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The Riki Rules: Next Level Judging: Zero to One

Hey, guys. You know me. I’m Mark Wahlberg. I’m going to talk to some animals.

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Hey, guys. You know me. I’m Riki Hayashi. I’m going to talk about judging.

That’s much better. I’m very happy to be the first, or at least one of the first, to be welcoming you to the new ChannelFireball, or CB. This is an exciting new venture brought to you by John Saso and Mashi Scanlan, my good friends from Superstars. Over the past year, I’ve watched them take the lead in Northern California and push their store from great to, well, super. The new store’s play space was large enough to house 272 players for the California State Champs, and they successfully hosted their first $5K Standard event on March 14th.

You’ll be hearing plenty more about that tournament in the coming weeks, including some fantastic tech from all of our writers. Afterwards, you’ll get the requisite tournament reports from our local writers including my own from the Scorekeeper’s station (L5 Toby Elliott will be the Head Judge).

Meanwhile, we are at a rather small lull in the action. I know you’re reading this after PT Kyoto, but look at it from my perspective. Not only did I have to finish writing this before the Pro Tour happened, but I’ve also been in Japan for the week preceding the first PT of the year visiting my family. So the stories from Japan, both on and off the floor, will have to wait for another time. Meanwhile, starting at a new website seems like the perfect time to reset my own writing and deal with a subject that is at the center of Judgedom.

“How do I become a Judge?”

This has become a popular question in my inbox. Locally, I’ve taken a few such inquiries and turned them into solid Judge candidates that we will be bringing along and testing in the coming months. But things are more difficult when I get such questions from farther away, other states, other countries, even other planets. Today, I’m going to cover some of the steps you can take on the road to becoming a Level 1 Judge.

The first thing you need to do is become comfortable with the rules. You should be the go to guy or gal at your local shop or within your playgroup. This is how I originally got my start. I remember people around me having a lot of trouble with the madness mechanic. In particular, there were various rules tricks like discarding an Arrogant Wurm to Careful Study and being able to play a land afterwards to play the Wurm. Another one was a Circular Logic discarded to an opponent’s spell (like Duress) sticking around until the end of the phase to give a kind of counter shield. Neither of these tricks work since they changed the rules for madness when they relaunched the mechanic for Time Spiral. It’s probably better that way. The trick was quite counterintuitive, and it took a careful reading of the rules for me to get it and be able to communicate it to my friends. That was it. From that point forward, I was the local rules guru, and people around me would say “You should become a Judge.” If you hear that a lot, it’s time to take the next step.

If you want to be the rules guru of your playgroup these days, you need to study the layers of continuous effects. Those are the pesky layers that made Mirrorweave and Figure of Destiny household names. At this point, many players know how these cards interact with each other; they’ve been told how it works enough times that they’ve simply memorized “which card wins.” Rote memorization won’t cut it in judging because many of the situations you will encounter will be new and unexpected. I remember the first time someone pointed to a Mirrorweave I had to do some quick mental calisthenics and go through the layers in my head to deliver the correct answer. If you don’t know the underlying “why” behind the layers, you won’t be able to adapt to new questions.

Once you have the need or desire to study the rules beyond just a practical “player’s knowledge,” it’s time to pick up some experience answering questions online, because your friends aren’t always going to have tough questions for you. Various sites have a rules Q&A forum where people gather to exchange knowledge. Hanging around such a forum can be a valuable simulation for being on the floor of a tournament. The questions might range from the most basic (“Is a Forest green?”) to guru-level stumpers (“A Priest of Titania, Goblin King, and Volrath’s Shapeshifter walk into a bar) The difference from a tournament floor is that you don’t have to answer if you don’t know; go ahead and let someone else take the question. It’s a chance to work your way into things by only answering questions you are comfortable with. You also get a chance to watch some veterans answer questions, many of them Judges themselves. This provides you with valuable indirect mentoring on how to answer questions (although the completeness of answers on forums is often contrary to how Judges handle things).

Another useful crutch you have on the forums is the capability to look things up in the various resources either online or if you have hard copies. Instead of committing miles and miles of rules to memory, you can consult the Comprehensive Rules and get the exact rule to match the situation. If someone asks about a particular infraction, you can look it up in the Penalty Guide. Just make sure you don’t depend upon your crutch. Try to figure out the answer on your own, at least intuitively, then use the Comp Rules to confirm your answer and cite passages for the sake of completeness. This will help build your confidence as well as give you some first-hand experience with the lawyer-speak of Magic rules documents.

“I Want to be a Judge”

Once you feel ready to venture forth into the world of judging, you need to find a mentor. All Level 2s now have the ability to certify new Judges, so it’s just a matter of looking up the closest one at the Judge Center (a website that pretty much has all of the information you need for this process). Or you could go to a tournament. I hear there are usually Judges there. Striking up a conversation with a random Judge is fine, but your best bet is the Head Judge of a PTQ, the one who is making all the announcements and is most likely a L2 or 3.

