99 Problems Dear Azami – Wielding The Black Blade

Sean McKeown responds to fanmail and a request to spruce up a Dakkon Blackblade deck! He also elaborates on his picks for the Hall of Fame this year; who to vote for out of so many good choices?


Here is another fan mail from one of your crazy fan boys! OK that might sound a bit weird, but the bottom line is that I like your writing a lot (as I am writing this I am wondering how many e-mails you get that start out like this).

There are two reasons I am sending you this e-mail. The first, for what it is worth, is to say that you have my respect. You are being very reasonable with all the commotion surrounding your column name. No matter how it turns out, you have shown time and time again that you are willing to talk about it in a normal adult way. If everybody acted in the same way this world would be a better place.

The second is because I want to be famous. What better way to start my walk of fame then getting something personal out on the web. A part of your column includes analyzing Commander decks. I have a deck that I would like you to look at (and write about!).

Before I talk about the deck I would like to explain my unusual general choice. Normally when people play these colors, have a reanimator theme, and have some artifacts, they choose Sharuum the Hegemon as general. I didn’t do that because Dakkon Blackblade and I go way back. We have kicked more behinds and conquered more women (fictional women included) than most magickers manage in years. I won’t bother you with the details. It suffices to say that I have some very fond memories of me, a girl, and a bed thanks to his card.

The deck works nicely and does what it is supposed to do. Sweep the board, sweep the board again, drop a fatty, and start beating with it. On the surface it is not the most complicated deck. It won’t win any originality prizes, but it does have a lot of subtle interactions. I will start out with the obvious themes.

Sweepers. The deck has every sweeper I had in it. I just wanted a deck that could blow stuff up, and this deck does that quite well.

Reanimation. Between Buried Alive, Animate Dead and company, and Body Double, the creatures in my graveyard matter.

Fatties. There are not a lot of creatures in the deck, but the ones in it can generate card advantage or are really big.

Apart from the obvious things, there are a few interactions I would like to point out.

Oversold Cemetery. This card is one of the all stars of the deck. When it comes online you can destroy a permanent each turn (Necrotic Sliver), have uncounterable discard each turn (Ghost-Lit Stalker), draw cards each turn (quite a few options depending on how much mana you have left), tutor things with the mages or simply get back a fatty to swing with.

Proteus Staff. I like this card because it can get rid of opposing generals, indestructible guys, and other nasty creatures. Sometimes I have a small creature out, and I’ll try and turn it into a bigger one, but most of the time it is used as a form of creature control.

Enigma Sphinx. With all of the wrath effects I can manage to cascade into a wrath quite often with this card.

Necromancer’s Covenant and Dreams of the Dead are surprisingly powerful cards in this format.

One of the things you ask of the people who send in their lists is that they give you a top 5 of cards they love and top 5 of cards they don’t love.

The top 5 cards I like are:

Myojin of Night’s Reach. It is one of those cards everybody has to respect

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. This guy doesn’t need any explaining

Oversold Cemetery. It does so many little things in this deck that it makes me smile every time it comes online

Dreams of the Dead. I like its effect. It allows me let my commander die to one of my wraths, return it for 1U, and beat face again on an empty board.

The commander, Dakkon Blackblade. I know it is a bit silly of me, but this is his deck, and I would like to keep it that way.

And of course there is also a list for cards I don’t have any fond memories of.

Weathered Wayfarer. Nice guy, nice effect, but I won’t miss him if he is gone.

Ponder. It is mainly in there for the shuffling and the ability to draw past a clump of land

Black Sun’s Zenith. It is the worst of the sweepers in the deck. I only included it because I have one of those full-art foils.

Steel Hellkite. When it is good it is really good. But his expected life is usually less than half a turn.

Myojin of Cleansing Fire. The worst of the trio and perhaps overkill in this deck.

Apart from the 5 mentioned earlier all cards can be changed. But I won’t play with Sharuum or Reveillark. I won’t play with Sharuum because I am sick of him. Everybody seems to want to run him as a general and do crazy stuff with him.

