The following article is based on a document I wrote some time ago for store owners interested in running their first PPTQ. As such, it’s a little unique for content on this blog, since the target audience wasn’t originally judges. It’s my hope that the information here is still useful both as a resource for judges preparing for their first PPTQ’s and as a resource to send to store owners preparing for their first PPTQ’s also. If you’re a store owner who was referred here by a judge, welcome! I hope this information is helpful for you, and I welcome your feedback. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is a PPTQ?
A PPTQ (that stands for Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier) is a tournament that’s the first step towards the Pro Tour. If you win a PPTQ, you get to play in another, larger regional tournament called an RPTQ (Regional Pro Tour Qualifier). Do well enough at that, and you get a Pro Tour invite. Any Advanced or higher level store can run a PPTQ, but you only get to run one every quarter, and it must be scheduled several weeks in advance.
Why do I need a level 2 judge (L2) to be my head judge?
Unlike game days, prereleases, or FNM’s, PPTQ’s are run at competitive REL (for more on what this means, reference the “Differences between regular and competitive REL” section). While there are many L1’s out there with significant competitive REL experience, it isn’t required for them, and many do not. Having an L2 as the head judge ensures (to you, but mainly to Wizards Organized Play) that your tournament is run by someone familiar with competitive REL so that any issues are settled in a manner that is consistent across all PPTQ’s and bigger tournaments anywhere in the world. In addition, L2’s generally have significantly more tournament experience in general, which means that having one on hand increases the chances that your tournament will be run smoothly. It’s not uncommon for players to travel two to three hours (or more) to get to a PPTQ, or travel to several PPTQs per season. This means that there is a potential for players to be comparing your store and your event to many others. Especially now that bad news can go viral on social media, it’s important to make sure your event is run in a fair, consistent, high-quality manner, which is best assured by a judge who is L2 or higher.
How do I get an L2?
If you don’t know an L2 in your area, the first thing I would do is ask local judges if they know an L2 that they would recommend. Every L1 should know at least one L2, since that’s how L1’s get certified, but there’s no guarantee that they interact frequently with this judge, nor that this judge lives close by, so this method, while generally a good place to start, can come up empty.
If that doesn’t turn up anything, you’ve got two options. The first is contacting your RC (regional coordinator). As the name suggests, the RC is a judge who is in charge of coordinating the judges in a specific region. In general, these regions are relatively large. This means that RC’s sometimes have a lot on their plates, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back right away, and don’t be afraid to send a follow-up message if you don’t hear back in a couple of days. You can find your regional coordinator here.
Your other option is to use JudgeApps. JudgeApps is a website that judges use to find events in their area and apply for them. It also has several nifty features that help connect judges and tournament organizers. To use JudgeApps, you’ll first need to create an account, which you can do here http://apps.magicjudges.org/accounts/register/. Getting the account created usually takes a day or so because new accounts are manually approved. Once you have that set up, follow these steps:
- Make a page for your event on JudgeApps. I recommend you take a look at some of the other PPTQ pages on JudgeApps so that you can have an idea what they typically look like. Be sure to include the following information: how many judges you’re looking for (reference the “Getting additional judges” section), what the compensation will be (reference the “Compensation” section), and event details (format, what time you expect the judges to show up, event location).
- After you make a page soliciting judges, find L2’s in your area and invite them to apply. You can find judges near you using JudgeApps’ Map feature. You can contact these judges by using JudgeApps’ Contact a Judge feature. Both these features can be found on the left hand side of the JudgeApps site Be sure to include a link to your solicitation page in your message.
One important point no matter which way you go is that you shouldn’t procrastinate. There are only so many good weekends to run a PPTQ (reference “What date should I pick” section), and it isn’t uncommon for a particularly active L2 to already have a significant number of weekends already allocated to other events. If you pick a reasonable date two months ahead of time, it shouldn’t be an issue to find a head judge. If you wait until one month ahead of time, you will still probably be able to make it happen, but you may not get your first choice. If you wait too much longer, it’s not unlikely that most or all of the L2’s in the area will already have other commitments.
What date should I pick?
Scheduling a PPTQ is never done in a vacuum. In order to ensure good attendance, it’s important to pick a date that avoids conflicting with other events in your area. To pick a good date:
- Go to http://magic.wizards.com/en/events/premier-calendar#/overview and check the Grand Prix schedule. If you schedule a PPTQ that’s within about a three hour drive from a GP, expect your attendance to be significantly affected.
- Go to http://www.starcitygames.com/content/schedule and check the Star City Games Open schedule. The point listed above is also true for SCG opens or Invitationals. Invitational Qualifiers are smaller tournaments and are less likely to be a serious competition to attendance unless they’re in the same city.
- Ask your head judge if he or she knows of any other potential conflicts.
Getting additional judges
A judge can only effectively serve so many players at a time. A general rule of thumb is that the event probably won’t run smoothly if there are more than 25-35 players per judge. If your projected attendance warrants it, consider staffing one or more additional judges, who can increase the efficiency of passing out results slips and take calls while the head judge is busy. Experience has shown that one head judge + one floor judge can effectively run an event of up to about 50-60 players, even if the floor judge is not experienced. Due to some quirks in how judge advancement works, PPTQ’s are particularly well-suited for L1 judges who want to advance in level. For this reason, your head judge will probably be able to help you find additional judges if you don’t have anyone you specifically want to use.
