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How to Develop a Supply of Good Local Judges

A Reference Guide for Level 3 Judges

Dorian Anders

It is absolutely no fun at all to try to run a magic tournament with insufficient staff, and, as an active player, I can tell you that it's no fun to play in a tournament that is understaffed. Events should start on time, run smoothly, and all player questions (real or imagined) should be answered promptly and correctly. This is difficult to do when you don't have the appropriate staff. Part of the responsibility of the tournament organizer and head judge is to make sure that enough judges are working a tournament. However, don't just sit back and expect to be overwhelmed by a flood of qualified judges or potential judges. Become actively involved in screening applicants, recruiting applicants, and training applicants.

Step 1: Screening applicants or "Why do you want to become a Judge?"

I am frequently approached by individuals who say that they are interested in becoming a judge. On average I would say that I am contacted 10-20 times a month via telephone or email and in person at least once at every tournament I attend (as a judge or player). The first question I always ask is Why do you want to become a judge? The answer to this question will let me know in most cases whether or not the individual will actually follow through with the certification process (in other words, if they're serious about it).

My favorite conversation (telephone call received at night):

Me: Hello
Them: I got your number from the DCI. How do I become a judge? (Note: no introduction, no name)
Me: Why do you want to become a judge?
Them: Well, I want to be a better player and I thought that if I became a judge I would learn the rules and this would help me.
Me: Have you played in many tournaments?
Them: I just play with my friends.
Me: Have you ever played in a sanctioned tournament?
Them: No.
Me: Do you have a DCI number?
Them: What's a DCI number?

Reasons commonly given for wanting to become a Judge:

1) To learn the rules better so that I can be a better player.

Wrong reason: You need to know the rules before you can judge and judging takes away from playing time, since you cannot play in a tournament you are judging. The best way to improve your play skills is to play with good players, not by judging. Somehow people have gotten the idea that part of becoming a judge is that someone is going to teach them the game rules. Given the largely volunteer nature of judging, its hard enough to find time to instruct people in how to judge/run a tournament let alone having to teach them how to play the game. The judges certification system is currently premised on the idea that prospective judges will take and PASS a test on game play rules and floor rules before being proceeding with the application process: getting judging experience with level 3 or higher judges. Prognosis: These people will proably not pass the judge test. Discourage them from testing at this time. Encourage them to come and play in DCI Sanctioned events. Point out to them that active playing will improve their knowledge of tournament functioning and game play rules.

2) To be able to run sanctioned tournaments.

Good reason: Most store owners/employees know that holding tournaments will increase sales. Many stores would like to be able to run events, but don't have anyone at the store who can run the events for them. Or - maybe a good regular player has been asked by the store owner to judge/run tournaments for them. Prognosis: Unfortunately, while they are usually really great people, their rules knowledge tends to be weak. In my experience, these folks usually fail the test the first time, but will stay with it and keep coming back if you are willing to work with them. Try to get them to study the Standard Floor Rules and DCI Penalty Guidelines before testing the first time. They will make good level 1 judges (and some will ultimately advance to level 2 if you are willing to take the time to work with them).

3) They like the game, but don't like playing in tournaments.

Perfectly acceptable reason: Many judges started as players, but found they enjoyed the judging better than the tournament playing (the tournament environment being too stressful/competitive/whatever). However, they should be encouraged to locate a place where they will be able to judge or run events, in advance of preparing to judge. It's a bit wasteful to invest the time and energy and find out that no one needs a judge. Prognosis: Rules knowledge is generally pretty strong in this group and they tend to make good judges. You will mainly have to develop their judging skills (occassionally they need work on rules too).

4) They don't have enough time to build and playtest winning decks, so judging would be easier to do (and less time consuming).

Wrong reason: If the rules were simple, judges wouldn't be needed. Even if the rules were complicated, but were stable (with changes rarely made) they very few judges would be needed. Remember, Magic is not like basketball, where referees are needed for every game. Most magic duels are played one-on-one with very little physical contact (we hope) or motion. It's much more like chess, but consider for a moment, how many Chess judges there are. In Magic the rules are complicated and are continually evolving. The environment is regularly changing with the addition of new card sets and concepts. If players do not have the time to stay current with changes and new concepts, judging is not for them. Think how much time the pro players invest and even they need to ask the judges questions. Prognosis: Not good. People that think judging is easy are also likely to fall into the "I said it and I'm the judge so that's that" pattern. Judging is not easy.

Step 2: Expanding the Appliant base

So how do you build a solid base of good local judges? This is easy to answer. RECRUIT THEM! Look for players who are:

1. Strong on rules knowledge (they are usually the ones that come up to you and ask for some clarification on some small, involved situation).

2. Short on money

3. Love the game and are always at events (even if they are not playing in them). For example, pro players or very highly-rated players who are very concerned about their ratings and thus will only play at selected times (their rating may be so high that they cannot afford to take a chance on losing, so they won't play in just any sanctioned event).

4. Are not obnoxious, repellent, or unwashed.

Ask them:

1. Have you ever thought of becoming a judge?

2. If they say yes, then ask them if they would like to take the test and compensate them for the testing fee (ie, don't charge them).

3. They should do well on the test (if they don't, send them off with instructions to learn the rules). Ask them if they'd like to help judge at one of your next events. Start training them how to handle people & conflict situations.

4. For the ones who are chronically short of funds, compensate them by having them work part of the event, and then let them play in draft(s), etc., for free.

I believe that you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction you will get when you ask someone if they have ever thought of being a judge. Some of your best potential judges, will have to be cajoled a bit into taking the test, but if you get them to actually take the test, then the interest is there.

Step 3: Training Applicants

To develop judges you can rely on, you really will need to invest time and effort in training. The most discouraging aspect of this step, is that frequently just when someone has developed into a really fine judge, they shake your hand, thank you for your time, and go off to run events on their own. However, judges that you have worked with will form part of a potential pool of qualified judges whom you can call on to help out at those big, really special events (like prereleases). Training prospective judges is a topic for another article.

Dorian L.Anders, M.S., M.B.A.
Level III DCI Certified Judge
Level II Reiki Healer
Level I Black Belt in TaeKwonDo

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