The Road to L1

Posted in NEWS on April 12, 2010

By Wizards of the Coast

Translated and edited by Damian Hiller

First of all, I'll introduce myself. My name is Mariano Lahoz and I'm at the moment a L1 judge since three months ago and I've been an organizer for almost three years. I live in Neuquen, Argentina. In this article I'm going to comment on my experience of becoming a certified L1 Judge, for which I needed to take the exam three times in order to accomplish my goal.

It all started a year ago when I decided to stop being just an organizer and become a judge. I started investigating the steps that needed to be followed and what I needed to do in order to do it. After knowing the "must do," I started printing the rules and a frenetic study. I read several times the Comprehensive Rules, the MTR, and the IPG which I got from the DCI Document Center. Since there were no certified judges in my area, I needed to learn it all by myself, trying to solve every game situation as I thought was the best way to handle them. By then, the first opportunity to test came up in November 2008 at a PTQ for Kyoto in Buenos Aires: I got in contact with the TO, Juan del Compare (you can see who's yours or the one in any given region using the Tournament Locator) to see if it was possible for me to get tested there and in a hasty movement I got the e-mail contact of a L2 judge who could test me, Adrian Estoup.

Through questions via Gtalk and e-mail, I showed a good rules knowledge. So, with that confirmed, I bought the tickets, booked a hostel, and kept reading and re-reading. When the day arrived, I went to Buenos Aires. During that day, I was assigned to the deck checks team (Wow! There are teams in big tournaments! — This was the first big event I attended, as judge or player) with Alejandro Raggio as team lead and Adrian Estoup as a fellow team member. The rounds passed by and I kept answering the questions asked from the players as well as the clever and mischievous ones that judges posed to see if I was up to the standards (classics, such as how to kill an opponent with a Mogg Fanatic). It was time for the Top 8 and, of course, the booster draft for the flight to Kyoto. Excited, I went to see the draft table directed by Andres Moro. I saw how they drafted, helped clean up the area from the wrappers, and saw how they built their decks when, suddenly, Adrian came to me and said: "It's time for the test." My nerves went up by 200%. I got to the place assigned for testing; Adrian explained me what the exam was about, what the minimum passing score was (70%), and wished me good luck. While I was doing the exam, nervous as heck, I tried to focus as much as I could.

When I finished the exam, I went all over it again and gave it to Adrian. From that point, I went to see the finals of the tournament. The time passed and when I was feeling more relaxed, Adrian called me. He commented me that he was very surprised about the exam, since both during the tournament and in the questions we discussed online, I've had no problems, but he informed me my score was 54%. Very disappointed, we looked over the exam together, where we saw quite a few problems with the stack and some others regarding the IPG. Adrian called over Damian Hiller, and together they explained me the problems, solved some I had, and told me to keep on working with the same energy, that I was not the first nor the last one to fail on the first attempt. When the tournament finished, I went back to the hostel and, on the following day, to my normal life.


Once my after-exam-anger passed, I decided to give it another try. A few months passed by, I read and kept reading the rules, and when April 2009 arrived, I had another chance to test; this time was at a NCQ which I was organizing. I looked for a judge who could both work on the event and give me the exam and I found Gustavo Montangie (L3). Gustavo accepted, without questions, to come and head judge the tournament as well as to evaluate me, and looked upon the feedback which Adrian gave me after the PTQ. Tournament day arrived, everything worked out as wonders without any big issues. When testing time arrived, I was feeling a bit more nervous than the first time but I failed again; this time I got a very similar score (56%) although it was quite a different exam since my previous try. In this exam I showed a strong game rules knowledge but I failed on everything related to the MTR and the IPG. After the event I chatted with Gustavo for almost an hour, going through all my mistakes: my disappointment was huge.

After failing for the second time, I kept sanctioning events weekly as well as every Prerelease, while I kept reading the Comprehensive Rules, as well as the MTR and the IPG.

It was now October 2009 and the PTQs for Argentina and Chile were announced (by the way, a great tool to find out dates of many tournaments is using the already-mentioned Tournament Locator). There were three PTQs within a month. I talked to the organizers in each country: on one side of the mountains, Chilean Jorge Peñailillo offered me a room to stay (which ended up being a room, food, transportation, and loads of chats in which he transmitted a lot of experience). On the other side, I talked again to Juan del Compare for the PTQs in Argentina. The dates were November 7th in Argentina, November 14th in Chile and December 12th back in Argentina. With so many PTQs so close, I decided to make a mini tour in order to participate in all the available premier events.

Weeks before the first PTQ, I started to study even harder and solving all my questions (special thanks to Adrian Estoup and Damián Hiller for answering!). I not only cleared up my questions but received an effective list of recommendations in order to do well on a written exam as well. (Editor's Note: To see these recommendations and others on how to test, skip to the bottom of the article).

