What does it mean to be a certified judge?

If you're reading this, most likely you already know Magic: The Gathering or another Wizards of the Coast trading-card game (Magic being the primary game all judges are required to know), and are interested in becoming a DCI Certified Judge. It may be that you want to help your local tournament organizer by judging at his tournaments (or you are the organizer and looking for some extra knowledge), or you may want to progress further in the judge program; seeking advancement in the DCI Judge Certification Program, participating in the Magic community, and staying active locally and beyond when possible. Both these goals are valuable to the Magic community and may give you a lot of good moments with this game. Anyway, whichever kind of judge you want to become, ask yourself a simple question: why do I want to become a judge? You don't have to have an answer right now, but it's important that you can answer this before you take your first step onto this path.

Although the life of a judge may seem easy, there's a lot more to being a judge than knowing the game's rules. Following is a series of basic questions about judging at Tournaments and the DCI Judge Certification Program. The goal of these questions is to help you understand a little about what it means to be a judge and what you have to do to become one.

So, what is a judge?

Basically, the judge at a tournament is the person responsible for keeping the game fair (much like the referee in any other sport), applying the rules, correcting and penalizing any infractions, answering questions and assisting players in tournament matters. Overall, the basic goal of a judge is to promote an environment that's fair, balanced and pleasant to the players.

There are certain skills that a judge needs to have. A judge must possess a great knowledge of the rules of the game, of its procedures, of the infractions and of the penalties appropriate to the tournament. All these rules are important tools for a judge, and knowing them is fundamental for the judge to perform her duties quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, a judge must possess certain abilities that go beyond the game aspects. A good judge must have team spirit; even in small local tournaments she may be working with other people, such as the Tournament Organizer and the Scorekeeper. A judge must also be patient and open to communication; most of her activities will involve communicating with other people, such as players, fellow judges and other members of the tournament organization.

What is the DCI Judge Certification Program?

Through the Judge Certification Program, the DCI certifies judges in numerous countries, attesting to their ability to act in sanctioned events and, in higher levels of the judging program, perform activities such as the certification of judges. The Certification Program manages the judge testing system, develops the written tests used to evaluate judges at all levels, and provides the necessary tools for judges to improve their skills: such as discussion mailing lists, the sponsorship program and judge rewards (like those cool foil cards we judges receive at Grand Prix and Pro Tours).

What is a Certified Judge?

Certified judges are nice people who have entered the DCI Judge Certification Program and have passed the first steps of the certification process. In order to become a certified judge, a candidate must fulfill certain requisites: such as participation in events, an interview, and passing a written test. By joining the Judge Certification Program you will have the opportunity to improve your judging skills and learn a lot more about the game, tournaments, and judging.

Being a certified judge is volunteer work, very gratifying, but it demands dedication, commitment, and constantly keeping up with the new things that come with the evolution of the game. Even if it is a voluntary activity, being a judge demands a professional attitude, and it is a matter of responsibility. Responsibility to your fellow judges, to the tournament organizers and, above all, to the players. Keep in mind that all of these people dedicated a fair share of their money, time, and effort to the event. A good judge must be capable of this level of dedication, and must strive to keep up to date and able to fulfill her tasks.

What about judge levels?

Certified judges are ranked in levels, from 1 to 5, according to their experience and position in the Certification Program. Each level has its requirements, rewards and duties. See: Judge Level Requirements at www.wizards.com/judge.

Level 1 and 2 judges work mainly in local tournaments (but you can see them in GPs, PTQs, and other large events). Level 2 judges may head judge PTQs and GP Trials and, after some time, may begin to walk the path to expert judge level. In addition, level 2 judges can mentor new judge candidates and test them for level 1.

Expert level judges (those of level 3) perform additional duties. They work on higher-level tournaments and mentor and test candidates for level 1 and 2. Expert judges receive extra rewards for their effort, and have an exclusive mailing list.

Lastly, there are the professional level judges (those of levels 4 and 5) who help set policy, philosophy, and the direction of high-level play and the judge program.

TO, scorekeeper, head judge. Who are those guys?

