The Claudia Rules: Kicking Things Off

A lot of you will be asking yourselves, “Where has Riki gone and who is writing now?” So I guess I should introduce myself first. My name is Claudia Nellessen. I’m a L1 judge from Aachen, Germany. In my non-Magic life, I’m studying math and training kids to be future lifeguards. Riki told you last week how much judging he has done during the last weeks, so he asked me to step in for a few weeks.

One question people always ask me is: How did you get into judging? That’s why I decided to write about becoming a judge with the hope that I can give you some advice at the same time.

We all come into contact with Magic in different ways. Maybe one of your friends brought a pack of cards to school, or you observed some guys playing in a shop. I learned how to play Magic because of my boyfriend. Yes, I know. That seems to be stereotypical, doesn’t it?

My boyfriend is a semi-professional player who has been to quite a few big tournaments. But he is also interested in the rules and how to “play properly.” Before I ever was allowed to play my first game of Magic, I learned a lot of theory. I learned what different kinds of cards there are. I learned about the structure of a turn, what happens in which phase and step, and what cards can be played when. I learned about the stack and about priority.

Why was that important? I learned the right rules of the game without ever having to unlearn anything wrong. So if you teach someone how to play, do it right. Although not playing by the rules in the beginning might seem easier, it is much more difficult to change bad habits. I guess that you all will know that from your non-Magic life, so why should it be any different in playing?

Furthermore, learning the rules before playing gave me an understanding of the rules that a lot of players lack. And knowing the principles of the game is of fundamental importance for a judge. When I began judging, I could answer most of the questions with what I learned from my boyfriend.

So how did I get from being a player’s girlfriend to being a judge? I realized that I am not a competitive player. I like playing Magic for fun and at smaller tournaments, but that’s it. I lack the necessary killer instinct and will to destroy my opponent to be successful at larger tournaments. And I knew I couldn’t compete with my boyfriend, so I decided not try it. But that alone isn’t a good reason to become a judge.

What are good reasons? There are lots of them. If you ask different judges, I am sure you’ll get a lot of different answers. They might tell you that you have to like the rules, enjoy communicating with people, or be good at organizing or explaining interactions to players. What your reason is doesn’t really matter. Just do everyone a favor and don’t pick “I want to prove I’m good at rules”. That will almost certainly prevent you from becoming a judge.

So what were my reasons? In the beginning, they were called Ute and Daniel. You might know them from one of Riki’s earlier articles. They are judges from my hometown who organize and judge all the local tournaments. One day, Ute asked me if I was interested in judging and invited me to help out at a Prerelease. Without really having studied the rules, I could answer a lot of questions and discovered that I liked judging.

How to Learn Judging

That’s when I decided to learn more about the rules. But how do you do that? Is there a perfect way to learn them? Trust me, there isn’t. But there are a lot of things that can help you. First of all there are the official documents which can be found here. You won’t be able to avoid them, but reading them can be hard task if you don’t understand a bit of what is in there yet. Luckily, there are a lot of other ways. You can go to a local tournament and talk to the judges there and shadow them. That means you follow them around and observe them and their rulings. Sitting next to a table and watching a game might help you. Also, there are a lot of good judge articles at different web pages like here on Channel Fireball or on the WotC site. And if you have a question and you are connected to the Internet, you can always find judges who are willing to share their knowledge at #mtgjudge on IRC efnet.

For me, it was learning by doing. I’ve tried reading through the Comprehensive Rules several times, but I failed if I started at the beginning and tried to get to the end. I went to judge FNM with Ute or Daniel a lot and picked things I observed there to learn more about. For example, I analyzed the structure of a turn after Ute asked me, “How often does a player get priority if nothing happens during a turn?” Have you thought about that? I can give you a hint: it’s more than just once. You can divide the Comprehensive Rules into little bits and pieces and suddenly they are not such a frightful plethora of paragraphs anymore.

And as for the other documents, the good thing is that they are a lot shorter. They don’t seem to be such an insurmountable obstacle. But unfortunately there is no way around learning some of the things by heart like, for example, the penalties. I also had to learn the names of all the sets before Ravnica to be able to say which one are legal in Extended because I only came in contact with Magic during Ravnica.

So, what can you do once you’ve studied the rules, the IPG (Infraction Procedure Guide) and all the other documents? Go out and test your knowledge. Try to find a tournament to judge at. Ask people to pepper you with questions. And most of all, don’t be afraid to get something wrong or to not know the answer. If you are you will end up not answering any questions at all and that certainly doesn’t help you. In the beginning, you won’t be judging any tournaments that are of vital importance so getting an answer wrong definitely isn’t the end of the world.

Another way to test your skills is taking a practice test online. The Judge Center offers training tests on different levels of difficulty. That’s what I did a lot. I’m always afraid of disappointing people by not knowing something so I try to practice in private. That might also be your best option if you do not have any judges or tournaments nearby.

After practicing, there will come the time to consider the L1 test. I was mortally afraid of it and Ute and Daniel practically had to force me to take it. I thought that I wasn’t ready and that I lacked the necessary skills to be a judge. But luckily, they knew I was ready even if I wasn’t too sure about it.

