Level Five Advancement and Maintenance

Historical Article

This article was written during the time between when Judge Foundry was announced and when we launched. While we’re keeping it live (for transparency and historical purposes, as well as to elucidate our philosophy), some of our policies and requirements might have changed. For the most current version of the process to advance to and maintain Level Five, see this page.

Level Five represents judges with the most experience in event leadership and large tournament logistics. The history of L5 merits some warnings here: Judge Foundry Level Five is not Pro Tour Head Judge or Grand Prix Head Judge or an equivalent of any other such certification. You might think of it as what the Judge Program and Judge Academy Level 3 used to be, but with an adjusted focus. Previously, the needs of the program often merited judges with the highest level who didn’t work as many events in order to support community, training, mentorship, and advancement. In the five-level system, L3 and L4 judges get recognized as those community leaders, and can decide whether advancing to L5 with the increased focus on event skills matches their personal desires.

Level Five Judges are regional and national leaders at events. An L5 is an expert in policy philosophy, investigations, and event logistics. They are prepared to head-judge tournaments with a few hundred players, and several teams of judges, potentially with complex expectations from the tournament organizer, coverage, or other specialized tournament logistics. L5s guide tournament policy and define and innovate how tasks are done at large events. L5s are highly involved in their regional and the national community, mentoring judges for L3, L4, and L5. Alone, an L5 is capable of identifying a new L1 with promise, mentoring them through L2, L3, and L4. 

Level Five distinguishes expert team leads for teams of any size, expert sides leads, and proficient head judges for the major headline tournament of a multi-day event. An L5, or an L4 nearing advancement, has the skills to be the Head Judge of an MXP 20k, PTQ at a MagicCon, NRG main event, or Legacy Championship at Eternal Weekend. It’s important to acknowledge that L5 isn’t the end of the line for tournament leadership skills. Certain tournaments, like the United States Regional Championship, the Pro Tour, or an event with 1000+ players, have expectations above and beyond Level Five. This is a niche group and the skills can be organizer specific, so Judge Foundry doesn’t currently plan on offering a certification representing the ability to head-judge those events.

Jon watches a match at MagicFest Toronto in 2018. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Jon watches a match at MagicFest Toronto in 2018. Photo © John Brian McCarthy


Candidates for Level Five must hone their large event leadership skills, as well as policy philosophy and personal skills. Their L4 panel is likely to give them excellent direction on where they need to improve before advancing to L5.

To be certified for L5, a candidate must complete the following items:

  1. Work Events as a Level Four Judge

More so than any previous level, the process of improving as a new L4 is varied, complex, and unique for every individual. The L5 checklist establishes some minimums as we expect advancing from L4 to L5 to not be speedy. The biggest requirement is an individual one: to improve on the areas identified as weaknesses by an L4 panel. We expect L4s pressing for L5 to make that their focus as they complete these requirements. The amount of work might seem intimidating, but it shows that we expect most candidates to serve in leadership roles, most weekends, and we expect most L4s to work quite a few events before applying for L5.

a. Work at least six multi-day events

b. Lead teams with five or more judges

c. Shadow, for the purpose of providing feedback and evaluation, an L2 or L3 team lead on a team withother judges

Leading teams is the main role that L4s and L5s will spend most of their time working events. A minimum isn’t set here, as we expect an L4 to serve as a team lead many times. L4s will also find themselves as the most experienced judge on a team, where a lower level judge is pushing their boundaries by leading. Experience being the strong second and providing feedback from below is valuable to the broad skills needed for L5.

d. Serve as head judge for the main event at a multi-day event

Level Five judges are familiar with the communication and logistics needs of being the judge leading an entire event weekend, making broad decisions about schedules, communications, teams, and priorities. The main event requirement is generally met by head-judging the featured Saturday tournament at a multi-day event that’s expected to have the most players.

We understand that this requirement can be a difficult one to fulfill, due to the scarce nature of opportunities to serve as Head Judge for a Main Event, and that it will overly-define L5 as specifically reserved only for judges interested in being a Head Judge. That isn’t the intent of the requirement, but we also recognize that the ability to head-judge an event is a critical part of the identity of a Level Five Judge and that without candidates displaying some acuity here, it would be difficult to define the level for TOs as an expert who can be entrusted with this task.

 L4s will grow into their role as L4, some might get offered this within a few months of leveling up, and others might have to work more at their leadership skills to earn such an offer. Levels have always been trailing indicators; we expect L2s to demonstrate L2 skills before being promoted to L2, and the same is true for L3, L4 and L5.

e. Serve as a support judge, or a head judge with a support judge, or one of multiple head judges for a single tournament.

