Art of Mentoring

Posted in NEWS on June 22, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

One of the more important roles of a judge is not only to improve himself, but also to inspire others, helping them improve themselves and become judges. The road of becoming a certified judge is a long and hard one, and inspiration is often not enough. Those interested in reaching the desired level will have a much easier time getting there with the help of already-certified judges who will take them under their wings.
Those who shelter and assist will in return improve themselves once more by helping others.

As the headline suggests, this process is called mentoring, but since our time and resources are limited, we obviously can't mentor everybody. This article is intended to help existing judges choose whom to mentor and how to do it more efficiently.

Find a candidate

You can find candidates either passively when people address you, or actively looking for those who show good understanding of the game rules, maturity, initiative, and other necessary skill that makes them "judge material."

If you find someone you think could become a good judge, suggest it to him (or her). Odds are that, for the very qualities you noticed in him, he'll be thrilled with the opportunity.

As a judge, others have probably asked you what does it take to becomes a judge and if they can become judges, too. If you're addressed this way, conduct a short interview with the addresser, checking to see if he shows the necessary skills. Ask how long they've been playing the game, why they want to become judges, do they have any prior experience judging, come up with a few game questions on various topics and see what they answer, etc. That way you'll be able see if that person has what it takes.

If you're not sure, it's best to ask around about that person with people both of you know from the community–other judges, organizers, mutual friends–as well as anyone else you consider relevant and helpful. Needless to say, you can inquire others even if you've made up your mind, and you're just looking for a second opinion.

If you don't think he's got what's needed to be a judge, tell him what he needs to improve so he could work towards that goal. Always be diplomatic and never shatter his dream of becoming a judge. If you don't think he has a good enough understanding of the game rules, tell him he needs to improve at it. If that person is immature, tell him he's got something to look forwards to as he develops. If he's not credible enough, tell him he needs to prove himself first.

Alternatively, if you could find the time to work with him on the problematic issues, it would be even better than just sending him to work them out alone. Remember that people and situations change, needed qualities can be developed, and that even if he won't make it to become a judge, thanks to you he might become a better person.

Explain what it takes

There's a lot to know in order to become a judge. There's even a lot to know just what becoming a judge means: being a judge is not a title, but rather a responsibility. In general, you are expected to have rules and policy knowledge, people skills, and to be able to run Magic events.

One of the more important skills you need is how to find what you need to know. Help your new protégé to be familiar with all the data; The "Judge Certification" page is a good place to start, leading to almost everything needed: rules documents, articles, lists, and more.

As his new mentor, you wish for him to advance and improve on his learning, yet from here on it's mainly up to him. Nevertheless, you can assist him–point out what you think is more important for him out of the haystack of information, lend him your experience, offer him more then one way to reach you, and above all, always be available to him from now on in case he needs you.

Become involved

Sometimes simply being there for someone just isn't enough. Initiate!

After your new protégé has been learning for a while, test him. We're not talking about an exam to gain a level (not yet anyway), but rather asking about interesting scenarios and situations you've come across. That way you'll be able to keep track of his learning, and he might study even harder if he knows you'll be talking about rules issues. Succeeding in his answers will make him feel good and further motivate him to continue studying. If he doesn't know the answer, he'll grow wiser and realize he still has much to learn, motivating him to learn in a different way.

Convince him to become a Rules Advisor if he hadn't done so already. That way you'll also make sure that his details exist at the Judge Center. Involve him in your local judge community, such as forums, mailing list, etc. Drive him to be active and take part there, responding to, and even posting subjects.

By constantly working and being in contact with him you also reduce the likelihood that he'll be too embarrassed to contact you when he needs you.

Assist him to judge

Prereleases and other Regular REL premiere events offer a friendly and relatively casual environment, putting the emphasis on social aspects rather than enforcement. As such, those are the preferred events for a first-time judging. If you're not the Head Judge of such an event, talk to whoever is or with the tournament organizer about your protégé and the potential you see in him. Ask them to allow him take part in the tournament and judge there. Most HJ and TO will be more than happy to help qualify the next generation of judges, and as an already-certified judge, your recommendation can carry a lot of weight when choosing the staff for the upcoming event.

If you arrange for both of you to judge together during the tournament, follow your protégé around and see how he's doing. Set a personal example, shadow him giving rulings, be a source for consultation and information when he needs them, but try to lead him towards the answers rather than giving them to him. When there's time and it seems appropriate, tackle him with bizarre situations and see how he handles them.
You should remember that many of the things that seem obvious to you are new and possibly threatening to him, and that there's a big difference between learning knowledge and implementing it in real tournament situations.

At the end of the event, give him an honest feedback. Talk to him about his strengths and weaknesses, and emphasize that for his first tournament, he did just fine. This is also your opportunity to get a feedback from your protégé–were you clear enough? Available when needed? Whom did you manage during the tournament and how can you improve as a judge and mentor?

Later on, be sure to upload your reviews online to the Judge Center. This will allow your protégé (as well as other judges you review) to have feedback he can come back to, and on later tournaments, see how he has improved himself.


By now you've come a long way with your protégé and seen him in action. If he shows specific areas he needs to improve, work with him on these areas. You could gradually expose him to these situations, offer him examples on how to handle them, have him practice dry runs with in-depth feedback, and of course, continue to give him positive reinforcement. After he's got the handle on these, practice makes perfect.

The test

If you're level 2 or above, you can interview and test your protégé once he meets the qualifications and you think it's time. If not, recommend a higher-level judge to test him when you think he's ready. Even though you know the candidate best, I would advise you not to conduct the interview yourself but rather let an objective judge handle it. If your protégé is as good as you think, he should have no problem passing. After a successful evaluation, congratulate him–tell him you knew he'd make it (that much goes without saying). You can feel proud of him and yourself for helping him come all this way and become a certified judge.

In the unfortunate case the evaluation didn't go that well, tell him not to be discouraged–you KNOW he is a good judge, and now that he knows what he needs to improve at, he's bound to pass next time.

Mentor on

Don't settle with just this article. You've been mentored yourself by someone–think back on what he's done, how it has been for you, and take more ideas out of the experience.

Just because your protégé achieved certification doesn't mean that the mentoring process is over. Judge, discuss, quiz each other. Learning is a never-ending process, and you don't always have to be the teacher in it.

Lastly, if you feel you've taught your mentored one protégé all you can, it's time to get a new one.

Thanks to Doron Singer for his help with the article and to Yuval Tzur for having been my mentor.

Zohar Finkel