Status of the Program: April 2019

Hello judges!


We have another article with news and updates from various parts of the program. This month’s theme is Spheres, with an introduction of our newest Sphere lead and updates from many others.


Program Coordinator selection process


In the last Status article, we announced that the Spring Program Coordinator selection process would be postponed. We are in a situation where it is not possible to sign new contracts with Wizards. Both Riccardo Tessitori and CJ Crooks were set to finish their terms at the end of March, but they have valid contracts  that go through the end of September. Given those two facts, we decided allow Riccardo and CJ to continue to function as Program Coordinators until we could hold a proper selection process with associated contracts, or through September; whichever came first.

However, at this time, CJ Crooks is choosing to step down from his role as PC, effective the end of April. 

“It’s been a fun ride. On March 31st, I expected to conclude my term as a Program Coordinator. 

Several close friends knew I was struggling with the decision to re-apply. The position is a significant time commitment and while I am content with the outcomes this PC class has achieved, I feel that going forward my time will be more productively spent on other endeavors related to judging.

Effective at the end of April, I will be resigning from my role as a Program Coordinator. This time should allow me to finish existing projects and complete my handover to the other PCs. The Program Coordinator position has taught me more than I ever expected. It has been my pleasure to serve with such a distinguished and passionate group of judges who truly care for the future of the program. From judge candidates to Regional Coordinators, from content creators to Sphere Leaders, and from event specialists to hobby judges, the program is full of people willing and able to make a difference.

Thank you to all my friends and supporters who have stuck with me along this journey. I’m excited for the future of the program and look forward to everything we can accomplish together.”

We want to thank CJ for the leadership he has provided over the last 14 months.  He has been a constant advocate for the skills and experience we want judges of all levels to have.


Statement about the CFBE AMA


CFBE has recently begun doing AMAs with the Judge Program.  They recognize that as the sole host of MagicFests, that judges might be reluctant to ask difficult questions if their name is attached, so they have offered the ability to post questions anonymously.  Additionally, CFBE has made the submitted questions open for anyone to view, so that there is no accusation or concern that they are filtering out just the questions they want to answer.

Despite several of the anonymous questions being unnecessarily aggressive and rude, CFBE wanted to make sure that each question was posted and answered. However, there was one question that was so derogatory, and directed towards members of our community, that the Forum Moderators felt it was necessary to delete the post.

The question insulted European judges’ ability to speak English, claimed they were stealing opportunities from US judges and implied they were not welcome in the US.

It is a question motivated by ignorance and hate and has no place in the program.

There is no need to discuss the merits of the question as it started from a false premise and assumes its own misguided answer. Attempting to divine the ‘underlying question’ gives it an aura of credibility the post does not deserve.

Judges earn their positions through hard work and dedication and recognition of their skills.  You are not owed a spot in any staff as a result of your birth country.

The Program Coordinators support the decision of the Moderators to remove the question.  Being able to post to any judge apps forum is a privilege extended to community members. It is not a right.  

Staffing and uniform guidelines

Recently we published two guidelines documents for judges and Tournament Organizers.

Last week, we also published a response regarding a Mythic Championship Qualifier with just a single Level 1 judge on staff. You can read this statement here.


Sphere updates


This month we have short updates from several of the Sphere leads. However, first we want to introduce the new Outreach Sphere and its lead, Graham Schofield.

The Outreach Sphere is a new creation.  It’s envisioned to help the Judge Program better meet the needs of Tournament Organizers, as well as communicate that Magic Judges are best suited to meet those tournament needs.

There were a number of things we were looking for in a sphere lead. The ideal candidate would have a proactive vision, but also a realistic sense of what could be accomplished with volunteers’ free time. We wanted a sphere lead who could empathize with the problems Tournament Organizers face as well as someone who could enthusiastically articulate the value proposition of certified Magic judges.

Nearly a dozen judges applied, and in Pass 1, they all answered the same four questions.  We each graded each question on a 1-4 scale. We averaged the scores together and the top 3 applications advanced to the second round.

The second round was customized questions based on their Pass 1 answers. Typically they asked for elaboration on one or more points of their answer.  We then used rank voting to determine to whom we would offer the position.

Here’s the first question, and Graham’s answer:

“As Sphere Lead, you will be responsible for the overall vision and execution of the Sphere.  Please describe, in general. what you want to accomplish as Sphere Lead, and then roughly describe how you would accomplish those goals.  (For this question only; Please limit your response to 300-600 words)”

I want to build the brand of judges and establish more direct pathways for LGS to interact with the judge program. It should be easier for players and TOs to understand the value of the institutional knowledge that the judge program has. We need to be better at advertising the full range of skills that trained officials have and the benefits they bring to events. Most avenues for TOs to interact with the judge program just briefly say ‘email your local RC’, have dead links to old facebooks groups or judge wiki pages and we need to do better than that. The Judge web infrastructure does not address this sufficiently, focusing more on recruitment and education. Communication avenues and resources, such as the ‘official resources’ need to be updated and maintained with a greater focus on TO outreach.

