When Judges are Playing, not Judging

Written by Eric Shukan

Written by Eric Shukan


While we all have our own reasons for judging, there is no question that we all enjoy playing Magic.  However, our responsibilities as judges don’t suspend while we play.  In fact, once we earn the judge title, we are under the public’s eye at all times during tournaments and even casual play.  Players might still ask you questions when you’re a player, but they will certainly observe your play style, and so your behavior will be continually scrutinized.  It’s a fact of judging, so get used to it!  This article outlines four roles to think about while you are playing and not judging.

Role 1:  You’re a Player:  Play to have fun, maybe play to win.

The roles to consider are these:  player, judge, role model, Magic representative.  Each of these roles may appear in different amounts at different REL’s and tourneys.  I’ll provide examples below.

We play to have fun, of course, but how each of us derives the fun is a different matter.  Some of us have fun by marveling at great plays and engaging in social camaraderie and discussion.  We’ll help our opponents out somewhat because we want to win with honor; we call this sporting behavior.  Judges playing in Regular REL tourneys should strive for this ideal, because it leads to the most fun for the most people, and helps make the judge part of the player base.  Players get to see that judges can be “just like them”.  You can be a player, a judge, and a role model, all at the same time.

However, some of us judges are very competitive, and this is a good thing.  If you are in a Competitive REL tournament, you’re probably there to try to win, and yes, we have had several judges reach the Pro Tour.  In this case, you certainly don’t have to help your opponents strategically and no one expects you to, but you still have certain responsibilities as I’ll explain in the next sections.  The thing to remember is that you have every right to win that PTQ fairly as does any other player, so go for it!

Role 2:  You’re a Judge:  You have responsibility but no authority

While you are playing, you’ll likely see lots of irregularities, both within your own match and within other matches.  Like any player, you should summon a judge when you see a rule being broken during a game.  It can be very tempting to try to explain to players what’s going on and how to fix it, but in this case you have no authority to do so.  You cannot make rulings and you should not perform your own investigations.  This is an important idea:  don’t interfere with an official judge’s investigation.  By trying to gain information on your own, you may actually change what the players say and think and do.  Bad.  Notify an on-duty judge and give them the info, then let them handle it!

Sometimes on-duty judges will ask you for help.  When they do, you can help them, but please be careful to speak only to the judge.  As a player, you create a conflict of interest when you involve yourself in an active ruling, so your involvement should be limited to giving the judge advice about what information might be useful and what the documents say (IPG, MTR, CR).  You should avoid giving your opinions about penalties and players’ intent – these are for the on-duty judge to decide.  Give that judge options, not opinions, and let him choose what option he feels is appropriate.  Note that even after you drop from an event, this still applies.  MTR 1.4 explicitly prohibits anyone who played in an event from performing judging/administrative duties in that event (except for specific Regular tournaments).

Role 3:  You’re a Role Model, Always

Sheldon Menery, one of our Judges Emeritus, used to say this in every judge meeting before every big tourney:  be nice!  It’s a short phrase, but it means a lot.  It means that we treat each other with dignity and respect and courtesy.  It means that we try to help each other and teach each other.  It means that we do our utmost to make sure that the entire community enjoys their experience.

When you are a player and not judging, the players still identify you as a judge, and they will view your actions accordingly.  They will watch your play style and communication, so try to be as sporting as you can, especially at Regular REL.  They will watch your discussions between matches, so be pleasant and engaging.  They will watch your shuffling technique, so shuffle completely and use various methods, and talk about it if they have questions.  They will watch how you deal with play irregularities, so when you call for a judge, do it properly (loudly and keep your hand raised).  They’ll then watch how you interact with the judge, so don’t use judgespeak like “He just did a GRV”, but instead use normal language like “The bear died, but he didn’t put it into the yard.”

In short, remember that you are “always on”.  That’s a phrase I use as a teacher to describe how I must appear to my students.  Whether you are winning or losing, upset or feeling great, talking to a player or explaining a game state to a ruling judge, you will always be under the eye of the other players.  So, be “always on”, because you are a role model for some players no matter what shirt you wear.

Role 4:  You’re a Magic Judge Representative

You’re a judge, right?  You want to help, right?  So, imagine how else you might help.  An organizer might ask you a question between rounds.  A player might approach you to learn about how to become a judge.  Another judge might ask about a ruling you made last week or about a scenario on the judge forum.  A dealer might ask about your judge foils and when you’ll get more that he can trade for or buy.  At high level events a media staff member might ask you a question or even want to take your picture (I hope you’re in Day 2).

All of these ideas and more are possible.  You can answer, discuss, and help out whether you are wearing a judge shirt or not.  But you ARE a player, too, and if you have other things to do than answer, just direct the person to an on-duty judge.  Being nice doesn’t mean giving all your time away.

Without the shirt, you might be less conspicuous, but the community will still find you, either at the tables or between rounds.  Get used to it – you ARE a judge after all!

Eric Shukan
Magic Judge L3