A Magic: The Gathering Judge is an official at a tournament who settles disputes between players and enforces the rules and regulations of the game, as well as handing out punishment for transgressions thereof.
Judges can be consulted in between and during rounds and can inform about the interaction of cards or about the status of the tournament (e.g. how much time is left in the round), but are not allowed to provide strategic advice. Judges also report tournament results and other incidents during the tournament which may require supplementary discipline back to the DCI after the tournament has been concluded. During the tournament judges register players, create matchups and collect results of matchups in addition to being available for consultation over rules issues.
The head judge of an event can be consulted if a floor judge's ruling appears to be incorrect. The DCI also requires that tournament organizers provide for the presence of a certified judge of a certain level to hold certain kinds of tournaments (e.g. Grand Prix Trials).
At certain large tournaments judges also often give seminars for their colleagues in how to perform their duties more easily or in a better way, e.g. how to spot illegal collusion between players.
Judges usually wear solid black shirts. The head judge of large tournaments often wears a solid maroon design instead.
On April 4, 2016, two lawsuits were brought against Wizards of the Coast claiming that Magic judges are essentially Wizards employees, deserving benefits and terms of employment. In a response, WotC called these lawsuits meritless. The description of one case can be found here.
Any person can become a verified judge by taking a test about rules interaction as well as how to interact with players in varying situations. Judges are categorized into Levels, designating the minimum knowledge they must have to perform their duties within a tournament. Since September 2004, this was a five-level structure. In 2016, the Judge Program was restructured in a three-level structure with different Rules Enforcement Levels (REL) and three advanced roles.
- Level 1 – Regular REL In-Store Judge. These judges have been trained and certified in Regular REL rules and procedures. They are the ones taking care of the most of the Magic tournaments happening in the world, educating new players on rules and positive behaviors before they go to bigger events.
- Level 2 – Competitive REL Judge. These judges have been trained and certified in Competitive REL rules and procedures. They are primarily responsible for premier play in stores, notably the PPTQ circuit. They perform on the floor of Grand Prix and other large events.
- Level 3 – Premier Judge. These judges have demonstrated the ability to lead at a Premier Event. They have expert rules knowledge and logistical skills. A judge at this level is also expected to be involved with the Judge Program beyond their local stores/region.
- 1.8 Floor Judges
Floor judges are available to players and spectators to answer questions, deal with illegal plays, or assist with reasonable requests. They do not have to be certified.
Judges will not generally assist players in determining the current game state but can answer questions about the rules, interactions between cards, or provide the Oracle™ wordings of relevant cards. At the Regular Rules Enforcement Level, the judge may assist the player in understanding the game state in the interest of education. If a player wishes to ask their question away from the table, the request will usually be honored. Players may not request specific judges to answer their calls but may request a tournament official to help translate. This request may be honored at the discretion of the original judge.
Judges do not intervene in a game to prevent illegal actions but do intervene as soon as a rule has been broken or to prevent a situation from escalating.
Advanced Roles are further leadership opportunities for Level 3 judges. They are not a progression. They are aspects of the program where a judge has an opportunity to take a significant role. A judge commits to the role for a term of eighteen months, after which they may reapply if they so choose (along with other judges who wish to step up into that role). The three Advanced Roles are:
- Regional Coordinator. These are the judges charged with overseeing specific regions and acting as the primary point of contact between those judges and the Judge Program. There will be a few tweaks, but it's much the same as it is currently.
- Grand Prix Head Judge. These are the judges' Tournament Organizers will use as Head Judges and Support Judges at Grand Prix. They are tournament logistics experts and are comfortable with large-scale event leadership.
- Program Coordinator. These judges oversee the running of the Judge Program and act as the primary interface with Wizards in developing new initiatives. They set the strategic direction for the Judge Program and work with leaders of projects to ensure that the strategy gets implemented.
One-third of each of these roles will rotate every six months (Grand Prix Head Judges in July and December, Regional and Program Coordinators in April and October).
- 1.7 Head Judge
Sanctioned tournaments require the physical presence of a Head Judge during play to adjudicate disputes, interpret rules, and make other official decisions. The Head Judge is the final judicial authority at any DCIsanctioned tournament and all tournament participants are expected to follow their interpretations. Although it is beneficial, the Head Judge does not have to be certified.
The Head Judge’s responsibilities include:
• Ensuring that all necessary steps are taken to deal with game or policy rule violations that they notice or are brought to their attention.
• Issuing the final ruling in all appeals, potentially overturning the ruling of a floor judge.
• Coordinating and delegating tasks to floor judges as needed.
If necessary, the Head Judge may temporarily transfer their duties to any judge if they are unable to fulfill them for a period of time. Also, in exceptional circumstances, if the tournament’s integrity would be damaged otherwise, the Tournament Organizer may replace the Head Judge. Certain Premier tournaments have multiple Head Judges and/or different Head Judges for different portions of the tournament. All Head Judges share the same responsibilities and exercise the same authority while they are serving as a Head Judge.
The Exemplar Program was a community-driven peer recognition system designed by Senior Judges which gives L2+ Judges the opportunity to recognize excellence among Judges of all levels throughout the world. Wave 18 is the last Exemplar Wave for the foreseeable future.
On July 27, 2019, the news was leaked that the Judge Program would be ending, being replaced with a Judge Academy that would certify judges and would require a yearly subscription fee for higher level judges. There's going an online system of learning modules for subscribed judges. This was later confirmed by official sources. The Judge Academy was established and owned by Tim Shields of Cascade Games. This news was met with mixed reactions.
Though judges may be paid for their tournament appearances, judges who go above and beyond sometimes receive Judge Gift cards, foil cards with an alternate artwork or design, often of rare or powerful cards which can fetch very high prices on the secondary market as they are sought after by collectors. Tournament organizers will often compensate judges with some store credit for helping at their event.
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