Policy Wonks: The Competitive Judge’s Guide to Regular REL

Hello everyone and welcome to the introductory installment of Policy Wonks! This column will be dedicated to discussing current trends in tournament policy, giving new resources for understanding penalties, and diving into interesting edge cases that put our documents to the test!

Today, we’re going to pay some deference to the reality that we’ve been living in for the last two years. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed many aspects of our daily lives. It has also led to the long-term suspension of most Competitive REL Magic tournaments.

Many judges that are regular fixtures at large Competitive REL events (such as Grand Prix and MagicFest events) have a strong preference for judging at Competitive. This is relatable since the Infraction Procedure Guide is a complicated document and takes dedicated study to understand and implement well. Once you’re comfortable with it, it can be very easy to develop a strong preference for using it.

That said, the IPG doesn’t get a lot of use these days. Most of the returning Magic events are store-level, such as Friday Night Magic and Prereleases (including the upcoming Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Prereleases). Since these constitute the bulk of Magic judging opportunities these days, it will be useful to brush up on the primary differences when transitioning from judging Competitive REL to judging Regular REL Magic events.

Big Tip #1: You won’t be issuing penalties.

Now, clearly this isn’t 100% true. A thorough review of the Judging at Regular REL document clearly shows that Game Loss and Disqualification are valid penalties to issue in certain situations. That said, the vast majority of common situations will involve no penalties at all. Normal game issues won’t result in Warnings, errors with card draws won’t receive Hidden Card Errors, and Tardiness is a lot more lax. It’s a lot less bookkeeping and much lower stress both for you and for your players, so lean into the more casual atmosphere!

Big Tip #2: You can fix things!

The IPG is written so that as many situations as possible are handled in the same way, every time. For that reason, our ability to fix problems at Competitive REL is hamstrung significantly in the name of consistency. Not so at Regular! We have a wider latitude for what situations can be backed up, but the JAR does guide us to not “go crazy with this!” We have some latitude to decide whether missed triggers go on the stack, only if we deem that it is not “too disruptive” to do so. Overall, the JAR is less prescriptive than the IPG when it comes to how to fix in-game issues.

Big Tip #3: Talk to your players!

All the entries under General Unwanted Behaviors in the JAR are things we don’t want players to do. Without prescribed penalties, our primary tool for this is player education. Anytime an unwanted behavior comes up, you are tasked with making it clear to the player that their actions are undesirable and, most importantly, why. Most of these are unintentional or done out of ignorance of the rules, so it is our job to correct that. Doing well at this task will pay dividends down the road, as this may prevent this player from making these mistakes at one of your future Competitive events!

Big Tip #4: HAVE FUN!

By and large, Regular REL tournaments are more relaxed than Competitive tournaments. The tournament policy is certainly less strict and often the stakes are far lower. Players are more willing to try weird or wacky strategies. These make great opportunities to get to know your local players and develop a rapport with them. Doing so will make any potential future difficult conversations easier (if you need to investigate someone for Cheating, for example). At the end of the day, you are there to make sure that the players are having fun playing a game. It helps if you’re getting in on the fun as well!

That does it for our first edition of Policy Wonks! Thank you for spending your time with me today. This is a very different world from what many of us are used to and it’s not clear if or when that world will return. In the meantime, we should embrace our current normal and make these Regular REL events the best they can be.

If you’d like to contact me, you can find me on the Judge Academy Discord server or by email to daniel@judgeacademy.com