Diary of a Judge Trainee

Posted in NEWS on December 8, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Ingrid Lind-Jahn


As a judge - albeit a fairly new one - I'm learning that the questions, "How do you become a judge?" or "Just what the heck do you do when you're a judge?" are pretty common. Of course the Judge Certification site has all the nuts and bolts information one could ever want about the actual procedure to follow to become a judge, but it doesn't really answer some of the unspoken questions that potential judges might have - most basically, "Is this something I would ever really want to do?"

For that you have to dig a little deeper into the articles to get a better idea of just what judges do. And that really is more than wandering through tournaments in spiffy shirts looking knowledgeable and being thoroughly versed in the Comprehensive Rules and Penalty Guidelines.

There already are at least a few articles out there aimed at the judge trainee, but I thought I would take the topic of becoming a Level 1 judge and approach it from a slightly different angle. I'm basing this on what I've written in my personal journal. What is it like to become a judge? Just what does it involve? Read on...

JULY 6,2001

I've decided to become a Magic judge. Well, actually I've been thinking about it for quite some time. In our casual play games, I have been the de facto judge. I've subscribed to MTG-L for a couple years now - and I actually read all the NetRep Replies. In small tournaments at a local store that doesn't have a judge, I've gradually become the person to ask for rulings.

Besides, I've always enjoyed being an expert; why not try to become one officially? I have the Comprehensive Rules and the Oracle on my PDA already. I know both of the Level 3 judges in the Madison area, and have started playing Friday Night Magic fairly regularly at Steve Port's shop.

Just one small problem. I am currently at Origins and my local Level 3's are back home. Why couldn't I have decided to do this at least a week earlier?

AUGUST 17,2001

A few things have happened over the last month or so. I e-mailed Steve about becoming a judge. He told me that I would have to judge a few tournaments and take the test. He also suggested that for practice I try taking the Delphi test. We also figured it would be easy enough for me to judge a few Friday Night Magic tournaments for starters.

Then things like summer vacations started to intervene. And other miscellaneous weekend trips or Friday night conflicts.

But finally it's a Friday and I'm going to be judging. And learning to use the computer (for DCI Reporter, that is).

Steve gives me the crash course in DCI Reporter - entering players, making pods (it's draft tonight), doing pairings, printing out match result slips, etc. It's a real crash course; good thing I jotted down notes in my journal so that an hour later, when I'm attempting to start round 2, I'm not just hitting random key strokes and looking at various drop down menus.. ("Where the heck is that pairings thing again? I wonder if it's possible to erase anything accidentally..." )

I actually have to answer a couple rules questions too. (What happens with trample damage when the blockers are all destroyed before damage is assigned? When does the life gain happen with Armadillo Cloak? Does Exotic Curse have to target my opponent's Flagbearer?) Which reminds me - I really ought to get around to studying the Comprehensive Rules.

Round 2 ends and Steve has to leave to check on his kids - they didn't answer the phone when he called to check on them - so not only is this the first tournament I'm working, I am now doing it solo. Which goes along quite nicely until the tournament is done and now I have to figure out where the final standings are and how to print them, and how to figure them out for the individual pods. (In addition to getting the FNM foils, the players pool, then pick, the rares and foils from their draft; everyone gets picks based on their final standings.) Chris Richter, who has just recently become a judge, helps. He hasn't learned a lot about DCI Reporter yet, but two of us hitting random keys has got to be better than just one. Eventually we do figure it out and everything ends happily.

Steve Port, Tournament Organizer

Steve shows up after we've finished. His kids had called about 10 minutes after he left, so we knew he'd be back, but still it's quite a drive for him.

Chris has a few additional suggestions for me. He suggests I try answering questions at some of the bulletin boards at various websites, as it's good practice. He also tells me that it's really fun to work some of the bigger events, especially Prereleases.

So I ask Steve if there are any biggish events coming up that I can help judge at. "Yeah," he says, "GP Minneapolis, end of September." Oh my.

AUGUST 20,2001

I am trying to decide whether I shall be playing or judging at GP Minneapolis. (Invasion Block Constructed is the format.) And in the mean time I have figured out just how I'm going to study the Comp. Rules. I have read them through once from beginning to end, just to read them. I know there are some bits I don't understand quite so well as others. Now what I'm going to do is read the entire thing in smaller sections. After each bit I read, I'm going to ponder it and make sure I understand it. (And for those bits that I don't quite understand thoroughly yet, well, I'll get those on the next time through.)