How and where do you take the test? There are several different ways to do it. Every L2+ is allowed to test candidates for L1 now, so things have become a lot easier. If you’re lucky to be working with an L2+, that’s probably your best contact. He or she knows you and can tell if you are ready. If you’re not, there are still other ways to do that. You can go to a tournament and test there. At European GPs, there is always at least one judge responsible for testing candidates. At smaller tournaments like a PTQ, I recommend contacting the judges first to see if they have time to test you. They might be busy and do not have enough time for you.

I tested at German Nationals last year. I passed the test despite nearly dying from nervousness. I couldn’t remember any of the State-based effects, and forgot about the layers and everything else when people that wanted to help me questioned me before my test. But when the interview started I had calmed down and everything went well.

A judge test usually consists of an interview before the test in which the examiner tries to figure out if the judgeling is ready for the test. If he or she is, you get to do the written test. That test is often followed by another interview about the test.

Judging Nationals

Judging at German Nationals three days in a row has helped me a lot. I realized that being a good judge isn’t only about knowing the rules. There are a lot of other abilities that you need and that you can bring from your non-Magic life. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I am a math student. I have a job at university where I teach math to computer scientists and mechanical engineers. So I am used to explaining abstract concepts (rules) and things they don’t want to know about (penalties) to people. I am also a lifeguard in my club, responsible for organizing the training of our future lifeguards. That’s why I have experience in organizing people and events. And I am a mathematician. That means my life is all about logic, which helps me understand the rules. So think about it. What have you learned in your non-Magic life that can help you? What skills and abilities can you bring to judging? What are your other interests, and how can that help you to be a good judge?

That is all I am going to tell you about becoming a judge. What I still would like to tell you is why I like being a judge so much. Because after you have taken the test you’re going to ask yourself what to do next. I was lucky. After my I passed my test, I could still apply for GP Paris. They accepted me, and I got a room sponsorship. I went to Disneyland, Paris, not really knowing what would await me. And it turned out to be the biggest tournament ever. Over 1800 players managed by about 60 judges.

When looking back at the event, it is hard for me to explain why that event was such an incredible experience. You get to work more that 12 hours, answering judge-calls or perform other tasks like doing deck checks. Then you fall into bed, sleep too little and get up early the next day for another exhausting day. On Sunday evening, I felt like I could never walk again, like I could sleep forever. But on Monday morning, I could not wait to get to the next tournament.

There are at least two reasons for that. First, I found something that I am good at. I can do a good job and impress people just by being who I am. That hasn’t been the case in my life before.

The second reason is that I love the judge-family. You get to know people from all over the world and though you haven’t met them before you become part of their group just because you judge the same tournament. They like you because you’re excited about the same thing as they are and do the same crazy things like going to faraway places to judge a PT or a GP. I’ve met a lot of people I can call friends now and some of them even have become really important people in my life.

The third reason is that you learn so much. I had been to a GP and two PTs before the end of my first four months as a judge. At the big events, there are always a lot of experienced people you can learn from if you work with them or even if you just observe them. How do they answer calls? How do they manage their staff? How do they head judge a public event?

What is more is that these big events are the best places to take one step further. At Worlds in Memphis, this was head judging my first event for me. I had talked to some people the night before about not having head judged an event before. They all told me to ask for such a position the next day. They convinced me that there was no way I could completely mess up the event because of all the other judges present.

So when our public events lead asked for someone who would be willing to head judge the Two-Headed Giant event that day, I heard myself volunteering for that task. I had judged a lot of 2HG tournaments at PT Berlin and GP Paris, so I felt I was up to the task after being told that they expected about 30 teams. It turned out to be much, much bigger. The first update I had was 60 teams–the second update 80 to 90 teams. It ended up with 110 teams. I don’t think I would have done that if I had known it would be that many teams. But despite all problems, we had it turned out smoothly. Apparently, I did a good job because Riki later mentioned me in his article about Worlds, and because I had so much fun. As Sheldon always says, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”.

At the moment, I’ve planned to do to UK Nationals, GP Brighton and German Nationals this summer, and I can’t wait to be at these events. Maybe I’ll meet some of you and can help you in your judging-career.

Auf wiedersehen,
Claudia Nellessen


9 thoughts on “The Claudia Rules: Kicking Things Off”

  1. dowjonzechemical

    Fruhe Weinachten (sry its the only German I know, aside from counting to 20)

    Good to see other genders (namely women) writing an article. I wish you could influence my wife to have the same interest in Magic. Good Job, and entertaining

  2. I’ve managed to fix the errant missing “s” in the title everywhere but in the forum thread title. If you’ve linked to this article, please take note of the change. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    P.S. Awesome article.

  3. After the M10 prerelease I’ve been thinking about becoming a judge. Very timely article and well-written too. Nice job.

  4. Very good job, Claudia !
    Your article was “spitzenmäßig” (excellent).

    I guess a lot of people will be less afraid of starting a judge career now.

  5. You make at least a future judge by this article. I’m so impressed. I didn’t know exactly what judge is. I will try to be a good judge like you. Thanks a lot!

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