A week prior to the first PTQ (11/7), I started looking for a L2+ judge who could evaluate me during the PTQ which, this time, was Franco Bonazza. As had happened before with Adrian, Franco filled me up with questions via Gtalk and e-mail.

When the PTQ day arrived, we got overwhelmed by the number of players and yet we made a good tournament. I learned a lot of new stuff, especially things referred to working in a big event (194 players). I got to be in the paper team, which, even if it looks like a simple task, is a hardworking one. Taking care and making sure every player receives his result slip, posting pairings and standings: it takes time but makes the tournament more organized and helps players know where to find all the relevant information regarding the tournament, as well as letting the scorekeeper get the final results of every match in a simple and reliable way.

When the time for the test came, Franco summoned me, communicated to me everything I needed to know before testing: the passing score, what I can and can't do (thing which I already knew, being my third try). Franco left me alone and I took my exam, applying the tips Damian gave me beforehand. Once I finished the exam, I let Franco know and went to watch the remaining Top 8 matches. I was very relaxed and confident on my exam since I had really studied a lot and done my exam quite calmly. Franco called me and told me I had passed with an 82%. We reviewed the errors and then had a little chat in which Juan del Compare joined us. They congratulated me and we talked a bit about the judge community and what it means to become a certified judge. Happy about my exam, I went to sleep and, on the following day, returned to my normal life. My goal was accomplished, I got certified as a L1 Judge.


Now being an L1 and with the tickets in hand, I continued my plan and traveled to Chile for the PTQ for San Diego, which would be my first tournament as a certified judge. I arrived a day earlier in Santiago de Chile and went to a comic store to kill some time until Jorge Peñailillo finished his workday. We went out for dinner and then to rest, not without having a very long chat were he told me about his trips and the GPs and PTs he went to. After an hour or two of chats, where he shared his experience, we went to sleep since it was already late and next day was going to be a long one. We got up early on the following day and went to the tournament venue where the event staff started to gather. I used some free time to get to know the Chilean community. The tournament started. Generally speaking, there were no major problems: 81 people attended to play the tournament, quite fewer than the previous PTQ in Buenos Aires. During our chats on the previous day with Jorge, I mentioned him my intentions to get to L2 some day, since I'm very interested in certifying new judges and make the judge community grow where I live. Therefore, he asked me, as a special task, to shadow a L0 who wanted to get certified and was practicing on this tournament. It was a very nice experience for which I really thank Jorge for the trust he gave me. After the event, all the judges went out for dinner and had our after-event debrief; we had a pleasant moment, and afterwards went to sleep. On the next day, I got up and had breakfast and got to talk to Jorge about my experiences on the previous day and what I thought about the tournament, and then started my way back to my hometown. Overall it was a fantastic experience, crossing the mountains to a neighboring country to judge and being so welcomed by everyone in there. It made me very happy and I must thank all the judges in Santiago de Chile which were very supportive and showed how close the judges are, no matter which country they are from.

Once I got back in my hometown, I kept doing my weekly tournaments. In one of them, some of my local players congratulated me on my advancement and commented that having a certified judge nearby makes the tournaments level up as well: they feel more confident when it comes to asking a question, and it even makes people get more interested in learning more about the rules. I can only smile about it.

When December arrived, I had the second PTQ in Buenos Aires on sight so I applied for the tournament and Juan accepted me as part of the staff. I bought my tickets and we set off on our trip with a friend who was going as a player. I arrived at the event a little bit late due to problems with my accommodations and transportation but started helping the other judges as soon as I arrived as they were already setting up the venue. This time, I got to be on the paper team with Alejandro Raggio as team leader. Since teams had been already assigned earlier by Damian, we decided to do our small team chat the day before electronically. That helped us a lot since we could start working on our duties right away while the other team was having its meeting. When everything was ready for the players to come in, I took some time out to say hi to the judges, and I got to see Adrian and Damian, my two mentors who congratulated me on my exam. The tournament had 166 players, a bit less than the first PTQ. We had a total of seven judges, with Damian Hiller as HJ, Juan del Compare as deck checks team leader with Facundo Gamero, Adrian Estoup and David Kalisky (a Chilean Judge) in his team, and Alejandro and me on paper completing the judge staff. The tournament went pretty well, although with the high number of players it ended pretty late. There were no major delays but with so many people, many rounds needed to be played.

With this one, I completed my fourth PTQ and I'm definitely going for more. The experience you get in these kind of events is huge and, if what we enjoy is judging, these are excellent opportunities. I wish I could sometime be able to attend a GP and - why not, a PT.

To start finishing this article, let me give you some tips and advice I recollect from my experience trying to become a certified judge:

For my first try, I had studied, read all the game rules, the MTR, and IPG. What is the main difference between the first and the third try?

