Qualities of a Judge Foundry Judge

Welcome to the first in a series of articles designed to introduce the new certifications and expectations for members of Judge Foundry. Starting a new organization gave us a chance to make some changes to systems that had a lot of inertia preventing their alteration before – in most cases, you should find them familiar, but updated to work for the current organized play environment. 

Nothing you read on these articles is set in stone, and we’re looking for your feedback on our plans before we go live. Even once we do, we’ll regularly evaluate and update Judge Foundry’s structure as we see what works and what doesn’t, and as organized play environments change.

Joe takes notes at MagicFest Madison 2019. Photo © John Brian McCarthy

We’re starting today with the qualities of a judge. We’ll start with the official text, then break it down a bit:

There are many ways to evaluate a high-quality tournament official. Each Judge Foundry certified judge is evaluated on several or all of the following qualities, depending on their level of certification.

  • Game Knowledge
    • Rules 
    • Tournament Policy Application
    • Tournament Policy Philosophy
  • Event Skills
    • Tournament Operations Proficiency
    • Tournament Operations Philosophy
    • Investigations
  • Leadership Skills
    • Team and Event Coordination
    • Mentorship
  • Personal Skills
    • Conflict Management
    • Diplomacy
    • Self-Evaluation
    • Maturity
    • Stress Management
    • Teamwork
    • Communication

These skills are applicable to judges at every level – it is only the standards which become more stringent as judges are promoted. The expectations for each quality only represent the floor for the level, not the ceiling, because a level is a promise to organizers and players of a guarantee of broad competency, suitable for the appropriate roles without reservation. Most judges will exceed the standards in many of the qualities for their level, and a judge nearing promotion will do so in almost every quality.

We split the qualities into four major categories. We expect judges at every level to demonstrate at least a certain degree of proficiency in each category, depending on the judge’s level. While the qualities in each category are related, judges will have their strengths and weaknesses.

For example, consider a judge seeking evaluation on leveling up. Their evaluator determines them to be outstanding in Tournament Operations Proficiency and Tournament Operations Philosophy, but deficient in Investigation. Overall, this judge is “adequate” in event skills. We’d expect the evaluator to promote this judge (assuming they also meet the expectations on Game Knowledge, Leadership Skills and Personal Skills), but we’d let them know that investigations are an area where they will need to grow.  

Many judges identify with one or more qualities as their favorite aspect of judging. Some judges really love tournament logistics while others are rules mavens or feedback gurus. It’s important for judges to be proficient in all qualities, but it’s expected that they’ll excel in some of them. As you judge events, consider which qualities interest you the most and what kind of strengths that will bring to your events.

Game Knowledge

Players and organizers expect judges to be proficient in answering rules and policy questions correctly. While judging includes many more skills, rules and policy knowledge are critical to being a judge for any given game.

Each level brings with it different expectations of this set of qualities. For example, Level 1 Judges are expected to be able to handle problems at casual events, but won’t be expected to know the policy needed at competitive, high-stakes tournaments. We expect higher-level judges to have a better baseline of rules knowledge such that they won’t have to look up common keywords or effect interactions.


For the game you’re judging, how familiar are you with the comprehensive rules? Can you explain what will happen if a player takes a given action?

We won’t test for rules knowledge at every level – there’s not such a granular difference in rules proficiency that we see a need to maintain five rules tests for each supported game. However, we do expect judges of all levels to keep their rules proficiency current, and to take regular update exams.

A Level 1 judge should understand common keywords and fundamental rules of the game. Higher-level judges will be tested on complex interactions and eternal formats.

Tournament Policy Application

Much like rules, this is a check on knowledge. Do you know how to fix a situation where a player drew an extra card? What happens if a player is late to their match? Also similar to rules, we’ll determine if a judge is proficient using an exam. Tournament Policy Application is mostly about right and wrong answers – the game’s policy documents prescribe what you’re expected to do, so are you correctly identifying an infraction, issuing the correct penalty, and applying the correct fix. 

Policy Knowledge Application won’t be tested at every level either, and will focus more on casual policy at Level 1, with competitive policy woven in at Level 2 and onward.

A Level 1 judge should be able to explain how to resolve common issues and serious problems at a casual event. Higher-level judges should be able to identify infractions and apply prescribed remedies at competitive events, even when multiple problems occur in sequence.

Tournament Policy Philosophy

In addition to expecting judges to know what policy applies, they need to be able to explain why it applies. Unlike rules, policy can’t be comprehensive – it often requires some level of extrapolation from the documents to the situation at the event. When confronted with a situation that isn’t prescribed in policy, can you determine how to resolve it in a consistent and fair way? Can you explain to a player why this penalty is appropriate for this infraction?

Level 1 judges should understand that policy at casual events is there to educate and to get games back on track, and that they shouldn’t devise harsher penalties just because they prefer stricter play. Higher-level judges should be able to understand when it’s appropriate to deviate from policy and the implications of doing so.

