What to Do & Expect at Your First Big Event

Posted in NEWS on July 8, 2008

By Wizards of the Coast

You have been selected to work at a Pro Tour, a National Championship or Worlds Championships – a big event.


Seriously: The DCI has over 2,000 certified judges in the world. Less than a hundred are invited to work an event like this. You are one of those. Congratulations.

Now take a deep breath. You can do this. Big Events are just that, big, but it is still judging. You, like every judge on the floor, know some of this, and are here to learn more. More importantly, you will have lots of help. In fact, you are more likely to have helping hands at a big event like this than at a PTQ or FNM.

Here's some advice to help you do well.

Preparing for the Event:


You started preparing for this event the first time you picked up Magic cards, or read the rules. Read them again. Review the Comp Rules, PG, UTR, Floor Rules, etc. Check the tournament information for the format and familiarize yourself with it. That means checking the B&R list, if appropriate, and rules on deck construction, draft timing, etc. It helps to read some web articles on playing the format, as well, to know what is being played and what interactions generate questions.

Find out where the tournament is and when the judges are supposed to arrive. All big tournaments begin with a judge meeting day one. Plan on being there, on time. Figure out how to get to the site, and how long it will take, in advance.

The Day of the Tournament:

  • Bathe or shower. We tell players that, and it goes doubly for judges.
  • Eat breakfast. It will be a long day. Start it right.
  • Dress appropriately: black pants, DCI polo shirt (if you have one, light colored T-shirt without words if you don't, to go under a borrowed shirt – preferably without showing through.), black shoes, belt, socks, etc. If you have extra black shoes, bring them. Being able to change your shoes halfway through a long day walking on concrete can save your feet.
  • Bring a pen. We also bring pennies to use as tokens, a PG card, a notebook to record the event, a water bottle, etc.
  • Bring your enthusiasm.

When You Get to the Venue:

Look around. Wizards of the Coast has spent some money to make the venue interesting. If you can, get there a bit early so you can see the sights. While looking around, note where the bathrooms are (you will get asked), food, the side events stage, and the main event stage. Then look for a bunch of judges sitting around waiting for the judge meeting. Head over there and join in.

How a Big Event Works:

The Judges and Judging Staff:

Wizards will have a few paid employees around. John Carter, head of the judge program, is worth meeting. So is the head of events, usually Scott Larabee. The people you will be working most closely with will be the side events manager (probably Steve Port, at least for North American events) and the main event scorekeeper.

The rest of the people you will be working with will be wearing stripes. The one wearing red and black is the head judge. He's the boss, and the final word on any ruling. He is also a very experienced judge – but one who started out doing exactly what you are doing now. The head judge may also have a shadow – a judge wearing a black shirt that is following and observing the head judge. A shadow is present for training – some for the shadow, some for the head judge.

At the main event, the judges will be divided into teams. Each team will have a team lead, and a number of judges assigned to the team. Large events generally have at least four teams.

  1. Paper: One team will handle pairings: posting pairings at various places around the venue, posting standings, and pulling them back down 10 minutes before the round ends.
  2. Deck Checks: This team is responsible for doing deck checks. In sealed events, deck check team may collect the decklists when players build their decks. There is often more than one deck check team.
  3. Logistics: Logistics handles room set-up, table numbering, setting up land stations and so forth.
  4. Feature Events: judge the feature matches, post results, etc.

When judges are not performing their team functions, they will be doing just what everyone else does while judging: answering questions, watching for problems and mistakes, collecting match slips, pushing in chairs, and picking up trash.

LCQs, Main Event and Top Eight:

Some events may have one or more Last Chance Qualifier tournaments on the day (or evening) before the main event starts. These go late, but the winners are qualified for the main event. That starts the following morning (usually Friday for PTs), and all qualified players play seven to ten rounds, depending on the number of players. Day two cuts the field, either to the top 64 or 128 players (for draft events) or to those players with at least X points, where x depends on the number of rounds. Sunday, the final day, is devoted to the Top Eight playoffs, although if an event is large enough, there may be another cut and a few rounds of Swiss play beforehand. Only a very few judges are needed for Sunday – the rest are either working in side events or participating in seminars and other functions.