To start with, on my first two tries I took the exam in English and on many occasions I had trouble with my interpretation of the questions, while on the third time, I did it in Spanish, which is my mother language. The first two tries I made in English since all the rules and the majority of sources are in said language and I thought it was better to take the test in the same language I had studied in, but this can be a big problem when it comes to taking exams if you are not really used to reading exhaustively in English: if you aren't really focused, you can make interpretation mistakes and answer wrongly. I remember on some questions skipping "not" or some other word and answering wrongly for that reason. One of the purposes of the written exam is to see how focused we are when it comes to answering questions and if we are able to understand the situations given. If we make mistakes such as those, we show we are not focused enough.

Besides reading the rules, since it's a difficult exam, we must not only read them: a deeper knowledge is required. We need to know in great detail how things work and not just the net result. It's always good to, as we read the rules, think up which situations where they are applied in a real game.

If your intention is to test for L1, you should check out the Judge Center. Probably someone already told you it's the best tool for studying but why do they say that? Lets see two things I found very useful:

Online exams: we've got several practice exams in a wide variety of languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese, Japanese, French, Italian, Chinese, etc. This allows us to practice our knowledge with questions that probably no one ever asked us before. It helps us measure our knowledge and see what we don't know that well. Besides, we get a glimpse at the style of questions we're going to get when we finally get to sit for the real exam. Once we finished with the Easy Practice exams, we can raise the bar to Hard Practise exams, which includes, as its name implies, harder questions. We also have the Rules Advisor exam, which is the very first step to take in order to become a judge: this exam includes more questions and requires a higher passing score, its questions are a bit more difficult than the practice ones, and they are more similar to the ones we will find in the actual L1 test, although the RA exam only involves game rules questions. I recommend doing this kind of exam in your own mother language or, otherwise, in English. Once you finish one of these exams, no matter what the final result, you can go back and see them again at any time and see what you did wrong. Try not to do too many exams since the questions will start to repeat themselves. In case you're seeing the same questions all the time, try doing an exam in English, which has a larger pool of questions.

There's also a section in which we can search for judges in any given area - for example, your country and region. Judges like to help each other, so why don't you try to look for someone who can give you a hand? It's always good to have a mentor, someone to help you with your questions and who also makes questions for you to think on. The internet allows us to chat with people without needing to be face to face. For example, my mentors live in Buenos Aires, which is 1000km away from where I live!

Aside from the Judge Center, there are various internet sites where we can ask our questions. In Wizards Community forums, there's an entire section for this purpose.

As I commented before, Damian Hiller gave me a list of tips for when we take our exam:

Read every questions and every answer carefully before committing to one. Do not choose the very first one that seems correct

Read fully and carefully the text of each card involved, even if you think for sure that you know the card.

Eliminate (you can even cross it out on the paper, although you'd better not if you want to read it again later) the answer you are sure are incorrect. That way, it's easier to know on which one to focus.

Once you've got fewer answers left, compare word by word the ones remaining and see how they differ. It can help you to underline the parts which differentiate the answers since many times those differences in words or in word order might be the key.

If a questions turns out to be too complicated, go on with the exam and leave those which seem too difficult for the end.

If a question involves several cards or abilities, it's not a bad idea to ask for some basic land cards to use as proxies and to represent physically what's going on.

Once you finished the exam, start it all over, without looking at the answers you gave before. Once you are finished for the second time, compare the answers between the first and the second look.

Of course, have a good rest before testing and try to remain calm and with your head clear.

The list has several tips, some which may sound obvious, but it's always good to pay attention to them, no matter how obvious they may look.

The Judge Article Archive has useful content covering a wide range of skills. For example, there's an article on studying for a rules test that might be worth checking out

Another fundamental thing is to always remain updated with rules. In every update there are changes and, if they are there, it's good to know them and apply them.

A good way to get into a good rhythm as a judge is to participate in a tournament nearby. Contact your local TO and offer yourself. It will be good for both of you since the TO gets some help to run his tournaments and you get to earn experience on the field. If you happen to be a TO as well, like me, try to organize tournaments more often. Your players will probably love that!

As you can see, my road to L1 was a very long one, but whenever you fight for the stuff you want, you can get them, and in the end it feels very good! After passing my exam, I felt much more confident when delivering my rulings and even the players seem more confident when asking questions and listening to my answers. Personally, I feel a great desire to keep on growing in this program and get to the next level someday. In case you happen not to pass an exam, you must wait a minimum of three months to retest. What I recommend is testing when you really feel you're ready and not just try at every chance you get till you finally and magically pass.

I hope all this helps you on your own path. This is what I've done and what I've had to do to achieve my goal. For some it may be easier, for some others it may be harder, but you must always give it a try!

See you at some tournament!

Mariano Lahoz