The Competitive Judge: The PPTQ Dilemma

Contrary to the perceptions of some players, many judges enjoy playing Magic, and many are good at the game. There are those who play in competitive events and have the same aspirations as the other players in those events. This is great. It shows players that judges are in touch with that aspect of the community, rather than being distant, unfeeling policy makers, oblivious to the ramifications of what they enforce.

But it sometimes can cause some heartburn.

PPTQ Bat Signal

Envision yourself in this scenario.

You’ve checked out which PPTQs are nearby in the next couple of weeks, and picked one that is the format you want to play and at a reasonable driving distance. You test for it. Talk over options with some other players. Get your deck together if it is constructed, and hone in on a solid 75 over the course of your test sessions. In other words, you do a considerable amount of prep work with the intent to optimize your play.

On Monday the week of this PPTQ, you see a post in your regional Slack or Facebook group, or maybe get an email or private message. The person who was going to Head Judge the PPTQ had an emergency and will not be able to HJ it.

They are in need of an L2 to fill in for them so the PPTQ fires.

You are an L2 judge. You were already planning to be there.

Are you obligated to volunteer to judge?

Duty, Honor, Obligation

Short answer? No.

Longer answer? Absolutely not. Stop that.

Longest answer?

There is nothing in the certification requirements nor maintenance requirements for L2 judges to be responsible for a particular PPTQ. There is a statement in the description of L2 that L2 judges are responsible for PPTQs, but that is merely an acknowledgement that an L2 (or L3) judge is required for the position of PPTQ HJ without special dispensation from the Regional Coordinator.

Emergencies happen and sometimes you can be the one to come to someone’s aid and take over their PPTQ. But doing that in this position can devalue the time you invested, the plans you made, and sets how you wished to spend your time that day aside… for what? The idea that, because you were planning to be there physically, you should feel guilty if you don’t offer to judge?

The original judge was under some obligation, because they made an agreement to be. You are under no such agreement. And there is no agreement, tacit or outspoken, that as an L2 you will step up and take over a PPTQ in need of a head judge if you are available. Nor is there any shame in refusing to do it, even if your options are you play in it or the PPTQ does not fire.

The Pressure

I feel some guilt when this happens to me. In June I played in three PPTQs, all Standard. I rebuilt my schedule and made sacrifices so I could play in these events. But I want to win one. You can’t win if you don’t play.

At the first of these PPTQs, we were a few minutes from the posted starting time before the HJ walked in the door. There was some miscommunication about the start time. One of the store staff said to me, in a joking tone, that they were worried they were going to have to conscript me. We each laughed, but in my head I was thinking “man, would I really have to judge an event I came to play in? I’ve been looking forward to playing in this all week!”

The second was exactly the Bat Signal scenario, so I had more notice. I spent time trying to assist in finding a replacement, all the while intending to be there, all the while feeling guilty for not volunteering. I also felt as though by communicating my intent to play and not offering to take over judging the original judge would resent me. And other judges would, well, judge me for not making the “correct” choice.

For the third, the start time came and went with no sight of the judge who was supposed to be running things. Some time passed. I gave the person behind the counter a phone number for their HJ so they could try calling. More time passed. At this point, I steeled my resolve. I was either playing or the PPTQ was not happening. Finally, I remembered that the person running the store, who was an L1, could contact Rob McKenzie (RC for the USA-North Region) and get permission to at least start us off, if not actually run things, and gave them Rob’s contact info.

In each and every one of these scenarios, I felt some amount of invisible pressure to step up and take on the role of head judge.

So how do deal with this pressure to perform and guilt for failing to do so?

No Judge is an Island

It is one thing to understand that your guilt is unfounded. It is another to accept it, to integrate it as a part of your mantra and push past that feeling to a place where you feel comfortable in your decisions, free from those feelings of obligation or guilt.

Here I find it is important to remind myself why I judge. I got into judging originally as a way to supplement my Magic playing hobby. It took on a life of its own after that, and became about serving the community. When I go to play in an event, I am a part of that community that I, and other judges, are serving. Sometimes I have to be the one to run the show. Other times it is someone else’s job, and I’m not responsible for how well they do it.

Above all, it is important to remind yourself that your time has value.

We are fine making this statement when we talk about compensation for our work, but often we miss the other implications. Your time as a person is valuable. These situations are no different than if you made plans to go to a movie, go fishing, hang out with your parents, etc.

You made plans to not judge.

And that’s okay.