A DCI judge holds an extremely important role in the world of Magic: The Gathering. Without judges, there would no true competition and no form of order given to the game. Therefore, as DCI judges, our role is to provide customer service through organization to the entire body of Magic players. However, we are also human (regardless of the opinions of some players) and as such we are subject to human weaknesses. We get tired and we make bad decisions. My experiences as both a player and a judge have helped me to identify three areas that present us with continuing challenges: our demeanor, our treatment of fellow staff, and the issue of perceived favoritism. This article is designed to heighten your awareness of these issues and to help you to avoid the pitfalls.
Your demeanor and appearance as a DCI judge are important things to keep in mind. A judge should be clean, awake, and energetic if possible. You may not feel like a happy person on day two of a Grand Prix or a Prerelease, as judges wake up early and work long days, often right after a busy week at their full-time job. Yet, you can manage with a bit of effort to look professional and ready. When a judge shows up weary and miserable, they present a weary and miserable face of the DCI to the excited players. At many small events such as local constructed tournaments, drafts, or even at some large events in the south (where I often judge), there is frequently a stark contrast between players and judges that does not begin at the striped shirts. The judges are generally the depressed-looking ones! If you know that you have a tournament the next day, make sure you get enough sleep and to allow enough time to have breakfast before the event starts. Player enthusiasm is valuable, and we cannot afford to lose it by acting ambivalent as judges. It is important for us to be approachable, and that can be achieved through respectable grooming and a good attitude.
An appreciation for your fellow staff members is extremely important and quite uplifting. Although DCI judges can be strange and have varying temperaments, it is helpful to remember that they are donating their time for a cause they believe in: the preservation of the game. Hopefully, they are there for the same reason that you are. That does not mean that you need to be great friends with everyone on your staff, but it does mean that you should respect them enough to keep from acting negatively towards them. If you give them a chance, you will generally see a spark of that same ambition that led you to be a judge. The best judge on my staff is a person who is completely different from me in many ways: he parties frequently and has a completely different outlook on life. However, he is always energetic, willing, approachable, reliable, and has an amazing grasp of the rules of the game. Out of respect for his time and ambition, I gave him a chance and was quite impressed. Since I took a step back and watched him at work, he is now the first person who I turn to when I need staff for an event. Another aspect of showing appreciation for your fellow judges is to actively foster growth within your judging community. If you see a fellow judge struggling, help them. If a judge mentions an ambition to test up, encourage them. However, be honest with them as well. When I mentioned to a judge whom I had worked under only once that I was hoping to test for level 2, he merely said "You're not ready." When I asked him why, he said "You just aren't." If he felt that I was not ready, then letting me know was the right thing to do. However, it needs to be followed up with some knowledgeable criticism so that growth can occur. Support your level one judges! They are the backbone of the judging world, and without them events would be impossible to run.
The next problem area does not apply to all judges, but it does come up and is worth mentioning. It is important to avoid favoritism towards familiar players and staff members. When you are a floor judge and your friend or significant other is playing, this is very important to keep in mind. Although both my boyfriend and I understand that I will be impartial with a ruling, it would be disrespectful to make a ruling at his table because his opponent would never know that I had been straightforward. An alternative is to mention prior to making a ruling that you have a relationship or friendship with the player, and let his or her opponent request another judge if they feel uncomfortable. I tend to avoid the situation entirely, as many players do not know me well enough to understand my impartiality. This approach can also help you to avoid strife between you and your friend if they were incorrect in their play. If you, as a judge, have a significant other who will be at the tournament that you are working, use good judgment. Often, this means leaving the significant other at home. Equal behavior should be expected of all staff members. If a staff member cannot or will not take direction from you because they feel that they should be treated specially, then you should find someone else to fill their spot on your staff. At Regionals one year, I witnessed a scorekeeper girlfriend bitterly and loudly refuse to post standings when her boyfriend, the head judge, asked for them. Instead of removing her from the event, the head judge kept her on the staff. While I understand that the situation must have been difficult and stressful for the judge, he would have had a more successful event if he had avoided putting himself in that position in the first place.
When you present yourself as an awake, clean, approachable, and honest judge, you are a valuable asset to the game. While many of these ideas are common sense, I like to actively keep them in mind because I do catch myself yawning in the middle of a pod or hovering near my boyfriend’s game more than randomness would predict. We are not perfect, and can benefit tremendously from imagining ourselves from a player’s perspective and keeping these points in mind.
Erin Anderson, Level 1