Contemporary Magic: Players, Judges & TOs – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

Contemporary Magic: Players, Judges & TOs – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

So it’s been a while since I wrote, having failed to get an article out before I went to GP Barcelona and then a combination of the demands of moving and illness upon returning.

I’ll spare you a report of the tournament because my teammates and I were swiftly dispatched.

Playing with Oli Bird and Mark McGovern in a team event was interesting though because it meant that I spent a fair amount of time with the people who they spend a lot of time with at events – other judges.

Let’s say a judge and a player both turn up to a GP. Their experience might go something like this…

The player arrives at their apartment at 4pm on the Friday, then goes down to register with his team mates. The venue is open, tables set up, side events are running and will continue to do so until around 9pm or later, so the player plays a handful of these and then gets some food, and goes to sleep at 11pm to be fresh for the next day.

The player gets up at 7.30am and gets to the venue at 9am. The venue isn’t open, it’s reasonably cold and the players wait around for 15 minutes or so. Unsurprisingly the event takes a fair bit longer to get started than advertised, but this hardly shocks the player.

The player opens a bad sealed deck, plays 6 rounds of Magic then is knocked out of contention. It’s probably about 4pm now, so player goes back to the hotel for a bit, then goes out, gets some food, plays some cube and goes to sleep at 1am.

Sunday, the player sleeps in, reads for a bit then goes down to the venue at about 4pm the next day to meet his teammates, who are involved in a side event (these will continue to run until 9pm or so again). Player goes out for food when his team mates are done a few hours later, then goes to sleep at midnight for their flight in the afternoon.

MTG DCI Judges meeting GP

The judge arrives at the venue for midday because he’s part of the first shift of judges on for the GPs side events. He works from when the venue opens at 2pm until 8pm, after which he gets some food and then goes to sleep relatively early because he flew out earlier, but also because he wants to be at the seminar in the morning before his shift for that day; you can’t advance in the judge programme if you don’t attend seminars and try to get better at judging!

The event runs a bit later than planned, so the judge doesn’t actually get home till 1am, taking into account travelling from the venue after the end of round 9, and getting some food.

On the Sunday the judge needs to be in early because he’s actually head judging a reasonably big side event which is part of his training to become a level 2 judge (he’s actually sitting the exam next week for that).

This event runs relatively smoothly, until the judge is required to deal with a complicated situation in round 4 in which one player is blocking with a Kragma Butcher against an opposing Kragma Butcher, and the attacking player claims that he attacked with it the previous turn, and that it is now a 4/3 due to inspired, whereas the blocking player is adamant that this was not the case.

This is a difficult situation to rule on both in terms of how to resolve matters in the game, but also because one of the players might be lying, rather than mistaken. Additionally, in round 5 the judge sees a player looking at the bottom card of his opponent’s deck while shuffling, and has to resolve this matter.

At the end of this the judge attends the Judges Dinner, where he discusses some matters pertaining to his exam and his performance at the PTQ with a senior judge, then goes back to the hotel and gets 4 hours sleep before his flight home on the Monday.

Grand Prix Barcelona MTG 2014

I passed my level 1 judges exam in 2003 and like a lot of people I didn’t actually judges events – I just had some spare time at European Championships after I got destroyed, and thought it might be a useful thing to have. Suffice to say it’s a lot harder to become a judge now than it was then; you need to actually have traits which would make you a suitable person to run events, not just know the rules.

I think a lot of people, especially among older players, have a tendency think of judges as either people who realized they were bad at the game but still wanted to be involved, or anally retentive weirdos with a desire to wander round tables “helpfully” changing your dice for appropriate tokens and blethering about Elder Dragon Highlander. I’ve been guilty of thinking this, and after playing the GP it’s come to my attention how ungrateful and simply inaccurate this view is.

I have a feeling that my view isn’t entirely unfounded, though, and that my memories of judges in the past is largely based on the same loose programme that allowed me to become a level 1 (I am woefully unsuitable – I don’t have the patience for certain types of player).

What’s happening now, as the game continues to grow, is something of a renaissance. The judging programme is pretty intense and actually teaches judges so much more than the rules, and how to issue penalties. They deliver seminars in much the same way as academics do, and attending these will make you substantially better at running events, dealing with tricky situations, being diplomatic, being confident.

Judges actually preform a really wide range of skills both in the local community and at big events. Ideally a good judge should be able to help a player with their game a little, explain the rules of the game, resolve disputes between players to encourage stability in the community, enforce the rules, organize events, be welcoming to new players and deal with problems as they come up.

They’re like a doctor, lawyer, councillor, sheriff, event organizer, mayor and all round fixer all in one. That’s a tall order, and it’s not something you’re naturally just going to be suitable for simply because you like EDH and you’re not very good at cards, but luckily the judges who make the effort to learn will be able to step up to this.

MTG GP Players

Similar things can be seen with tournament organizers too. There has been a distinct increase in event quality – from what I can see – in the last 18 months or so. The days of PTQs being ran in little shabby pubs and TOs/judges who don’t make an effort are on the way out.

The infrastructure of the game is modernizing and professionalising to meet the demands of the increased size of the player base, and that’s a really good thing which ought to be encouraged.

It’s definitely worthwhile to give feedback about events which you think are well ran and events which you think are poorly ran both through the appropriate channels to impact change, but also to the judges and tournament organisers (TOs) themselves. The good ones are deserving of thanks and you’re doing the bad ones a favour by offering your feedback. It seems like every time I turn around a new games shop opens and if your TO won’t run good events, maybe the new guy will.

Sorry if this article comes over as a bit preachy, but I do think it’s worth saying and I found it very interesting to observe.

All the best,


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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.