First of all, let me welcome you to my new site – bmkgaming.com. I’ve been meaning to put this up for a while now, since I’ve wanted a better home for my public thoughts than Twitter or Facebook really provide. It’s taken a lot longer than I’d intended, and things aren’t nearly as pretty as I’d like just yet, but here we are.
It is not my intention for this to be a strategy site. You can still find my strategy articles and videos at starcitygames.com. What you can expect to find here are my thoughts on various issues relating to the Magic community, thoughts about non-Magic games, insights on game design, music I’m listening to right now, and whatever other random ideas I might want to share.
That said, let’s start things off with a big one – the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame, and who I will be voting for the class of 2013. The Hall of Fame means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, so it’s important to set my parameters before I begin with my discussion of the candidates.
In my mind, the Hall of Fame is meant to reward those who have made a significant positive mark on the history of the Pro Tour. I believe that it is essential that a player has demonstrated excellence in both game play and character. If someone has been caught cheating during their career, I will not vote for them. I do make an exception here for players who made mistakes in their youth but managed to turn themselves around, but if someone has shown a pattern of indiscretion or was of questionable character during the prime of their career, I do not think they are deserving of Magic’s highest honor.
I know there are some who say the Hall of Fame is already “tainted” because some players who have already been voted in have demonstrated questionable character, such as Olivier Ruel, who was suspended twice during his time on the pro tour. I don’t buy this argument at all. Simply because voters in the past have made mistakes does not mean we are doomed to repeat them. I did not vote for Olivier, even though I like him and enjoy his company, because I believe it’s important that the Hall of Fame recognizes those players who have done good for the game, not simply those who are good at the game.
I place a high value on Top 8’s and wins in major events and less value on consistent good performances. I’ve seen a number of people question the use of Top 8 finishes as a reasonable metric when players like Shouta would rank much higher if we were looking at Top 16s. You have to weight certain thresholds higher than others, however – do we care how many Top 32s a player has? Top 64s? Top 100s? Looking at Top 8 as the most important threshold makes sense, because that’s where the elimination rounds begin and that’s where the attention is focused. It is the Hall of Fame, after all, and you’re pretty much going to fly under the radar until you break through that Top 8 barrier or post impressive performances in other venues.
Speaking of other venues – I also place value on performances outside the pro tour – not only Grand Prix, but also Nationals and Master Series tournaments, neither of which are included in the official WotC stats page. I’ve been around the Pro Tour since the beginning, and I know that US Nationals was once regarded as the toughest tournament in the world, since there was a time when most of the world’s top pros were American. Similarly, the Masters series was the original incarnation of the “Player’s Championship” (now the World Championship) – tournaments featuring many of the game’s best players – and I believe that top results in these events ought to be considered as well.
Additionally, because I have been playing so long, I have the advantage of actually having known all of the major candidates during the periods in which they were competing at the highest level, so I know firsthand the way they were perceived by their peers. This matters to me, since being held in high esteem by the pro community is a certain measure of both a player’s character and their skill. Having a strong profile among one’s peers is not enough – despite the consensus that Neil Reeves was one of if not the best Limited player in the world for years, I’m not going to vote for him because of his lack of finishes – but it is certainly a contributing factor.
Lastly, my longevity also gives me context for understanding the significance of different resumes in different time periods. For instance, it’s important to realize that it is MUCH easier to earn pro points in the modern era than it was in the early days of the Pro Tour. Grand Prix didn’t even exist in the first year or so of the tour’s existence, and even when they were introduced, there were only a handful each year, and they gave out far fewer points. Winning was only worth 6 points, and points only went down as far as the Top 32 – in fact, for quite a while, you only got PT points for finishing in the Top 8, making 9th place on breakers that much more heartbreaking. Even pro tours awarded fewer points. These days, a Top 16 finish is worth 15 points, but there was a time when it was worth half that. Granted, there were far fewer players competing, so you had less competition for those top spots, but there were still less points available to be earned. It’s also worth noting that there wasn’t the same incentive to travel to GPs that exists now. For a long time, there was no Pro Player Club, no appearance fees, and no real reason to accumulate points unless you were in contention for Player of the Year. Fewer pros went to Grand Prix in the early days because they didn’t have the same motivations as exist now.
