Last year, Philippe Monlevade, a judge from Rio de Janeiro, came to Grand Prix Buenos Aires and won the tournament in decisive fashion with Jund Monsters. Monlevade’s victory was celebrated by the judge community and sparked a new flame underneath the rivalry between Brazilian and Argentine Magic.
I was excited for an opportunity to speak with Monlevade, but, as Marc Calderaro and I scoured through the player list as we arrived early on Saturday morning, Monlevade’s name was nowhere to be found.
“How could this be?” I thought to myself, “Philippe won the whole tournament last time around. There’s no way he’d miss an opportunity to defend his title.”
Then, as I watched players battling for undefeated records in round 9, I looked up and saw a familiar face. Where did I know this person from? Is that Philippe Monlevade?
It was. Monlevade, in full judge attire, joked with a freshly 9-0 player that this weekend would be a lot easier because he decided to judge instead of winning the event.
This morning, I decided to sit down with Monlevade to ask about eschewing an opportunity to defend his title.
I started by asking about the victory itself. I was surprised to hear that Monlevade was originally supposed to be judging Grand Prix Buenos Aires last year. When he arrived to the venue, he was informed that they didn’t need him and the other judges encouraged him to play in the Grand Prix. Eighteen matches of Magic later and Philippe Monlevade was crowned Grand Prix Buenos Aires Champion.
Winning a Grand Prix is usually just the beginning of a tremendous Magic adventure. Monlevade beamed with pride about what followed when I asked about his Grand Prix victory. It started with his qualification for Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland, Oregon. Monlevade is a judge first and a player second. He used his Pro Tour qualification as an opportunity to travel to the U.S. for the first time.
The judging opportunities started pouring in. Monlevade was accepted to judge Grand Prix Boston before Pro Tour Magic 2015 and then he judged Grand Prix Portland the weekend after the Pro Tour. He was initially worried about traveling; He wasn’t confident in his English and he didn’t have friends in the foreign judge communities yet. He realized his celebrity when he arrived to the site at Grand Prix Boston. He was a hero to the other judges. After All, there are stigmas about judges that a lot of us have undoubtedly heard.
“Judges can’t play.”
Monlevade was breaking the mold and showing the world that judges can actually play. When I asked if he felt that judging made him a better player, Monlevade emphatically affirmed. He explained that his knowledge of interactions allowed him to operate on autopilot without needing to carefully break down every stack or complicated situation.
Monlevade explained that when judges travel they’re under a special kind of scrutiny in regard to their rules knowledge. In Boston, he was able to display a mastery of the rules that allowed him to level up in the judging world after successfully completing his L2 test.
After Boston, Monlevade traveled to Portland where he would test with Brazil Storm. Including him, the team had nine members. The other eight would draft as Monlevade used a stopwatch to simulate drafting at the Pro Tour. Even in playtesting, Monlevade is passionate about judging.
After not making Day 2 at the Pro Tour, Monlevade worked as a judge the following weekend in Portland. His passion for the game and eager willingness to get more involved snowballed into more judging opportunities than he could ever imagine.
Since then, Monlevade judged Santiago, Cleveland, Miami, Sao Paulo, Montreal, Toronto, Charleston, Vegas, Charlotte, Providence, Montreal, and Buenos Aires this weekend. He joked that he now often feels like he spends more time on the road than he does at home. Some people use a Grand Prix victory to make a run at getting on the Pro Tour, but Monlevade used it to further his exposure in the judge community.
This weekend, Monlevade was tempted to play. He wanted to defend his title. He described Red-Green Aggro as perfect for his playstyle and he believes the deck is very well-positioned for this weekend. He was playing a lot of local events with the deck and he said that he rarely lost a match.
Usually, judges need to ask if they can work an event. They’ll either be accepted or declined for a given event. A few days ago, though, Monlevade was specifically asked if he would be a part of the judging staff for this weekend’s event. He felt honored. Duty called and Monlevade answered.
Now, Monlevade is continuing to advance in the judge program. He’s already lined up trips to Montreal, Oklahoma, and Puerto Alegre (Where he’ll be the judge manager) in the coming months.
Philippe Monlevade is quick to friendship and conversation. He’s excited for any opportunity to make the Magic community a better place. He’s already successfully defended his title in the minds of the judge staff here and it’s clear that the South American Magic scene is a better place because of his existence.