We’re changing the structure of the Judge Program. This article will talk about why and summarize the important parts. Don’t Panic! While there are many important changes, the day-to-day impact on most judges will be minimal and they’ll transition into the new program naturally. If you want to jump straight to the details, they can be found on the Official Resources site. We’ll be here when you get back.
The last time the program had a major redefinition was after the World Championships in September 2004. Named “The New World Order” at the time, it’s recognizable as the five level structure we have today.
What was Magic Organized Play like in 2004? The 17 or so Grand Prix averaged below 800 players and events crossing 1000 players were a rare sight. Those events maybe kicked off a side event or two on Sunday. The local tournament scene revolved around 100-ish player PTQs. Prereleases were few and centralized and drew large crowds. The StarCityGames.com Open series didn’t exist. Even Regular REL was a few years away. It was a very different time.
We had a Judge Program that reflected that era. Levels were defined not by qualification but by geographic scope (Local, Area, Regional, International, Professional). A Level 3 judge was expected to be a leader in their region, and did so by mentoring, training, and certifying judges at their local events (which were large enough to need multiple judges). A Level 2 judge was a Level 1 judge with more experience. Level 4s and 5s were an abstract concept to most judges, who would only know of them if one happened to be at a local Grand Prix.
As Organized Play evolved, the program took steps to evolve along with it. Regular REL became its own thing, and that became a focus of Level 1. In order to grow the ranks of these judges, Level 2s were empowered to certify them. The process for reaching Level 3 was overhauled. As the numbers grew, the Regional Coordinators were created to care for the communities. But the program was still, at heart, the New World Order of 2004.
And that was causing problems.
What it Meant to be Level 4
We first started talking about these problems in early 2015, mostly in the context of what it meant to be Level 4. Understanding Level 4, what was intended, and what happened to it, turned out to be the key to understanding how the Judge Program need to be structured.
In September 2004, the program needed a dozen or so senior judges to provide input into and help keep the program running. Coincidentally, that number was about the same number of people needed to lead the Grand Prix. It made a ton of sense to make those one and the same.
But, over the years, a squeeze happened.
- The number and size of Premier Events (notably Grand Prix) skyrocketed. Instead of needing maybe 20 Head Judges in a year to cover, the number went over 100 (due to many events needing two or more Head Judges to handle the size). The events themselves were exhausting. The Level 4s are amazing people, and they pushed through with minimal complaining, but the burnout was high. In order to realistically cover a modern slate of Grand Prix, we need to double the pool of qualified judges. But those judges can’t just be great Grand Prix judges, because the Level 4 definition had a program component and any candidate had to excel at both, shrinking the pool of talented and interested candidates substantially.
- On the flip side, the Level 3s were becoming more involved in the program. This may be surprising to many Level 3s, but in 2004, a Level 3 doing any program-related activities outside their region was an unusual sight. Some of this was natural; as Level 3s spent longer in the program, they looked around for more to do. But some of it was driven because the original role of the Level 3 no longer existed.
The Regional Coordinator position took on much of the regional-administration burden that had previously been shouldered by the Level 3s. Then, the removal of the PTQ system removed the structure upon which they built their local influence. Level 3 naturally became more about large events and program-related activities. That meant the program-related activities that needed to be done by the Level 4s was being eroded (and, honestly, the Level 4s were so busy with Grand Prix that this was probably necessary for survival).
That’s not to say that less needs to be done in the administration of the modern Judge Program. In fact, more needs to be done! Grand Prix Head Judges don’t necessarily have a skill set which matches with this need, and they may not be able to devote the time it takes to perform strongly in both roles. There’s less natural correlation between someone who can manage a staff of 120 judges on a weekend and someone who can help a team of a dozen dedicated volunteers craft a project sustained over a year or more.
This put us in a situation where we needed more people to lead Grand Prix, and fewer people to oversee the program and we couldn’t match that up. The current structure was failing us. It was time to blow it up and start again.
Level 1 was redefined a few years ago to focus on Regular REL events, but the nature of that transition hadn’t been fully absorbed and the transition between Level 1 and Level 2 was still lacking in clear definition. Level 2 was still a “more-experienced” Level 1, despite a totally different focus.
Starting From Scratch
So, how did we address this? We started with a blank slate and talked about what wasn’t working, and what the level system was trying to encapsulate. A few themes really stuck out.
