Improving Interactions between Judges and Players – A GP Providence Report

Andrew Kerrigan, Level 2, Hillsborough, New Jersey, United States

Andrew Kerrigan, Level 2, Hillsborough, New Jersey, United States

It’s 3 am and I got home from GP Providence three hours ago. I can’t sleep. These two things together mean that I am writing a tournament report now. I’ll be surprised if I don’t fall asleep at the keyboard before this is done, so let’s get to it!

I was really excited for GP Providence going into it. I’ve only worked one other GP prior to this in Atlantic City, where I was fortunate enough to last-minute test for Level Two and succeed in ascending. While I had worked an SCG Open between then and now, I still felt that I had something to prove. Some people felt that maybe 8 months as a judge was too soon to go for L2, and I wanted to show that I could carry my weight.

Ultimately, this event wasn’t particularly eventful for me in terms of judge calls, but that didn’t stop me from learning a ton. As you’ll see in my report, many of the things I’ll talk about are hypothetical scenarios, or situations that could have gone further. Also, I just googled the difference between “further” and “farther”. The learning just doesn’t stop. Realistically, I had a ton of great discussions and learned a lot from a few things that I could have done better, so let’s talk about those, shall we? I’m going to be trying a slightly weirder format where I talk about all of the relevant events for each day, and then end each day with a paragraph about what I learned on the whole for that day. Let me know what you think of this format in the replies.


Friday was…interesting.

My shift started at 2 pm and right around then we had a PM team meeting. Very quickly into the meeting, we were asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to HJ some scheduled side events. They needed one for Modern, Sealed, and Two-Headed Giant. Brian Bradshaw and I volunteered, both interesting in working Modern, but really just helping out where we were needed. One team lead transported us to another to facilitate this, and we quickly found out from that Team Lead that Modern was actually covered, and it was just Sealed and 2HG. Okay, no biggy, I’ll take the Sealed and Bradshaw can take the 2HG. I was also told to take over the 2HG event currently going on when its Head Judge went on break. All is well!

Okay so maybe I was wrong about that. At around 3 PM, another Team Lead approached me about helping Bradshaw set up the coverage area. Sure no problem; our events weren’t until 6:30 and 7 pm. Let’s crush this! We did a pretty good job setting up the coverage area and returned to discover that my position had been stolen. Another Team Lead didn’t know I was supposed to cover the 2HG HJ for his break, and the original one didn’t know I had escaped to the coverage area, so I was easily forgotten. As for Bradshaw, I’m pretty sure that they forgot he even needed something to do in the first place.

Without much to do, and quickly discovering that there were way too many team leads and not enough communication, Brian and I decided to just help pull some weight across all of the ongoing scheduled side events, laugh about the comic nature of the scenario, and have some great discussions about the judge program. Can I just say now that Brian Bradshaw is awesome? Him being a long time veteran of the program, literally having been a judge for approximately 19 times as long as I have, and me with the young-gun ideals to set him straight created some awesome discussions about where the judge program has gone, where it is, where it is going, and where I can most appropriately fit in to it. We didn’t discuss anything that I am particularly interested about publishing here, but it was just a lot about customer service needs versus being a fair tournament official, and I learned quite a bit.

Anyway, at around 5:30, we are approached by one of the original five team leads in this whole situation to figure out what was up. He recommended that Brian go on break before his event at 6:30, and told me that I would be helping him out with his event. I asked about my Sealed event at 7. Apparently I wasn’t on it anymore. Okay, no big deal, I just want to help however I am needed. Brian and I go on break, have some more awesome discussions, and are approached at some point by another team lead while eating (or maybe it was a judge manager) about one of the other team leads looking for us and not knowing where to find us. Umm…we were told to go on lunch. At this point, both Brian and I are starting to get a little irritated. We keep getting thrown around, and at any given time, each Team Lead thinks that we are supposed to be doing different things.

In hindsight, I could have tried to bridge the gap of communication a bit more, but we were also told that the spreadsheet with all of the relevant information could only be edited by Team Leads. This created a small seed of feeling like we weren’t properly being trusted with any real responsibility. At around 6:45, a few different Team Leads ask about the Sealed Event I am HJing, and it takes convening at least three of them together to properly determine what I am doing and where I am best needed. I then come to the discovery that we don’t even really count as the Head Judges of these events anyway. The Team Lead for Scheduled Events is the real Head Judge, we just run the event.

Finally, we have a realistic plan for the night, and I had successfully made sure that the Team Leads had properly communicated this with each other so that I did not get thrown around. I felt much better about my hand in the scenario. Bradshaw and I crushed the rest of the night, but only after having been moved back and forth and replaced on different events and tasks multiple times. We still managed to have fun, and left excited for the next day at around 11:30 pm.

