Judge Bingo: What is It? Why is It?

Posted in NEWS on February 25, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast

This is one of a pair of articles on making sure that judges keep up to date with rules knowledge. To read more about the problem and what's expected of judges, see today's other article.

Judge Bingo is a game that has been played by judges at a couple of Grand Prix and Pro Tours now. The concept is pretty simple. Each judge has a bingo card with a normal bingo grid on one side, and a question and number on the other side. Judges are encouraged to find other judges and request their question. If they answer it correctly, they check off the corresponding number on their bingo card.

This game was being played on the floor during big events. The question is, why? To answer that, we need to go back in time a bit.


This project had its origins in a discussion involving Ingrid Lind-Jahn and John Carter. Carter saw a problem: judges were getting rules and rulings wrong. An increasing number of L3 candidates were failing the written test. Judges were missing basic questions. For example, at one GP, a judge asked every other judge he could find: "Which happens first, announcing targets or putting the spell on the stack?" Well over half the judges, including higher level judges, got it wrong. (Unsure of the answer? Check out Comprehensive Rules section 601. The correct answer is on the stack.)

We discussed several possible reasons for this. Maybe it was because players ask fewer questions at high-level events, so judges have fewer opportunities to take rules calls. Maybe it was a breakdown in training. Ultimately, speculating on the reasons was pretty pointless. The question really was: what could be done about it? And specifically, what could we do at big events to help solve this problem?

We discussed having team leads ask more questions during team meetings. I objected to this because of some bad experiences. I remember one event, PT–Hollywood, if I recall correctly, where this was tried. At the end of every round, we would return to the team meeting to be hit with a very hard rules question. Every round, you could see judges hoping not to be called on, and over the course of the day, judges began dreading the team meetings. Morale fell pretty hard that day. I described that experience and argued against that approach. (It is possible to avoid this problem by changing how a teacher asks those questions, but that is a topic for another article.) In addition, now that we're becoming more aggressive at tracking outstanding matches at the ends of rounds, it's nearly impossible to get together at those times for team meetings.

I argued that we needed to find another way. With both my very local then-L3 (Ingrid is my wife and now L4) and the judge manager suggesting I take it up, I started thinking this through. The goal was something that could be fun, did not put judges on the spot when asking questions, but allowed for a lot of rules training.

My first idea was a variant on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, done as a seminar. Teams of judges would try to answer questions in a light-hearted competition. Most of the seminar participants would be audience, but we could swap contestants and audience members periodically. A few other judges would take notes of who got what wrong, for some possible one-on-one training later. This idea had some good points, but the problem was that too many judges would just be watching, not participating, at any given time.

Ingrid came up with a better variant: the original prototype of Judge Bingo. At GP–Los Angeles, we gave each L3 in attendance a set of questions dealing with a specific area of the Comprehensive Rules or the Infraction Procedure Guide. Other judges could come up to them during a lull in the event and ask for questions. If they got them right, they got their scorecard checked. If not, they got some training. This worked, more or less, but since the L3s were also team leads at the GP, they were overworked.

The Game

By PT–Honolulu, we had pretty well worked out the kinks. There, every judge got a question or two. They also received a random number with the question, and a bingo card. During the event, judges simply approached any other non-busy judge and requested a question. If the judge got the question right, and the number was on his or her bingo card, it got checked. If he or she got it wrong, the asking judge did some training in the underlying rules, philosophy, penalty, etc.

The preparation took some effort. Ingrid and I wrote approximately 120 questions. We double-checked the answers, and then we culled them. We had to make sure that the questions met several criteria:

1) The questions had to clearly relate to the Comprehensive Rules, the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide, the Magic Tournament Rules, or common judging practices. After all, the purpose was training.

2) We tried to stick to realistic situations and avoid corner cases. Again, the purpose was training on general concepts. We had no problems coming up with general questions that challenged the judges.

3) We tried to keep the questions short. The questions had to be asked and answered while judges were on the floor, during brief conversations. Our bingo game could not interrupt the tournament. This also meant questions could not rely heavily on complex interactions among several cards.

4) We tried to tailor the questions to the specific judge levels. Lower-level judges got somewhat simpler questions. L3s got more complex questions, because they were better able—in theory at least—to explain the more intricate points. We made this differentiation because we could not distribute the questions in advance; we did not want to give judges time to prepare. With more warning, lower-level judges could certainly have handled harder questions—but some only with preparation. The goal, after all, is that the judge asking the question should be able to fully explain the answer.

