What is involved in the Judge Program, and how do I become an MTG DCI Judge?
As Magic: The Gathering players, we’ve all been there.
There’s that moment that happens at least once in every Magic player’s life. Your opponent casts [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] on your 2/3 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] with a Sorcery and a Land in the graveyard. Or maybe you declare attacks and say “Take 2” without specifically announcing the Prowess trigger on your [card]Monastery Swiftspear[/card] earlier in the turn. Or perhaps, your opponent begins to resolve a [card]Serum Visions[/card] without giving you a chance to utter the words, “Wait, I’m Remanding it!”. There’s a second of confused silence as you both process the situation; and then simultaneously, both players’ hands shoot into the air as you scream the sacred word at the top of your lungs: JUDGE!
A beleaguered black-shirted figure suddenly appears at your table as if summoned from a lamp, and after listening to stuttered explanations of “he said, she said”, begins the process of sorting out the board state, explaining the rules and what, if anything, the players have done wrong. Then, when the situation is corrected, just as suddenly as they appeared, they vanish once again, surfacing at another table across the room where two other players have invoked the magical word.
When I was new to Magic: The Gathering, only a year and a half ago during Khans of Tarkir, these mystical authority figures were fascinating to me. They knew so much about everything – they could effortlessly enforce the rules in every situation with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all these historic sets and cards that I found so confusing. How could they possibly remember all these cards and what they did, and how they interacted with each other, even in the most complex and corner-case scenarios? Every time I had a problem, or didn’t know how something worked, they would be friendly and welcoming, showing me exactly what to do.
I wanted to be one of them more than anything – I wanted to know more about how to play properly, how to be more involved in tournaments, how to help other new players like me to get involved, and most of all, how to be that beleaguered black-shirted figure whom, with a quick explanation and a scribble on the results slip, could fix anything for anyone.
But how was I to achieve such a feat? I was just an ordinary player, and new to Magic to boot. Even my friends around the Commander table knew more about the game than I did. There was simply no way I could do something as important as judge a tournament full of experienced players.
That’s where I was wrong. In fact, becoming a judge is much easier than you might expect.
Recently, there has been an overhaul to the entire judge hierarchy system, removing Level 4 and Level 5 altogether, simplifying the advancement process and implementing sideways “Advanced” promotion for Level 3s who are able to judge more prestigious events. One of the key aspects of this change was to make it easier to introduce new judges into the system, as well as to enable existing judges to advance more quickly.
Beforehand, it was necessary to pass a Rules Advisor test online on the Wizards Judge Center before you could access Level One Practice exams. The Rules Advisor test was a relic from long ago which served little purpose, and this requirement was exceedingly unintuitive as the passing mark for the Rules Advisor test was higher than the Level One exam itself, and the qualification meant very little in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, in the new system the Rules Advisor qualification has been removed entirely entirely and the requirements for Level One are focusing much more on practical experience.
So, how DO you become a Level One DCI Judge?
There are three official requirements listed on the Wizards website:
- Judge two sanctioned events in the six months preceding your test
- Pass the exam with a score of 70% or more
- A brief interview with a Level 2+ judge, and agreement to the Code of Conduct
These are fairly easy to achieve with the help of a local store and some existing judges you might know. The best way to go about starting is to get in touch with another judge. This might be someone at your local store, or if there are none in your area, Facebook is your friend; there are groups dedicated to helping people with judge questions and rulings, and you will find a myriad of existing DCI Judges on the page who are more than willing to help. Once you have a point of contact, they will be able to organise getting you set up with all the resources you’ll need.
Secondly, you’ll need to judge two Regular REL events. This part sounds pretty daunting, but is a lot easier in reality. These events could be, and most commonly are, normal Friday Night Magic – your local store or players’ club would be a good place to start. You don’t need to ask for comp or be officially on staff – it’s fun, and relaxed, and you’ll simply be answering players’ questions and helping the TO or store owner to run the event so you can get used to what being a judge feels like. You can even still play in it if you’d like to; there’s no rule that prevents judges from playing at Regular REL. Just be prepared to drop what you’re doing and run to another table!
Finally, once you’ve done two events, you’ll need to pass the Level One exam. You need a passing score of 70% on both rules and policy questions. The rules questions make up the bulk of the test, but if you have been playing Magic regularly for any significant amount of time, you will likely be able to answer most of the rules questions already. There are some elements of Magic that as a player, you’ll be familiar with, but as a judge you will need to know in-depth such as the infamous layers system and the exact steps and phases of a turn. If you’re not confident, there are plenty of resources online on the Wizards Judge Center to help you practice. Easy Practice exams are the best way to reinforce your rules knowledge, and there are plenty of existing judges who will be happy to help explain if you are struggling on a particular topic.
The policy questions are a little different and will focus on the practical aspect of taking judge calls, such as the different infractions players can commit and how to fix the game state when something goes wrong (or whether to fix it at all). These are elements of judging that you might not be so familiar with unless you have had a lot of tournament experience, so if you are a little shaky on policy, the JREG document available on Wizards’ website will clear up any questions you have about how to deal with infractions at Friday Night Magic.
You can also take a Level One Practice exam on the Judge Center, which represents the exact same format as the real one and will give you the score you would have got in the test. This can be a great tool in the lead up to your exam, though this has a waiting period after each attempt so you should be sure you are ready before you try it.
The exam is the most difficult part logistically, as it requires the presence of an existing Level 2 judge who can test you. However, if you’ve been in touch with another local judge either through Facebook or friend groups, they will be aware of who the Level 2 for your area is; or perhaps they’re a Level 2 themselves. When you feel like you’re ready, you can ask them to test you, and they will organise a time for you to take the written exam. At the test, you’ll be shown and asked to abide by the Judge Code of Conduct, and have a short interview about your motivation behind becoming a judge – and if you pass, you’ll be congratulated and welcomed into the program!
It really is as easy as that.
So, if you, like me, ever looked at those mystical authority figures in black shirts and thought, “I want to do that” – or even if you haven’t, and reading this article is the first time you’ve even considered the notion – well, it’s never been more achievable, and if you have the knowledge and motivation to do it, I would personally encourage each and every one of you to try. Judging is hard work, and you’ll need a lot of caffeine on the morning of a tournament, but it’s fun, and rewarding, and a great way to give back to the game and the community that we all love to be a part of.
And you’ll learn to answer to “JUDGE!” at a distance of up to 25 miles.
If you have a comment or a question about the new changes to the judge hierarchy, please let us know what you think below. Are you an existing judge or a prospective one? Do you think it’s good that it’s now much easier to become a judge? If not, why not? We would love to hear your opinion so please post in the comment section if you have a question or would like to know more about how to become a judge.
You might be interested in this Facebook group: mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions
Community Question: Have you ever considered about becoming a DCI Judge?
Thanks for reading,