No man is an island, and judges are no different. In tournaments of all sizes, a judge will work alongside tournament organizers, scorekeepers, and other members of the event staff. It may happen that, in small tournaments, the judge is also the TO, the Scorekeeper or all three. Anyway, it is always good to know who has what responsibilities:

Tournament Organizer: The tournament organizer, or TO, is the person in charge of the tournament. At a local tournament he will probably be the storeowner. The TO is the person who selects the tournament site and staff, provides all the necessary materials for the tournament (such as deck lists, prizes, and so on), pays for the venue, and advertises the event. The tournament organizer is ultimately responsible for the success and reporting of the event.

The TO is an important person in a judge's life; he is in charge of the tournaments the judge works and is the person that will compensate the judge for his hard work. Even if the TO has no influence in rules decisions (this is the realm of the judges), he is the “boss” in all other aspects of the event. Cooperation is the key to a good relationship between judges and the TO. Also, the TO may be a valuable source of advice for a beginning judge.

Scorekeeper: The scorekeeper, as the name implies, is in charge of keeping the scores and results of the matches in the event. The scorekeeper manages the DCI Reporter software (or, in case the tournament is run on paper, manages the paperwork), pairing players, recording the results and penalties, tracking the round time and performing the procedures relevant to the tournament format (assigning draft pods and performing cuts to playoff pairings). The scorekeeper may be a certified judge, but this is not mandatory.

Head Judge: Officially sanctioned events require the physical presence of a head judge during play to adjudicate disputes, interpret rules, assign penalties, and make other official decisions. The head judge is responsible for reporting all warnings issued at the tournament to the DCI, either directly or through the tournament organizer's event report. In most local tournaments there is only one judge, and this is the head judge. In bigger events, where more judges are present, one judge, chosen by the TO, is the head judge of the event, and he will be the final judicial authority in the tournament.

Team Leader: In some events, like Pro Tours, Nationals and GPs, there are a great number of judges. In these cases, judges are gathered in teams, in order to better organize them and assign their tasks. Each team has a leader, usually a more experienced judge who coordinates the team activities and reports to the head judge.

What will my duties be as a judge?

The duties of a judge depend on his level and the kind of tournament at which he is working. At all levels, judges will keep the game fair, answer rules questions from players at the tournament, correct infractions and apply penalties when necessary. Basically, this will represent most of the judging job, especially at small, local tournaments, where, usually, there is only one judge.

Aside from rules matters and players disputes, judges perform some activities related to the tournament organization. Judges post pairings generated by the scorekeeper, check decks and deck lists, keep the tables organized and clearly numbered. They also lend a hand to the TO when necessary: making announcements, looking for missing players and finding unreported match results. After all, besides keeping it fair, we need to keep it organized.

Those are the basic duties of a judge, and in most part are all the tasks a judge will perform in local tournaments. But, if you want to go further in the glorious career of a judge, there will be more things to do. Expert level judges may mentor those who want to certify, and also level 1 and 2 judges. They may perform judge testing up to level 2, and may help to evaluate candidates for level 3. Also, judges of all levels are encouraged to write reports about their judging experiences, submitting those reports to the judges' mailing list, or publishing them in the judges’ section on Wizards' site.

DCI judges are expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity and professionalism at all times -- especially while they are judging, but also when they aren’t, even as players or spectators. If you feel you exhibit integrity and professionalism and have the motivation and skills to become a certified judge, the DCI looks forward to working with you and getting you certified as a DCI Judge.

So, how do I become a Judge?

You don’t need to be a certified judge to judge at many events. If you want to judge a tournament to get the taste for judging, the best option is to contact your local TO. He is the best person to provide you with the basic information about starting to judge in your area. Also, the TO can explain to you about basic tournament procedures and local compensation for judge work.

Another good option is to contact the Premier Tournament Organizer of your area. This is a TO who runs the Premier events, like Prereleases, Trials and PTQs, in your area. He will be able to explain you the basics of judging in Premier events, including rewards policies for these tournaments. Also, he may know other TOs and be aware of the event schedule for your area.