Event Skills

Judges judge events. It’s our purpose as an organization – judges don’t just judge games, they judge tournaments, with all the complexity that comes with them. While Event Skills tie into our core mission of keeping events fair and fun, they also focus on keeping them timely – players appreciate a tournament that runs at a steady clip where they spend most of their time playing, not waiting between games. Event skills are also the most esoteric – while a judge can improve at Game Knowledge with study and can come to the program with strong Leadership and Personal Skills, Event Skills often rely on specific practices that can only be learned by mentorship and firsthand experience. 

Tournament Operations Proficiency

Most judge tasks, when boiled down to their purest form, sound simple: take a piece of paper from the printer and put it on a board. See if this pile of cards matches this list of cards. Go find out why this table hasn’t told us their results yet. The art of doing these things and doing these things well is where judges demonstrate our value, ensuring that tasks are performed smoothly, consistently and effectively to minimize downtime, avoid errors and provide players with a seamless experience.

A Level 1 Judge can launch a Prerelease tournament, ensuring that all players receive their packs and can start building on time. Higher-level judges can accomplish more complex logistical feats, even at tournaments with thousands of players or with unexpected restrictions.

Tournament Operations Philosophy

To solve novel logistical problems, judges need to first deeply understand similar problems. While many judges are good at rote repetition of tasks they’ve seen performed before, exceptional judges can examine why we’re performing tasks in a given way, and can propose ways to optimize those tasks or to adapt previous methods to new problems. Judges grow in this quality through seeing different ways of handling common tasks, allowing them to find the best tool for each job.

A Level 1 Judge should be able to evaluate how to prioritize tasks at a casual event to get the event started. Higher-level judges can be expected to come up with a plan on the fly to handle software crashes, fire alarms and internet outages.


Judges at all levels need to be able to determine what happened in a game prior to their arrival in order to make correct rulings. This can include cases where judges are determining which infraction occurred (such as whether a player knowingly made an error) or it can include cases where a judge needs to help cooperating players determine the correct game state. Judges use evidence and deductive reasoning to gather facts and come to a conclusion in a timely manner.

A Level 1 Judge should be able to explain the basics of logical reasoning and suggest ways to test the veracity of a player’s claims. Higher-level judges should be able to differentiate between premeditated and opportunistic cheating, conduct card counts in increasingly complex situation and to weigh the time cost of pursuing more information with the value of the information available.

Leadership Skills

Leadership Skills

Judges are leaders at tournaments and in the community. We expect them to have the ability to command the respect of players as authorities of a tournament. Judges should understand how to be effective leaders, not just managers, and should be able to tailor their leadership style to the situation and to their teams. Good leaders are trusted by players and organizers, and respected by the judges whom they lead.

Expectations for judges as leaders ramp up as judges increase in level. At the baseline, we expect that players at a local store look towards Level 1 judges as resources and potentially leaders of their community. As judges advance, they’re expected to be able to lead teams of judges in accomplishing tasks and projects.

Team and Event Coordination

Players look up to judges to lead their events. Judges don’t need to be in a position of authority to be leaders – when they see a problem that’s in their remit to solve, they start working toward a solution, weaving in others who want to help. Judges understand the difference between leadership and management, and use effective techniques that treat people around them with respect.

At Level 1, we’ll want a judge who demonstrates the charisma to encourage others to follow. At high levels, we expect a judge who can get the best work out of every member of their team and to leave them wanting to apply to work another event.


The other side of the leadership coin is the ability to help a peer grow into the best judge they can be. Mentorship implies a connection – you’re personally invested in another judge’s success and taking active steps to reach your hand down to help them up. We don’t expect every judge to be able to mentor infinite judges at once and we don’t expect every judge to have all the answers – some problems are beyond any mentor’s capabilities and sometimes you have to find the right mentor to get through to a given judge. Mentorship doesn’t have to be strictly from higher- to lower-level, and it doesn’t have to be just from head judge to floor judge – judges can use their skills to mentor anyone.

For a Level 1 Judge, mentorship takes the form of being someone approachable for a player who wants to know about becoming a judge. For a higher-level judge, we expect you to be invested in the success of your team at an event and to sherpa a protégé toward their next advancement interview.

Personal Skills

Personal skills are about your character and how it’s reflected in your interpersonal interactions. Judging is a team activity (even when you’re the only judge) and great judges know themselves and how to be a good ambassador for Judge Foundry, for their tournament organizer, and for the game. These skills are about how to be a good follower as well as a good leader, and show that a judge can bring in a consistent and competent performance to every event.

As with the other qualities, each level brings its own expectations, but Personal Skills are, more than any other set of qualities, an area where “level reflects a floor, not a ceiling” is true. People come into judging with different life experiences, which might provide some judges a leg up on others at their level in these qualities..

