Head Judging a PPTQ

Written by Aruna Prem Bianzino

Written by Aruna Prem Bianzino


This article is a resource to help judges prepare to face their first PPTQ as a Head Judge, learn about managing other judges on staff and identify issues he or she never had to think about before.




First, we will address everything you need to manage before the beginning of the tournament, starting from the moment in which you were selected as HJ, hopefully a few weeks before the tournament day.  Then we will discuss the HJ tasks during and after the event. If these tasks are carried out to the best of your abilities, you will have very few issues to be worried about once the tournament begins!


Tournament Organizer

The Tournament Organizer (TO) is the one sanctioning the event and probably the one choosing you as HJ. There are a few things you should define with him/her from the very beginning. First, it is very important to have an estimation of the number of players that will attend the event, since this number will be the basis for many of your choices.

From the expected number of players, you may need other judges on your staff. Usually, a Floor Judge for every 40 players is advisable. You may decide to change this rate if you will be dealing with particularly unfavorable conditions like tables split among different rooms or even different floors, or if there are side events where many players are expected or with specific requirements. You may agree with the TO about having an extra FJ to manage a GPT side event which will take place in a contiguous room. If the uncertainty about the number of expected players is high, or if the number is close to a multiple of 40, you may staff a stand-by judge.

You should also discuss with the TO what compensation that will be given to you and to the eventual FJs. It is best to agree on it as early as possible to avoid misunderstandings. Decide first if you prefer a compensation based on the number of players or fixed, and if you want it to include food and beverage, travel expenses, etc. If you have any doubt, ask for advice from more experienced judges in your area. Don’t work for free!

It is wise to remind the TO of what he/she should provide for the tournament, especially since the TO may be facing his/her first “sizable” tournament.

In particular, the TO should bring:

  • A PC (Windows 7 recommended) with the last version of the WER correctly installed, possibly connected to the internet*
  • A computer with WER, with internet connectivity and extension cable and plug adapter
  • A printer with cables, paper, ink-cartridge, and backup ink-cartridge
  • A paper cutter, tape, scissors, and markers
  • Deck Registration sheets and pens for players to write their decklists
  • Temporary DCI cards**
  • Tables, chairs, and table numbers
  • A projector/timer/screen to display the remaining time
  • An audio system, with microphone for the announcements to players
  • Trash bins

Furthermore, if the tournament will be sealed, the TO should bring:

  • Enough product for the players
  • Marked Deck Registration sheets
  • Rubber bands for product and lists, and later on for the pool swap
  • Basic lands

Finally, the TO is the one deciding the tournament format and the location. Ask about the location, and especially about capacity limitations. Will it be divided into multiple rooms? Has the TO organized tournaments there, and what was the experience? Ask about any planned side events and if your staff is running those. Does the TO prefer a lunch/dinner break? What food is available in the venue and locally for players? What are food options for the judges?

* WER is currently suboptimal without an internet connection. Details or possible workarounds may be found at this link.

** Now the DCI registration procedure should be done on-line. If a player wants to register for the tournament and does not have a DCI number, the TO should show him/her the registration procedure. In the unlikely case in which an internet connection is not available, a temporary DCI card should be used.



Taking TO answers as a starting point, decided the staff size and number of stand-by judges. Next, prepare an application announcement to find your staff. Include in your announcement:

  • The compensation
  • The location and the time
  • The tournament format
  • The application deadline

Remind the candidates to specify any special needs in their application. You should use Judge Apps to advertise your recruitment announcement.

Once the deadline has expired, select your staff from among the candidates and communicate the results of your selection process as soon as possible. On the basis of the staff size, you may also assign specific roles to the different judges, such as Backup HJ,  Scorekeeper, or Team Leads who would be  responsible for logistic, lists, deck-checks, paper, etc.

A few days before the event send a briefing mail to your staff reminding them of the event details like location, arrival time, expected finishing time, required attire, a phone number for emergencies and specific tasks assigned.



If you can, visit the location before the event to get a personal idea of the situation and estimate your travel times for that day. Make sure the trains or roads will be available that day so you won’t be delayed.

Try to identify any problem areas (e.g, uncovered in case of rain or direct sun, uncomfortable chairs, etc) that would be better avoided or used only if necessary. Try to imagine also where to set up registration and scorekeeping (near power), where to place the judge station, and where to collect lists and perform deck checks.

Planning your event at your best will improve your odds of success and the satisfaction of all participants. “Everything that can be done before the tournament must be done before the tournament!” (Khanh Le Thien)


The Tournament Morning

The first thing to do when reaching the venue is to confirm the presence of planned materials and logistics we discussed earlier. The TO should have provided all of this, but checking only takes a really small amount of time and will save you from bad surprises and give you time for Plan B.

Logistical concerns (that you may have delegated, at least in part) you check should include:

  • A suitable space to take the player registrations
  • A scorekeeping station, where the PC with WER will stay and where you will collect results
  • A judge station where you can collect and check lists, store them , and perform deck-checks
  • Places to post pairings, visible and easily accessible (e.g., no tables around). Think about how many copies of the pairings you want to post and if you need to split the pairings into alphabetical ranges. If there is a smoking area outside, you may want to post a copy of the pairing there as well
  • Numbered tables, possibly following a logical order to make it easier to find tables and to distribute result slips (e.g., snake order)


Player Registration

Finally, direct contact with players begins! You may want to keep the following items near your scorekeeping station:

  • Paper and pens for players still without their deck list, if the tournament is constructed
  • Temporary DCI cards for new players, if you do not have internet connectivity to perform the online registration procedure

On the basis of the number of players that will register, you may also want to:

  • Assign someone to crowd control (i.e., keep an ordered queue, direct players needing to register, do not block the transits)
  • Post some signs along the queue saying that “If you pre-registered, prepare X dollars and your surname. If you are not pre-registered, prepare Y dollars and your DCI number.”
  • Remind players about completing a decklist if the tournament will be constructed

Make sure judges have water available and schedule lunch and general breaks if you did not already delegate this task and if there will not be a lunch/dinner break in the tournament itself.

