A Pro’s Perspective On The Hall Of Fame

Ben has been around the PT for a long time! He’s played against the best often enough and endured enough of the drama that he knows exactly where everyone stands! Here are his honest takes!

Disclaimer: I like (almost) everybody. This article is going to be
controversial, and it will call a few people out. Some of those people
will feel personally attacked. Let me be clear: this is not personal. I
don’t think you’re automatically a terrible or irredeemable human being
if you cheated at Magic in the past, and I’m slow to come to a firm
conclusion about a person based on hearsay. That said, it’s high time
for some drama, and this year’s #MTGHOF ballot is looking like a good
one for that.

Boy oh boy, have we got a Hall of Fame ballot for the ages! Controversy,
bias, favoritism, shaming, and whatabout-ism are the name of the game in
2018, so it makes a ton of sense that this Hall of Fame voting class is
going to be absolutely packed to the gills with all five! With so much
vague and indirect slander going on in the Magic Twitterverse, it seemed
like this article was absolutely necessary to help the less-informed cut
through the opinions and get down to the facts, so let’s try and figure out
just who the heck is likely to earn a modest pension from Wizards of the
Coast this year and why everyone is getting so heated about it.

The Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame is supposed to reward and
honor the best Pro Tour players from Magic’s storied history. As per the
official voting criteria, “Voting shall be based upon the player’s
performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions
to the game in general.” This has meant, over the past few years, a minimum
of anywhere from three to five Pro Tour Top 8 finishes, with bonus points
being awarded for strong finishes on the Grand Prix circuit, strong
finishes at the World Championships, a healthy number of Top 16 and Top 32
finishes at the Pro Tour, and a bit of consideration for wins as opposed to
early exits in the elimination rounds.

But the pure numbers tell only a small portion of the story, and if it were
simply a numbers game we’d have none of the beloved bellyaching and
mudslinging that we’ve gotten so used to on social media. Also, Scott Johns
would be in, and Randy Buehler wouldn’t. The intangibles matter. Those last
three factors, “integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in
general” matter a lot, and therein lies the excitement.

So, who are we looking at this year? Who’s got a fighting chance of making
it in and who is likely to get their feelings hurt by another year of
near-strangers making their grievances public record? And of course, who
will I be voting for? Why I even have a vote is a different story, but I
suppose getting a vote for the Hall of Fame is the only spot in Magic where
consistent, methodical mediocrity is valued over streaky finishes followed
by quick exits.

First, the ballot:

  • Samuel Black
  • Lukas Blohon
  • Marcio Carvalho
  • Patrick Cox
  • Andrew Cuneo
  • Javier Dominguez
  • Chris Fennell
  • Ivan Floch
  • Justin Gary
  • Mark Herberholz
  • Mike Hron
  • Tsuyoshi Ikeda
  • Tomohiro Kaji
  • Masashiro Kuroda
  • Marijn Lybaert
  • Seth Manfield
  • Tom Martell
  • Guillaume Matignon
  • Shaun McLaren
  • Andrea Mengucci
  • Chikara Nakajima
  • Brad Nelson
  • Takuya Osawa
  • Jamie Parke
  • Chris Pikula
  • Andrejs Prost
  • Carlos Romao
  • Tomoharu Saito
  • Eduardo Sajgalik
  • Lee Shi Tian
  • Mike Sigrist
  • Geoffrey Siron
  • Yuta Takahashi
  • Gerry Thompson
  • Gaudenis Vidugiris
  • Craig Wescoe
  • Conley Woods
  • Kentaro Yamamoto
  • Ken Yukuhiro

Of these players, the following are not very likely serious considerations
based on simply not having enough Sunday appearances (or good enough Sunday
appearances) at the Pro Tour level. Many of them are still active to some
degree, and I have faith that I will be voting for at least a few of these
men in the next few years. Mengucci and Sigrist, for example, are solid
favorites to be in the Hall of Fame by 2020 in my eyes:

  • Andrea Mengucci
  • Jamie Parke
  • Justin Gary
  • Mike Sigrist
  • Patrick Cox
  • Tomohiro Kaji
  • Andrejs Prost
  • Andrew Cuneo
  • Chikara Nakajima
  • Chris Fennell
  • Conley Woods
  • Eduardo Sajgalik
  • Gaudenis Vidugiris
  • Geoffrey Siron
  • Lukas Blohon
  • Masashiro Kuroda
  • Mike Hron
  • Shaun McLaren
  • Takuya Osawa
  • Tom Martell
  • Yuta Takahashi
  • Javier Dominguez

Eliminating those fine players, we come to a group of very similar resumes
from a few guys I would have no trouble voting for, were they to just pick
up one additional Pro Tour Top 8, World Magic Cup win, or other notable
achievement. Even one or two additional PT Top 16 finishes would likely
knock them into the range of my vote. I have voted for one of these players
in the past, and I look forward to the day when they are all in the Hall of

  • Gerry Thompson
  • Craig Wescoe
  • Guillaume Matignon
  • Ivan Floch
  • Carlos Romao

All these incredible players have won a Pro Tour or a World Championship.
All have three total PT Top 8s. All have contributed to the game in some
way or another. All are memorable in their own way. All (to my knowledge)
are clean, honest competitors without significant stains on their
tournament records or reputations. Sure, Guillaume Matignon got caught up
in a spoiler scandal alongside Guillaume Wafo-Tapa about seven years ago,
but that is a far cry from active cheating, and few would make the argument
that it disqualifies him from the Hall. After all, Wafo is a beloved member
of the Hall of Fame and was punished for the same offense.

