Levels Clarifications and Updates: Philosophy – 2023

Okay – so this post is a lot longer than the one that simply covers the changes, which you can find here. The goal of this post is to walk through why we’re making the refinements and updates that we are.

If you’re looking for the overview of levels as they will exist in 2023 and moving forward, you can check that out on the levels page. If you’re looking for more in-depth guidelines and expectations per level (and some for advanced roles) check out the aptly named guidelines and expectations page.

Some of these pages are still under construction but will be complete by January 1st (ideally sooner!). The judge program is a constantly evolving entity, and we’re always eager for feedback and to help shape the program to fit the needs of organized play as well as the needs of its members. If you have any feedback, please don’t hesitate to email Advancement@JudgeAcademy.com.

We’ll have bonus office hours on Monday, December 5th at 9 AM and 4 PM PST to discuss these updates. I hope to take any questions from that discussion and have a broadcast early the next week where I will take more questions and cover frequently asked questions.

New Documents

New Documents: Concise L1 Evaluation Guidelines and Detailed L1 Evaluation Guidelines

New Documents (In Progress): Concise L2 Evaluation Guidelines, Detailed L2 Evaluation Guidelines, L2 Philosophical Questions

New Documents (In Progress): Detailed L3 Evaluation Guidelines, L3 Self-Review guidance, L3 Pillar expectations.

I’ve pulled this to the front of the article so that I don’t talk about it in three different places, saying pretty much the same thing. One of the big concerns that we’ve heard is that people aren’t entirely sure what the expectations are for the various levels and badges. We hope by creating guidance that goes into detail for every pillar both candidates and reviewers will be able to more consistently understand what the expectations are.

There will be two documents for each – the concise guidelines will have a brief description of what adequate looks like for the level and a brief description of what deficient looks like. The detailed guidelines cover deficient, areas of improvement, adequate, very good, and exceptional, as well as a description of what the broader expectations are for that pillar. If the details in this article are something that interests you, the detailed guidelines will probably also appeal.

Note that judges are not required to evaluate candidates explicitly on any or all of the pillars – this documentation is intended to act as clarification both for candidates and evaluators. If you’re uncertain about what is expected as a baseline from a judge at a certain level, use these documents to dig deeper.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that these are expectations for a baseline judge of that level. It’s also possible to have multiple areas of improvement or even a minor deficiency or two and still be a quality judge and fully deserving of your level.

Level 1

New Requirement for Advancement: L1 candidates are observed judging an event prior to certification.

While the educational modules can give you a firm understanding of rules, policy, and even logistics, there’s nothing like actually judging an event for the first time. It’s important for judges to have an appropriate understanding of what they’re getting into, and that practical experience is hugely valuable. On top of that, it can help candidates figure out what they like (or don’t like!) about judging.

A candidate should have practical experience using tournament software, answering a few judge calls, announcing the start and end of a round for a small local event, or participating as a member of a team at a larger event. Any work that a judge candidate does in this way should be compensated appropriately.

Furthermore, being observed means that there is an opportunity for feedback. This allows a candidate to grow further and faster than they would on their own.

New Option for Endorsements: WPN recognized Tournament Organizers can endorse L1 candidates that they have observed.

However, it can sometimes be difficult to get schedules to line up or to find an L2+ in your area who can meet with you in person at an event. To help alleviate that, we’re launching a new program that allows Tournament Organizers to endorse level 1 candidates. Who knows what is needed to run an event at the local level than the operator of a local game store?

This option is only available for judges directly observed by the TO and is not for digital or otherwise long-distance endorsements. In the short term, we’ll have a system to manually verify with TOs their WPN status but hope to automate it in the future.

Given the number of RCQs in their various forms and the frequency with which they’re head judged by level one judges, there was some discussion of requiring IPG knowledge for level one. We have decided at this point in time to not adjust that requirement. RCQs should ideally have an L2+ judge as their HJ or an L1 with the Advanced Rules and Comp REL Policy badges.

The baseline expectation for a level one judge is the ability to run a small local event of 8-16 players and has been that way for years. First, we believe that that is a good metric for entry into the judge program. While there was a time when L1 did require competitive REL experience, the judge program was significantly smaller and the shape of organized play very different – now, many stores have a judge for FNM or prereleases, and those judges are a fundamental part of the community. Second, we believe adding that requirement would have a significant negative impact on a huge number of judges across the globe – either their certification would be seen as invalid or they would be required to do work that they’re not necessarily interested in pursuing.

Level 2

New Requirement for Endorsing L2s: An L2 must have held the certification for at least one year or worked at least six Competitive events as an L2 to be able to endorse an L2 candidate.

