Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame Ballot - Class of 2017
I've been agonizing over my Hall of Fame ballot for the past few weeks. For years, inductions were about catching up and recognizing the history of the Pro Tour. Ballots were less about which players were worthy, but rather which five of many qualified candidates were most deserving of your vote. Last year sort of marked a transition, as the class of 2016 were both modern day superstars appearing on the ballot for the first time, having just reached their ten year mark of maturity.
Is this where we're at now? Is the selection committee destined to debate the merits of the same borderline resumes for eternity? Or should the focus only be on newly minted nominees and those active players who managed to significantly pad their resumes?
"Voting shall be based upon the player's performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general."
Hall of Fame criteria is purposely vague and open to interpretation. This encourages debate and allows the selection committee to decide for themselves what story to tell. I have earned my vote through years of accumulating pro points and am one of 239 people who will decide which of the 41 eligible players meet the newly increased threshold for induction into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. My vote could make a difference and I'm approaching it with due diligence.
Results are important and winning matters. While there may not be a lot to choose from between an eighth and ninth place finish at the Pro Tour, the history books tell a different story. For as long as I've been playing competitive Magic, Top 8's have been counted and measured against each other, and Top 16's are nothing more than cash, points, and rebuys for future events. Though exceptions can be made for truly spectacular talents, my line has always been that candidates should have at least four Sunday appearances at events in which all of the best players in the world are competing.
While successes at Grand Prix, Nationals, and the World Magic Cup are noteworthy, I don't consider them to be on quite the same level. I also think team Pro Tours are worth slightly less for a couple reasons. For one, the cut to Top 4 allows twelve players to make the elimination rounds instead of just eight. Secondly, though team is still a very skill intensive format, too much of it relies, in my opinion, on networking. Teams with three great players have a much higher chance of doing well than those same three individuals would have at an individual Pro Tour. Although it may seem like I'm penalizing players for being better than their opponents, it's more about properly quantifying results. Individual Top 8's are harder to achieve for players of the same skill level, so I value them a little more highly.
In addition to top results, I believe that a Hall of Fame candidate needs to show a certain consistency and dedication to the game. The structure of the Pro Tour has changed a lot over the years and pro points are easier to come by now than they used to be. When I was playing back in the early 2000's, 20 pro points would earn you a perpetual qualification for the Pro Tour. Gold is the closest equivalent to that now, and requires 35 points. 20 only gets you a single invite. Part of the reason for this is the expanded Grand Prix circuit and the fact that Pro Tours give out a minimum of three pro points instead of two.
For historical candidates, I would like to see at least 250 pro points, though I think 200 can be considered sufficient for an exceptional candidate. Setting the line for current players is a little more difficult as many players have their career stretching back to the days before the restructuring. I think a baseline minimum of 350 points is appropriate for modern players which, according to the current structure, would be averaging the bare minimum Gold status for anyone playing on the Pro Tour for ten years, though someone at the top of the game might achieve that level in five or six.
With so little differentiating the very best players, playing ability is something that's very hard to evaluate. If you watch someone make a single mistake on camera, your estimation of their skill might drop dramatically, but is that really a good way to judge someone's overall talent? Who is better, someone who's able to find an amazing play that nobody else sees but occasionally misses something obvious, or someone who plays at a very high technical level but rarely thinks outside the box? Do you prioritize someone who can pick up a complicated deck and play it well on the first try, or someone who diligently prepares a deck and sideboard for weeks and shows up to dominate a Pro Tour?
I think my view on this is somewhat unconventional. Being able to work hard and prepare for a tournament are skills, and just being smart is not enough to win on a regular basis at the highest level. I value consistency and the ability to validate results with continued success year after year. Winning a Pro Tour is certainly not easy, but I also don't think it proves that you were the best or most skilled player in the tournament. Other than hearsay, however, statistics are all we are left with. Player of the Year races are an interesting stat, but eking into the Top 10 doesn't really mean you were a contender for the title. Three-Year Median Pro Tour finish also shows consistency, but the quality of competition has increased a lot over the years, making a high median finish a lot more difficult to achieve now than it might have been in the past.
In the end, I'm going to have to rely a little bit on instinct and hearsay. Right or wrong, the perception that you are among the best in the game might have to suffice. I've tested with Hall of Famers and other great players and feel like more have strengths and weaknesses that are not necessarily seen by the greater public. I unfortunately can't test with everyone on the ballot, and will have to make some executive decisions.