Depending on how much time I have available to chat, I will either hand the Judge candidate my e-mail address and/or engage them in a little background research. This might include a few quick rules questions to gauge knowledge base, as well as probing some of the points I brought up earlier regarding their local position as rules guru.

Among the questions that you might get asked, one of the most important ones for you to think about is your motivation for wanting to become a Judge. If you’re looking to pick up some more product, you’re better off flipping burgers and buying packs. I can’t stress this enough. From a straight money EV perspective, judging is a lose/lose. I’m not saying that people who have zero interest in the boxes and foils can’t become Judges. I still get a kick out of coming home from a tournament with a new set of Judge foils, but it’s just one very small part of the equation. For it to be worth it, you have to find other things of value to you like helping the community, testing you rules knowledge, or traveling the world.

Once you find a mentor, he or she should be taking the lead in your development, but there are still a few signposts I can drive into the ground for you. Becoming a Rules Advisor is something I recommend to all Judge candidates. For one thing, the position was designed precisely as a prelude to becoming a Judge. Run before you crawl and all that jazz. The RA exam will give you a good idea of the types of questions you will encounter on the L1 exam, particularly the nitpickiness of the answers and the ways in which the questions will try to trick you with very subtle wording. Answering a player’s simple yes or no question is one thing. Being able to explain why and getting the sequence of events precisely right is quite another.

Passing your RA exam informs your mentor of a few things. First, that you have a solid understanding of the rules. Second, it shows a commitment to the process and the ability to actually get off your butt and do something rather than just talk infinitely about wanting to become a Judge. It’s always interesting to see how quickly I get e-mails from Judge candidates to inform me that they passed their RA exam after a brief chat at a tournament.

Once your mentor deems you ready, it’s time for your L1 exam. Most of the time this will take place at a tournament like a PTQ or Prerelease. Being the contrarian that I am, the very first L1 exam I administered was at a Borders bookstore. There were no big tournaments around that time and it was a relatively quiet place for Bryce to take the exam. Despite the unorthodox locale, he passed with flying colors. However, I wouldn’t really recommend such an arrangement for most folks.

The best way to prepare for your exam is to read through all of the supplementary documents. This means the Floor Rules, Universal Tournament Rules, and the Penalty Guide. Too often I’ve seen Judge candidates bone up on the Comprehensive Rules and ignore the et cetera documents, resulting in a total blowout on that portion of the exam. Thus, one of the things I stress to my Judge candidates is “study your penalties (among other things).”

When it comes to the actual exam, I can’t give you many specifics. One of my favorite tips is to have a couple of basic lands handy to use as proxies. I find that I think better when I am physically moving cards around, tapping them and putting “blockers” in front of “attackers.”

Passing the exam doesn’t necessarily get you out of the woods. There is still a short interview with the Judge administering the exam. On very rare occasions, I’ve heard of Judges not recommending candidates who have otherwise passed the exam due to some attitude or demeanor that they feel would be inappropriate for a Judge. There is also the possibility that the follow up interview may reveal some weaknesses in the candidate’s knowledge, that the score on the exam was based on luck and guesswork. However, those cases are rare. Especially with local candidates, the mentoring Judge should have a good idea of where the candidate is and how much more work needs to be done.

If you happen to be lucky enough to have a Pro Tour or Grand Prix roll into town (or relatively close to town), that might be your best and brightest chance at a shortcut to certification. Especially on Sundays (and Saturdays for PTs), there tend to be way too many Public Events for the official staff to handle. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic. There are enough Public Events that a little extra help is always welcome.

If you’re on the path to L1, you’re still a player. Go ahead and play in the Main Event. If you make day 2, that’s great news. Good luck to you. If you didn’t make it, now’s the time to put yourself to the test. You could try your luck in the PTQ, but that’s guaranteed to be a 9-round barnburner. Wouldn’t you rather work your way towards becoming a Judge?

Find the lead of the Public Events and volunteer your services. You’ll be paired up with an experienced Judge on the floor. He or she will lead you through everything you need to know for the event you’re working, and offer you plenty of mentoring on the floor. This will be similar to the mentoring you might get from your local mentor but it will be much more focused due to the time constraints of the tournament. Depending on how you do on the floor and the availability of a Judge, you may get to test right there on the spot. If not, the crash course of the GP or PT Public Events will serve as an excellent point of experience that you can take home to your local mentor.

Next week: So you’re a Judge. What now?

Despite everything I’ve written this week, becoming a Level 1 Judge is only the beginning of the journey. Once you become certified, a brand new world will open up to you, and for some people it can be overwhelming. Deciding what to do, in particular whether you wish to advance to Level 2, can be a daunting task for even the hardiest of souls.

Until next time this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge.

Rikipedia at Gmail dot level

Risky on efnet and most major Magic forums

Japjedi47 on AIM

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