Why do the majority of players come to a Magic
tournament? While many come for the serious competition or the chance to test
their latest decks, the number one reason the average player attends a
tournament is to have fun. With all the emphasis on competition in the last few
years, the concept of Magic simply being a fun game has lost a lot of its
Much time and attention is spent teaching judges
how to be fair, or responsible, or efficient. While all this is very good, I
would like to take a little time talking about how judges can address an equally
important task: how to make tournaments fun.
Below are some thoughts about how to make your
tournaments more fun. You may be doing some or all of the items listed. The
point of this article is to make you think about each of the points below and
consider how well you are servicing this aspect of your player base.
1) Tournaments Are Supposed To Be
This might seem a bit basic, but the number one
problem judges have with making tournaments fun is simply the lack of belief
that the tournaments are supposed to be fun. People partake of games and hobbies
because they enjoy them. People come to tournaments to play these games for the
At the end of a long day, what makes a player
want to return to another tournament is not whether they won or lost but rather
did they have a good time? It's important to always keep this in mind. In every
aspect of running or judging a tournament, you should be thinking about how you
can maximize the enjoyment of your players.
2) Fun Has A Lot To Do With
The key to making a fun atmosphere is set by the
direction of the person running the tournament. If you are enjoying yourself,
you send out a strong message to the players that they too should be enjoying
In addition, how you chose to handle situations
gives clues to the players as to how to react. Players will most often follow
your lead. If you make them feel they can smile, they will. If you make them
feel they should not be smiling, they won't. I cannot stress enough how much an
effect your demeanor will have. So next time you have to give a player bad news,
try doing it in a positive way. It really has an impact.
3) You Should Have Fun Too
The above point incidentally is not for you to
fake having fun. Find ways to do your job in a way that is enjoyable for you.
Fun begets fun. If you're having a good time, you naturally make others more
Hopefully the reason you became a judge is that
you enjoyed doing it. If not, I would recommend rethinking your decision. Being
a judge requires intense amounts of time and attention. If you do not enjoy what
you are doing you will not only be unhappy but that negative energy will carry
over to your players.
4) Fun Can Coexist With
One of the biggest fallacies in tournaments is
the idea that fun somehow jeopardizes the quality of competition. Nothing could
be farther from the truth. Most problems stem not from content players but
rather from unhappy ones. Players who are enjoying themselves are more apt to
work together allowing them to better resolve conflicts and have a greater sense
of the state of the game.
The lesson: do not equate seriousness with
unhappiness. Players in an intense competition may not be laughing and joking,
but that does not mean that are not enjoying themselves.
5) Every Tournament Is
Different tournaments have different needs. A Pro
Tour Qualifier, for example, needs much stricter rules enforcement than the
weekly tournament at Lucky's Comics. One of the biggest causes of unhappiness
for players is judges ruling a tournament at an inappropriate penalty
enforcement level. Rules enforcement is gradiated for a reason. Players at a
local tournament should not expect to be treated as if they were in a Pro Tour.
And vice versa.
Always keep in mind the purpose of the tournament
you are judging. Why did people attend? What type of tournament are they
expecting? What level of rules enforcement is necessary? A prerelease, as an
example, is designed primarily as a fun, casual event for players of all types
to come out and see the new cards. A judge at the event should be more apt to
assume players are making honest mistakes rather than cheating.
6) "Firm But Fair" Can Still Be
It is possible to do unpleasant things in a
pleasant way. Just because a player needs a particular warning does not mean it
cannot be done in a positive way. The purpose of judging is not to punish but to
educate. When a player makes a mistake, treat it as an opportunity for the
player to learn. If you approach the situation as a friendly one odds are the
player will return with a similarly friendly nature.
7) You Can't Make Everyone
Do not confuse the desire to please any one
player with the desire to please the players as a whole. Playing blaring rock
music might make a particular player happy but would make a much larger section
of the players unhappy.
When it becomes obvious that you have to do
something that will make a player unhappy (for example, disqualifying him from
the tournament), you need to take into account how to do so in a manner that
will lessen the unpleasantness not only for the player being affected but for
the rest of the players in the tournament.
8) Happy Players Means Less
All of the above seems nice, but what's in it for
you? There are many benefits of having happy players. They are easier to deal
with. They cause fewer problems when trouble arises. And most importantly, they
are more inclined to return to your next tournament. Finally, having happy
players insures that you too can enjoy the event. No one likes dealing with
As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure." Most problems can be stopped before they happen if
you simply take the time to make the event as enjoyable for your players as
Hopefully, these points will give you some new
ideas to think about. My personal favorite experiences as a judge have been when
players shared with me how much fun they had at my event.
May you always have fun.