The Justice League – Mixed Bag

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Thursday, May 14th – Every judge, at the beginning of their journey, was not a judge. Also, every judge has to have started as a player at some point. I think this assertion is easy to prove – you learn so much about the game just by attempting to play it, that I can’t really see how you can effectively judge without playing the game.

UK and Ireland Judge Conference.

Recently we held the UK and Ireland Judge Conference. If you’re a judge in the area and you didn’t go, you really missed a treat. There were seminars on all sorts from Communication Policy, progressing through judge levels, the Physical aspects of judging, through to a Wipeout style game of Magic rules, policy and trivia, not to mention free stuff galore.

(In case Wipeout never made it to the U.S. – you’re given a board with 12 answers on it. 8 of the answers are correct, 4 are Wipeouts. When you have control of the board, you have to try to find a correct answer. If you do, you earn some points and can then either guess again or pass. If you hit a Wipeout, you lose all your points for the round. Exchange points for boosters, and make the categories things like “Places that have held a Pro Tour,” “Artwork of vanilla Magic cards,” “Infractions penalized by Game Loss,” and “Power/Toughness combinations that don’t exist in Magic,” and you have some idea of the shenanigans that ensued!)

As a result of the judge conference there has been an absolute flurry of activity on the dcijudge.co.uk message boards to which all certified judges in the UK and Ireland have access. Some level 0 judges have been allowed access to the board to assist with their judge development. If you are an uncertified judge in the UK or Ireland and want to have access to the boards, then get in touch with me (PM to eratos on these forums) and explain who you who is currently mentoring you, and I’ll sort you out with an account so that you can stay in touch with the community.

If you’re looking to kick-start discussion and development amongst local judges, consider a private forum of your own. We have 100 registered members, though only about 35 of those I would consider active. Discussion on the board currently ranges from cascade and it’s interaction with split cards, attempts to stall using a cascade deck with no early drops, reports of recent tournaments at which we’ve judged, and post with upcoming judging opportunities. It’s done wonders for the UK and Ireland community – perhaps it can do good things wherever you’re based.

UK Regionals

Speaking of tournament reports, UK Regionals have kicked off, with recent tournaments in Birmingham, Richmond, Bristol, and Leicester. On the whole attendance seems to be down – where Birmingham can easily approach 100 players for a PTQ, this one was just over 50, and where Bristol has previously attracted 50 for National Qualifiers, we only drew 27 this time. Whether this is to do with the fact that our Nationals are being held midweek this year remains to be seen. I have a small conundrum or two at the end of the article regarding some situations that cropped up in Regionals this weekend, and look forward to your input.

Judge Stages

As promised in my last article, I want to take a look at my version of the judging stages that I listed in the bonus section of my last article.

Stage 0: A beginner player. He plays casual decks with own rules.

Why did I choose to represent the journey with Stage 0? Because every judge, at the beginning of their journey, was not a judge. Also, every judge has to have started as a player at some point. I think this assertion is easy to prove – you learn so much about the game just by attempting to play it, that I can’t really see how you can effectively judge without playing the game. Part of judging well is having the ability to put yourself in the players’ shoes, work out what they’re thinking, realize that it is easy to forget triggers on particularly complex boards, and that drawing an extra card because two were stuck together is actually quite avoidable with a little care.

You will recognize that you’re at Stage 0 as a judge because you’ve never had a thought about judging in your life. You probably don’t even know that judges exist. I mean, really, people stand around just to help you out with rules problems at tournaments? As you’re reading this article, you are not a Stage 0 judge.

Stage 1: An improving player, he can get through simple games and knows about the starting hand size, turn order, and a broad idea that pretty much anything you do can be responded to by your opponent in such a way that their thing happens first. Begins to realize that there are special situations that they cannot handle with their intuitive grasp of the rules.

Now the path begins. How have we got from Stage 0 to Stage 1? Contact with experienced players. This probably takes the form of getting to a local club, talking to people at a local store, maybe even just bumping into a Magic website’s forums. Either way, this player has come in from the wild untamed lands of casual play where Dark Rituals allow you to get three Swamps from your bag and put them in play, and can now be expected to get through games with minimal assistance on the real basics. Contact with players immediately brings with it contact with the stack, which is for me one of the defining parts of Magic. At this stage, you might not even know to call it the stack, you won’t understand the intricacies of passing priority, but you will have the basic concept that when you do anything, I can sometimes get in the way.

You will recognize yourself as being at Stage 1 if you could get a totally new player up and running. Thrust a simple deck into their hands, and get them slinging spells. Plus, if you have the inclination to actively go out and do this, not only will you be expanding the Magic community, but you’ll probably find there’s a little bit of judge in you bursting to get out, if only you gave it the tools.

Stage 2: Can begin to guess what the judge is going to say when they call them to a table. Has heard phrases like “state-based effects,” “priority,” “layers,” and “timestamps,” but can’t necessarily define them.