Integrity & Sportsmanship
I'm grouping these together in a category that sort of describes the way in which people achieve their results. The truth, however, is that I value integrity very highly but don't care a lot about sportsmanship, at least as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned. Being able to win and lose with grace says a lot about your quality as a person, but I just don't think it has bearing on your candidacy. I'm going to vote for players based on the results they've had over the course of their career, not on whether they wanted to shake my hand after a match. I think this is especially important because of how enforcing rules like slow play or proper shuffling techniques can come across as unsportsmanlike, but are really just good practice at a competitive level.
Integrity is a completely different story. I take a hardline approach here and do not care about rehabilitation or time served. If you cheat one person out of a result, you might have effectively stolen thousands of dollars from them and, in some cases, changed their lives. I've been cheated and know what it feels like to work really hard for something and be denied by an unscrupulous opponent. Imagine what it would take for you to forgive someone who cheated you out of a Top 8? For me, it would start with a public admission and apology as well as tangible efforts to make amends. Serving your time and being allowed to play again is not nearly enough. Hall of Fame induction comes with a significant benefit package, and I will not be responsible for awarding this to someone who I feel still owes a significant debt to the community. I don't know exactly what it would take for me to change my mind on a specific person and do not really want to point fingers at individuals, but I'll just say that, in my opinion, none of the players on the ballot who have been suspended for cheating are particularly close. I believe they all still publicly deny any wrongdoing, for example, even in the face of significant inculpatory evidence.
Contributions to the Game
This is another category that I don't like to put too much weight in, partially because of the benefits package associated with induction. The Pro Tour is supposed to be the pinnacle of competitive play, and I don't think it's good for the game to give perpetual invites to people primarily based on contributions they made as writers, judges, tournament organizers, or as part of a coverage team. While I may use some of these considerations in tiebreakers for borderline candidates, they should not form the backbone of a Hall of Fame resume.
That said, I do think there are a lot of people who have really contributed to the Magic community and success of the Pro Tour over the years. I would support the introduction of a builder category where they can be appropriately honored in a way that does not compromise the integrity of the Pro Tour. As long as the benefit package includes appearance fees and invites, however, I am going to base my vote for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame primarily on the success players have had on the actual Pro Tour.
My 2017 Hall of Fame Ballot
As many deserving candidates have already been inducted, the most interesting category of players are those appearing on the ballot for the first time. With five Pro Tour Top 8's and 397 pro points, Josh heads this short list which also includes newcomers Pat Cox and Eduardo Sajgalik. While those two will need to pad their stats a little, Josh has achieved enough in his first ten years to be a virtual lock, including a Player of the Year title in 2012-2013. He might not be on everyone's ballot, but he probably should be. With the newly increased threshold of 60% support from the selection committee, I would not be surprised if he is only one added to the Hall of Fame this year.
I voted for Tsuyoshi last year and have considered him a borderline candidate basically every year that I've looked at the statistical breakdown. Unlike some others who achieved a lot of success in a short period of time, his career is about longevity and a dedication to the game. His 59 Pro Tours would rank second among Hall of Famers at the time of their induction, only behind the 62 attended by Bram Snepvangers. Playing for a long time is not enough, however, but Ikeda also meets my base criteria of four Top 8's and over 250 pro points with 313. Although I'm not that familiar with him as a player, I distinctly remember being impressed that he was able to achieve international success at a time when Japanese players were just starting to make their mark.
The knock against him, and something that I think will keep him off many other ballots, is that he was never widely considered among the very best in the game. His median finish is not very high, and others were able to achieve the same results in many fewer attempts. With this vote, I'm taking the stance that your entire body of work is what matters and, using that criteria, he's an automatic inclusion. I'm also considering to a lesser extent the fact that he was a pioneer and pillar of the Japanese Magic community, and that an American with a similar career would have been a household name and figurehead of professional Magic.
I've decided to submit a ballot with only these two players this year. They both have what I consider Hall of Fame worthy resumes, while others are, in my opinion, slightly lacking. That said, I do want to briefly mention some of the players I gave serious consideration to, and describe what I think they need to bump themselves into contention.
Martin has been a mainstay in professional Magic for a long time, and is someone that I think epitomizes what it means to be a professional Magic player. He has an astounding 26 Grand Prix Top 8's and a whopping 534 pro points, the top on the ballot. Like Ikeda, Martin has demonstrated longevity, consistent results, and a dedication to the game, despite not really being talked about as being among the very best. I was close to voting for Martin this year, but ultimately felt like this type of resume absolutely needs that fourth Top 8. That's all it needs, however, and as soon as he gets it I'll be happy to vote him into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
I have a lot of respect for Ivan and know from testing with him that he is an extremely talented player. Unlike Martin Juza, who has traveled extensively to attend Grand Prix tournaments around the world, Ivan has made a name for himself almost exclusively by performing well at the Pro Tour. Year after year, he's chasing Platinum and Worlds without the pro point bump top players usually get from attending a lot of Grand Prix. He has three Top 8's including a win, and 338 pro points. Building a resume primarily off Pro Tour success is perfectly acceptable, but I do think you then need the fourth Top 8 to solidify your position.