Conflict Management

The nature of judging lends itself to conflict – many times, a judge is called to a table because the players are having a conflict between themselves. Judges are expected to intervene in conflicts they see brewing. Judges get into conflicts with each other at times, not out of malice, but with differing viewpoints on how to best solve a problem. Conflict management is about more than just finding compromise – it’s about finding the right solution to a dispute and helping everyone involved come away satisfied that it was fair, even if they’re unhappy with the outcome.

We expect a Level 1 Judge to be able to resolve a simple life total disagreement with both players feeling like the judge acted fairly. A higher-level judge might be expected to resolve conflicts at games for high stakes or mediate between team members who have a difficult time working together. The highest-level judges will also be proficient in balancing coming to a decision with external constraints, such as time.


Diplomacy is related to conflict management, and is about how you resolve interactions more than the ability to come to the correct conclusion. Because we work events that are designed to be fun, the employment of tact and courtesy are critical in interactions with both players and judges. Even if a head judge is, by definition, correct, they need to demonstrate diplomacy when resolving an issue, so people will want to work with them again.

A Level 1 Judge might have to tell a player that the language they are using is not appropriate for a family oriented environment. A higher-level judge might have to disqualify a player for inappropriately determining a winner, but do so in a way that that player doesn’t want to quit the game afterward.


The path to personal development starts with understanding your strengths and weaknesses. No judge is going to be an exemplar of every quality, all the time, and the best judges recognize their weaknesses and find ways to mitigate or improve on them. Judging has been called “the cult of self-improvement,” and many judges have found themselves bringing the skills they honed improving their work and personal lives.

A Level 1 Judge should be aware of the qualities their mentor suggested for improvement during their promotion interview, and be working on improving them. A higher-level judge should be looking back on the feedback they received at events a month ago, a year ago and a decade ago to see how they have changed and what they still need to improve.


A mature judge is a judge with whom it’s easy to work and who takes responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others. They show up on time, don’t spend all day complaining, hustle to calls and don’t mind pushing in the same chair for the seventh round in a row. Maturity is a quality that’s often quantified by its absence – you rarely notice the judges who are making your life easier as much as those who are making your life harder.

Maturity is measured by asking whether a judge represents Judge Foundry’s core values. A Level 1 Judge should be someone on whom the LGS owner can rely. A higher-level judge is a rock of calm in the chaotic ocean of a convention center.

Stress Management

Everyone experiences stress. Even the best judges feel it from time to time, especially in high-stakes events or when they make a mistake that could cost time, money or reputation. This quality isn’t about not feeling stress, it’s about what happens when you do. Judges need to be able to keep that stress from deleteriously affecting their work or their interactions with other judges, players or staff, and to have healthy coping techniques that let them stabilize.

A Level 1 Judge should be able to make opening announcements at an LGS without being paralyzed by discomfort. Higher-level judges should be able to handle more severe situations and to demonstrate patience and grace even while under pressure. Higher-level judges also need to be able to handle multiple stressful situations at once and to triage without getting overwhelmed.


Good teamwork means knowing how to follow instructions, and the appropriate time and place to question a leader’s instructions. It means being a good sharer, taking on a fair portion of unpleasant tasks and being willing to step back to let others have a chance to shine. Being a good team member means understanding the team’s goals and working toward accomplishing those goals, together.

Unlike the other Personal Skills, this quality won’t be tested specifically at low levels, as most in-store judging for casual events doesn’t require a team. As a judge levels up, their teamwork skills will become more important as they work on larger and more varied team environments at large events.


Judges need to communicate constantly with other tournament participants. It’s critical that judges are experts not only at being understood, but also understanding, and being able to recognize and use both verbal and non-verbal communication techniques to convey and receive the appropriate message is important. Judges also communicate frequently in writing, especially with each other – writing reviews of other judges, discussing policy on forums, sharing tournament reports and applying to events all require judges to be strong communicators.

A Level 1 Judge can explain clearly how drafting works to a new player, without resorting to jargon or making the player feel foolish. Higher-level judges are experts at tailoring their communications to their audience, can communicate competently with players for whom English isn’t their first language, and understands the value of carefully-chosen language.


No two judges are alike, and the community values the diversity of skills that a staff of judges can bring to an event. The most successful events are those that allow judges to demonstrate their strongest qualities while finding ways to grow in their weakest. And every judge is expected to demonstrate at least some growth in almost every quality.

Levels provide tournament organizers and other judges with a general view of a judge’s skillset relative to the qualities – a level is a promise to others that the judge is at least as qualified in each as that level’s requirements. But remember that level is never intended as a ceiling, and judges of any level can be exemplars of one or many qualities of a Judge Foundry judge.

As we noted at the start of the article, these qualities, and everything we’re sharing leading up to our formal launch, should be considered a draft for comment. If you have feedback, share it on JudgeApps or Reddit, tell us on Facebook or Twitter, or send us an email. We look forward to hearing from you and hope you’re looking forward to hearing more from us as we prepare for launch.