I would develop and maintain a section in the site specifically for TOs to understand what skills judges can bring and why they should use a judge over ‘local rules guy’, especially for their events with significant prizes or organized play strategies (leagues etc.). Similar to how professional certification organizations (example: promote their members as superior than untrained/uncertified members. We have gone many years without having to ‘sell’ our expertise and services and we will need to change that mentality. We should be proud of the skills we have cultivated.

I would attempt a mass survey of TOs of as many sizes and languages as possible to identify information, perception, or ability gaps between TOs and the judge program. Using this information, I would hope to bring changes to the core skills we teach as part of the judge level hierarchy and at conferences. For example at the lowest level- ensuring judges have basic logistics knowledge, how to number a room, event equipment essentials, tournament procedure before they are certified as an L1.

There were several aspects of this answer that we like.  We like the identification of the problem space, and the plan to identify solutions.  The suggestions of creating a blog section with material specifically tailored towards TOs was strong.  Something else that was subtle that we liked was acknowledging the need to operate in multiple languages.  Another aspect of the plan was that it was realistic. It’s easy to create an elaborate plan that solves all problems, when you assume infinite time and budget. But when you factor in volunteer project members and a budget of near $0 USD, your plan needs to be something that can actually be executed. Graham’s plan took a very reasonable approach to handling these challenges with those constraints.

For the third common question: Why do you believe LGSs should use Certified Judges over non-certified judges? Back up your assertions with sources. If no sources are available, how would one go about collecting that.  Graham’s answer was rather long, but it identified four major points, summarized here:

Accountability – A judge is accountable to a body outside their direct relationship with the TO.

Resources – Judge program is a network of individuals communicating and educated each other

References – Judges have a massive amount of documentation and educational material

Trust – Players trust judges to be fair and impartial and protect the game.

While the whole answer is not presented here, we liked how Graham identified and characterized the judge community and network, and how it is unique in the gaming world.  In his answer he compared the Judge program to other game’s tournament officials, and highlighted areas where the program excels over other similar areas.

Overall, we felt that Graham has both a compelling vision and a solid understanding of the constraints of the role. His experience as judge manager for a major TO provides him with credibility when interacting with TOs, and we believe he had the best combination of plan and execution to succeed as leader of this sphere.

We are excited to see where Graham’s leadership and initiative take us, but we don’t expect him to do it alone. Graham needs a team of judges who are willing to put in a few hours a month to build out the outreach sphere and cultivate better relationships with the tournament organizer community. If you’re interested in being part of this sphere, contact Graham via JudgeApps to get started.

Other spheres

We asked Sphere leaders to provide short updates about their work.

Social Media and Web Platforms

From Jack Doyle:

“Social Media and Web Platforms has been moving from strength to strength in the latter half of 2018 and the start of 2019. We’ve seen a great spike in both viewership and interaction with the Facebook and Twitter accounts, where staff photos, on-the-floor rules questions, and articles are engaging subscribers daily. Our projects are led by some of the most passionate judges, who have been working on new and exciting things behind the scenes – so thank you to all of those project leads and members. New things are on the horizon soon™ with many of our projects; so continue to keep your eyes peeled for Judge of the Week, Anniversaries, MJM, and Articles, as well as our less frequent publications!

We’re always on the lookout for people who can help – feel free to get in touch with Jack Doyle ( if there’s a project you follow and love, and have an idea how to contribute. Many of our projects publish routinely, and are always on the lookout for those with time and expertise to contribute!”


From Bryan Prillaman:

“The Exemplar blog is updated fairly regularly, so I don’t have too much to add in this specific update. Last quarter we put out an ‘Exemplar Survey’ that allowed judges to play the part of an Exemplar team member reviewing nominations. The results of that survey were published here.

Feedback was extremely positive, and we will be looking to repeat this activity in the months to come. We continue to identify great judges to recognize as our Vanguard, and have collaborated with the Judge of the Week blog, to highlight them even further. We have changed token artists to Ken Meyer Jr., an amazing artist that streams the painting on his Facebook Page. Additionally we are continuing to work on reducing the timeline between when waves end, when waves are published and when mailings occur. The logistical details are often boring, but there are lots of moving parts and they all have to ‘converge’ at the same time, but each wave is a little better than the previous.”

Grand Prix Operations

From Kevin Desprez:

“There have been no major changes in the GPHJ Selection process, unlike last wave (Specific requirements, Cool-Down period after repeated failure, Public announcement of candidates’ names).  Making major changes every wave is not desirable, so a stable wave to analyze those previous changes felt in order. Of course and as usual, processes and scenarios are improved and become finer.”

