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JUDGE POINTS: The Head Judge

Sheldon Menery

The role of Head Judge at an event of significant size carries with it a different set of responsibilities than does being a Floor Judge or Head Judging a small event. At a larger event, the Head Judge is not merely an interpreter of rules and distributor of penalties. The Head Judge is a leader, an organizer, and an ultimate authority.


The Head Judge must inspire confidence in his team and in the players that he is capable of resolving any difficulty that arises. This doesn't necessarily mean knowing every answer-it means knowing where to find every answer. The Head Judge must also exemplify all the values of the Judge and Staff team, because he represents them to the players and spectators. He must be well-presented, courteous, and competent.

Leaders are not above any task. The Head Judge can empty trash or do deck checks like anyone. Like the military General, however, the reason we don't see them doing many of these tasks is so that can maintain constant oversight of the event. It's not desirable to have the Head Judge on a narrow-focus task; he serves the event better by keeping his eyes on a broader scope.


At large events, there are many tasks which require attention. A single person cannot see to them all. The Head Judge must delegate the responsibility for these tasks to the staff. He will appoint a number of Team Leaders, dependent on the size of the Judge crew and the event. He will then pass responsibility for certain tasks, such as Deck Checks or Administration, to the Team Leaders. To keep people fresh, the responsibilities generally rotate each round, day, or portion of day.

It's important that the Head Judge sees to the personal needs of the staff. This includes ensuring they have appropriate amounts of food and rest during the course of the day. Magic events can run in excess of 12-14 hours; this is a long time to spend on one's feet. A well-rested, well-fed team will function more efficiently than a tired, hungry one.

Using the Team approach for Deck Checking at Canadian Nationals

Ultimate Authority

The Head Judge must be fearlessly decisive. From handling appeals to disqualifying offenders, he must constantly keep the best interests of the event and the DCI in mind. Event integrity is takes precedence over personal interest; this is the price of responsibility.

Under certain circumstances, the Head Judge may work the floor, but it is generally the responsibility of the Floor Judge to be the first point of contact for player questions. A slight but obvious degree of separation between the Floor Judge and the Head Judge provides the Head Judge with an authoritative aura. It's more likely to circumvent difficulties during an appeal or problem than excessive familiarity will create.

The Head Judge must also be capable of explaining why. Inexperienced Judges may know the end result question, but they may have difficulty explaining to players how they got there. The Head Judge must be capable of explaining rulings and penalties accurately and clearly.

The Menery Method


Preparation is the key to a good event. The Tournament Organizer has anticipated the needs of the players and staff; I expect that I should as well. The event will run smoothly if nothing goes wrong, so the I prepare for disaster. If nothing goes horribly awry, then all the better. If something does, I'm ready for it. Here is a short list of things I take into consideration going into an event:

  • What difficulties are inherent in the format? Is it time-consuming (Limited vs. Constructed)? Will that have impact on the site (like does it close down at a particular hour)? Does it need additional materials (extra land)? Are the cards for the draft stamped?
  • What are the current ruling difficulties (for both Judges and players)? Have a written list prepared beforehand and then solicit input from the team.
  • Are there any challenging environmental factors? Is the roof leaky or is a foot of snow piling up outside? How might the environment affect the disposition of the players?
  • Who is on the Judge team? Delegation is better with a staff of experienced Judges; a more directive style is necessary for a less-experienced team. How are we going to do deck checks (methodologies differ regionally)?
  • Is language an issue? In North America is this rarely an issue, but in other parts of the world can be extremely explosive.

Mike Donais, Head Judge for Canadian Nationals, knows the importance of good preparation

The Pre-Meeting

The single most important thing before the event is the Judge meeting. Here is where we set the tone for the entire event. In addition to discussing the things listed above and how we'll solve them, I instruct the team on how I'd like to them to philosophically approach the event as a whole:

  • Be nice. We are ambassadors for the DCI. Be courteous to every player, every Judge, every staff member, and every player. Address people as "Sir" and "Ma'am." Never raise your voice. Remain as emotionally detached as possible.
  • We are a team. There are no superstars or unions. We succeed together or we fail together.
  • A short delay is better than a long apology. If you're not sure of a ruling, get your Team Leader or the Head Judge to verify (out of earshot of the players).
  • Understand that the players are under a considerable amount of stress. Never take anything they say personally.
  • If your mother wouldn't be proud of you doing it or saying it, don't do it or say it.
  • There is no problem that together we can't solve.

The Post-Meeting

I like to meet with the Judges at the end of each day as well, to discuss what we did right and what we did wrong during the day, as well as discussing particularly challenging or interesting rulings. We can anticipate and prepare for the following day's challenges.


The most visible member of the event staff, the Head Judge is foundation on which a great team is built. In order to live up to the responsibility, he must prepare himself well.

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