Keeping your Cool

Posted in NEWS on October 21, 1999

By Wizards of the Coast

Ken Roth

In way of background information, I have been playing Magic since UL/AN, have been judging for about

3 years and was one made level III in one of the first waves of the Certification Program. I was the head judge for Great Lakes Games in Chicago for over a year and, for some time, was the head judge at an amazingly large amount of events for about a year and a half. Since the demise of GLG (and the start of a very happy marriage to my wonderful wife Kristi) I have been living in Bloomington, IL and have only been running smaller, local events. I do tend to get taken out of the mothballs for large midwestern events (regionals, 4-slot PTQs and what-not) and will soon be doing quite a few events again for Barratt Moy Events.

I am also something of a hothead.

And this may seem surprising to you, if you haven't been to a tourney of mine, because while I may be excitable at times, I am generally a relaxed sort of person. Which is why it may be surprising that I, the man with the 20 second fuse, would be writing on this particular topic. Well, to be honest it's because I took a long look at my work as a judge, was happy with my organizational skills, my rules knowledge and I believed in the system that I worked for (mostly). The problem was that after events I would quite often be dissatisfied and would be willing to give up and go back to just playing. I decided that my lack of enjoyment and tiredness was heavily based on my temper and the situations it got me into (or, more importantly, didn't get me out of). I started to take a long look at the issue and this essay is the result.

First I would like to define the two types of anger (I will use that term for the purposes of this essay. It isn't always the correct term, but I believe you will understand what I mean when using it). There is Stress Anger and 'Righteous' Anger. There is also a third source of anger which I shall comment on later (called Induced Anger, tends to come from the above two).

Stress Anger is the type that I believe as a judge you have the most control over. It is also, I believe, by far the most common type of anger. When you are at a tourney and are tired, you only have one other judge, the event is running late and the players are complaining about the are ripe for having a Stress Anger blow-out. And to top it all off some player calls you over and asks the same stupid question about 'which happens first, the lands or the card drawing' and you vent a little steam at him for asking something you already announced to the crowd. Then someone else asks you about sides, which you have to handle due to lack of staff. You vent on him some and perhaps he leaves because he doesn't want to sit around and be yelled at. You get called over for a ruling and you blow it, making it far too complicated because you are tired. And things just..keep...piling.. on...

On this particular type of anger I have lots of experience due to my long association with GLG. It's not that I had personal problems with the owner (which I did at times, but that is normal in any business relationship) but that our events outside of Chicago tended to run with a skeleton staff, with little sleep due to travel and a sometimes unfamiliar player base to work with. Allow me to list some sources of stress and how you can defeat them:

