Technology as we know it is changing all the time, at a pace greater than anything we’ve ever known. Obtaining information no longer requires knowing someone who is skilled in the subject or needing to go to the library; type in a few words in Google and you have your information right there. Contacting another human being shifted from being face-to-face, to over-the-cables, to wireless communications. Our communication is no longer necessarily direct. What used to be dictated by sending letters and notes is now instantaneous, where we can receive and respond at will.
This has transferred well into the Judge Program as we know it today. For the longest time, our only resources to one another were via private communication such as e-mail to the long-standing Email List that preceded the modern-day forums. DCIX transformed into JudgeApps, and we are now at a point where any judge in the world can be heard in one, centralized location. However, in the wake of this new potential, we need to adapt to what we have now to use it most effectively.
The Issue With the Forums
The forums of JudgeApps are truly one of the greatest resources we have available to us for judging. Any judge can pose a question, any judge can answer a question, and any judge can come for just about any purpose imaginable. However, a mindset has come into play that hinders our ability to use the forums as well as we could.
The [O]fficial Answer
Back in the days of the Email List, if you needed an answer to a rules question, you would Email it to the Rules List, and wait for an [O]fficial source to respond. Since this was a public list with hundreds of subscribing judges, it was protocol that only [O] sources answer such questions to prevent those who subscribed to the list from being flooded by everyone’s responses, and therefore also making it difficult to locate the correct answer, [O] or otherwise.
Today’s forums, with few exceptions, eliminate the need for [O] answers entirely. Take the following mental experiment: You have a rules or policy question that you need answered. To assist you with this task, you have a room with 10 judges of various levels. With you and those judges, do you think that you could figure out an answer to your question? It would almost seem certain, given how much experience and different perspectives you would have in that room. Now instead of 10 judges, make that thousands of judges. Right there, you have a room that we call JudgeApps today. You have an open table that any of those thousands of judges can sit down at and work with you to figure out an answer.
Now, of course, scenarios do come up where no such answer may exist, and an [O]fficial answer may be necessary. However asking for an [O] answer is often redundant and a waste of a learning opportunity.
The Forums as a Learning Tool
With the forums come all these questions, and every one of those questions is a chance for a judges to both teach and learn with one another. Even with a very simple question, it gives the asker a chance to learn the answer while giving many judges the chance to learn how to effectively communicate said answer to that judge.
But let’s take a look at a more difficult rules or policy question – one that may have no immediately visible solution. Post it for everyone to pitch in on, and let everyone have their chance in the discussion that ensues. It gives judges of all skill levels the chance to stretch their knowledge and apply it to a non-textbook scenario. For the most part, we all know how to read the Comprehensive Rules, the MTR, the IPG, and the JAR. It is valuable to be familiar with these documents. However, in application at events, not everything is necessarily going to be obviously covered by these documents.
By opening our questions to the community, everyone gets the opportunity to become a better judge through actively thinking and communicating with their peers, regardless if they are initially correct or not. Such behavior is an incredibly valuable asset to any judge. We are all peers in this program, and we all have something to learn from each other.
What Judge Levels Actually Mean
Take myself, Peter Richmond, as an example. In the Judge Program, I hold the Level of 2. But what does that “2” actually mean as a judge? Does it necessarily make me greater or lesser than other judges? The number alone means nothing as to what kind of judge I am; it speaks to what my minimum expectations and abilities are as a judge. It acts as a metric for other judges, regional coordinators, and tournament organizers to they can understand, at a glance, where I generally stand in knowledge and capability. (Note that I am focusing on ability, not the privileges that come with Level, such as being able to test candidates for L1 or Head Judging a Grand Prix).
A common behavior has emerged on the forums. This comes with a notable trend that “being correct” is essential to posting on the forums, and this simply is not true. I’ve heard from multiple Level 1s (and a couple Level 2s) that they are often afraid to post in the Regular or Competitive REL forums about rules and policy questions, simply for the fear of being wrong or ultimately looked down upon for giving incorrect answers or unpopular opinions at times.
This message goes to everyone: we are here to help you grow as a judge. We are a community that cares about one another, and it is often said by players and judges alike that judges are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. We are here to help everyone get stronger, and the forums are an invaluable tool for doing so.
Go ahead, do the research on a question, and give it your best answer. If you’re right, then you know that you understand something very well, and that you helped someone else understand it. If you’re wrong, then we have an equally positive effect. First off, someone will correct you, so don’t worry about misleading another judge. But, more importantly, someone will teach you. They will teach you why you were wrong. Perhaps you misunderstood a piece of policy, or you didn’t know a relevant rule. Regardless of the reason, every relevant post you make is a chance to learn from your peers.
Judges of all levels should be considerate of the potential of other judges, regardless of level, higher or lower. Whatever the number is by their name, it is only a number. Let them have their chance to be a member of this community and take advantage of our great technology. While it may seem odd at first, a Level 1 or 2 discussing policy on a level basis with a Level 3, 4, or 5, there is nothing odd at all about it. We are all certified judges. We have all studied and judged with one another. We are all peers in our community. Only by recognizing this can we take the next step forward.
The stronger each judge is, the stronger our Judge Program becomes. By including everyone as we continue into the unknown future of Magic and Judging, we will all be better prepared, overall, for what comes at us. The recent rise of Competitive Magic is evidence that we need more skilled judges, regardless of Level. By using the forums to our advantage, including everyone, and taking the chance to be wrong to be able to learn, we gain the ability to bring any judge up to their full potential, and no amount of humility can make us lose that ability as long as we work together.
Let’s make this a wonderful year and a wonderful future Judge Program. Let’s look forward to see what comes of it.