Tricks of the Trade

Posted in NEWS on December 7, 2015

By Wizards of the Coast

B Tucker

A lot of judging comes from sharing experience and giving advice to others. Finding what does and doesn't work is one of the most important jobs of being a judge, and your professionalism will be greatly increased the more that you work on it. So I guess it's my turn. My recent Deckcheck article seemed to help people, so I've decided to take it one step further.

This article is broken into two sections: items and concepts. The items section deals with simple things that you can bring to tournaments to make things easier for yourself and others. Concepts are tips for what can be done during the actual tournament to help the flow of the event.


B Tucker is enthusiastic over judging.

Water Bottle - In my opinion, staying hydrated is one of the two most issues for a judge during a tournament. Any container to hold fluid can help your body throughout the day, even though you may have to disappear from the tournament scene a little more often. Most judges have to make announcements, and will therefore need to protect their throat as much as possible, and this is one of the easiest ways. With the Prerelease approaching, most judges need to get the most out of their voice as possible. Also, most people don't get enough water during the day anyway, so what harm can be done? I personally prefer water bottles made by Nalgene, as they are nearly unbreakable and will not leech flavors and odors from liquids. They can be found at just about any outdoors-ish store.

At multiple day events, this becomes even more important. Since you will be on your feet and taking fewer breaks than you normally would during a day, staying hydrated will help your health through these days. My water bottles have followed me to professional events, and I even left one of mine in Boston a couple years ago.

Food - Blood sugars tend to dip late in the day of a tournament, and fatigue will eventually kick in. While a piece of fruit is optimal, even something as simple as a candy bar can do wonders for your body. I'm a Snickers man myself.

PDA - While I'm well aware that not everyone can afford one of these, these are amazing for judging. A portable device that's about as large as a wallet that can hold the Oracle, Prerelease FAQ, and Comprehensive Rules are worth their weight in gold (well, they're not that heavy, but you get the point). I have invested in one myself and they are truly wonderful, not just for judging. On top of this, most people are not aware than you can get one of these powerful tools for less than $50. They can also get as expensive as $650, so I would highly recommend trying some out to find one that fits to your needs.

Pen (and not a pencil) - You can accomplish two things by carrying around a simple pen. First, you can use it and secondly, you can appear more professional. I say this because, as most Premier Event judges have noticed, players don't like bringing writing utensils with them to tournaments. You do not need to succumb to that as well, and carrying a pen around with you will help. Also, I recommend that you use a pen, and not a pencil. When you make corrections to a slip or sign your name, do you really want to worry about the possibility of someone erasing what you've written now? I didn't think so.

Box of Sleeves - While it's becoming more and more difficult nowadays to do this, I used to bring along a box of assorted sleeves with me to every event. Whenever I opened a new type of box of sleeves, I would always set aside ten unmarked ones to put in that box. Unfortunately, with Dragon Shields, Ultra-Pro, and various Japanese sleeves being used, it can be hard to keep track of them all. To help with this, I would recommend keeping an eye out in your community and observing what type of sleeves is most commonly used. Once doing this, you can obtain those types of sleeves and be ready for the worst.

Player-Judge Evaluation Forms - Have you ever been in a restaurant and filled out one of those "Comments? Suggestions?" cards? Have you been ecstatic when you've seen that your suggestion has been done? This same type of attitude can be applied toward judging, as it is very dependant on "customer" service as well. Printing up a small amount of Judge Evaluations forms for players to fill out can be very beneficial for almost any judge. While I am well aware that you'll receive those goofy comments from players that ask you to have more prizes than you can already afford, you will still get at least a couple of heartfelt suggestions. If you can then in turn apply these suggestions, you will make your players that much more convinced that you know what you're doing.

Recycled Paper - "Do you have a piece of paper that I can borrow?" And yes, they always say 'borrow'. I'm sure every judge has heard that at least twice at every event that they run. Going back to the pen issue, those players smart enough to bring their own pen will never bring along scrap paper to write their life totals/notes on. If you feel motivated enough, I encourage you to bring along some recycled paper from work/school/home that can be used for precisely this purpose. Also, the tournament itself will generate a fair amount of paper, so don't be afraid to turn this into scrap. I don't recommend that you put pairings and standings into this pile, but something like printer mistakes can save you from digging into blank paper that you need.

