I don’t talk about judging much because I don’t actually judge a lot of events, but I am a L1 judge who is relatively involved in the local judge community. Back in October of 2017 at the Fusion Gaming 5k at Central Canada Comic Con, Chris Hrichishen (L2) invited me to speak at the upcoming judge conference in November. At that conference, I gave a talk about the characteristics of a welcoming gaming community. I met a few attendees from out of town—specifically Ken Bearl (L2), and Rob McKenzie (L3, Regional Coordinator – USA North). These guys reached out to me after the conference and asked me to join them at the Fargo, ND mini-conference!

So this past weekend I made the trek from Winnipeg to Fargo.

Fortunately for me, the weather was pretty great. I spent the entirety of the 3 1/2 hour drive talking to myself, singing country music at the top of my lungs, and trying to find radio stations that weren’t trying to convert me to their religion. This was just a day trip, but I’m so happy I went.

When I arrived in Fargo I pulled up to Little Big Wars on 7th Ave N.

I’d never been there before, and I was a little shocked at how big this store is. The building is an old gas station that was re-purposed to provide a massive play space inside.

From what I could gather, their clientele lean towards minifig gaming like Warhammer 40k. More than half of the merchandise in the store was related to minifig gaming, and more than half of the play space was devoted to tabletop gaming.

Nestled into the corner of this massive shop was a PPTQ of approximately 60 people, just taking their seats to start round 2. I was greeted by Ken with a smile and a handshake. It’s always nice to see a familiar face or two. We milled around, met a few other judges, and set up some chairs in the back office. Several of the attendees were playing in the PPTQ, and one was judging, so we had to delay the start of the conference until they were ready to drop.

The conference started with a short but informative talk about slow play, as well as a very interesting discussion about some real-world examples that the judges in the room had observed. Slow play is a pretty nebulous concept so I really appreciated the opportunity to ask a bunch of questions about it.

Once the slow play presentation wrapped up, Ken set up two stations with some simulated judge calls that he had prepared. I’m going to come right out and say it—I loved Ken’s format. Each station involved two players (A and B) who were briefed on the board state and what they’d be calling a judge about. Each of us took turns as the judge taking the judge call. After we provided our ruling, A would get up and leave, B would move to A’s spot, and the judge taking the call would become the new player B. The format allowed each of us to take the call and observe how two other judges would handle it. This was especially awesome because it allowed for a low-pressure environment where we could make mistakes without consequences and get feedback from our peers. This was helpful for me, seeing as how I probably had about as much experience judging as the L1 candidates in the room.

My Presentation

After the simulated judge calls, it was my turn to speak. I was presenting essentially the same content as I did at the Winnipeg conference, but I incorporated a lot of the feedback I got from the attendees. At the end of both of these conferences, I had several attendees ask me for my slide deck and speaking notes, so I figured there might be more judges out there that would benefit from me writing an article about it!


I started by talking a little bit about myself to provide some context for the presentation. I consider myself to be a very enfranchised player, but I play primarily casual formats like EDH. Even though I’ve been playing since Revised, I only started playing in organized settings around the end of Theros block. Whenever we talk about growing the community, the jump from the kitchen table to a local game store should remain at the centre. It’s an incredibly significant event for a lot of Magic players, and it’s one that we should be focusing on if we want to ensure the continued health of the game.

The Game

I started out by informing people that we were going to play a game. I flashed a slide with the following set of rules:

  1. Each card has an objectively correct point value
  2. You have a list of attributes with corresponding point totals
  3. To calculate a card’s point value, determine which attributes apply to the card on the screen and add up the corresponding point totals
  4. Do not shout out the correct answer
  5. Raise your hand when you want to provide your answer, and provide it when called upon
  6. If you provide the correct answer, you will be rewarded with Dollaridoos (note: I used basic lands to represent Dollaridoos)

I handed out two sheets of paper to each attendee—one with a set of introductory point values, and one with a giant letter A, which would be useful later as I planned to divide people into groups. I then informed everyone that two Dollaridoos would be awarded to anyone who attempted to provide an answer.

