Judging while playing

Sorry for the long break here, guys – life got quite busy for a while! However, we still have a long list of topics to cover, and are still taking suggestions – if you want to see anything discussed here, please leave a comment letting us know!


At Regular REL, you are allowed to judge and play in a tournament at the same time. The Magic Tournament Rules explicitly permit tournament officials to play in Friday Night Magic, Prereleases, Launch Parties and Game Days, as well as in other non-Premier Magic tournaments; basically any tournament that your store is running which is not explicitly part of any named Premier play program). Being a player and a judge in the same event raises a whole load of novel situations, some of which I shall attempt to address here.

There are questions to answer from the start of the event. Is there someone else who is going to be acting as the score keeper, such as the TO themselves or a member of game store staff? If not, you are likely to find yourself in charge of registration. Preparation here is key: making sure that you have everything ready to play before you get to the venue avoids the risk of delaying the tournament. This might mean having your deck built and to hand, or it might mean turning up early to prepare limited product for quick distribution. Everyone will want your attention at the start of the event: friends wanting to chat, players wanting to register and people with questions for the judge to make sure that the cool thing that they think their deck actually works. Prioritising and patience are important – which is going to prove to be a recurring theme! It’s important to make sure that a single player can’t monopolise your time and attention. If someone has questions to ask you, one idea would get them to step around beside you after paying rather than blocking other people coming to register. That way, you can help to answer them when you are not directly dealing with someone else.

Starting the tournament works similarly whether you are playing it or not. When all the players are registered you generate and disseminate pairings in whichever way works best in your group. It’s worth ensuring at this point that your opponent is aware that you are acting as the judge and so may occasionally need to get up from the match to deal with something. This way, they will not be surprised if you are called upon and have to jump up from the match suddenly, and so are more likely to be understanding. Careful planning on how to manage results entry can reduce the amount of judge stuff you need to do in a round. If you are the only tournament official, getting players to come and give you their results verbally so that you can enter them into the software is not going to work – you’ll be up and down the whole time! Similarly, you don’t want to be eating into your round time by cutting up and distributing results slips. One solution would be to print a copy of the pairings by table and tape it next to the laptop so that players can write their result down there when they are done. This allow you to enter everything at the same time when you are finished with your match.

Which takes us down to the main question – how do you manage your own match? Most players are quite understanding and know the importance of and demands on a judge, which helps immensely. Your greatest enemy often proves to be the clock. Rounds are normally still timed at Regular REL. The time limits for these events are often very strict as tournament organisers try to fit multiple prereleases into a day or to finish FNM before the shop closes. Running counter to this need to fit rounds into a limited window of time is the fact that your opponent is there to play Magic and also deserves the full round time to try to win the match! As such, if you give a time extension to a table due to a judge ruling, you should remember to give the extension to your own match as well. Keeping time constraints in mind when making your deck choice can help to mitigate these concerns – maybe the UW Elixir of Immortality deck is not the best choice for your Standard FNM!

There will be times that you come to the end of the round and your match has not finished. If you have remembered to give yourself time extensions, your opponent is unlikely to feel somehow cheated out of having the full round to try to find a win just because they played against a judge. However, if yours is the last match playing and you have a long time extension, you risk all the other players getting bored and annoyed instead. Some judges choose to concede the match in this situation, which can help with community interactions as it avoids players feeling like you are putting yourself before the event. If you notice that you are getting into this situation a lot, though, it might be worth reconsidering whether it is appropriate to play and judge. Perhaps the events are just a bit too large to manage like this, or maybe you have a lot of inexperienced players who need help and so take up a lot of time. The best solution here is to find and train another judge candidate! If you can build a small judge community, you can take it in turns to play or to judge in the events that your store runs.

The final question which comes up a lot is how you should go about dealing with errors in your own match. In an ideal world, there will be another judge present (possibly also in a player and judge capacity) who you can get to give the ruling. If this is not an option, you have to hope that you have managed to earn enough stock in your community that people feel like they can trust you to rule impartially. As such, it is incredibly important to actually do this! While it is obvious that you shouldn’t intentionally make incorrect rulings in your favour, you shouldn’t rule more harshly on yourself to try to overcompensate. Doing this can lead to false expectations from your players of how various situations should be handled at Regular REL, which can cause confusion and frustration further down the line. While you should always be accompanying your rulings with explanations, especially at Regular REL where the focus is on education, this becomes even more important on your own match. Explaining all the reasoning behind the solution can help to increase the confidence that your opponent can have in your rulings. It can also help if you make sure that you have a copy of the JAR or the Comprehensive Rules to hand so that you can show evidence to back up your rulings if it is required.

Some final comments here: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! A lot of tournament tasks do not need a certified judge to handle them, and often you will find that your players are happy to lend a hand. This can also be a good way to identify people who might be interested in certifying and to start building that small local judge community.

Got any other advice for people playing and judging at the same time? Please leave a comment!

One thought on “Judging while playing

  1. Three things I always make sure of during an event I’ll be judging and playing are:
    -Make sure the players understand that they can call me at any time, but any questions they may have about rulings or other doubts non-relevant to their current match (as they have finished theirs already) should be asked when I am not playing my match, as my opponent and I are players
    – Be sure I have a proper deck for the role. It is hard to play a grindy pillow fort when you’re running against the clock. Favoring an aggro is not a bad call to be sure you will be there for your players, even if it may not be your style.
    – Be sure you can run your deck in a timely fashion. Picking up a deck the day of the event, not knowing your cards’ interaction, again, clashes with the clock problem. I particularly practice with my decks before playing in tournaments just for the sake of not risking any sort of slow play (in special because I LOVE grindy pillow fort decks, but that is another thing :P).
    Excellent text. Thank you very much for it 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


You will not be added to any email lists and we will not distribute your personal information.