Sharpie - The judge's duct tape: there's nothing it can't handle. Proxies, making signs, and writing on your fellow judges (don't ask) are just some of the most common uses for Sharpies. Any event should not be without one of these.

Megaphone - I cannot say that I've directly used one of these for one of my events before, but I know that other judges have. When I attended GP New Jersey, we were stuck with the dilemma of having to communicate to two different acoustically challenged portions on the room. This was easily solved when one judge would pass along information through the megaphone to the far side of the room. And, going back to the water bottle advice, this will help to save your voice as well.

Extra Tape - You can never have enough tape.

Clipboard - A clipboard can be very helpful in two situations: Prereleases and side drafts. First for Prereleases: FAQ, card texts, and other very helpful information can be carried around neatly on a clipboard. For any event using Reporter Lite, many single elimination brackets are printed out for various drafts. Keeping these consolidated on one clipboard can make your job much easier.

Cheat-Sheet for Announcements - Unless you've mastered public speaking skills to an art, most judges won't be able to make all of the announcements for a tournament just from memory. This is one way where you can easily increase your appearance of professionalism. Less "ums" and "...s" can help your announcements come off much better. Thanks to Scott Marshall for this one.

Dry Eraser Board - These things continue to amaze me. The uses of them are limitless, so they bring a good amount of flexibility to your tournament. Writing down round times and simple announcements can help quite a bit. Thanks for Christian Sieber and the Salt Lake City judging crew for this.


Results/Pairings - One of the easiest and most efficient ways for saving pairings and results for tournaments is by taking all of the results slips for a given round, wrapping them with the pairings, and then taping it together. Then write the round number on the outside and set it in a pile with the other "packets". This will easily allow you to go back and check results for validity and to make sure that you have a complete paper trail. Paper trails are extremely important for an event, as there is always the possibility of a computer crash or power failure (I have had to finish a tournament by candle-light before).

Judge checking sleeves - One of the most common penalties that we give out here in Denver is marked sleeves. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure that you shuffle your cards and sleeves before sleeving a deck. I don't recommend that you take away from your busy schedule to do this, but make players realize that they can come up to you and have their sleeves checked. In Denver, our events start at 10 in the morning (when our printer doesn't put up a fit) and the judges usually show up 30-45 minutes prior. This usually leaves us 10-15 minutes before registration closes where we have nothing to do. This is an optimal time to check player's sleeves. It's much better to suggest a change rather than giving them a Match Loss in Round 6.

Initials on Decklists - I'm not sure if decklists/registration sheets still have this feature, but having your players write the first two letters of their last name in the upper corner of decklists can greatly expedite the process of sorting decklists. Imagine saving 5 seconds on every decklist in a 120 player event. That's 10 whole minutes that you could've been watching players for cheating or stalling.

Chairs - At quite a few of the events that I have attended, there have not been enough chairs for all of the players to sit in. I would recommend that you make sure that you have 25% more chairs than you have players. This will make sure that everyone (players, spectators, and judges) have somewhere to sit when they need it.

Easily accessible Oracle - It is in the Floor Rules that players can ask for the Oracle whenever needed. Make sure that you're prepared for this and can give them the text in a somewhat fast manner.

Stress Reliever - Sort of on the light end of things, but I've seen some judges bring little squeeze balls to events and various other things to help. Some judges don't have to worry about this, but for the rest of us, it can often be helpful to find something. I personally take martial arts and find this to be very relaxing when needed. It can be done on break, and just about anywhere!

Walk the floor - This can be one of the most important jobs as a judge during a tournament. Walk around; watch games for a couple minutes on end. However, make sure that you don't just glance at a game and keep moving. This will not give you ample time to evaluate board position and see what might be going wrong with the game. Walking the floor also makes you more accessible to the players when they may need to ask a question or two.

When players know that judges are watching games, they will probably be less likely to attempt any form of cheating. This is critical for obvious reasons.

I hope that one or more of things has helped/will help you as much as it's helped me. Good luck in you judging ventures!

B Tucker
AIM - SleipOdin