Regional Coordinators

From Sebastian Pekala:

“Regional Coordinators are preparing for the Leadership Conference in London, that will happen at the end of this month. In previous months, the major event was RC Selection, that got some fine-tuning in the fall 2018 (using many volunteers to streamline the process and provide more & better feedback), and then we had an extra process at end of 2018 as one of the RCs decided to quit. As always, we’re open to feedback about our work and processes.”


From Alfonso Bueno:

“For the last year, the Levels sphere has been working on updates to the level system. The goal has been to update the testing and maintenance requirements for each level to match the current game state and fit the needs of Organized play. Much of the delays over the last nine months were created from uncertainty over what the current state of Organized play would look like. We are not ready yet to publish the changes, but with the OP landscape stabilizing, we would like to give you an update on the work so far, as well as a general idea of the direction we are moving towards.

The general direction: We want judges from any level to be a Tournament Organizers first choice when running tournaments as well as ambassadors of the judge program, prompting fair play and welcoming playing environments. This requires increasing the focus on tournament-running skills in the tests as well as an increase in the social and personal aspects of the interview to prevent toxic behaviours amongst judges. We’ll also plan to start applying the activity requirements, existing since a long time ago, but not applied for logistical reasons.

Level 1, led by Bryan Prillaman: this part is completed and already sent to Regional Coordinators for feedback. Additionally, a new Project, the ‘How To’ Project has formed from the Level 1 redefinition project. You can find it here.

Level 2, led by Alfonso Bueno: this part is still on progress. I hope to have it ready before Mythic Championship II in London.

Level 3:

-Certification process led by Matteo Callegari, changed the way to apply for the second time after a fail in the first panel.

-Renew, led by Riccardo Tessitori. Was run this year. The final number of L3 judges who got renewed is 133, and the number of judges reassigned to other levels in the last 15 months (2018 and 2019) is 39.

-Checklist verification committee and PEI steps in the Level 3 process didn’t experience any major change.

-TLTP (Team Lead in Training Position): Former TL-Certification has been replaced with this new step in the L3 process. Judges meeting the requirements can apply to it by fill in the Team-Lead-in-Training Application at (available only for L2+ judges).”



From Damian Hiller:

Conferences remain healthy and running as one of our major points of gathering, teaching and bonding!

During the first quarter of 2019 we have run a total of 33 foil-supported conferences (which is about 3 per week!) worldwide, with a total estimated concurrence of 750 judges and more are already lined up for the second quarter! Make sure you check the upcoming events to see which is the closest conference to you!

Additionally, the sphere continues to work on new initiatives to continue helping out organizers and presenters. After the great feedback we got from the Pick up and Go conference models we are moving one step ahead with the creation of Pick-and-Go presentations. While still very early on the development phase, we’re very thrilled for this and the possibilities this opens!

Judge Conduct

From Eric Levine, TCG Solutions LLC:

“Earlier this year, we posted an update to the Magic Judge Code, which was intended to make the code clearer and more relevant to the needs of the program. We’re continuing to process feedback, both positive and negative, sent to us via the Feedback Form or at Happily, much of the feedback we’ve received has been positive, and most of the negative feedback coming through the form has been resolved via conversations with Regional Coordinators. As always, please continue to send us feedback about judges or about the Magic Judge Code – that’s what we’re here for!”


From Paul Baranay: 

“The Technology Sphere continues to support its major projects, notably JudgeApps and the Judge Blogs. JudgeApps recently rolled out a new interface for managing your forum notifications, which we suggest checking out. We also implemented a new access paradigm on JudgeApps, which eliminates the need for L2+ judges manually verifying new accounts. Additional updates can be found on our blog.

Another major initiative is refreshing the membership rosters of projects in the Technology Sphere. For example, I recently announced new criteria to maintain active membership in the JudgeApps project, which has already helped drive greater participation from some previously inactive members.

A few other projects have recently joined the Technology Sphere, including Venser’s Journal (launched) and Judge Announcements (open beta), so make sure to check them out. I’m always happy to discuss adding new projects to the sphere, whether those projects are nascent or already established. If you’re looking for advice on standing up a web service, help finding new developers, or just someone to bounce ideas off of, please let me know!”

Player Investigations

From Johanna Virtanen: 

“Earlier this year, we implemented some major changes in our internal guidelines based on feedback from various stakeholders in the community, including Pro players. We have also clarified our procedures regarding expedited cases. Last year we started sending out results of cases to judges and while this effort was well received, I haven’t been able to do this consistently. I am hoping to catch up soon.

Several members have had to step down for various reasons, but the loss of PPTQs has resulted in a slightly lighter caseload for the committee. The application window for the next committee term is scheduled to open in May.”

That is all for this update. In a few days, the Judge Program Leadership will meet in London and we expect to publish some notes from the meetings soon afterwards.