Introduction to the Game – Group A

Colour of Card
White: 1
Blue: 2
Black: -1
Red: -1
Green: 1


Add +1 point for each word in the card’s name

I flashed a sample card to ensure that people understood the scoring methods, and we were on our way.

Llanowar Elves
Green: +1

Name: +2
Total: 3 points

Round One

In round one, I displayed 5 cards, one after another:

When the first card went up, only Dan Milavitz (L2, who was head judging the PPTQ) took a chance at getting the correct answer. For cards two through five, participation gradually increased until 11 out of 12 hands went up for Metalworker.



Round Two

Prior to the start of Round Two I picked 6 of the 10 participants and assigned them to the newly formed Group B. I physically separated the groups by having Group A sit on the left side of the room and Group B sit on the right side of the room. In addition to a giant letter ‘B’, each of them received a more complete list of attributes and point values:

Colour of Card
White: 1
Blue: 2
Black: -1
Red: -1
Green: 1

Goblin: -1
Forest: 1
Aura: 2
Arcane: -1
Fortification: -1

Add +1 point for each word in the card’s name

Power / Toughness
Add 1 point for each point of power and subtract 1 point for each point of toughness

Add 5 points if the card is banned in Modern

Add 3 points if the card is in the power 9

Group A was instructed to play Round Two the same as they had played Round One. Group B was also given a new objective that Group A didn’t know about:

  1. At the end of the game, the player with the highest number of Dollaridoos wins
  2. If someone provides an incorrect point total, you can raise your hand to steal
  3. If you provide the correct point total on a steal, you get the Dollaridoos instead. You will get an additional Dollaridoo, and the player who provided the incorrect point total will be penalized one Dollaridoo.

Round Two consisted of another five cards:

I deliberately selected these cards so there would be no discrepancies between Group A scoring and Group B scoring for the first two cards. Starting with Darksteel Garrison, though, Group B would be aware that the Fortification subtype modifies the point total, and Group A would not. I deliberately chose a Group A attendee first to allow a Group B attendee to steal the points. This continued as expected through the last two cards, with Group B collectively eating Group A’s lunch.

By the end of Round Two, members of Group A were visibly irritated. They knew that Group B had a more complete understanding of the rules of the game. At one point, L1 candidate Jason White even told me he wanted to fight me for creating the imbalance. Not only was Group A unable to arrive at the correct answer, the prize structure was actively discouraging them from participating.

Round Three

I identified the four most active members of Group B and created a new group – C. Groups A and B were assigned the following objective:

  1. At the end of the game, the team with the highest number of Dollaridoos wins
  2. Before starting Round 3, pair up with any other player. Your Dollaridoos are now shared.
  3. If you provide the correct point total for the card and explain the calculation you used to arrive at that total, you and that player each receive the full Dollaridoos reward for that card.
  4. Stealing rules are same as round 2.

Group C was assigned this secret objective:

  1. Seek out a player from Group A to team up with. Encourage them to take a shot at getting the correct answer, and complete their answer if it is incomplete. Doing this will help address some of the negative feedback we got from last round.
  2. If you provide the correct point total for the card and explain the calculation you used to arrive at that total, you and that player each receive the full Dollaridoos reward for that card.

Note that I structured the size of each group such that—for 10 participants—Round 3 would have 4x A/C pairs and one B/B pair.

We were about to start Round Three when one of the Group B members asked an excellent question:

Are we supposed to continue keeping our point sheets hidden?

I answered his question with a question:

Were they ever hidden?

I paused to let it sink in, and people realized that I never told them to avoid sharing their point sheets with their neighbour. I have to admit that I set them up to think this way, as I divided the groups physically in the room, which reduced the chances that a Group A member would sneak a peek at a Group B point sheet.

We launched into Round 3 with everyone working in pairs, and the attitude and group dynamic was a stark contrast to Round Two. We worked through 5 more cards with enthusiastic participation from all five pairs:


What Were we Simulating?


After Round Three ended, I unpacked the activity a little so we could have a short discussion about what it was intended to simulate. At the core of it, this game is intended to provide people with the experience of losing at a game due to lack of rules knowledge rather than a lack of skill. It underscores what I consider to be an issue with entry-level organized play at Regular REL—we create events that tend to be unwelcoming by design. In doing so, we are hindering our ability to grow a healthy community.