So, here is what I learned in all of this mess: it is indeed possible to have too many cooks in the kitchen, especially when they aren’t properly communicating with each other. I don’t fault any of the Team Leads in particular. In fact, they were all mostly awesome and fun and approachable, and got their jobs done. It is just that on the whole, there were too many of them and they didn’t all communicate well enough for important things, due to the fact that sometimes they got sidetracked doing other important duties that were micromanaged to them. Micromanagement is great and delegation is key, but when you take it too far and don’t properly supplement that with effective communication channels beyond just the basic needs, the event and the staff can suffer.

I also learned that trust is very key in judging. Both Bradshaw and I felt very put off by some of the situations I described above that hurt our trust. It is possible that these things were actually beneficial to the event, but they weren’t exactly described to us in that light. They were described to us as being in place mostly because there should be specific people doing specific things, but when you have too many team leads and they are all stretched thin anyway, it would’ve been nice to know that we were trusted to pick up the slack and help out beyond just the bare minimum. I am not saying that in either case there weren’t steps that we could’ve taken to do better. I’m certain there were. But with everything that happened, it became increasingly difficult to take those extra steps without just causing additional problems.


I was on the feature match team for today, and after a last minute switch, my team lead was Jon Goud. First things first, Jon Goud is awesome. He did an amazing job as a team lead, we had a ton of awesome discussions, and he was just an incredibly fun and approachable person (maybe you can tell that I value these qualities very highly in leaders). It is no surprise that he successfully ascended to level three this weekend, and I am very excited to work with him more in the future.

Anyway, Saturday had very few scenarios worth talking about, but the few that did happen were really amazing and valuable experiences. I don’t want to talk about all of the random individual calls I took that I didn’t learn a lot from. Moving forward, the first scenario that I found to be really valuable started off as a pretty straightforward Looking at Extra Cards call. NAP called me over and said that AP had quickly started off game two with a Jungle Hollow and quickly scry-ed, but wait, that card doesn’t scry. Temple of Malady scrys. Okay, easy fix, no problem. Shuffle your library, warning, blah blah. Only Round Three at this point, so no other prior warnings for AP.

As I walked away to fill out the slip, I realized something interesting. AP’s Jungle Hollow was Chinese, and as NAP had told me, he performed all his actions very quickly. Also, while taking the call (with AP down a game with 35 minutes left in the round), AP kept trying to do what seemed like rush me away. He would answer my questions before I finished asking them, and was very non-confrontational. I had taken another call in between then and now, so it had been a few minutes since, but I decided to go discuss this with the first cool person I could find. I dropped off the slip and found Jon Goud standing next to Kevin Desprez.

Prior to this weekend, I had never met Kevin, and I had only interacted with him briefly before this moment when Jared Sylva introduced me the night before. Jon had to go take a call after listening to me explain the scenario, so it was mostly just me and Kevin. He asked me how I could have investigated further, and I had a bunch of inexperienced non-answers like asking AP why this happened. Kevin explained to me the value of not asking the questions that just beg the answers you want to here, and using my knowledge as a competitive player to better evaluate the situation, even without ever asking a question. Would the player have a reason to intentionally scry, for reasons such as keeping a land-light hand?

Kevin also helped me understand questions I could have asked that are better suited for investigations. In essence, the key is to put the burden of proof on the player, but strike a balance between that and just assuming they are cheating. I had read a few articles about the subject prior, but Kevin was really good about explaining the nuances of explanations, and I really do feel like I learned so much from this three minute discussion. It was really awesome to get that one-on-one time with Kevin, and have him take a scenario and teach me so much in so little time. As an aside, I really liked that Kevin and Jared were both very active on the floor watching matches. It was both encouraging for me in my efforts to get engaged with matches of magic, and also let me know that the HJs were not just some machines working behind the scenes until there was an appeal. They were judges just like me. While this makes sense in hindsight, it definitely feels like something that can get lost in the hustle of larger events.

Later in the day, I am walking around to sweep for slips towards the end of the round, and I witness some players starting to bicker, with one player looking like he wants to call a judge but then second guessing himself. I step in, hoping to de-escalate this situation before I have to give out some USC penalties. Essentially, the match was over, as NAP had already conceded, but after conceding, he was a bit confused about why they both had 13 written on their life pads for his life total, and not 14. If he was at 14, he wasn’t dead next turn and wouldn’t have needed to concede. AP said that it was from the Wooded Foothills, but a Wooded Foothills was nowhere to be found in play or in the graveyard.

When I first arrived, NAP did the following: “…and I’d already drawn my card for turn” *Places that card back on top of deck*. It looked to me like he put two cards back, but the game was over, so I didn’t think much of it and thought I might just be seeing things.

