Going Through the Looking Glass and What the Path Looks Like Once You’re There by Alaric Stein
Let’s start by getting something straight: Judges are not agents for some evil organization intent on punishing you for mistakes. We’re generally nice, sane and we put on our shoes the same way as you do in the morning. Now that that’s out of the way, this article is designed to give you a general overview of the path to becoming a judge and what happens once you’re a judge. This article also contains some of my personal observations about judging, becoming a judge and a couple of advantages of being a judge and a player.
Ok, so for some reason you dive through the looking glass into the world of judges because you want to be a judge. What do you encounter? A judge (this is not necessarily the judge who will certify you as a judge), who asks you the ever-important question: “So, why do you want to be a judge? Hopefully if you’ve approached this judge, you have a answer that you believe in (I’ll give you a hint, if you’re doing this because of judge foils, getting product or anything like that, then judging isn’t for you. Yes, you get these things but it shouldn’t be the primary reason you want to be a judge). So, we’ll assume that you have a good reason for being a judge. I personally wanted to become a judge because I’ve always loved the rules of games and wanted to help run a fair environment for players. It was also thrust upon me due to being the rules guru in my group.
Ok, so you answered the question about “Why?”, now there is something online that you need to do (you can find it through the DCI Homepage (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dci/welcome) which hopefully looks familiar). Go to the Judge Center and then to “Exams”, the exam you want to pass is the Rules Advisor Exam (aka the RA exam), however don’t just jump in. I would advise reading the Comprehensive Rules (best viewed here: http://yawgatog.com/) and various important Tournament Rules documents (http://www.wizards.com/wpn/Events/Rules.aspx?category=magic:thegathering). Then you should take the practice exams in the Judge Center and once you’re doing well with them, then you should take the RA exam. If you fail it then study up again and try again when it lets you. Ok, so you’ve passed the RA exam! Congrats! The RA exam acts like a letter of reference to a judge (who hasn’t necessarily met you before), it says “This person is dedicated enough to learn the rules, I should give him/her a chance.” If the judge you approach to either mentor and/or certify you doesn’t ask for some reason, please mention that you passed the RA exam.
Ok, so you’ve passed the RA exam and you’ve decided to either approach a local judge. This local judge will be able to teach you some of the finer points of the rules and will have the contacts to send you onwards if he/she can’t certify you. You will also be judged on your character, simply knowing the rules isn’t enough to become a judge. I personally worked first with Arthur Halavais (@ahalavais on Twitter, if you have Twitter follow him; he’s really interesting), who was at the time a very senior L1 so he couldn’t certify me, I talked with him a bunch and worked a Prerelease with him (I worked a very small number of events before becoming certified, the number will vary by person) and he told me to talk to Eric Levine in San Jose (Mr. Halavais gave me the contact info and sent a recommendation to Mr. Levine). I do make fun of some of the other judges in our area now that they have it easy; I get to say in that creaky old voice “In my day, I had to drive 100 miles each way to reach an L2+.” That may seem overly dedicated but it really isn’t that bad a drive; just put on some music or take some friends along (there’s going to be a Magic tournament on the other side after all).
So, you’ll start working with the judge that will certify you, that judge and if there are other judges at the event, will ask you questions: Why do you want to be a judge? Yes, this gets asked many times (Just about every judge you ever meet will ask you this question). The judge that will certify you will also quiz you a bit. If you did your homework and you know the material you’ll do just fine. Just always have a good attitude about it and try your best. When judging, the most important thing is confidence; having the players believe in you and your ruling. So, after some amount of time you’ll be asked “Do you want to take the L1 test at such and such time?” If you feel ready go for it! You may think everything is happening too fast. I remember thinking “Am I really good enough?” because I was getting some of the questions that Mr. Levine (who is awesome, feel free to tell him I said so if you run into him at a Grand Prix, a Pro Tour or if you live in California) was asking me. In the end, I went for it and passed. “Just go for it!” That’s my advice. You’ll learn from failing (I know that’s depressing but you won’t know what you can’t do until you fail at it, hopefully I’ll be taking the L2 test soon, so this applies to me just as much as everyone else) or feel great about succeeding. So, go out there and pass the test if it’s offered to you!
Ok, so now you’re a newly minted judge! There are tons of things you can do with this, so let’s take a look at what you should look around for: definitely some local events that you can judge at (this will keep you sharp, and yes, you should get some amount of compensation. From a business point of view, please discuss this beforehand so there aren’t problems later. If this store has never had a judge I would advise letting them get used to you first and let them see how useful having a judge is before bringing this up). Also, you need to be aware that you have a nickname now: it’s “JUDGE!” If you’re at FNM either playing or just hanging out and playing EDH you’ll want to be available to any of the players who need help either in an official match or just asking a judge a question (if the shop isn’t used to having a judge have the Tournament Organizer or the Store Owner announce that you’ll be handling those things this evening or when you’re there) (and don’t worry, the players aren’t mice so if you give them the cookie they won’t ask for the kitchen sink as well).
Now, if you’ve made it this far you either want to be a judge, are interested in the subject or don’t have anything better to read right now. So, here’s a bonus on why being a judge is useful on a player level: you know the rules and how to explain a situation to a judge when you call him over in Round 7 of a PTQ (you’ll find that rules knowledge when talking to a judge is a more elegant weapon for a much more civilized age than arguing with your opponent), you’ll know when to appeal a bad ruling (yes, judges occasionally make mistakes, it happens) and you have immediate credentials when you walk into an event (just start chatting with some of the judges, it won’t affect any rulings made about your games but you’ll make friends).
Ok, so “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” Now you have to consider where you’d like to go with being a judge. I’ll try to give you a road map to more of your options next time.
Next time I’ll deal with the question: “Ok, so I’ve been a judge for a while, now what?”
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