FINAL JUDGEMENT: The One Thing You Need

A lot of people have been asking how to become a judge; it starts with one thing.

During Star City’s hiatus, I still fielded many "Ask The Judge" questions from loyal readers (you know who you are, Steve Goble). The traffic flow was reduced somewhat, but there were still many folks out there in need of assistance, so I kept busy enough.

What I noticed most, however, was the number of times folks said something akin to "I’m about to take the Level 1 Judge test, and I want to make sure I have this right…"

I’m excited about the interest in the DCI Judge Certification program. It’s had its ups and downs in recent years, but it’s getting pretty good. I’m always here to give whatever help I can to folks who want to get certified, so feel free to keep those questions coming (except for "hey, what’s on the test?"). Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss the things you need to know, and more importantly, the things you need to be, to be a great Judge.

What we’re going to talk about this week is the foundation. Everything else follows.


Not guru-level rules knowledge. Not memorizing every card. Not regurgitating everything Paul Barclay says.


Simply put, integrity is doing what’s right even when no one is looking. You cannot function effectively without it. The players, tournament organizers, and other judges must have faith that you’re going to do the right thing all the time. With integrity, you build credibility. With credibility, you build trust with the people around you. They know they can turn your way and get fair, impartial treatment, and judging of the highest quality.

Sometimes, integrity means doing what’s right even if it hurts you somehow. If you’re judging a tournament and your best friend cheats, everyone needs to know that you’re going to hold him accountable. Integrity means no special favors for "name" players or harsher treatment of "randoms." It means holding everyone to the same, exacting standard.

Having integrity is hard. Sometimes, the right thing to do is also the most difficult. Taking the path of least resistance can be easier or less time-consuming. Resist that urge. The game demands it; the players and your fellow Judges deserve it.

Integrity also means admitting when you don’t know. When in doubt, even the most experienced Judges will consult with each other. Sure, Dan Gray-like knowledge is wonderful, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a little extra time to make sure that you’re right. A single mistake can topple a mountain of great work.

That being said, what’s most difficult is admitting when you’re wrong. We’re all human. It’s bound to happen. We’re going to screw up on occasion. When we do, we must be quickest to admit it to ourselves and to others. If you can rectify the situation cleanly (e.g. no significant game actions have occurred), do so. If not, inform the players involved anyway. Either way, you can’t let players or other Judges continue under a misapprehension.

As I said before, I’m very excited about the large amount of interest in the Judge Certification program. I will continue to be involved in the process of creating Judges, but I’m only interested in developing Judges of the highest caliber. The first step along that difficult road is having integrity, and plenty of it.

And that’s my Final Judgement.

Sheldon K. Menery