Academy Blog: Judge Jargon

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Hello and welcome back to Academy Blog! Today I want to talk about judge jargon and how we can improve our relationship with it. “Jargon” means “special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.” A lot of rules- and policy-related terms fall into this category, including everything from “state-based actions” to acronyms like “GRV” or “FTMGS.” Let’s talk about why these are important tools but they must be treated with caution.

Important Tools

Human brains really enjoy being able to classify things into groups. It’s a useful mental shortcut to know how an entire group of things behave, since it’s then less effort to learn about new items in that group. For example, let’s look back a few years to the release of Dominaria. This set introduced Sagas to the game – Phyrexian Scriptures, for example. Right away, we as judges got a bunch of free information about Sagas just from the sentence “’Saga’ is a new enchantment type.” It told us that all Sagas were enchantments, that Saga was a new subtype of enchantments (like Aura), and it implied that they would have their own intrinsic rules much like Auras do. The key term that I want to focus on with this example, though, is the act of putting a Lore counter was made a “turn-based action”.

Most experienced Magic judges will immediately know a lot of things about how the game handles Lore counters simply by knowing that it’s a turn-based action. Notably, though, this alone doesn’t tell much to your average player about it. They may have heard the term before, possibly with some examples, but “turn-based action” isn’t a huge identifying marker for Magic players like it is for a judge. And yet, when players ask judges about putting Lore counters on their Sagas, I will almost always hear the judge mention that it’s a turn-based action. I’m guilty of this as well! Learning which categories of rules different things fall into is a huge benefit when learning the rules to the depth that a judge needs to, so using those buckets when talking to players is a natural inclination. When issuing penalties, we will sometimes tell players that they’re getting an “HCE” or a “GRV”, which may not mean anything at all to them. Judges discuss policy a lot (as they should!) and that makes us very comfortable with our various abbreviations for infraction types. This habit makes it so that we can spend more time on the question at hand than on spelling out these sometimes-verbose infractions. We must remember, however, that these are judge terms and that non-judges are not going to be as familiar with them as we are.

The Problem

Most players aren’t judges [citation needed]. We must keep this in mind when delivering rulings, whether in a rules or policy context. If a player misses putting a Lore counter on their Saga, telling them that it’s a “turn-based action” might not actually do anything at all to help solve their problem. When we say this, what we really mean is “it’s not a triggered ability, so it can’t be missed.” Honestly, even using “triggered ability” in that sense can be a bit obtuse, since I would only expect Competitive REL players to be relatively more familiar with Missed Trigger policy. It might just be best to go with “putting a Lore counter on a Saga is like drawing your card for the turn, you can’t miss it and we have to fix it.” It may be a longer explanation than using “turn-based action,” but it’s a lot more meaningful for the party it needs to be meaningful for: the player.

If a player casts a spell and doesn’t pay the tax on Thalia, telling the players “this is a double GRV” might basically be a foreign language to them. Even if you do use the name of the infraction, it can be very helpful to the players to explain what that means. Instead of saying “You’re getting an HCE, please reveal your hand so your opponent can pick a card,” you should try something more like “This infraction is a Hidden Card Error because we can’t use publicly available information to fix it. Instead, policy says that we give your opponent the information to help fix the error. Here, we do this by revealing the location of the error, in this case your hand, and allow the opponent to choose the card that gets remedied. This way, any potential for advantage is eliminated.” It’s more words, to be sure, but it’s clearer and does a better job of serving the players.

When delivering rulings, while expedience is valuable, it should not be prioritized over the experience of the players. Expedience in rulings is about valuing the time of the whole tournament over the time of an individual match. Taking a few extra seconds to explain a ruling using more accessible language does not run afoul of that goal.

Have you had any experiences where using judge jargon caused confusion? Have you ever seen it lead to misunderstandings? Continue the conversation on the Judge Academy Discord server! If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on the Judge Academy Discord server or by email to



    I’m adding these for newer judges, like myself:
    * GRV – Game Rules Violation
    * FTMGS – Failure to Maintain Game State
    * HCE – Hidden Card Error (This one was in there)

    This article is a great reminder that Magic a game, and we are playing it with people.
    Thanks for this!