Who are DCI judges? Are judges the "black and white stripes" guys that once in a while pick up a player's deck in sanctioned tournaments to check it? Yes, for some people that's all they are, but in reality there is more to it.
In this article I'll talk about what I believe it means to be a judge and the main concerns and difficulties that I am encountering trying to get there.
A DCI judge is usually someone who, after a while of playing Magic: the Gathering, started to be more and more "in love" with rules and details of game mechanics. In the beginning when we start to play, we worry about "the whats" – and for most people, that is all they worry about for their entire game experience. "The whats," as you are probably imagining, are the practical effects of game actions; for instance, the understanding that if a creature has 0 toughness, that creature is put into its owner's graveyard.
Some people, as their game experience increases, start to worry not only about "the whats" but also about "the hows" and "the whys." In the previous 0-toughness example, these are the knowledge and understanding of state-based effects.
In my case, the love and desire to become a judge was born from these two fundamental concerns. They are what keep the passion going and they are also by far the greatest and most important tools I use to expand my knowledge – so I will always try not to forget to bring them along.
One of my greatest fears is that one day I might forget these two things that made me want to be a judge. If I stop worrying about "the hows" and "the whys," I am afraid I will think that I have learned all I could learn and stop questioning myself. Without realising, I could lose my motivation and the game could start to be just another routine, too boring to give it another thought.
Magic, as we all know, is a game in constant change. Rules are added or altered with each set and guidelines are always being reviewed, therefore the way we see the game today can never be the same as we saw it yesterday.
This constant change in the game creates what I believe it is another defining factor of being a DCI judge, which is a commitment to the love of the rules and of the game itself. In my case, how does this commitment takes its shape? As someone trying to be a judge, the commitment I have to accept and practice comes through the knowledge of game mechanics, and that knowledge is the way to honour the commitment.
Judges do have a profound knowledge of the rules (or they probably would not be judges), but passing the test will not grant me an immediate understanding of all possible questions and situations. The test can't be seen as a gateway to the light – this creates a series of thoughts which are final goal for me (and probably for every judge), such as:
"I understand all the rules!"
"I can resolve anything that comes to me!"
"I know all about the game!"
"To know all about the game" is something to aspire to, but it is also very difficult to reach, especially for someone who is starting the judge's path. Sometimes, during the training when we realise how hard that can be, we might be tempted to consider that the full and complete knowledge is an utopia and, given that, it will be a lot easier to stop bothering or just to quit trying to be a judge. Therefore, in order to keep committed, we always have to believe that it is possible to get there, to truly understand the game.
This commitment to constant pursuit of knowledge brought up another difficulty to my path called the "Penalty Guide."
Don't get me wrong – I consider all sets of rules equally important. However, when it comes to the Magic Floor Rules and the Comprehensive Rules, our game experience usually helps us to understand and remember most of these documents. As players, we already know how a tournament works and how to play several formats. The point is a player usually knows most of the more common rules presented in the two documents above, but the case if different when it comes to the Penalty Guide. If we want to practice the Comprehensive Rules, we just have to play or take some practice tests, but the Penalty Guide has a limited range of what we can do to practice it. My opinion is that the knowledge of how to correctly apply and understand these rules only comes through judging experience and someone trying to be a judge usually does not have enough of that experience yet. That is probably why I sometimes think that the Penalty Guide can set the line between the player and the judge and also why I am usually so "afraid" of these rules.
The Key Element
So, judges are "in love" with the rules and have to be committed, but is that all, or am I missing something? What is or should be the main object of a judge's work? The players, of course.
The players are the key element of the game. There would not be a game without them, therefore I believe a judge is only useful if he can, directly or indirectly, help the players: they truly are his final objective. This is why I think part of being a judge – perhaps one of the most important parts – is to know the local community. When I become a judge, I will be able to be involved in my community only if I know how that community works. I believe a judge should always have an active part in his community, working closely with players and tournament organizers in order to improve, to educate, and to increase the interest in the game itself.
Judges should always keep in mind that a community is often the reflection of the local judge.
Players are also responsible for one of my greatest fears: the fear of being mistaken. Players expect judges to know all the rules and how to resolve any situation, but as I said before, that full knowledge is something very difficult to reach and therefore mistakes will happen. The important thing is to always try to avoid them and, when they do happen, to correct them and learn from them. However, it can be a challenge to do this, and it is very easy to lose motivation and quit rather than face the mistake and "move on."
The Next Generation
Finally, I will talk about what I believe is one of the most noble and difficult tasks a judge can bring upon himself: the training of newer judges.
If a player goes to a judge with motivation and interest in becoming a judge, the judge should always try to help him. First of all, the two of them should have a talk where the judge will try to find out if the candidate has the necessary knowledge to judge. If he does not, no problem; the judge will try to see where his difficulties are (in which particular rules and aspects) and should help him with those difficulties. If the candidate clearly has the necessary knowledge, it would be helpful if the judge could share some of his experience and explain that knowledge means different things for players and judges.
Players see knowledge as an advantage, and for them that is the right way to see it: since they are players, it is only fair that they try to use their knowledge to be better than their opponents. However, judges have to see knowledge not as an advantage but mainly as a responsibility. They are responsible for applying their knowledge fairly and impartially. This is the most important thing I have learned so far and I believe it is something to think about for a while before taking the judge test.
With this article, I've tried to show the point of view of someone like me trying to become a judge so that you can understand the difficulties we go through and remember the fears you once had. I hope it can be useful.