Judging is great. I love doing it; I enjoy helping players, meeting new friends from across the globe, and collecting shiny judge foils. The judge community at large is easily the friendliest and most knowledgeable community I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of.
However, as great as the larger judge community is, I have noticed that many times our local communities are not living up to their potential. I’ve spoken with many judges who want to become more involved in developing their local communities, but don’t know where to start. To steal terminology from the level 3 guidelines, many communities will have various deficiencies. Perhaps the players are underserved, and there aren’t enough judges. Perhaps the judges have not been able to take advantage of the knowledge base that the more experienced judges in your community can pass on, and are experiencing more growing pains as they come up through the ranks than necessary. Or perhaps you have a large group of judges in your area who know each other as acquaintances, but aren’t necessarily close and therefore don’t always mesh well at local events.
There are many problems that a local judge community may deal with. Whatever the challenge, I have found that organizing a series of judge gatherings can help develop a community if run consistently. To my knowledge, Salt Lake City, UT, Portland, OR, San Diego, CA, and the Los Angeles, CA areas already run meetings on a pretty consistent basis. And each of these has prompted improvement in various aspects of their local communities.
In this article, I’m going to go over the basics of how to get judge gatherings started in your community, including where to schedule and how to cater them to the specific needs of your community. The ideas and lists presented in this article are far from comprehensive, but hopefully it gives you a good place to start.
Before you begin organizing your community’s first judge gathering, you need to first take a step back and analyze what you want to accomplish at these gatherings. Every judge who attends your meetings is spending their free time attending; it’s important that you don’t waste that time. Additionally, whenever you get a group of judges together, you have a lot of expertise available. This expertise can provide various opportunities for improvement in your community. Look at what your community needs, and assess what needs to be done in your meetings to provide the best value to the judges attending. Below are just a few problems that judge gatherings can tackle, though it is far from an all-inclusive list.
Community development & education
Many communities are fairly underdeveloped, and the players aren’t served as well as they could be. Gathering a group of judges together can deliver a lot of expertise to less experienced judges, and help bypass many of the growing pains a new L1 will experience. Even in well served communities, everybody could always learn something more. Think of a portion of your judge gatherings as “Regular REL” judge conferences. Not that you’re only discussing Regular REL subjects, but that the subjects are less intensive, and often geared towards teaching and developing the judge candidates and L1’s in your community, many of whom haven’t made it to a larger, traditional judge conference.
I have found that treating a portion of the judge gatherings in this fashion also provides an excellent opportunity for L1s who want to become more involved in the community to take a step forward. If an L1 has a subject they know a lot about, I would strongly encourage you to let them lead a discussion about that subject at one of your gatherings. If there’s not a subject that they feel particularly comfortable presenting on, then the set releases are exceptional opportunities for them. Every set introduces new mechanics which, as judges, we all need to be aware of. Discussing these new mechanics insures that players at all of your local stores receive the same, correct ruling on the same interaction, right as the set comes out.
When I first started organizing judge gatherings in the Portland area, I made this one of my higher priorities. Not everybody knew everybody else who judged, and those who did were often only loosely acquainted with the other judges. In this type of situation, it’s important to gear your activities towards building that togetherness and friendliness. I’m not talking about doing trust falls into each other, but setting time aside specifically towards playing games and socializing helps develop this aspect of your community. It doesn’t always have to be Magic that you play together, either. Many board games or other activities which are very social are great ways to help develop this aspect of your community.
Perhaps there just aren’t enough judges in your area. Many stores run events without a certified judge, and disputes may be handled between players. If that’s the case, you could contact stores in your area, and look for involved, active players who want to become judges. Invite them to the gatherings, and use the time to train them on the basic rules and policies necessary to become a certified judge. After a few gatherings, you will be ready to test and certify a large handful of new judges.
Structuring these meetings requires just a bit of logistical work. There’s a few things to factor in.
When I started these meets, I felt that it was important to show no store favoritism. Many of the judges in the community worked at stores, and other judges had stores which they greatly preferred over other stores. Because of this, the first Portland, OR meet was not held in a store; it was held at a local restaurant. Many restaurants have a meeting room, and if you want to use it on a weeknight they will gladly let you use it for free for a couple hours. If you do this, make sure that people come to the meet hungry, and patronize the restaurant. No restaurant would be very happy with lending out their private meeting room, and only selling a couple meals.
