As much as I enjoy traveling to nearby Regional Qualifiers and YCS's all over the United States and Canada, I'll always have the opinion that the most important events you go to as a player are your locals. You experience this game the most at the place you're most likely to be, and that's near home.

Your local is where you'll play most of your Yu-Gi-Oh! whether you realize it or not. As such, having a well-run local's a priority for quite a few reasons: a healthy and happy play environment encourages a positive play experience, which in turn means repeat business (your local store likes this); more players means more opportunities for trades (your players like this); and having more players may mean additional compensation for the judge depending on what the store and the judge agree on (as the judge, you like this). There is literally nothing to lose from having the best-run local possible.

While there are a few factors that are outside of your control as a judge, having a well-run local means being the leader. I alluded to this in my So You Want to Judge a Local Black and White from last year, but as the judge you set the tone for the event, so its success hinges on your actions.

This week on Black and White: Running a Better Local. Last year I went over the basics, but this time I'll detail how to make your tournament even better and help you keep the players you have.

Follow Policy
This part is the easiest thing you can do as a judge, because it's literally spelled out in Black and White. The three Tournament Policy Documents detail exactly what needs to be done to run a tournament.

If you're running a tournament at an Official Tournament Store, there are additional rules that need to be followed as well. These rules are located in the OTS Operations Document, which the OTS should have a copy of. Of note, one of those rules is that every player has to receive commensurate prizing equal to the entry fee. That means if the entry fee is $5, the store has to give each player $5 worth of product. Usually, this is an Astral Pack which is a participation pack that can only be obtained at OTS's. Your regular player base may not like this particular rule, but it's actually in the store's best interest and the players' best interests to follow this rule. Why? Because it gives an incentive for non-competitive players to enter the tournament. Getting more people in the store is better for the reasons I stated above: more chances for trades and additionally, it shows the Tournament Organizer that there are more players for the game, which potentially means more product offerings and tournaments down the line.

While I understand players who consistently top tournaments and who played the game before Konami ran Organized Play prefer to ignore the commensurate prizing rule, it's better in the long term to follow it. Think of it like this: Astral Pack foils end up being worth a good amount after the pack's no longer offered, right? Well, get those cards now and reap the benefits later. You'll also have the opportunity to trade for the cards right after people crack packs.

Tournament Policy also details how much time should be in each round and how many rounds should be played. That info's in the policy documents; it's not tucked away and it's not privileged information. It does no one any favors to run tournaments differently than how policy specifies.

Enforce Penalties Consistently / Establish Good Habits
When players come back from Regional Qualifiers and complain about how they got a Game Loss because they had additional cards in their deck box, it's probably because they did it all the time at their local and the behavior was never corrected. Local tournaments are where infractions are best caught, because it's also where they can be addressed with as little impact to matches and gameplay as possible.

There are a lot of infractions that occur at Regional Qualifiers that I think are habit-based and can easily be fixed at the local level.

Cards in the Deck Box: Like I mentioned above, cards in the deck box count as cards in the deck, so when a duelist gets deck checked, all those extra cards get counted even if there's no way the loose cards could ever be Mistaken as being part of the player's deck.

Take-Backs and Retractions: Tournament Policy is clear on this. Moves can't be retracted. Once a player makes a play, that's the action they've taken. As long as an action was legally allowed, take-backs and do-overs and whatever you want to call it should not be granted.

Slow Play: Yeah, I know. It's a touchy subject, but it still has to be addressed. If a duelist is playing at a slow pace, and it's never brought to their attention, they'll never know they need to play faster. When those same players get to a Regional or a YCS and get hit with their first penalty for Slow Play, they'll be completely caught off guard since they were under the impression they were playing at an acceptable pace the entire time.

Look for Slow Play infractions at the local level and your players will be better prepared to deal with it at the Regional level. Even if they never receive a Slow Play penalty, developing the habit of playing at a quick pace will end matches before 40 minutes, and that's good for everyone; matches going into time leave a bad taste for the players in the match, and matches ending as soon as possible move the tournament along, which everyone will appreciate.

Life Point Notes: Tournament Policy actually requires Life Points to be kept on paper by both players in a match. Calculators can be used to assist in the calculations, but the Life Point totals themselves have to be kept on paper. If you see players not using paper at your local, you can remind them to use paper in the future. If they still don't, then they haven't listened to the instructions of a tournament official, which fits the description for Unsporting Conduct – Minor.

Now, I'm not saying you have to assign a penalty in this fashion, but I'm simply pointing out it's an option if players are being stubborn. You can especially assign this penalty if you spoke to the players about it, then they get into a Life Point dispute and either of the players don't have a paper record.

Declaring Phases and Activation Opportunities: Ever since the Fast Effect Timing page was published two years ago, it still boggles my mind that a good majority of players don't declare phase changes. I'm not saying this because I'm being pedantic, but there's actually a gameplay advantage to declaring phases: declaring phase changes prevents your opponent from exploiting your errors to their advantage. As a Head Judge, I've had to answer too many appeals regarding situations where the turn player attempted to Special Summon a game-changing monster like Master Hyperion that they topdecked, while their opponent wants to assert their opportunity to activate Mind Crush before Main Phase 1.

Situations like that can be avoided entirely, by declaring phase changes every time. That way, when your opponent gives you the thumbs up after you ask "Main Phase 1?" and you drop your Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, they'll have no recourse to stop it with Mind Crush: you've given them the opportunity to activate the card, but by declaring phases, you camouflaged what card you had until the game allowed you to play it.

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As an aside, I've started using this habit in a much different way. One of the decks I'm currently testing uses Armades, Keeper of Boundaries. If I have it and another monster out, I'll declare "Battle Phase?" but I'll also declare "Start Step… anything?" The reason is the same as declaring the "Main Phase 1" before moving into it; both players have the opportunity to activate Fast Effects in any Step or Phase, so the game forces both players to enter and exit the Start Step before attacks can be declared. Usually, the Start Step isn't relevant for anything, but the game's going to give my opponent the opportunity to activate cards and effects, therefore I have to allow it as well.

Then, once we go into the Battle Step, I get the chance to attack with Armades and my opponent will have no recourse to activate anything because I gave them every opportunity to activate effects that the game allowed. Any claim they make saying that I didn't give them the chance to activate cards will hold no water. Simply put, declaring phase and step changes is strategically better, and will also provide a better play experience; sorting out miscommunications is never, ever fun for either the players or the judges involved.

Be Available for the Players
While running a local is certainly easier than a Regional or a YCS, as the judge, you should keep your attention to the matches at hand regardless. You need to watch out for everything I've described here. The players will certainly call you over for rules questions, but they usually won't tattle for little things like cards in the deck box or not keeping life on paper. And to be fair, you can't expect players to rat out other players for little things. It's on you as the judge to seek out the bad habits and address them as needed. This is all part of being a professional judge (which is something I've also written about previously on a few occasions).

Hopefully this advice will help you retain your players in the long term! If you have questions about anything I discussed here, card interactions, game mechanics or tournament policy, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered on a future edition of Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino