Tips for Teaching

[Disclaimer I: I am by no means an expert teacher, nor are rules a strong-point for myself. I acknowledge this, and this article is merely advice and opinions on teaching methods. The following post does not apply to every student, nor does it apply to every teacher. It is merely an opinion on the use of corner cases and complex rulings to teach the rules. Feel free to read this article and take from it what you will… but know that you are essentially taking swimming lessons from… I don’t know… a donut. Do donuts swim? No. But we still enjoy donuts. Hopefully, you will likewise enjoy this article.]

I study Psychology. I am passionate when discussing Psychology with friends. I may casually mention terms and theories, and sometimes I use acronyms without explanation. I can talk for hours on the role that normative male alexithymia plays in the creation of confounding variables in the TI-CBT treatment of various Axis I disorders, pre-DSM- V of course.

And when I’m done talking, I am sometimes met with a blank stare.

You see, I live in the Psychology world. The words, terms, and phrases I use are commonplace and colloquial for my field. But not for my outside friends. It’s the same way for any job. Programmers, artists, mechanics, chefs, and athletes all use complicated terms and phrases unique to their field and understood only by their colleagues. Judges are the same way. We know the stack. We know priority. We know the layers. We know the sub-layers. We hate morph. We know the IPG, MTR, and we never forget to RTFC. We are judges, in part, because of a love for the rules.

It is our love of these rules that sometimes interfere with our ability to properly communicate and teach them to student judges.

For example, let me repeat the aforementioned sentence: I talk for hours on the role that normative male alexithymia plays in the creation of confounding variables in the TI-CBT treatment of various Axis I disorders, pre-DSM- V of course.

Did you read the sentence? Or did your eyes roll over the words you weren’t familiar with? I sometimes catch my friends’ eyes glazing-over when I start speaking in these terms. It’s a natural human reaction (or maybe my friends just find me boring… that’s also a possibility). Their eyes glaze over, but I comprehend the entire thing. Now take this sentence.

If Humility is on the field with Opalescence, the type-changing effect applies in Layer Four, but the rest of the effects occur within their respective applicable layers and depending on time-stamp of which permanent entered the battlefield first.

Did you comprehend the entire thing? Most likely. We’re familiar with layers. We’re familiar with time-stamps. Some people have memorized Opalescence and Humility’s text. This is because we know these things. Much like I speak the language of Psychology, we all speak the language of Judging. But a student-judge may slowly begin to drift away mid-sentence. The statement, a legitimate ruling, may be interpreted as: Humility something something Oprah’s Essence something something layers something something what’s-a-time-stamp something ooh-I-know-what-permanent-means something something battlefield.

Approaching rules mentorship like a language allows us to understand knowledge acquisition in a different paradigm. I write this article because too often have I seen this scenario:

A student judge, hoping to learn or retouch their rules knowledge, asks for help from a mentor. Eager to impart their wisdom, the mentor provides a complicated, multi-part question which touches on several aspects of the rules. After all, the mentor reasons, this will save time and may even resemble a realistic judge-call. The student, unable to retain all the parts of the question and having to look up the cards involved, inevitably makes mistakes in the ruling. Dejected, the student nods in defeat as the mentor quickly explains all aspects of the ruling at once. The student retains none of the information.

[Disclaimer II: As I mentioned before, this is not a one-size-fits-all methodology. Always always always (always) assess the individual needs of the student and your abilities as a mentor. Be receptive to their feedback and create an atmosphere conducive to learning.]

Tips from French Class

I took three years of French in high school. I lived in San Diego, CA… a southwestern town which borders Mexico. Many jobs in California value a bilingual applicant who speaks Spanish. And yet… my hormone-driven teenage mind decided to take French… because I thought it was a romantic language and I could use it to woo the ladies. (It didn’t work).

