|Ruling Concept: Back to Basics
Tempe, Arizona, US
I just noticed from looking at the last few articles I had sent in to
the DCI judge page, that they were all looks at judging theory and some
of the more abstract parts of what we do as judges. Contrasting that, I
recently head-judged the local Prophecy pre-release event, and got to
"hang with the casuals" again... that is, the friendly, non-hardcore
players. I also got to judge an event with a substantial percentage of
novice players, something that doesn't happen nearly often enough in my
area and is quite rewarding to officiate.
With that in mind, I had a brainstorm (U, instant, etc...) to write a
quick "Back to Basics" article that reviewed some of the things that we
as judges tend to forget when we go long enough without working with
some newbies. Detailing practices and procedures for dealing with large
tournament crowds, especially those that include a sizeable portion of
casual players, is the intent of this article.
Even the best and most experienced of us can get so wrapped up in
judging PTQs and GPs, and even "auto-pilot" weeklies with the local
pros, that we forget or get rusty on the things that we have to talk
about and take part in, to make the tournament environment accessible
to newer players in general. For those of you who are already beyond
experts at this sort of thing, it never hurts to go over some of the
basics again to further solidify your foundation of knowledge on the
subject. The tournament organizers you work with DO notice the
difference, and it will result in you getting more frequent work and at
higher rates of return. And we can all appreciate that. :)
There will be three main areas I am going to detail in this article.
They are tournament beginning procedures, announcements and information
disbursement, and finally ruling procedures during the events. For the
purpose of this article, the context is that of a prerelease tournament
or other "major" that isn't as tight on REL as a PTQ would be.
At the beginning of the tournament, you have the opportunity to do a
number of things with your lead time that will make the event
considerably more enjoyable for both the staff and the players.
1. Tables. These need to be spread out so that the average gamer, a
19-year-old male that weighs about 422 pounds (that's 300 kilograms for
those of you reading this from Europe), has room to sit comfortably. :)
Also, table numbering is important. If you need the high-numbered
tables to run side events later that day, then by all means just number
straight down the line, but if you don't, then I recommend numbering
the tables with two games to a table, then going back and putting the
next sequential high number between those games. That means in a room
with 25 tables, the table numbering will go 1, 51, 2, 3, 52, 4, 5, 53,
6, 7, 54, 8, 9, 55, 10, 11, and so on. That makes the tournament get
less crowded as the rounds go on, and the players appreciate this, I
2. Registration. So far, the best system for registration seems to be
to have one person on the computer who knows DCI reporter, one person
taking money, and one person with DCI cards for new players. The line
will pass the DCI card guy first, who will hand an index card to each
player, and a new DCI card to anyone who needs one, and on that index
card they write their name, DCI number, address, e-mail, whatever. The
money taker takes their card and processes their entry fee. The cards
are handed off to the computer person who enters them into the system.
With a mere three people, one of whom can be the head judge and another
of whom can be the TO, you can adequately register a very large event
in record time. The key is organization, each person knowing what they
have to do to get the players in and ready.
3. Have all your decks and packs dumped into large boxes so your staff
can hand them out quickly and easily. Have pens. Have paper with
registration sheets ready to go. It's surprising how many tournaments
are run without regard to these simple preparations.
4. For that matter, a local TO, level 3 judge Ray Powers, had the
fortuitous idea of keeping a "bring list" for major events, and makes
sure he has everything on that bring list in the box every time for a
big event. It includes stuff like extra printer ink cartridges, extra
tape, scissors, extra index cards, spare basic land, a ream of paper,
$50 in small change, some Sharpies, surface cleaning spray and paper
towels, and other miscellaneous items. Few problems come up during an
event that Ray's "bring list" doesn't account for. It makes for smooth
5. Above all, take the time early on to talk to players entering the
tournament area early that you don't recognize. Pro players will often
show up at the last minute, while newbies come early to make sure they
don't miss the sign-up or anything like that. A quick and friendly chat
to them telling them what's going to happen goes a long way. "Well,
we're going to register everyone, then there will be seating, then some
time to open and register your decks, then you'll have about an hour to
build your deck. Then we start round one. There will be six or seven
rounds, best two out of three games. You can withdraw any time you
want, but you're welcome to play all the rounds, win or lose." This is
basic stuff that not all new players know. Many of them assume it will
be an elimination event, or that their opponent will get to keep their
cards if they lose, and so forth... take this time to set their fears
Eventually everyone will be signed in, and it's time for opening
announcements. I like to tell everyone roughly the following
information. You may find this format useful.
