The Justice League - So You Want To Be A Rules Guru?
Any time someone approaches me with interest in becoming a judge there is one thing I will always ask them.
"Why do you want to become a judge?"
I’ve gotten a wide range of responses but one of the ones I hear more than almost any other is:
"I want to know the rules really well."
Their reasoning for this can vary. They may just want to understand the rules to improve their own playing or they might just want to have someone at FNMs that know the rules to help settle disputes.
As much as I love new judging prospects you really don’t need certification to be your local rules guru. Passing the Level 1 exam can certainly label you as that person but being consistent and knowledgeable will do that just as well or better than a long-sleeved black DCI shirt.
So how does one become a rules expert?
Some may think that many years of experience playing the game will give you sufficient knowledge especially if you consistently play in tournaments. How could someone play Magic for 10 years and not understand the rules?
I was one of the people that made this mistake. When I took my Level 1 test the first time I was in my 12th year of playing Magic and I got less than 50%.
You need 70% to pass by the way.
If experience alone doesn’t cut it then what else can you do? You could read through the entire Comprehensive Rules but that would only work if you have excellent retention skills and far too much time on your hands. It would probably take longer to read through than most of my textbooks.
Forget studying the book. My advice is to go right to the tests. The Judge Center has a wide array of practice tests available to people of many different levels. Not a certified judge? No problem. The tests are most useful to people that aren’t certified anyway.
Your first step is to find the Judge Center. It’s as simple as heading here. Once there you log in with your normal DCI# and password. You will be brought to the main page which will have an "exam" link in the shape of a pencil that you can click on. Afterwards just click on the create tab.
There will be three tests available to newcomers:
The practice exams are 12-question tests that are designed to prep people for official judge exams but they’re good for any avid learners. They do have two DCI policy questions tagged on at the end which won’t help you on your quest for rules supremacy so feel free to ignore them. You may want to pay attention though. You never know when you may change your mind and want to start judging.
The Rules Advisor exam is somewhat like a Level 0.5 judge test. It’s longer than the practice ones and consists of only rules questions. If you can pass this (80%) then you would be someone I would trust to handle the rules questions at your local FNMs. Once you pass this test you will be given access to the Level 1 Practice Exam.
While you’re taking these tests make sure you pay attention to the questions that you’re getting wrong. I often find that people are heavily lacking in specific areas rather than small problems in everything.
If you’re anything like me you’re going to eventually drill those tests into the ground. Answering the same question more than once can be good but eventually the tests won’t be beneficial enough to spend all your time on. The questions do get updated every so often so check back every once in a while to give your test-taking ability a bit of a buffing.
Fortunately there are lots of other tools at your disposal.
Ask the Judge may no longer exist here on StarCityGames.com. There are still tons of judges out there willing to listen to your questions though and you can find them on the Judge Center too. You just have to click on the ‘people’ tab on the main page and you can find judges both near you and far away.
Not all judges have time to play Q&A with you but I’ve never met a judge that wouldn’t gladly take the time to direct you to another source that would be able to give you a hand. If you are worried that any of them will be bothered by you pestering them feel free to tell them I sent you.
You could just email me but I think it’s better for players to be connected to their local judges. You’d be amazed at how much a strong player community-judge community relationship can help an area grow.
SCG does have one resource for you. Once Chris Richter left us the boys that ran the forums took a dare and created a forum for rules questions and its working out great. Don’t just use it to ask your own questions. Read through the questions everyone else asks. Even if you know the answer other people’s explanations could provide some insight into the rules that you wouldn’t have thought of.
So you knew that already? Great start. But what if someone responds with a way to help you remember the copy rule: "The way I remember how copying works is you’re essentially taking the card out of its sleeve running it to the copy machine and whatever comes out on the black & white sheet on the other end is what your copy is."
(By the way the original Figure will remain an 8/8 due to its pumping ability applies in a later layer than the Mirrorweave.)
