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.
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.