Cultivating Your Community

Written by Angus Davis

Written by Angus Davis

As judges most of us have a great community of players we can call home. These communities will include a variety of player types from the aspiring competitive player to the twelve-year-old who shows up at FNM ready to spend the twenty dollars their mom gave them on a tournament entry and a couple packs of the newest set. The real question is: “What can we do to get a community to flourish?”


There’s a few steps I’ve learned that we can take as judges towards helping making sure our communities get new members, and just as importantly, keep our existing ones.

Play the game

This first one might seem a little obvious, but it’s probably the most important thing we can do. When you are trying to develop your playgroup you need to get to know the players; and what better way to introduce yourself than by participating in the passion we all share. Playing the game can serve multiple roles for you:

  • Playing in your local game store tournaments allows you to get to know your regulars better and build a friendly rapport with them much easier than if you only show up to the GPTs and PTQs that you are volunteering at.
  • Playing casual games is a great way to meet players who might not show up to the weekly tournaments because it’s not the kind of environment or format they enjoy. There are going to be players who play their kitchen table constructed decks with each other at your local store who have no interest in playing in a Standard FNM, but many of them love to play Draft, Sealed, and Commander. Once you get to know them you can let them know when the events they would be interested in are being run.
  • Playing games with people buying their first intro pack or event deck is our chance to flex those teaching muscles. Someone is much more likely to love the game when they learn it from someone who knows the answers to all their questions about it. Buy an intro pack yourself, keep it in your bag with the rest of your gaming things and whenever a new player buys their new deck show them how it works. It also goes a long way if you let them win their first game.

(Be sure to check out Eric Shukan’s article for more on playing the game as a judge here)

Hang around your local store.

I’m not saying you should turn yourself into a piece of furniture who’s there more often than some of the staff. However, if you spend some of your free time around the store when non-Magic events are happening you’ll get to meet other gamers who may have never tried the game or were previously turned off by something in the past. This is also the time when you are going see those first time buyers I mentioned previously. When you are around you can help employees talk up Magic to customers, and help them figure out whether it’s the game for them.

Make yourself and your community accessible

Social networking has become a part of our everyday lives in recent years. One of the first things I do when I meet a new player is send them a friend request on Facebook. What that allows people to do is contact me if they have a rules question outside of a tournament setting, and also contact me if they are experiencing any problems with the playgroup. If you establish yourself as someone who will listen to their complaints, you can head off problems before they come to fruition.

The second step I take is to add them to our local community’s Facebook group. If you do not have one of these, get one! It’s important to have a centralized group independent of any store brand, where players can discuss strategies, organize trades, and set up meetings to play. When one of your local players does well at a larger event, announce it in these groups and players will take pride in the achievements of the people they helped playtest with week-in and week-out. Just make sure someone (or multiple people) you trust to be impartial is moderating it to ensure that the arguments that inevitably break out between players are kept civil.

It’s also important to include your local stores in these groups, it gives them a place to easily get the word out about their events, and keep a finger on the pulse of what their customer base wants. Try to have them avoid posting too many advertisements about sales though, it will detract from the community centric goal of the group.

Be the bridge

Every playgroup at some point or another has players who are upset with how stores do things, whether it be the prize structure, the round time limits or the number of rounds, some player somewhere is going to be unhappy with some facet of the tournaments. As judges, because we work so closely with both the player base and the tournament organizers, we are in the perfect position to address these issues. You can often see how prize structures are calculated, and explain to players how it works. It’s much easier to accept the idea that a tournament has to make money coming from a judge than from a store owner. We can also explain why time constraints don’t always allow tournaments to have the hour long rounds players would like or force you to end a thirty-two person FNM after only four rounds.

A very important thing to remember when dealing in player-store relations is that you have to ALWAYS remain neutral. It’s very easy to put down a store’s decisions when explaining them to players, but when you portray the store in a negative light (intentionally or not) it can justify the player’s complaints and lead to a much larger problem.

Another target for player ire is Wizards and the DCI. When you have to hand someone a game loss at a GPT for a decklist problem, it’s not uncommon for a player to become upset and complain about how unfair it is and that they are being singled out. These stiuations can be particularly difficult because there is nobody for them to approach about their issue; to your local players, as a judge, you are the only face of the DCI that many of them will see. Take some time with these players, explain to them how the penalties are the same for everyone and that the penalties are based on the opportunities for abuse.

Encourage competitive events

Encourage your TOs to run Grand Prix Trials frequently, this will keep your players that are seeking the more serious tournaments from getting bored and prevent people from trying to be overly competitive at your Regular REL events. There are few things more detrimental to the cultivating of new players than running face first into an experienced player in full blown Spike mode during round one of an FNM.

Prepare your replacement(s)

This one is something that Gavin Duggan told me the importance of when I passed my Level 2 test: Life happens, and you may have to move away or a new job may take up too much of your time to remain as active as you once were. If you are taking on the role of becoming a pillar in your local community, make sure that you have someone else who people feel comfortable approaching regarding their issues so that your work doesn’t fall apart without you. This is the perfect thing to do while mentoring another judge or judge candidate for advancement: allow them to start fielding more of the rules questions for players and encourage them to start building a closer relationship with the store owners.


I’m a huge believer in the fact that community building and maintenance is one of our primary roles as judges, because without a player base there wouldn’t be anything for us to judge. Always be friendly and approachable to your players at or away from the game table and you’ll keep them coming back week after week.