As I recall, I never studied this hard in college.

AUGUST 24, 2001

I have started using my break time at work to answer questions on WOTC's Rules Q&A board. I've already recognized Chris as one of the posters there, and he has now recognized me there as well.

AUGUST 30, 2001

As it turns out, a couple of people on my team are playing an IBC domain type of deck which uses Reviving Vapors, and also has Spite/Malice. The team has some debates on just how those cards interact. I take the liberty of e-mailing team members a brief essay (complete with Comp. Rules references, no less!) of how split cards interact with other cards such as Reviving Vapors, Void, etc. After some further discussion, they agree I'm right.


IBC PTQ today in Madison. I am playing, not judging. My performance is less than stellar and seems to involve a lot of not being able to draw my third color of mana. What is of note is that there are questions being asked about the interactions of certain cards (Reviving Vapors, Void) with split cards. After I drop, I also get a chance to explain this to another spectating Magic player. As it turns out, this is within the hearing of Darrell Wyatt, our other local Level 3 judge. And apparently I have it right.


I've asked to run FNM tonight. It's Type 2 and I think I should try running a small type 2 tournament. I will also be working at the Odyssey Prerelease that's coming up.

Middle of the day - I get an e-mail from Steve. He has tickets to a concert tonight, so I'm going to be responsible for FNM all by myself. I will try to get there early enough to ask him a few last minute questions.

About an hour later - I get an e-mail from Pete, my husband. He's decided on a deck for tonight. It involves Pure Reflection, Unnatural Selection, Silver Drake, Empress Galina, etc. I spend my afternoon break making sure I know how everything interacts and making sure I have the timing right with Pure Reflection and gating.

I also figure I feel comfortable enough with the Comp. Rules, etc. to be able to take the test and Steve and I agree that I should take it "soon."

The tournament goes fine. Just a few small rules things here and there: "No, if you put a Necravolver into play by way of Elvish Piper, you can't pay kicker costs for it." My other observation of the evening: "I pushed chairs back in about 16,000 times. These are nice people, but they don't tend to pick up after themselves."

Chris lets me in on the secret that being a judge generally involves a lot of grunt work rather than actually answering rules questions. I have to admit, I was starting to figure that one out.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2001

I judged at the Odyssey Prerelease yesterday. At the end of the day, I was way too tired to write anything in my journal. Here's what I did:

I numbered tables. I hung up signs directing people to the bathrooms (due to difficulty in getting a location, we ended up someplace where the bathrooms were around the corner in another storefront.). I was assigned to help run booster drafts with Chris. Before we started doing that, we took registrations.

Drafts started up fairly early, and Nick Hable gave the first one to Chris. "Can I watch him just to make sure I know what I'm doing when I do one?" I asked. Nick looked at me and asked, "And just what are you supposed to be doing today anyway?" Oh, right. I tagged along with Chris. And then I ran booster drafts all day. (I did find out that I could run four at a time. I probably could have done a few more, if I'd had enough pockets for all the paperwork. Chris suggested bringing a clipboard next time.)

I picked up random pens throughout the day. (Note to self: Pants with many pockets are a very good idea.) I cleaned up trash and other stuff - bits of paper, wrappers from packs or sleeves, food packaging remains, soda cans, miscellaneous cards, backpacks, articles of clothing. (This is sort of an ongoing theme to being a judge, I'm thinking.) I tried to at least vaguely remember the faces/clothing of the people in my various booster drafts. ("Your next opponent? Well, he was a kind of youngish guy, wore glasses, kind of looked like a Magic player...") I answered a few rules questions. And apparently my Prerelease T-shirt had, "Ask me where the basic lands are!" written across the back of it. Every draft, as part of my routine, I told people where the basic lands were. And every draft there were at least two people who forgot and had to ask me again by the time they had gotten their decks together.

And were my feet and legs ever tired by the end of the day. Sitting down intermittently, even for just a minute or two, would probably have been a wise thing to do. As it got on toward 9:00 PM and I was finally sitting down, Nick called out to me, "Ingrid!" I said, "What?" and started getting up; he had another draft ready to go. He said, "Sit there. Just...sit there!"

