10 ways to improve as a Judge

The idea for this article has been stirring in my mind for quite some time now. As an active member of the BeNeLux community and an Area Captain I frequent a lot of stores and tournaments; places that contain a lot of amazing Magic Judges. Observing and interacting with all of you helped me notice some patterns of behaviour. Written from my own perspective, I have 10 small tips that could help you improve.

1. Write that review

Reviews are a fundamental part of the Judge program. When you write someone a review, you help that person to become a better Judge. This shows that you care for this person and their well-being, because you are making an effort and spending some of your precious free time in order for them to grow.

Writing a review is also a beneficial process for the writer. By observing other Magic Judges, you will hone your observational skills. A written review is at its best when complemented with a feedback conversation. Providing good feedback, and developing good communication are useful skills that are hard to master. Practising this is the only way to progress.The easiest way is to work an event together, but you can also write a review when you are playing or spectating. You could also review someone who gave a seminar. If you happen to have a multi-Judge event coming up, start preparing for that review in advance. Choose a Judge you want to review and make sure to take notes. It sometimes helps to ask them for topics in advance. Maybe that Judge is going to try out something new, or wants to act on previous feedback. If you have gathered some materials for a review, don’t postpone it. Your notes will only be good for a couple of days after the event. After that your memory will fade and your notes won’t be enough to help you to write that awesome review. Plan some time to write your masterpiece.

2. Take practice tests regularly

We’ve all been there, spamming practice tests before an exam to improve our understanding of the rules. I admire everyone’s efforts to pass their test, but ask yourself: when was the last time you tested your knowledge?I am certainly not suggesting you test daily or weekly, but keeping up with new rules and policy every new set release should be doable! Check out the new rules of the mechanics, spend some time with the release notes and read Toby’s blog post regarding policy changes. Players will come to you with questions, and at your next events, these rules and policies will be in effect.

With Judge Center in a difficult state at the time I am writing this article, make sure to use other available resources such as quizlets (like the one for Hour of Devastation), Judge Booth, Judge Classes, and Judge Exams here on Judge Apps.

3. When you answer a question online, refer to the used rule(s)

As players tend to frequent social media, this has become a popular tool to ask questions about rules or in-game situations. I love it when a Judge responds with the correct answer, but dislike when they say: “It works this way because I am a Judge”. Sometimes Judges even include their level in their answer. I would much rather see an answer with a quote of the relevant section in the rules document. This will also let you grow as a Judge, because your understanding of the rules and documents will increase.For your ease, you can find a hyperlinked version of the Magic: the Gathering Comprehensive Rules here.

4. Bring a friend

I admire and respect all of your professionalism and capabilities at events. When you read or hear about events, the amount of players for one Judge varies a ton. Sometimes Judges take on events with 40 or more players single-handedly, even at Competitive REL. I understand that experienced Judges are able to do this. It could however be great to bring a friend! In this case, a less experienced judge.  Imagine the things they could learn from you at this event. Consider the better customer service you can provide to all parties at this tournament.Speaking from a personal point of view, when Judging a PPTQ, I always bring a friend. I get to teach them some things, and they get to teach me. It’s also a lot more fun!

5. Back to your roots

Don’t forget where it all started. Your Local Game Store is still the best breeding pool for new judges. After all, that’s where you started too! Regardless of level or experience, you shouldn’t pursue only the most glamorous events, but a pre release or FNM from time to time will enable you to keep in touch with your local community. They are great fun and it’s a good way to interact with players and TO’s.

6. Get involved in a project

If you go to apps.magicjudges.org/projects you will find a ton of projects looking for help. Find a project that peaks your interests and apply for it. They need your expertise, knowledge and input! Don’t worry about not being the world’s leading expert on the subject. As long as you have a genuine interest and a willingness to put in the time, your efforts will be appreciated.You all know how much fun it is to Judge alongside a friend at a tournament. Engaging and interacting together during a project also accomplishes this goal.

7. The Gathering(s)

Our region is blessed with an abundance of amazing Judge dinners (4-8 per year) and conferences (approximately 3 per year).The dinners are a social gathering, where you can catch up with everyone and talk about Magic while you’re at it. Judges from all areas and levels are represented and food always tastes better in good company.

Conferences are more complex. They are also social events, but with a strong educational purpose. They offer a great opportunity to get more acquainted with your fellow judges over a drink or two in the evenings, with the day being filled with seminars, presentations and workshops.  So you’d better make sure you still get enough sleep, because partying too much may cause you to miss seminars, or worse, fall asleep during them! That would mean you have not made this event into the great learning experience it should be!

The person presenting a topic cares greatly for it, and when he sees you sitting in the crowd on your smartphone, he might get the idea you don’t care or don’t want to be there. Try an open minded and welcoming approach, that is the best atmosphere for a conference.

The seminar schedule is known in advance, so you can add extra value for yourself by being prepared for specific topics. You can also make use of your notepad and write down observations, which you can later turn into reviews. (See tip 1.)

8. Level up your cover letter

When applying for an event, you usually have the option to provide a cover letter. Use this wisely. When a TO or Judge manager is making difficult decisions, the strength of your cover letter is taken into account. You are not required to write a biography, so make sure that it has an appropriate length.Talk about your experiences and motivations. Talk about goals and ambitions. Write about what you can add to this event, or what this event could mean to you. It can be useful to share your cover letter with another person. Have them proofread it for you. Please don’t send in a blank letter!

Want some pointers from an experienced Judge manager? Click on this link.

9. Nominate exemplar behaviour

If you observe someone going above and beyond, please nominate that person. Exemplar behaviour is admirable, inspiring, and deserving of you writing a nomination. The BeNeLux has a project named Exemplar Accessibility that makes it possible for L1s to recognize other awesome Judges. It is possible that you have observed Exemplar behaviour, but are unsure how to write a recognition. This guide is a tremendous help: https://blogs.magicjudges.org/exemplar/recognition-guidelines/
There can sometimes be a small overlap between a review and a recognition. It is possible that you include something in both, or that you write a review and use something you observed that Judge doing to write a recognition. Good observation skills come in handy again!

10. Write tournament reports

It’s a great feeling to log onto Judge Apps and see someone made an effort to write a tournament report. It’s a great learning experience for many reasons.In order to write a decent report, you need to take good notes and gather information required to write down what happened. Plan ahead and decide to write a report up front.

Share experiences and unique logistical challenges you encountered during a tournament. Its an interesting read for your fellow Judges, similar situations might pop up in the future, and they can also ignite the spark for a great discussion.
Gather the most important, difficult or interesting calls and write about your interactions with players, other Judges, TO’s, etc.

The questions you ask the audience are a great learning tool for inexperienced Judges. They get to think and answer, and you can provide them with pieces of information to complete the puzzle. It is also a great way for the Judge community to get to know you. When you write down your thoughts and feelings, I get to know about your motivations, your developed skills and about your goals.

It is not easy to have these sorts of interaction with everyone offline, so use these online tools to spread your message. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming over in the Benelux Judge group, so please don’t hesitate to share your experiences.

If you feel like an event failed to provide you with enough content, perhaps double up and use two events. You could share the lessons you learned in between events for instance. It is possible you were unhappy with for instance your announcements, and you can share what you changed or are planning to change at your next FNM.

Wrap up

These are my 10 tips for you. If you think I missed something or if you believe one of these should be expanded upon, please let me know! You can respond below or send me a message via JudgeApps.