Wescoe is memorable for his relentless championing of his favorite
archetype–White Weenie–his tireless content creation, his uncompromising
stance on his faith, and his ethical convictions towards diet. Whenever I
see him, I run over and give him a big hug. I doubt he’ll make it into the
Hall without another big finish, but I’ll be waiting for the chance to
applaud him when that day does come.

Carlos Romao was a Brazilian inspiration sixteen years ago when he won
Worlds with Psychatog. His example led the way for Brazilian Hall of Famers
like Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Willy Edel. He also just Top 8’d Pro Tour
25th Anniversary, so it seems like he’s back in the saddle and primed to
knock out a few more big finishes in the coming year.

Matignon and Floch are both consummate gamers, and having played against
both of them at some of the highest stakes in the game, I’m impressed with
their play and their demeanor. This despite Floch depriving me of a Pro
Tour Top 8 by beating me in the win-and-in match at Pro Tour Magic 2015!

And of course, Gerry Thompson, StarCityGames.com’s own star writer, a
person who I’ve battled a number of times on the SCG Tour and the Pro Tour,
and a shining example of a man who has devoted his life to the game and
grown immensely during his journey. A Pro Tour win, another finals
appearance, a third Top 8, countless hours of amazing content, and (though
it doesn’t really move the needle on the Pro Tour Hall of Fame) some of the
best performances on the SCG Tour all add up to make Gerry a promising
candidate for future years.

I would not fault anyone for including some of these players on their
ballot for the Hall of Fame, and I don’t think there are many people who

The rest of these players are interesting cases. We’ll go through them a
bit more individually.

Brad Nelson

The original Jund Guy, the Sultan of Standard, another one of my longtime
foes on the SCG Tour and the Pro Tour, and another longshot for the Hall of
Fame. Brad is in a similar position to Martin Juza last year. He’s got
three Pro Tour Top 8s, a metric ton of GP Top 8s, a smattering of Top 16s
to go along with it, a Player of the Year title, and a trail of valuable
articles a mile long. Like Martin, Brad is boosted by the
American/American-friendly-Euro bias that permeates the Hall of Fame voting
process. If he were a Japanese player with a similar presence writing
Hareruya’s best Japanese articles and crushing the various Japanese
equivalents of the SCG Tour, he would be almost a footnote on the ballot.
This is not particularly fair, but it is what it is. The best we can do is
point it out and attempt to recognize when it happens.

Unlike Martin, I think that Brad is probably not going to get in this year,
but his persistence and skill means that he’s a hard lock to get in at some
point in the next three years.

Chris Pikula

The original advocate for honest play, now turned into one of the ultimate
dads of Magic, Chris is a grouchy old metalhead who has had to watch the
Hall of Fame slip out of his fingers three or four times. His hopes aren’t
up this year (for good reason-who would get their hopes up again only to be
disappointed?), but there’s a lot to be said for the fact that the Pro Tour
might not even exist today if it weren’t for his (and Sheldon Menery’s)
efforts to root out high-level cheating and bring competitive Magic out of
the proverbial Dark Ages. Please Top 8 another PT so we can just vote you
in and be done with it, Chris! Hell, I’ll even give you a decklist for your
next event if it helps you re-qualify.

Kentaro Yamamoto

Kentaro’s ballot is as quiet as he is. The guy is good. He has
three Pro Tour Top 8s and a Worlds Top 4, and no one seems to know. What?
Remember the American bias we just talked about? Kentaro is one obvious
victim of that bias. He beat me deep in the event at Pro Tour Theros on the way to his first individual PT Top 8 with the deck
that would become synonymous with that Standard format: Mono-Black
Devotion. I returned the favor years later in the last round of Rivals of Ixalan for the coveted 11-5 in a short, intense match,
but Kentaro has always been a fierce competitor who I do not relish playing
at any event. If you have a problem with some of the questionable ethics
and controversy we’ll get to shortly, Yamamoto is a great (protest) vote to
both signal a dissatisfaction with the American bias and a dissatisfaction
with previously suspended players being in the Hall of Fame.