As events increase in size, many choose to designate a second judge to take appeals and support the head judge. Working in that role is common for L5s, and experienced L4s, so is required to advance. This requirement must be met by a tournament that requires a support judge, which usually starts making sense around 200-300 players, depending on the organizer. 

2. Choose three. You may choose the same mode more than once.

a. Write a review as an L4, in the previous year

i. Must be from events that the candidate and the other judge both worked

ii. Each review must contain detailed and actionable feedback.

b. Participate as a panel member for a Level Four panel, in the previous year

c. Perform a Level Three advancement interview, in the previous year

i. Regardless of result, a review documenting the interview is required

As with previous requirements, L4s unlock the ability to be on panels and do L3 advancement interviews. Those count towards the review/mentorship portion of the requirements. The previous year requirement here is fairly flexible, if a candidate has one of these that’s eleven months old, they won’t be removed from the process because one additional month passed.

After completing at least those requirements, candidates for L5 have two routes to advancement. 

As with L4, L5 candidates have the option of working on their own, or receiving recommendations. 

1. Choose one  — 

a. Receive one L5 recommendation from an L5 judge that wasn’t the recommender for L4. 

The recommender for L4 is welcomed to update their recommendation for L5 and include it as part of the supporting reviews. 

i. The recommendation should document strengths, weaknesses, and evaluate each quality category. 

ii. Information on the candidate’s skills in each quality are required, but evaluating each quality on the scale from “exceeds expectations” to “deficient” is not.

b. Write a self-evaluation review 

i. The recommendation should document strengths, weaknesses, and evaluate each quality category. 

ii. Self-evaluation on the candidate’s skills in each quality is required, but evaluating each quality on the scale from “exceeds expectations” to ”deficient” is not.

2. Submit the recommendation/review, checklist, and other supporting reviews to the Advancement Coordinator

a. Supporting reviews might be, but aren’t limited to:

i. Additional recommendations, or recommendations from the L4 recommender

ii. Endorsements from Tournament Organizers

iii. A self review, if one wasn’t submitted

b. There is no limit to supporting reviews, but applicants are cautioned that excessive supporting documents are likely to dilute the important information. 

The Advancement Coordinator will have to review everything submitted. A recommendation plus a self review is likely five to seven pages of text, and reasonable for the Advancement Coordinator to review. 

3. The application will be assessed by an approved L5 panel lead, and the Advancement Coordinator, who may advance them to the L5 panel process, or return the review to the candidate with feedback. 

This assessment is based on the panel lead’s and Advancement Coordinator’s evaluation of the depth of the application, if it does not contain sufficient data and evaluation to begin a panel process that could result in advancement, then it should be returned.

a. The Advancement Coordinator may, at their discretion, refer the decision to advance a candidate to a committee of 3 randomly chosen L5s volunteers to assist with the decision. In the case of a returned application that was not referred to committee, the applicant may request their application be reviewed by such committee. 

The committee process is provided to prevent a single panel lead from locking someone out of Level Five. It’s expected that if the panel lead believes the application is borderline, they will refer to a committee themselves, reducing the volume of appeals dramatically.

Jonah issues his opening announcements at Eternal Weekend in 2022. Photo © Jordan Baker
Jonah issues his opening announcements at Eternal Weekend in 2022. Photo © Jordan Baker

L5 Panel Process

Once approved, candidates move into the L5 panel process, which is managed by the Advancement Coordinator. 

Advanced Rules/Policy Exam

If the candidate has passed all Advanced Update Quizzes in the previous 24 months, they are not required to retake the Advanced Rules/Policy Exam.

Otherwise, once they are approved for the panel process, they may take the exam. They must complete the exam with a score of 70% or higher before a panel can occur.

The passing score for the exam is 80%, but candidates with scores between 70% and 80% don’t automatically fail. While the exam is the same, panel leads will evaluate candidates in Game Knowledge more critically for scores in the 70%-80% range.

Panel Selection

After being approved for the L5 panel process, the Advancement Coordinator will choose an L5 approved to lead L5 panels as the panel lead. The panel lead and coordinator then choose at least one additional panelist. 

The panel lead generally can’t be the L5 that wrote any recommendation review for the candidate. The panel lead is granted reasonable autonomy in selecting additional panelists, but panelists should be approved by the Advancement Coordinator.