1. Welcome everyone! This is the (Name of set) Prerelease. This is a
sealed-deck tournament. I am Mike Bahr, your head judge for today. Your
other judges will be A, B, and C. If at any time during the day you
aren't sure what's happening in your game, or need to know something
about the event, just raise your hand and call for a "Judge!" and we
will be happy to help you.
2. [I like to name the dealers next, if possible.] Joining us today to
accomodate your collecting needs are, in order from left to right
across the back wall, Arizona Gamer, Gamer's Edge, Jester's Court,
Atomic Comics, and Kards 4 You. Please do support their businesses, as
they have come all the way out here to the ASU Convention Center to
support your hobby and offer their wares.
3. The bathrooms are to the left and right of the front door, in the
corners. Please clean up after yourselves. [Note: saying this doesn't
help, but we're all eternal optimists.] There is a McDonalds and a Taco
Bell half a mile east of here, at the intersection. There may be other
food available nearby, we don't know for sure. In the back, some of the
dealers have Coke and candy available. There will be a lunch break
after round two, and we will post the time for round three before round
two begins, so that you'll know how much time you have before you
4. Here is what we're going to do. Each of you will be receiving a deck
and three boosters shortly. When I say to, and not before, you will
open your product, sort it by color, and record the quantity of each
card you opened on your registration sheet in the Total column. When
you've recorded all your cards, put your name and DCI number in the
"Registered by" box at the top, and await further instructions. After
this a random number of you will be swapping decks. You'll then be able
to build your own playdeck and you'll have access to up to three extra
5. The format is best two out of three games. There is a 50 minute
limit on each round. When the judge calls time, after the turn in which
time was called, there will be a total of five additional turns in the
game. That's not five for each player, but five Total. If you feel
that your opponent is playing at an improper tempo, feel free to call a
judge. Cheating will not be tolerated at this event. When your match
ends, you and your opponent will need to report to the judge who is at
the computer. Tell them the result of the match, and if either of you
wishes to withdraw from the tournament, you need to say so at that
6. There are 158 players, that translates to eight swiss rounds, and
there will be prizes for the top 8, with no cut and no playoff. All of
the top 8 will get a box of product. Prizes will go down to 32nd place,
so hang around if you can to see if you get anything.
7. Any questions?
After that, you pretty much just get them started. All the judges
should roam about the room taking care of player questions, while the
head judge stays at the microphone (or front podium, or pulpit, etc)
and steps the players through the process.
During the tournament rounds themselves, there are a number of rulings
that will be somewhat similar. You'll want to know these "commons" and
be ready with a careful and detailed spiel on how each one works. New
players might as well learn now so they'll know when it's PTQ time and
much more is at stake.
1. Be ready to explain the time limit procedures over and over again.
Once players know them, they will spread the wisdom. Keep people aware
that swiss round time expiration just results in an incomplete game,
and that we don't start "going by life total" until elimination rounds.
In elimination rounds, if any, especially in side drafts, explain that
after the 5 turns have elapsed, the life totals are compared. If they
are tied, the next life total change will decide the game.
2. When a problem comes up that involves putting things on the stack,
don't hesitate to back them up a couple steps (since it's just then
happening... we don't usually want to back things up, but in this case
there's no harm done) and make them play it out step by step. They'll
ask you "what happens if I...?" and your answer is, "I can't tell you
what strategic impact it might have, but the rule on X doing Y is that,
when X happens, Y happens." Then let them figure it out from there.
Such as "If I cast Plague Wind, does my opponent's Nightwind Glider
die?" Your response is "Well, what Protection From Black does is, it
prevents any effects from targetting that permanent, it prevents damage
of that color, and creatures of that color can't block it. Now, if
Plague Wind does any of those things, it won't kill the Glider. If
Plague Wind does NOT do any of those things, if its effect doesn't
mention targetting, damage, or blocking, then it will kill the Glider."
