The words "Pro Tour" always evoke some kind of magic in all players and judges alike. The world of the pros is something mythical in the eyes of many of us, a place only the top of the top can ever reach. We follow the podcasts and live coverage of these events running in some of the most exciting places and we wonder if we could ever get there.
When I started judging, I believed that I could never catch up with all those great judges around the world and I never paid much attention to what happened in pro events. My goals were to be selected for a PTQ or to get a sponsorship for Italian Nationals. These goals looked already huge and so there was little space for bigger dreams. After some time, I found myself more committed to the Italian community, both working in several events and in several projects and even testing for level 2. And then something amazing suddenly happened. I was offered a sponsorship for PT—Honolulu 2009 and I really couldn't believe to my eyes while reading the email from the Italian Judge Coordinator.
Are you serious? Is it really me?
Well, it appears there was no mistake and PT—Honolulu was a tremendous experience, which was followed by the sponsorships to PT—Austin 2009 and Worlds in Rome 2009. All of a sudden I was thrown into the pro events and... wow... I really like them!
That's why I decided to take some time to think over the reasons I received such opportunities and to ask fellow judges what they think is necessary for a judge to be selected for a PT. Here you may find our top choices in countdown order. Try to work on these aspects, and who knows - maybe you will be the next one traveling to some exotic locations to judge the game we love!
6. Be Part of the Family
Being a judge means never being alone. No matter how far you live from the big cities, you'll have always many opportunities to get in touch with players and judges. If you have questions about rules or judge situations, use the MTGRULES-L and DCIJUDGE-L mailing lists or the IRC judge channel (#mtgjudge on EFnet). Read them as often as you can, because you may find interesting topics. Be part of the discussions, offer your point of view, and learn from others' experiences.
Be part of player online communities: there are many forums and websites dedicated to the game and usually there is always a section about rules and policies where players look for answers to their questions.
Use the Judge Center to reach judges around you and talk to them about problems you may find in your local area or ask them about judging in tournaments close to you.
If you are lucky enough to have some judges active in your area, talk to them, go to their events even as a player, and watch them working. You may find that they are nice persons, too!
Care about the judge community and offer your support to local and regional initiatives. Helping someone else will help you, too, in improving your skills. There are always projects running within the DCI family and your enthusiasm and dedication may make a difference in fulfilling their goals. If you have an idea about a project that could help your community, share it and you will always find great people willing to help you put it into practice.
5. Judge, Judge, and Judge Again
Experience is what distinguishes judges in a big event. How can you build yours if you haven't been to a big event yet? Do not worry: you have several ways to build up experience!
First of all, judge as much as you can in your local events. Keep always updated with rules and policies and use these opportunities to test them in practice. Every judge learned his or her skills by being responsible for small local events. In such tournaments you must be responsible for anything, from entering results in the Reporter, to covering the floor, checking decklists, and making rulings.
PTQs, Prereleases, and Regionals are great opportunities to be part of bigger events and to work with a staff of judges. Working in a team is a fundamental skill you need to learn, because in PTs you will never work alone. You are part of a group and the group works the best only if everybody does his or her part.
If in your country there is a National tournament, go for it! In this kind of event you will meet all the best judges from your country and your possibilities to learn from them are endless.
Don't be scared to work in a GP close to you. These are international events, you will work with judges from different countries and with different experiences. There is a lot of work to do, but the reward makes it always worth it.
What if there are no PTQs, Nationals, or GPs available to you? Surf the web and find reports. Many judges write reports of the events they work in. Read them carefully and write the author back asking for some questions. Make their experience yours.
Try to remember all the interesting situations, such as particular rulings or difficult fixes, that you run into at any of these events and collect them in reports. You can share the reports with any judge close to you, with your mentors, or you can publish them on mailing lists and forums. In this way you can receive feedback and suggestions on how to better handle such situations even if you were the only judge at the event.
4. Always Improve
Okay, now you feel part of the DCI family and you have worked in different types of events. What did you learn?
Before the beginning of any tournament, always set some goals you want to reach. A couple may be fine and they can be of any type: from making no wrong rulings to becoming faster in using the event reporting software, from talking to all judges in the event to improving your deck checks, and so on.