Creating the questions actually took some time. We also included the answer and all relevant CR, MIPG, and MTR references to make sure that the judges asking the questions understood the answer. That took a lot more time and effort.

After we had pared the number of questions down to 75, we created bingo cards with the individual questions printed on the back, one or two per card, together with the name of the judge getting each card. Then we distributed them at the event. For details of the logistics, email me at pete.jahn@verizon.net.

Bad Ideas

We had a few questions that I wasn't too happy with.

Is the card Armageddon legal in Extended?

This was an early cull. It is a simple yes/no question—and it really gives the asker no chance to teach anything. You want a wrong answer to generate some discussion, not just "Oh, I don't play that format."

What wins in a fight, can or can't?

This is almost a good question, but is a bit too cute. It does enforce a very significant rule: that a card that says something cannot happen beats a card that says it can. However, imagine having to ask the question 50 times in one day. If you would find it mildly embarrassing or just silly, change the wording.

It is Day 2 at a Limited GP. You are checking deck lists, and find one listing 56 cards in the played column. What penalty applies?

This question looks like it is testing the judge's knowledge of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide, and it is, but it also has a twist. It is testing more whether the judge was listening closely, rather than that they knew the REL of Day 2 of a GP. A 56 card deck is legal in a Limited event, so no penalty applies. It is a trick question, and for our purposes it is better to avoid trick questions.

What does the paper team do?

This seemed fine ahead of time, but by the end of Day 2, a lot of judges had spent a day working on the paper team. The question wasn't bad, but it seems silly for one judge on the paper team to ask another judge on the paper team that question.

Good Ideas

Let's look at some good questions. The secret to good questions is that they can allow a discussion to proceed in several directions depending on which parts of the answer a judge may not fully understand.

Does the controller of a creature with two Armadillo Cloaks gain double life? (Answer: yes.)

The lifelink ability no longer triggers and is redundant in multiples. However, Armadillo Cloak does not read "Enchanted creature gets +2/+2 and has lifelink." It still has the triggered ability wording, and both Cloaks trigger. The question can lead to teaching opportunities about lifelink, card errata, triggered abilities, etc. That makes it better, from a teaching standpoint, than a yes/no question like "Does lifelink stack?"

Two PT players refuse to leave the play area after they finish their match. Assuming it escalates to the point of issuing a penalty, what infraction and what penalty apply? (Answer: TE - Failure to Follow Official Instructions—Warning. MIPG, 4.5)

This question can lead into a discussion of the MIPG, but the judges can also discuss how to get the players to leave without resorting to formal penalties.

A spectator steals table number 69. You catch him. What now? (Answer: enroll him in the tournament and DQ him for Theft of Tournament Materials. MPIG 5.6)

Again, this question teaches several things. It covers responsibilities of spectators, MIPG issues, and the fact that you can enroll a player in an event just to DQ him or her.

A player casts Grizzly Bears when Trinisphere, Helm of Resistance, and an opponent-controlled Grand Arbiter Augustine are on the battlefield. What is the converted mana cost of the Grizzly Bears? (Answer: CMC = 2. The opponent will pay 3 ManaGreen Mana, but the CMC is still 2. CR 202.3)

What turn-based actions can occur during the combat phase of a duel? Hint: there are six. (Answer: see CR 703.4e—703.4j)

In general, questions that ask for a long list of answers are bad. However, this was asked at the first Pro Tour after the changes to combat rules had become effective. It was important to teach both what turn-based actions were, and to make sure that judges knew how combat worked under the new rules.

Just to reiterate: questions that ask for a long list are not fun to ask or answer, since the answer involves a lot of counting and trying to remember what has been listed. That is why "Name all the state-based actions" is bad. A question like "What state-based actions end the game?" is much better. That question requires players to think about SBAs, and makes for a shorter list. (The answer: ten poison counters, drawing from an empty library, and 0 life.)

You are in a single-elimination match, with time expired, and are just starting game 3. Your hand is 3 City of Brass, 4 Lightning Bolt. You are playing first. Do you keep? (Answer: yes, of course. CR 610 [triggered abilities] and MTR 2.5, paragraph 4 [sudden death].)

