Strategy Schmategy: Finding Your Team

The other day during the June First Week chat about a judge’s first large event, we were asked “What’s the best team to ask to be on for your first event?” My guest and I disagreed, and it prompted me to dive deeper into the topic.

There are a lot of different teams and roles and moving parts at larger events, so it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for. The first step is understanding yourself. As I discussed back in February, self-evaluation is a key component of improvement.

So, before you go digging into what role you should request or look for, ask yourself – What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What do I want to learn? How can I challenge myself?

The first significant divide that most people look at is between Regular REL and Competitive REL. As a certified Level 1 judge, you’ll have the knowledge you need to work comfortably with a Regular REL event, but you may not have enough study of the IPG and associated policy to want to work Competitive REL. All events are hugely important for a large tournament – more players play in Regular REL events than Competitive REL, even if the Competitive REL events are the featured ones.

Regular REL Teams

Because Regular REL events and roles are more broadly applicable, let’s start by looking at those, and seeing if there’s something that appeals to you.

On-Demand Events: On-Demand events are mostly 8-player single-elimination draft pods and 4-player commander pods. These can be hectic, but they’re very repetitive – so if you want to take a single task and master it, then on-demands is a great place to be.

Scheduled Event Head Judge: As a scheduled event head judge, you’ll have an event with usually three or four rounds of play. These can be large, so if you’re not confident in your ability to handle a huge event, I would recommend avoiding Sealed and Modern. It’s also important to be able to project your announcements to the whole event, so it can be good to start with smaller events. It’s a great place to encounter some less-played, but no less exciting formats, like Legacy, Pauper or even Vintage sometimes.

Scheduled Event Floor Judge: Most judges on Scheduled events are the head judge for at least one event – the rest of the time, or if you’re not scheduled to be the head judge of any event, you’ll be a floor judge, floating from event to event, helping with the largest ones, or launching sealed events.

Both of these can sometimes be a little isolating, especially if the staff is stretched thin – you might have your event and no other judges near you to interact with regularly, so it can be rough sometimes. However, they’re probably most similar to what you run at your local game store, and that can be a comfort. 

Kickstart: The Kickstart team isn’t present at every event – their job is to prepare product and launch scheduled events. This involves finding a good place in the venue to place the event (accounting for upcoming events), making sure pairings boards are available, getting sealed product and any promo material prepared and ready to distribute and then getting that into the hands of the head judge before the event begins. This is a very logistically intensive team and therefore not always best suited to new judges. However, you do have a lot of close contact with your team lead, as it is usually a team of two or three people in total, as compared to upwards of ten, twenty, or even thirty judges on scheduled sides. If you think you can learn quickly but also are looking for more concrete and direct guidance throughout the day, Kickstarter might be the fit for you.

Competitive REL Teams

Of course, you may have a lot of experience with Regular REL but are looking to step into more Competitive Events. Maybe you’ve attended large events and done On-Demands and Scheduled Events before, but want to work on the Featured Event.

There are a lot of teams and they aren’t always consistent in their roles and some are beginning to be phased out a little as digital systems take precedence. This doesn’t actually reduce the number of judges needed for the event, as the most common task is to answer calls on the floor, and that’s something that’s still heavily in demand.

Floor: This team is just on the floor answering calls, and helping other teams as needed. It’s logistically light and can be a great place to gain experience with the IPG and dig into some more complex calls. However, it doesn’t have a lot of structure and you may not have a lot of direct interaction with your team or team lead, so if those are things you need, this may not be the team for you. On the other hand, you get to see a little bit of everything and potentially help out, and so you can get a broader view of the whole event.

Paper – Pairings & Slips: These teams have been mostly rotated out in the EventLink era, but they have tasks at the beginning and end of the round. Putting up and taking down pairings, distributing, and sorting match-slips are rote tasks that can be learned very easily. You have a little bit more structure than a floor team, but during the middle of the round, you act as floor judges with no additional responsibilities.

End of Round & Stage: These tasks are also at the beginning and end of the round – making sure that match results come in and that any issues that are brought up to the scorekeeper are handled smoothly at the beginning of the round. End of Round in particular is a bit more structured – starting anywhere from two minutes left in the round to ten minutes and going until all results are in, which can be quite a while. It has a bit more structure, but it also can be an intense role sometimes, as it can feel like everyone is waiting for you, even though you’re just waiting on a single match result.

Deck Checks: This is likely the most structured of the teams or tasks – every round you collect a pair of decks, do a deck check, return the decks, and then do another. This can easily take twenty to twenty-five minutes even if there are no problems or anything that needs to be investigated further. You’re with your team for the majority of that time, so if the structure and the support of your team are important to you, this is a great team. It’s very easy to have policy conversations and have strong team camaraderie on deck checks. 

Flex & Breaks: This team covers other teams when they’re on break or if there’s an emergency and a team needs extra hands. While this can provide a great overview of the entire event to a new judge, you have to learn a bunch of different logistical tasks and don’t have the opportunity to repeat them to gain mastery. As you develop more logistical expertise, this can be a really fun team but can be very stressful if you don’t understand what each role entails.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re trying to figure out where you should end up and what you should ask for. And this only covers the roles where you’re judging on the floor, not other event-staff roles, including scorekeeping, registration, or prize wall. Figure out what events you’re interested in, what formats you like, and what you’d like to learn. Find what challenges you (in a good way) and seek that out!

Of course, remember that your requests are just that – requests. A tournament organizer might not be able to fit you where you ask, especially if you ask later in the process. It can be daunting to make a request of someone who chose to staff you, but the people making the schedules would rather have some opinions, so they can use you to develop a framework and places the rest of the staff around a core of judges who will be doing exactly what they want to be.

That’s about it for now – think about what you’d like to get out of your events, and then think about what team might be able to help you reach your goals!
Continue the conversation: Share your advice and experiences on different teams in the Judge Academy Discord


  1. Emilien Wild

    We do have a different understanding of what the role of the Floor team is. Here is the usual instructions I send to my Floor team lead:

    Floor: Come up with a Floor Coverage plan based on the Floor Plan, paying attention to breaks and duties that may keep some judges away from the Floor.
    Communicate that plan to other Team Leads.
    At Event:
    Pay attention that areas are properly covered and act whenever needed. Setup tape around the top tables to prevent spectators from clogging the area.”

    For me, the floor team is the team not in charge of covering the floor themselves (while they of course do take calls, it’s the same as everybody else), but on making sure the floor is covered in an efficient way, breaking “black holes” when needed, dispatching judges accordingly, coordinating with EOR, Breaks and Deck check to adjust process to ensure a proper and smooth coverage.
    And contrary to what you wrote, for these reasons, it has a lot of contact with the team lead (and often other team leads).