Reveillark used to be in the deck, but everybody kept on getting scared when I played it. So either he or Body Double had to go in the end. I chose him because of the low creature count in my deck. But if you think he has to come back please remove Body Double.

I am really curious what you would do with this skeleton. Good luck with the whole issue surrounding your column name. No matter what happens just keep on writing and stay true to yourself.


Edwin Kragten

Dakkon Blackblade
Edwin Kragten
Test deck on 08-07-2011
Magic Card Back

Before you even clicked through to this article from the main page, it seems certain you would have noticed a change. Last week, after my article proper, I brought forward a community issue that I needed to address, in response to a blog post by Robby Rothe (@MTGColorPie) named Magically Hacked, making his case for changing the title of my article series from ’99 Problems.’

I was not convinced of the need, nor did many of the arguments I saw resonate with me, but that wasn’t really the point of my mentioning it last week in the first place. With the subject out in the public for discussion, it was my intention to be swayed by what my audience felt was appropriate in this regard, and the bulk of the discussion made it clear that regardless of any of my thoughts or opinions on changing the name of my column, you wanted me to. The editorial staff here at Star City Games left the decision in my hands, and I placed it in yours, which resulted in this change in the name of my column. Some issues do boil down in simplicity very nicely, in the end.

There are difficulties and problems that come with this, as I mentioned last week, and the editorial staff here at Star City Games have been so kind as to press forward in finding some sort of solution that will allow me to maintain everything that is given up with a continuity break. At the immediate moment that means a strikethrough column name on 99 Problems, so that this column collates with my others in the archive link now posted at the bottom of the page, but hopefully for future editions of Dear Azami we will have something figured out. No doubt The Ferrett is cursing my name right now; he’s entered the final stretch of writing his novel, and here I need him to solve some obscure coding problems preferably sooner rather than later.

It’s been an interesting week. I’ve learned about an unofficial British and Canadian intellectual-property precedent called ‘the moron-in-a-hurry test’ that left me wondering whether I was the moron, Googled “Dear Azami,” and found a boatload of Naruto fanfic, and learned a lot more about Twitter. There is a certain delicious irony to the fact that my most vocal detractors in this themselves cribbed a Twitter hashtag previously used for a different controversy; I Googled “#99ProblemsGate” and found a thread from 2009 discussing Jay-Z’s theft of intellectual property long before I found anything to do with my articles.

But enough about the past; we have a deck to talk about; Edwin has written in to Dear Azami for some advice; and we needs must give it to him.

Looking at his deck, he has some pretty clear themes that he wants to chase, but there is a lot we can do to make them more effective. Edwin doesn’t have a lot of creatures, but he does have a lot of space dedicated to making them better, since if the right things die he will grant flying, first strike and swampwalk to all of his creatures. With so few lands and a lot of artifact mana, Edwin can expect to mulligan a fair share of the time and will end up pinned on mana by mass removal—a fairly large share of which he himself is playing. And ever since I accidentally posted a decklist that was not in fact 99 cards—my Animar deck weighed in at a skinny 92 cards, which I rectified as bonus content on my Facebook Public Figure Page.

So really the core of the idea is sound; Edwin wants to play a whole lot of mass removals, slowly but surely exhaust the board, and win on the back of a mighty creature. Dakkon Blackblade is in fact that mighty man of choice, relentless in his progression no matter what is in his way, swinging a mighty black sword on his way to 21 Commander damage and the surprisingly fast TKO.

Cutting into things rather cruelly, I pulled out a list of cards I felt were underperforming, identifying the inner conflicts of the deck with its mass removal but artifact mana acceleration, its creature base in need of improvement, and tamping down a little bit on the mass removal to stick to relative effectiveness and mana curve in figuring out what was needed and what could be switched out for something else. Creatures that have an immediate impact on the board were preferred, and I tried to sneak a little more life gain in there while I was at it, through lifelink creatures to help bolster the already-controlling position you are trying to take with the game. At a certain point, either because you lack threats or because you are behind on life, mass removal spells will have to be used as one-for-one removal, and so impactful things and some padding on the life total will hopefully assist in allowing your deck to function as you desired.