  1. Lack of sleep. Nothing is more annoying than being tired at an event. Your brain won't work as well, you will tire quickly during the day and you will be sluggish. While traveling 3 hours in the morning to judge an event may be economically sound, it may do more damage than getting 2-3 judges together in one room will cost. Players can sense how the judges feel. Some players will use that fact. But it effects everyone.
  2. Lack of food. Not during the event, that is an issue that Judges and TOs need to work out between them (who pays, when it comes, etc), but food the night before the event and the morning of the event. We have all seen those wonderful Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rocks about how food is important for our day and guess what, they are right. Give your body a fighting chance to make it through the day. Just like players eating and getting good sleep will help their play, doing the same will help your judging.
  3. Lack of Adequate Personal Preparation. This one, obviously, needs to be worked on days in advance of the event. Do you know the rules well enough? Do you know the format and the rulings specific to that format? (understanding Waylay and EOT would be very important for today's Type II environment) Do you understand what level the tourney will be held at rules-enforcement wise? Do you know the ramifications of that? The key here is that the more prepared you are walking into a situation, the less likely you are to be ambushed by an unexpected question or situation. Feeling fuzzy on how the start of Phase items are added to the stack? Well, study up and get prepared. Bring a copy of D'Angelo and the comprehensive 6th ed rules and the entire, most current version of the Oracle. Review the recent judge-l digests. Odds are at least one player is a judge and may refer to one (often incorrectly). Knowing the correct answer is your best friend.
  4. Lack of Cohesion. I refer to you and your staff. Get together some time before the event really gets into full swing. This way you can (especially if you are head judge) make sure that you are all on the same page. You can also make sure everyone understand the ramifications of the new rulings and you can read the skills level and social levels of your various judges. You also all get to know each other better and can work together as a team.
  5. Lack of Staff. Of course, all the above items rely on having enough staff to do the event. While I found working for GLG that I can, personally, run a 100 person constructed event by myself, on cards no less, I am 100% sure that it isn't very enjoyable, for the players or me. Just recently we had a 107 player PTQ in Bloomington/Normal, IL. Staff consisted of TO, Head Judge, 1 Reporter Specialist and 1 other Level II floor judge. With 1-2 other judges in training we had a perfect sized staff for our event and very rarely did a call not get answered in a matter of seconds. Also know who is supposed to be doing what. Tom was our Reporter specialist and it made sense to let him do his thing with minimal outside distraction. Sure he was slow early in the round (once slips were passed out) but later he was quite busy. Make sure you pay the staff adequately for the level event they are working and in line with that you expect from them. Don't be afraid to push their skills a little either, that way they learn and grow.
  6. Lack of Down Time. I tend to attempt to allow every judge a round of down time. This is quite often used for trading, buying from dealers, having the artists sign something or whatnot. This will be hard to do if you don't have the appropriate staff. Plan ahead. But note, you head judges out there, YOU need down time too. Schedule a round where you can be in the background doing something enjoyable. Perhaps trading (my hobby). Whatever. Don't, of course, leave the site or be impossible to find, but usually things shouldn't fall apart without you for 45 minutes.
  7. Lack of Informed Players. Of course, there is only so much you can do about this. I don't mean basic rules understanding, but items that are directly related to your tourney, at your site. You don't like theft at your event (and who does?), make an announcement about watching your stuff. You hate picking up from the Human Trash-Making Machines? Make an announcement about location of trash cans (oh yeah, and make sure you have enough of them for the event). You don't allow for rules cheese? Make the players understand this and make sure they know that it (and cheating, and those general bad things) won't be tolerated. I always remind the players as a final announcement that no one dies from losing Magic tourneys. The world doesn't stop and the future still occurs. Have fun!
  8. Lack of Air. I know it sounds strange, but you would be amazing at how much better an event seems to go if you have adequate air conditioning. I know that the site will tell you 'it will be fine' or 'call me if it gets warm' but by then it's too late. It's harsh, but simply put, you are paying for the room, you get it the way you want. Cool that sucker down! And do it before the players arrive. Cold when you start = reasonable when it gets going. Warm at start = hot as blazes when you get going and air conditioning in a large room takes forever to have an effect. Trust me on this one, you will cut down on the amount of questions and comments you get from players about the topic in a huge way.

The second type of Anger is what I call Righteous Anger. This is a different creature than the above, but can have some connections to it. I, personally, hate rules cheese. Nothing burns me more than a player trying to 'pull' something with the rules. Two years ago it seemed rampant at other tourneys (the old 'in your Main phase, may I play a fast effect' type of thing). This seemed to almost be encouraged at certain tourneys and I was not going to allow it to occur at my events.

This also comes out with more mundane issues. Trash, for one. How hard is it to pick your own trash up? And other things like this. While this kind of anger may be much more legitimate, and may even have a positive impact from time to time...perhaps there are better ways to handle it...

