As much as it surprises people when they see me at a Regional Qualifier in normal clothes, I do in fact play Yu-Gi-Oh. And although I'm routinely recognized as a judge, I'm not always judging. I've started playing more often since the WCQ this past summer, since I'd like to return to the WCQ in 2016 as a player. I earned my only WCQ invite in 2010, for the 2011 WCQ, but I opted to judge that year instead, and playing in the WCQ is something I'd like to do at some point.

And it may surprise you to know that being a judge can actually make you a better player! If you've taken the Judge certification tests and are a member of the Judge Program, it might be worth your while to plan your Regionals and YCS's accordingly because judging even a few events can give you a different perspective towards the game. And the booster packs aren't bad either.

This week on Black and White: how doing judge things helps me be better at Yu-Gi-Oh.

Registration Things
When you're working large events like Regionals, you get a unique view of the tournament. If you're involved in deck list collection, you'll see how the process usually goes and you'll see where incremental improvements can be made.

For example: one of the biggest slow-downs at registration is the player not having everything they need to have ready when it's their turn to register. As a player, you'll notice this delay once - when you register - but if you're on the other side of the computer doing the actual data input and all the processing, you'll notice that delay happen a whole bunch of times. If you do the math, a seven-second delay that happens 150 times is 17 and a half minutes wasted.

I mention this because delays in the tournament are usually the result of finishing up registration, getting everyone who was in line into the system before pairing Round 1. An individual player will likely notice that the tournament is late, but can't figure out why. Sometimes it's as easy as "registration took too long" and you'd have to figure out why that happened, and there can be loads of explanations, but as a judge on the other side of the table you get a better idea of the workflow and you get an appreciation for why judges and event staff repeat seemingly mundane instructions on what forms and items need to be filled out.

Deck Things
Should your responsibilities during a Regional be deck-team related, you can get very easy lessons in what not to do as a player. A short list includes:

- Forget important information on a deck list, like your own name. I see this happen more often that I care to admit.

- Illegible handwriting.

- No COSSY ID written in. This seems like a nit-picky detail, but the COSSY ID is valuable if someone has a common name and multiple people with that name enter the tournament. "Yeah, like that will happen" you may be thinking. "Well, it did happen," I will reply.

#####CARDID= 17576 #####

- Incomplete deck list. This one's super-unfortunate when it comes up because game rules allow you to run less than 15 cards in both the Side and Extra Decks, and should there be cards in the deck that aren't on the list, you'll get hit with a Game Loss and you'll have to remove the cards from your deck. Depending on what card it is, that can be a tournament-ending experience.

Side story: that happened to a player at a Regional I was the Head Judge for. The player didn't include Virgil, Rockstar of the Burning Abyss on his deck list, got the game loss in an early round, and had to remove the only copy of Virgil from his Extra Deck. Granted, he won the rest of his matches and Top 8'd, but still. Don't handicap yourself if you don't have to.

Gameplay Things
This is actually a "chicken and the egg" scenario. I honestly couldn't tell you if I started declaring phase changes and writing down Life Points on paper before I became a judge or after, but if I had to guess, it probably happened shortly after I started judging Regionals where I saw players' bad habits front and center.

Sorting out Life Point disputes is no picnic, because no one is happy with the result. Usually, a problem only gets to a judge call after many turns have passed with a discrepancy, making a game rewind impossible. I can describe the "best" solution to a LP dispute as essentially patchwork. Fixing phase change disputes is also one of the hardest parts of judging for a lot of the same reasons: the solution will make at least one person unhappy, probably both.

So if, as a judge, you encounter the bad habits that unnaturally influence the outcome of the game, you're going to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to you when you play in a tournament yourself. All of a sudden, the argument stops being "hey, the judge is telling me to do a thing but I don't wanna" to "hey wait, I can keep track of Life Points to prevent my opponent from protesting the state of the game."

Because once you realize that there's a tangible, personal benefit towards keeping LP on paper, you'll want to do it whenever you're playing. Most people won't come to that realization until they see an LP dispute unfold in front of them, whether it be as a player or a judge. Well, I can tell you from experience that you don't want to be sitting down across from someone when they say "I have you at (an amount lower than you expect)." If you're the judge in the situation, you'll experience first-hand what judges have to go through to "fix" the situation, and you'll likely not want to sit through that again.

Collector And Deckbuilder Things
I get the feeling that most players don't collect cards to have them; they just play decks and trade them off when they're done. Well, part of my experience as a player is to at least have the cards to put together a wide variety of strategies just to see how they play. After all, if Konami's going to make cards, you might as well see what they do, right?

So how do I collect cards? Nowadays, primarily through judging. While it's certainly within my means to pay retail for a box or two of booster packs, I can kill two birds with one stone by judging. I help run a tournament which allows others to play and supports the game while I also get cards, completing my collection and allowing me the chance to play around with different decks as I feel the need. And building decks from the ground up with my own collection lets me generate my own list before seeing how others did it.

Personally, learning my own strategy is easier than adopting someone else's. That isn't to say that "net decking" is bad, but I find that understanding the Reasoning behind a card choice is important for justifying its use or exclusion from a deck. Sometimes, those card choices are easy to figure out, but if you can't see a use for various tech cards, you'll need to playtest with them or make substitutions and incremental changes as you test.

Acquiring cards from booster packs lets me do that; if I just copied a list I'd buy specific singles instead, which is ok for completing a pile of 40 cards but doesn't give me a better understanding of the options a particular strategy allows. I realize this might be an unpopular opinion, but I find knowing more about a strategy's potential is more important than knowing "what works." You also need to know why it works, and that means trying cards on your own. Getting packs – specifically, judge packs – let's me do that.

So I typically judge a Regional or two every Regional season. That's two or three booster boxes of cards per set depending on what my position in each tournament is. I'll usually amass six of every common in a normal 100-card release, store those in a cardboard box, and complete the rares and holos binder as much as possible, filling in gaps with trades and singles purchases if I need to.

To sum this up, for the past few years, judging has been a huge influence in my growth and experience as a player, and I'd like to think that volunteering for even a few events can put things in perspective for anyone who wants to see what it's like. I guarantee that the knowledge you pick up can positively carry over to your next trip to the table!

If you have any questions about judging, tournament policy, card interactions or game mechanics, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to and your question could be answered in the next Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino

Joe is a Yu-Gi-Oh! judge and player from Long Island, New York. He entered a local recently, started 2-0 and dropped. Some men just want to watch the world burn.