Practical Assessment

The assigned panel lead may request that the candidate complete a L5 practical assessment. 

After reviewing the candidate’s L4 assessment, and talking to panelists, the panel lead has the option to require a practical assessment. Many candidates will bypass this stage, as extensive work as a Level Four will have made their skills known to the panel. Requiring or bypassing the practical shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the candidate’s likelihood of passing a panel or fitness for promotion, but rather of the panel lead’s familiarity with the candidate. 

The assessment happens at a multi-day event where an evaluator and the candidate are both on staff. The evaluator observes the candidate’s proficiencies, leadership, and success at the event and writes a review assessing the candidate. The evaluator provides the review to the panel lead. 

The panel lead, a panelist, or another chosen evaluator does the observation. Everyone involved works with the Advancement Coordinator and tournament organizers to identify an appropriate multi-day event where the candidate and an appropriate evaluator is on staff.

The review should cover a broad range of skills expected from a Level Five Judge, including, but not limited to:

  1. Pre-event communication
  2. Preparation for team or head judge tasks
  3. Communication with other judges, leads, and head judges
  4. Success at team tasks
  5. Mentorship

Evaluators are strongly encouraged to include any assessment or feedback relevant to the L5 skillset. 

The review should extensively cover anything that the panel might be interested in. The evaluator isn’t expected to be the final judge on whether the candidate is prepared for L5 and a weak performance doesn’t doom a candidate’s chance at passing a panel. The evaluation is intended to be a slice of the candidate’s work, and be used to inform the panel’s assessment. 

Head-judging is a key skill for Level Five Judges, so where possible, events where the candidate is a head judge should be preferred. This is not required, as coordinating staffing to such a level would be excessively onerous on the tournament organizer.

Pre-panel Interview and Panel

The Advanced Testing Manager, candidate, panel lead, and panelists will coordinate an appropriate time and venue for the panel. In-person panels are highly recommended, but online panels may be considered in circumstances where an in-person panel would be extremely difficult to schedule. 

The Advancement Coordinator is involved again to set up logistics. It is unlikely that a practical and panel would be held at the same event for an L5 panel. 

Pre-Panel Interview

The panel lead may choose to implement the pre-panel interview. The panel lead may lead the interview themselves, request that a panelist do so, or request that the Advancement Coordinator appoint a pre-panel interviewer. 

The pre-panel interview is a long-form conversation about the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and opinions. Generally, the interview lead provides multiple open-ended questions for the candidate to respond to, and subsequently the interviewer may ask for additional responses, pose additional questions or ask for clarification. This is usually done via written responses to the interview questions, but the option to complete the interview via in-person chat or online interview is also available. 

The contents of the pre-panel interview, notes from the interviewer, and an evaluation from the interviewer are provided to the panel lead and panelists.

The pre-panel interview is an effort to reduce the excessive length of panels, which historically could take four or more hours. The panel lead is given agency to perform this assessment themselves if they deem appropriate, or skip it entirely if they believe that the existing information is sufficient to run a panel. Panel leads should generally choose to have a pre-event interview, as it provides very valuable data. 


The panel is a group interview where the panel asks questions of the candidate to assess them in each quality. The questions will vary depending on the candidate’s known strengths and weaknesses. 

It’s expected that most L5 panels take less than two hours. If it appears that time constraints for an in-person panel may be an issue, the panel lead is encouraged to extend the pre-event interview to acquire more information before the panel.

The panel lead will assess the candidate in each of the 4 quality categories, including each subcategory. 

Each category will be evaluated and assessed on this scale.

  1. Exceeds Expectations
  2. Meets Expectations
  3. Area for Improvement
  4. Deficient

Candidates who are evaluated by the panel lead during the panel to meet or exceed expectations in a majority of categories, with no deficiencies, are promoted to Level Five at the panel.

While all levels have their minimum floors for skills and qualities required, L5 (and L4) are evaluated differently. L5s are expected to meet a minimum quality requirement across each category of qualities – none may be evaluated as deficient, so far below the expectations of an L5 that alone it results in a failed panel. Additionally, candidates must also meet the general quality expectations of L5 by meeting expectations in a majority of categories. 