Artifacts—Dimir Signet, Orzhov Signet, Everflowing Chalice, Skullclamp, Spectral Searchlight, Thran Dynamo

Spells—All Is Dust, Black Sun’s Zenith, Buried Alive, Dance of the Dead, Day of Judgment, Foresee, Ponder, Winds of Rath

Creatures—Filth, Meddling Mage, Magus of the Future, Myojin of Seeing Winds, Psychatog, Sewer Nemesis, Valor, Wonder

Lands—City of Brass, Exotic Orchard, Forbidden Orchard, Frost Marsh, Meteor Crater, Sejiri Refuge, Terramorphic Expanse

Let’s start with looking at the lands. Knowing in advance that one of my tricks for upping your mana count without diluting your overall threat density will be to add cycling lands to your deck, it becomes important to try and get a little bit more out of your lands that start out tapped, so Terramorphic Expanse, Frost Marsh, and Sejiri Refuge are going to be asked to work a little bit harder. Meteor Crater has the unfortunate downside of being unreliable, as it doesn’t even tap for mana unless you control a colored permanent, and Exotic Orchard has to take one here for the fact that it cannot be easily relied upon to meet your basic needs. It would be a shame to need it for blue mana when it so happens that no one else in the game is playing that color, so I prefer to focus on having the appropriate color balances up front instead of having this land be a second Command Tower some games and your least-loved basic land in others. Forbidden Orchard and City of Brass get taken out not because they don’t fit your colored mana needs—both tap for whatever color you want—but because they undermine your overall plan of keeping your life total high and the board wiped. A few 1/1’s don’t sound like much, but they add up in pressure if you have only a little mana to work with, and we can solve this problem entirely during the deck construction phase of things.

Next up in simplicity were the artifacts. I don’t disagree with wanting your artifacts to bolster your mana supply; acceleration is hard for you to find, and the best way to keep pace with a fast draw that requires you to deploy sweepers. But the things that were there simply to make some mana and never did anything else got cut, as did Skullclamp based on the fact that its usage here is as an inefficient card drawer. Without token creatures you’re just relying on Skullclamp to provide you two cards in replacement for your own creature every time you have to Wrath, and you can use more reliable effects than that if this is how things are going to be.

Addressing the tuning and balance of the deck became the real issue when looking at the spells you planned to use to control the board, and even though your plan is to play your mass removal effects by the fistful, there is such a thing as too many and that saturation point has been exceeded. Instead of pure sweepers, you’ll be well served having some board-controlling creatures to work with, things that will still work very nicely with your hope to Cascade off Enigma Sphinx with a comparable density of meaningful cards, and some of the B-team spells like Dance of the Dead had to get cut while we were at it. It’s great to have that reanimation theme, but another thing entirely to suffer problems in defending yourself to do so, and Dance of the Dead’s unfortunate predilection for putting the creature onto the battlefield tapped saw me looking for replacements. Buried Alive combines amusingly with your reanimation theme, but that is still only a minor theme, and most importantly just ‘doing your job’ will fill that theme out nicely in and of itself. It happens to be you can get the same variety of excellent targets for your indiscriminate reanimation spells stapled to a Wrath these days, so it gets upgraded as well to something more specifically on-theme.

