Dealing with Difficult Players

Written by Evan Cherry

Written by Evan Cherry

Judging isn’t just about knowing rules and policy. It’s about interacting with people and promoting a good environment.  We have established documents for rules and policy, and even those documents are flexible in order to handle unusual situations. Judges can be taught the basic anatomy of a judge call: determine the issue, explain the fix, issue a ruling, open up for questions, and exit the call. What they don’t teach in the books is what to do when players make the basics of judging difficult. In this piece, we’re going to outline some common difficult behaviors and basic strategies for addressing them.


The Chronic Complainer

This player has something to say about everything. It’s rarely constructive, and almost always sounds like a broken record. The more it goes on, the more annoying it becomes and the more it spreads.

Player: “We’re always waiting 15 minutes for the next round!”

The Fix: Address or direct their complaint somewhere it can be productive.  Acknowledge it if you can’t. Focus on resolving the issue and moving along.

Judge: “I hear your concern and we’re sorry for the delay. We’re putting up pairings as soon as the last slip comes in. If it continues to be a problem, I’d love to talk about improving it.”


The Insensitive One

Not really a bad person, they just don’t think before they act or say something. Often times they use non-Politically Correct terms that can silently affect those around them and make the environment less comfortable. Usually they’re not even aware they’re causing problems. Sometimes they don’t care.

Player: “I can’t believe how gay Siege Rhino is. It totally raped me last game.”

The Fix: Focus on explaining why their behavior affects others and encourage them to be cognizant of others before they act or speak. If you think they’ve reasonably caused others to feel uncomfortable or harassed, consider a USC – Minor or USC – Major at Competitive REL or upgrading or removal from the event upon repeating at Regular REL.

Judge: “These specific words you used are making others uncomfortable. I don’t think you meant to, but by not thinking about what you say you’ve affected others and caused an issue. Please be aware that words or actions may have other meanings, and let’s not use [word] in a derogatory way.”


The Know-it-All Rules Lawyer

They know about the rules. They know they know more about the rules. They know they know more about the rules than you. You’re likely to get appealed and have to deal with an argument if it doesn’t go their way. They may want your name to report you later.

Player: “My opponent bounced a creature with Force Away before untapping his creatures to the Jeskai Ascendancy trigger. The trigger should resolve on the stack before the spell!”

The Fix: Explain the rules clearly to both players, acknowledging when the player is technically correct. Address cases like Out of Order Sequencing where playing to the letter of the rules doesn’t improve playing the game.

Judge: “You’re technically right. The spell goes on the stack before the trigger is put on the stack, so the trigger should resolve first. We allow a little bit of imperfect technical play as long as it’s clear to both players.”


The Loudmouth

You can hear these people from across the hall. You know who these people are, and so does everyone in the room. It breaks player concentration and it makes it difficult for people to communicate.


The Fix: Ask that they keep it down. Inform them it’s distracting to others and disrupts the event. If it’s getting out of hand, consider USC- Minor at Comp REL or explain the upgrade path at Regular REL.

Judge: “Please lower your voice. We can hear you across the hall and it’s disruptive to the other players and the staff.”


The Pottymouth

This person sounds like a George Carlin standup routine. Every other word makes their message sound less intelligent. Perhaps they’ve put all their bad-word eggs into one really profane basket and said something that shocks others around them.

Player: “#@$@#$&% Topdeck! $%#@#$*& Lucksack #$%*@#$!”

The Fix: Indicate to them their language is not appropriate for the event, and explain why it could be considered disruptive. If you think it affected the event, consider issuing a USC – Minor at Competitive REL, and explaining the upgrade path at Regular REL.

Judge: “I’d appreciate it if you would clean up your language. There could be children and other people around that are uncomfortable with that type of language.”


That Shady Guy

Weird things happen whenever they’re around. You can’t exactly put your finger on it all the time, but the concerns keep coming in from players that something is amiss.

Player: “He keeps missing triggers and playing with his hand under the table and building his draft deck away from the table and cutting his own deck and drawing the right card he needs.”

The Fix: Make contact with this player. You can be friendly and introduce yourself with some vague indication that they’re under scrutiny. Address them by name.

Judge: “I love to watch games of Magic and see the various players having fun. I’m glad you could be here [name], I’m sure we’ll see each other later.”


The Talkaholic

This player wants to talk about anything: their trip to the venue, how long you’ve been judging, what happens when you Fork a Shahrazad, and a bad beats story. You wanted to be friendly and listen, but now they’re continually seeking you out during the rounds and distracting you from other tasks.

Player: “It’s so cool you’re a judge, I’ve thought about it for a while but haven’t because of [reasons]. My first round went so well but then the second round derailed by some miser copy of [obscure card]. Speaking of which, how does [obscure card] work with Eye of the Storm and Knowledge Pool out?”

The Fix: Maintain a friendly disposition and listen when they speak. Eventually you will have to interrupt them and respectfully inform them that you need to handle something. Be on the lookout to rescue other judges trapped in conversations.

Judge: “I’d really love to keep talking, but we need to walk around the floor and collect Match Result Slips before the end of the round. Can we talk more later when I’m less busy?”


The Turtle

These players think slow and steady wins a Magic race. In reality, they’re eating up the time of everyone in the room.  With prodding to play faster, they’ll try to explain why this is the most important part of their match and everything is so complex, and you don’t understand.

Player: “He’s got 5 blockers and I have to get through this damage or I might lose 4 turns from now.”

The Fix: Acknowledge their pleas and ask them to proceed with their game. Explain later that every extra second they take deliberating is less time for their opponent. It adds up for all the other players waiting to start the next round.

Judge: “I understand that things are complex, but we still need you to make a play.”

Later: “I know it feels like I was rushing you earlier, but you need to understand that your pace of play was too slow and affects the tournament.”


The Angry Hulk

This player has some issues. They’re likely to be loud, combative, and a little physical. They’re possibly a bit rough with their opponent’s cards and don’t care. They may slam their fists on tables or flip cards. If you’re unlucky, they may be unable to handle themselves and cross over into truly aggressive territory.

Player: “I CAN’T BELIEVE I KEEP LOSING TO THIS DECK!” *Slams fists or throws cards*

The Fix: Diffuse the situation right away. Position your body language as strong but approachable and use a calm tone. Ask them if they need a moment to calm down and approach the problem when they have. Consider USC – Minor at Competitive REL or the upgrade path at Regular REL.

Judge: “Are you ok? Do you need a moment away from the table? You got pretty upset there, and it affected the comfort of people around you. I need you to stay calm in the future.”

If they’re getting physically or verbally aggressive, maintain your calm composure but address the safety of others and yourself first. Focus on calming them down, then explain that they’re being removed from the event.



A common pitfall is to get too wrapped up in interacting with a problematic player. One of the “always” fixes if you’re finding yourself using too much time is to say  “I’d love to talk about this with you later, but right now I need you to get back to your game.”

Let’s not forget judges are people too, and sometimes they fall into these bad habits. If you start to see these behaviors manifest in judges going about their work, feel free to respectfully address bad behavior in judges as well.

While the list of problematic behaviors is not extensive, hopefully you can use some of these containment strategies to handle others not discussed here. As always, respect and good judgment are the secrets to dealing with problematic people.

Let’s make Magic fun for everyone by promoting good social behavior!