An Experiment in Judge Mentoring
"You can teach a dog to play the piano - but at the end of the day it's
still a piano-playing dog." I remember reading that somewhere a few years
ago, although for the life of me I can't remember where it was. It sounds
like something Mozart might have said about a less talented contemporary.
During the last days of 5th Edition I became a level 1 judge on the
strength of a good memory and a bit of luck. I worked hard to remember a
lot of rules which, to be honest, I hardly understood the wider
significance of. Like the piano-playing dog, I could do it - but I had no
idea of the principles that underpinned what I was doing. Being a judge
meant regular reading of the rec.games.trading-cards.magic.rules group and
mantra-like reciting of key rulings until they were lodged in my long-term
memory. Like case law, all of my rulings were based on precedence; if I
hadn't learnt an answer, (or a very similar one), there was little chance
that I'd be able to work one out.
I'd wanted to become a level 2 judge for a while, but I knew that a
piano-playing dog approach was unlikely to see me through. Fortunately,
the shift to 6th Edition rules gave me an opportunity to start again from
basic principles. I don't know that anything actually became easier -
there is an elegance to the new rules, but as soon as you start to study
them in any depth notions of simplicity go out the window. Even so, the
change to 6th Edition psychologically re-set the clock. I saw an
opportunity for a new start.
The only problem was, I knew I needed help. At this point, I should come
clean about something. I'm a teacher. Worse, I teach other teachers how
to teach. Not surprisingly, I believe in teaching. At the end of the
day, I think people learn more and learn more effectively with the help
and advice of someone else - preferably someone who knows the ropes
themselves and understands how to pass that knowledge on to others.
On top of needing help, my limited experience of judging had shown me that
the place to understand the rules is in a context. No offence, but
reading D'Angelo cold is like wading through beef soup in Wellington
boots. No... wading through beef soup is more fun. A lot of fun
actually... but that's another story... A big part of the teacher's job
is to help students make links between the odd bits of knowledge rattling
around in their heads; to see the relationship between one thing and
another, to highlight what's really important and to help the student
understand general principles involved. In effect, teachers help turn
piano playing dogs into musicians - or magic players who've learnt a lot
of rules into judges who understand them.
In an effort to get the help I needed I posted a begging letter to
DCIJUDGE-L. "Help wanted by middle-aged simpleton with judge
aspirations..." and enter Michael Kastberg. Michael is a law student at
Copenhagen University and level 2 judge. Some people may recognise
Michael's name from DCIJUDGE-L. He's got a reputation for asking arcane
questions about the interaction between multiple Serra Angels, Dance of
the Dead and Pin Head. (OK, there's no card called Pin Head, but there
should be... you get the idea). Michael is really interested in the rules
of magic... no... really, really interested. I asked on the list for
someone who'd act as my e-mail mentor - giving me help with preparing for
the level 2 judge test. Michael said he'd have a go. He said he'd 'ask
me a few questions' and I said 'great' and off we went.
Over the next three weeks or so Michael ask questions and I answered them.
We decided to work in the following way. I'd respond to each question
'off the top of my head' and then again having looked up the relevant
rulings in D'Angelo. Michael would comment on my answers. Sometimes there
would be follow up questions on both sides. Typically, mail would turn
around in about 2 days. Here's a typical excerpt from our e-mail
Question 10. Bob has a Sleeper enchantment in play. Jim plays a Monk
realist. Can Jim now destroy the Sleeper? (Monk Realist: When Monk
Realist comes into play, destroy target enchantment).
SG: First answer: If the sleeper is still a sleeper when the Monk
Realist's 'destroy an enchantment' ability resolves, Jim can destroy it.
If the sleeping enchantment is (for example) a Hidden Gibbons - no
problem. If on the other hand the enchantment is a Veiled Sentry...
Hmmm... The Monk is cast, and goes onto the stack, targeting the Sentry.
It resolves... and... destroys the veiled Sentry before the Sentry's 'wake
up' effect can be put onto the stack... NO! No... hang on... Veiled
Sentry says "successfully casts", not "comes into play"... The Sentry
becomes a creature when the Monk goes on the stack... so it's already a
creature at the earliest point that the Monk's ability could target it.
The Monk can't destroy the Sentry.
SG: A question... is the Monk "successfully cast" when it goes on the
stack, even if it's countered - for example by a counterspell? Or is it
only "successfully cast" when it resolves off the stack?
MK: The term successfully cast was removed with the coming of 6E. All
cards (except one) has been errated to trigger on a spell being played
(i.e. put on the stack).
SG: Second Answer: Veil of Birds in my D'Angelo rulings reads "When an
your opponent plays a spell, if ~this~ is an enchantment, ~this~ becomes a
1/1 Bird creature with flying." Another errata? Have all "successfully
cast" cards become "plays"?
MK: All except one. (Pop quiz: Which one?)
SG: "It becomes a creature when the spell is announced, which is before
that spell resolves. A Disenchant cannot be used to destroy this card,
since it will no longer be an enchantment when the Disenchant resolves.
[D'Angelo 99/05/01]"... "It changes even if the spell is countered.
[D'Angelo 99/05/01]". So now I'm even more sure that the Monk can't kill
the enchantment before it wakes up.
MK: Correct. The timing is like this: Bob announces the MR which goes on
the stack. That triggers Jim's Sleeper, and its awakening goes on the
stack. First thing resolves, and the former sleeper is now a creature (and
no longer an enchantment). Then the MR resolves, and CIP. Its triggers its
own CIP ability, and its effect is placed on the stack, but without the
option to target the former Sleeper.
Michael and I worked through around 50 questions in this way in a little
over three weeks. I went to PT London and got just over 95% in my test.
I would never have made it without Michael's help. Clearly, there's more
to being a judge than understanding the rules - but it's a good place to
There are some general lessons here that DCI and Wizards might want to
give thought to. The rules of magic are complex, and the psychological
'clean start' with the change to 6th rules is unlikely to come again. An
aspiring judge can find themselves adrift in a sea of rule-books, errata
and rulings - not sure what to focus on - unclear about what's really
important and what's not. Teachers make a difference. DCIJUDGE-L goes
some way towards educating judges and keeping them in touch, but it's not
a deliberate, step-by-step activity. What is needed is a programme that
leads aspiring judges through the process of turning the available rules
information into a set of coherent principles - helping to turn
piano-playing dogs into confident, competent judges. I was lucky enough
to have had Michael's personal attention, but I can picture a less
labour-intensive model that would still get the job done.
Imagine a series of modules, themed around key concepts - 'the stack',
'playing spells', 'combat', 'abilities and effects', etc. - maybe even
concepts like 'good communication' and 'resolving conflict'. Imagine the
short assignments that might accompany each module - directing aspiring
judges to particular tournament reports, articles and other web resources.
Imagine a set of questions linked to each module, and a higher level judge
who, working from a set of approved answers, will give feed-back to the
aspiring judge. If you're prepared to really let your imagination run
away with you, imagine the whole thing web-based rather than e-mail based,
available through the judges web site - with short-stay discussion lists
focused on each module, each list moderated and mentored by a judge-tutor.
"We have the technology... we can rebuild him..." Piano-playing dog into
six-million dollar judge in 12 not-so-easy lessons...
If Wizards chose to send me a foil 'Stroke' for this article, I'll be
sending it to Michael by way of a thank-you. That is, unless they fancy
printing a foil 'Wizard Mentor'... now that really would be an appropriate
Michael Kastberg has subsequently revised the rules questions we worked
through - Rules-test V2.0 is available by e-mail from Michael at the
following address firstname.lastname@example.org