What’s a Level 3 – Pierre Laquerre

Written by Pierre Laquerre

Written by Pierre Laquerre


This article started as a quest for information on the famous Level 3. At the time, late 2010, finding information on what Level 3 meant was much harder to collect. Compared to Levels 1 and 2, there are fewer judges you can ask questions of, and fewer articles on the subject.

This is why I decided to spend some of my time working international events to interview several high-level judges and get their opinions on what being a Level 3 means. Then I realized that a lot of other judges could benefit from the information, so after several interviews, I wrote and submitted this article.

As you probably know, this is when the high-level judges decided that the path towards Level 3 should be clearer, so they published both a redefinition of Level 3 and a new advancement process (that you can find here). Still, what is expected from a Level 3 is not that much different from before. The subject would probably benefit from more exposure, and, most importantly, the time these judges spent talking about Level 3 brings a different viewpoint on the subject than a more formal requirement document.

So, here are the results of these interviews, updated with the latest information on the subject.

Magic skills

When players and inexperienced judges talk about what makes a great judge, the discussion often revolves around Magic-specific skills, and rules in particular. It’s true that such skills are part of the requirements for Level 3. That includes very good knowledge of the Magicdocuments, including rules, policies, tournament rules and Premier Event policies, as well as great experience in running tournaments. However, there are often some misconceptions about what exact level of skills is required and the relative importance of these skills, so I will talk about them in greater detail.
The “documents”‘ skills are tested by the infamous Level 3 written test, the target of many rumors. It works exactly like the Level 1 and 2 written tests–a list of questions with five answers to choose from–but the questions are much more difficult. They cover more complicated or less known areas of the rules , and are full of little but important details. Still, you do not need a guru-level rules knowledge to pass the test as the questions do not test the most obscure corners of the rules.

There is also an important shift in required document skills for Level 3. You are no longer asked to know them; you are asked to understand them. Concerning rules, it means being able to explain them in detail to other judges and, to some extent, being able to explain why they are written that way. Concerning policies, it means understanding what the MIPG, MTR, and JAR seek to achieve, and what principles and values the Judge Program wishes to enforce. It means being able to explain why a penalty and correction are appropriate for a specific mistake and being able to correctly recognize and handle situations that fall outside of the documents.

What is probably the most important thing to understand about all these skills is that, important as they may be, they are only requirements that a Level 3 judge needs to be able to fulfill his responsibilities. They don’t define him. Consider this: the Wiki page for the Level Three Advancement Process lists 12 qualities of Level 3 judges. Rules and Policy knowledge is just one of them, and Penalty and Policy Philosophy is a category in itself. Any experienced judge with a special interest in Magic documents can at some point reach the required level of knowledge and understanding to pass the written test. That does not make him a Level 3 judge and, as we are going to see, that does not even mean he or she should try to become one.

Non-Magic skills

The skills that are specific to Level 3 judges, and that set them apart, are for the most part not directly related toMagic. The most important one is probably mentorship.

Level 2 judges are asked to be mentors for judge candidates. They should be able to recognize if a candidate has what it takes to be a Level 1 judge, and if not, work with the candidate until he or she is ready for the test. They are also encouraged to help Level 1 judges improve themselves, although that is not their main job.

Level 3 judges, in turn, are supposed to mentor Level 1 and Level 2 judges. This implies helping improve people who are not only judges but also mentors of others, in the case of Level 2s. Being able to do so is a whole new level of mentoring. You need to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of other people as well as your own and this requires great analysis skills. It also requires analyzing people’s character, nature, and social skills. These are topics that most people are not comfortable talking about, which means a Level 3 judge also need to be very diplomatic about the way he mentors.

Apart from mentoring, but still in connection with other judges, a Level 3 judge is required to show leadership skills. Until recently, Level 3-reserved positions included team leading during Day 1 of Grand Prix, during Pro Tours, and head judging Nationals. With the recent changes in Organized Play, Team leading in Grand Prix is their main reserved positions, but they are also expected to HJ PTQs and the new World Cup Qualifiers. These are all challenging positions that need you to make good use of the judges assigned to you. If other judges do not think of you as their leader—a judge that deserves their respect and should be listened to—you will not be able to do a good job in those positions, in respect to the tournament, but even moreso in respect to your team.

When working in less challenging positions, like head judging a small PTQ, you would expect a Level 2 to make the tournament work. It is a given that a Level 3 would, and you also expect that his judges will end the tournament happy about their day.

Being a leader outside of tournaments is even more important. While a Level 2 can make a good team leader during a tournament (and are often given such positions on Day 2 of a GP, for example), a Level 3 is supposed to be the center of a community of judges at all times. All Level 1 and Level 2 judges in his area should see him or her as a role model to follow and learn from.

It’s also important to realize that while a Level 2 can pass along some of his problems to his mentoring Level 3, a Level 3 does not have this luxury: he has to solve the problem (of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t use resources to help him with the task).

The last non-Magic specific skill does not concern the relationship between the Level 3 and the other judges, but the relationship with the players. Outside of GPs and Pro Tours, a Level 3 will often be the highest-level judge a player interacts with. In the mind of the player, that makes him an ambassador for Wizards and Organized Play. Whatever your opinion may be concerning our responsibilities to Wizards, a Level 3 judge is expected to have a very diplomatic attitude towards the players.

One last thing that shows how important those skills are, compared to document skills, is the list of associated qualities: Leadership, Presence and Charisma; Mentorship; Teamwork and Diplomacy; Communication Skills; Attitude and Maturity; Self-Evaluation; Assessment of Other Judges; Program Construction and Philosophy; Stress and Conflict Management.


We have talked about all the skills expected from a Level 3, but there is still one thing that differentiates a skilled Level 2 from a Level 3, and that is commitment: a Level 3 is expected to devote quite a lot of his spare time to Magic, especially outside of tournaments.

