Judges as Educators, not Enforcers, of the Rules

Posted in NEWS on June 18, 1999

By Wizards of the Coast

Chris Zantides

What is a Judge?

In the F&W dictionary, "Judge" is defined as: "Public Officer appointed to hear and try cases; supreme arbiter; person appointed to decide dispute or contest; person who decides a question." How should this technical definition of a judge be applied to Magic judges? It shouldn't.

Magic has far outgrown its rather humble beginnings; we now have a professional circuit of tournaments, World Championships, and hundreds of thousands of dollars for prizes. We also now have a competitive game, with a complex framework of rules, that has grown and been shaped by over five years of constant development. As a judge, it is our responsibility to make sure that players of the game adhere to these rules but more importantly that they understand the "why" behind them.

Judges are ambassadors for the game

As a judge for Magic you are also an ambassador for the game as whole. You are not just there to make rulings and hand out game losses; a computer can do that. You need to develop the necessary skills that will allow you to educate both players and other judges alike. If nothing else, it is a requirement for judge certification to train or mentor other judges. Training others often helps your own understanding of how things work. As an ambassador of the game you may also be called on to explain your decision to a young player's mother, who may not be happy having her son ejected from the tournament, If you can make a player understand the reason for your ruling or penalty, then you're more than half-way there! I am sure most of us have been in this situation.

Tournaments as Training Ground for the "Big League"

Judges need to be aware that they are not really there to catch the person who leaves a card in his brother's deck just before the tournament, or the player who misplays the mulligan rule. Although, having said that, it is important for judges to make sure play is correct whenever possible, and that cheating is not occurring. We are there to issue the appropriate penalty, and at the same time attempt to educate the player as to why he cannot be careless when playing. This is especially important at premiere-level events (such as Pro Tour Qualifiers), as this is the training ground for professional-level events (such as the Pro Tour, Continental Championships, or the World Championship). When a player has reached an event like the Pro Tour, judges expect that player has been educated at qualifiers and is prepared for the strictness of a PT. You should take the time and effort to prepare players for the "Big League".

New Rulings for New Situations

Judges must also remember that the rules for Magic are still a work in progress and need to think about this when handing out penalties. Pro Tour-Rome is a good example of this: the senior judges decided that Time Spiral was confusing and badly worded. As a result of this decision, only a notice was giving for any player's first mistake involving this card, and play continued as if a problem never occurred. The net result was that all players understood the rules better (though education by the judges), and didn't get penalized (for a card did not clearly state how it worked). These type of decisions set judges apart from simple enforcers of the rules. At the end of this event, I felt the players had more respect for the judging staff, were properly educated how this particular card worked, and the game didn't suffer due to some players knowing the rules better than others. All players were treated equally and the integrity of the event was maintained at the same time.

Each Situation is Different

Judges for Magic can fall into the trap of using the rules as shield not to make decisions. A disturbing trend amongst many of the newer judges is to simply use whatever the penalty guidelines say without considering the particular situation at hand. Consider each case individually, and explain the reason for your ruling. It will earn you a great deal of respect, and you will not get a reputation for running "Gestapo Tournaments Inc.".

Even at the Pro Tour level it is still important to maintain the attitude that you are essentially a coach and an umpire rolled into one. By taking that little bit of extra time with your rulings and decisions and explaining yourself you will gain not only the respect of the players, but of other judges as well.

Next time you make a ruling, stop and think "Am I making myself clear here? Am I am actually making a difference to this players understanding of the situation?" If you don't think so, then try again, take the time and the reward will be the respect of the player and of your peers.