Cutting into the creature base, I mostly just looked at what you were trying to accomplish and the relative effectiveness of these things. Sewer Nemesis was cut because you didn’t need just a cheap creature with arbitrary size, and there are enough things like Bojuka Bog happening in a regular game of Commander that taking splash damage for these cards isn’t helpful when you can pick other threats that will have more to offer than just ‘large size.’ Psychatog goes away for being a one-shot wonder, either a weak 1/2 or the creature that is killing you, and Dr. Teeth is just out of his comfort zone in a world where everyone starts with 40 life. Filth, Valor and Wonder all get cut for not doing enough in and of their own nature, while Meddling Mage gets the axe for weighting down the board to accomplish the job you set him to when your plan is to Wrath early and Wrath often. Magus of the Future is likewise conflicted, wanting to flip Wraths to the top of your deck but being very sad indeed every time one shows up and he either stops doing his job or jumps into the graveyard. Lastly, Myojin of Seeing Winds gets cut for costing too much and doing too little—if you can get to ten mana unchallenged, drawing a card for each permanent you control shouldn’t really change the game too much, and we’ll be focusing on getting you to a game-winning state instead of drawing a billion cards once the board is stable enough for you to start clawing back into things.

We’ve made some deep cuts, and have almost a third of the deck to fill back in from here—thirty cards, out of your malleable 99. We want to keep the composition roughly the same, and have to improve your mana ratios, so as we fill things back in I’ll be mindful of which slots got pulled out and replace cards back in from whence they came in something near the same proportions. We’ll end up with the same number of creatures, for example, but it’ll feel like you’re playing more of them because each one will do the job for which they were intended just a little bit better, and while we’re cutting some card drawing overall, we’re adding draw smoothing to improve your overall card flow in the early game, and asking each individual card to carry its weight just a little bit more to make up for the shortfall we are going to find ourselves in. With the agony of cuts now behind us, shall we progress to the ecstasy of making new friends for Dakkon to play with?

Let us begin with the mana, as Dakkon draws his strength from these lands and so too is your fate tied to them. The first three additions don’t fix your colors, but they do help to fix your draw anyway, counting as lands in the early again but cashing in for another card if you have enough to suit your needs already. Secluded Steppe, Barren Moor and Lonely Sandbar are a great way to fill out your mana-base, and can help make up for the loss of a draw spell.

As extra help to get up to the higher reaches of mana, two additions come highly suggested, as format staples they have excellent resumes and can do good work for you and Dakkon. Temple of the False God is another way to accelerate your mana and helps to replace the Signets that have been pulled out, while Cabal Coffers pushes you to the stratospheric levels of mana far earlier than would be usual. A slight adjustment will be required for this to work out—an Island traded for a Swamp, so that you can at least break even on your Coffers without Urborg in play—but the ability to play more than one spell a turn is an important one to reach, as it lets you play a Wrath and immediately a threat as well, either as a defender or to be the one who gets to go back on the attack first.

For dual-colored lands, it’s easy to up your threat count a little bit with Celestial Colonnade and Creeping Tar Pit, your replacements for Sejiri Refuge and Frost Marsh. One of the most difficult problems for a control deck to answer is planeswalkers, and unfortunately no matter how many Wraths you throw at the board only your Oblivion Stone answers them directly. Specifically, Elspeth, Knight-Errant is a very popular choice for a variety of decks and one that would be especially bad for you to have to face down, and both of your Worldwake dual lands have evasive abilities that can help take some stress off. Both Bad River and Flood Plain are very cheap and affordable fetchlands, helping you find the dual lands you want to have and helping to buffer your Swamp count in play while still finding blue and white mana. Zendikar fetchlands could always suffice as well and would have the ability to come into play untapped, if you wanted to find them as well, but for price-to-effectiveness it’s hard to beat the Mirage fetchland cycle. And we have just one more addition, to go with the fact that there will be a bit of a focus on producing Black mana than there was before, meaning that of all your Signets it is Azorius Signet that will be missed the most. Skycloud Expanse is an Azorius Signet on a land, and an easy remedy to help re-balance the mana now that it has a bit more Black added to it than it had before.