- We wanted levels to reflect specific knowledge – certifying that a judge possesses specific skills – rather than measuring general ability. Tournament Organizers and Regional Coordinators would have individual knowledge of local judges to do the necessary tweaking beyond that.
- We wanted to get away from Level 4 being seen as a direct progression from Level 3. That belief has caused immense pain over the years as otherwise wonderful judges would run themselves aground trying to achieve it because there was a greater number involved. We were setting up hopes and expectations which we were fulfilling poorly.
- We wanted to create more – and more regular – opportunities for judges while still preserving some continuity and experience. We wanted stepping down from a position to not be seen as a demotion.
- We wanted to open up opportunities for leadership that weren’t tied to the level system.
In the end, we had a structure consisting of three components (Levels, Advanced Roles, and Certifications). We feel it reflects the Judge Program as it should be today. You can read all the details here, but below is the brief summary of the two important ones. (Certifications allow you to take on some specific responsibilities in addition to your current level, but are a small part of the redefinition.)
Levels are the main structure judges interact with. They are a statement about what you have been certified to do. There are three of them, and each builds upon the previous:
Level 1 – Regular REL In-Store Judge. These judges have been trained and certified in Regular REL rules and procedures. They are the ones taking care of the most of the Magic tournaments happening in the world, educating new players on rules and positive behaviors before they go to bigger events.
Level 2 – Competitive REL Judge. These judges have been trained and certified in Competitive REL rules and procedures. They are primarily responsible for premier play in stores, notably the PPTQ circuit. They perform on the floor of Grand Prix and other large events.
Level 3 – Premier Judge. These judges have demonstrated the ability to lead at a Premier Event. They have expert rules knowledge and logistical skills. A judge at this level is also expected to be involved with the Judge Program beyond their local stores/region.
Advanced Roles are further leadership opportunities for Level 3 judges. They are not a progression. They are aspects of the program where a judge has an opportunity to take a significant role. A judge commits to the role for a term of eighteen months, after which they may reapply if they so choose (along with other judges who wish to step up into that role). The three Advanced Roles are:
Regional Coordinator. Not much changes about this role from the Regional Coordinator role as it exists today. These are the judges charged with overseeing specific regions and acting as the primary point of contact between those judges and the Judge Program. There will be a few tweaks, but it’s much the same as it is currently.
Grand Prix Head Judge. These are the judges Tournament Organizers will use as Head Judges and Support Judges at Grand Prix. They are tournament logistics experts and are comfortable with large-scale event leadership.
Program Coordinator. These judges oversee the running of the Judge Program and act as the primary interface with Wizards in developing new initiatives. They set the strategic direction for the Judge Program and engage with leaders of projects to ensure that strategy gets implemented.
One third of each of these roles will rotate every six months (Grand Prix Head Judges in July and December, Regional and Program Coordinators in April and October). All the details about the application process can be found in the level redefinition document.
How Does This Affect Me?
In the short run, it probably doesn’t. Much of this redefinition is around the messaging of the levels and how the program is led. There are big changes, but the transition should be smooth for most people.
If you are a Level 1 judge, the changes make it clear that your focus is Regular REL. If you want to be involved with Competitive REL events, you should be looking to get to Level 2, and you’ll find the requirements for getting there a little less burdensome. Otherwise, keep rocking your local scene!
If you are a Level 2 judge, you’ll find it’s a little easier to maintain your level. But the tournament reports rock and you should consider continuing to do them anyway!
If you are a Level 3 judge, nothing changes immediately, but opportunities to take a leadership role in the program will be opening up. We’ll also be expecting you to take an active role in the wider program beyond just events.
When Do We Start? How About Now?
The current Regional Coordinators will carry on in their roles. The current Level 4s and 5s will begin as the Grand Prix Head Judges, and a new group will be added in July. All Level 1s, Level 2s and Level 3s remain at their current level. Program Coordinators will be announced shortly.
We believe this structure reflects the Judge Program in 2016. We hope it provides inspiration and opportunity to judges the world over while fulfilling the needs of TOs across Organized Play. We have no doubt there will be tweaks to be made as we see how it goes in the real world (the first job of the Program Coordinators is to fix whatever breaks), but we’re optimistic that the new structure will serve us as durably as the one that lasted the last dozen years.