This is an update to an earlier revision shifting the requirement from any L2+ to any L2 with at least 6 months at L2. Six months isn’t quite enough time to get a full understanding of what to expect from a new L2 candidate in a practical sense… unless you’re working a significant number of events. In areas where there is a significant need for more L2 judges (because of frequent competitive REL events), an L2 will be able to quickly attain the necessary number of events to be able to endorse further L2 candidates.

We’ve discussed requiring some number of the events to be multi-judge events, or possibly events with another L2+, to ensure that the judge is able to get feedback from someone else and have an outside perspective, but have chosen not to do so at this time.

New Advanced Role Badge: Small Event Lead Badge

This is an early stepping stone for judges who are ready to progress to larger events. Managing and helping develop other judges at events is not a baseline expectation of level two judges. This badge is a simple check that a judge can manage the basics of team leading. There needs to be some demonstration of leadership, so it is required that the candidate have at least two other people on their team, and there needs to be some logistical overhead, so the event must at least be an 8-round event. An L2 candidate must receive endorsements from at least two different events, and from judges who hold the Team Lead Badge or are L3.

Revised Advanced Role Badge and Updated Requirements: Medium Event Lead Badge

The Medium Event Lead Badge (what has previously been the “Team Lead Check”, “Team Lead Certification”, “Team Lead in Training Position” and “Day 2 Team Lead Badge”) is receiving some minor touch-ups. The Medium Event Lead Badge will be more flexible, as it’s a general demonstration of leadership and logistics. It can be earned while leading a team on a 9+ round competitive event or head judging an 8+ round competitive event.

A candidate must complete some of the L3 modules, have approved self-reviews, and earn a recommendation for the role before attempting a practical.

Revised Advanced Role Badge: Policy Expert Badge

In addition to the Large Event Lead Certification, an L3 candidate needs to be proficient with the highest level of tournament play, and policy used in those events. This necessitates a policy philosophy and investigations interview focused on professional REL judge calls. Mirroring the interview for TLTP and D2TL, it will focus on deviations, rewinds, and complex scenarios.

A candidate must complete the Investigations and Penalty and Policy Philosophy modules, have approved self-reviews for those pillars and earn a recommendation for the role before having an interview.

As with previous advanced roles for level one and for level two, the Medium Event Lead (MEL) and Policy Expert (PE) badges are prerequisites for level three, but a judge does not need to be interested in advancing to level three to pursue them.

Level 3

Updated Pillars: Teamwork, Diplomacy & Conflict Management, and the newly named Personal Accountability (Stress Management, Maturity and Self-Evaluation)

We’re making a relatively small shift to two pillars “Teamwork, Diplomacy and Maturity” is shifting to “Teamwork, Diplomacy and Conflict Management” (TDC) – it’s about external interactions, and working with other people, especially when those interactions are strained. Maturity joins Stress Management and Self-Evaluation in “Personal Accountability” (PAC) – it’s about personal growth and management. Stress and Conflict Management, while they were both about regulating emotions and situations required two completely different skill sets and it was frequent that a candidate would be deficient in one, but not the other.

Adding Self-Evaluation to “Development of Other Judges” was considered, but discarded, as the skills involved in accurately assessing oneself and improving are significantly different from those involved in evaluating and supporting other judges.

Updated Self-Review Requirement: Self-Reviews now require a demonstration of understanding the pillar, examples, and an explicit score.

Speaking of writing… the self-review and the recommendations have long been a key part of the L3 process, and that’s not going to change, but we are looking at why they’re important and trying to improve quality while decreasing any undue burden on candidates.

There are three major goals with self-reviews: 1) Demonstration that the candidate knows what it means to be L3, 2) Demonstration that the candidate knows where they stand with regard to those pillars, and 3) provide a foundation for further evaluation of the candidate – either by recommenders or interviewers.

Self-reviews will require six points to be accepted: strengths, weaknesses, an explanation for how the candidate is working on the skill or who they’re working with, examples, understanding of the pillar, and a 0-5 score, based on a common rubric. We’re investigating other methods of completing the necessary self-evaluation in a format that is accessible to assessors, to improve accessibility.

Updated Recommendation Requirement: Pillar-by-pillar recommendations are no longer used. Candidates must receive at least one comprehensive evaluation, and either a second comprehensive evaluation or three general evaluations.

Recommendations are also changing somewhat. The current system doesn’t have any comprehensive evaluation and focuses primarily on recommending individual pillars, rather than the candidate as a whole.

Moving forward, a candidate must receive at least one comprehensive evaluation. This evaluation must cover at least six of the seven pillars, and include written feedback on each pillar where the recommender disagrees with the candidate’s self-review or gives a non-passing score.

