Shahar, I Am So, So Sorry!!!

I thought about finding a cute image to go with this opening text, but I don’t want to belittle a serious situation.  Bottom line, I failed the trust of a good person, Shahar Shenhar, and nothing I can say or do can offset that.  I’ve already apologized to him, in person, at the event, but this apology really needs to extend its scope to anyone who can read this (and most of those who won’t).

There’s been plenty of talk about the situation, on reddit and other forums, and – like so many internet discussion forums – there’s an amazing amount of misinformation, speculation, damnation based on that, and then the plethora of garbage fires ensues.

Here’s what really happened: in an on-camera match at GP Denver (Dec 3, 2016), Shahar used Veteran Motorist to crew a Smuggler’s Copter.  His opponent wanted to deal 3 damage to the Copter, before it got the +1/+1 from the Motorist’s triggered ability.  The floor judge made an incorrect ruling – that the Copter would be a 3/3, with the +1/+1 on the stack; Shahar appealed, as he should.

While I was walking to the feature match area, the floor judge explained their ruling, and their logic behind it.  I started to pull out my phone, to verify the wording on the Crew ability, as well as Veteran Motorist’s triggered ability; the floor judge expressed urgency – it was an on-camera match, some urgency is valid – and I put my phone away, trusting the floor judge’s logic.  Hey, it made sense to me, and – being a fairly new mechanic – I didn’t already know that ruling was wrong.  And the urgency fits into some general philosophy re: Grand Prix, and judging in general (more on that, later).  I upheld the incorrect ruling.

Note that the initial ruling isn’t really the point of failure; judges make mistakes, and the appeals process provides a second opinion from a senior judge.  It’s also not meant as an excuse, I’m not one to offer excuses; instead I look for causes and solutions, and opportunities to learn.

My failure was in not taking the extra time to verify the ruling.  Shahar, you deserved that much, and I am apologizing, publicly, for betraying your trust in the judge program in general, and in me specifically.

I’m also going to go ahead and extend that apology to all the players who, in the future, may have to wait an extra 5, 10, even 30 seconds or more, if necessary, while I double-check any unfamiliar rulings.

So, mistakes were made, and it would be a real crime if no lessons were learned.  That’s what this blog post is really about.  Yeah, the apology is sincere, and heartfelt – I’ve probably kicked myself 100 times since then, and it’s only been 4 weeks – but the more important outcome is to share any lessons learned with every judge I can reach.

I’ve always been a big proponent of learning from others’ mistakes.  It’s worked quite well for me, over “a few” years of experience – but it obviously can’t prevent all mistakes.  All the same, we have to share experiences – good and bad – and learn together, for the sake of everyone.

Lesson learned: you always have time to verify the correct ruling.

Judges are often taught to tell players “I’ll be happy to discuss that with you after your match“, as a way to get them to move on and avoid further delays to the tournament.  It’s a reasonable philosophy – after all, one match involving two players shouldn’t cause undue delay that negatively impacts hundreds (often thousands!) of other players.  The idea is, customer service that benefits one or two, at the expense of everyone else, isn’t really customer service at all.  And that phrasing does a fine job of refocusing the arguing player on the match that still needs to reach completion.  However…

The reality is, it’s value for everyone in the event if you take that extra 30 seconds (usually less!) to make absolutely certain you’re right; “after the match” may be too late.  As many on reddit observed, I can’t give back the time invested by Shahar, nor retroactively improve his chances of winning that game (which might improve his chances in that match, thus affecting his chances in the GP).  But we all can remember that investing a few more seconds of our time may protect the hours of time invested by the players, who are about to be affected by a ruling.  As I told the other judges in Denver, it’s probably a good idea to show the players the rules that explain why your ruling is righ… err, Wrong.

I should never have reddit…

As I mentioned, there’s been some interesting comments regarding this ruling.  I’m thankful that some of those people don’t rule the world – clearly, forgiveness and understanding aren’t options in their reality – but there’s also some points that I want to address.