I’ve compacted quite a lot into this stage — first, you’re aware of judges being accessible at tournaments. You’ve called on them before, you’re beginning to pick up their language. Progression into this stage again involves contact, but now experienced players aren’t enough… you need to be in contact with judges. Again, merely playing frequently at tournaments run by a certified judge will do this easily. This is, however, the first stage where a little work is required on your part. If you want to get to Stage 2, you have to pay attention to what judges say to you when they answer your queries. You have to ask them questions when you’re unsure of things, and allow them to talk about what in all likelihood is their favorite subject, without letting it all go over your head.

You’ll recognize yourself as being at Stage 2 if when you call for a judge, you realize that most of the time you have a suspicion of what the correct answer is, and are just confirming your thoughts, rather than being completely blank. After all, most game situations that come up are going to be similar to situations you’ve encountered before if you play enough. It’s reasonably rare for something completely brand new to happen. For instance, Cascade is new, but the concept of free spells is not. Hybrid mana, when that first appeared in Ravnica, really was brand new. (Correct me if I’m wrong here – can anyone think of a previously existing concept similar enough to Hybrid that you could not call it new?)

Stage 3: A knowledgeable player rules-wise, who starts to realize that judging isn’t just about the rules of the game, but also tournament policies and sometimes penalties. Players will approach you with rules questions with some confidence that your answer will be correct.

Stage 3 requires real work to get to. How do you know that you’re a knowledgeable player rules-wise? The simple answer is that you don’t unless someone has told you, which probably involves a test. Thankfully, judge.wizards.com has a test for just this very occasion. It’s called the Rules Advisor test. Passing this test gives you peace of mind that when you think you know what you’re talking about regarding the rules, you probably actually do. How do you actually pass the test? Practice and study would be a good start. Practice tests are also available at judge.wizards.com, and study will involve the Comprehensive Rules. My favorite place to look up the Comprehensive Rules is actually yawgatog.com – because some kind soul has taken the trouble to insert hyperlinks into the rules for easy navigation. However, the official resource is here, from which you can get the Comprehensive Rules in TXT, DOC, RDF or PDF format, as well as other handy resources like the Keyword Cheat Sheet and links to the set FAQs.

After all this practice and study on the rules, you will surely notice a disconnection between your rules knowledge and the local judge’s activity. Perhaps this is really stage 3.5. There’s a lot of non-rules stuff to do with judging, like the logistics of organizing tables, booster packs, decklists, and players into an actual tournament. You will probably have witnessed judges hand out penalties at this stage, you may even have received one or several yourself. You may even have witnessed a disqualification, and begun to wonder about the events that lead to such drastic consequences.

You will recognize yourself as being at Stage 3 if you’ve passed the Rules Advisor test but still appreciate there is much to learn.

Stage 4: Knows enough about DCI reporter to actually run a tournament to completion, with enough confidence in rules and policy knowledge to deal with any problems that may occur.

Stage 4 is independence. You don’t need a supporting TO or any other form of handholding. You have all the required technology to handle a tournament, just put you in a room full of players and say go, and you will get the job done. That’s not to say that you can’t have a Level 3+ judge’s phone number tucked away in your pocket for emergencies, nor that you will actually know the answer to everything that comes up. But you will be able to handle every situation, even if some of it is guesswork at times. Your skills with player diplomacy will start to sharpen in this stage, and player’s confidence in you can only grow from here.

How do you get from Stage 3 to Stage 4? In my experience this comes naturally to most people. Judges like to prove that they can do everything themselves – they can be nearly as competitive as players in some respects! However, if this isn’t the case for you, then you can start by identifying your weaknesses. Ask yourself why you couldn’t run a tournament by yourself. If may be lack of opportunity, if so see if you can run a booster draft with some friends some time. It may be lack of familiarity with tools like DCI reporter – if so get hold of a download (There should be a download link here, if you’re TO enabled) and practice with it, or seek out a scorekeeper at an event you’ve played at and ask if they can show you the ropes.

You will recognize yourself as being at Stage 4 if you’ve ever run a tournament. Even if there were only 6 players and it wasn’t sanctioned.

Stage 5: Local players trust your judgment, and know that if a situation comes up that you don’t know how to handle, you’ll deal with it in a good way, and come back with the ‘correct’ answer later. Has probably been on the staff of a PTQ or GP.

Stage 5 is like Stage 4, just on a larger scale. It’s independence, but in a form that players recognize. They will look at you and recognize you as a judge, have confidence in your ability to judge, see you walk in to a tournament and think, “Oh good, today will run smoothly because we’ve got a good judge”.

The transition from Stage 4 to 5 is all about experience. Just like you progressed from 0 up to 2 by playing more, you’ll get to 5 by judging more, and learning from your mistakes as you go. Believe me, you will make mistakes on your journey through these stages, and seeking the opportunity to review your own performance, and set goals for improvement next time around are a great way to deal with them.