Following up on the lands, we’ll talk about artifacts next, as your artifacts are going to bolster your mana-base but is intended to do so without compromising too heavily in the inevitable event of a sweeper that will kill them, be it your own or someone else’s. Expedition Map helps fix your colors (and assemble Urborg + Coffers) even though it doesn’t accelerate, and is worth including on that merit alone. It happens to also turn Trinket Mage into either the most powerful land you’re currently missing—be it Coffers or something else—or get you another card instead, as Trinket Mage into Expedition Map can find you a cycling land and thus a fresh draw. Wayfarer’s Bauble is designed very similarly, but loses the ability to find nonbasic lands in return for actual acceleration. As color-fixing it’s underpowered in comparison to the Signets you’ve lost, but unlike those Signets the benefits you gain of that acceleration effect will not suddenly disappear in the middle of the game and actually helps boost your Commander, too.

The last two are accelerants that can replace themselves later in the game for fresh draws, taking the strain off your card drawing a little while still serving the needs you place upon them. Mind Stone stands in on Signet duty while also replacing itself when the inevitable occurs, while Dreamstone Hedron stands in for the Thran Dynamo you were playing if at a less attractive price. With less to lose from using your Nevinyrral’s Disk or Oblivion Stone, you can do what you planned to do without having to worry over whether you are working at cross-purposes, sacrificing too much in so doing.

This brings us on to the spells, now that your mana is secured. Brainstorm and Preordain are small effects, either of which I expect you will find more useful than the Ponder you were playing and not liking. I love Ponder more than almost anyone I know—some might say that Ponder is my version of ‘more cowbell’—but to accomplish what you are striving to do it is Preordain you should be reaching for first. Brainstorm is great in the establishing turns and with a shuffle effect can greatly turn around a hand that has started to draw too many lands later in the game, which you’ll note should hopefully be provided for by increasing your fetchland count a little and some extra free shuffles with the Baubles. While they aren’t ‘pure draw’ effects, they are very powerful, and can help balance your draw at a very low cost. One of the problems you’ve probably been running into is difficulty playing two spells in one turn in the middle turns of the game, making the card-drawing effects rot in your hand and thus your land-drops suffer while you deploy your answer cards. Cheap effects are much easier to sneak in than expensive ones, and both of these are hard workers.

Spell Crumple is being added just to put an actual hard counterspell into the deck, chosen as your first counterspell based on the fact that it answers a Commander very meaningfully, and when choosing between the options you can use for that purpose only Spell Crumple happens to be a Beacon of Countermagic, returning to your deck for potential later access. I don’t think you want to dive too far down the countermagic route, as yours is a sorcery-speed control deck and most of your activity will be on your own turn, but one counterspell to Tutor for or search up with all the cards you’re accessing over the course of a game can solve a problem that otherwise you would be unable to respond to. Likewise, I wanted to add one cheap removal spell, and the easy choice came between Executioner’s Capsule (accessible through your Trinket Mage) or Swords to Plowshares. While I waffled between the two for a while, I ultimately settled on the Instant to help you defend yourself on other players’ turns, much like the rationale for wanting to have Spell Crumple in your deck… and the clear tiebreaker came with the fact that Swords to Plowshares on your own Commander grants you a life per land you control, a powerful benefit and well worth having access to given that your Commander has a moderately low casting cost and can be replayed fairly easily. The opportunity cost is low, and the potential benefits very high.

The remainder of the additions focus more strongly on your intended themes of mass removal and reanimation for fun and profit. Two Wrath effects are coming in off the bench to augment your existing capabilities—Martial Coup for the fact that it gives you not just a Wrath effect but also a large number of creatures while you are at it, playing defense with the spell itself and with the creatures it puts into play. It can go on the offensive as well, and for that role I consider Martial Coup to be a little bit better than Phyrexian Rebirth, as it always gives you the power you put into it and can even be used at lower costs in a pinch if that is a play that will win you the game, make a couple of dudes without wiping your side of the board if you have the advantage on the board. And Life’s Finale is a Wrath effect that can put juicy targets in the graveyard for your reanimation effects, my replacement for Buried Alive in your list: it doesn’t matter whose graveyard they come from, for the most part, as your reanimation effects almost all work out of either graveyard.