Round One was intended to be a simulation of Magic at the kitchen table. Everyone has the same incomplete knowledge of the rules of the game, but the fact that the prizing is low or nonexistent means that people don’t feel disadvantaged when they get something wrong. There’s essentially no consequence to being wrong, so what we end up with is high levels of participation, and people are more willing to take chances.

Round Two was intended to be a simulation of a small group of players at entry-level organized play. There are three defining features of this round:

  1. There is a massive disparity in rules knowledge and ability
  2. Formalized execution of rules means that there can be consequences for deviating
  3. Many people naturally develop opportunistic behaviours in a competitive environment if left to their own devices

I think one of the most interesting things about Rounds One and Two is that nobody in this room full of judges thought to ask questions about the nature of the game. Not a single member from Group A asked me or anyone from Group B whether they could explain the point discrepancies that they observed.

Round Three was intended to be a repeat of Round Two, with four key improvements made to shift the focus from competition to teaching.


Becoming an Influencer of Behaviour

After discussing the problem behaviours that we identified in the activity, I turned the focus towards what types of things we can do as judges to influence people to change.



I chose to apply a model from Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, a book I’d read recently as part of a management training course I took at work. In short, this model advocates a focus on problem behaviours rather than problem outcomes, and outlines a means to influence people to act differently.

The book proposes a 2 x 3 matrix that examines the personal, social, and structural ways to influence people’s motivation and/or level of ability.

I think it’s important to note that this isn’t the only model that guides people through the process of influencing other people, but we followed the author’s prescribed approach and saw some really good results. The video that I used in my presentation to demonstrate the model is essentially an infomercial for the book, but it does a good job of demonstrating the model.

I chose to apply four of the six methods described in the model:

Make the desirable undesirable
In the Group C objective, I deliberately included the line “Doing this will help address some of the negative feedback we got from last round,” in hopes that people would understand that being penalized for being wrong results in negative feedback from new players.
Find strength in numbers
This was easy enough to do. As Magic players, we’re often already familiar with 2-headed giant as an optional game variant.
Design rewards and demand accountability
We combined the prize payouts for each player in a pair, which encouraged them to work together towards a shared objective.
Change the environment
By allowing new players to be roughly evenly distributed (rather than allowing for clique formation), we made it easier for them to ask questions. Additionally, by forming teams we allowed them to ask questions to people who they knew had correct answers.


We also discussed two or three examples of changes that could be made to Regular REL events to influence enfranchised players into displaying more welcoming behaviour to new players.

Personal Motivation

  • Communicate the reason why the event is being run (eg. Education vs. Competition)
  • Share articles with personal experiences on your community’s social media to build empathy

Personal Ability

  • How to call a judge
  • When to call a judge
  • Opening announcements

Social Motivation

  • Talk to enfranchised players about what a welcoming community does and does not do
  • “You want to be a part of the solution”

Social Ability

  • Ask people to remind each other about language policy
  • Buddy system
  • Standardize expectations across multiple stores

Structural Motivation

  • Flat prize structure
  • Sportsmanship / alternative prizes

Structural Ability

  • Positioning of the head judge table
  • Provide a good way for new players to provide event feedback
  • 2HG

After wrapping up the presentation, I wasn’t left with much time before I had to pack up my stuff and start my trip home. I’d like to thank everyone at the Fargo Mini-Conference for allowing me to participate and present. You are an awesome group of judges!



If you think that people you know would benefit from experiencing this, by all means feel free to share all or parts of this presentation. My slide deck is here. Beyond that, if you’d like me to come give this talk at your local judge conference, let me know! I’m pretty sure I enjoy speaking at conferences more than I actually enjoy judging. I won’t be able to do much travelling in early 2018, but if you let me know what you have in mind I’d love to work with you to make it happen.

Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about being new to an organized play community? What do you think of the model I applied for influencing behaviour? Do you do any of the things I mentioned in the presentation, or maybe something that I haven’t even thought of? As always, hit me up in the comments below!

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