L5 panels are additionally regulated by the Level Five Panel and Testing Guide, maintained by existing L5s. Portions of the requirements are included here as examples. Generally, the L5 process is designed to assess whether the candidate: 

  1. Is capable and comfortable head-judging a competitive event with 300+ players and large teams of judges.
  2. Is capable and comfortable team-leading a team with 5 judges at a multi-day event
  3. Is an expert in the logistics and philosophy of large events
  4. Is capable and comfortable mentoring judges to become L4 and L5, including writing recommendations. 
  5. Has extensive personal skills that enable head-judging, team-leading, mentorship, and participation in the community

The panel and testing guide isn’t a public document, because it will be maintained to make panels consistent across the future of Judge Foundry. Only L5s will have access to the guide to prepare for future panels of which they may be a part.

Travis and Joe discuss a call at MagicFest Indianapolis in 2018. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

L5 Quality Requirements 

This is a brief description of how an L5 candidate might be evaluated on each quality. This is not exhaustive, but serves to give examples of how candidates might be evaluated and what general expectations are. 

You might notice that some of the qualities are identical to or similar to Level Four, which is intentional. Some qualities –  Maturity, for example – have a reasonable cap to where the skill can be evaluated, and we believe that the requirement for Level Five doesn’t rise above that for Level Four. Those requirements are included here for completeness, but if a candidate was found to meet or exceed expectations in their L4 panel, no further evaluation is needed. Other qualities, take Tournament Operations Proficiency, have a much higher ceiling, and candidates for L5 will be evaluated to a higher standard than L4.

  • Game Knowledge
    • Rules
      • Tested by the Advanced Rules/Policy Exam
      • With the exception of sections 801-809 and 811, the entire Comprehensive Rules may be included on this exam. Candidates should have a clear understanding of the rules of the game and be able to articulate its building blocks from memory
    • Tournament Policy Application
      • Tested by the Advanced Rules/Policy Exam
      • The entire MTR, IPG, and JAR may be included on this exam. Candidates should be able to answer questions about infractions, penalties and remedies from memory, including application to situations not directly described in examples, and to select the most applicable of each for described situations
      • Knowledge of the Digital MTR or other community supplemental tournament policy will not be tested
    • Tournament Policy Philosophy
      • The candidate must show expert understanding of the underlying philosophies that inform the MTR, IPG, and JAR 
      • The candidate must be able to explain the philosophy behind specific sections or lines of tournament policy, to reinforce why a particular ruling is correct philosophically.
      • A deficient candidate can only repeat the text of policy and cannot explain to a less-experienced judge why policy is designed the way it is. This candidate demonstrates this by deviating not by conscious choice but by failing to understand the appropriate policy or how to apply it to a situation. 
  • Event Skills
    • Tournament Operations Proficiency
      • The candidate shows expert knowledge of each team and task utilized at large tournaments and can be assigned to lead any team with any number of team members.
      • The candidate can run end of round for or distribute product to a tournament with hundreds of players.
      • The candidate can articulate the advantages of multiple methods of handling Limited decklists and can provide a plan for resolving missing lists in a timely manner.
      • The candidate understands the needs of a video coverage team, how to support them, and balance the integrity and needs of the tournament with coverage.
      • A deficient candidate might only be proficient in one or two teams, and may not be able to substitute on the day of an event for a team lead who is unexpectedly unavailable.
    • Tournament Operations Philosophy
      • The candidate shows expert knowledge of tournament philosophy and can provide solutions to problems caused by technology failures, logistics difficulties, or new procedures.
      • An exemplary candidate can describe past historical methods of accomplishing a team’s tasks and when it might be appropriate to fall back to those methods.
      • A deficient candidate can only repeat procedures they saw other team leads perform and cannot improvise new solutions that best fit a given problem.
    • Investigations
      • The candidate can perform a card count in any format, can make a determination with a reasonable degree of certainty, can explain that situation to players, and can do these things in a reasonable amount of time.
      • The candidate can provide floor judges with some questions to ask a player after a deck problem is discovered to determine if the Head Judge should be involved.
      • The candidate can balance an active investigation with other competing priorities as the head judge, delegating as necessary to both ensure tournament integrity and timeliness.
      • A deficient candidate may only ask questions that they have seen used in other investigations or may approach an investigation without a clear plan to determine the truth of a situation.
  • Leadership Skills
    • Team and Event Coordination
      • The candidate communicates appropriately with head judges, team leads, and other judges in preparation for and at events
      • The candidate demonstrates understanding of the communications needs of large tournaments, having the ability to coordinate all of the communication needed to head-judge a main event, or provide detailed and accurate instructions while leading a team of five judges with varying experience levels.
      • A deficient candidate may isolate themselves as a team lead, have difficulty communicating with other leads, be unable to delegate tasks, or be unable to teach tasks.
      • A deficient candidate may also be unable to manage a team while maintaining team morale and mentorship.
    • Mentorship
      • The candidate is capable of mentoring judges to achieve Level Four.
      • The candidate understands the definitions of all Judge Foundry levels, and is able to appropriately evaluate judges based on those definitions.
      • A deficient candidate may be unable to identify any meaningful weaknesses in their peers or unable to provide critical feedback.
      • A deficient candidate might not understand the requirements for L4 or L5, and might not be able to participate meaningfully in evaluating a candidate.
  • Personal Skills
    • Conflict Management
      • The candidate is capable of handling conflict whether it involves themselves or is between other judges.
      • A strong candidate is trusted by their peers and the community as a mediator to solve conflicts amicably.
      • A deficient candidate may avoid conflicts in ways that are detrimental to themselves or be unprepared to deal with a conflict between players.
    • Diplomacy
      • The candidate is mature, trustworthy, amiable, and well respected by their peers
      • A strong candidate is trusted by their peers to be the person talking when a difficult situation is anticipated and to take that situation in stride 
      • A deficient candidate may have trouble working with others, or often fail to maintain decorum, diplomacy, and tact, either in person or online.
      • A deficient candidate may have accumulated a trail of other judges who don’t like working with them and is unable to resolve any of the issues that created this rift.
    • Self-Evaluation
      • The candidate articulates their strengths and weaknesses with examples and evaluates themselves accurately.
      • The candidate articulates a plan to improve in their weaker qualities.
      • A deficient candidate’s self-reflection lacks accuracy or depth, and the candidate may not put effort into actively improving where they are struggling.
    • Maturity
      • The candidate is understanding of others, punctual, and understands and embodies professionalism.
      • A deficient candidate may be often regarded as negative, tardy, irritating, difficult to work with, and might favor complaining about a problem over and over rather than trying to find a solution.
    • Stress Management
      • The candidate is capable of dealing with stress and understands how they operate in a stressful environment.
      • A deficient candidate may fold under pressure or actively avoid stressful situations that they would be expected to address.
    • Teamwork
      • The candidate works well with a team and knows their place within leadership structures as they change event-to event.
      • An excellent candidate thrives as a team member, bringing up the morale and teamwork of the entire team, while making their team look good.
      • A deficient candidate might have trouble taking directions or trying new things that a lead asks them to do. They might also attempt to take over from an inexperienced lead instead of helping them grow.