After that initial meeting, the Portland judge gatherings have rotated between several of the stores around the area. Because I made efforts to show these gatherings were not attached or associated to a particular store, every store has welcomed us to hold events there. In some cases, the store staff and players have joined in, listened to our judge topics, and we’ve educated more than just the judge community. During those times, the judges in the community have started to develop relationships with the local TO’s and players.
Time and day
Every community will be different, but one thing most judges share is that weekends are a bad time to schedule meets. That’s when at least a few judges who you want at your events will be flying out of state to judge Grand Prixs, Star City Opens, and other large events. Weeknights generally work best, both for store and judge availability. I have found that scheduling events at around 7pm allows time for judges to relax a little bit after work before heading to the venue, and it allows the gathering to run for a couple hours. Whatever time and day you choose, make sure to keep it consistent if at all possible, so judges know what to expect.
The L.A. and San Diego area judge gatherings draw judges from a pretty large metropolitan area. In L.A., they have found a store with a central location which welcomes the judges, and even occasionally provides a few old promo cards to give out at the meetings. The central location helps more judges to be able to get to the event. San Diego has split into two gatherings, one for the north San Diego area, and one for the south San Diego area.
In smaller metro areas, it can be more beneficial to move the event between several different stores on a monthly basis. This way, the TO’s in the area start to develop a relationship with the judge community as a whole, which is very beneficial to the player base as various event needs come up.
Like I mentioned above, it is important not to waste the time of those who come. The first meeting that I ran, we sat down and played games first, and discussed upcoming new mechanics and rules changes for M14 second. I had no schedule in my mind about how long each should take. The discussion went well enough, but it should have definitely come first. Everybody’s attention would have been sharp at the beginning of the meeting, rather than at the ending, and the information retention rate would have been higher.
Another important part about any discussion or lecture which is done at your meetings is that it needs to be time-constrained. We could talk for days and days about judging, and if somebody doesn’t act as a moderator… it’s likely you will. Unfortunately, many people’s attention will start to wander after about 30 minutes. There will still be some people engaged in the discussion topic, but you will be losing everybody else attending. I have started to request an outline from all of my presenters, including subjects they want to discuss, and a rough time estimate for each subject. It’s also important that somebody (usually you, as the organizer) is there to rope attention back in, and get the group back on track. Otherwise, discussion topics will go out into the weeds, and 30 minute introduction on missed triggers at competitive REL will turn into an hour long discussion about how Obzedat works.
I get a lot of satisfaction out of organizing and running these events, but before anybody tackles organizing a local event, they need to realize they involve a lot of work. Once you get these gatherings in your area off the ground and running what next? If you make it one of your goals to make the gatherings self-sustaining, that will help prevent any one person from being overloaded.
Getting other local judges invested in the planning and organization of meets is important to reach this goal. You want to make sure that if you are unable to make one of the meetings, somebody is available to take over the leadership role. Even having a small team of two or three people will make organization and delegation much better, it will increase the creativity and availability of ideas, and keep a sole organizer from burning out and stepping back from running these events.
An Example Meeting
7:00-7:15: Meeting officially starts, people filter in, introduce new judges, congratulate on promotions or accomplishments.
7:15-7:45: Topic presentation
7:45-8:00: Topic wrap-up and quick Q&A session.
8:00-end: Socializing and games (Cube, EDH, Board Games, Card Against Humanity, or just talking about nothing in particular).
This structure is not set in stone and is included only as a rough guideline. As always, cater it to the needs of your community and its goals.
These judge gatherings are incredible opportunities, and I hope to hear about more of them starting across globe. During the six months that I have been organizing and running them, the Portland judge community has developed closer together, while creating new judges at all of the metro stores. If you do decide to run these, remember above all to cater them to the needs of your local community.
If you want to start running these, and have any further questions on how to get them off the ground, don’t hesitate to ask me for some input.
I would like to thank Jeremy Behunin of Ogden, UT for his help and input in writing and editing this article.