A year ago I stopped paying dues, I did not like the idea from the get-go and I have pretty much stepped back from competitive play, but deep down I still care, even if I know I shouldn’t, so let’s talk about this.
This situation is bad, but it needed to be done. One would just hope that someone actually had a plan for going forwards, but Wizards is just saying that they are working with stores and tournament organizers to build a new framework for judging. Shouldn’t they have done that beforehand? Tournaments are a big deal for many players and judges are a big part of why they are enjoyable. Judges are not there just to make sure everyone follows the rules, they are there to run things and judges are very good at this. Or were. I don’t know about the new generation of judges. I don’t actually even know if there is one.
When I was an active judge, a big part of that was the community. We didn’t necessarily have meetings, but we would still meet regularly each other, because we would play in tournaments judged by each other and what we would often do is just help each other out, if possible. Of course, if the tournamnet was competitive, one should not make any decisions, if one is playing with it, but in the REL Regular tournaments around us (where I used to live) it was a common occurance that someone would just ask the judge whether they could fix a situation they saw.
The move to using JA just assumed that they could easily keep the judge community going with money in form of cards, when the money was secondary to most judges. Sure, there are those, who do actually make money doing it, but at the same time, these are often talented people, who can do other things as well. And then the money dried quickly as well, so I don’t know what they were even thinking. Also, there’s the continual assumption that because Commander became popular among judges that all judges are Commander players. That’s just stupid. Okay, they didn’t technically promise anything good, but the last releases for the judge program I saw were basic lands. And you couldn’t get the Islands, unless you organized a judge conference or something. That would actually kind of point to the fact that they already knew at the time that they were going to cut off Judge Academy. Why else would they be offering something so meaningless.
And yes, I get why they wanted to get rid of JA. They weren’t really serving the community. You could certicy as a judge only doing some simplistic online courses. That is a complete misunderstanding of what the whole thing is about. Sure, there were also customer service content in those courses, but do you actually learn customer service by reading text and watching short videos? You can get clues, but you don’t actually know how to do it without actually doing it. And there’s so much nuance in it. Part of the reason why the community is so important for Wizards specifically is that the local judges know their community (which can honestly be a hindrance as well).
Judges do make the experience of playing in any organized event better. Or at least a good judge does. That’s why the program should be taken seriously by Wizareds and not be jsut an afterthought. From what I’ve heard, the active judges have already started to organize into national or regional associations. It would seem to me that this is a very positive step now that JA is practically gone.