Some high level judges may also be pulled off the floor to participate in special meetings, policy discussions, training, judge certification and testing or other functions.

Side Events:

First off, side events are important. At Worlds, 2006, a couple hundred players participated in the main event, but THOUSANDS participated in side events. For most Magic players, sides is how they will experience the event. Wizards wants that experience to be a good one.

At most main events, all the judges, except for the main event head judge, generally work on side events for at least one day, sometimes two.

Side events are busy. The side events judge lead will be juggling judges around all day. Sometimes you will start helping with one tournament, then shift to another as the number of players drops, then start a few boosters. You may often be the closest judge, and take judge calls from other events. Working side events is far busier than the main event, and you will get far more judge calls. Sides are, in the opinion of at least one of the authors, also a lot more fun.


A few notes on judging, whether on the main event staff or on sides:

Don't Panic:

Yes, it is a big event. Yes, you may be called on to make decisions or judge calls in events with a lot on the line. Don't worry too much about it. You may find yourself walking slowly, so another judge gets to the call first, or being afraid to take a call. That's human, but if the more experienced judges didn't think you should be here, you wouldn't be here. Take the call.

Do your job, think clearly, and

If You are not Sure, Ask:

A big event has up to 100 judges in attendance. If you are unsure of something, ask another judge. If you are not sure of a ruling, tell the players you want to check something, that they will get extra time, and then find another judge and talk it over with him or her. Don't worry about looking foolish, or the players objecting. First, the players always prefer a waiting a couple minutes for a correct ruling over getting a wrong ruling quickly. Second, judges of all levels ask for help at times. The authors have witnessed a level 4 and 5 judges come over to rules gurus and others to discuss rulings. Third – and finally – it is always better to give a correct ruling, even if it takes longer, than to make a mistake.

Along the same lines, if you see something in a game or match that does not look right, ask about it. Yes, you may be interrupting the players, but if something is wrong, you need to deal with it. If not, at least the players know the judges are watching.

In the main event at all times, and whenever possible at sides, judges "shadow" each other. This means that when one judge arrives to take a question, another judge follows him or her, and listens in. Shadowing happens everywhere, with every judge – it's not just people checking on first time judges. Your shadow is a reference during the ruling, and a source of feedback afterwards. He or she is also a safety net if you start to head in the wrong direction, but that is not the main purpose.

If you are on the main event, your team lead will explain what job you are doing, and may go into detail on how it should be done. If you are uncertain, or something sounds wrong or different, ask. Judges have different styles – this is especially true for things like deck checks – and Wizards tends to experiment at big events, meaning that some things may be done differently than ever before.

Finally, if you are unsure of anything during the day, or even want to discuss the how or why or some borderline cases, ask any of the experienced judges in attendance. Experienced judges are almost always judging because they like discussing things like that, or like teaching, and judges spend a lot of time standing around waiting for something to do. They all like answering questions or discussing judge stuff.

Making Mistakes:

It happens. Try not to. When it does, deal with it and move on. Fix it, if you can. It also helps to discuss mistakes – or what you thought might have been a mistake – with other judges. That's how you learn from them.

Experienced judges got that way by making mistakes, and learning from them.

Being Professional:

You are the primary representative of a multimillion dollar product (Magic) and a multi-billion dollar company (Hasbro.) Equally importantly, you are representing all your fellow judges. You need to be professional. Don't eat or drink on the floor. Don't use language or do anything you wouldn't want you mother, grandmother or – if applicable – significant other's parents to hear or observe. Don't trade cards or play games wearing your judge shirt.

In short, be on your best behavior. Don't disgrace the uniform.

Oracle Text:

At constructed events, players may be playing with old or foreign cards. Thier opponents may want a current Oracle wording. The scorekeeper will have that on his/her computer. More importantly, many judges have Palms or Blackberries with complete Comp Rules and current Oracles installed. Identify those people early. If you have a handheld, have them beam you a copy. If not, pay attention to where they are – they are the best source of wordings.

As a last resort, you can recite the wording from memory, but be very careful. If you, as a judge, provide an incorrect wording, the resulting mess is hard to correct.


