L3 Qualities – Rules & Policy Knowledge

Written by Brian Schenck

Written by Brian Schenck

“Rules and Policy Knowledge: Regional Judges are the leading experts in the rules of Magic and tournament policies. They have studied the Comprehensive Rules, the MIPG, the JAR and the MTR. They can make rulings on complex situations correctly and without significant delay to the tournament.”
– Taken from “Qualities of Regional Judges” on the Magic Judges Wiki

It is very easy to understand why a judge needs to have a good understanding of game rules or policy; it tells us how we run events or help players.  These go to our principle responsibilities as judges, since we need to make sure that events are run well and that players are well served.  It goes to providing the best customer service, and something that we reiterate time and again with the various ways that we train ourselves and other judges.

But, for Regional Judges, what exactly constitutes a “leading expert”?  How do we measure this, especially since we have both the Level 3 exam and the interview?


What is an “Expert”?

Merriam-Webster defines an expert as “one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.”  So, for a Level 3 judge, that is a special skill or knowledge in the rules for Magic and the policies associated with sanctioned Magic events.  More than either Level 1 or Level 2 judges, Level 3 judges must have a very broad range of knowledge at a very detailed level.  Whether that’s to understand how certain mechanics work together, or the purpose behind a certain remedy.  Level 3 judges should have an excellent understanding of how cards are templated, to recognize abilities and how they impact the game.  Level 3 judges should be able to discuss policy, and explain both the rationale for a penalty, or even why something is an infraction.  More importantly, Level 3 judges should have very reliable rules and policy knowledge, as they are recognized by both the judge and player communities as experts.

It is a tall order to meet, which is why Level 3 candidates are assessed via an exam and an interview to ensure they are experts.


Purpose of the Level 3 Exam

The purpose of the Level 3 exam is a general assessment of expert rules knowledge and procedures regarding events run at any REL. Since Level 3 judges need to operate in a broad spectrum, ensuring that Level 3 judges have the ability to make a complicated ruling very quickly is important.  To that end, the Level 3 exam features an array of questions on different subjects.  In some respects, the exam looks very similar to either the Level 1 or Level 2 exam.  However, questions are often more detail-oriented and have a higher level of complexity, as well as have more exacting answers.  Furthermore, the number of subjects is expanded in scope, beyond both the Level 2 exam and the Level 1 exam.

So, a Level 3 candidate really has to know both rules and policy very well, demonstrating that both in depth knowledge and a broad understanding.  The candidate must score an 80% or better, or else their rules and policy knowledge is too deficient to meet the expectation for an expert.


Purpose of the Level 3 Interview

The Level 3 interview generally includes a much more detailed assessment of the philosophy behind policy and penalties.  This overlaps with the Penalty and Policy Philosophy quality that will be discussed in another article, but I wanted to at least mention that a candidate’s knowledge of rules and policy will play a role in the interview itself.  Especially since the interviewers will examine the candidate’s actual understanding in a variety of ways.  So, while the written exam actually ensures that a candidate has the necessary knowledge to be considered an expert, he or she will still have to have the necessary understanding that comes with being an expert.  But more will be discussed in the article that will cover Penalty and Policy Philosophy.  Just note that both knowledge and understanding are important aspects to being an expert.

So, a Level 3 candidate is going to have to demonstrate their rules and policy knowledge in different ways.  And demonstrating both knowledge and understanding is a difficult process that many people do overlook when preparing as a candidate.  It isn’t enough to just be able to pass the exam by knowing the rules and policy, you have to be able to understand the policies well enough to pass the interview.


Materials to Study

To reiterate what Level 3 candidates should study, it is the following documents:

(1) The Comprehensive Rules

(2) The Magic Tournament Rules

(3) The Magic Infraction Procedure Guide

(4) The Judging at Regular REL Guide

…and not just the wording of an infraction or the remedy, but really understanding the “Philosophy” section of the infractions, as well as knowing the precise wording of the Comprehensive Rules, and really understanding the “how” and “why” of certain processes.  Even understanding some of the less utilized procedures for certain sanctioned events is important, such as how single elimination events are run.  Really understanding the rules and policies is a very intensive process, which goes beyond what you had to do to learn the rules and policies as either a Level 1 or Level 2 judge.  Becoming an expert is something you will have to practice, learning from your mistakes and honing your skills as you judge.


How to Study

This may seem an odd way to start this section, but it is important to acknowledge that you may never have a complete understanding of every single rule or policy.  There are several difficult sections of the rules, which seldom come up, and are very impractical to learn.  Figure out what is practical to know and understand, and work very hard to understand that.  Establish that as your foundation for your rules and policy knowledge, then continue to build from there.  If a Level 1 judge is expected to have basic rules knowledge and understanding of Regular REL procedures, whereas a Level 2 judge is expected to have intermediate rules knowledge and understanding of Competitive REL procedures, then a Level 3 judge is simply an extension of this.  And the exam itself will look at just how far you’ve developed your knowledge.

But, keep in mind that you will overlook rules or concepts, perhaps even forget policy changes, and make simple mistakes by not reading cards and assuming what they do.  All these things will happen to you, even as an expert.  The sooner you accept that they can happen to you, the more you can focus your attention on ensuring that your rules and policy knowledge is sufficient to move past simple mistakes.  Practice and practice to cut down on the number of mistakes you may make, at the same time improving the quality of your rulings and the ability to explain difficult concepts to other judges or players in an efficient manner.

