Head Judging a GPT

Written by Evan Cherry

Written by Evan Cherry

So you’re an expert at working for your LGS and hopefully have taken the initiative to become a DCI-certified Judge. Your TO will be thrilled that they can now run Grand Prix Trials (GPTs) with their very own L1 judge! These entry-level competitive events are a great (and generally underrated) opportunity for local players to delve into competitive events, as well as low-stress opportunities for the judge staff to get basic experience judging at Competitive REL. Understanding the rules and handling infractions will go a long way in teaching players what to expect when that next PTQ, 5K, GP, or SCG Open rolls around, as well as building player-judge communication skills in answering calls and issuing penalties, which will help when you want to apply to be on staff for that next big event.

Planning the GPT

TO’s Role

This may be the first GPT that your store has run, and they may ask YOU what they should do. Common questions include:

  • What is the format?
  • What time should we begin?
  • How much for registration?

GPTs do not have to be run at the same format as the actual GP that they feed. If the players are interested in preparing a particular format for the GP, then it would be beneficial to run it at that format. Otherwise, have an understanding of which formats your local players are interested in and plan it ahead as a higher-entry, higher-payout tournament. What time to begin is where you can put in your judge perspectiveit’s good to pick a time where you can get good attendance but also not have the event run too long. As for registration cost, that is primarily a TO decision, but you can help them by representing the players in keeping the cost reasonable, while also helping the TO to factor prizes and judge compensation into registration costs and not lose money on the event.

The TO’s main responsibility is to schedule the event, provide a venue with tables and chairs, and provide product for the event, compensation, and prizes.

Judge’s Role

As the judge, there are many questions that you should ask:

  • How many players are we expecting?
  • Do the players usually play this format?
  • What products are available to support the tournament?
  • How do they plan to set up tables?
  • Who is the scorekeeper?
  • Can they print pairings/match slips/deck lists?

Factor these into your preparations when going through the plan with your LGS TO. You should arrive at least 1 hour early to touch base with the TO, help set up, and direct players to register and fill out decklists. As a representative of the store, you should dress professionally and maintain a professional and confident appearance when interacting with the players. You can also help the store a lot by advertising the event through Magic groups on Facebook and local listservs.

Deciding Judge Staff

When deciding how many people to have on staff, consider the following questions:

  • What do we expect attendance to be?
  • Are there any local players or judges interested in judging?
  • What is the collective Competitive REL experience amongst the judges?
  • Is the store receptive to you bringing additional judges?

Usually, a GPT can be run by a single judge. When a large attendance is expected, it’s good to be honest about your abilities and seek help if you need it. If you’re a recently-certified L1 with limited Competitive REL experience, it’s in the best interest of the event to contact your Regional Coordinator to get in contact with some more experienced judges. Emphasize that you want to work with them and learn how to run a Competitive REL event, and make sure that you’re matched up with someone willing to mentor you and teach you during the event.

Once you’re ready to Head Judge these events and have gotten the swing of things, you can help any aspiring L0 judges get involved with judging events. GPTs are a great opportunity to introduce new judges to answering calls and performing the various judge tasks throughout the event.  As a courtesy, talk to the TO before bringing in additional judges; they may already have some local players in mind who have expressed interest in helping out.

Negotiating Compensation

When working for larger events, negotiating compensation is really easy because they’ve already done the numbers and outlined your compensation, be it a booster box per day or equitable store credit and a meal or two. When negotiating compensation with a LGS TO, you’re looking at less time invested and fewer players, so immediately jumping to a booster box and covered meal may not be appropriate.

Before negotiating compensation with the TO, consider the following:

  • Cost to the TO: product/facilities/business
  • Cost to the Judge: travel/time/valuable skills
  • Expected turnout
  • Impact on future judging

The TO is the ultimate supplier and recipient of tournament proceeds, and as such they should at least break even in order to continue their interest in running GPTs. If your compensation pushes the limits on their ability to run the tournament, consider an alternative that can better help them such as store credit. On the flip side, remember that you have invested considerable time and effort in honing your judge skills and should be compensated fairly for your time and effort before and during the event.

