Mnemonics and Helpful Notes

Posted in NEWS on February 18, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

We all know it, the moment where one gets stuck in a thought and isn't able to give a decent ruling due to a temporarily brain disorder. If you don't know this moment: you stand there in front of two players eagerly looking up to you (which is really strange and probably is why I sometimes squat down at a table) and just get stuck. One second you were elaborately explaining why something happens and the next your whole line of argument is gone. Empty space in your head. Well, here we are. Take a deep breath and a moment to read the friendly card once again (lucky that judges can't get Slow Play penalties). That will almost always help you over the awkward moment and make sure the ruling is delivered in a timely manner. Sometimes this won't. And what you need now is something to bail you out.

A lot of cheat sheets have been made up over the years for judges to help them remember the most important rules and penalties. Most notable here are Nick Fang's on Star City Games in the discontinued but still a must-read "Feature Friday" column and several well written articles in the Judge Article Archives. One of them addresses a point that caused each of us headaches now and then: Missed Triggers.

A lot of judges I know carry at least a list of infractions and penalties with them since this is one of the things you can easily look up if need be. Others make notes before a tournament starts and refer to them. Nearly every judge I met who was HJing a tournament had a sheet in hand listing all points he (or she) had to mention while addressing the players in his (or her) HJ speech. At some point I made a Word document which I simply printed out before the tournament and filled in with necessary data because I was tired of scribbling down the same stuff just before the tournament begins every single time.

So having notes on paper or a PDA can help a lot, if only by giving you surety. It's the old "writing a cheat sheet right before the test and then not needing to look at it because writing everything down helped to memorize" thing. Other things that can help you are mnemonics. When I started to study for my L1 exam I wanted to remember the layers and of course couldn't. In the end I came up with a silly but working mnemonic that helped me to memorize the order:

To copy, press control-c, insert text, then type with all your power

Can you see it? Probably one has to be a computer geek to remember it, but I though it rather easy, especially after working a lot with word processors. Every second word is the identifier of a layer.

To copy press control-c, insert text then type with all your power

Remembering this sentence won't help you in solving each and every layer question right away, but it will help you to focus on your acquired knowledge. A mnemonic can only help you to remember what you already know.

So if you have problems with remembering stuff, make yourself a mnemonic and, more importantly, let others now about it if it worked for you. Probably there are a dozen judges out there struggling to learn the same things you did. Feel free to post in the forums about your ideas for working mnemonics.

The other thing I like is the already-mentioned cheat sheet. Just a small slip of paper containing the most important information. And since being part of the judge community means sharing experiences, helpful information, and whatever you think may be useful, I wanted to share with you a cheat sheet I recently made.

The following .pdf files contain an eight-sided judge booklet that will provide you information about the stuff you'll need the most during a tournament and still leaves place for notes. This booklet can't make up for reading the CR and PG, and is not intended to be printed and used without thinking. Familiarize yourself with its contents and you'll find that it will help you a lot of times. The best part is: this whole thing fits onto a single sheet of paper, be it A4/A5 or Letter. Simply save the files to your computer, open them, and then print them. Do not resize the page when printing it, simply center it on the page and afterwards fold it like shown here.

  • Letter Size (293KB PDF)
  • A4 Size (293KB PDF)
  • A5 Size (293KB PDF)

If you want to adapt the booklet to your own needs, you can start with the Word documents provided and change them as you want. After using the "Print" command to save it as an 8- or 16-page .pdf document, you can use the program at to reformat it to be folded. (Note that you may need to obtain and install Adobe or Foxit software to print to a .pdf file.)

Some explanations to the specific pages

After folding the booklet, the first page should be the table listing infractions and penalties. Look at the shortened names for the infractions and look them up if necessary. DQ infractions that can be downgraded by the HJ at Regular REL are highlighted differently from the others to be easily recognizable. Below the table is the order in which one should note down a penalty on a result slip. If you write everything down as given there, the scorekeeper will be able to enter everything into the DCIR faster, thus saving time.

The other pages should be self-explanatory. If they are not, look up the corresponding parts of the original document. The numbers of the rules sections the page refers to are given in the headline. Special thanks to Nick Fang whose cheat sheet was used to create the first three pages.

The page talking about Reviews/Feedback is meant to give you an idea how to structure your feedback and also to remind you what areas you can give feedback about. For example, you could circle the areas you want to talk about in your feedback talk and thus make sure not to forget something.

The flowchart on the page about Missed Triggers was originally designed by Sebastian Rittau and shamelessly copied by me.

The page for the HJ announcement is where it started and thus the part where I put in a lot of thinking. Before you start your speech, enter all necessary information onto the page, cross out everything you don't need, and add everything else on the lines.

After welcoming the players I like to name the judges and make them wave at everybody, thus making players acquainted with the judges. After that, all judges should start with their work, be it collecting decklists or printing pairings/cutting result slips. While you go on with your speech simply follow the points listed and you should be able to deliver a flawless speech. I like to remind players at the end of my speech that after all they are here to have fun. Even a Professional REL event should be fun and sometimes I get the impression some players miss that part.

The last page offers space for notes. Use it as you like, and once it is full, go and print another booklet, but don't throw the first one away before transferring your notes to more durable material.

Whenever you need a new booklet you can simply print one and will always have everything you need on hand.

Some ideas for additional pages:

  • A page listing the announcements at a Sealed Deck event, from seating the players to the end of deck building.
  • A list of Public Events offered during a GP weekend. A lot of players ask for the starting times of these events.
  • Times for picks during a Booster Draft.
  • Rules questions you want to pose to others.
  • Your goals for a specific tournament/day.
  • Some facts you'd like to know about the other judges. Go around, talk to people, and get to now everybody a bit better. (e.g. Where were you born, what do you want to be when you grow up, are you a cat or a dog person?)

I think you all get the idea, so I hope you'll be able to use the booklet at your next tournament and have a lot of fun.

(Thanks to Kevin Binswanger, David de la Iglesia, Claudia Nellessen, and Sebastian Rittau for proofreading the booklet and helpful suggestions)

Ute Kronenberg