As a shiny, new(ish) L1, my experience judging at Competitive REL is sparse. So, I am proactively attempting to rectify this shortfall. This IQ was the first time I worked at Competitive REL without previously knowing a single other judge or staff member. It was both intimidating and exhilarating! But it also fundamentally changed the way I look at the IPG and the enforcement thereof.
Going into this event, I spent the previous days poring over the IPG and the MTR. I was as much studying the language as I was looking at the subtext for an answer to the question of how to apply penalties while still giving good customer service.
I also went into this IQ with the preconceived notion that I would find something unique or interesting about which to write my first tournament report. However, by Swiss round 3 of 6, things were running exceptionally smoothly thanks in large part to 3 judges working furiously and the store staff operating like a well-oiled machine. I had issued a single penalty in each round so far; all of which were absolutely text book scenarios.
At the beginning of round 3, I was instructed by the head judge to retrieve a player to whom the head judge was going to issue a Deck/Decklist Problem penalty for an illegal decklist. The head judge also asked me to observe the explanation and issuing of the penalty. After the player and his opponent began their round 3 match, I returned to the head judge where we discussed the nuances of his interaction with the player.
At the beginning of round 4, I performed the swoop of what was to be our last random deck check in the Swiss rounds. The head judge and I each sorted and one of the two decks and matched the contents against the decklists. I discovered a Deck/Decklist Problem: 59 cards registered in the main deck (60 cards in the actual deck). The head judge asked if I would retrieve the player in question. This time, I would be explaining the problem, remedy, and penalty to the player. I spent the entire walk to the player’s table mentally telling myself not to screw this up.
And then, IT happened…
This wasn’t some sort of dreaded approach to a table where I could see Sylvan Library and Chain of Mephistopheles looming on the battlefield or a player being aggressive in some manner. In fact, I wouldn’t have even noticed it unless the head judge had pointed it out to me after the fact.
While explaining the problem with the player’s decklist to the player, I adapted a few of the head judge’s lines blended with my own verbiage. I made it a particular point to include an explanation of why penalties for Deck/Decklist Problems are so severe considering the nature of the clerical oversight: “The decklist is best tool we as judges have to preserve the integrity of events run at this level of competition.” This was one of the lines I gleaned from the head judge’s explanation in the previous round. The next line, however, was all me: “I’m sorry, but the penalty for this is a game loss.”
The player was very cordial and understanding of their mistake. They took the game loss without question. And the event continued to roll on.
It was close to the end of the 4th round when the head judge pulled me aside. He looked me straight in the eyes and said plainly, “Never apologize for the rules.”
In that first instant, I didn’t even know what he was talking about. Seeing my confusion, he reminded me that I had apologized for issuing a game loss for the Deck/Decklist Problem penalty. And apologizing can make the judge seem like the responsible party to a player receiving a penalty.
“We are simply enforcing the rules,” he went on to say. “The player broke a rule and we apply the penalty. It is as simple as that. Do not put yourself in a situation to assume responsibility for the player’s mistake.”
I thanked the head judge for his insight and began to mull over what he had said as I collected the last match slips of the round. The last match slip I collected before returning to the score keeper’s station had a “drop” indicated on it. I confirmed the drop with the player indicated on the slip and thanked him for attending.
When I dropped the match slips off at the score keeper’s station, I noted that there had been a staffing change and there was a new score keeper. I handed over the match slips and mentioned that one of the slips had a drop on it. She thanked me, entered the results, and I returned to pushing in chairs and cleaning up trash as the pairings for round 5 were printed and posted.
The head judge began round 5, when I noticed a player seated at the last table with no opponent. I checked the pairings list and the player who indicated a drop after the last round was listed as the missing opponent in question. I informed the head judge of this oversight. After reviewing the standings, the player waiting on his missing opponent would have received the bye for round 5.
The head judge asked me to explain the situation to the player, adding, “This time, you should apologize. This was our mistake.”
And it all fell into place for me: Customer service, the IPG, judging at Competitive REL, all of it! It all made sense in its application. I had struggled with the balancing act of giving good customer service while also applying penalties. But this? This made sense.
I sat down across from the solitary player and explained the situation. And with forethought and intent, I apologized.
We, collectively as a staff, missed something. This was our fault. When a player forgets to draw a card while resolving Gitaxian Probe or registers 59 cards on a decklist, that is not our fault. I will apply the appropriate remedy and penalty in a courteous and professional manner. And I will not apologize.
But when we, the judges and tournament staff, do something wrong, I will be right there to offer an apology and do whatever I can to fix the situation. That’s not just being a good judge, that’s being a true ambassador of the game. And I understand that now.
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