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Why You Should Become a Judge

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I’ve been a Magic judge for almost two years now, and one of my only regrets is that I didn’t become a judge sooner. This article is going to delve into some of the reasons that being a Magic judge appeals to me and might appeal to you.

Community

The Magic judge community is simply awesome. I discussed this a little bit in my article on Judging the Pro Tour, but it deserves to be fleshed out because it’s the real reason that I still judge. The people you meet across the world at events, on IRC, on Facebook, and on the judge mailing lists are some of the most excellent people you will ever meet. We all have this common bond of loving this game, and it really makes it seem that we are friends, or at least comrades, before we ever meet in person. The dinners, drinks, and hooliganery that I have had the privilege to share with judges have far surpassed that of almost every other group that I have ever been a part of. As you ascend the levels of judging, you get more and more opportunities to meet judges from outside your state and outside your country. These people come from vastly different upbringings and cultures, yet you feel that you have already been friends for years. We are all very open with opinions and feelings about almost everything.

The first time the community aspect of judging really hit me was at GP: Nashville in November 2010. This was my first Grand Prix event, and beforehand, I had met a Spanish judge named David de la Iglesia on IRC. At the event, we were great friends, going out for meals and drinks together, and at the end, he gave all of the judges from Florida some tokens he’d signed, and we took a picture together. Since then, David has been one of my best friends; I still make it a point to go to events that he is going to just so we can hang out.

The time when the community hit me even harder was when I hit L3. I mentioned this in my previous article, but when I came out of that room with a smile on my face and gave the thumbs-up signal, letting everyone know I had passed, it was as if they put me on a chair and carried me through the room cheering. Everyone came out of the woodwork; even people I had never even talked to came to congratulate me and to shake my hand. It was as if being promoted to L3 were a success of the entire program, and the entire program came to congratulate me that afternoon. I was humbled by and in awe of the level of joy that was poured out onto me.

It’s one of the closest-knit communities, despite being so spread out, that exists today. This wasn’t my primary reason for becoming a judge; however, this is now the primary reason I continue to be a judge and apply to work a lot of events. Meeting new judges is just awesome, and hanging out with old friends made in the judge program is equally awesome.

Rules/Policy Knowledge

This was one of the primary reasons that I originally became a judge. I figured that the superior knowledge of tournament procedures and rules would give me an edge in play. This is a very common reason to become a judge, and a few judges have been successful with that. However, I learned that I have more fun judging large events, so I only ever really get to play at FNMs. As an L1, and even more so at L2 and L3, you are expected to demonstrate a certain level of knowledge of the rules and policies of Magic. There are standardized tests for the first three levels that obviously increase in difficulty as you progress.

If learning the rules and policies of the game interests you or you love reading rules interactions and trying to figure out complex game states, judging is definitely for you. We have IRC channels dedicated just to discussing these silly corner cases—a lot of judges love to talk about crazy rules. It’s actually a great icebreaker at events to talk with judges about weird interactions, because almost all judges are interested, at least marginally, in crazy scenarios.

The reason that this section got me interested in judging to begin with is an event that happened in January 2010. We were going to a PTQ (Extended, R.I.P.), and one of my friends, CJ Crooks, was studying for his judge exam. He spent the entire car ride giving us sample questions that my other friend Sean Copeland and I would try to answer. Neither of us had any idea about interactions like taking control of a Mistbind Clique at instant speed with the Champion trigger on the stack. We both figured that we knew the rules pretty well, but this opened up a whole new realm of possibilities and really got us excited to become judges. Now, at events in Florida, one of our practices is to post judge questions at the scorekeeper’s table so that players can come read them and discuss them with us. We’ve gotten more than a few judges from this practice because I think everyone sees those questions and either knows the answer and wants to talk about it or doesn’t know and wants to find out.

Compensation

The number-one question by a wide, wide margin that I am asked by players who are not judges is, “What do you get for judging an event like this?” Compensation isn’t really a reason that I judge, but it is a reason that I am able to go to many events. It usually ends up not costing me any money; I think that any event where I can at least break even is worth it for the great times and experiences had at the events. Compensation has a few levels, depending on what types of events you are judging. GPs and PTs are pretty standard, but PTQs and below can vary greatly depending on the TO. I’ll go into some examples below.

Pro Tour: Compensation for the Pro Tour is now monetary, but also includes a selection of DCI foils. If you are selected to work a Pro Tour, Wizards will contact you with a cash offer to have you come work the event. This is usually for around the cost of the flight and hotel, since Wizards no longer pays for either of those. Then, at the event, you are given a foil packet, which is usually pretty saucy. The new judge foils come out at PTs, so you’ll get four of each new foil (usually two new ones; the Worlds foils were Flusterstorm and Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed), two of each of the previous four to six foils, and one of the previous three to four foils. I can usually sell my packet at a Pro Tour for anywhere from $500 to $800 to a vendor onsite, depending on the quality of the foils. If I am patient and sell them on eBay, I can usually increase that number by about 40%.

Grand Prix: Compensation for a Grand Prix event can vary a little bit, but for the most part, it is standard. Usually, L1 and L2 judges get one box per day worked, and L3 judges get one and a half boxes per day worked. There is also a foil packet for all judges working the event. The foil packet at a Grand Prix is half of the foil packet at a Pro Tour. Also, most TOs in the United States have a fair amount of room sponsorships to give out, so you can still easily break even at a Grand Prix event if you get room sponsorship. TOs will usually also provide a meal stipend for lunch or have the event catered for the judges.

PTQ/Regionals/States: “State events,” as I call them, can vary greatly. I get one box per day judged and lunch provided by the TO here in Florida, but I can’t really comment on anything outside of Florida. Working a lot of these types of events is what gets you noticed for staffing the really large events like Grand Prixes.

GPT/FNM/Casual: “Store events” vary the most. I’ve heard of compensation ranging from free entry into the event to a draft set to dinner to $10 store credit and free sodas. I usually negotiate with the store owner for at least free entry into the event and free drinks.

There are a couple of other event types with different compensation models, like SCGQs, prereleases, and StarCityGames opens, but this should give you a rough idea. I’ve looked around, and I haven’t really seen an article that breaks down the compensations like this. Wizards of the Coast and tournament organizers care about your time and are thankful that you are willing to help run events, so they are more than okay with making sure you are compensated for your time. One thing I will stress here is that if you judge strictly for the compensation, you will burn out. If you do the math of your whole judging career, you’ll see that it might hit minimum wage. Judge because you love judging, not for the money—it’s not worth it strictly for monetary value.

Helping the Game

This is another great reason. As a judge, you are trusted to impact your local community in a positive way. You are there to help stores run better events, to let them know of events they might not have known about, and to help the players have fun. If you like being the go-to person for things like this and you like helping people, judging will be great for you. This is another one of the primary reasons that I have decided to try to move up in the ranks of judging. I love to help people, and I love to see stores, players, and tournaments doing well. I love getting e-mails from players about rules and policy questions, I love helping people study for their judge exams, and I love helping other judges reach their goals in the program. If any of these things sound up your alley, talk to your nearest judge! (If you don’t know a judge or where to find one, contact your regional coordinator.)




Well, I think I have made a pretty good case for the judge program here. Stay tuned next week, when my article will answer, “How do I become a judge?” There are a lot of great tools out there to help you become a judge, and I am going to highlight as many as I can, with instructions, about how to use each one. In the meantime, if you are interested, just talk to your local judge, or feel free to send me an e-mail or write something in the comments box! Until next week!