I’ve certainly said a lot already without even mentioning any of the candidates on the ballot this year, so let’s take a look at them:
Bernardo Da Costa Cabral
Antonio De Rosa
Quite an extensive list. I’m very happy with the change that will be coming next year that makes the cutoff for eligibility 150 points rather than 100, because it’s just too easy to get to 100 points nowadays. If anything, I think that decision helps reinforce the importance of the point that I made above – modern pro point totals are significantly inflated compared to older ones, which is going to be important to keep in mind during the discussion of candidates.
To cull this list down to a reasonable size, I’m going to cut anyone whose performance I feel does not meet the minimum threshold for inclusion. This means that anyone with fewer than 4 PT Top 8’s needs a serious additional body of work to remain in the conversation. I chose 4 as the cutoff because there are more than enough players with that level of performance to fill out a class, so it will take something special to convince me that someone with fewer deserves a spot over them. That leaves us with this list:
An impressive group, to say the least. Let’s take a look one by one.
Willy’s resume was pretty impressive already before last season, when he went on a tear with his 4th PT Top 8, as well as a GP win among many top GP performances. He has a strong reputation as a deckbuilder, and has been an integral part of the growth of Brazilian Magic. I believe that his candidacy suffers from being from a part of the world that doesn’t have a large player base. Americans and Europeans make up most of the voting committee, and tend to vote for the people they know, which is one of the reasons that we’ve seen players from those areas making it into the hall while players from regions like Japan and Latin America have trouble getting enough support. There were allegations of cheating early on in Willy’s career, but I have never heard any of them corroborated, and they came from American players at a time that there was a significant bias against unknown foreigners. Latin America, in particular, had a serious stereotype associated with shady play, and I think that hurt Willy in the eyes of the community judging him at the time. Paulo has vouched for Willy, and I believe him, so I don’t consider those allegations a strike against him.
EFro’s accomplishments recently have been extremely impressive, with a level of consistent performance that has been tough to match. That said, the whole of his resume isn’t quite as impressive as some of the other candidates, though I have no doubt that given time it will be given the tear he’s been on.
In the interest of full disclosure, Justin is one of my best friends, and I work closely with him every day as part of our game company, Stone Blade Entertainment. That said, I think even from a wholly objective measure, Justin’s resume is extremely impressive. He has three PT Top 8 finishes with a win, which would be a little short of getting him in the conversation normally, but in addition to that, he has a US Nationals win (back when it was among the toughest tournaments around), another US Nationals team appearance, in which he led Gabe Walls and Josh Wagoner to the Worlds Team Title, and a Master’s Series finals appearance, none of which appear in the stats. What does appear in the stats, though, is Justin’s incredible consistency. He has the most finishes in the Top 32 or better of anyone on this year’s list – and not just by a couple. Justin has 20 Top 32 finishes, 9 of which were in the Top 16, with LSV his closest competitor at 13. Additionally, Justin was a fixture on the most dominant team of that era – Your Move Games – with his win in Houston highlighting perhaps the most impressive performance of any team in a single event, where they finished in first, second, and third with three different decks, and their only GAME losses in the Top 8 were to each other. The only real weak spot of his resume is in GP finishes, but his stats come from the era I was discussing in which there were far fewer Grand Prix and much less incentive to travel to them, so it’s hard to count that as a serious strike against him, in my mind.