One more person adds one last comment to thread by responding to the previous one: "The photocopy thing is usually right but copying effects also copy previous copying effects. So if you play another Clone copying the first Clone then it will be a Kitchen Finks not a Clone."
Didn’t know that either? Well you’ve just gotten two new pieces in information from someone asking a question to which you already knew the answer.
Another good reason to check out a rules questions forum is so you can answer some questions yourselves. Nothing builds your confidence as a rules expert quite like getting lots of questions right. As a judge that used to have confidence issues and specializes in training other judges with confidence issues I would know.
So drop by the rules forums and see what’s going on there. Go ahead and check out other rules questions forums on the other sites you browse. If the other sites you browse don’t have one make them get one!
There is actually one-way I read through the Comprehensive Rules to help improve my rules knowledge. Once per day you think of one little piece of the rules you think you’re weak in and just read the section on that. This is where those notes you took while taking those tests can come in.
So now you know how to go about learning this absurdly complicated game that we love so much. You might be wondering where you start. Which parts of the rules are most important to learn?
When in doubt go with the basics.
I’ve come across far too many individuals that could answer a dozen complicated layers questions involving Humility but will be dumbfounded if you ask them something about double strike.
Fun fact: Number of truly complicated layers questions I’ve been asked while judging: 0.
So what rules will you need to know to bring your small events into the promise land?
The old and the new
Start out with Alpha. Make sure you know how flying first strike and trample work (you can forget about banding for now). These are the abilities that have been passed down over time and it’s likely that they are here to stay. They may seem obvious and basic but were you aware that if you Lightning Bolt your opponents 4/4 your 4/4 trampler only has to assign one damage and the rest can go through?
Never underestimate the complexity of the basics.
These days it seems just as important to know the new stuff as much as the classics. The shock of M10 seems to be long forgotten but the confusion is still lingering. I think due to all the uproar when the changes were announced people thought there would be more changes then there actually were.
There is still an opportunity between declaring blockers and damage to cast spells and activate abilities. The same is true for first strike and regular strike damage. Oh and your Ball Lightning still dies at the same time as it did a year ago. This stuff may seem obvious to you but there are lots of people out there that haven’t familiarized themselves with the new rules yet. If you can be the guy to know the changes inside and out you’ll be a great asset to other players. It will also come in handy if you run across someone coming out of retirement that is totally clueless about what has happened.
This seems to happen every turn
Know your phases and know your steps. These are the backbone of every game so you should know what’s going on here. Do you know that no one gets priority during the Untap Step? That drawing happens at the beginning of the Draw Step and not the end?
Know your format
You’re going to deal with a lot of the same cards keywords and interactions especially if you’re consistently playing the same format. If you know how to deal with the common enemies you’ll see how quickly everything falls into place.
Play a lot of Standard? You should know why Volcanic Fallout can’t kill Burrenton Forge-Tender but Infest can finish off a Chameleon Colossus. Fan of Extended? Make sure you understand how a Shattering Spree can kill a Chalice of the Void set at 1.
The best way to do this is essentially use net-decking for your rules practice. Look up the top decks and look for any complications they could cause.
What else should you know?
There are a few other suggestions I have. No matter what I’m judging these things seem to come up every time.
These pesky little guys still seem to be causing issues. You’ll need to know exactly what can and can’t deal damage to them and how exactly they hit them.
+1/+1 and –1/-1 counters
Persist and Ajani Goldmane really put these things on the map. A state based effect cancels equal number of counters out.
Tokens have names? Who knew? Apparently there are a lot of people out there that don’t.
Both the copying of spells and of permanents. The photocopy rule mentioned above is important as these problems constantly come up.
Following this guide may not prep you for your Level 3 judge test but it will give you the goods to impress your friends and wow the ladies. Just make sure you’re prepared for the responsibility of being a well-known rules guru. I’ve been woken up by (phone) judge calls.
Such is the life of a celebrity.
If you do have any rules questions feel free to drop me a line Maxknowlan@gmail.com. I’m not giving out my phone number though.
Until next time stay out of the penalty box.