Don't forget to talk with other judges. If your area has a local level 3 judge, he will be the most qualified person to guide you on the judge’s path. Also, if possible, talk with other judges who operate in your area. Advice from the more experienced is always a valuable resource.

If you have any question about where to find all those people, check Wizards' website. There is a list of all judges in the world and the offices in charge of Organized Play for all areas of the world.

Although certification isn’t mandatory for judges in local tournaments, it is a good idea to become a certified judge, even if you just intend to occasionally judge local tournaments.

See: How to Become a Judge at www.wizards.com/judge

What about the rewards?

At this point, you must be asking yourself: what’s in it for me? If your only concern is money, then you better start looking for another activity. Yes, judges are rewarded for their work, but the rewards aren't enough to grant you wealth beyond your dreams. The exact kind of reward varies from tournament to tournament and, in most cases, it's a good reward for doing something related to a game that is also a hobby. Judge rewards may not make you rich, but who else is paid to stay in touch with his favorite game?

The most basic kind of reward happens at local level, and will depend on each TO. In some cases, TOs pay their judges with product, based on the amount of players in the tournament. In other places, judges are paid in money, or receive special discounts at the local game shop. In any case, the best way to deal with rewards is to talk with the TO. Being a judge demands a lot of effort and preparation. Don't feel ashamed for being rewarded for this.

The next level of rewards comes from Premier events. Although the exact amount may change from region to region, at these events judges are rewarded in product, based on the number of players at the tournament. Also, judges may receive foil cards, event shirts and, in the case of Prerelease Tournaments, may receive product prior to its release. Some rewards have specific policies, like the prerelease product, which can't be sold before the official release date. The best thing to do is to contact your local TO or PTO in order to learn more about these rewards and policies.

Judges of expert level and above have a special reward, too. In order to keep in touch with the new cards, they receive product whenever a new expansion is released.

There is also the Sponsorship Program. Through this program, certified judges may receive sponsorship to events in other cities and even in other countries. This is a great experience, will give you the chance to learn a lot about Magic and judging, and will be a good opportunity to meet new people and see exotic places.

All the rewards a judge may receive for his work are great, but that's not the most important thing. It may seem strange, but the greatest reward is the work itself. From helping your local TO to traveling to other cities to judge, it's the opportunity to be a part of Magic events, meet different people, socialize with judges and be part of a community dedicated to this great game. If you have the opportunity to participate in an international event, such as a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour, you will meet people from different countries and make friends from all around the world.

Where can I find help (or, where to turn to when things get nasty)?

Sometimes a question arises for which we don't have the answer. When this happens in the middle of a tournament and you are the one in charge, you will have to use your judgment in order to solve the situation. But what happens when you have time to browse for the answer? Thankfully we have a lot of resources to help us. Wizards maintains discussion lists for certified judges, where rules questions and interesting things that happens in tournaments are all discussed (including those things that you had to solve by yourself). And in Wizards’ website you may find archives with all previous topics from the discussion lists.

Will I be allowed to keep playing Magic?

Sure! And you may keep playing in sanctioned tournaments without any problem. Magic judges are encouraged to play and, in some cases, being a judge may help you to play better. By knowing the proper rules and understanding how things work in the game you will most certainly improve your playing skills. Also, it may prevent you from making mistakes when playing in a tournament.

Of course, you should always be take care not to use your powers in for evil. The status of being a judge isn't meant for giving you an advantage over your opponents. Do not abuse your power or have any of those "I'm level 1 so I'm right" conversations. If you have at any point thought about becoming a judge for this reason, you are way, way off your path.

Final advice

If you intend to become a judge, know that you will be getting into an interesting activity that's both fun and a lot of work. If I may give you a final piece of advice about being a judge, here it is: study well and prepare yourself for the events in which you will work. Being prepared is one of the key points to doing a good job, and will help you a lot during those difficult moments when things looks dark.

And, last but not least, know that this article contains only the basics about what it means to be a judge. For each of us judges this activity possesses a special and particular meaning. If the key to becoming a judge is knowing why you want to judge, the key to being a good judge is knowing what judging it means to you.

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