With your ‘Wrath early, Wrath often!’ theme bolstered, the next two spells are reanimation effects. I cut Dance of the Dead for its disadvantages—putting the threat into play tapped may be the difference between surviving and dying—while for one mana more, Necromancy offers additional versatility instead of detriments. The ability to be played as an Instant can do fancy and dramatic things even if you don’t get to keep the creature, and sometimes ‘not keeping the creature’ can even be a good plan, if for example a Kamigawa Dragon makes its way to a graveyard or Chancellor of the Spire (spoilers!) is in the graveyard. And with Oversold Cemetery on your list of favorite cards, it’s easy to include Debtor’s Knell in your deck. It’s very expensive, seven mana is a hefty investment, but it’s a price you pay exactly once—from there on out, unlike Oversold Cemetery, the effect puts the creature directly into play for free, and also unlike Oversold Cemetery, it gives you access to your opponent’s graveyard as well as your own.

This brings us to the creatures, where I felt you were most in need of improving your choices to work better overall as a control deck. One I’ve already hinted at so I’ll go right out and start with it: Chancellor of the Spires is not being included for its pre-game abilities the 7% of the time you’ll start with it in your opening hand, but for its comes-into-play trigger. It was hard to weigh this specifically against Sphinx of Uthuun, who provides both a body and a free Fact or Fiction, but with your love of Enigma Sphinx Cascading into something juicy time and time again and Wrexial, the Risen Deep, it was easy to think of the Chancellor as a potential addition, as providing the meaningful body with a potent spell of your choice should make for happy smiles every time he comes into play.

Serra Ascendant and Divinity of Pride are both being added to help buffer your life total, and both are undercosted creatures in the context of Commander’s 40 life. A little life can help buffer you long enough to delay your Wraths until later in the game, banking them for greater effect or even to force opponents to deal with the problems that are in play and thus exhausting their resources instead of your own. And with Weathered Wayfarer (who got more potent with Urborg/Coffers to assemble) and Ghost-Lit Stalker as one-drops, adding Serra Ascendant caused me to reach for Ranger of Eos as an addition, who much like Trinket Mage can access your best cards and provides card advantage to make up for some of the advantage effects already pulled out of the deck. My criticism of Foresee came when I asked myself which I would rather spend four mana on at sorcery speed—that, or the mighty Ranger of Eos.

The rest of the additions focus on your key themes. Sheoldred, the Whisperer is both a great card for keeping the Wraths you play very effective, as a few sweepers will leave them only a very few cards to work with and Sheoldred both reanimates your dead threats and hassles the already-belabored opponents with an Edict every turn. Keiga, the Tide Star is a threat that has a potent effect even if the opponent kills it, and once it comes to the part of the game where you are actively deploying threats instead of just killing them all you’ll want to make sure the mana you are spending has a meaningful effect even in the face of removal. For that same reason, it’s easy to be happy with an Angel of Despair, and the fat flier plus versatile effect will be a welcome addition to your starting lineup. And I have saved perhaps the best addition for last given your repetitive recursion suite, reaching for the creature that has often locked up games in my monoblack control deck (formerly Ob-Nixilis, presently Sheoldred herself): Kagemaro, First to Suffer.

Nobody closes out a fight like Kagemaro when used turn after turn. Since he applies negative toughness he even handles even most indestructible creatures, and since he kills himself (unlike Myojin of Cleansing Fire) you can use it every turn without having to find some way to sacrifice it. Kagemaro recursion is just a whole lot of withering fire for entire armies of opposing creatures, and also comes with the benefit of being very likely to wipe an entire board of creatures and leave Dakkon Blackblade alone and ready for service, since you’re likely to have more lands in play than cards in hand when you’re well-established in the game.