Somebody came up with a situation you didn’t know the rules for? Look it up when you get home. Contact another judge and ask them. Log in to IRC on the Efnet server, join #mtgjudge, and ask away. Don’t let those nagging doubts worry you – seek out your weaknesses and systematically destroy them.

Stage 5 is probably where you certify for Level 1 of the DCI judge program. To certify, you need to seek out a Level 2 judge – but if you’ve made it this far you probably already know who to contact. If not, try PTQs in the area for the upcoming season, large prereleases like those held in London, or a Grand Prix or National Championships that you can get to.

Stage 6: Has Head judged at an event where they weren’t the only judge, is becoming known on the GP circuit or the wider judge community. Begins to mentor judges at a stage earlier to their own.

Stage 6 is Leadership. You’ve proven your worth to the DCI program time and again, and have been certified to Level 1. Now you’re using that certification to become a beacon of judging knowledge in your area. Up and coming judges in the area know you as someone who was a lot of the right answers to hand, or at least the ability to look them up quickly. Judges from earlier stages will actively seek you out to progress through their own stages.

To progress in this stage, you have to be well known in your community. You don’t get to Head Judge tournaments with other staff by fluke, you are put there because you’ve proven yourself capable of doing the job, and this has been recognized by the people who matter. How do you become well known in your community? I’d say communication is the key. You have to talk to people at events. Do you have a local judge forum? If so, you probably participate quite actively to be at this stage.

One thing that every judge can do to progress at this stage is to become actively involved in the review process. Review other judges, those above you and below you, to help them identify their own strengths and areas for improvement. In doing so, you will find your own strengths and weaknesses reflected back at you. Judges should be involved in the review process long before this stage, but cannot progress through this stage without such participation.

Don’t forget that at this level you still have to maintain your rules and policy knowledge, not least because over time these things change! Don’t get caught with your pants down at a tournament because you didn’t realize the 2HG mulligan rule had changed, know where accurate sources of information lie and check them for changes, especially before going to an important tournament. Preparedness is one of the hallmarks of a great leader after all.

Stage 7: Can head judge PTQs and lead teams at GPs. Becomes aware of their influence on the local and national judging community, and does their best to affect it positively. May have been sponsored to the Pro Tour.

Stage 8: Actively contributes to building the judging community, usually leads teams at larger events and head judges PTQs. May be called upon to head judge some Nationals, shadow GP Head Judges, run Side Events for a day or similar. Probably has been sponsored to a Pro Tour event and certified a judge to Level 1. Equates to Level 3 in the DCI judge program.

Stage 9: Contributes to DCI policy and tournament logistics. Is trusted to try out new ideas at large tournaments based on their phenomenal experience. Head Judges Grand Prix tournaments. Equates to Level 4 in the DCI judge program.

Stage 10: Top of the pile, you are DCI policy, you are the Pro Tour Head Judge, you are the face of the worldwide judging community. Equates to Level 5 in the DCI judge program.

I’m going to skip over the progress from Stage 6-10 for 2 reasons. First, this article has already become quite long enough, but second, my experience changes here – for I believe I am at Stage 7 myself. As such, the progression through to Stage 6 is something I feel I can comment on with confidence, looking through my own history and development to realize how I progressed through. However, the path onward is filled with a bit of guesswork, as it’s something I haven’t personally achieved yet.

Finally, with some apology to the other great judges out there, Stage 10 for me is Sheldon Menery. This may have a lot to do with my appreciation of the floating head on this very website, but take one thing away from this – if you get an opportunity to be in Sheldon’s company and talk about Magic, you will find in there a passion that some can only dream of.

To the Polls!

Last week’s poll matched my own expectations. 86% of respondents indicated that their response to an opponent’s technical misplay hinged on the rules enforcement level of the tournament and how annoying the opponent may be. There’s a strategy tip there, folks – don’t annoy your opponents, and some of them will allow you takebacks you wouldn’t otherwise deserve! This week’s poll is following on in a similar vein on takebacks:

This weekend I observed a game at Regionals, a REL Competitive event, where a player had 5 mana up, a Mutavault, 3 Swamps and an Island. He taps the 3 Swamps to play Infest. Then, I think he realizes that the Infest will kill a Tidehollow Sculler, which will return Agony Warp to his hand, and the way he’s tapped his mana won’t allow him to play the Warp (he has 1U up). He hurriedly taps the Mutavault and untaps a Swamp to leave UB up instead. The opponent appears to be totally fine about this ‘takeback.’

I asked this question on #mtgjudge and to some local judges, and have a 3-3 split now about what to do! As such, I’m opening it up to a wider audience to see if I can get a better picture of the popular opinion.

Finally, some forum bait. A player in a tournament this past weekend played Jace’s -1 ability to draw a card. Later in the turn, they then played the +2 ability to have both players draw cards, which both players did. Later still, the same player realized they had activated Jace twice in the same turn and called a judge. What do you think should happen next?

Join me next month, where I tackle some techniques for actually learning about the rules of our beautiful game.