That might sound to you like an obvious coaching answer, but I'm here
to tell you folks, that the average new player is not handed a decision
with that info. They will now know the rule, you'll watch as it dawns
on them how the rule works, and then usually they'll cast the Plague
Wind. Far from coaching them, what we've actually done is made sure
they weren't penalized because their local judge never taught them the
rules correctly. Given the rules, a player will calculate the proper
play entirely on their own, and will be smarter for the experience.
3. There may be events of newer players not understanding the play/draw
rule, mulliganing improperly, that sort of thing. If you can figure the
player in question to be inexperienced, it's best to step them through
the correct version of the procedure, and issue no warnings.
4. In instances of pro players trying to rules-lawyer new players in
relatively blatant fashion, do not hesitate to warn them for
unsportsmanlike conduct. A player who has true pro aspirations and
wants to be on top of his game, respected by all, has to learn that
there's a time and place for sticklership and that it isn't here. In
fact, the better-sport players I've spoken to will hold themselves to
the highest level of rules, while helping their novice opponent play
properly and allowing backups when applicable. "Um, Skittering Skirge,
Spined Fluke, done." "Say, dude, you did know the Skirge dies when you
announce the Fluke, right? And that the Fluke will have to be
sacrificed to its own effect." "Um, no, I didn't know that." "Wanna
back it up, then? Skirge in play, Fluke goes back into your hand and
untap 3 lands. Anything else you want to cast?" Clearly the new player
is better for the experience, and the pro player gets knowledge of one
card in the opponent's hand (Fluke) as his/her reward for being a good
sport. It's not perfect, but for now, it's as good as we can make it.
5. You'll see players who are new getting into side events and failing
to drop from the main event... or playing the wrong opponent... some of
these things will result in losses even if we're being lenient. When
something like this happens, be straightforward with them, don't dance
around the issue, and just neutrally explain what happens. They'll be
happier to learn it from you under these circumstances than if they had
learned it on their way out of a Top 8 from your next PTQ. They might
be upset right then and there, but they'll remember loud and clear that
you are a judge that keeps everything running by the book, and that
makes them more inclined to "drop bank" to attend your future events.
The most important thing that I try to remember about all these basic
guidelines is that they are just the first pieces of the great puzzle
you'll start to understand as you judge more and more events with newer
players. The key is to get busy, to judge as often as you are able and
learn by doing.
A final note on this. Why do we care so much about new players? For
those just tuning in, here is why new players and casual players are
such a key to the tournament world and to your judging career:
1. Peter Adkison himself, Wizards' CEO and Hasbro's "Chief of Cards",
has said in numerous interviews and press pieces that the casual player
is the growth segment of the TCG industry. Balancing that against the
constant stream of old beardies selling out of Magic and leaving the
tournament environment, and you'll see that keeping casual players is
the key to making our Magic tournament environment thrive.
2. Players have a lingering loyalty to the first "big-time" judge they
have played under. They also have a loyalty to the first Magic player
that explains the rules to them and helps them improve their skills. If
you fill both these roles for new players, they will be loyal to you.
If they are loyal to you, attendance at your events will increase, and
if you own a store, store revenue will increase. I know these things
from personal experience, and I'm not alone.
3. Finally, the casual player base, even if it were equal to the pro
player base (instead of being far larger, which it is), represents a
far greater amount of the "collective wallet" of Magic: the Gathering.
This point sort of dove-tails the other two. Your effective and
friendly interactions with the average Joe at your tournaments will
pave the way for those same tournaments, and your local shops that
support them, to be financially stable.
So that's it. That's the article. I hope this information has helped to
firm up your own knowledge of the habits and procedures that help to
maximize the positive side of judge-player interaction. The better we
as judges get at these "basics", the happier our playing public is,
most especially the growth segment: casual players. Remember that as a
judge you represent and reflect upon the business that your tournament
organizer is running: the tournament itself. You want to deal with
players in a professional manner and make sure they know who's in
control and who's taking care of their needs. Like Vin Diesel says in
the movie "Boiler Room", "Sir, I don't need your business. I value your
Good luck, all!!