The Justice League – Who Judges the Judges?

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Thursday, March 19th – For this week, I want to start by reviewing my poll from last month’s article, then move on to a topic broadly on improvement and feedback for judges.

For this week I want to start by reviewing my poll from last month’s article, then move on to a topic broadly on improvement and feedback for judges.

A word on my poll from last month. Out of 280 respondents, around 200 of you voted for judges being able to answer rules questions about future events at a professional level. The vote was pretty evenly split between sticking to direct rules quotes versus explanatory dialogue, but the overwhelming impression that the poll leaves me with is that you guys want us to help you and your opponents with the rules, even with potentially thousands of dollars on the line. I guess the attractiveness of beating someone through superior strategic play still has some allure!

I even had an interesting and related problem crop up in the early rounds of a PTQ last week. A player asked me whether he could sacrifice his Ghost Quarter, targeting itself, to fetch a swamp. Fact 1 – You can target Ghost Quarter with its own ability. Fact 2 – the ability will become countered on resolution for having an illegal target. (Aside – I wonder if M2010 will bring back ‘fizzle’?) How do you answer the question? I decided on answering fully – that it’s a legal play but that the ability would be countered, so no swamp. I felt at the time that allowing the player to sacrifice a land for no effect on an early turn of a game in Extended could be such a huge deficit over a small misunderstanding – and the question asked directly included whether or not he can fetch a swamp this way. Might the answer have been different if he had just asked if the Ghost Quarter can target itself? I don’t know – I hope I never get asked… hehe.

One final thing I’d like to point out on the subject is that allowing judges to answer rules questions doesn’t close the door on winning games through technically correct play. For one, a judge can answer questions presented to them, but the player has to realize that there’s even a question to be asked! Zvi tried to evoke this in his column way back on the mothership, about playing in a way that your opponent doesn’t realize that they’re missing something. In his example, he had in play a creature that couldn’t block, and his only route to winning the game was allowing his opponent to believe that it could block. As such, it became the optimal play to hold back the creature even when it had a clear opportunity to attack. Why do this? Because attacking with it could break the illusion that it could block.

At least twice in PTQs I’ve faced players who are clearly not sure of their timing rules, and I’ve allowed their timing confusion to remain during the match to my advantage. For instance, some players will play 2 spells back to back even when you have counter mana up. You could react by grumpily insisting that they give you a chance to counter the first spell before playing the second. Or, you could, after seeing the 2nd card, say wait wait, I wanted to counter that – indicating the first card. Of course, my nice side usually kicks in after the match and explains the proper play of waiting between spells to give me less information, but there’s no way I’m going to shatter their rhythm during the game.

So, on to the main topic for this week’s article – “Who judges the judges?” Part of the improvement cycle for any judge is feedback and review, and most judges are interested in improving themselves! Personally I’ve been happy at Level 2 for a while as it’s given me the opportunity to head judge at the PTQ level, and places me in the elite that is the 6 judges in the UK certified at higher than level 1. I’ve been asked before at international events whether or not I’m interested in going to the next level, and previously I’ve been kind of happy to coast along at L2.

Not any longer.

Before, I saw no reason to move on past L2. L2 gave me everything I wanted – head judging PTQs, a pretty much guaranteed invite to judge at UK Nationals, and to potential for sponsorship to international events. However, I feel that without a goal to continuously improve myself, I’ve atrophied a little. After all, it’s fairly hard to keep your skills at a constant level – they’re usually being sharpened or dulled, and I owe it to myself to sharpen up. This very column is part of my assault on L3 status – something which Riki Hayashi recently achieved (well done!).

What I personally need to focus on is the community aspect of judging. Not the crime-fighting, thief-tackling antics of some other members of the Justice League, but the togetherness of the players and judges involved in the game. So, what can you do to help?

Players – what can you do to improve the judges around you? Ask questions! It may surprise you, but most of us judges don’t judge because we enjoy sorting people’s decks out in the deck check routine. We don’t enjoy wrestling with DCI reporter to get the printouts we need, slice up the result slips, and sort out the admin that you guys create. But we do love judging, and part of that is being able to show off our knowledge, and ferret for things we haven’t yet considered. Who got me wondering how Ninjitsu and Planeswalkers interact? A player. Who tries to push the boundary of competitive behavior in their quest for match wins? Players.

(For what it’s worth, Ninjas have to continue to attack the same thing that the original attacker did – no switching allowed.)

Recently a bunch of my friends decided to try their hand at creating their own decks for casual play, by which I mean they created their own cards and assembled decks from them. Watching the creations crash into each other in a veritable firework display of unforeseen interactions with oddly templated cards really exercises your rules brain! However, there’s no need to go to quite these lengths to exercise your rules knowledge. Players are always coming up with interesting hypotheticals. Share them with your judges!

Judgelings – what can you do to improve the judges around you? Ask for training and mentoring! Ask for opportunities to practice judging and discuss your own improvement. Force the mentoring judge to re-examine their judging assumptions, and question just why it is that they do the things they do in the way they do. Speaking of mentoring opportunities, I am looking for people to work with in the UK. Especially if there’s any of you in the South West UK reading this column and wondering what it would be like to be a judge, please get in touch with me and let’s see what we can do to help each other.

My local PTQ has been and gone for this season, but don’t forget that at Nationals Qualifiers, PTQs and Prereleases there’s usually someone available to certify up and coming judges – make use of them! Introduce yourself at the earliest opportunity and see where it takes you!

Judges – what can you do to improve the judges around you? Review judges that you work with. Ideally talk to the judge in question at the event you worked with them, but even if you can’t do so, write something up in the judge center afterwards. This article is still an excellent read covering what makes a good review, and why the DCI reviews its judges in the first place. In fact, I believe you can review judges even if you’re not a judge yourself. Have you got something that you really want one of your local judges to hear about? Review them! Head to judge.wizards.com, sign in with your DCI number, hit the Review tab, and let fly!

What can you do for yourself as a judge on the continuous path of self improvement? Use the resources available to you. Take practice exams in the Judge Center. Read and join in with discussions on DCIJUDGE-L. Introduce yourself on the #mtgjudge IRC channel. Write for your community – it doesn’t have to be SCG, it can be your local website used for advertising your tournaments. Read the comprehensive rules. Study the comprehensive rules. Ask higher level judges what it took to get where they are. Play some Magic to remind yourself what it’s like to be on the other end of the judge call. Constant self improvement is hard work – the temptation to remain in your comfort zone is strong in all walks of life. However, the number of people willing to challenge you to achieve your best is a great indicator of your influence in the community, and how strongly that community wants you to succeed.

Above all? Judge, judge, and judge.

Before I go, another poll.

For the forums – what would you like me to cover next? Push me out of my comfort zone and give me a topic to write research and write about.

Paul Smith
Level 2 DCI judge
eratos on the forums

PS: I hope “Judgelings” comes across in the cuddly friendly way I intend it to. Aspiring judges are the life-blood of the DCI, and I wouldn’t want to accidentally offend you!