Over the years, taking a judge call has become second nature to me. I've repeated the experience so many times that knowing what questions to ask next and how to get the information I need to make a decision has become a reflex. But when I was a newbie and just starting to run my local, this was something I had to figure out and piece together on my own; there was no more-experienced judge in my local area to get feedback from.
So it seems appropriate to give a few pointers on how to ask the questions you need to properly resolve a judge call! This week on Black and White: Asking the Right Questions.
The First Impression
For this guide, we're going to assume you're a floor judge at a Regional Qualifier. Keep in mind the players and their mindset, what round you're in, and what range of tables are in the zone you're assigned to. This is important to note because the questions you ask highly competitive players are probably not the same questions you'd ask less competitive or casual players.
We'll go over a fictitious example, but one that's pretty typical. Let's say you're in round 6 of 8, and your table range is 33 through 48. The duelists at this range can still possibly get their invite if they win out. Keep that in mind when you answer judge calls and get questions; players are trying to win their matches and will use whatever information they have available to them as best they can, just as you would use the tools at your disposal to complete any task. Sadly, I'm fully aware judges can be used as tools (and that some players will believe that every single one of us is simply a tool in every pejorative sense of the word), but that comes with the territory.
An Example: Rules Question
So you hear "JUDGE" and you see a hand go up. Upon getting to the table, what I usually do, if both players are being orderly, is address the player who called for the judge. In this case the player lifts a Soul Exchange face-up from one of his Spell & Trap Card Zones and shows it to me. His question, simply asked, is "does this target?" The card is an older printing, so directing the player to read the freakin' card isn't the correct answer.
Now, assuming you're an encyclopedia of dueling like I'm routinely accused of being, you'd immediately recall that Soul Exchange does indeed target, and if you didn't know any better, you might snap-answer "yes" and the judge call would be resolved. However, that would be an extremely Premature Burial of the situation.
The situation is usually not what it seems. When you take a judge call, you're not only answering the question as it's presented to you, you also have to make sure the answer you give correctly applies to the situation at hand. For instance, the player asking about Soul Exchange didn't tell you that it's Main Phase 2 and he's trying to force his opponent's Spirit Reaper to destroy itself with its own effect. This is knowledge you'd have to gain by asking "what's happening in the game right now?" or something to that effect. Now, with the knowledge that it's currently Main Phase 2, you realize you can't answer the question just yet. You now have to determine if Soul Exchange was indeed activated, because if it was, the player who attempted to activate it committed a Procedural Error - Minor, which would necessitate a warning.
For my experience, simply asking "did you activate Soul Exchange" is a mixed bag. Sometimes, you'll get the answer you're looking for, sometimes the player will realize that you're thinking about giving out a penalty and then they'll try to do everything they can to get you to not give him the penalty. This could include explaining many things for way too long, or some other method of changing the subject, or something.
It's unfortunate that it has to be described like this, but in terms of our roles in tournaments, judges and players are at times friends, and at other times adversaries. When it comes to ensuring fair play via the issuing of penalties, the relationship is adversarial. You as the judge need to ensure that the game's played fairly, which means that if infractions occur, penalties need to be given out. The player's self-interest, obviously, is to not get penalties because those could result in losses. Ideally, the player would take preventative action to avoid infractions all together, but sometimes, Mistakes occur. For something like an illegal activation, which is usually unintentional, it's my hope that players are honest about their actions and just speak freely about what actually happened. Unfortunately, I have a layer of jade that forces me to expect that everyone is going to act in their own self-interest no matter what the situation.
So, what I'd recommend in a situation like this, instead of directly asking "did you activate Soul Exchange", is ask objective questions to obtain the information needed for you to make an informed decision. I'd ask each player to re-enact the gameplay and motions that occurred just before you were called over. After confirming with both players that their re-enactments were accurate, you can use what you observed to answer the question "did the player attempt to activate Soul Exchange"? If you determine the answer to be no, the judge call's resolved, no infraction was committed, and no penalty should be given out. Issue the time extension as needed. If yes, then you'll need to give the necessary penalty and mark it down on the match result slip. Then, if you get appealed, you can let the Head Judge know the results of your questions before they get to the table. It'll save the Head Judge some time, and that benefits the rest of the tournament.
An Example: Player Management
This example is one that occasionally happens at a large event and can bring the entire tournament to a screeching halt if not handled correctly. Knowing how to do so is important for keeping things moving so you don't get out of the tournament hall after midnight.
You get called to the table by both players, who have each raised their hands and yelled for a JUDGE in louder-than-usual volume.
You get to the table, and both of them start talking over each other trying to explain things and stuff. But you're not picking up on any of what they're saying because they're both talking at the same time.
The first thing you need to do is put on your mediator hat, because you are now a mediator. Various methods for this exist, but I recommend getting both players' attention first, then asking the turn player to explain the situation while reminding the non-turn player that they will have their chance to explain the situation after they're done. Then, ask the non-turn player for their explanation, asking the turn player for their cooperation as they don't interrupt. After this, ask the players any questions you have regarding their explanations.
Arguments between players usually stem from a lack of communication. If you've read Black and White enough, you'll know my stance on miscommunication: it's completely avoidable. This issue, straight up, shouldn't happen. But it does, and my prevailing theory is that players don't know it's not ok to not communicate. Some players are of the opinion that it's the Main Phase as soon as the turn player attempts to do anything in the Main Phase, and that it's not the Battle Phase until I nudge my monster forward slightly with my finger, and that pushing all of my monsters forward with both hands into an empty field while saying "attack for game" is ok.
It's actually not ok.
I'm getting a little bit off topic, but at your local, encourage communication. That's the declaration of phases and the announcement of every action a duelist takes; every effect activation, every pass on an option to respond. Everything. And at the local level, there exists the penalty "Caution" which is like a warning but doesn't get documented. If you're a local judge, use the "Caution" penalty appropriately to shape the correct behavior so your players avoid these awful player management situations in larger tournaments. And if you don't know what a "Caution" is, you need to read the Penalty Guidelines.
… anyway. Back to the example…
As you're asking questions to both players, you'll definitely want to keep in mind that the crux of their disagreement is something you can't directly ask because they won't agree on the answer. This should be obvious, but it's easy to forget in the middle of it all or when you're trying to sort out facts. Instead, work with what you can figure out and what is agreed with, and build from there. If you can figure out at what point things started going wrong, you'll be better prepared to figure out a proper resolution. And, of course, especially in a communication issue, you'll have to either rule in one player's favor or go with a decision that favors no one. In either case, before you make your ruling, remind them of the fact that because they can't both be correct, at least one of them won't like you. Acknowledging that you understand that you're disappointing someone softens the blow a bit.
Navigating player management situations is something you get better with as you experience them. But knowing how to ask the right questions will ensure that you'll get the information you need; that information will in turn help you reach quick and agreeable resolutions.
If you have questions about… asking questions?… or card interactions, or tournament policy or game mechanics, send me an e-mail (with one question, please!) to email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future Court of Appeals!