Finally, before the tournament begins, it would be good to have a quick judge briefing with your staff. Avoid being verbose since we are in a critical phase for the tournament where time represents the most valuable resource. Remind your team:

  • They must confirm Game Losses and Backups with the HJ (except for Tardiness and D/DLP)
  • They should not hesitate to ask if they are not sure about something or if they need help
  • They should not be heroes and should ask for a break if they need it. We need them in shape!

You should get the DCI#s from your staff or judgeapps to put in WER before the tournament starts.This allows the Scorekeeper to track penalties for each judge.


Player Meeting and Announcements

You will take care of decklists during the player meeting for constructed. If the tournament is constructed, different strategies are possible:

  • Make the players sit in alphabetical order (seating by name) for the opening announcement and collect the lists there. They will already be ordered, but this will cause you a small delay, since players will have to stand and sit again on the basis of round 1 pairings
  • Let the players directly sit on the basis of the round 1 pairings and then alphabetically sort the lists. In this way you will spend judge time instead
  • Let the players directly sit on the basis of the round 1 pairings and keep the lists ordered by table. In this case you will need a master list (i.e., the pairings of round 1, printed in alphabetical order) to allow you to find lists in the following rounds

If the tournament is limited, players will finish their decks at different time and you may then choose to make them bring the lists to a collection point or to have judges directly collecting lists in the room.

Once pairings or seatings have been posted and players are seated, it is time for your opening announcements.

It’s always good to prepare a draft of your opening Head Judge announcements. The announcement content should be different depending whether the event will be sealed or constructed. In particular, if the tournament will be constructed, your announcement should include:

  • The name of the HJ and of the other members of the staff
  • The number of players, the number and duration of the rounds, and the playoff cut*
  • Tardiness 0-10
  • Where to take the match slips
  • The applied Competitive REL, details about the deck-lists (include name, surname, DCI number, number of the table at the first round, if you will sort lists by table), and indications for list collection
  • Presence or absence of lunch/dinner break, and where to find food
  • When and how to call a judge, e.g., “If you need a judge, rise your hand and yell JUDGE. Well, let’s see how you do it and try all together: 3, 2, 1… JUDGE”
  • Recent important updates to the rules and/or policies, like the policy of revealing morph creatures at the end of the match if the tournament will be played with the KTK block
  • “Have fun!”

If the event is sealed, your announcement should also include:

  • If all players received product
  • Instructions on who is going to be player A and player B, how to open and check the pool with the player seating in front (this may include sorting cards by color) and how to switch the pool for registration.
  • Instructions on how to list the card pool, like “First write your name, surname, and DCI number under ‘player who registers the pool.’ Now mark the cards in the ‘total’ column. Mark also the foil basic lands. At the end you should have listed 84 cards. You have 20 minutes to list the pool. When you finish, please remain seated!”
  • Instructions for returning the pool to its owner (after registration).
  • Instructions for the deck building, like “First write your name, surname, and DCI number under “player who uses the deck”, and your table number on the list. Mark the cards that you will play in the “played” column, and remember to list also the basic lands!! You have 30 minutes to register your deck. When you finish, please bring the list to…”.

*Details for the event, such as number of swiss rounds, cutoff, and round length should follow the PPTQ event fact sheet.

Practice, experience, and this article will surely help you improving your announcement and make it catchier.


Round 1

You should check that you have all the lists as soon as possible, while actually counting the lists may be done at lower priority (i.e., if constructed, at least 60 main deck cards and at most 15 sideboard cards, format legal, clearly identifiable, etc).

Personally, I find it useful to have a list of all time extensions issued each round by the scorekeeper . The list helps the Head Judge assign judges to tables with extensions to ensure good pace of play and those tables get their extra time.

Finally, you may want to set up a control table to take note, for each round, of pairings posting time, beginning time, number of executed deck-checks, and the number of drops.** This table is useful to check the efficiency of the different members of your team. Furthermore, after the tournament, it may be useful to analyse your performance and to write your report.

**Special thanks to Antonio José Rodríguez Jiménez for the inspiration!


During the Tournament

There are tasks you should take care of during each round. In particular, at the beginning of each round, remember to start the timer and back up the tournament in WER. During the round, make sure the play area is covered by judges and the necessary deck checks are completed.

Whenever possible,  you should take notes about your observations for reviews the tournament report before your forget them.

If you scheduled some judge exams for the day, the best scheduling is to have the written exam during the later rounds which are usually less stressful. The oral debrief can be during the Playoff or after the event.


After the Tournament

At the end of the tournament, remember to thank your team. Without their help, managing the tournament would not have been possible! Furthermore, you may want to devote some time before the Top 8 to debrief your team or specific judges to discuss some situations or exchange advice, feedback and impressions. These are highly educational moments and really important both for you and for your team!

Once the tournament is over, we still have a few tasks left to take care of:

  • Write a tournament report. You may refer to this article for further details on this task
  • Insert the results of exams and the corresponding reviews
  • Write reviews on other judges you observed during the tournament



You’ll notice most of the work is done either before the tournament begins or during Round 1. If you successfully carried out your tasks in this phase, your tournament should run more smoothly and leave your attention and time for matches and player calls. Hence, it is very important that you take the best of care in the early phases and devote all the necessary time and attention.

Finally, good luck for your first PPTQ!!!