Working with Unfamiliar Stores

Written by Jeffrey Vandenberg

Written by Jeffrey Vandenberg


You’ve just picked up an event you weren’t anticipating. Perhaps a judge bailed at the last moment, the store didn’t schedule a judge, or you just moved into an area. Either way, you’re now in the position  to make this event run as smoothly as possible.



These are some lessons learned in my time as a Store Owner, TO, and recent judge transplant into a region with creating a new set of relationships. The assumptions you may make about how an event is going to run can be radically different from the store owner. As judges, we regularly run tournaments of all shapes and sizes. The store owner, on the other hand, may have not run a Competitive REL event before and may need an expert hand to help them make the event the best it can be.


Get to Know the Store

Visit the the store as soon as possible. It’s important to get the lay of the land and get some face time with the tournament organizer as soon as possible. You want to get familiar with their store layout and where it is so you’re not late finding the place the day of the event. You also need to start developing rapport with the TO.

Don’t delay doing this. If the store is super-organized and on top of things, you show that you’re responsive and organized. If, on the other hand, the store needs assistance, you can help sooner rather than later. You don’t want to be in the position of making decisions or changing details at the last minute.


Know Your Role

As you talk to the TO, you should get a feel for the needs of the store. If you’re lucky, the shop has things figured out and you only have to act as Head Judge for the tournament. On the other hand, the TO may need you to take on more responsibilities. Discuss with the TO how decisions and responsibilities are divided. You don’t want to stumble through ‘who can decide this?’ the day of the event. If necessary, share the MTR 1.6-1.9 definitions of roles with the TO.


Review Tournament Details

Go over all of the information about the event with the TO. What time is it starting? What is the cost of entry? What is the payout and other prizes? Who is responsible for handing out prizes? Don’t make assumptions and don’t get lazy thinking that it’s going to be just like every other event you’ve handled.

If it’s a sealed deck tournament that starts at 1pm or 2pm, you may want to point out that a sealed tournament has extra time requirements for deck registration and draft. Also, if it’s a sealed tournament, check whether they will have a Top 8 draft. If they won’t you should point out that most players are going to expect it, and that some events could require the top 8 draft. This is a good opportunity to ensure that they know how to access and follow the event FAQ sheet.

If the prizes for the event seem particularly high or low, you may want to mention that to the TO. They may not be aware of what other stores are doing. Don’t press too hard on this point however, because the TO may have their own reasons and financial concerns which aren’t your primary responsibility. You can provide experience and information about what other events in the area have awarded. Help the TO make an informed decision about their prize structure.



This could be its own much longer article, but I’ll touch on it here. The short version: the more responsibilities you have (the higher the stakes or the greater the number of players), the more compensation can be requested. For a small GPT asking for around a pack a head can be reasonable. For HJing a PPTQ two boxes is often reasonable. The store may be willing to credit you out non-Magic product if there are some other items you are looking for. Either way, figure out the compensation up front–no later than the initial meeting with the TO.


Organizing Your Staff

Now that you’ve got the basics in place, you should start working out who you’re going to have on staff. Check with the TO to see if there are any in-store judges and if there are any prospects for testing in the shop. Also, work out with the TO what sort of compensation other judges on staff will get. You may need to educate the TO about an appropriate player to judge ratio. A TO may think you can handle a 50 person PPTQ on your own. You may be a rockstar, but that’s still a pretty unreasonable expectation.

I personally try to leave behind more judges at a store after an event. I only use staff entirely outside the store if I’m having to scramble at the last minute and there’s no prospective judge at the shop.


Day of the Event

Hopefully by this time, you’ve got things mostly prepared. If you’ve done your legwork and things are going well with the TO, this should all go smoothly. But if things don’t, stay calm and make sure you communicate with the TO. If questions come up that weren’t anticipated, get them resolved as quickly as possible. This is where you get the payoff for all of your earlier planning.


After the Event

Make sure to set aside time to debrief with the TO. Talk about things that went well and things that could have gone better. Don’t be afraid to own up to your mistakes, but don’t let a TO pile everything that went bad on you. This offers a great opportunity to help cement your relationship with the TO and talk about potential future events that you can coordinate with them.


Walking Away

This is the last resort. If you’re not comfortable running a tournament, for whatever reason, don’t be afraid of walking away. Talk to other judges in the community and find out what their experiences have been like with that shop. Make sure you’re not misreading something. Address your concerns with the TO if you feel it can be done productively. If you do decide to pull out of the event, tell the TO as soon as you can. Try to keep things as polite and diplomatic as you can. Depending on the circumstances it can be a rough situation, but it can be managed.



Hopefully these points help to serve as a guide for starting a discussion with an unfamiliar TO and establishing a working relationship. With the new PPTQ structure, there are a lot of new shops running competitive events that need L2+ judges and not every shop is necessarily on the ball even if they have experience. As a judge, you have the opportunity to help stores run the best events possible. There is always room for improvement. Feel free to share any suggestions or thoughts in the discussion!