What to expect from Magic Judges on inclusion

Have you ever heard someone say “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic?” when asked to stop saying something like “that’s so gay”?

Logistically speaking it can’t really work that way – if we were allowed to act however we wanted without a care for how it affects other players then the chances people will do something to ruin each others’ experiences skyrocket. In other words there’s a silent implied second part to that sentence: “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic without giving any thought to whether our actions are (inadvertently) detracting from others’ ability to do the same?”

Unfortunately, the majority of players hear sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks in places that they play Magic, and a considerable proportion of players report that such comments reduce the chance that they will return to play Magic in that place again.

Luckily, there’s no need to get into a philosophical debate when it comes up in your Local Game Store because it’s literally in the rules that anywhere sanctioned Magic is played must be welcoming and inclusive regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, ability, or anything else that has nothing to do with the game.

While all players have a role to play in changing the reality of this situation, lets drill down on what players can expect from Magic Judges.

Judges have a responsibility to ensure that places Magic is played are welcoming and inclusive

Magic Judges are all bound by the Judge Code of Conduct which has the following to say about creating welcoming environments (taken directly from the code but the order has been changed here):

  1. Judges have the same responsibilities as all members of the Magic community to avoid actions which could reasonably be expected to cause someone else to feel harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. Judges should not express views that would make other members of the Magic community feel unsafe or unwilling to attend an event where that judge was on staff.
  2. Judges should not allow others to create a bad environment by inaction.
  3. They have additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where these behaviors are not accepted and all members of the Magic community can feel welcome.

First and foremost, hopefully players will never experience behaviour from judges directly that discourages them from feeling welcome but if you do and are not comfortable pointing out the code of conduct to the judge in question, you can always use the Judge feedback form (which includes an anonymous option).

The second bullet directs judges not to contribute to an unwelcoming environment through inaction. So if you have a problem relating to discrimination, judges can be expected to assist with solving that problem. As discussed in the judge seminar video below, it’s not always clear when and how to intervene but generally these principles were agreed to be helpful for judges:

  • Try to intervene as soon as possible, even at casual events, to send a message to other players about what is not acceptable language. Saying something is much better than saying nothing here.
  • Try to assume that players are not intending to be malicious with words that cause other people discomfort. Starting with a simple “that’s not cool” or “we don’t use those words here” is sufficient surprisingly often. Saying something that allows the player to learn is much better than putting them on the defensive.
  • Every situation is unique so use judgment for when to deviate from the default of speaking up and/or whether later in depth follow up with the player is needed.

Finally, the code directs judges to actively work to improve the welcoming atmosphere of and contribute to a culture of inclusivity everywhere Magic is played through an “additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where … all members of the Magic community can feel welcome”. Some ways that judges can do this include:

  • Don’t always use male pronouns for hypothetical players & judges
  • Call out “small things” even when not judging
  • Approach game stores where they judge about regular events where inclusiveness is highlighted 
  • Add this small phrase to opening announcements on Planeswalkers for Diversity / Lady Planeswalker Society nights: “Treat your opponent well regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else. Of course this is always expected where Magic is played but we are paying particular attention to it tonight.”
  • Add this small phrase to all opening announcements: “Treat your opponent with respect regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else – remember your opponent is a human not a gremlin.” (or zombie or eldrazi or whatever other monster is on theme).
  • Get involved with the Judges for Diversity judge project.


There are actual rules for handling discriminatory behaviour at all levels of play 

The focus at Regular Rules Enforcement Level (like Friday Night Magic, a Pre-Release, or most other sanctioned events at your Local Game Store) is educational. Since there are no official warnings at Regular, judges should start by assuming players are unaware of why their comments are not allowed and inform players of what is expected. If a player becomes argumentative, the judge can explain that whether this policy makes sense to them or not is immaterial. Rather, explain that it is not allowed in Wizards Play Network stores / at sanctioned Magic events. They will need to comply and can discuss their opinion of the policy at another time. Persistent and unrepentant behavior constitutes what is referred to as a “Serious Problem” in Judging at Regular. There are no game/match losses at regular so a player who continues risks being disqualified and asked to leave the premises.

At Competitive events like Grand Prix, judges have additional tools to use in the form of warnings and match loss penalties.

Unsporting Conduct (USC) – Major is a match loss  and is defined as occurring when:  A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.

There is some discretion here but it’s important to avoid “gamers like to be irreverent / I was just joking with my friend who doesn’t mind being called that” types of excuses. The Major and Minor USC infractions do NOT depend on if anyone felt uncomfortable or on whether harm was intended. An infraction is committed if language was used that reasonably could be expected to make someone at the event feel uncomfortable.

USC – Minor is a warning (though multiple warnings could result in an upgrade to game loss) and covers things that are generally disruptive but would not necessarily be bothersome to the average person on the street.

For more detail on what kinds of scenarios would be infractions see: How to make Unsporting Conduct Minor and Major rulings with Diversity in mind (Judge Seminar Presentation by Violet Edgar)

Many judges are new to handling such scenarios and might need some feedback

Although these rules described above clearly support the importance of judges creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, there is a lot of subjectivity in interpretation. Unlike common rules interactions where you can expect most judges to give similar rulings, many judges could miss the mark simply from lack of experience with these situations. That’s why the Inclusive Environments Victoria BC 2016 Judge Conference Presentation (PDF) includes four real life scenarios and group discussions about how to handle them. The video includes the report back from small groups where you can hear that around half of the judges present might not have understood how to handle the situations at first. If you’re facing some kind of discrimination and the judges involved don’t seem to be taking it as seriously as this article suggests they should, feel free to get in touch using our contact form here as we can help with this – it’s not your job to educate your judge but it is someone’s!

More Resources

Organizations working on improving inclusiveness in Magic

Other resources

Video Presentation

Some feedback from participants

  • “I find it important as we’ve recently had a few members of the LGBTQ community show interest in magic and I want to ensure everyone is welcome and having a good time.”
  • “Engaging everyone with the scenarios and almost putting us in the situations helped show how people can disregard how others might feel.”
  • “The real world examples were shocking.”