Philosophy of Mentorship

In our opening announcement, Judge Foundry defined our mission:

Judge Foundry forges high-quality tournament officials in the crucible of mentorship. We foster a member-driven community in the United States and Canada to create outstanding player experiences while providing judges the opportunities to develop and grow.

One of our primary guiding goals is to highlight the mentorship that happens constantly between Magic Judges, and to improve the quality of that mentorship. Our published level guidelines include explicit callouts of the need for mentorship.

From the Level One Advancement and Maintenance article, one of the requirements of making Level One is:

Receive an endorsement review from an L2+ Judge including at a minimum the following evaluated items:

  • Confidence and lack of major stress or distress giving a ruling
  • Understanding of Casual Play Philosophy
  • Understanding of JAR Serious Problems
  • Ability to create a plan for product distribution for a prerelease
  • Ability to recognize potential advantage when something goes wrong in a game
  • Mature behavior consistent with Judge Foundry values

We are saying that a more experienced judge specifically has to have worked with you to figure out if you have these skills, the skills we think you will need to be an excellent Level One Judge.

But there is more to mentorship than just evaluating current skills.

Bryan, Gil and Jonah at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Bryan, Gil and Jonah at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

Our Philosophy on Mentorship

Mentorship is being invested in the improvement of others.  You spend time, effort, and energy working to help another judge be better and improve their skills, knowledge, and success.

Being invested in another person is a social connection.  We believe that these strong social bonds are the core of the judge program.  Judges do not judge alone, even when they are the only judge at an event.  Judges are always interacting with players, and they have support and assistance available from other members of the judge community.

Judges spend time on other judges.  Often in event context we break time into “time that matters” and “time that does not” – specifically time that impacts rounds and players, and time that we can spend that does not impact their event.  In the context of mentorship, we can transmute that “time that does not matter” into time that matters a lot.  Spending your event time observing calls, giving feedback, and pushing judges to do a thing they have never done, all while you watch and help, is converting that time into golden moments of value.

The effort we put into this is visible to mentees.  When you carve out brain space and time to write reviews, the recipients remember this.  They see that you cared enough to make room for them in your head, then take that and put it forward as actionable and useful feedback.  They connect with you more, and the effort can produce more results than what you put in – a perpetual motion machine of social capital.

Energy is intangible.  But it is the core of the deep motivation of judges to keep going and to judge events.  It’s the intrinsic motivation, the fire that keeps you warm when you are doing your fifteenth deck check of the day and you are just so tired of seeing the same mono-green deck.  You can spend that energy both on yourself and on others, and we want our mentors to spend that energy on helping other people across event humps and troublesome situations.

Being invested in the skill level of someone else is hard.  It’s oftentimes hard to even be invested in your own skills.  Why should you care if a deck check took six minutes or seven?  Especially why should you care if that other person took an extra minute?  It’s not going to matter, that extension often won’t get used.

But that sword sharpening, that test if you are bad-acceptable-good-great is important.  And it’s important both to improve those skills in other people and to let them know specifically where their skills are.  It’s very hard to get an accurate reading on yourself from inside yourself, and help from outside to calibrate is vital.

Knowledge is the other half of this.  There is a famous quote about “unknown unknowns”, referring to things we both don’t know and don’t even know that we don’t know.

Mentors can specifically help look into that space.  Have you ever worked with a judge and asked yourself something like “how can this judge not know how to deal with a top 8 cut and managing the players?” That judge came from Commander, knows how to build pods and evaluate people to figure out how to get equitable power levels, and just never drafted before.  They don’t know what they don’t know, and you can help guide them… and they can do the same for you when trying to gauge power levels of decks sight unseen.

The success of mentees is also a reflection on a mentor.  Watching a judge you certified take wing, run their first 80 player event, then certify three people is glorious… and sometimes this means they supplant you.

Truly excellent mentors make room for bright sparks to shine, helping them get roles and positions that will maximize their growth and their strengths.

Gavin and Tobi at MagicFest Oakland in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Gavin and Tobi at MagicFest Oakland in 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy


Feedback is historically a vital part of the judge program and is how mentors close the loop to do that sword sharpening with their mentees mentioned above.

A long time ago, there were many more rigorous requirements for reviews.  Level up reviews, event reviews, and self reviews.

While review requirements are coming back in our level definitions and our maintenance requirements, we’ve toned down quantity expectations and now look more for quality. We expect every Level Two Judge to be able to provide written feedback, so this is baked into the requirements for promotion to L2:

To be promoted to Level Two, a candidate must complete the following requirements

1. Write a review of another judge from an event where both judges worked. The review must contain detailed and actionable feedback.