The candidate must then either receive a second comprehensive evaluation or get three general evaluations. A general evaluation includes a rating of 0-5 on six of the seven pillars, and a short written evaluation of the candidate in broad terms, regarding their candidacy. Authors of general evaluations may be contacted for further details if their rating of a candidate differs drastically from other submitted recommendations.

Between their evaluations, each candidate must be rated on each pillar at least twice.

Updated L3 Path Progression: L3 Exam, Pre-Interview and L3 Practical have more flexible ordering. L3 Exam, Pre-Interview can end a candidate’s progression.

Once the candidate has earned their Medium Event Lead and Policy Expert badges, has submitted and approved self-evaluations for each pillar and has the requisite recommendations submitted on their behalf, they can submit their checklist for the final steps of the L3 process.

The next three steps are the L3 Exam, the Prep Interview, and an L3 Practical. The L3 test and Prep Interview can both be failed. The L3 Practical can not be failed, as it serves as an information-gathering tool.

The process will usually start with the Prep Interview – a set of questions sent to the candidate to gather information on the various pillars, outside of the self-reviews and recommendations. This can be used to inform how the L3 practical is run, but the Prep Interview will come in multiple stages, so can also explore concerns raised during the practical.

After passing all three segments, the candidate will be scheduled for an L3 Promotion Interview.

We’ve simplified the latter half of the process, by allowing it to happen in any order. The L3 Exam and Prep Interview can occur remotely – they do not need to occur at events, and so generally should not cause any significant delays in the advancement process. We’re removing the second L3 Practical as one event should provide enough useful information in conjunction with self-reviews, recommendations, and prep-interview, such that a second isn’t necessary. Furthermore, requiring that the candidate take on an L3 leadership role can put an undue burden on the candidate as well as the TO who has to manage their staff to account for that. It also necessitates that evaluation interviews occur at large events, which is not always feasible.

Removed Certification: Large Tournament Head Judge

New Certification (In Progress): Professional Tournament Head Judge

These two come together as a package deal. The Large Tournament Head Judge certification was aimed at events smaller than Grand Prix, but still larger than most events most judges had the opportunity to HJ. However, with the certification having been out for a while now, and some folks having gone through the process, it didn’t quite hit the mark. For many, they felt like it was a task they could already handle and the certification was nothing but bureaucratic work. For others, it felt like a diminution of their work as GPHJs. Both of these perspectives are valid – it’s a reasonable expectation that any active L3 could HJ a 400-player event and with the absence of a GP HJ certification, comparing LTHJ to GPHJ is natural. Furthermore, the certification wasn’t particularly helpful to TOs – as the L3 certification was more than enough.

However, there is still a need for HJs for the highest level of competitive play, and that is something that we’re working on. We’ll be developing a certification process for what will start as a PT Head Judge certification. We’re talking and formally consulting with individuals who have been historically involved in PT selection and in the development of previous high-end certifications to create a certification that is meaningful to L3s and TOs who run tournaments at this level.

You’ll also notice that functional English is a listed requirement for level three. This was an explicit requirement before Judge Academy, and an implicit one previous to now, we’re just making it clear that it is still an expectation. Part of the process requires self-evaluation, recommendations, and prep-interview to be processed through JA, and we currently don’t have the resources to effectively translate personal and nuanced documentation. Beyond that, there’s value in being able to understand the rules/policy documents and updates as originally written. Furthermore being able to be a part of the larger L3 community is important and at this point, the language used by L3s on a global scale is English.


It’s important that judges keep up to date on various changes to rules and policy, and don’t become rusty with their skills. There are currently no explicit maintenance requirements for any level, but that’s something we’re discussing updating internally. This may include quizzes or tests, educational material, or event work. We don’t have anything to firmly announce at this point, but it’s something that we’re going to be looking at and evaluating in 2023.

Larger Changes

We’ve also discussed the potential of broader changes, such as adding new levels or removing the level system entirely. Right now, however, the levels are generally understood and serve the needs of organized play, so a full rework at this time would likely cause more confusion than progress. It’s possible that we revisit this in the future, but it would be something that we discuss thoroughly and involve members of the community in, be it long term judges, tournament organizers or other stakeholders.


  1. Mitalca

    Regarding the L3 recommendatios. If you need 2 comprehensive evaluations, and each of them are valid covering 6 of the 7 pillars, there’s no way you can fulfil the “Between their evaluations, each candidate must be rated on each pillar at least twice” requirement. You either need both comprehensive evaluations to cover all 7 pillars, or another general evaluation.