Today, Wizards of the Coast announced that the Judge Program would be ending on October 1, 2019 and will be replaced with an independent organization called the Judge Academy.

Sara Mox, the community manager for the Judge Program at Wizards, said that most of the program’s functions would be transferred to the Judge Academy, which is owned and operated by Tim Shields, the operator of Cascade Games. The Judge Academy will be the place where “the judge community will organize its leadership, level structure, educational program, and promotional distribution.”

Currently, “Wizards engages with judges by contracting them for competitive [Magic: the Gathering] events,” Mox explained. Wizards also communicates directly with Regional Coordinators and Program Coordinators and distributes exclusive Judge Promo cards.  All existing judge contracts will be terminated on October 1, 2019 with the end of the Judge Program.

Meet the Judge Academy

The Judge Academy said that its “mission is to train and certify quality event staff for any company that utilizes organized play.” Their first client is Wizards of the Coast, meaning that they will take on the role of the Judge Program in providing judges for Mythic Championships and the like.

“We see Judge Certifications as professional certifications,” they continued. “That means that if you want to judge as a hobby, we will provide online learning, access to event information, forums, and a community with which to connect. However, if you want to make a career out of judging, we will also provide you with an avenue to do so.”

“Starting with Magic and expanding outward, we will work to set up official certifications for multiple games, helping to create multiple revenue streams for those who want to judge Magic and/or other games full time, while bringing the professionalism, logistic skills, and customer service that Magic Judges are known for to the rest of the gaming industry.”

The Judge Academy will transition away from the Judge Program’s structure of Regional Coordinators towards a system of Community Managers. With their launch on October 1, 2019, the Judge Academy will start with 10 regions made up 20 of the 27 current Judge Program regions, which will cover more than 75% of all judges worldwide. “We will continue to launch into other areas as soon as we can be sure we are in compliance with local laws and regulations,” they said.

Certified Judging Levels for a Membership Fee

According to their FAQ, the judge levels will still exist under the Judge Academy’s system and judges will be able to maintain their current level.

However, the Judge Academy will begin charging yearly membership fees that will be required to maintain your status as an active judge. Those fees will range from free (for new Rules Advisors) to $400 for Level 3 judges.

Rules Advisor – Free or $50
Level 1 – $100
Level 2 – $200
Level 3 – $400

Judge Program Troubles

The judge program has not been without controversy over the past several years, beginning with an incident in late 2015 where a handful of judges were suspended by the DCI for their indirect involvement in the leaking of several upcoming Magic cards. Most of those suspensions were eventually lifted early. But the damage was done between Wizards of the Coast and the judge community and the incident revealed the faultlines between Wizards and their judges.

Also in 2015, Paul Yale, who had been a Magic Judge for two decades, filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that judges are employees of Wizards of the Coast. This suit relied heavily on similar suits taking place against companies like Uber and the question of what responsibilities employers have when it comes to contractors. Yale’s suit was dismissed in 2017.

In 2018, Magic’s alt-right community went on a crusade against the Judge Program, only serving to further damage the relationship between judges and the rest of the Magic community. The controversy deepened the divide between Wizards and the judge community after Wizards of the Coast made the decision to require store owners and tournament organizers to to be responsible for performing background checks on all contractors—including judges.

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