Mark’s resume has strong highlights, with 4 Top 8’s including a win, but falls off a bit after that. Most of his results came in the modern era, which makes his 198 pro points seem a bit on the low end of the scale, apparently due to inconsistent performances. This can be seen in his median finish of 79, and just 59 at his 3 year peak. It’s possible that my estimation of Mark is colored by the fact that his peak came during the brief period that I was away from the game, but I think he needs a little something extra to make it over the hump. I like Mark a lot, and feel like he’s one of the most colorful characters the PT has ever seen. I’d like to see him make it back, and I know he’s trying – he works for Stone Blade now and plays in all of the local PTQs. It would be great to see him put up another result and get his name back into the conversation soon.
I feel like Ikeda, like Willy, suffers from not coming from the US or Europe. His 313 pro points are 5th on the ballot, a result of 4 PT Top 8 and 6 GP Top 8 finishes. Additionally, he is a tournament organizer and store owner in Japan, doing a great deal to build the community there. But how much is hard to know, since most voters don’t interact with the Japanese community a great deal. I think there’s a case to be made for him, but I don’t feel like I’m the one to do it. I just think it’s worth noting that there is a huge bias toward players from the larger communities in the English speaking parts of the world that we ought to keep in mind.
Huey is one the very best to ever play the game. I have known him for a very long time, and we tested together for a number of years, and I was constantly impressed by not just how well he played but how quickly and naturally everything seemed to come to him. He had an ability to figure out limited formats that was virtually unmatched, as could be seen in his success in Team Rochester draft, widely considered the most skill testing format in the game’s history. His team unseated the twice-defending champion Phoenix Foundation en route to their win at PT Boston, and it was Huey who captained their drafts and called the shots. I think it’s something of a tragedy that Huey did not get inducted in the first year he was on the ballot, because he is truly one of the greats. Thankfully, there is a chance to rectify that situation this year. Vote for Huey.
Many people who are new to the Hall of Fame conversation look at the stats and wonder why Scott Johns hasn’t been voted in. The reality is that he had a reputation for being shady for a long time, and all of his results (save his team PT win with Gary Wise and Mike Turian) came during a time when dishonest players had a huge edge. I will not be voting for him this year or any other.
Martin is a great player – that much is clear. His results are very impressive, with 318 PT points putting him near the top of the list for the candidates this year. That said, Martin’s numbers comparing so favorably is very much a result of the recent inflation in available points. He has traveled to almost every available Grand Prix for a number of years now. I certainly don’t think he should be penalized for his passion and willingness to travel, but I also don’t think GP success alone is enough to get someone into the Hall of Fame – otherwise Alex Shvartsman would have been a shoe-in years ago. I think Martin will prove himself worthy of the Hall soon, but he’s not there just yet.
Osyp is someone whose results are a little shy, but who has contributed a great deal to the community surrounding the game. I love the fact that he’s playing again and trying to make it back on the PT, but I’m even more of a fan of him in the coverage booth, because he’s a charismatic and entertaining character, and Magic needs more of those. That charisma doesn’t quite get him on my ballot this year, but he’s close.
It’s strange to me that Marijn hasn’t been mentioned more in the HoF discussion, since he does have 4 Top 8 finishes – one a year for a while, which is a pretty impressive feat. That said, his results outside of that are a bit underwhelming, coming in at only 194 pro points in total. Like Osyp, I’m glad he’s found his way into a coverage role. While I haven’t watched much of the European GP circuit, I have heard good things, and I think they’re setting a good precedent for getting more expert perspectives in the booth. Not quite making my ballot, though.
Mihara’s stat line suffers from the exclusion of non-PT and non-GP results, since he has five Japanese Nationals Top 8 finishes, including a World Team Championships. San Diego was his 4th Top 8, and he has a Worlds individual win as well. He doesn’t quite make it on to my ballot this year, but he’s very close, and it’s probably only due to my North American bias that he falls short.