We also offer a self-review as an alternate method of demonstrating activity for judges. For example, this is from the L1 maintenance requirements:

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


2. Choose one —


  • Write or receive a short review about their involvement in events or the judging community

Some say that being required to write a review seems like busy work.  And maintenance requirements do require that time and effort mentioned above.

At Judge Foundry we feel like these reviews do something important.  They anchor ideas, problems, and positive things in time in a way people can look back on.

I have personally paged through reviews written for me, especially negative ones that illustrate tons of problems and feedback, to see where I was and where I am.  My mentors cared about my growth, and gave me accurate feedback in a way I could then later review and use to get better.  

I’ve taken that gift, and tried hard to use it to grow in ways that I could not have anticipated before I got it.

We want that unanticipated growth.  We want judges that branch out, learn about themselves and others, and can look back later and say “wow, I’ve changed a lot since that event.”

Our goal with these reviews is to have concrete feedback anchored in time to help build that arc of mentorship, growth, change, and improvement.

Authority and Responsibility

I talk a lot about the intersections of authority and responsibility. Mentorship intersects with both authority and responsibility , in a social sense.

When you are a judge and part of the community, you are vested with authority.  You get treated with respect, and at events you have a lot of power to impact players and judges around you in the community.

I believe that with that authority comes a paired responsibility to try to make that community better, both as a whole and as individuals.

One of the ways we can discharge that responsibility is by mentoring others.  Helping them to grow, to get better opportunities, and to improve themselves and the communities they are embedded in.

When we do that, we also grow ourselves.  Mentoring someone is more than just improving that person – it improves you and your connection to them.  When you have a web of growing social connections, you are more than just you alone as an island.  And you can use these to improve yourself as well.  Some of the best reviews and feedback I’ve ever gotten have been reflected back at me by mentees trying to build that connection the other way, and using their responsibility wisely and powerfully to make me better.

Maria with an ODE map at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy
Maria with an ODE map at Grand Prix DC in 2017. Photo © John Brian McCarthy


I’ve talked a lot about the community aspect of judging here, and it is very important to Judge Foundry’s philosophy.

When you are measuring groups of people in some way, your group’s values  become the things you measure in that group and the things you test in that group.

As an example, if you are working in a call center, and the thing that determines your bonus is how long your calls are, and you get a bonus if all your calls are under 2 minutes, then you will likely start hanging up on long calls.  The measurement and testing of call length changed what was important for you as a person handling phone calls.

We want that measurement and testing that Judge Foundry does to reflect judges helping other judges, working with them to make both judges better, and working within the community of judges to improve overall standards.

I called out the Level One maintenance requirements above, and you can see that there is an explicit option to “Write or receive a short review about their involvement in events or the judging community” rather than specific event work requirements.  A review that does this and talks about mentoring might look like this:

This year, Basri ran a local judge gathering every other week at Hug the Yeti Games, where we had 4+ judges get together and share what they had done in the prior weeks.

For every new set we ran through new and interesting cards and things we did not understand.  On other weeks we shared questions we got wrong at our local events, and in our local group chat we asked each other for help and covered each other’s events.

Basri really spent the time to make sure our local weeknight events ran smoothly, and while he didn’t actually run any of them, his planned meetings made me better and helped me answer questions correctly when I took over Modern night at Hug the Yeti.  He also would swing by after he was done with playing Modern and tell me if he saw any problems with the event, or if I did something great during the matches.

I felt like he really noticed how well I was doing, and spent the time to connect me with other local judges and support my taking over Modern night as the judge.

That kind of review demonstrates that the person is building the judge community in their area, providing feedback, and helping judges be better judges across multiple events.

As you can see, this maintenance review isn’t a voluminous manifesto – it’s a few paragraphs that get right to the point. The review offers a chance for judges who may not have worked sufficient events to still demonstrate that they’re involved in the community as a judge and that they continue to reflect the values of Judge Foundry. We expect most judges to pass maintenance just by working events, but we include this alternative option as a way of saying that other actions in the community have the same value as events do.

Leaving the Nest

One of our big objectives with Judge Foundry is to provide some framework and structure to the mentoring we already know is happening, and to make it visible that program leadership cares.

I’d love to discuss this more with people – there are all sorts of additional routes to this, including articles, public judge callouts, and other projects that the Judge Program tried in the past, that can do good work highlighting and strengthening judges.

Please, let us know what you think about our approach and thoughts about mentorship on JudgeApps or Reddit, comment on Facebook or Twitter, or email us. We want to see you grow, help others grow, and build out those connections that make the judge community the best community of which I’ve ever been involved in.


  • Rob Mckenzie

    Rob McKenzie is a judge from Minnesota, active since 2004. He is the former Regional Coordinator of the USA North region. More recently Rob has been working frequently with Magikids, the largest Magic focused nonprofit in the world, doing promotional and learn to play work.

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