From Certifier to Certifier

Posted in NEWS on May 4, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

"You don't become a Level 1 passing an exam; you pass the exam because you already are a level 1."

"The way to the level 1 is like a path. You start on some point of the path and you walk it; once you pass the line of the level 1, a judge will came and certify you."

It's very important to note that the exam doesn't make you a judge. Your work makes you a judge and the exam just certifies it.

Evaluate – Train – Evaluate

If you are a level 2, your new responsibilities include certifying level 1 judges. Don't be afraid; this is great. If you take this responsibility seriously, it can bring an extraordinary development to your community and to you.

The main skills you need to deal with certification are: EVALUATE and TEACH.

-Evaluation is the ability to determinate the capacities of another judge, their weaknesses and their strengths. It's the ability to determinate how the prospective judge will do in a future tournament. This is the ability to find the origin of his problems and the way to solve them.

-Teaching is the ability to help others improve. This is not just to know what other judges need to doing it; it's also the capacity to pass along this information in a useful manner. To educate and to motivate. You can TEACH one judge at a time or many of them at once.

The process is a repeating one: Evaluate, Teach, Evaluate...


The first thing you have to do when a candidate contacts you is EVALUATE him.

Some recommendable questions are: Why do you want to become a judge? Have you judged before? What's your experience as a player? Who have you already worked with? Why haven't you judged before? Have you read the Comp Rules? PG? UTR? MFR? These questions help you to determinate WHO is the candidate.

Then we have to evaluate his rules knowledge. At this point it's a good idea to start with some easy questions to make the candidate feel comfortable. Try things like: When does the game proceed to the next step or phase? What are the parts of the turn? How do you recognise a triggered ability? An activated ability? How do you recognise a replacement effect? Can you tell me any SBEs? Don't be very exigent with the answers, at this point we are only trying to determinate if the candidate has read the rules.

Real rules questions: If the candidate has studied the rules, go ahead with difficult rules questions. But don't use old cards in your questions; try to make questions currently in the Standard format.

Policy questions: Mainly ask about the PG and don't expect great answers. The candidate probably hasn't worked many with other judges and he is not familiar with those procedures. Recommendable questions are: How will you solve a decklist containing 59 cards if the deck contains 60? What's the REL of a PTQ? What's the difference between Slow Play and Stalling?

From the answer to those questions you have to determinate where the candidate is:

- Not motivated or wrong motivation: He doesn't want to be a judge. He just wants to become a level 1 to test his rules knowledge. Recommend he think about his motivations and send him the Judge Centre to test his knowledge.
- Inexperienced: Not experience judging with other certified judges. Recommend that he read the rules, take the Rules Advisor test, and find a local store or club to help with the organization and earn experience there. Keep track of him and if he does the things above, invite him to join the staff in a Competitive event when you consider him ready.
- Experienced: It's rare to find experienced candidates but some times it happens. An experienced candidate is one who is ready (or almost ready) to become an L1. Place him in the next Competitive event as a member of the staff and get ready to test him there.

Independent of the category the candidate falls in, we have to orient and motivate him. Now is the turn to use our TEACHING skills. With the information that we have gathered before and our resources, we have to make him a level 1.

One piece of advice: Make sure you don't force the candidate. There's a line between motivating and forcing. Make sure you don't cross it. (Sending him an email to track his evolution is fine. If he doesn't answer, send him a second email inviting him to contact you when he needs it. But don't keep sending him emails after this.)

Some things you can do to help the candidate are:

-Give him your email address so he can ask you questions (you should answer the questions).
-Go to some of the tournaments he judges and observe him in situ.
-Create a forum or web site where the candidate can contact you and meet other candidates.
-Chat by MSN (or other similar program) with the candidate, just to talk and ask how things are going. Specific questions are better solved by email.

The next time you have to EVALUATE him again is when he's a staff member in a big event. But you also have to TEACH him the procedures done in a big event: deck checks, mid-round checks, look for bribery and collusion during the final rounds, etc.

If he is ready in this event, give him the test. I recommend not doing this after the fourth or fifth round. Remember, it will take some time for him to do the test and then you have to correct it and do the interview. If he is not ready, you have to encourage him to keep improving and offer him your help, but don't give him the test.

The interview: If you have the time, do it even if the candidate failed. For the level 1, the interview looks more like an orientation than like an exam. It's not very normal to fail the candidate for the L1 at this point, since you have already EVALUATED him.
During the interview:

  • Correct the questions the candidate failed, along with any he asks for.
  • Tell him what to do from here. It doesn't matter if he passed or not; he still has many thinks to learn.
  • Answer any question he may have about the judge program.

The interview is about both EVALUATING and TEACHING. If, during the interview, you conclude that he shouldn't be a judge, explain why and how to solve it. Try to keep his motivation up. If, after the interview, some doubts about the candidate have risen in your mind, you can delay the exam. Ask the candidate to judge again with you before you make a decision.


In some cases you may find special candidates who are not able to do the test as normal. Maybe they're blind, unable to travel to take the test, or many other reasons. In these cases, you have to decide if they're able to work as an L1 judge despite their handicap. If you think they are, contact a senior L3+ judge in your area/country and tell him about this issue. He will help you with this case.


We call massive certification to the one done at GPs, PTs and Nationals. The main difference is that in the massive cert, you have to determinate in your first EVALUATION if the candidate is ready to take the test and become a L1. You also have to give him the basic training (deck checks, etc). If the candidate is from an area with an available L2+ judge, refer him to his local L2 to take the test.

The best thing we can do is:

  • When candidate reaches you, you EVALUATE his motivation.
  • If it's fine, ask a L2+ judging the event to be his mentor. He must
    • TEACH the candidate what we're doing in the event.
    • Explain him the differences between this event and a PTQ
    • Introduce him to the judge community.
    • EVALUATE his rules and policy knowledge.
    • The candidate may deliver some rulings under the strict supervision of the mentor if he believes the candidate is ready.
  • After a couple of rounds, change the mentor of the candidate. Do this a few times depending on the time the candidate has and the available judges.
  • Gather the reviews of the mentors and make the decision to test him or not.

It's fine if you use more than one day to do this process.

And this is all I can say about certification. I hope it has been useful for you. If you want to comment this article or if you have any questions on certification, please, contact me at

Alfonso Bueno