How To Get More From A Tournament

Posted in NEWS on August 24, 1999

By Wizards of the Coast

Paul Barclay


This article deals with the slightly tricky subject of pay and conditions of judges at tournaments. The negotiation and agreement of this is one of the few areas of judging where there are no rules, no guidelines, and no collected bodies of experience. It's an area that will eventually become second nature to all judges, in the way that the penalty guidelines have made enforcement of penalties. Hopefully, this article will help to kick-start that process.

Over the last twelve months, the DCI has made huge improvements in the methods it uses to deal with the judges staffing its major events. The DCI is starting to move towards a constantly improving professional structure. Many of the major tournament organisers also seem to be making (or have already made) similar improvements. I believe that it is now up to the judges to help to continue this movement, and to ensure that certified judges continue to be valued as much as they should be.

I intend to use this article to outline a way for judges to improve their treatment. Judges want to receive as much as possible for the work they do. Tournament organisers want to minimise their costs as much as possible. This article aims to find a way to create a mutually acceptable balance. Communication between judges and Tournament Organisers is the key to achieving this balance.

The problem

Different tournament organisers, from Dave in the local comic shop, to Dan and Brian who regularly run lots of Pro Tour Qualifiers, right up to the DCI, have wildly different methods of treating the judges who work for them. Their ideas might not match up to yours, and if you assume something that later turns out not to be true, you could be severely disappointed, or worse. Sorting out details beforehand can prevent these problems from ever appearing.

If you want to be treated in a certain way, then you should ask to be. When you say you will judge a tournament, you are making an agreement with the tournament organiser to perform a certain amount of work, to a certain standard, in return for a certain reward. I recommend that these amounts are agreed before the event and, if possible, written down for future reference.

A Story

I remember turning up for the first Pro Tour that I judged - PT Paris in March 1997. My preparation for this tournament consisted of sending one e-mail to Andrew Finch, asking if I could judge, and then heading off to Eindhoven for the games fair there (I took my judge's test on the last afternoon, then hopped on a train to Paris for a couple of day's sightseeing and shopping). A quick note here: This story is about how not to do things when you're coming to judge an event. I was lucky.

I turn up in Paris, manage to book some accommodation, and wander over to the Holiday Inn, where all the WotC staff are staying. There are three people in the lobby, with a card box and a laptop computer on the table - I walk over to them, and ask them if they know where I can find any of the WotC people (I'm looking for Andrew or Tom Wylie at this point). The third guy (who had his back to me) turns round, and I'm staring at Richard Garfield, who says "they'll be around here soon". I end up sitting down, having a drink with Frank Jaeger, a couple of the WotC Europe people and the set-up crew. After going out with them to dinner, I finally get to talk to Andrew, who says I can judge the next day. After that, everything works out just fine - I judge Friday and Saturday (more than I'd expected to do), work side events all Saturday night, then help out on Sunday, and watch the final from the video booth.

My rewards were: A black Judge polo shirt (that I kept by accident), a Pro Tour judge badge, a dinner and a great time. This is a whole lot more than I'd expected, so I was happy. Looking back on it, it could have gone totally wrong, though - I hadn't planned anything at all. The whole weekend ended up being great fun, and gave me a lot of valuable judging experience, which was the thing I wanted most out of it. Judging isn't all about working and getting paid - having fun, learning and having more fun are also vital parts of judging.

A Solution

If you want to make a better stab at things than I did, start by talking to the tournament organiser about what is expected of you, and what you should expect. If there is something you don't like, remember that it's nearly always possible to come to a compromise. If you don't feel that you are being offered an acceptable deal, try suggesting a deal yourself. If that doesn't work, then you have to make a decision - either work under the conditions set out by the tournament organiser, or don't work the tournament (either play, or try judging a different tournament).

The points outlined below are by no means a complete list of every conceivable issue that judges need to think about. If I've missed out anything that's vital to you, simply do what judges do best - use your common sense. For each question, note down what you ideally want, and what you would be willing to settle for. This gives you a reference point from which you can bargain and make a final decision.

The work - what kind

Always make sure that you know what the Tournament Organiser expects you to do. Responsibilities can vary widely, depending on any number of different factors. Also, it's perfectly acceptable to ask do certain tasks, to gain experience in those areas, or because you particularly like them. For example, you could ask to be allowed to run some of the side events, to practise running Rochester drafts.

Questions to ask include:

  • What K-value and what level of rules enforcement will the tournament have?
  • Am I going to be a trainee, a judge, or the Head Judge?
  • How many players and how many judges are there going to be?
  • Will I be training other judges? (note: this applies to level 3 and higher judges only)
  • Am I going to have to do paperwork or computer work? How much?
  • Am I needed to help with registration?
  • Am I needed to set up beforehand, or clear up afterwards?
  • If it's a big tournament, will I have any special responsibilities?

The work - how much

Make sure that you know roughly how long you will be working. Tournaments can be anything from two hours to five days long. If you're judging a tournament that lasts for more than a day, ask for a specific schedule to be drawn up for you, so that you know when you're working and when you have free time. If you have pressures on your time that day, tell the tournament organiser in advance. If you haven't made arrangements, disappearing unannounced halfway through a tournament can be very inconvenient for the organizer and lead to other problems.

Questions to ask include:

  • When do I need to arrive?
  • How many rounds is the tournament?
  • How long is it expected to last?
  • What is the rough breakdown of my duties?
  • How long will my breaks be?
  • How many breaks will I have?

The rewards

There are many different kinds of rewards that can be given. Training, experience, money, and product (cards) are the most common ones. The amount of reward and the balance between the four areas need to be agreed before tournament, because there is little room for bargaining afterwards. The two factors that will most influence the rewards are your judging level, and the amount of tournament experience that you have. The higher each is, the more valuable you are as a judge, and the more likely that you will be able to successfully ask for payment or help with expenses. Make sure that the tournament organiser knows your judging background when you are talking about compensation.

Questions to ask include:

  • Will you pay my travel expenses?
  • Will you provide food while I'm working?
  • Will I receive payment? In cards or in cash? How much?
  • What sort of training will I receive?


The question about training is especially important for Level 0 and 1 judges. Training could come in the form of being thrown in at the deep end and gaining first-hand experience, or being carefully taught by an experienced judge, or anywhere in between. My personal view is that a balance of both is needed, as there are things that you can only learn from a more experienced judge, and things that you will not learn unless you get them wrong on your own.

Anyone can learn the Classic rules, the D'Angelo's rulings summaries and the Floor Rules/penalty guidelines (it may take some time to do this, but it is possible). It's the knowledge that is locked up inside the heads of other judges that is the most difficult to obtain, and often the most useful during tournaments. For example, there are good and bad ways of performing deck-checks, and the quickest and most reliable methods change between Limited and Constructed events, and also depend on the type of decklist used. This knowledge is often difficult to obtain from paper, because either it has not been written down, or it cannot be written down. It must be obtained from another judge.

Judge training is a very complicated area and one that has not yet been addressed in detail. I hope to look into this area myself in future articles. I also want to encourage Level 3 and 4 judges to think about and write about methods and techniques of training judges.

Final comments

I hope that these ideas prove useful to some, if not all judges. While I can't guarantee that all tournament organisers will be receptive to this approach, I do know that many will be. Remember that you don't have to judge for someone if you don't want to, and that they don't have to employ you if they don't want to. Building up a strong relationship with one or more tournament organisers is the best way to ensure you obtain a fair deal.