5 Steps to Judicial Enlightenment – A Guide to Leveling up

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AuthorRobert Johnson
Date Published2011-03-24
Original SiteDCIFamily
Tagsroad to level 1, road to level 2, road to level 3
Recommended for Leveljudge candidates, 1, 2
AbstractRob provides five steps for preparing for a "testing level"—levels 1, 2, and 3—that go beyond merely preparing for the exam.

This past summer I had the privilege of working as both a judge and scorekeeper at the 2010 Canadian National Championship. As always, Sunday was testing day, and the inevitable rush of candidates descended on the test facilitator. With that, the inevitable string of "What do you think I need to do to be a great judge?" questions began to flow in. Now, do not misunderstand me, I think that asking what can make you better is a great question. I think that it should be part of every judge's self-evaluation after each event. However, I started to see a pattern as I asked each testing candidate about what he or she had done, and what they would do if they didn't ascend to the next level. It was interesting to me that while everyone said what he or she would do to prove they were ready for the next level, not one of them started with what they were doing to be the best judge of their current level. So with that, I thought it was time to examine what a prospective judge should consider before testing for their next level.

With that, I present the following:

5 Steps to Judicial Enlightenment – A Guide to Leveling up

1. What is the requirement for you to be your current level?

While most judges remember what it was like to certify for level 1, it is often interesting to ask a level 0 what their duties at their current level are. The blank stare most of them will give you is an indication that they have never thought about it. "Do you play Magic?" I often ask. "Have you written the Rules Advisor test?" or "Have you worked as a volunteer at a local FNM or event before?" often follows. While anyone can be a level 0, most don't consider the fact that being active in the community prior to testing can help them prepare for what being a level 1 is like.

Similarly, a new level 1 will often talk about all the GPTs and PTQs they have worked, but almost never talk about the local community work they have done. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I hear from level 1 judges "I don't play Standard or Limited so I don't know what any of the cards currently are" or "I have no idea what the current decks or metagame is". My personal favorite is "I don't need to know the cards, if something comes up, I'll just read it and know". While some people can do this, for the majority of judges the IRC channel gives us information and updates to interactions and unusual cases that may come up. The knowledge you gain from watching even your locals at events will help you gain confidence in your rulings, and give you the experience to deal with unusual situations as they come up.

2. The rules are the rules are the rules

Every judge remembers the first time they stepped out onto the floor to dispense justice, that feeling of purpose coursing through their veins as they approached games and handed out punishment for breaking the simplest rules. Just about every judge goes through it at some point; it boils down to human nature. Now this is not to say that anyone does it on purpose, it's more of a philosophical quandary that 99.9% of us have gone through; i.e. the difference between judging at an event and being a customer service "guide" through the day. So when I see a judge with more than a year's worth of events under their belt still looking at things this way it makes me shake my head. I know it's going to come as a shock to some people, but outside of Magic, we're just people. In fact, during events we are still people, and for that matter so are the players. Whether it's FNM or Worlds, it is still simply a friendly game of cards. Does that mean you shouldn't apply penalties? Of course not, it means that the rules are not just the rules. The rules we uphold are a "living, evolving" document designed to help us educate and inform players. Its job is to instruct us what to do if the rules are broken. We are ambassadors of the game, not wardens of a jail. It sounds like a big jump but it really isn't: It's all in the philosophy. Think of it like a trip shopping: if you go shopping you know what the rules are. You know you're not allowed to steal, you have to go to the cash to pay, and you have certain rules for trying things on or returning purchases. Our players are our shoppers, our customers. Our job is to give them customer service while they use our product. It's our job to help them if something has gone wrong, direct them if they are lost, and to discipline them if they have done something wrong. It is our job to treat them well and help them get the most out of the gaming experience, without interfering excessively in the game. Players go to events to play, so let them. If something goes wrong, then we fix it or penalize for it, but we always educate the player along the way.