APs concern was that something might be fishy or he might be crazy, because he definitely saw a Wooded Foothills with turn one Duress. I’ve been playing competitive Magic for a long time, and I can usually tell the difference between a player who just incorrectly saw a card and is now confused, and a player who actually saw a card for sure and something might be wrong. This seemed a lot like the latter to me. NAPs concern, or at least the concern he was trying to convince me that he had, was that he didn’t know where that -1 life came from, and/or why his opponent was so sure he had a Wooded Foothills that he cracked. Eventually, after some weird conversation, he relegated it to being from the Mana Confluence that he didn’t think he had tapped.

Dan Collins tells me to get the slip signed, and I mostly de-escalated the players, so I decided that maybe I would just keep an eye on the situation after getting the slip turned in. I saw them starting to escalate again, but it mostly resolved itself before I had a chance to step in. As AP got up to leave, I pulled him aside and made sure he was aware that I wasn’t ignoring his concern, but that it was fine for now because he had won anyway, and that I would keep an ear open for any other similar scenarios from NAP. AP also alerted me to some other shady stuff that the player had been doing throughout the match. I thanked him for his cooperation and understanding, and we parted ways. I wasn’t entirely sure that talking to him was the right move as it might seem unfair or apologetic for a situation that didn’t require me to apologize for, but I’m glad in hindsight that I did talk to him.

I was sent on a half-round break next round, but I decided to keep an eye out for anything else from that player at his next match, because breaks can sometimes be boring. I ended up getting a little sidetracked, but I didn’t see anything too concerning other than his friend looking at me when I stepped a small distance behind that player’s match, and then seemingly intentionally stepping in front of me when I was trying to watch. Maybe I should’ve investigated further or made someone beyond Dan Collins aware of this players potentially shady behavior, but I don’t like assuming the worst, and I didn’t notice anything that warranted the conclusion of cheating. The player then fell out of contention anyway a round or so later, and I decided to just leave the situation as is, while getting the opinion from some other judges.

Not much else exciting happened for the day, but I felt very happy knowing that I had some great discussions and learned a lot. Most of my gained knowledge was centered around investigations, disqualifications, and cheating, and I don’t really need to reiterate to much what I learned, since I said a lot of it above. Essentially though, I do want to say again that I think they key to situations like these is to never assume the player is cheating unless you have good reason to, but also don’t just look for the answer you want to here. Saying “Why did you think it was Temple” puts the burden of proof on yourself, because you are basically asking the player to just say, “It was foreign and I wasn’t paying attention” or something similar. Make them explain to you why this isn’t cheating without directly asking that, and go in with an unbiased starting point. If someone is cheating, we want to catch them. If they aren’t, we don’t want to just assume that there is something to catch and wrongly disqualify someone. Remember that for competitive players, it is very easy to be shaken by even someone insinuating that you might be cheating or questioning your character, so go in with an open mind. But also, if they are cheating, please try to catch them.


Sunday was really boring, and this tournament report is already dragging on, so I’m only going to discuss one scenario.

Backstory! I was the HJ of the Regular REL 12 pm sealed event. I assumed it wouldn’t be very many people. At 11:51 am, we had 25. Awesome! More than expected. They did a last call and I prepped for 32. At 11:59 am, we had 53 players. Last call was very effective. Final count was 54, which is/was the largest event I have every HJed by a solid 22 people. There were a few hiccups, but until the end of round two, I was really happy with how the event had been going. But then the end of round two happened.

Two matches remained, and time was about to be called. The room had a lot of noise pollution and the matches were a bit far apart, so I didn’t just want to yell time. For the first match, I noticed they definitely weren’t finishing the current turn for another 30 seconds or so, so about 10 seconds before time was actually up, I told them that they were now on turn 0. I then walked to the other match, and literally in unison with the clock hitting exactly time and my lips about to form the words, NAP of that second match called for a judge. It was a fairly easy call in which AP had destroyed Illusory Gains to get his creature back, and tried to attack with it. When I told him he couldn’t, he though for another second or two and then passed. No time extension given or needed. I informed them at the AP at the time of the call was turn 0, and they were now moving to turn 1. The other match finishes, so it is just these guys, and I kneel over a chair to watch.

Come turn 4 of time, the AP (the guy who thought he could attack) had a 3/2 flyer with his opponent at 5. He needs one more combat step that he doesn’t have. He puts his opponent to two, and dejectedly passes the turn. His opponent passes back, says something along the lines of “Draw?” and then the 3/2 flyer guy (NAP from here forward) looks at me and says he thought he deserved an extra turn because of the judge call and that he should be the winner of this game. I initially evaluate his statements as more him being annoyed, and not actually thinking that he *deserved* an extra turn and to be the winner. As such, I rushed along my answers and tried to get the slip signed, acting in a way that somewhat came across as ignoring his concerns.

