Tips for Level One Judges

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

As a level one judge, often newly certified, we occupy an awkward spot in the DCI hierarchy. While we are certified, we are considered by many to be "trainee" judges and an advanced form of manual labor for tournaments. To a certain degree, this is true, but to advance, we need to be more than that. We need to be actual judges on the floor. These are a few tips I've compiled in my short career as a DCI judge to make the most of being "just" a level one and move forward towards your level two (or higher) certification.

Show up - This is half of the battle. Many level ones are level ones because they took the test, filled the pre-requisites and then never judged a single tournament again because they either discovered they like playing more than judging or just decided that judging wasn't for them. Assuming you want to do more and become a "serious" judge, you should make every effort to work as many events as possible, especially early on in your career. Pro Tour Qualifiers and Grand Prix trials usually abound, and can use staff.

Pre-releases are an excellent chance to test your mettle as a head judge because the pod system will lead to you being handed product, sixty-four people, pairings, and told to go and run a pre-release. Relish it. If a Grand Prix comes to your area, by all means, staff it. You'll get to work with the best judges in the region, if not the country, and it's also probably one of the few places you can buy your "zebra" polo shirt. And don't wait for your local organizer to call you - e-mail or call them. Even if you certified at one of its events, most organizers have seen judgelings come and then disappear just as quickly. Most would love the extra help. And if you do get asked to an event - make a good impression.

Arrive on time. Even better, arrive a bit earlier and offer to help setting up chairs, tables, numbering tables, and other administrative tasks. Offer to stay later to help with the breakdown, if they need it. It makes a good impression and leads to invites back to work.

Be enthusiastic - You got into this because you loved it - let it show at the events you work. This covers a wide variety of things. First, no job is too small to be done. Sorting basic lands and collecting registered decks makes the tournament run quicker, and, in the end, your job easier later on. Going around with a marker labeling tables may not be glamorous, but its necessary and doing these things frees up your organizer and other staff to help players and keep the tournament moving. And offering to do any job that comes along, and better yet, doing it with a smile, will make a good impression on your organizer as a team player, and more offers to come back and work.

Also, being enthusiastic means that you won't shy away from any call on the floor. When a hand goes up, and a person shouts, "Judge!" assuming you aren't doing anything else, always offer to take it. It doesn't matter if it's table one or one hundred - you should be willing to give any problem at least a try. Ideally, the other judges should tell you that, "It's okay, I've got it," rather than, "Go get that call."

Always be ready to respond to players' questions

At a local venue I work, one of our trainee judges is rather passive - he chats with the dealers, and, at one point, took out his Magic cards and started playing at a cleared table, figuring that if no one called for him, he wasn't needed and so he could do whatever. Don't let that be you. Always take the initiative. Even if another judge looks like he is going for the table, see if you can take it. Often, higher-level judges are more than willing to let a lower level judge get experience by giving them first crack at any call that comes up. And when you're a lower level judge, I've found that enthusiasm and hard work will easily overshadow what mistakes you might make when actually handling a call. Judges and organizers won't remember you flubbing a Standstill interaction (as I have), as no one is perfect, but they will remember the judge who is always willing to hop up and try to tackle a situation.

Be confident - You passed the judge test with at least a seventy percent and that test is hard. Be confident in your knowledge. Odds are, you can answer anywhere from ninety-five to ninety-nine percent of the questions that come up in a tournament, mostly because the vast majority of them don't have to do with Magic. I suggest you know at all times the answers to the following questions: "How much time is left in the round?" "Do I have time to get something to eat?" "Are postings up? If so, where?" "How many rounds are we doing today?"

If you know the answer to a question, go ahead and tell them. If you don't, don't stammer and bumble. Politely tell the players that you want to go look something up and either talk to another judge or look up the relevant ruling. Come back and then explain the ruling. If at all possible, even if you consult other judges, make sure that you are the one who explains the ruling.

Be assertive - You may be "only" a level one, but the Universal Tournament Rules only acknowledge the existence of two sorts of judges - the head judge and "other" judges. You are likely an "other" judge and you have the same amount of authority to make rulings and hand out penalties as any judge on that floor, except for your head judge, who gets the last say in everything. At a PTQ or GP Trial, this might not mean much if there's only a three person judge staff, but at a large event like a GP, that means you are the equal of perhaps even your local level three!

There is only one place a player can appeal a ruling to, and that's the head judge. That's not the level two standing next to you who came over to "back you up" (which, by the way, should not be taken as an offense. A good 'shadow' will not interfere at all unless you step aside and ask them for their opinion). I'm often frustrated when I explain a ruling to a player who then turns to my shadow, a higher level judge and asks, 'Is that right?' And, if your shadow does step in unasked, after the call is over, pull him or her aside someplace private where the players can't hear and politely ask if you could have a try at a ruling before they get involved, because you want the experience of handling it yourself.

This should work, as almost all of these situations are good intentioned people who just happened to cut into the middle of your ruling. If players start trying to go over your head, politely, but firmly remind them that they have to at least listen to your ruling, and if they wish, they may appeal to the head judge. Don't be intimidated by players - they will sense that and use it to run all over you.

Never stop learning - None of us know everything, except for, perhaps, the one, the only, Rune Horvik, who is either a robot or the fastest man in the Magic judge community with a keyboard. As level ones, not only are we still learning some of the rules (or, more accurately, being reminded of them and learning new card interactions), but we are also more importantly learning how to become better judges, more deft at handling the situations which there is no easy Comprehensive Rules citation for. When should we consider sleeves marked? Do we back up the illegal blocking or leave the board as it is? These things are more an art than a science.

My suggestion is that you keep in e-mail/Instant Messenger contact with at least one judge, preferably one higher level than you, who you can ask questions of and bounce ideas off of. Together, you can test each other and brainstorm solutions to "what if" problems. Read the judge site. Answer questions wherever you go. I guarantee that as soon as word hits your local gaming spot that you're a judge, you'll get plenty of random people coming up and asking, "Hey, I had a question about..." Magic is constantly shifting and keeping in touch means keeping your skills sharp.

We might be "only" level ones, but we can wear it with pride. We're the backbone of the PTQ staffs and run our local shop's tournaments. And hopefully, we'll continue to develop the skills we need to make it for ever two, and, well, up.

Until then, may every call of "Judge!" be one that you can handle.

Sean Marotta
DCI Level 1 Judge