After the event, take some time to think over the day and try to be as critical as possible with yourself. Did you reach your goals? Name one thing you feel proud of and one you should have handled better.
In between events, go from time to time to the Judge Center and take some practice exams, both easy and hard. Answer them with no help other than your memory and experience. Go through all the answers (even the ones you get right) and follow the links to read the related rules.
Make summaries of the latest changes in the rules and policies. Read once in a while a part of the Infraction Procedure Guide and try to remember the name of all the infractions.
Read the articles that are published in the Judge Article Archive. These articles are written by experienced judges and they will help you increase your knowledge of specific topics.
3. Reviews Really Matter
Very good: you are part of the DCI family, you have experience in tournaments, and you have improved your skills over time. Now it's time to let other people know it!
Writing and receiving reviews is extremely important and it is a fundamental tool for improving the whole community. If you want to be selected for a big event, someone needs to know about you. And the reviews you wrote and you received are one of the best ways to understand where you came from, which road you took, and where you're heading.
This is even more important if you're in an area in which you cannot normally attend events with high-level judges, as your reviews will be one of the few feedback items that the program's coordinators will be able to check in order to know what's happening in your area and have an idea of what you're doing.
Ask other judges to watch your work in an event and collect notes on what you did well and what you did not-so-well. Discuss with them these points and ask them to write a review, so that you may have a guide on how to further improve which you can reference later. Be happy: there is always something you can get better at!
Try always to watch some of your fellow judges working and find some areas in their skills in which they could improve. Offer them suggestions on how to make them stronger. Write a review on them and offer constructive criticism. Care about the community that helped you grow as a judge and give some of your experience back to it. Sharing knowledge is a tremendous help in growing a group.
2. Submit Applications
This may seem stupid advice, but actually it is one of the most important ones!
You need to let other people know that you are interested into judging at a Pro Tour. No one will guess it if you don't tell them.
Write an application for the PTs you'd like to attend (you may find them posted in the DCIJUDGE-L mailing list and in the Judge Center) and ask for the sponsorship you'd like to receive. The worst thing that could happen to you is that you won't be selected. Not a big deal, since that's the same situation you'd be in if you didn't write it!
There aren't enough sponsorships for everybody, so there may be a chance you will not be chosen, but at least you will have shown initiative and willingness to work in this kind of events. Initiative is one of the most important skills you need to develop in order to improve your chances to be selected. If you are an active judge in your area and you propose new projects, you ask to judge bigger events, and you seek other judges' mentorship, they will start to know you, your enthusiasm, and your hard work. Your time probably will come sooner than you expected.
And remember always that you may apply as a volunteer, which has greater likelihood of being accepted.
1. Believe in Yourself
You are part of the DCI family, you worked in a lot of tournaments, you improved skills, you wrote and received reviews, and you filled in a few applications. But you still haven't been selected to be part of a PT judge staff. What did you do wrong?
If you followed all these suggestions you will be a much stronger judge. Keep all this work going, never think to be above a specific task or judging a specific event. Every drop of sweat you spend on the floor will bring you a step closer to your final goal. Be proud of what you achieved and be smart enough to find always some new area to work on.
Think always positive, even in the darkest moments. Offer other judges a smile and let them know that you really enjoy being a judge, both inside and outside tournaments. Be a model for younger judges and for judge candidates, motivate them to stay or enter in the family.
Ask more experienced judges what they think you should do better. They followed you in your path and they are the best people you should look for suggestions.
Don't worry! You must be the first one to believe in yourself, in your work, in the program, and in your goals. Soon enough you'll have your chance. Be ready to take it!
These suggestions come from the personal experience of some great judges worldwide. They worked for me and I hope they may help you reach the top!
Don't be scared of the length of this article. Yes, it looks like a lot of work, but don't think of it as a job. It is a tremendous chance to improve skills you may need also in your real life and you'll be surrounded by enthusiastic people like you that will keep challenging you with new goals every time. This will be a lot of fun and you'll grow friendships that will last for years to come.
Once you fix your long-term goal, things will start to flow seamlessly and you'll receive emails from a PT Head Judge before you think.
And I swear to you, this is what really happened to me!
I want to thank Cristiana Dionisio for believing in me and sending me across the world, Mirko Console for his priceless guidance, and Carlos Ho for his encouragement in writing this article and for the great editing work.