The Appeal of It All

So you’ve been appealed. Now what?

(Yep, that’s all the introduction you get this week. We’re starting in media res, friends!)

First Instincts

You might think the first thing you should do is go get the Head Judge…but not so fast! Especially at larger events, make sure you write down the table number of the original ruling, so you can bring the Head Judge back to the right spot! (There are fewer things more embarrassing than wandering the rows of a Grand Prix with a red-shirted Head Judge in tow, looking for some vaguely familiar players.)

The second thing to keep in mind is the appropriate time extension. Hopefully you’ve already noted the time the call began. But if not, make sure to do that now so you can give (close to) the proper time extension at the end of the final ruling. Moreover, you’ll want to let the Head Judge know how long the call has been active, especially if it’s taken a while to get this far. (Five minutes is a reasonable threshold for getting worried that a ruling might be taking too long.)

Alone Time

Now you can begin find the (or a) Head Judge. But, as you’re walking, think about what you’re actually going to the Head Judge when you find them! This window – these precious moments when you’re by yourself, with any players or other judges to be concerned about – is your best opportunity to reflect on what just happened. What’s actually going on in the call? Why did the player appeal? How confident are you in your ruling? What are the most important details that the Head Judge needs to know about?

As you grow more experienced, you will find yourself asking and answering these questions of yourself automatically as the ruling folds. This is a fantastic habit and skill to develop, and I strongly encourage you to do so. No matter how experienced you are, though, it’s often helpful to take a moment to explicitly force yourself to think about the ruling, analyze it from a different perspective, and critically challenge your existing beliefs about what just occurred. And even if you’re a superb extemporaneous communicator, sketching out what you want to tell the Head Judge can only improve things.

First Contact

At this point, the Head Judge should be in sight. When you go up to them, your first words should be, “I have an appeal.” Even if they’re in the middle of something else, you should (politely) interject yourself to say you have an appeal. No matter how busy the Head Judge looks, your appeal is almost certainly the most important and urgent task they need to address. Even if it’s not, that’s not your decision to make – it’s the Head Judge’s! So give them the information they need to make that analysis, and just say, “I have an appeal,” every time.

Now that you have the Head Judge’s attention, what will you do with it?

You should start with the most important facts first. In the context of judging, two good places to begin are the kind of ruling or infraction you just issued, and the likelihood that your ruling was correct. “A player didn’t believe me when I told him about the new legendary rule” paints a very different picture from “the players don’t agree about what happened in combat this turn, but I’m confident I figured it out,” which is in turn quite different from “the players don’t agree about what happened, and honestly, I’m not sure either.”

Starting your ruling this way greatly helps the Head Judge understand what kind of appeal they’re about to walk into. Much like you used the time between the ruling and finding the Head Judge to think about what occurred, knowing what’s going on helps the Head Judge prepare for what will happen and how they’re going to handle the appeal. Most Head Judges are fairly experienced, and will often have handled similar situations the past. As a floor judge, your responsibility is giving the Head Judge the information they need to figure out what kind of situation they’re in, as quickly and accurately as possible. Don’t bury the lede!

(As an aside for the mathematically inclined: you can think of this as Head Judges traversing a Markov chain or similar model to make decisions. The more experienced you are as a Head Judge, the more quickly you can traverse the model and make decisions, and the more rarely you have to update your model to handle totally novel situations. A huge part of growing as a judge is building, expanding, and improving upon these kinds of internal models.)

Walk the Walk

At this point – or possibly even as soon as you say “I have an appeal” – the Head Judge will probably ask you to take them to the players. This is “the walk,” and it had a critical place in the appeal process. Specifically, this is when you should tell the story of the ruling: what happened, why did it happen, and what did you do about it? Most (but perhaps not all) rulings will follow this sort of narrative arc.

Remember, you’re a judge, not a court scribe. You don’t have to relay the ruling to the Head Judge in the precise order that it occurred. If players only told you about some critical detail halfway through the call, but it turned out to be crucial to the entire ruling, you should probably state that up front.

Carrying the story analogy further, you might find it helpful to share some details about the characters involved—that is, the players. Did one player seem more helpful or trustworthy than the other? Are the players arguing with each other, or are things fairly civil? Even more fundamentally, who is who? Especially if the ruling is about a complicated board state or a failure to agree on reality, using some kind of consistent vocabulary to refer to the players is critical. “AP” and “NAP” are traditional appellations, but I find myself referring to the players by the decks they’re piloting. Some of this gets easier at (or close to) the table, too, where statements like “that guy in the red shirt is the active player” suddenly become much more informative.

Has taken a few appeals.

Has taken a few appeals.

One final thought about the walk comes from Toby Elliott, who gave me a great piece of advice for this article at Pro Tour Origins a few weeks ago. When you’re taking the Head Judge to an appeal, they generally have no idea where the ruling is. It’s up to you to bring them there. As a direct corollary, it’s your responsibility to match the length of the walk to the length of your story. It’s perfectly fine to slow the pace of your walk if the players’ table is close by but your story is relatively long. Plus, it would be incredibly awkward if you happened to discuss the ruling where the players could hear you. So be smart!

Wrapping Up

Whew. To recap: when you get appealed, make sure you know where the ruling happened, and when it began. On your way to find the Head Judge, think about what just happened and what you’re going to tell the Head Judge. When you find the Head Judge, interrupt what they’re doing and say, “I have an appeal,” then sketch out the most important facts up front. Finally, on the walk back to the table, put things together into a complete story that the Head Judge can easily grasp.

That’s a lot! But, as it turns out, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of appeals—we haven’t even gotten back to the table yet! And, hey, what’s the purpose of appeals, anyway?

So, as you might expect, more posts are to come! In the future, I’ll talk about how Head Judges interact with players during appeals, and how that’s both different and similar to how floor judges’ interactions; some of the different “modes” Head Judges use for handling appeals; the importance of having multiple Appeals Judges at large events; and various other ruminations on appeals in the grand scheme.

Until next time, may your rulings always be appealing.