Candidates for Level 3 are usually people who want to participate in making the judge program better and better. They often have ideas on how to change things and are expected to work on it by leading projects. Being a Regional Coordinator, organizing judge conferences, or coordinating translations are all examples of projects that an L3 can work on. Even outside a specific project, mentoring other judges takes quite a lot of time.

At this point, you are probably thinking that my description of Level 3 is way too hard to achieve. It’s true that there are different types of Level 3s and they do not master all of the skills described above, though they usually have some proficiency even in their weaker skills.

Some of you will have problems with the time commitment part. Your job or your family life may prevent you from spending so much time on Magic. That’s perfectly OK and doesn’t make you any less of a good judge. Remember that being a Level 3 does not mean you are a better judge than a Level 2; it means you have more responsibilities! It also means you will be given different jobs during tournaments, so make sure that’s where you want to be.

How to get there

Hopefully, I have not discouraged all of you from trying to reach Level 3, so here is some advice on how to get there.

The first thing to realize is that the Level 3 test, like the other tests, does not make you a Level 3. The goal is to confirm that you already have what it takes to be a Level 3 and to make that fact official. That being said, as explained below, the Level 3 test is also designed to help you improve as a judge, whether you pass or fail.

As I said earlier, Level 3s are people who want to change things, so think about what you like and don’t like about the judge program; you will probably talk about it during the interview.

Obviously, practice your rules knowledge, take some tests in the Judge Center, and be active on rules forums or on the judge list. With the new advancement process, you need to have taken a L3 practice test on the Judge Center and scored above 80% in the last six months (be aware that you need to wait three months before retaking the test).

Perhaps the most important thing is to make yourself visible! Talk about your goals with other Level 3+ judges. Go to GPs. Write a lot of reviews. Do whatever you can so that other judges, when speaking about you, wonder why you are not already Level 3.

Last, remember that you can’t suddenly ask to be tested for Level 3. You need to prepare a list of documents that prove you meet the appropriate requirements. While you can assemble most of it by yourself, you will need recommendations from at least three different high-level judges, usually reviews in the Judge Center stating that they are recommendations. Obviously, these judges will not give you a recommendation if they are not quite sure you have what it takes to be a Level 3, and that requires much more time and observation than a simple review. So, don’t think you can just ask your team leader at the end of the day to write a recommendation for you. Again, you have to make yourself visible and let the Level 3s around you know that you are serious about this and that you need their help.

The test

For obvious reasons, specifics on the Level 3 test are kept secret, but there are still a few known things about it, especially now that the procedure has been made clearer.

In the past, these tests happened nearly exclusively at Pro Tours. Apart from the written test, you would have a very intensive two-to-four-hour interview with three high-level judges, often involving some role-playing to see how you can handle some difficult situations. With the 2012 changes to Organized Play, it’s no longer possible to send a lot of candidates to Pro Tours, and the need for Level 3s to team-lead GPs has risen, so the process has been adapted so that candidates can be tested at GPs.

The test now starts several weeks (at least eight) before the event where you will test. You will be assigned a Level 3+ judge whose goal is to start the process of identifying your strengths and weaknesses with respect to the qualities expected of a Level 3 judge. To do this, this judge will ask you a series of questions, about your judging experiences and about your personal qualities. Once this process is completed, people in charge of this process and in charge of staffing will work with you to schedule your interview.

Part of the test is the written exam. Again, your best bet here is practice. At that point, you should have passed the practice test recently, so if you have not slacked off afterward, you should be OK. This is only a prerequisite, not the most important part of the exam, but it is a hard test, and quite a lot of candidates have failed at this point in the past, so make sure you are prepared!

The most important part of the test is the interview. It’s also the most secret part. What is known is that it’s an intensive one-to-two-hour discussion with some high-level judges, usually a Level 4 and a Level 3. These judges, with the help of all the documentation assembled, will make sure they have the most complete and accurate view of your qualities as a Level 3 judge.

This can be a very exhausting experience, so make sure you are well rested. Although GPs should be seen as opportunities for social events in the evening, it may be a better idea to skip the drinking on Saturday night if you test on Sunday (but make sure to party twice as much on Sunday evening once you passed!).

Also, be sure to be as honest as possible in all your answers. The goal is not for you to try and guess what the panel wants to hear. The judge program needs its Level 3s to have their own opinions and voice them. You are definitely not going to impress the panel by silently agreeing with everything they say.

After the interview, you will know if you are recognized as a Level 3 or not. In both cases, you should receive a very complete review from your interview panel in order to continue improving as a judge. If you are not promoted, you will receive a new list of requirements you need to fulfill before you can ask to be tested again. Whatever the content of the list is, you will need to wait six months before you can start the process again.

As you probably know, the test is really hard. In its previous form, around half the first-timers didn’t make it. While the preparation process should help, it’s still a very hard exam. That means you should not despair if you miss the first time. Part of being a Level 3 is being able to get back up after taking some hits. A lot of Level 3s and 4s have taken the test two or three times before succeeding. As an example, one of the judges I interviewed failed his first test because of deficiencies in one area and then became the sphere leader of that area.

The important thing is to take as much as you can from the process. At that level, it becomes very hard to receive good reviews, but you should receive the most complete review you will ever get. Use it to the fullest, improve as much as you can, and six months later, come back and nail it!


There you have it: all the information and advice I could get on the process of Level 3. I hope you will find it useful and interesting, whether you intend to take the test yourself or not. Happy judging. 😉

I would like to thank the following judges for taking the time to sit down with me and answer all my questions:Daniel KitachewskyNiko GlikNick SephtonPaul SmithDamian Hiller, and Oli Bird. This article would not have been possible without you.