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 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 able 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 restuctured 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.
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. Not much changes about this role from the Regional Coordinator role as it exists today. 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 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).
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.
Judge Academy will launch on October 1st, 2019.
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 organisers will often compensate judges with store credit for helping at their event.
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- Jason Lemahieu (March 19, 2012). "Judge Lord". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Reid Duke (May 25, 2015). "Playing in a Grand Prix: Part II". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Helene Bergeot (April 20, 2016). "A Message to the Magic Community". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
- Wizards of the Coast (April 20, 2016). "Wizards Responds to Lawsuits". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.
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- Magic Judge News: The New New World Order
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- About the Exemplar Program. MagicJudges.org.
- Bryan Prillaman (July 29, 2019). "Exemplar Wave 18 and Beyond". Blogs.magicjudges.org.
- Kirsty McIntyre (July 27, 2019). "There has been an announcement re: the judge programme at MTGBarcelona.". Twitter.
- Sara Mox (July 29, 2019). "The Next Era of Magic Judging". Blogs.magicjudges.org.
- Nicolette Apraez (July 29, 2019). "Judge Academy FAQ". Judge Academy.
- Judge Academy (July 30, 2019). "AMA with Judge Academy". Reddit.