How to organize a tournament, Part 3 - Getting the most out of your Judges

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

Deke Young

My name is Deke Young, a level 2 judge and local tournament organizer in the Atlanta Georgia USA area. I work for Anthony Edwards (The Premier Events Tournament Organizer) running events in Atlanta ( We run events running from 8-24 players FNM, 16-48 player Grand Prix Trials, 80-180 player Qualifiers, 250+ player (over multiple flights) Pre-Releases and the 400+ player Southeast Regionals.

In this article I will discuss the following:

  • All the work that has to be done
  • How many Judges do you need?
  • Assigning tasks
  • Motivation and Accountability
  • Explaining Why
  • Feedback
  • How long is your day?

All the work that has to be done
Rather than think, "How many judges will I need Saturday" think "What work needs to be done." If you are thinking of all the work that has to be done (Table numbers, registration, posting pairings, deck checks, distributing match slips, answering questions, running booster drafts) you will see that the workload has spikes and valleys. Pre-Tournament prep takes a lot of effort, and once the event has started the work load goes down. But as soon as side events start, the workload goes up again.

My advice, go to someone else's event and record all the tasks that need to be completed without doing any of them yourself. Too often in the hectic start up phase we Tournament Organizers/Scorekeepers make dozens of snap decisions to get things done, without taking the time to document what they are. What is the value of documentation? If you document all the work that needs to be done this week, you will have a good grasp of the work that will need to be done next week.

How many Judges do you need?
The short answer will be "enough judges to do deck checks." In Atlanta we always do some deck checks, so we always have at least a head judge and a floor judge, to compliment the Tournament Organizer and Scorekeeper. In my case, since I am L2 judge as well as a scorekeeper, I monitor the players while the HJ and Floor Judges perform deck checks. This works out well as I have no scorekeeping responsibilities in the first 10 minutes of the round.

As the rounds roll by, we have fewer and fewer players. Those players tend to play in the side events, so we can afford to pull a few judges off deck checks to run side events. Best of all we have a few judges who can help out, but have to work Saturday Mornings. Part of the day judges are great for running booster drafts. Part of the day judges are also great when starting limited events.

So we can run a GP Trial with a HJ and TO alone.
At PTQs we usually have a part timer who helps with registration, a TO, a Scorekeeper, a HJ and 1-3 floor judges depending on expected attendance.
At Regionals I expect to have the TO, a Scorekeeper (with an assistant), a HJ and 4-8 floor judges. In the Southeast Regional we like to pull in out-of-state judges. Players are from several states, so we think the judges should be from many places, not just Atlanta.
At a Pre-release I typically run a total staff of 22-25. (But that is another article)

Assigning tasks
Different judges enjoy and despise different tasks. Some of us like deck checks and hate to count deck sheets. Some of use love to table judge the top 8 and some of us would rather not run a booster draft. I have yet to meet anyone who "likes" to run the land station at a pre-release, but then again, maybe I have not met enough judges.

When we run events in Atlanta (yes this is a hint for those of you who might show up in the future) I tend to ask judges "what do you WANT to do?" I usually get responses like, whatever is needed, etc. Trust me if I require you to perform a task, I will simply tell you what to do. If I ask a question, it is because you have a choice.

Given that choice, I encourage judges to vary their tasks. You should spend most but not all of your time on tasks you enjoy. Likewise you should spend a little time on something you hate. I am hoping that the next judge in a red stripped shirt reads this and asks me what I want to do, rather than just plugging me into a spreadsheet that is easy for him to manage.
People are just happier when they are given a choice. No worries, judges also understand that someone has to run the land station at a pre-release. But try not to stick that newbie judge at the boring land station all day.

Motivation and Accountability
Should we meet at a premier event and have time for a lengthy discussion, I am willing to explain how Motivation and Accountability rule all human behavior, and I may or may not be correct. As for judges at a Magic Event, I can speak with complete confidence that these do elements control every judge's performance.

I will talk about motivation first. Why does anyone who love magic choose to judge rather than to play? As seen in many an article, there are just as many reasons as there are judges. I have a great tool for finding out what motivates a judge. I ask them.

Judges that want to expand their rules knowledge should spend time on the floor making rulings. Judges that want to be part of the experience are good choices for running side events. Judges who want their town to run fair events are good choices for counting deck sheets. If a judge has a desire to help, we should support that desire and provide an opportunity for them. On a less than altruistic level, if a judge is just there for the product, then you can place them anywhere; they are still going to get the product.

Accountability is next. I suppose you could hope that everyone will do a good job on their own; judges perform better if you take an interest in what they do in detail. If you toss a clipboard and a stack of boosters at a judge for a booster draft, take the time to check during the next 3 hours and see how/what they have done with those 8 players. While I do my best to avoid telling other judges they were wrong, I am more than willing to tell them what I have done in the past. Seek out new and creative ways to run a booster draft. Ask their opinion of how long it takes to hand out match slips, the best place to post pairings. Let them know that you care enough to ask.

After the fact, do not be afraid to critique your staff. I have yet to meet anyone who did not like feedback.

Explaining Why
In the paragraph above I encourage judges to come up with new ideas. Some of those ideas will be good, and some will be very bad. Listen to them all and take the time to explain why some ideas are just bad. In fact, if they are interested, take the time to explain why you do everything. This is very important in rulings. Here in Atlanta people are always asking me for rulings. I do not give out rulings, I give out education. I know the simple answer is that "If the opponent has Planer void in play, the rector is toast." Take the time to explain AP/NAP stacks. I like to walk players through the rules and let them figure out the answer themselves. Obviously this is not always appropriate, but if you have the extra 10 seconds tell your judges why you place table 1 at the far end of the tournament area.

This is worth mentioning again. There is no manual on how to be a judge. The penalty guidelines are called guidelines for a reason. Nobody learns in a vacuum. If a judge is willing to spend a day helping you run a tournament, take the time to thank them and give them feedback on their job. If you want them back, tell them all the great things they did and why you want them at your next event. If you do not want them back, you must explain why. Trust me, if your judge spent half the day trading instead of judging, they probably do not realize that they were doing anything wrong (this should have been corrected earlier in the day by providing feedback.)

How long is your day?
I spent 4 years in the US Army learning that sleep and hunger are signs of weakness. However not all judges are capable of then same 16 hour days I am. We have judges that are bright eyed at 8:00 AM, while others consider 8:00 AM to violate rules on cruel and unusual punishment. We have judges who always stay to the end to see who won, while others are ready to go when the Swiss rounds are over.

Compensation issues aside, I think the idea of all day judges is over rated. We have had great results on part of the day judges. I agree that a full day judge should be compensated more than a 4 hour judge, but do not be afraid to consider breaking the staff into two shifts.

Next: Visual Aids

Deke Young
DCI 7885
Level 2
Atlanta Premier Events