I decided to demonstrate that I was capable of following directions.

"Was that a hard job?" he asked when he returned. "No," I replied, "But it was very stressful."

Everyone was very nice to me. Several people (both judges and players) asked me how I liked being a judge. More than a few told me that I didn't need to work quite so hard.

But I have noticed that I'm starting to get twitchy when people call, "Judge!"

And Steve and I still have not been able to coordinate a time for me to take the test.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2001

GP weekend; GP trial. Pete is playing; I really don't have to, so I'm just observing and writing. I start by watching the judges at the GP Trial. There's just a few of them. They sort of mill about until someone calls for a judge; then they gravitate over in that direction like the local ducks do when people throw popcorn into the water. Several players I know come over and ask me if being a judge means that I'm going to quit playing now. I reassure them that it does not.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2001

Opening judges meeting at GP Minneapolis

This is it; the big day. I have no clue what I will be doing; all I know is I need to be there by 8:00. I get downstairs and Steve hands me a striped shirt. Oh my. Chris and I start handing out registration slips/blank decklists to people until the judges' meeting. I also meet Sheldon Menery, the head judge. "Hello," he says, "It's a pleasure to meet me!" I'm so busy trying not to drop things that I can't come up with an equally snappy reply.

There's also some good-natured ribbing from one of the players. "They're letting YOU judge? And Kurt Hahn? Well, I guess they'll let anybody be a judge!"

I am to be a floor judge for the GP. Suddenly I feel that my limited grasp of the Penalty Guidelines is slipping away. We are organized into two teams - the teams will alternate responsibility for doing deck checks and posting pairings/handing out results slips.

We collect the 410+ decklists. There's a small miscommunication, and people are not seated in alphabetical order. That will mean some major alphabetizing. For much of the first round my team was verifying decklists. And alphabetizing them. My skills from supervising a file room for two years are finally being put to good use.

We have administrative support for actually doing deck checks, but still I have to swoop down and nab decks at the appropriate time. I think I must have been successful; people look rather startled when I step in to take their decks.

Deck checks are an important judge's job

I answer some rules questions. I give out penalties. I am called to watch a game for slow play. Some of the other judges (including Sheldon and Kevin) listen in when I'm giving rulings; I could use some fine tuning, but I don't make any major mistakes. Fortunately one of the calls I get involves Unnatural Selection, Pure Reflection and a gating creature - I can make that one in my sleep. We were not assigned to cover specific tables; Sheldon felt we would be more efficiently used if all of us felt free to wander the entire floor. This is nice because one does get to see more of the tournament. It does involve a bit more walking, as well as a concerted effort not to just focus on the higher tables. This also is a REL 4 event; we have to sign the match slips and we get to turn them in. There is a lot of calling of "Judge!" as matches finish. I am definitely starting to get twitchy.

At least three different players think I have a cool signature.

And I pick up the obligatory random pens, cards, dice, card sleeves, sideboards, decks, etc. that are left behind. And throw away lots of bits of paper, wrappers, etc. I also make an effort to sit down for at least a minute or two each round to watch a match as each round is drawing to a close.

And finally Day 1 is over. For the players, that is. We still have green tablecloths to help fold up, chairs to stack, and tables to move. Nick and I, the most, well, vertically challenged of the judges there, end up stacking the chairs. There are supposed to be 10 chairs in a stack; I can reach as far as 9.

We have a judges' meeting to discuss the day. Sheldon wanted each of us to come up with something that we had done right and something we could have improved upon. Fortunately he starts with me. My frame of reference of tournaments for comparison is rather limited at this point.

I am starting to come to the realization that perhaps the core of the job of judging consists of doing whatever you can to help make a tournament run as smoothly as possible.

SEPTEMBER 26, 2001

I don't have to be downstairs until 8:30. Once I get there, Sheldon starts quizzing me on rules questions, especially after he finds out I haven't taken my test yet. I'm not used to being grilled in the morning, especially before I've had my orange juice.

I spend the first part of the morning at the GP and actually do my first deck check. Then I am moved to the PTQ, where it is felt that I will be more likely to get experience answering rules questions. I am somewhat relieved. (The level of tension is quite high and tangible, at least to me, at the GP. On the one hand, I have a fair amount of self confidence. On the other hand, I have an odd underlying feeling of terror as well. Probably fear of making a mistake.)

