How to Extend Time
Tournament matches are generally 50 minutes. But these matches sometimes get interrupted, and we need to make sure they still get 50 minutes in total. This is what time extensions are for.
In Regular REL tournaments like FNM, judges tend to play a little fast and loose with time extensions, not being very precise and often not tracking them at all. FNM players are there to hang out and have fun, so this isn't that big a deal there. But in any Competitive tournament, it matters much more that players get the correct amount of time. 1 extra minute can be the difference between a win and a draw, and players will (rightfully) be very upset if judge sloppiness causes their match to get a result that was worse for them.
Knowing how long the call took
Imagine the following situation: You get a judge call. You go to the table, ask the players what happened, and figure out the issue. It's a little complicated, so you consult with another judge, then issue the ruling. You go to write the time extension on the time extension slip when, *gasp*, you realize you don't know how long the call took!
Who are we kidding; you don't have to imagine that, it's happened to you many times.
When this happens, we're letting down the players. They're relying on us to be professional and keep track of things like how long the call took, ensuring they get a fair match result. So, make it stop happening. Come up with a system that works for you, and use it consistently. Personally, I pull out my phone as I'm walking to the table and start a stopwatch app that I can then refer back to later. But any other system is fine as long as it actually works.
What to do when you don't know how long the call took
Let's be honest with each other here; we all know that 90% of the people reading this article are going to look at that last section, think to themselves "my, what a good idea", and then not change their behavior in the slightest. So you'll need to know what to do when this continues happening to you; what do you do when you just got finished with a call and don't know how long it took?
You take your best guess.
When doing so, always err on the side of giving too much time rather than too little. This is for two reasons:
- The busiest person in the judge call is you. The players probably had to wait on you for something, but you never had to wait on them. Human time perception is highly subjective, and intervals feel shorter when we're engaged than when we're sitting there doing nothing. So as the judge, you're more likely to underestimate how long the call took, and the players are more likely to overestimate it. You need to correct for this bias in yourself by issuing a bit more time than it subjectively feels like you took.
- Even ignoring the previous effect, players are much less likely to be upset if they get a few extra minutes than if they get a few minutes too few. This doesn't make a lot of sense from a "trying to win" perspective, since an extra minute could make a player lose a game they otherwise would have drawn, but it does from the perspective of psychological satisfaction. Players want to play out the entire match to its natural conclusion, and they already don't like the 50 minute time limit; they just accept it as a necessary disruption if they want to get home before midnight. So if they get extra time, they'll think of it as a special privilege rather than an annoyance.
You may note that giving extra time makes it more likely for this match to delay the entire tournament. This is true. The solution? KEEP APPROPRIATE TRACK OF HOW LONG YOUR CALL TOOK.
Tracking the extension
Most tournaments nowadays don't have match slips, so they use dedicated time extension slips. When issuing an extension:
- Check to see if they already have a slip. If they do and you give them a second one, one may get missed by EOR and they'll end up with too little time.
- If there was a prior extension, cross it out and write in the new total. This prevents ambiguity. If I pick up a slip and see a +3 next to a +5, does that mean they have 5 minutes or 8 minutes? Nobody knows. There should always be a single clear total on the extension slip.
- Include your initials. If a problem arises later, we may need to ask questions to the judge who issued the extension, and that's very difficult if we have no idea who that is.
Many larger tournaments also have some digital method of tracking extensions, such as Purple Fox or a Discord channel. Don't forget to put it there too.
If there is no such secondary method, give the head judge (on small events) or the EOR team (on large events) a heads up about any extension of at least 10 minutes so that they know to keep an eye on that table.
The little things you always forget
ACTUALLY GIVING THE EXTENSION. One of the most frequent complaints from players is judges who do not give them any time extension after a call and just walk away. Don't be that judge.
If the extension is for a deck check, remember to add 3 minutes to the total, since the players have to shuffle an extra time.
All feature matches also receive an extra 3 minutes unless they have their own separate timer.
According to the MTR, any interruption that takes less than a minute does not necessitate a time extension. If there are several of these in the same match though, they'll quickly add up to over a minute. When this happens, give a small extension anyway.
Extensions near the end of the round
If the match has already had time called, they don't need any extra time, since they've already had 50 minutes.
Where it can seem a little confusing is if the timer was still going when you started the call, and time was called during the judge call. But this is actually quite easy to deal with; you simply ignore it and write "+X" on the time extension slip, where X is the amount of time the judge call took, just like you normally would. The match ends when the round timer shows -X minutes.
For example: There are 5 minutes remaining in the round when you take a judge call. The judge call takes 10 minutes, but only 5 minutes of it was time that the players should have had access to for their game, so they should only get 5 minutes of extra time. You don't worry about this, write "+10" on the slip because that's how long your call took, and tell them to continue playing. Since they have a 10 minute extension, they'll go to turns when the clock shows -10. You're doing this when the clock shows -5, so they end up with 5 additional minutes of playtime just like they should. Isn't math wonderful?
The reason we do it this way is because if you use some other system, and then you have to leave the table, or an EOR judge comes by and looks at the slip without talking to you, they're going to come away with an incorrect impression of when the match should end. If the slip says "+X", that should always mean that the match ends X minutes past the round timer hitting 0, no matter the circumstances under which the extension was given. Having words always mean the same things is how we avoid miscommunications.
The most important thing to remember is simple: The players should get 50 minutes of playtime. There is no situation where a match should ever have had a different amount of play time. Whatever else happens, after the judge call is over, ask yourself whether, taking into account all time extensions and ignoring any time spent in judge calls, the players will have had 50 minutes with which to play their match. If the answer is yes, then you're good. If not, you've done something wrong.
Clean up after yourself
Now that we don't use match slips anymore, time extension slips have a tendency to get left behind. This can cause confusion in future matches, as the players or a judge could think an old slip applies to the current match at that table.
Most large TOs will print out slips that have a spot to write in the round number, but some don't, and it's also easy for a judge to look at a slip and not notice that the round number doesn't match the current round. So we can help prevent issues by proactively picking up expired slips and throwing them away. Picking up trash is always one of our jobs as judges, but this type of trash is particularly important, as leaving it on the table can sometimes cause serious problems. If you're walking past an empty table and see anything vaguely time-extension-slip-shaped, pick it up and throw it away.