At most major events, Wizards makes an effort to bring in judges with a variety of language skills. On the main event, interpreters are often available. On sides, not so much. Do the best you can.

Match Slips:

One the main event, players will call a judge to verify result slips when their match is over. The judge comes to the table, confirms the result, then takes the match result slip to the scorekeeper.

In side events, the judges (generally) do not verify results slips. The winning player is responsible for taking it to the side events stage and putting it in the box marked "RESULTS SLIPS."

Taking Care of Yourself:

Judging is hard work. You will be spending a long day walking around on hard concrete floors, which may or may not have some thin carpeting. Judging is physically grueling.

You want to drink plenty of liquids during the day. Generally, you can't have liquids on the floor, but most venues have water coolers scattered around. Get a cup of water, drink it (and throw the cup away) when you need to. Take breaks when your team lead tells you to, and ask for one if and when you need it. When you do take a break, or when you get lunch, sit down.

Judging is also hard mental work. It involves a lot of boredom, interspersed with tough mental challenges (and a fair number of "when does the round start?" or "where's the bathroom?" type questions.) Get plenty of sleep beforehand. More importantly, talk with other judges during the event. It makes a nice change of mental gears, and it helps. Just don't get so involved in a discussion that you are not watching the floor, and try to avoid "clumping." Judges should remain spread out – if eight of you are in a huddle in one corner, other parts of the floor are not being well covered. Discussions in twos and threes are fine, however.

The Non-Judging Judging:

Judging does not end when the event wraps up for the day, you go on break or your shift ends. The main reason Wizard brings judges from all over is to train them, and a huge part of that training is meeting and getting to know other judges. A big part of that meeting happens after the shifts end.

At the end of the day, most of the judges are going to head out for dinner. Frequently, large groups of judges will head for a restaurant for a long meal and a lot of talk. In every case I have seen, anyone is welcome to attend. These dinners are often the best part of a big event. We only offer once caveat: some of the older judges – those with jobs / incomes – like to eat well. If your budget is tight, ask about the price range. The Sunday judge dinner is paid for by Wizards, but not the pick-up ones.

Almost all judges are also Magic players. Judges often draft, especially if they get a box of product at the end of the event. At other times, drafts may spring up. Other judges play a format called Elder Dragon Highlander – and many EDH players have extra decks they are willing to lend out.

After the Event:


The DCI is all about judge growth. Quality judges provide an enjoyable and consistent tournament experience across the entire Magic-playing world. No judge can improve without feedback, however, so it is important to a) provide that feedback to others and b) accept the feedback that others give you. The review area of the judge center is the tool of choice for this purpose.

It is recommended that you provide honest and useful reviews for at least two other judges after the event (more than two is also quite welcome). It is also recommended that you speak with the judges you intend to review in person before the event is over. An unexpected review (particularly a less-than-glowing one) can be a shocker.

A review does not need to be long, but it should be useful. In general, a good review includes a couple of things that the reviewed judge did well, and one or two things that he or she could improve upon. Constructive criticism is welcome (emphasis intentional).

You should also expect to get a couple of reviews from others. In fact, if there is a judge that you work with at the event who may not otherwise review you (because he/she isn't your team lead or head judge), it's entirely appropriate for you to specifically request observation and a review. When you get a review, don't just read it and forget it—use the information to continue to improve as a judge.

Keeping in Touch:

A side benefit of the judge center is the ability to contact other judges, even if you don't have their contact information. Just go to the "Find" page and you can type in a judge's name and send that person an email. Remember, judges like to chat about judging, even if it's not in person.

Another way to keep in touch is on the #mtgjudge channel on IRC (EFNet). This channel is always a strange and fascinating mix of guru-level rules discussion with random light chat about life in general.

Doing it Again:

Practice is the key to success, and this is just as true for judging high-level events as it is for anything else. If you enjoyed the experience, come back! If you were too nervous to enjoy the experience, come back! The more you participate, the easier it gets, the more relaxed you'll be, and the more you'll be able to focus on having a good time.

"Judging – if you are not having fun, you are not doing it right."- Sheldon Menery

We hope this helps, and we hope to see you at the next big event.

Pete Jahn L2 & Jeff Morrow L3