At the PTQ I do have more rules questions to answer. And plenty of warnings to give out - tardy players, players playing the wrong opponent, etc.

Part way through Steve comes up to me and says it's about time I took my test. "Are you ready?" he asks.

I haven't studied the Comp. Rules for at least 3 weeks now. And I know I could use a little more time alone with the Penalty Guidelines. On the other hand, I'm supposed to know this stuff by now. "Sure I'm ready."

I follow Chris' advice: I essentially take the test twice. I go through the test once and write down all my answers on a sheet of scratch paper. Then I go through it again, answer again, compare each answer with my original answer, decide which one I feel is correct (when they differ), and record that on the answer sheet.

I take the test away from the tournaments, but not too far from where the judges hang out. They are very solicitous of me. Several of them reassure me that I'll do just fine. Nick brings me lunch and a soda. And then, after I am done eating, comes back to pick up my trash. (One of those instinctive judge things.) At least three judges tell me that I can take a break, get up, stretch, walk around, etc. Apparently I think quite actively and look as though I am working very hard.

Eventually I finish, turn in my test, and wander back out to the PTQ that I am ostensibly judging. Sure enough, as soon as I get there, someone calls, "Judge!"

It's Pete, my husband. I asked him if he wanted me to call another judge (conflict of interest, you know). "No," he said, "You're okay. I didn't desideboard." Me: "You're kidding." Him: "No; I'm serious." I look at his hand. I helped him build his sideboard that morning, and he's absolutely right. "You're right," I say. And I give him a game loss for failure to desideboard. (My first "official" action as a Judge, as it turns out - no one will ever doubt whether I can be impartial!)

Shortly after that, someone asks a question of one of the other judge trainees. He in turn comes up to check his answer with me. As I recall, it was about playing a Lair land, tapping it for mana and sacrificing it as part of the cost to play Harrow. As he asks the question, I realize that while I recognize the card names, and I know what each does individually, I can't keep them both in my mind at the same time. And then I realize that I can only keep about two to three words of the question in my brain at a time. My brain cells seem not to be functioning at this particular moment. I refer him to Chris, who is thankfully just a few tables away judging the JSS Challenge. If I try to answer any rules questions for the next 10 minutes, I think there's a good chance I will just plain answer with something very stupid (i.e., wrong).

So I pick up more pens. And trash. And other random stuff. (I can do that.) And I wander up to talk to Darrell who is manning the computer. And who is going to be interviewing me shortly. "You did terrible!" he says. "On the test! I'm really disappointed in you!"

I suspect he's joking.

I sincerely hope he's joking.

If I calculated all the possible errors I could have made from questions I wasn't sure on, and subtract a few more points for stupid mistakes, I think I should have at least scored 85...

Apparently by this time, practically everybody but me knows that I've actually passed the test. I don't find that out for at least another 10 minutes, when Steve finally catches up with me. I have scored 92. And that's including making a couple really stupid mistakes. Mistakes that elicit feedback from Darrell like, "You're the only person all weekend who missed THAT question. And I know you really know the right answer." Apparently my brain took a few micro-holidays to Tahiti.

I get a chance to tell some of the other judges my good news. Nick's response: "I did all that agonizing over you...for nothing? You didn't need any help!" (Apparently I think much more expressively than I had previously imagined.) So then I tell him about giving my husband a game loss for failure to desideboard. Nick nearly falls out of his chair laughing. Which is pretty much the same reaction I get from everyone else I tell.

The interview with Darrell goes fine. I need more work on the Penalty Guidelines, which I had already admitted, and he recommends that I should judge more. He tells me that if I haven't heard anything about getting my level in a month, I should contact him.

OCTOBER 30, 2001

It's been just over a month. I haven't heard anything. I e-mail Darrell. He e-mails back and apologizes, saying that he didn't get everything sent in immediately, but that I should hear something really soon.

NOVEMBER 5, 2001

Today I get an e-mail notifying me that I am on the DCI Certified Judges e-mail list. And I guess that's it. Not quite so tangible as something like a Certificate Suitable for Framing -- but it will do.