Our teacher used an immersion method of teaching. She figured that, by speaking French from the get-go, we would naturally pick it up. It didn’t work for me. I sat in class with no idea what was going on. I would nod and smile and play games on my TI-83+. I eventually began reading my text book. The text book broke things down to the basics. It taught me individual words. Eventually, I began to connect them. Soon, I could form sentences. Eventually, I could hold a discussion.

Rules are the same way. We need to make sure the student understands the basics before they can connect the basics. We then build upon those basics to create a more comprehensive understanding of the rules by how they connect. For example, let us take the Morph ability. It might be common to ask a question like this:

Example 1:

Player A unmorphs a Glacial Stalker. Player B is holding Path to Exile. Can Player B respond by casting Path to Exile targeting Glacial Stalker?

At the end of this question, a student will know only one thing: That Player B cannot respond by casting Path to Exile targeting Glacial Stalker in response to unmorph. A follow-up dissection of the reasoning behind the ruling is surely a quick-fire explanation of why. The context of the basics is gone and each rule is now learned in a vacuum with little context. The question is over. They know the answer. The rest is rules they might-as-well just read over. You have just spoken in French and expected the student to learn. May I suggest the following alternative bottom-up approach?

Example 2:

  1. When can a player unmorph a creature?
  2. Does morph use the stack?
  3. If I am active player and unmorph a creature, do I still have priority?
  4. When can a player cast spells?
  5. Player A unmorphs a Glacial Stalker. Can Player B respond by casting Path to Exile?

It may not seem too different, but the processing of the information is key to look at here. In Example 1, we begin with the “big picture.” It is then dissected into its various basic components, but the connections to the initial question have dissolved. In Example 2, we begin with the basics and slowly build the connection between each one. By using this approach, the student understands how to back-track and dissect future questions involving the same components.

Another component to this is generalizability of the individual cards. I mentioned earlier that in Example 1, the student mainly learns that “Glacial Stalker cannot be responded to by Path to Exile.” In future rulings, the student may place too much mental effort in comparing the cards rather than the connections between them. They may think, “Wait, can Player B respond with Prodigal Pyromancer’s activated ability?” or “Can Player B unmorph in response to the unmorph?” The focus of the lesson was not on the rules, but rather on the interaction between two specific cards.

Now take Example 2. The student has learned how to walk through the decision tree. The decision tree doesn’t apply to two specific cards but rather to general concepts. Unmorph when you have priority. Does the player have priority? Yes. Which means the opponent does not have priority. Which means the player cannot cast spells. By breaking down the connections between the basics, we can teach the students to think in terms of “how the rules,” not “what the rules.”

Oh, and for the record… I can still speak a bit of French. Mahalo.


Grab the nearest book and turn to a random page. You have one minute to read it. Finished? Great… now rewrite the entire thing. It’s difficult, if not impossible. The human mind requires time to adequately process information into long-term memory. It also needs that information to be repeated. You can’t rush learning. If a mentor and a student are setting out to learn a set of rules, it should be in a calm place at a calm pace. Rarely is knowledge absorbed and retained via a quick chat on a GP floor. You wouldn’t rush a dentist, you wouldn’t rush a surgeon, and you shouldn’t rush the student. Some will pick up quicker than others, but it usually follows a simple ratio.

Time : Learning

Water : Life


Repetition is key. We may be tempted to move onto the next subject if the student gets an answer correct. Resist the urge. Keep giving similar questions. Studying “Persist?” Use different persist cards. Don’t throw in other abilities or interactions until the student can recite “Persist” without effort.

Example 3:

  • Aerie Ouphes is killed in battle. It does not have counters on it. What happens?
  • Furystoke Giant dies because of Doom Blade. It does not have counters on it. What happens?
  • Glen Elendra Archmage is sacrificed to counter a noncreature spell. It does not have counters on it. What happens?
  • Gravelgill Axeshark dies from combat damage. It has a -1/-1 counter. What happens?
  • Murderous Redcap is sacrificed due to an ability. It has a +1/+1 counter. What happens?