First, I guess I get to take the blame for every bad ruling, ever, including ones of which I have zero recollection (Deathrite Shaman as a mana ability?  Playing a land during resolution of a Miracle trigger?)…  I’ll admit to upholding the wrong ruling on Path To Exile (GP Houston, 7 years ago); the uncertainty there wasn’t whether or not MJ had to search, it was whether or not the syntax of that rules text attached “then shuffle” to the choice to search, or with the overall resolution of the spell.  (I chose … poorly.)

Incompetent?  No, but certainly not infallible.

Some comments questioned my qualifications to be a Head Judge, and one or two even suggested I should retake the L1, L2, and L3 tests, and be demoted to the lowest level for which I qualify. Another post suggests that we all need to be “REevaluated” [sic] “and there is definitely excess fat that needs to be trimmed”.  That exact effort is already underway, although we’re not convinced there truly is “excess fat” – but we need to ensure that’s not the case, to combat that very perception.

As noted elsewhere in that reddit thread, senior judges spend a lot of time crafting policy and procedure, not necessarily becoming rules experts; yes, we have to pass a very difficult test, the majority of which is rules-based, in order to become L3.  Also, every L3 is expected to take and pass an “update exam” with each major rules update, connected with new set releases.  I’ve done so, and scored 100% on all but a couple.

The process for promotion to L4 and L5 – which are no longer a thing – involved continued excellence, as well as dedication to the Judge Program and community, on a global scale.  For a long time, I was the official source of answers to rules questions, and still serve as official source for policy and some rules questions.  It’s not for lack of qualifications, I’m simply not a robot, and mistakes have been made – despite my efforts to prevent them.

However, challenge accepted – because I think it’s a good idea – and I will take more, and more difficult, rules tests.  Already took a Hard Practice yesterday, and did OK; I’ll study the questions I missed, and take another one this week, and so on.  I’m committed to making the effort to improve, and I urge all judges to do the same.

10 thoughts on “Shahar, I Am So, So Sorry!!!

  1. I would love to know what people expect to be done in cases like this. While I have not been in a position to receive (or to make decisions) at this level (yet), I don’t think it requires a large stretch of the imagination to realize that there could be some considerable gravitas to the situation.

    There’s lots of discussion about ‘fixing’ the situation after the fact, but how is that possible? Had the correct decision been made, and the outcome of the game remained the same, this article wouldn’t exist (which I’m sure would be preferable to all parties involved). The fact is, any number of things could have happened after the fact; while there is a chance that the outcome of the tournament may have been altered, it is not mathematically possible to prove this is the case.

    This is eerily similar to the way judges are trained to operate. As a policy, we’re here to intervene when something comes up; we may want to try to fix the situation, but no matter how much preparation we have, or what our intentions are, stuff other than intended can happen. In order to deliver a fix for whatever situation – no matter how simple or needlessly complex it may be – we are relatively, albeit clearly, limited in what we can and cannot do. Missed a fabricate trigger a couple of turns ago? Sorry, no servos/counters for you. Forgot to pay for that Pact? Looks like you lose.

    It definitely sucks to be on the receiving end of a bad call — but unlike some perceptions as seen in other corners of the internet, judges aren’t out there to ruin your day. Anyone that makes a mistake – regardless of the magnitude – should use it as a learning opportunity. Good judges will be less likely to make the same mistake or similar ones in the future. Better judges will own their mistake. The best judges, however, will do what they can to make sure the mistake that they made will not be made again. Thank you for sharing this and doing what you can to make sure I don’t end up in a similar situation, Scott.

  2. Hello. I just want to leave a public message here. Scott you’re a great Head Judge. We’re humans and we make mistakes. Apologizing and learning from them is all we can do.

    Thank you

  3. BK, I disagree that stepping down is necessary, nor appropriate. I’m getting right back on that horse, and I won’t fall off again for that same reason. In fact, I was an Appeals Judge in Milwaukee, the very next weekend; no rulings punted, a few appealed rulings overturned correctly. The system works, but – like any system devised by humans – it can fail, unexpectedly, and in the worst possible circumstances. Let’s continue to examine the system, and improve it each time a flaw is discovered.