You can tap City of Brass for R, put its damage trigger on the stack, then Bolt the opponent and win. This question tests both the judge's knowledge of sudden death rules and his or her ability to identify and think about triggered abilities.

Here's my favorite question—the one I kept for myself at PT–Austin:

A player missed the Slaughter Pact trigger in Game 1 of a match. You get called. You ask the obligatory "Have you had this penalty before?" The player says, "Yes, twice." The HJ confirms the upgrade to Game Loss. So, does the player lose two games or one? (Answer: one.)

When you resolve the missed trigger for a Slaughter Pact, you do apply the default outcome—namely, losing the game. However, resolving the trigger is a "fix"—a method of correcting the game state. When you issue a Game Loss penalty, the current game immediately ends. The missed trigger does not need to be resolved. You simply apply the Game Loss and let the players move on to Game 2. After asking this question, I have had discussions about missed triggers, resolving triggers, upgrade paths, tracking penalties, timing and philosophy of penalties, maintaining game state, tournament integrity, and more. That's what makes it a good question.


Judge Bingo has some advantages in addition to teaching judges about rules they may not be familiar with.

First, it serves as an excuse for any judge to talk with any other judge. One major reason that big events are so heavily staffed is to allow judges to interact with each other. Judges are there to learn from one another. However, many of us can find it intimidating to start a conversation with someone we don't know. This is especially true for first-time judges, or for lower-level judges talking to higher-level judges. Judge Bingo helps to break the ice.

Second, Judge Bingo helps make sure that every judge has a chance to interact with every other judge. The way the bingo cards were printed and distributed, no one knew which fellow judge had a number that matched his or her card (bingo cards have 25 numbers chosen at random from the range of 1-90.) This meant judges had to ask almost everyone for questions.

Third, it was fun. It provided an enjoyable activity for judges during the mid-round periods when nothing needed to be done and no one was calling for a judge.

At Honolulu and Austin, the L1s and especially L2s seemed to really enjoy the game. Several went beyond trying to get five correct answers in a row (a "bingo") and tried to get every single square on their sheet marked. Some succeeded.

Some L3s and L4s were less enthusiastic. Some of the questions given to L1s and L2s in Honolulu were too easy, and this seemed to lead some higher level judges to decide that the game was not worth their time. However, a few L3s and L4s made this into a teaching opportunity. When an L2 asked a simple question (for example, "What is provoke?") they deliberately mangled the answer. That gave the L2 a chance to "teach" the answer—and the L4 a chance to give the L2 some advice on how to teach fellow judges. Teaching, in such situations, can go both ways.

One final lesson I learned from Judge Bingo at PT–Austin: At Austin, I printed out all the questions, along with the name of the judge assigned the question, then cut them up. That way, if a judge had forgotten his or her question or number, I could give them a replacement. That was very helpful, but unfortunately the cut-up paper was roughly the same size and shape as a match result slip. At least once, a judge got the two confused and put a match result slip into his pocket along with his bingo question. Bad times. In the future, we will make sure that all bingo questions are printed on colored paper, so they cannot be confused with match results slips.

Judge Bingo at a Pro Tour involves a lot of judges. However, the concept can be modified to work at a PTQ or smaller event. Here's one suggestion: As HJ, give each judge a series of five increasingly difficult questions well ahead of the tournament. Each judge needs to get back to you with the answers, and explanations for them, before the tournament starts. Alternatively, you could have the judges come up with their own lists of questions. Just check that the questions are fair and reasonable and the answers correct.

(Note: You may want to exclude the scorekeeper from the game. The scorekeeper is generally pretty busy, so think carefully about whether the scorekeeper should play or just stick to keeping score.)

At the tournament, hand out a simple scorecard. The judges can ask each other for questions. When they answer one correctly, they can mark it on their scorecards. At the end of the event, judges can compare scores. You may also want to give out prizes.

At the Pro Tour, we gave away packs for a bingo. Since it was more of a challenge for lower level judges to get the answers right, the prize for a bingo was four packs minus one pack for each level the judge had. An L1 judge got a draft set for a bingo, while an L3 or higher got one pack. That may or may not change.

That's Judge Bingo. Give it a try when training your local judges.

If you have questions—or if you want some sample Judge Bingo questions—please contact me.

Pete Jahn