Julia Hedberg wrote a really great article last year introducing the concept of table judging. It was a comprehensive guide to preparation, at-the-table techniques, and player management, and it covered virtually all the fundamentals and skills you need to be a proficient table judge. Today I’ll build on Julia’s work by delving into some of the specific problems you might commonly encounter.
Table judging is one of the skills judges regularly overlook, since it rarely comes up at local and Hobby League levels. Table judging usually occurs toward the end of stressful higher-level tournaments such as a Regional or a Shonen Jump Championship. Compound that stress and level of competition with an inexperienced table judge and the results can be downright bewildering sometimes. I’d like to address some of the common errors that I have seen in this area—made by first-time players and seasoned veterans alike. As a table judge, you should keep an eye out for this kind of behavior, and correct it when it occurs. If you’re aware of the potential problems, it’ll be a lot easier to recognize them and keep the match flowing smoothly.
Public Enemy #1: Treeborn Frog
This cute little amphibian has seen an extraordinary amount of play since its first appearance in Shadow of Infinity. Not only is Treeborn Frog excellent at maintaining field presence and acting as tribute fodder, it’s also a table judge’s nastiest nightmare. Since it constantly bounces back and forth from the field to the graveyard, players are constantly searching for ways to remind themselves to activate its effect. I’ve seen copies of Treeborn Frog turned sideways, upside-down, flipped around, and flying out of the game just so that their absentminded owners could recall that their cold-blooded buddy is ready and waiting. While a rare few head judges will let players use such measures, most are opposed to it. Be sure to check with your head judge to determine his or her stance on the matter before enforcing your own. Generally, though, it is up to the individual players to keep their respective card effects in mind while they are playing the game.
Public Enemy #2: Nobleman of Crossout
This is another card that players just don’t remember to resolve properly. I’ll refresh your memory on exactly what Nobleman of Crossout does. If a flip effect monster such as Morphing Jar or Dekoichi the Battlechanted Locomotive is destroyed and removed from play via Nobleman of Crossout’s effect, then both players must search their decks and verify this, even if they do not have any copies of the removed card in their decks. Then the decks must be shuffled, which may seem like an unimportant point. Shuffling has drastic interactions with effects that return cards from the graveyard to the deck (like Feather of the Phoenix and Raiza the Storm Monarch). Speaking of shuffling, that brings me to my next point.
Finger Malfunction: Improper Shuffling
The most common error I’ve seen is how players shuffle. I can’t count the number of veteran players I’ve seen who don’t know how to properly shuffle their own deck. Thankfully, this issue is effortless to fix and shouldn’t be a problem after the first time you encounter it. When a player is shuffling either deck, the deck should be held parallel to the table so that neither player can see the face of any of the cards. This ensures that randomization is complete without any player knowing what may or may not be drawn during the course of the game.
Public Enemy #3: Combo Decks
Combo decks can be a lot of fun to play. They do some extremely unique things to help win games that most players don’t even consider. Decks like Mike Powers’ Magical Explosion deck or Demise, King of Armageddon OTKs can be impressive mind-bending machines, but they aren’t without predicaments for you as a judge. Diamond Dude Turbo and Demise OTK can do a lot of special summoning each turn, and it’s important to keep track of the player’s normal summon. You also need to watch out for cards like Spell Reproduction and Divine Sword - Phoenix Blade, making sure that the player doesn’t forget to pay costs or pay them incorrectly.
White Collar Work: Card and Game State Management
Most players keep their graveyards and removed-from-play piles in nice orderly stacks that are easily managed and navigated by either player throughout the duel. But as always, there are exceptions—players who do improper things like fanning their graveyards across the playing field or placing their removed-from-play cards face down under the playmat. Both players’ graveyards and removed-from-play piles are public knowledge and therefore must be kept in plain sight. Cards removed from play should usually be face down only if the effect removing them says so, such as the effect text of Different Dimension Capsule. After all, you might need to reference cards removed from play when effects like that of Return From the Different Dimension become a possibility. Failure to keep an orderly game causes headaches for everyone involved, from spectators to the duelists in the match to any reporters who may be covering the game.
Houston, We Have a Problem: Miscommunication
Unfortunate scenarios can arise when your players are not communicating with each other. Damage not being recorded properly, an extra card being drawn, a trap card being activated hastily, and countless other procedural errors can easily be avoided if both players announce their moves and intents clearly to each other. Sadly, this happens even when a table judge isn’t watching the match. Before the match even begins, you should explain that communication needs to be kept clear at all times. A player should announce his or her plays openly, and if the card he or she is playing has a target (such as Premature Burial or Exiled Force), that duelist should also announce what the intended target is at point of activation. Reiterate your point if your players’ communication skills are still lacking. You’re not there to be a crutch, but as the judge, you need to be absolutely positive about what is happening in the game at any given time.
Reading is Your Friend
When I first started to judge, I thought I could remember every card verbatim and recite them to any player who wanted to know. Sadly, this turned out to be ridiculous, and quite frankly, isn’t very practical. If a player activates or summons a card that you are unfamiliar with, don’t be afraid to ask to read it. You would be doing a greater disservice to the players if you were unsure and moved on with the game.
I hope this list has given you an idea of what to expect if you have never table-judged before. The vast majority of these issues come from bad habits that players develop among their casual opponents and playtesting groups. It is your duty as a judge to discourage these habits, but not to punish the players. All of these things are straightforward to fix and shouldn’t require more than a simple, “Please do it the proper way.”