3. Personal and community growth

This one ties in with level requirements. I have seen far too many judges who want to "Work the PRO TOUR" right out of the gate but fail to help out their own personal community. How many events have you organized, score-kept, or run yourself in your area? Do you know how? How many stores have you approached to help them get sanctioning, or just gone to "help out" once in a while? Forget figuring out how to run an event on paper with tiebreakers and match slips and such. Do you know how an event runs at a store level? Have you ever taken the time to educate players on how cards work? As a judge, have you ever sat down and given yourself a personal evaluation on your own strengths and weaknesses? I know that this is going to sound backwards, but I consider Rules Advisors and Level 1 judges some of the most important people in the program. Think about it: you, as a level 1, probably see more event action, are more visible, and can have a larger effect on events than any level 3, 4 or 5. Why, you ask? You are the front line of the DCI: the face of the program. High-level judges don't often work events that are not high level because they have other responsibilities. That doesn't mean that they cannot or do not, just that they often have other responsibilities. RAs and level 1s are also the future of the program, so they are the ones who help sustain and grow the program at the grass-roots level. By taking the time to get involved, you directly influence, educate, and inspire your local community more than you know.

4. Mentors

Remember when I said inspire? I wasn't kidding. Why do you think you're in the program? At some point you experienced, saw, or heard about what judges do and thought "I want/need to do that". So what have you done to inspire someone? Even though you cannot test people, have you helped mentor that local Rules Advisor? Have you even told people about the program? Like I said: RAs and level 1s are the future of the program, they are the ones who sustain and grow the program at the grass-roots level. You will ultimately be a factor for whether someone does or does not join the program in your community. Taking the time to help them will help you in the end. It will reaffirm your abilities, and help you practice the role you inspire others to become.

5. Are we there yet?

My favorite of the five is this one. As a level 2 I have already heard this one a lot. Even as a level 1 I was asked "Do you think I have what it takes to be a level (x)?" Even though I never have, I've always wanted to paraphrase the old martial arts movies and say "If you have to ask, you're probably not ready". No, I'm not trying to be mean or cruel, I'm trying to make you as a candidate think and evaluate yourself first. It's perfectly okay to ask this question, but I propose to you that the question is better posed to yourself before anyone else. In fact, I offer this experience as example of that:

At this past National Championship I was asked this question a lot. Instead of answering, I asked them what they would do if I (or the testing judge) said they were not ready. I then asked them what they had done at their current level and what their plans in their community where if they were not able to ascend to the next level. After getting past the obligatory "I have done this and that level requirement" I asked them the same question again. It was only then that you could see the comprehension light bulb go on. This is when the candidate talked about what they had done locally, what programs they had helped start or run, and what they intended to continue to do no matter the outcome. They began to evaluate who they were currently, and what they had done to improve themselves rather than focusing on what they needed to become. The self-evaluation showed them if they were ready or not, and showed them what they could still work on regardless of the outcome of the testing process.

I felt like a proud father seeing them suddenly become aware of what made them a great judge. They understood immediately that by being the best level (x) or RA that they could was actually exactly the same thing as preparing for the next level. By being involved in the community, they had learned the ability to "explain rules, penalties, and tournament procedures to players and other tournament staff." By helping stores and local groups run events they had gained the knowledge of how to properly complete "match report slip, match report form, sanctioning application, warning form, DQ reporting form, and event report summary." By working within the community as more than just a dispenser of justice they had "demonstrated maturity, diplomacy, communication skills, work-ethic, knowledge of the DCI Penalty Guidelines, Standard Floor Rules, Formats, and Magic: The Gathering rules as well as respecting other judges." (All quotes from the proceeding were taken directly from the requirements for advancing as a DCI Judge). In the end, not one of the judges who sat and answered my question failed. They were all ready to level up as judges through their involvement in their communities, and activities and now possessed the knowledge of what it would take to be the best judge they could be, regardless of level.

At the end of the day, everyone must do what is best for him- or herself. This, too, is human nature. Our level of preparedness, experience, and ability is based solely on our dedication, self-awareness, and drive to be what we want to be. However, I leave you with this thought: "What is better: to start a trip unprepared with only the goal in sight, or to enjoy every step, and learn everything you can from everyone you meet along the way?" Hopefully a light bulb just turned on for you, the way it has for others who have answered the question.