Judging your first Competitive event

Written by Dan Stephens

Written by Dan Stephens


Here is everything you need to know to judge at a Competitive tournament.

Enjoy yourself. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you are doing it wrong.

Make sure to take breaks and drink water, even if you don’t think you need to. If the event is more than one day, you need to take care of yourself so you can do your job on Sunday. That does not mean you can’t enjoy yourself, but if you were up all night playing EDH and only got two hours of sleep you might be asked to leave on Sunday.

If this is your first large tournament or if you are not comfortable with anything that you are asked to do then talk to your team lead or talk to me. Everyone was new at one point, so don’t be shy with questions.

When you are called to a table, glance at the clock first thing. If you are there for more than a minute, then you need to give a time extension. As you are issuing your ruling be kind and clear about it, but be careful not to be over technical. Most of the time players just want a yes or a no. I will often give the quick answer and ask them if they would like me to explain further.

If you have to issue any penalties then tell the player what infraction was committed, what is the penalty, and ask if they have any questions about it. Unless the infraction is for tardiness or Decklist problems then you should NEVER issue a game loss or match loss without discussing it with me.

Don’t hesitate to consult with another judge on a ruling, but it is important to do it in the correct way. If you are not positive how to proceed tell the players you are going to consult with another judge or want to confirm that you have the right answer. Do not shrug and say, “I don’t know, let’s go ask someone else.” If you are the first judge to a table then you are the judge giving the ruling.

Sometimes players want to appeal your ruling. Don’t take it personally, it happens to all of us. Sometimes I even encourage players to appeal me if they seem upset or unsure about my explanation. If you are appealed make sure you have the time noted, look at the table number of the match, then come up to find your HJ. You should immediately interrupt me to say “I have an appeal.” No matter what I am doing, an appeal is the first thing I want to deal with. As we walk to the table, give me the short version of what happened and how you ruled. Sometimes I do overturn rulings, and that’s ok. If you ever want to discuss a ruling that I made and my reasoning behind it, feel free to discuss it with me any time. A happy scorekeeper is half of a successful event. Part of making the scorekeeper happy is filling out a slip correctly. Whenever you issue a penalty please fill out the back with this information and in this order: Judge Name (First then last) Player Name (Last then first) Infraction, Penalty, description. The description doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be clear. “Dark Confidant trigger” is fine. “Player forgot to pay for Thalia” is fine. “Player screwed up.” is not fine. And please write so other people can read it. If you give a time extension please mark it on the front of the slip at the upper right hand corner in ink that is not black. Red is preferred but blue, purple, pink, green, or orange is fine too.

When the round is close to ending, if you don’t have any other tasks, then please find a match to watch. With 10 minutes left in the round I start walking up and down the rows, picking up trash, getting completed match slips from players, and identifying matches that will go to time. With 3 minutes left in the round I sit down at a match and make sure that they hear time get called and complete their extra turns correctly. Watch them finish their extra turns, help out if needed, then when they are complete, take their match slip to the stage. If there is a judge with a clipboard then wait to be assigned a table, if he’s not ready yet then go and find one on your own.

When you are walking up and down the aisles, please pick up trash and push in chairs. It is amazing what a difference it makes when our venue is kept clean. Keep the judge area clean. Mark your water bottles with a sharpie and throw away your trash when you are finished. If you are using a shirt provided by the organizer, please ask if there is a place to put your used shirts. Do not throw them over a chair or on the floor.

Sometimes players play slowly. If you think a player is playing too slow and it might be time to penalize, then you’re right! Start by asking the player to make a decision. If the slow play continues, wait for him to complete his current actions then inform him that he is getting a penalty. Don’t interrupt him to give the penalty or he’ll have to start his whole train of thought over again! Almost 100% of the time that penalty will be appealed and almost 100% of the time I will uphold your ruling.

Spend time talking to other judges! Make sure that the floor is covered well, then please separate into groups of two or three to have discussions throughout the day. Talking about rules, policy, interesting rulings, and strange situations are my favorite parts of the event. If you have a chance come up and tell me about the most interesting ruling you’ve ever been involved with.

While you are talking to the other judges take some notes. Write down things that you notice a judge doing well. Write down any questions or concerns you have. It would be awesome if everyone reviewed at least one judge from this weekend. Let me know if you need any pointers on how to do it.

At the end of the day, check in with myself or the organizer and find out if you have any further duties. If we are currently busy with distributing prizes or starting the top 8, you are welcome to get a head start by picking up trash. 🙂

That’s all that you need to know. Congratulations, you are now an expert!