  4. John, this is a good point – preparation should have been better, it would seem. But that’s something that varies from judge to judge, and from event to event. Preparation for GP Louisville has to encompass an entirely different set of cards than was needed for GP Denver, or GP Milwaukee. As an interesting aside, I wasn’t the only senior judge at GP Denver who agreed with that ruling, at first – but within an hour, dozens of judges were familiar with the correct ruling. Your point, however, has me thinking about a possible topic for a future blog post, about preparation.

    The Lesson Learned that I chose to focus on actually runs a bit contrary to common wisdom among judges. The urgency that was shared derives from an overarching philosophy, of “keep the event moving”. A lot of what we do at GPs is geared towards minimizing delays. It’s a fairly common mindset, and I wanted to add some painful perspective to that.

  5. I often tell people “if you don’t like apologizing, don’t be a judge.” Often enough, something doesn’t quite work out the way you think it does (silly interactions with replacement/prevention effects, etc.) and you have to tell someone “hey, I need to apologize, that ruling I gave was wrong because….”

    I heard about the situation but have no idea Shahar reacted. Regardless, the fact that you are willing to go public with an apology speaks to your character and your desire to keep players’ faith in the Judge Program. Plus, with your knowledge, Scott, if you have to post every issue that you cause, may have to post once a year. Keep your head up high.

  6. Thank you for sharing uncle Scott.
    Much respect for the public apology that helps us all learn, and for your efforts to improve 🙂

  7. > I will take more, and more difficult, rules tests. Already took a Hard Practice yesterday, and did OK; I’ll study the questions I missed, and take another one this week, and so on. I’m committed to making the effort to improve, and I urge all judges to do the same.

    Will you voluntarily step down from being a head judge at professional level events in the intervening time? That is until your refresher is completed and your rules knowledge is updated to a level commensurate with your responsibilities?

    I think the biggest problem that most people have with this situation is not that you made a mistake but that there appears to be no accountability for doing so aside from what you impose upon yourself and public ill will. Both of which have no real force of effect.

    In the professional sporting world making a mistake of this level might come with fines. I’m not sure how the math works out but your mistake probably cost Shahar money in prizes he did not win. In fact (ignoring any possible wording in the contract you both have with the event and WotC) he might have standing to sue you for malfeasance or negligence. His case would be stronger with your admission in this blog post.

  8. I appreciate the difficulty this post took and I think its a great thing. But I feel like the wrong lesson was learned. (although of course you should always double check rulings).

    Shouldnt the head judge of an event be familiar with the popular cards, interactions, and rules of the format they are head judging? Most people knew how this interaction worked by the end of prerelease.

    Im not sure taking tests really solves anything. The major problem is players feeling that the head judge isnt taking the time to be prepared for the event in with their most major of duties(judging).

  9. I really shouldn’t post — but I’ve been both the angry person, and one making a mistake. People have always, and will continue to make mistakes; But today we have more ways of showing those to others than ever before. Seeing all these mistakes isn’t helping us much; But what does help are people like ‘Uncle Scott’ and posts like the one above.

    Frustration, Anger and Pride can lead a lot of people to attack people on the internet for many reasons, which includes justifiable reasons. And I myself have got mad at mistakes made that are not in my favor. But I hope, and like to think that we all make mistakes (and that most are unintentional). I still get mad and write up a vicious response fairly fast, but I hesitate a couple times before I click on Send (most of the time there’s no point to be angry on the internet — no one goes there to change their mind) and most of the time I don’t click on ‘Send’ now.

    If we sincerely try to avoid mistakes, and make the effort to prevent them in the future like Uncle Scott does… we’d all be in a better place and probably more forgiving of the unintentional mistakes that happen.

  10. Thank you so much Scott. This is actually something I struggle with, the anxiety of having to talk to a player or even to address making an incorrect call is difficult. I have so much respect for you and love this article.


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