Chris Pikula should be in the Hall of Fame. His numbers may not be the best, with only 3 Top 8 finishes and no wins, and only 135 PT points, but all of those results came during an era that not only rewarded fewer points than modern Magic, but also rewarded dishonest players due to poor policy and lax rules enforcement. Chris was one of the most vocal individuals to fight against that environment. I’ve heard some people suggest that he shouldn’t get credit for being “against cheating”, because obviously anyone ought to be. But it wasn’t just his adamant pursuit of fair play that made him stand out. Chris was one of the first real stars of Magic. He was a great role-model in an era that had many bad ones, and was a larger-than-life figure who always had crowds gathered around him to tell outrageous stories about his matches. He was amongst the first Magic commentators, a role that was his for years until yours truly took over in 2000.
I mentioned in my introduction that I think it’s important to reward players not simply for being good at the game, but being good for the game. Chris was one of the best influences on the Magic Pro Tour in its earliest days. The Pro Tour is better for him having been a part of it, and I feel like he ought to be recognized for that.
Paul’s resume is another that is good but not quite there on numbers alone. If he had beaten Ben Stark in the finals of PT Paris it would be a different story, since two individual PT wins is an incredibly rare feat. Given how impressive Paul’s results have been in recent years, it’s hard to imagine how much better they might have been if it weren’t for that pesky “job” he has. He’s played in far fewer GPs than most of the other players on this list, and yet has still won two of them in the past year! He frequently plays in PTs with minimal testing, and yet still manages to do well. I know he’s somewhat resigned himself to drifting away from Magic after missing Platinum this year, but he would not have to worry about falling off the pro tour if he could muster one more top finish to get himself solidly into Hall of Fame territory – or if he’d just write a few more articles now and then. His PT Amsterdam tournament report was among the best ever written.
Saito is clearly one the best players around. Saito is also clearly a player who is willing to bend the rules to get an advantage – stalling is cheating. I have seen people suggest that Saito has “served his time” and should be a serious consideration for induction into the Hall of Fame again this year. My perspective is that Saito has served his time, and as a result ought to be allowed to play Magic again – that’s it. It’s going to take a lot more than that for me to ever consider voting for him for the Hall of Fame.
Luis is not only one of the best to ever play the game, but he is a pillar of the community and an incredible role model. He is friendly, sportsmanlike, and occasionally one of his puns is even actually funny. It would be absurd for anyone not to vote for LSV.
BenS was borderline in previous years, and has since made another PT Top 8 and posted enough dominant performances in limited Grand Prix to continue to cement his reputation as the best drafter in the world. As I mentioned earlier, I think the regard in which a player is held by his peers means a lot, and the fact that so many excellent players view Ben as the best is a big boost to his already impressive resume. It helps that I know Ben personally, and I’ve seen his willingness to share his expertise. Before PT Philly a few years ago, I was posting poor results in our practice drafts, and I asked Ben to watch me draft on Magic Online to help me out in the days before the event. He did, and I went on to post a 5-1 finish in the Limited portion of the PT, certainly due in part to his advice.
Wafo is in a strange spot this year, because his numbers are great, but he’s coming off of a recent suspension. Some might argue that his suspension had nothing to do with tournament play, so it should be discounted. But given the time frame in which the pro tours occur, it’s hard for me to accept the idea that having early access to spoiler information and using that information to playtest has no impact on tournaments. How long had this been going on? Would Wafo’s results have been different if he had not had this edge over the rest of the field? While he didn’t draw extra cards, his infraction was very meaningful when it comes to the pro tour. I like Wafo, and I certainly respect his results, but I am not voting for him.
Shouta’s resume is very impressive, and he’s certainly a tremendous deck builder, particularly given that he comes up with his decks almost entirely on his own. That said, it’s hard to justify voting for someone with only a single Top 8 when there are so many others who have better results. His finals appearance (and utter swiss dominance) at the Player’s Championship last year certainly added to his case, but not quite enough to get him there in my opinion.
So where does that leave us? In the end, this is the ballot I expect to submit:
I welcome discussion, either here in the comments, or via my Facebook and Twitter, which you can find linked on the page above. Again, welcome to bmkgaming.com!