This gives us the following final decklist:

Dakkon Blackblade
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 08-07-2011
Magic Card Back

More changes could have been made for a considerable cost—after all, you’d likely be able to put even off-color fetchlands to good work just getting dual lands, so Scalding Tarn and Verdant Catacomb would be perfectly serviceable—and two expensive suggestions that came to mind were Batterskull and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. If a single Brainstorm can potentially turn around a game by turning a hand in trouble into a solid grip of spells, Brainstorm every turn on a planeswalker that survives every mass removal spell you play (presuming a Fate counter from your Oblivion Stone) can be a powerful addition if an incredibly expensive one. And much as I liked the idea of what Swords to Plowshares could do to your life total if you had all the cards in the world but not quite enough life to survive the coming onslaught, by using it on Dakkon Blackblade, equipping Batterskull to Dakkon Blackblade very swiftly puts your life total past comfortable to outrageous, and Batterskull’s ability to return to hand also helps protect it against your own sweepers.

If you want to put a very considerable amount of money into your deck beyond some of the cheaper additions I’ve suggested, any of these would make a big impression, but I do try to keep my suggestions comparable to the price level of the deck shown to me and thus I’ve kept myself to relatively low-priced cards especially given how many cards I felt you would benefit from replacing. As always, for your participation in this week’s 99 Problems, you will find in your email box a $20 coupon to the Star City Games online store, to potentially help pay for any replacements and substitutions you might want to make, and the cards I suggested for addition to the deck have the following prices, for your consideration:

And once again at the conclusion of this week’s article, we have a little something extra to discuss: the Hall of Fame! Thanks to my long history of writing and analyzing the game at the Pro Tour level in such former columns as “A Neutral Eye” and “Magical Hack”, I am a member of the Selection Committee for the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame. My stance on this has always been very tightly focused on squeaky-clean players, and this year I find it important to step apart from some of my fellow Selection Committee members who have already publicized their votes in order to vote free of preconceptions.

The hardest preconceptions to shed oneself of are those of nationalism, and I have found in previous years I have strongly favored voting for Americans. I have felt the need to question whether I was voting for too many Americans when others were clearly worthy candidates, and this deeper reflection on national bias and the true essence of dominating play led me to cast a vote I had not expected to when first looking at the list of candidates eligible this year. Much as I would love to vote all along the Star City Games Writer’s Roster and vote for Heezy, Chapin, Ffej, Jeroen Remie, Rich Hoaen, Anton Jonsson, Osyp, Gerard, and call it a day, that’s more than five votes and it misses some of the obvious choices. I always agonize between what I’d love to do by voting for all the people I like the most and doing what I think I should do by voting based on the merits of the individual players, and often I find myself returning to that latter responsibility at the expense of getting to vote a straight Osyp ballot. Harder still is voting for someone you’ve never met, never seen play, and only have records and numbers to go off of… but this year’s reflection sees me voting for someone I hardly know at all, who happens to be one of the workhorses of the Pro Tour by numbers alone.

#1—Shuhei Nakamura

It’s a terrible pun, but if any one candidate this year is a shoe-in, it should be Shuhei Nakamura. His record speaks volumes, and does so for itself—I checked, and Wikipedia clearly agreed by showing not just a Player of the Year title but a list of achievements as long as my arm. He has the most Pro Points by a comfortable margin and is in the lead for Pro Tour Top 8s as well, a tie he shares with Scott Johns and Anton Jonsson. The only question to be asked is whether his resume is lacking anything, as it is absent a Pro Tour win, but Player of the Year is an achievement far beyond one single Pro Tour win and a single match—the flip of a coin perhaps at Pro Tour: Columbus, where he made the final table—should not hold back the gentleman who is clearly the most worthy of candidates on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.