Not voting for Ivan this year is a testament to how I feel about Top 8's vs Top 16's and other events, as he was within a fraction of a percent of jumping teammate Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa at PT Aether Revolt earlier this year, which would have earned him my nomination. I think it is more likely than not that, at this time next year, Ivan will have earned his fourth Top 8 and a spot in the Hall of Fame.
While he's short on pro points at 164, that's at least partially due to the fact that he stopped playing professionally in order to take a job with Wizards of the Coast. Five Pro Tour Top 8's instead of the baseline minimum four makes his resume worth consideration despite this shortcoming. Scott was one of the early superstars of the Pro Tour and could be worth a nomination. What's holding me back is that, by all accounts, he had a less than stellar reputation. Many seem to think that he was a cheater at a time when a lot of the top players were able to win tournaments by skirting the rules.
Aside from a vague recollection of an article where he admitted to slow play which I'm not even sure actually exists (I couldn't find it), I don't have any personal knowledge of specific incidents. I do, however, find it kind of suspect that he was so entrenched in the Magic community as an editor for various content sites and as a WotC employee, yet does not seem to have any public support. It would probably just take one or two affirmations from people I respect that he was an honest player for him to get my vote. Failing that, I'm going to err on the side of caution and leave him off my ballot.
Mark Herberholz & Marijn Lybaert
It's hard to separate these two as they have virtually identical resumes with four Top 8's each and just slightly over 200 lifetime pro points. To be honest, I find it kind of funny to read about people who are voting for one and not the other as their statistics are so similar.
Those who support Marijn talk about contributions to the game as he's been a pillar of European Magic and spent time on the coverage team for overseas Grand Prix. Mark seems to have more support from American pros as they considered him among the best in the game for a short period of time, especially when it comes to deckbuilding. While he did crack the Player of the Year Top 10 on two occasions, both were as the 9th place finisher rather than as a actual contender for the title.
Ultimately, I feel like these are both borderline candidates who did not really dominate the Pro Tour to the point where I would overlook what I think is a slight deficiency in lifetime pro points. 200 was considered the bar to entry for a long time, but I always felt that players should have more than this base minimum unless there was some other good reason to give them a long look. I haven't voted for either of these players in the past, and, barring some sort of career resurgence, will probably leave them off my ballot going forward.
With 252 pro points and three Top 8's, Justin Gary is on the cusp of a Hall of Fame career. I remember reading an interview where he explained that, at the time he stopped playing professionally to attend law school, he had accomplished all of his goals in Magic, having won a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, Nationals, and Team Worlds. While I can respect his decision to walk away from the game, I don't think you get extra credit for what you would have achieved if you kept playing. That said, he did play for a long time and was certainly one of the better players on Tour and a big part of Your Move Games, probably the first really successful Pro Tour testing team. With only three Top 8's, however, one of which was from a team Pro Tour, I don't think he's accomplished quite enough to warrant a Hall of Fame vote. If I'm holding players like Ivan Floch to a high standard of requiring that fourth Top 8, I think the same should be true for inactive players like Justin, even if it's less likely that he'll actually get there.
I honestly don't know how he does it. He routinely plays decks that few others are able to have success with, and continues to rack up finishes every year. If there are points for forging your own path, players like Craig and Sam Black deserve strong consideration. With three Top 8's and 351 pro points, Craig is closer and a legitimate option for this year's ballot. Once again, however, I'm going to defer to my Top 8 criteria and hold off for now. Like Ikeda, Craig has shown consistency, but does not have a very high median finish or years where he was really contending for Player of the Year. He can get there on body of work, but needs that extra finish to solidify his bid.
While others may get some votes on the basis of contribution to the game or a willingness to overlook past transgressions, these are the ten players on the ballot that I think are closest to deserving a spot in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Rather than use all of my votes, I've decided to submit an honest ballot of only those players that I feel should be inducted right now. With players required to get 60% support from the selection committee instead of the 40% required in previous years, I suspect that Josh Utter-Leyton will be the only inductee, though I think Martin Juza is likely to receive a lot of votes and might be close. Tsuyoshi Ikeda, unfortunately, probably flies too far under the radar for most people, and will likely be on the outside looking in. It will definitely be interesting to see how things shake out in Kyoto. Thanks for reading!