How To Study For Level 1 Judge Certification

Posted in NEWS on February 8, 2006

By Wizards of the Coast

To become a Level 1 certified judge you need to be both motivated and prepared. A high level of motivation is essential if you want to obtain your objectives. If you are not sure if you are motivated enough, reading ”What does it mean to be a certified judge?” might help you. However, high motivation alone is not enough. Testing for Level 1 requires serious preparation and sometimes even motivated candidates fail because of inadequate preparation.

What to Study

There are a number documents that you need to study and most can be found at the DCI Document Center:

  • Comprehensive Rules
  • Penalty Guidelines
  • Universal Tournament Rules
  • Floor Rules
  • Other Policy Documents (Such as the Premier Event Invitation Policy and Judge Event Handbook.)

If you are also a player, the actual amount of information to learn is moderate.

How to Study

The hardest part of the preparation is modifying the way you study to what you are studying. When you study the Comprehensive Rules you need to focus on the theory, definitions, and mechanics. To learn the Penalty Guidelines you need to understand “why” the rules work the way they work. The Universal Rules, Floor Rules, and Policy documents can just be memorized.

How to Study the Comprehensive Rules:

The Comprehensive Rules contain all the Magic the Gathering game rules (nothing about tournaments, penalties, and so on is included). The most common mistake is to read this document trying to learn as many examples as possible and then trying to compare the examples in the rules to the questions in the test: this method doesn’t work.

The best way to learn the rules is to study definitions and mechanics; learning how to analyze the real situations that occur in the game and applying definitions and mechanics studied to actual situations. If you have never seen a card before, even if it's very complex, you can find in it some key terms that will help you to figure out what kind of ability it is and what kind of effect it will produce.

The questions every candidate should be able to answer easily after good preparation are:

  1. What’s an ability? What kinds of abilities exist? How can I recognize a specific kind of ability reading the card and how can I know what kind of effect is generated?
  2. What's an effect? What kinds of effects exist? How can I recognize an effect and know what kind of effect it is?
  3. How do abilities and effects interact?
  4. What's the exact structure of a turn?
  5. What steps are required in order to play a spell or ability? In what order?
  6. How does the resolution of a spell or an ability work?
  7. How exactly does priority work?
  8. What are state-based effects and how do they work?

The following are two examples on how to apply this method:

Example 1: Meddling Mage and Isochron Scepter.

Can I use the Isochron Scepter to play a spell that has been named with Meddling Mage?

In this situation, Meddling Mage limits only cards to be played. The definition of "card" contained in the rulebook says that a "card" is a physical card with the Magic card front and back. A copy is not a "card."

Knowing the definitions, it is possible to easily solve this question with no other information.

Example 2: Soul Net and Token Creatures.

Can I gain the life from Soul Net if a token creature dies?

Most players know that a destroyed creature goes to the graveyard and most players know that a token is removed from the game when it leaves play.

How do you proceed with your analysis in this case?

Knowing the rules we can add another couple of questions:

Question: What kind of ability does Soul Net have? Answer: It is a triggered ability because it contains the word "whenever.”

Question: Where does the creature go when it dies? Answer: It goes to the graveyard.

Question: What removes the token from the game? Answer: A state-based effect.

Question: When are state-based effects checked? Answer: State-based effects are checked when a player would receive priority and at the end of the cleanup step.

Analysis: Since Soul Net’s ability is a triggered ability (you should know that triggered abilities continuously look for the trigger event or state) and state-based effects only remove the token from the graveyard just before the player receives priority. Therefore, you know that the token had the chance to trigger the Soul Net ability because (for a moment) the token went to the graveyard before being removed by the state-based effect.

How to Study the Penalty Guidelines:

After having learned the theory from the Comprehensive Rules, you now need to completely change your way to study because the Penalty Guidelines are a completely different type of document. In the previous document you had only to learn the mechanics and the definitions included in it, but you did not have to learn anything about "why" the rules work the way they work.

Now 80% of your studying will be focused on the "philosophy" of the penalties and only 20% will be spent to memorize things.

The Penalty Guidelines are a very important document for judge candidates and the most common mistake made is to read them as a rulebook. It's not a rulebook to know by heart! You cannot hope that every problem that could happen in a tournament could be described in a document.

The Penalty Guidelines contain all the categories of problems that could happen and the philosophy that allows you to fit all the problems you could encounter into a specific category.

For each category of problem, the Penalty Guidelines describe:

The name of the category
A definition of the category
The most appropriate penalty for all infractions included in the category
Some examples
The philosophy for the kind of penalty
How to fix the problem

When you have a problem to handle in a real tournament, you do not have a "keyword" that helps you to know what kind of category is most appropriate.

The best aid is to know all the definitions of the category "by meaning" and understand why a certain penalty is applied, why it is more lenient or more severe than another, and what kind of offences should be included in each category. This way, when you are called for a problem in a tournament, you'll be able to solve it in a consistent manner and explain it to players.

You also need to understand that all penalties aside from disqualifications are for players that did something “unintentionally” and all “intentional” offences are considered cheating and require a disqualification.

Once you find the right category for your case, you just have to apply the penalty and to fix the situation following the philosophy of the category you chose.

How to Study the Universal Rules, Floor Rules, and Policy Documents:

All the other documents are simpler to study. These documents contain very important information about tournament procedures and tournament policy. You simply have to memorize them all and apply them during your tournament; nothing to understand, just things to know.

Other Study Aides:

On the web there are some sites that can help you in studying the rules. The WotC Judge Center is the official international website where candidates can find all they need; including practice tests very similar to the official ones.

The site is now in the beta-test stage and is only open to current (or expired) DCI certified judges. It will be ready for all users in the first quarter of 2006. However, after working an event with a certified judge, you can ask that judge to enter a review on you. This will also give you access to the Center. It is password protected using your DCI player password. For more help with login and other Judge Center questions, please visit the Site Guide.

Another example of a helpful website is Saturday School. This is a great database of rules questions. A high level judge updates them and you can feel confident that the answers contained there are correct. The best way to use this kind of resource is to find a specific situation where you are not sure of the answer (but only after you have already tried to solve it applying the rules). Without focusing your study in this way you are just wasting your time. You can also use this resource to test your understanding by reading a random question and trying to solve it without reading the answer.

Talk with your Mentor:

The last suggestion I can give is to talk (or send an email) to the certified judge who is helping you to prepare for the test. Your mentor will be a great help for philosophical and policy questions that may be hard to find online. You also should ask to help judge tournaments with him or her, if possible, before the test. Experience is one of the quickest ways to learn some important tricks and see first hand the differences between playing and judging. Usually it is recommended to work at least two events with your mentor before seeking testing from a level 3+. Sometimes it could be hard to attend events with your mentor (due to distance) but it is very important to do this because working with your mentor is part of the required preparation and part of the test itself. If you do not test with your mentor, have your mentor write an email to the judge who will test you in the week before.

Good luck!

Diego Fasciolo, L3, Italy