"What store do you judge for?" - Local Judges and Organized Play

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I have had the good fortune over the past many years to be involved in a number of different aspects of organized play. When the DCI started sanctioning Magic tournaments, the events that I had been running at my local community center were among the first to be sanctioned. I have been a Level 3 judge for longer than I care to admit. Recently I was accepted into the Wizards of the Coast Delegate program and am now serving as Regional Coordinator for the Pennsylvania – New Jersey – Delaware Region. The Delegate program was started over a year ago to improve the relationship between Wizards of the Coast and the local retailers by creating a cadre of local volunteers. The initial information about the Delegate program (along with how to apply) was sent to many of the DCI certified judges. The result is that there are quite a number of the delegates that are also DCI judges. The job of a delegate is to visit stores throughout their local area: listening to questions and providing assistance. It has been this position, as a delegate, that has highlighted to me the important service that certified judges offer to the organized play community

Establishing a Program of Organized Play

Many of the stores that I have visited have asked me how to establish an organized play program. These stores sell lots of Magic packs, but most of the storeowners do not know how to run a tournament. They do not understand how to get sanctioning for their events and they do not understand DCI Reporter. Some stores have told me that they would love to run sanctioned tournaments but that they don't have a computer (all tournament results now need to be electronically uploaded), they don't have extra staff to supervise the tournament, and they don't have staff members who know the rules well enough to judge… and don't you need a certified judge to run a sanctioned event anyway? Some stores will only run organized play for games where they have a volunteer who will come to the store to run the tournament for them – you could be that volunteer.

Local Judges Should be Associated with Local Stores

At the foundation of the judge program is the Level 1 judge – the Local judge. It is to these local judges that I am focusing my appeal. The local stores need the level 1 (and level 2+) judges to help them run tournaments. If we want our favorite game to thrive then it is up to us, as certified judges, to contact these local stores and offer our help.

At a minimum I believe that judges should be associated with at least one gaming store in their area. They can help their store set up and then maintain an organized play program for Magic.

Finding a Store
In order to be able to sanction tournaments, a store must have dedicated room in the store available for gaming. Tables and chairs for even 10-12 players will support a small gaming community. There is a retail locator at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=company/locator that you can use to search for Premier Stores in your area. When you have located a store, visit the store and talk with the manager. Ask them if they are running Magic tournaments and, if they are not, would they be interested in working with you to set up an organized play program?

Once you have found a store interested in sanctioning Magic events you need to:

Select the format of the game:
Select one of the formats that can be sanctioned:
Standard, Booster Draft, Sealed Deck, Extended, Vintage, Block Constructed, etc. (Two-Headed Giant is coming soon.)
Wizards of the Coast does have two ready-made organized play options available if the store is a Premier Store.

  • Arena League – a Premier store can purchase a monthly kit that will include foil promo cards to be used as participation prizes. Arena can be run more informally, without the need to be sanctioned or report results. As explained in the Arena materials "In order to allow you to participate in Arena as easily as possible, there are no restricted formats." The focus is getting players to come to the store and play Magic.
  • Friday Night Magic – a Premier store can also request to run Friday Night Magic. They will be required to report the results, as FNM is sanctioned, so a computer with DCI Reporter will be needed. Foils are sent to the store to be used as prizes. And yes, FNM does need to be run on Friday night. The store can select the format for FNM, Standard and Booster Draft being common choices, with Sealed Deck being used every so often. For example a store might run Sealed Deck the first Friday of each month and Standard the other Fridays

Non-Premier stores can run sanctioned events as well even though they cannot run Arena or FNM. A good choice is frequently one of the constructed formats with a low entry fee ($5) to fund prizes. Ask the store what formats the players like to play. If you have a favorite format, then that may be a good choice (since you like the format, you will be enthusiastic about it, which will encourage the players to also be enthusiastic).

Select a Schedule:
Once you have selected the format, you need to decide on a schedule. Players like predictability, so it is best to settle on a regular day and format, for example: Saturdays, 5:00pm, Standard.

Communication Plan:
Now that you have decided on the event type and time, you need to tell the players. A frequent mistake made in starting organized play is to not allow enough time to get the word out to the players. You will want to sanction these events, so you will need a month's lead-time to get the sanctioning in place.

Getting Sanctioning for Tournaments:
Ask your storeowner whether they have made arrangements to sanction events. If they are new to running organized play for Magic, then it is most likely that you will need to assist them in this area. The first step will be for you to take the on-line test to become a tournament organizer. If you have a good understanding of the Universal Floor Rules, then you will not have a problem with this test. However, do not leave taking this test until the last minute. If you miss a question, you have to wait 24 hours to re-test. The test can be accessed on-line at the DCI Tournament Organizer Information Centre (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dci/totestsignin). Once you have passed the test, you will be emailed a password that will let you access the Tournament Organizer resource area. Here you can sanction an event on-line, download DCI Reporter, etc. Several days after passing the TO test, you will receive, in the mail, a CD with DCI Reporter and DCI cards.

Persistence:
Do not get discouraged if it takes awhile to build up your attendance. If you persist, you will be successful. It is very helpful to print up a flyer that you can give out at premier events in your area to let the local players know when your store is running events.

If you already have a store that you regularly play at that has a program of organized play, you can still be active in assisting the store. You can:

  • Offer to act as the judge for already sanctioned events; helping by posting pairings, monitoring the round times, answering questions. If the event is a constructed tournament you can encourage the use of deck lists (and then review the lists to ensure deck legality). If the event is a draft, you can help by calling the draft and by explaining how a draft works to new players.
  • Let the store know about upcoming releases and other special events. Wizards now allows Premier stores to run Release events for each new Magic set. This Release event is held the Friday, Saturday, or Sunday the new set is released for sale. Usually, about 45 days before the Release date, the stores are contacted to see if they want to run this event. You can ask them if they have returned the paperwork and let them know you would be interested in judging the Release event.
  • Be a resource to the players at the store to answer rules questions and to help newer players better understand how to play.
  • Mentor players who are interested in becoming judges

In an area where there are a number of gaming stores, a judge may be able to help out at several stores.

The ideal model is that the judges support gaming in the local stores. This creates continued interest in the game at the local level and encourages players to support premier events. Attendance at the premier events will increase and the premier event organizers will need more help from local judges at their events. Organized play will thrive, more judges will be judging, and everyone will be happy.

The time and effort you put into supporting organized play at the local level will be well worth it. The experience that you gain in working with the local store will pave your way to advancement within the judging program. Working with less experienced local players frequently will give you the chance to test your understanding of the rules much better than working at a higher level, extremely competitive, event would. The experienced players know the rules well and need judges more to arbitrate. Many of the local players are still learning the game and need to have someone who can explain what the "stack" is, and how the game phases work. The basic rules knowledge that you worked so hard to obtain to become certified will be tested continually at this local level.

I hope that this appeal has stirred within you the desire to find at least one local store that could use your judging skills and knowledge.

Whenever I meet a new judge, the first thing I ask him or her is “What store do you judge for?” Should we ever meet, I hope that you will have an answer to this question.

Your comments, questions, and requests for assistance are welcome. You may contact me at dorian@1playerplace.com

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