The Level Five maintenance requirements are very similar to Level Four, with a few small changes.

To maintain the Level Five certification, a judge must complete the following items each year

1. Choose one —

  • Pass three out of four Advanced Set Update quizzes throughout the year
  • Pass an Advanced Rules Practice and Advanced Policy Practice test

2. Choose three —

  • Lead a total of 30 judges as a Team Lead at events
  • Head-judge an event with at least twelve judges
  • Work at least six multi-day events
  • Serve on one or more advancement panels
  • Lead a core project
  • Create educational content (ex: article, conference presentation, video, etc.), subject to approval

3. Write a self review

Level Five Judges must write a self review, briefly documenting the events they worked in the year, and reflecting on where they are succeeding, and where they might be struggling.

4. Maintain membership in Judge Foundry by being up-to-date on their membership dues

Carter and Abe at MagicFest Memphis in 2018. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Carter and Abe at MagicFest Memphis in 2018. Photo © John Brian McCarthy


Certified Level Five Judges receive the following privileges as members of Judge Foundry

  1. Use of title Level Five Judge or Judge Foundry Level Five
  2. Access to private Judge Foundry L5 resources, forums, and chats
  3. Voting in Judge Foundry leadership elections
  4. Ability to serve on Level Five panels


As mentioned in the Level Four article, an expedited process for some judges to become Level Five will be announced soon. 

The process to get from one level to the next is often described as a journey. The process of designing this new level system and publishing these articles has also been a journey. Dozens of individuals have been involved in creating the new levels, and feedback from across the community has been incorporated.  

While this and the preceding articles outline Judge Foundry’s vision for the level definitions as of our upcoming debut, as long as Judge Foundry (or any judge program at all), exists. the levels will continue to improve, adapt, and become what they need to be for organized play. The only constant in the judge community is change, so we welcome your feedback now, and in the future as Judge Foundry’s new level definitions for the United States and Canada play out. So please feel free to submit feedback on JudgeApps and Reddit, in Discord, and on our posts on Facebook and Twitter or email us.