, but never play a role in the outcome. They'll watch over your table, but never make a judge ruling. Hear every story—every bad beat, every lucky topdeck, every tale of glory or defeat, and everything in between—but never join in the story. No match can be completed without them, nor will any ever begin without them, either.
The tournament organizer exists almost entirely behind the scenes, but every Magic tournament from Limited Edition (Alpha) to Oath of the Gatewatch has relied on them to run to completion.
It's a job taken for granted. Sometimes it's an employee at your friendly local gaming store, passing out the candy and refilling drinks in between matches. Sometimes it's a professional tournament organizer coordinating a massive Grand Prix, from the main event to the dozens of side events that all fall under their purview. Sometimes it's even a fellow player, who steps up to fill a role in their community and help everyone play more Magic. But no matter who is doing this often thankless task, the job is a vital one that allows the Magic community around that person to start from scratch and grow seamlessly.
And it's far from an easy responsibility. That was the first lesson Thomas Dodd learned when opening Card Advantage, a gaming store serving the Athens, Georgia, area and the large University of Georgia student population that comes with it. Dodd, who began playing Magic with Ice Age and still recalls fondly attacking with Pikemen and Gangrenous Zombies, operated an online-only store for years before deciding to make the jump to building a brick-and-mortar location and assuming the role of tournament organizer in the same vibrant city that he grew up in.
"I grew up in an underserved community and still live there, so I wanted to create the experience that I always wished I could have locally," he explained. "Once we decided to open, there was about a six-month planning process with a 90-day buildout before we even began. We wanted to make sure things were done right and were ready for the community."
There were certainly some growing pains along the way; after all, there is no instruction manual on how to foster a new community and navigate all the questions that will come up. But like tournament organizers all over the world, Dodd has built more than just a place to play Magic—he's built a home for the players in his community.
"I take my role as a TO very seriously, because I've learned from watching some of the best companies in the world run Grand Prix all over America," Dodd said. "My number-one goal is professionalism and providing a safe, clean, and respectful environment for the players. We take our player feedback very seriously and do our best to accommodate Magic's diverse player base."
While Dodd and thousands more like him provide Magic to their community, one store took it a step further.
Jay Mason-Grant opened up Black Knight Games in 2007 in Hamilton, Ontario, and in the nine years since has built it into a thriving store that brings in players from across the region. With so much happening in the store at any one time, he found himself in need of a way to serve more play experiences than any one man could handle.
That's where the "Standard Bearer" program came in.
The core concept of Mason-Grant's brainchild was simple: empower gamers to help other gamers. While the idea has evolved in the five years since it was implemented, the premise has never gone away. Rather than Mason-Grant or other store employees setting the schedule for everyone and basing it around their availability, what if the players were allowed to essentially host tournaments themselves?
It was a novel idea, and one that took some working out. But its promise helped overcome all roadblocks, and today the program exists across every event the store hosts. Players interested in running a tournament or special event apply for the program, receive training on how to host an event, coordinate the schedule with store employees, and then host the event. A rewards program helps to draw interest, but Mason-Grant said the biggest reason he's seen players step up to the challenge is simply a desire to take a leadership role and improve their chosen community. It's a program that has allowed the average player to accomplish the same thing that led people like Dodd and Mason-Grant to open stores in the first place: provide a better gaming community.
"We found that we outgrew the ability to be experts in everything, and the Standard Bearer program gave players the ability to be community leaders and step up to fill the gap," Mason-Grant explained. "We empower our players to become Standard Bearers, and we've seen them run thousands of events since we started [the program]. Not only does it let us do more as a store than we could have before, but it means players have a person they feel comfortable going to who they know will be able to give them direct feedback. It gives them a chance to really add something to the community."
Whether it's at your local gaming store or at the next Grand Prix you attend; whether it's an eight-person draft at Friday Night Magic or a 2,000-player main event; whether it's Commander League or the Pro Tour, one thing is certain: somewhere, behind the lights and tables and computer screens, there is a tournament organizer working long hours with just one goal in mind.
To help us all play a little more Magic.