Quickly though, I realized that he genuinely did feel this way, and wanted me to change the result of the match and/or give them another turn. I tell him that this isn’t happening, explain when I called time with respect to the calling for judge, and some other random things, etc etc and all that. He feels that we was going to say pass, but was interrupted by his opponent calling judge about the Illusory Gains attack, and that, had this not happened, it would’ve been his opponent’s turn when time was called and ultimately, they would’ve had an extra turn and he would’ve won. I kept repeating myself, failing to properly explain any actual philosophy behind my decision, and he attempts to appeal. I alert him that he can’t, and he becomes more frustrated (but not to the point of needing a USC or anything). I decide that on Friday, when I had asked about the “not-actually-Head-Judge Head Judges” and had been told by Jason Reindeau that the theory was that players should always have an appeal path if it can be facilitated, combined with me definitely approaching the call poorly at the beginning, that I would get Alex Mullins to give his opinion to the player. My ruling was final, but I wanted the player to feel as if I wasn’t just being directly biased/unfair, and I also thought Alex might be able to better explain things where I was failing to. This was most customer service than anything else, but Alex was more than happy to help. He essentially upheld my ruling, saying a few new things that I hadn’t said, and the player was told the ruling was final by me, but Alex and I made it clear he could speak to the TO – not to change the ruling, but just from a customer service perspective. He felt it wouldn’t do any good, and decided not to hold everyone up any further.

The player was somewhat annoyed for the rest of the event, but he did start taking my advice of asking for time extensions right away, if he felt he deserved one and it wasn’t given to him, when another judge on the floor took a call at his match for me while I was busy. He also spoke with another judge later about his negative experience, and that judge mostly just heard the players concerns and tried to quell his feelings. I appreciated it. Alex and I talked a lot about it, and we found a few key areas where we really didn’t handle the situation properly. In reality, we mostly just kept repeating the ruling to the player, and not actually explaining the philosophy behind our decisions. Some things we could have said that may have gone a long way:

  • Extra turns should have 5 full turns. Turn 0 only serves to complete the current turn. Even if you were saying “go” right as I said time, you still met the requirement of having 5 full turns
  • (I wouldn’t have actually said this to the player, but could have considered it in my explanation) He was going to combat when I was called over, and took a few seconds to pass even after he understood the ruling about the creature not being able to attack. Realistically, this makes me believe he only thought he was saying go right as I would’ve said time because that is what he wanted to happen
  • While he thinks he may win the game with the extra turn, that isn’t necessarily true, so we can’t just change the result because of the idea that he might have won on that turn. In addition, it is unfair to the opponent if we just change it now and say that there is an extra turn, unless it really is entirely warranted for that extra turn to be there, which isn’t the case here

Ultimately, I learned quite a bit from this scenario and while the player did have some amount of a case of TE/USC – Failure to Accept Reality, I could have handled it so much better from both a judge perspective and a customer service perspective, though this was one of the scenarios where the two do not perfectly merge.

Editor’s note: For judges not familiar with the IPG – don’t look up the infraction, it doesn’t exist. 😉

That being said, I could’ve done a better job in both departments. Two key ways to improve this is through better assessing the scenario right from the beginning, and also better explaining the philosophy behind my decisions. With the former, this situation likely would have been at least a little smoother had I started the situation in a better way, rather than rushing it along and seemingly ignoring the player. With the latter, while my ruling is final regardless of how well the player really understands it, I can do a much better job in not just repeating the answer over and over again, and instead better explaining why I am making the decision I am making, and the philosophy behind it. I would also really like all of your opinions! Do you think bringing Alex over was a good idea, especially having been told what I was told by Jason on Friday, or did it only serve to complicate the scenario or further annoy the player? Would it maybe have been better to just discuss some potential explanations with Alex, but then still just give the ruling and explanations myself?

Overall, I had a fantastic time in Providence. I learned so much, met so many awesome people (additional shout-out to Drew Herr for being an awesome teammate on Saturday, great conversationalist on Sunday, and overall awesome person). While the event was super over-staffed, I still got a lot done and the event certainly felt worth it. I do feel that I slacked a little bit in some departments, especially compared to my usual performance at events that I am very happy with. I guess every event can’t always be your best event though, and as long as you learn from those mistakes, then the event is still a success. I’d really love to hear your feedback if you were dedicated enough to make it through this report, both on the report itself and the things described within!

Thanks for reading everyone!

AJ Kerrigan

Ps – Congrats to Sky Mason for winning the GP. Happy to see the good guys win one every once in a while. Wait…are we really the good guys? But congrats still!

Editor’s note: Please leave your comments or feedback at the Judge Apps forums too!

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