Mentoring New Judges

Posted in NEWS on August 22, 2001

By Wizards of the Coast

Dave Taylor

My name is Dave Taylor and I run local events in the Harrisburg, PA region. I also work with Dorian Anders as an assistant judge at most of the other Harrisburg, PA events (PTQs and States, for instance) as well as judging at the Philadelphia Prerelease events. I earned by Level 1 certification last May at the Prophecy Prerelease and upgraded that to Level 2 at PA States in November. Since then I've worked as the Judging Director for two online Magic leagues and have seen the area's Magic scene grow to bring in 20-40 players regularly every other weekend or so.

Dave Taylor enjoys teaching other judges what he has learned

Now, let me get to the point of this article. Since I've become a Level 2 judge, I've leant at least two area players my judging advice and philosophies (largely learned from Dorian during my certification processes), both of these players going on to pass their Level 1 test and help judge locally. Here, I present these ideas, hoping that they may assist other judges in the future at mentoring new judges.

What is a Judge?

One of the most important things to ask someone that you're mentoring is "what do you think a Judge's responsibility is?" Personally, I believe that a Judge's responsibility is to make sure that the players have fun while maintaining DCI policies. To accomplish this, a Judge needs to constantly watch his or her players. For instance, if a Judge is assigned to, say, tables 7 and 8, he or she should be watching the games at these tables at least 95% of the time. I would welcome the Judge to sit down next to one of the matches at these tables and watch for a few minutes. This gives the players the notion that their Judge is near-by and is dedicating his or herself to being there for them. If the Judge is walking by a table and seems confused about the particular situation or cards on the table, he or she shouldn't hesitate to step in and ask the players. Many times the players will let the Judge know, and the Judge can walk away saying "sounds good." Sometimes, however, the players will realize that something is wrong and the Judge can fix it. For example, the players may have not noticed that there are two Legends in play with the same name. In either case, the players will still have a sense that the Judge is there for their benefit and know that if they have a question or problem, they can yell "Judge" and their questions will be answered.

Beginning an Event

What does a Judge do at the start of an event? If the event is a larger-type event, such as a Pro Tour stop or Grand Prix, this will probably be assigned by the head judge or senior judge. At a Prerelease or PTQ event, the Judge should make his or herself known to the players. Personally, when I am judging a "flight" at a Prerelease, I like to first hand out the product, deck registration sheets, and pens. Then I like to go to each of the tables and give them my standard greeting:

"Hi, my name is Dave, and I'm a DCI Certified Level 2 Judge. If you have any questions today, feel free to call me over. I will be around these eight tables most of the day, otherwise you can find me by the scorekeeper entering your results. Today, we are only registering the cards you received. That means you don't need to list your final deck contents. We're also doing a 5-land swap. That means you can take five of your basic lands and exchange them for five others up at the land station [point to land station(s)]. Again, if you have any questions, let me know."

Of course, this will differ from event to event, but I think letting the players know your name is very important to establishing a good relationship with the players. Instead of hearing "Judge" all day, I'll sometimes hear "Dave," and especially when, for example, they find me to report a match result. I'd bet that the players will refer to you by name at least 80% of the time.

At a store-level event, the Judge will probably need to take registrations and enter them into DCI Reporter. He or she will need to mix this responsibility with answering questions (see below). I recommend allowing 30-45 minutes for registration and starting the event about 15 minutes or so after the advertised start time. This allows for time differences and mild traffic problems. Once the event starts, the Judge's responsibility shifts back to watching the tables (probably all of them, unless there are two judges for the event).

As a side note, I highly recommend that all Judges download DCI Reporter (or install it from the CD sent to Judges about three times a year) and become fairly familiar with it. It is a great piece of software and makes running your events almost flawless. It also allows you to fix errors fairly painlessly in the event that they do occur. For instance, I am running my first Team Limited event late in August and I've run through about two or three test Team tournaments using DCI Reporter to make sure that I know what's going on with the software.

Answering Questions

In this section, I will cover a few tips on how Judges should answer generic (non-rulings, non-dispute) questions.

The questions asked at larger events usually pertain to the number of rounds or particular rules being used. I recommend in any of these cases that the Judge attempt to "teach" the player or person about the rules while answering the question. For instance, if a player asks you how many rounds the event will be (assuming, say 60 players), instead of answering "6," answer with a slightly longer response of "since there are between 33 and 64 players, there will be 6 rounds." The longer answer teaches the player about how Judges calculate the number of rounds, while its length isn't too long.

At smaller events, where younger players are present, Judges often get asked questions from parents. This is an excellent opportunity to ease the parent's mind about the tournament and the game itself. Taking 5 minutes to answer questions from parents is well worth it. Questions usually range from the number of rounds, or better yet, the length of the tournament, to more advanced questions about how the tournament works. Again, I highly suggest taking the extra 5 minutes to talk to the parents.