Remember math homework in the first grade? The sheet of annoying addition problems you needed to solve? Row after row after row. It got repetitive. It got boring.

And it worked.

You learned addition. As tedious as the process became, every single problem you solved stamped the knowledge deeper in your mind. Rules knowledge is no different. Very few, if any, human beings are capable of learning without some form of repetition.


I like to bake.

In baking, the way you combine ingredients is very important. There are various types of “mixing methods” which provide different results. There is the creaming method, the biscuit method, the egg foaming method, the two-step method, the muffin method, and the pastry blend method (among others).

If someone were to teach each of these methods at the same time, the odds they would eventually blend together.

Wait, do I add the dry ingredients into the wet?

Or the wet ingredients into the dry?

Do I kneed this dough or do I simply cut it?

Am I supposed to beat the eggs, add them before the dry, or mix them with the wet ingredients?

Learning these methods simultaneously may cause interference in the learning process and confuse the student. It all blends together, and pieces of information fuse together. But what if we spent an entire day learning the biscuit method. Nothing else. And the next day, after you achieved a firm grasp on it, we learned the muffin method… and we understood it as a separate entity. And the next day, a different method. And so on. By compartmentalizing each chunk of knowledge, we have prevented interference in the processing.

Rules learning is similar. Focusing on too many areas in a study session may lead in only a few lessons being retained. But by focusing on one problem area for an extended period of time, the brain isn’t trying to juggle all the information. It is able to concentrate, memorize, and learn the information.

This section made me hungry for cookies. I’m going to bake some real quick and then talk about-



(For the record, the cookies were delicious. I baked them fresh from the Chips Ahoy sleeve to my napkin).

Studies have shown that anxiety interferes with information processing. For the mentors reading this article, you may be confused. What does a student have to be anxious about?

Billy, you’re ridiculous! Silly therapist, you think everyone has anxiety! I simply sit at FNM with my student and we go over some rules questions. That’s it! It’s a fun and relaxing time!

At this point in the article, I would like all the mentors to step out of the room for just a second. Students, stay in the room.

Are they gone?

Did they close the door? Go check.

They’re not standing right outside, are they? Okay. Cool. They can’t hear us.

You can’t blame them. They’re mentors. But I understand. We’re students. There’s an inherent discrepancy in authority and power. Some of us even look up to them! We want to impress them, to make them proud! The last thing we need is for the mentor to think, “Oh wow, I shouldn’t certify this person afterall.” So we get nervous, right? Every question becomes a life-or-death struggle to prove our worth and devotion to the program. I swear I studied… but if I get this wrong, my mentor will think I didn’t! They’ll think I’m lazy! Oh, and it doesn’t help that we’re doing this at FNM! There’s so many people around! What if they hear me get an answer wrong? What if someone comes up to me with a rules question? Oh god please don’t let it be layers oh god please don’t let it be layers. The store owner is here too. What if the store owner watches me whiff on a question? I’ll never get to judge in this store! Please let my mentor like me! I know! I’ll let them beat me in a game of Commander. That should help. Wait, what if they ask me a rules question during the game? Will it be like that corner case I was asked? I didn’t know half the cards in that question… I didn’t know half the WORDS in that question!!! Why won’t this ordeal just end!?

Okay. Deep breath.

You okay?

Let’s get the mentors back in the room for the conclusion.


I cannot stress enough that this article was simply my opinion on teaching rules. It comes from watching a few judges give complicated corner-case questions which, though motivated for teaching, merely confuse and dilute the learning process. And I understand, it can be hard to keep a check on it. That was the point of the introductory paragraph… sometimes we are so immersed that we don’t realize the other person needs us to slow things down. To explain a bit more. For us to meet them where they’re at. I can honestly say that the bottom-up focus I suggest was the most helpful for me and, if fitting, my method of mentoring others. Thank you for considering it and taking the time to read.

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