#2—Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz

Steve OMS has been forgotten for far too long now, by the Pro Tour Hall of Fame Selection Committee. Many and more times have I voted for Steve OMS, and it is my intention to do so until everyone else wakes up and I am not allowed to anymore. That his amazing career is long in the vanished past from before our modern Internet era should only make his statistics more impressive, not less—three Grand Prix wins and a Pro Tour were astronomical accomplishments in that era, and while 237 Pro Tour Points is only the middle of the pack for this year’s group of candidates, it was all achieved under a system that gave far fewer Pro Tour Points for finishes like said three GP wins and a PT win. His three Pro Tour finishes are first, second, and third, and he has a fourth Grand Prix win… Two-Headed Giant Limited, with Matt Wang as his partner, a player who when asked might have answered that he was there to see people and have fun, not expecting to win the event. Shuhei only gets pride of place over Steve OMS because he won Player of the Year, and even then Steve is not exactly far behind in my view of things here.

#3—Anton Jonsson

Anton is a man of quiet strength. Like Shuhei he has accumulated five Pro Tour Top 8s, and though he only has one Grand Prix win to his name he nonetheless has a rather impressive number of Top 8s, at nine. 202 Pro Tour Points puts him even further behind in the rat race than Steve OMS, but what bears remembering is the fact that he has long been one of the best Limited players in the game and for a year or two was acknowledged as the best Limited player in the game. Anton’s record strongly biases towards Limited events—there are only three Constructed finishes, four if you count the mixed-format European Championships—and for five of the years in this ten year span he largely didn’t play. 202 Pro Tour Points out of five years instead of ten is 40 per season, a very impressive task indeed, and with everything else Anton has done for the game (up to and including teaching us all how to draft better, here on this very site), I am very confident in giving him a vote this year for the Hall of Fame.

#4—Tsuyoshi Ikeda

This is a vote I unfortunately see too few people casting. Tsuyoshi is second in this year’s Pro Points tally and #12 lifetime, with everyone else besides Tsuyoshi above him in that race already enshrined within the Hall of Fame or sadly excluded from it with last year’s removal of Tomoharu Saito from the induction ceremony. Should Tsuyoshi Ikeda be the leader of the ignominious Non-PT Hall-of-Fame Pro Points earners? With four Pro Tour Top 8s… considered by many an important threshold to cross for consideration to the Hall of Fame… and not one but two of those final-table appearances, it would be a shame if Pro Tour Austin provided push that saw Brian Kibler enshrined into the Hall of Fame himself and the black mark that kept Tsuyoshi Ikeda from it. I fear that it is merely a language barrier and a cultural gap that is keeping more from recognizing the imperative to vote for Tsuyoshi for the Hall of Fame, and felt it imperative myself to vote for Tsuyoshi before I could conscience a vote for a lesser performer that I happen to know well.

#5 – Patrick Chapin

The difficulty with the last vote is how I would like to spend it… or perhaps more accurately, how many times I would like to spend it. This last vote could be spent on Patrick Chapin, Osyp Lebedowicz, Paul Rietzl, Mark Herberholz, Gerard Fabiano, and Antonino De Rosa with equal aplomb, but I get five votes, not ten. And Patrick is someone I would have voted for in prior years on accomplishments alone, but had not done so for reasons that largely had to do with not knowing him well enough and not understanding the path he has taken walking through life in some very different shoes than my own. On points he’s below 200, a critical barrier that comes from a career interrupted rather than any native lack of talent, and he nonetheless has the threshold achievement of four Pro Tour Top 8s even if he is absent a win. But with Patrick you have to ask the question: did his deck win? Patrick’s achievements are considerably more impressive on deckbuilding and his contributions to the community, and much like how last year I changed my vote from Tomoharu Saito (citing nervousness that would end up justified sharply at the end) to accidentally provide that one last vote needed to enshrine Bram Snepvangers, it is important to recognize the contributions to the community that are not so easily tracked with numbers and titles. There are more titles besides “World Champion,” “Pro Tour Champion,” “Grand Prix Champion,” and “Player of the Year.” Here’s one to try on: The Innovator.

If you need to ask why the creative and restless mind of Patrick Chapin deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, here is his resume.

Sean McKeown

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