If you aren’t sure what the attendance will be, a good practice is to secure a standby judge. A standby judge is someone to whom you offer discounted (usually free) entry into the event with the stipulation that if attendance exceeds a certain threshold, they will instead judge the event for a predetermined compensation. This way, you can be sure that if there is high attendance, you’ll have your judging needs covered while limiting your expenses if there isn’t.
Because the judge is giving up pretty much his or her whole day to work this event for you, he or she is going to expect some form of compensation. How much and what type depends a lot on region, but typical comps in the Midwest are around a box of current sealed product or $75 to $100 in cash or store credit (figure the lower end of that range for cash and the upper end for store credit). If the judge is going to have to travel a significant distance to reach your store, plan on increasing this figure to take into account gas money and time spent traveling. Other perks that organizers sometimes grant judges include store-branded swag such as playmats, apparel, or deckboxes; an extra allowance toward travel expenses such as gas, parking, and lodging; and/or free snacks, drinks, or lunch during the event. Ask the judge what they would like and take it from there. If they come in too high, don’t be afraid to negotiate. At the same time, understand that judging is work and judges have lives outside of Magic, which makes their time valuable. It’s disappointing, but sometimes a certain judge won’t be able or willing to put one more weekend day into their hobby. In these cases, though, he or she will probably be able to recommend someone else.
Differences between Competitive and Regular REL
If all you’ve ever run before are FNM’s, prereleases/releases, game days, and other casual events like these, you should know that PPTQ’s have some important differences in how they’re run. Because players are ultimately playing for their shot at the Pro Tour, they expect the event to be held to a higher standard. To accommodate this, PPTQ’s are judged at Competitive Rules Enforcement Level (REL). That’s a fancy way of saying that the players are held to a higher standard than at Regular REL, which is what FNM’s and other events aimed at a more casual audience are run at. This will mean some changes in tournament logistics, which you will want to make sure your players are aware of:
- First, it means that breaches of the rules are taken more seriously. At Regular REL, if a player makes a mistake, the general practice is to let the player know and caution him or her not to do it again. At Competitive REL, the judge will also give the player a written Warning when this happens. Such Warnings are entered into Wizards Event Reporter and submitted with the tournament results. Wizards keeps a record of these penalties which helps deter people from purposefully making the same mistake over and over. Some errors, including failure to de-sideboard, because of their higher potential for abuse, incur a stiffer penalty yet. A player automatically loses the game such an error is committed in.
- Competitive REL also requires the players to write down all the cards in their decks and sideboards on a decklist before playing. This practice prevents players from changing cards in the middle of the event. Generally, the head judge will hold a player meeting before the event starts and collect all the decklists at this time. The judge will also need to perform deck checks, in which he or she checks the contents of a randomly selected deck against the decklist that player turned in. Measures like these take extra time, but go a long way towards ensuring event integrity.
Supplies you’ll need
- A computer with Wizards Event Reporter and a printer. To ensure things run smoothly on the big day, test the setup to make sure it works together beforehand. WER is notorious for being finicky.
- Extra paper and ink in case the printer runs out
- Tape, or some other method to post pairings and standings so that players can see them without fighting over each other too much
- A paper cutter to cut results slips. The judge could use scissors, but it’s slower and much harder to do a nice-looking job. Every professional Tournament Organizer I’ve ever worked with uses a paper cutter.
- Decklists. If the event is constructed format, some players will prepare their decklists in advance. Most of them, though, will want to fill one out on site. Have enough decklists printed out ahead of time for them to do this. If your PPTQ is sealed format, players won’t need blank decklists, but rather set checklists that list every card in the set. These can be printed out from the official Wizards web page http://wpn.wizards.com/en/resources/rules-documents (look for “[most recent set] Decklist”). Remember that in sealed formats involving multiple sets, players will need a checklist for each set.
- Adequate seating and playing space for players. If seating is limited in your venue, it’s prudent to cap the entry. In other words, once attendance hits a certain number, no more players can enter the tournament. This guarantees that you will have enough space to accommodate everyone comfortably. It’s a good idea to have a way for players to preregister so that if they really want to play in the event, they can be assured a spot.
- Enough sealed product to give out as prizes (and, if the event is sealed format, for the players to open in the tournament)
While you’re at it
Since you’ll need an L2 on site to run the event, if you know of anyone interested in becoming a judge, ask your head judge if he or she will offer certification at the event. Every L2 I’ve talked to is enthusiastic about welcoming new judges to the fold. The head judge can tell you about the pre-certification items that must be completed prior to testing and help mentor judge candidates to make them more effective.
Advertising your event
Of course, turnout will depend upon many factors including community size, event format, and entrance fees. In addition to these, good advertising can dramatically improve player interest in your event, including players from outside your area who would not have a reason to go to your store otherwise. Such advertising might include the following:
- Creating an event on Facebook and inviting local players to it.
- Putting a blurb advertising for the event on the store’s website (if applicable).
- Advertising the event to store regulars, perhaps by announcing it at FNM or by printing flyers.
Written advertising for the event should include the following information:
- Format (standard, modern, sealed, etc.)
- Entrance fee
- Prize payout (if the payout will be based on attendance, say so, but give the players an idea of what to expect; be sure to include the grand prize: an invitation to the RPTQ and a chance to play for a spot on the Pro Tour. Remember to mention the participation foil given to players in the RPTQ.
- Instructions for preregistering and tournament cap (if applicable)
- Time the event registration closes, and time the event starts