  1. Remember you are the Hand of God (as it were). You are getting angry because you see what you consider to be an 'Injustice' taking place. You want to correct the situation. That is good, but remember that you don't need to get visibly angry to do your work. As a judge you are the person who makes the call. Don't get angry, penalize. Do you see someone throwing trash around? Warning for failure to follow the directions of the Head Judge/TO. And make them clean it up. A playing trying to rules cheese to the top? Warning for Unsportsmanlike Conduct. As a judge you aren't there to help one player do such things, you are there to stop that from happening. If you are a floor judge you are the judge, as the head judge you are both the jury and the executioner. Does this mean you go on a murderous rampage through your tourney, leveling warnings and match losses left and right? Of course not, but take the most obvious and distasteful offenses and take action. Cheating should never be tolerated. Act on it!
  2. Keeping your cool is intimidating. If a player wants a fight, a worked up opponent is more likely to start one up. But a cool, collected judge is hard to latch on to and fight. And if you are both yelling and screaming, you both look silly. But if the only one doing the yelling is the player, well, that player looks like the one with a problem.
  3. Remember the Final Penalty. If a player simply does not want to let it drop, even to the point of following you around after his match and pushing it, remember that if you feel the need to you have the final Penalty. Ejection. Go home award, etc. I am not a huge fan of using this as a solution when there are others (sometimes players merely need to vent... as long as it seems harmless, nod your head and look interested) but when it seems to be moving past that to personal attacks or even threats, it is time to use the proverbial Tac Nuke. You are holding a private event. I guarantee you that you (or the Head Judge/TO) have the right to ask people to leave the premises. If you must, you must.
  4. Have a method to your situation control. There are some players (we all have them) who are usually convinced that they are right and you are wrong, facts aside. Have a general method to deal with problem issues. Usually I give the precise, short answer. If a player objects I let him give a blurb about what he/she thinks and (assuming I still consider myself correct) I give the longer explanation. I allow one more 'rebuttal' from the player and, still assuming I am correct, I give the final 'This IS my ruling and it will stand and any other questions about it will be considered negatively' ruling. The player is then left understanding that any further discussion will be pushing it and will most likely end in warning. Note, this doesn't mean 'assume you are right and stick to your guns'. I have been asked to check the ruling on something and found myself to be in error, and while it is a rare occurrence, I cannot take the risk of cheating the player if I have any questions in my mind. I know that some judges only allow one rebuttal, but I find that two doesn't take much extra time and tends to leave the player feeling that at least they had some input.
  5. Know your complainers. I learned many moons ago who was always going to complain about something at any given Midwest event. Too cold, too hot, terrible sealed, mana screw, horrible metagame, tourney is 10 minutes late, etc. Now, the reason you know these people is that they keep coming back and trying. That is good, they are good customers to your TO and they try hard. But they complain. Sometimes it is fine just to take it. Look their direction. Ponder what you are going to do with your judging product/money. Ponder sitting down with some iced tea for a break. But take a little grief for the cause. They usually just need to decry their fate a little and will be mollified. Don't let them take all your time and don't let them get personal, but it won't usually kill you to show some empathy (yeah, it's kinda cynical, but most people who are complaining don't need an answer or a solution, they just need to talk about it to someone).

The final issue is what I called Induced Anger. It is a subclass caused by specific people (usually younger). While using names would be tacky, you know the type of players I mean. Those who specifically are trying to get your goat. The very sight of them at a tourney usually means that you are going to have to deal with them at some time today. This can, at times, be a fun relationship, with ribbing and jesting, but often the player doesn't understand that at some times it needs to stop and a serious attitude is necessary. Sometimes these people are actually useful as you can use them as an example in your pre-tourney announcements to the players ('Let's pretend that Insert Name Here decided not to put their name on their registration sheet...'). All the regulars will know this person and that the two of you are at times at loggerheads.

But with some players it isn't a playful thing. Perhaps they really are out to get your goat, and not for fun, but as a power trip of some sort. I have found that dealing with these people usually calls for having someone else handle calls from them. Perhaps they will need to be invited to leave. Who knows? It is a situation by situation call. But don't let that player ruin your day or adversely affect your event. Your task is to ensure the integrity of the event. Players that intentionally are disruptive work against this goal. Deal with them as necessary.

I haven't, of course, given all the answers or thought up all the possible situations you may find yourself in. Of course, it also helps if you are a more contemplative, quiet person in general. But remember that losing your cool is rarely an effective way to handle a situation and quite often will make it worse. If you are known as a calm person and something out of the blue really sets you off, you may make an impact in the minds of the players about that situation, but if you get hot under the collar far too often you will merely become the proverbial Boy who Cried Wolf and your anger will do nothing but tire you out, make you unhappy and turn some players off...

Ken Roth

Level III