Back to basics: My first local competitive event (in a while)

Admittedly, it requires the stars to align, since I’m not home super often, but when they do, I don’t mind helping my Local Game Store whenever no other judge is available.

It hasn’t been a rough day, far from it: 36 players, the store employee is also an L1 and the evening before, a common friend of us who just certified asked whether he could judge for the first time.

Nothing was chaotic, we started registration on time at a comfortable 10:00, rounds lasted 60 minutes average, we were out to the restaurant by 19:00, cleaning included.

Nevertheless, I really felt like I didn’t do a good job. What did I miss? The player’s meeting.



Head Judging a GP


As you may expect, I’m used to HJ GPs. I’m used to super large halls with often super… let’s say questionable acoustics, super large crowds with super… let’s say arguable attention. This means that I need to reduce my announcements to the bare minimum.

Indeed, when acoustics is bad, an announcement is very hard to understand and therefore close to, if not entirely, useless. In the same way, at a GP, the inertia of the mass makes the tournament intrinsically slow, hence I don’t want to speak for too long: Players came to play.

I instinctively followed this reasoning that Sunday… and it failed.



Some facts


A social interaction


In Round 1, a neighbor asks a player who just lost game 1: “Why didn’t you turn your Fleecemane Lion monstrous the turn before?” The opponent calls me over to express displeasure at what could very easily turn into a strategic advice.

After talking to all parties, I was 100% certain this was only a question, but it suggested very strongly the player made a mistake, and I identified Outside Assistance.

Which is a Match Loss.

Which felt super harsh to a player who just wanted to have social interactions.

But this was competitive REL, and rules need to be enforced so as to be fair with every player in the tournament.



Where’s your sideboard?


At the beginning of round 2, a player comes to me to tell me he may have an issue with his list, since he has likely not registered his sideboard.

I’m asking a few more questions and I realize in the discussion he doesn’t make a difference between Main Deck and Sideboard, but a difference between “Cards” and “Lands”. I’m a bit confused about the situation and pull out the decklist. The player listed in one column 55 “cards” and in the other column 20 “lands”.

I ask him what his sideboard is. He tells me they’re the last 15 cards in the first column. Counting from the bottom, I indeed find the last 8 lines add up to 15 cards and they’re reasonable Sideboard cards, which makes me exclude shadiness.

Because the player came by himself and we didn’t need to modify anything on his decklist (besides clearly marking what’s SB and what’s MD), I did not issue a penalty but explained to him the importance of a clean decklist, mentioning decklists errors can be penalized with a GL.



Autopsy of a failure


This tournament wasn’t a PPTQ, but it was a fairly similar audience.

I made sure to mention to players that the REL was competitive but totally failed to explain what it changed compared to the FNMs/Pre-releases they were mostly used to.

After all, the “advice” wasn’t too strong and I’m not even sure an opponent would have noticed during a FNM.

Players aren’t used to decklists anymore. Right now, it’s fairly rare to actually find a tournament where decklists are used.

It could have been worse, as I’ve had a small Missed Trigger issue that I resolved without a problem (although the player could barely understand why his mandatory trigger could be missed, since the card says it’s mandatory)



Making a good speech


A good speech isn’t long. It goes to the point and allows players to play as fast as possible. What you should tackle is:

  • Number of players
  • Number of rounds
  • 50mn + turns
  • Prizes
  • Improperly Determining a Winner / Bribery
  • Outside Assistance
  • Decklists
  • Missed Triggers


Putting all of this in a single speech IS too long. The longer you speak at once, the less people will listen to you. Therefore, it’s great to spread these elements throughout the day.


During the Seat All Players

  • Number of players
  • Number of rounds
  • 50mn + turns
  • Count your decklist


Beginning of round 1

  • Missed Triggers
  • Outside Assistance


Beginning of round 2

  • Prizes (if they’re ready)
  • Improperly Determining a Winner



Making the speech understandable


I’ve just juxtaposed a bunch of words that have technical meanings but reality is that most players have no way to know what they mean. A speech aims at being informative.

Therefore, how to explain clearly and quickly what they refer to?


Missed Triggers

At Competitive events, you are responsible for remembering your own triggers, even if the card says the trigger is mandatory. Your opponent doesn’t need to remind you they exist. And if you forget about them, they may not apply so be careful!


Outside Assistance

You should not intervene in any game that’s being played. If you notice something wrong, let a judge know, especially if that’s about triggers!


Improperly Determining a Winner

You can’t roll a die, flip a coin or look at the top cards of your library if the game is a draw.
This is a touchy topic, therefore you should try to bring it on a light tone so as to clearly state what they can’t do but without making a huge deal of it. It’s meant to be informative, not threatening.





The switch from Regular to Competitive can be fairly difficult for players, especially as PPTQs nowadays happen at the exact same place as PRs/FNMs. The difference between these kind of events is crucial to judges but isn’t instinctive to players and the consequences of mistakes done vastly differs. Therefore, informing players in a way that’s useful to them is important to help them take the best out of the day.


Kevin Desprez.