Another important aspect to becoming an expert is to understand the difference between technical knowledge and functional knowledge.  That is, the difference between what judges need to know to provide a ruling and what players need to know to play the game.  An expert needs to balance that technical knowledge with the ability to apply it in a very practical and functional manner.  That means ensuring that you can communicate clearly with a non-technical audience and explain something in brief.  You will want to be both accurate and succinct.  Certainly from the perspective of applying policy correctly, you want to make sure that you aren’t caught up on details that you forget that policy will apply to the organic manner in which players actually play the game.  And it will help you get a better picture of where things fall in the large grey area between these two concepts.

One thing all judges need to be able to do is to understanding the difference between “the rules” and “rulings”.  As experts, Level 3 judges always need to make sure to understand the “how” and “why” of various rules or policies.  If you do not understand a “ruling” that you read about, make sure to review the rules or policies and see how such a ruling was possible.  In some cases, it could mean there is a critical fact that hasn’t been communicated.  In other cases, it’s because the story about the “ruling” is just plain wrong.  Being able to spot the reasons “why” is a big part of being an expert, especially whether something is a correct ruling or not.

Another thing that you can do to become an expert is to discuss the “hows” and “whys” of rules or policies.  Rather than focus on specific interactions and scenarios, work through why the rule or policy is the way it is.  Why do we have a timestamp order?  Why are the steps to casting a spell set up the way they are?  Why do we need to identify the “affected object or player” when determining how multiple prevention/replacement effects work?  Being able to understand how the layout of these documents work, and even the order to some of these processes, can help provide real insight into why the documents are set up the way they are–even something as simple as why we have different categories of Game Play Error infractions.

More specific ways to study, to just keep practicing the basic elements to build on your rules and policy knowledge, include developing your own flashcards or running your own classes or seminars to teach rules or policy knowledge.  Why do I recommend developing your own flashcards or seminars?  Because teaching is often a very good way to really learn the rules or policies to an expert level.  Certainly you can continue to use the resources developed by others, but developing your own resources can go a long way to cementing your knowledge of those rules and policies, as well as putting out materials that might serve unmet needs in your local community.  Having to think through how someone else might learn is a good way to empathize with how a potential judge candidate might need to develop a skill or knowledge of a concept.  And it will help you practice different approaches to explain that skill or concept.


Practice Exams to Utilize

As a Level 3 candidate, you will have the full range of practice exams to use.  Certainly you should aim for the more challenging exams, such as the Hard Practice, Policy Practice, and even the L2 Practice exams.  All three of those still have material that may be relevant to you as you study, especially the material from the Hard Practice exam that you may have previously ignored when it wasn’t a subject that could appear on your Level 2 exam.  Rather than aim to just get 7 or more correct, raise your expectation such that a satisfactory score is getting no more than 1 or 2 questions incorrect.  Make sure that you’ve reviewed the explanations, to understand precisely why you got a question correct or incorrect.  If you guessed and got lucky, don’t consider yourself familiar with the subject; the Level 3 exam questions are challenging enough that blind guesses won’t be enough to help you.  And certainly it will not help you with the interview.

You can also review the results of your Level 2 exam, and make sure to go over the explanations to those questions.  Really analyze the answers and provided citations.  In many cases, there is a fine point to a rule that you will need to make sure you understand, especially for more detailed situations where the focus will be on how one keyword ability works differently than another keyword ability.  How is hexproof different than shroud?  How are both different from protection?  How might an “event” be treated differently by one triggered ability versus another?  Why is a situation considered Drawing Extra Cards versus Improper Drawing at Start of Game?  Or even why it should be Looking at Extra Cards?

Lastly, there is the L3 Assessment exam.  While it is important to score an 80% or better on the exam as part of your checklist, recognize that the L3 Assessment exam features content that used to be on the Level 3 exam.  As such, it is a very good indication of the kinds of questions you need to prepare for.  Use it to guide your studies and ensure that you have a good understanding of the rules or policies on which you were tested.  It isn’t enough to just score an 80% on the L3 Assessment exam, as that is a marginal score that is the lowest accepted as passing; you will want to ensure that your score is considerably higher.  Remember, making simple mistakes is a very real possibility when you sit the exam, and you will want to ensure that your aim for 90% or better on the actual Level 3 exam.



Since the focus of both the Level 3 exam and the interview is to ensure that you have expert level rules and policy knowledge, you will want to strive to improve your knowledge as much as possible.  Not just with knowing obscure rulings, but really understanding the heart of our policies when it comes to sanctioned events.  Being able to reason a particularly difficult ruling is a good skill to master, as is being able to explain your ruling.  It isn’t about knowing obscure rulings, but more about being able to understand the reasons behind the rules and policies, because, in many cases, these corners aren’t even strictly “right” or “wrong”.  Be sure to strike a balance between your technical understanding of rules or policies with that practical application.  Make sure that your knowledge has progressed beyond the point of just being able to get a passing score on the exam, but being able to demonstrate that knowledge in front of your future peers.