If you're asked a question and you're not sure of the answer, offer to find someone that does. Specifically, instead of pointing to the head judge and telling the person to ask him or her, tell the person to stay where they are (or follow you) and ask the head judge yourself. Why? Again, it reinforces the idea that your job at the tournament is to make sure that they have fun. Also, if you are asked that same question later, since you asked the head judge yourself, you'll have an answer on the tip of your tongue.

Answering Rules Questions

Some people tend to think that making rulings is the biggest job that a judge has. I tend to believe otherwise. Many of the tournament reports here on the Judge's website list three to four "rules" questions during 6+ round tournaments. This, along with the Rules Team's excellent job at creating FAQs for recent sets and keeping the rules fairly tight help keep the "rules" questions to a minimum. On average, I only answer about four "rules" questions per tournament.

Anyway, how does a Judge go about answering the question being asked? Some times, the actual question is hard to ascertain. For example, the question may involve "what happens" given a stack of spells and blocking assignments. The Judge should feel free to take a minute to go through the creation of the stack and moving a few cards to indicate what is going on. For instance, blockers can be placed in front of the attackers that they are blocking. Since a lot of players tend to play the game without creating physical stacks, the Judge can also, for example, create the stack of cards (and pseudospells) on the table for the players to see. As the Judge goes through the resolution of each spell, he or she can make comments, such as "this spell has one legal and one illegal target, so the spell is not countered, but tries to do as much as possible to the one legal target" and "since this spell has no legal targets, it is countered by the rules." Again, this is another opportunity to "teach" the players by answering a routine question.

By knowing the Comprehensive Rules inside and out (as well as having a copy on-hand) and monitoring DCIJUDGE-L for changes in the Rules or new errata announcements, a Judge can be fairly sure that all "rules" questions will be easy. Never hesitate to check the current wording of a card or recent rulings about the card when making a ruling that you're even the smallest bit unsure of, especially at an event using older cards, such as a Type I or Extended tournament. I personally carry a copy of each of the Oracles and D'Angelo's Ruling Summaries on my Handspring Visor. If I'm unsure, I'll look it up right there.

Settling Disputes / Giving Penalties

Dorian Anders, Level 3, taught Dave how to handle a disagreement

Now we get to the more difficult part of Judging. What should you do if you're called over to a table to settle an argument? First, you need to get each player's side of the story. When I was first testing for my Level 1 Certification, Dorian taught me to make sure that one and only one player talks at a given time. Let the person who called you over talk first and explain the situation. Tell the other player to "hold on" while the player speaks. Then reverse this and have the other player talk while the player who called you over "holds on." After this is done, take a look at the game state. Now here is the tough part. Using all of this information (and perhaps consulting another Judge), decide what penalty (caution, warning, game loss, match loss, or disqualification) is appropriate and how you can fix the situation. Most disputes here will fall under the "Procedural Error" or "Unsporting Conduct" section of the penalty guidelines and your penalty choice can be matched to "minor, major, severe" of the appropriate penalty category.

Let me give an example. A few weeks ago I was running a Type 2 tournament. The event was being run at 24K with a REL of 2. A player (call him Joe) called me over and complained that his opponent (call him Ron) had paid to have his Pyre Zombie is his graveyard returned to his hand and had not shown his opponent the card he put into his hand. After letting each player tell his side, I examined the game state. Ron had no more Pyre Zombies in his graveyard. Ron had three cards in his hand, two of which were Pyre Zombies. The other was a random card that would have game-breaking. Joe did not dispute that Ron had two cards in his hand before the Pyre Zombie was returned, and did not dispute that a Pyre Zombie was in the graveyard. I determined that Ron had indeed returned the Pyre Zombie, based on what the players had told me and the game state. Since the tournament was at REL 2 and not REL 1, I decided that a warning was appropriate, as there is the potential for abuse in this situation, but Ron had obviously not tried to cheat or anything. After giving Ron a warning, I entered the penalty as "Procedural Error - Major" in DCI Reporter which carries a penalty of a warning. Dispute was solved, and both players were happy.

Sometimes, when dealing with younger players (say, at a JSS event), Judges should be sure to let the players know why they are receiving a penalty. Many times, a Judge can "apologize" for the penalty, but tell the player why the penalty is being given and why it must be given. This can make the player feel a little better about the penalty and will probably prevent further penalties by the same player (or probably even his opponent as well).

Other problems that may occur, such as deck list problems, I believe should be handled using the penalty guidelines. Small problems, such as a misspelling, can be given a warning instead of a game loss or higher, but problems with deck lists, such as missing cards or illegal cards, definitely need to be fixed with the appropriate penalty.

I hope this article is enlightening to people that wish to become Judges or those of you that mentor and help younger or less experienced Judges. Many of the philosophies in this article are based on my experiences as a player and my new recent experiences as a Judge, both at larger events and smaller events, as well as even online. Other philosophies come from other articles on the Judge website that I've read over the past year as well as Dorian Anders from Philadelphia.

If you'd like to discuss some of these points with me, or have more suggestions that I can add, feel free to email me at I'd appreciate hearing from other Judges on these points.