Be flexible and fair when negotiating compensation until you find a solution that is acceptable for both parties.

If you have L0s in training that want to help out at the event, discuss possible compensation for them. They do not have the same skills and responsibilities as the certified Head Judge and should not expect to be compensated equally, but a small token of appreciation such as store credit or free entry into some events will be much appreciated by your helpers. If their abilities are especially helpful, you can always consider paying them out of some of your compensation.

Personally, I have found it effective to negotiate a per-player compensation with a limit or hourly wage to help protect the TO from the uncertainty of player attendance. Factor in any gas money if you’re travelling and consider 1.5-2 packs per player if the attendance is small, up to a box if attendance is high. Otherwise, $8-$10 an hour in store credit is a fair starting wage. You might be able to negotiate free drinks and a meal if the event runs late. Being honest and not greedy will go a long way in fostering a good relationship with the TO and leaving a lasting impression of your professionalism and valuable services.

Transitioning to Competitive REL

As a judge, you should always go into an event by brushing up on the IPG/MTR, familiarizing yourself with the format’s banned list and common card interactions, and reviewing deck check procedures. If you will be the Head Judge, it helps to review policy for proxies, card alters, appeals, and backing up Communication Policy Violations and Game Rule Violations. At every step of the way, you should interact with players and ask for questions. This is a learning experience for both of you.

Players should understand that things are not as laid back at Competitive REL compared to their normal events, and that they are expected to be in their seats on time, play at a reasonable pace, maintain good sleeves, and communicate with their opponent. Instruct them that if at any point they are unsure about a game, interaction, or opponent, they should call a judge.

Head Judge Announcements

Your best opportunity to put everyone on the same page is to succinctly pack your judge announcements with all the information they should need:

  • Welcome, including the tournament format
  • Introductions, including the Head Judge and any other judges
  • Number of players and number of rounds, with cut to Top 4 (if Constructed format with 16 players or less) or Top 8 (booster draft or sealed for Sealed format events)
  • Time for each round, including end-of-round procedure
  • Competitive REL, meaning there will be penalties
  • Check decklists, this is by far the easiest way to prevent a Game Loss
  • Tardiness times, the second easiest way to prevent a Game Loss
  • How to call a Judge, with hand raising and calling a judge (I recommend you let them practice!)
  • Ask for questions
  • Collect decklists or distribute product for registration
  • Reminder to have fun!

It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying too much and losing their attention. Just remember to focus on the minimum information they need to understand that things are a little different from Regular REL, but that they can always approach you if they have any questions.

Issuing a Penalty

Now that you’re operating at Competitive REL, there are IPG-mandated penalties for specific infractions. Rather than a simple “do not do that”, you will have to explain to the player that their infraction carries a penalty and will be recorded in the event. The basic procedure is:

  • Explain what infraction has occurred
  • Describe how the problem will be fixed
  • What the penalty is for the infraction
  • How they will return to their game, with time extension or Game 2/3 pre-procedure

Receiving a penalty may be a novel concept to less experience players. You should deliver the penalty with confidence and be prepared to explain why the penalty is in place. Politeness and empathy will go a long way in ensuring a more positive experience, but be firm and confidant in your delivery of the penalty.

“Judges should never apologize for applying a penalty. It implies that we have done something bad.”
– L3 Mitchell Waldbauer

It can be embarrassing and disruptive for the player to be penalized during the match, therefore it is good policy to explain the penalty in a timely fashion and allow the players to resume their game or prepare for the next game while you fill out the match slip away from the table. When you bring it back, take the opportunity to explain any time extensions, ask for questions, and thank them for calling a judge and cooperating.

Continuing Education

This article is intended as a primer for L1s transitioning into judging GPTs. Each of these topics, and many more, are available on the Judge WikiJudge Articles, blogs, seminars, and through the experience of other judges. Every store and every judge is different; hopefully these topics will prepare you to find the style that works well for you, the TO, and the players. Happy judging!