Sam Black

Sam is another colleague here at StarCityGames.com and another quiet
crusher just like Yamamoto. They both have three Pro Tour Top 8s and a
Worlds Top 4. Sam has a few more visible intangibles than Kentaro thanks to
his extensive record producing valuable content (but American bias clouds
that a ton, as it’s hard for me to know exactly how influential Yamamoto
has been in the Japanese Magic community). Sam was a part of a winning Team
USA years ago at Worlds 2008 and even won a car playing Magic way back at
Worlds 2007 in New York. I know because I played him (and Gerry!) in side
events at that event, back before any of us had encountered truly
meaningful, long-lasting Magic success. In the years since, Sam has proven
that he can compete with the best of them and come out on top, and with
another big finish he will be a shoe-in for the Hall in the coming years.

Now we come to some players who might just get in this year depending on
how much hype and support they receive, players who are certainly right on
the cusp of deserving of a vote on stats alone, as they have crossed the
threshold of four Pro Tour Top 8s and really cemented their places as elite

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

The first of a trio of underrated borderline Hall of Famers, Ikeda has a
bunch of Top 16 finishes to go with his Top 8s, including two finals losses
(one in Teams to Remie, Wiegersma, and Cornelissen in Seattle and one to
Brian Kibler in Austin). He’s been quoted (in the rare English interview I
found while digging around online) as mentioning a long and fruitful
relationship with the Japanese Magic community, where he promotes the game,
writes content, and commentates on the Japanese-language NicoNico program
for Magic. On top of that, he was the original player with a trademark
cowboy hat, so despite never having met the man, I love him and I feel
morally obligated to vote for him.

Ken Yukuhiro

I don’t speak much Japanese, and Ken doesn’t speak much English, but this
guy is both excellent at Magic and excellent at enjoying himself when he
plays. He’s never had any issue with the cleanliness of his play, and I’ve
never heard a bad word about him. Fortunately, Ken is currently still
hammering away at the PT, and I fully expect that we will be happily voting
him in at some point in the near future, but it is possible that it will
have to wait for one more Top 8 to push him over the hump that seems to
stop the pro players who don’t benefit from the American visibility bias.

Marijn Lybaert

Marijn is another quiet phenom, a player who racked up four Top 8s, a
smattering of Top 16s (including one at the recent PT Hour of Devastation!) and still manages to do tons of event
coverage for European GPs. I don’t know him very well personally, but it
seems like he’s held back by American bias as well as his own lack of
self-promotion. On numbers and contribution, Marijn is unimpeachable. Just
like Ken Yukuhiro, Marijn is a borderline Hall of Famer who would likely be
in with a little bit more visibility. One of these days, things will break
his way and he’ll get there, but it seems unlikely given the depth of
talent at the “three Top 8s with a win/four with no win” point.

Mark Herberholz

Mark has four PT Top 8s, with one win at Honolulu. He was the face of
American Magic for several years in the mid-2000s, holding up the torch
after the massive brain drain that coincided with a bunch of the best
players jumping from Magic to Poker in ’02-’04. Many respected
personalities have opined that it is a travesty that Mark is not already in
the Hall, including our own Cedric Phillips and Ari Lax. Further, Mark just
won a PTQ at GP Los Angeles to head back to the Pro Tour with U/W Control
in Modern and helped design the Bant Nexus deck that took Pro Tour 25th
Anniversary by storm (you can read about both decks

But you didn’t come to read this article to hear about how Mark was the
greatest in 2006. We know his accomplishments. We know that all four of
these guys would make fine additions to the Hall of Fame. We know that
they’re all sitting in that “just one more!” range that seems to be the
habitat for about a dozen players on this ballot. Folks are comfortable
taking their pick of the litter from among these fine competitors to show
some love or support to a personal friend or a favorite player. Clearly,
all these guys are long shots to pile up the necessary votes to actually
make it in.

No, you want to hear about the big four on the ballot. Two players with
decidedly marked resumes and records of suspension and two players with no
official transgressions (but audible undercurrents of suspicious behavior,
angle shooting, or other unenforceable tournament fouls). On stats alone,
these guys are slam dunks. Considering official DCI rap sheets, two of
these men are questionable inclusions that some will never vote for. And
considering the types of hearsay, gossip, and rumors that abound at
restaurants and bars among Pros at the end of long PT weekends, you might
be inclined to just wash your hands of the four most qualified players on
the ballot. This is unprecedented, and it’s exciting. Let’s try to separate
fact from opinion and see who makes the cut and who is just too tainted as
it currently stands.

Tomoharu Saito

We start with Tomoharu Saito. Saito-san is a Pro Tour god. He is eminently
qualified on raw numbers. In fact, he is so eminently qualified, he was
voted into the Hall of Fame years ago! Then he got busted for stalling at a
GP and got his Hall of Fame status revoked right before he was to be
inducted. I swear, you couldn’t script this stuff up better if it were a
soap opera.

Not to lighten the severity of his offense, but to be honest, I’d have
cried if it were me in his shoes. Saito cried, I’m sure, but he got up,
dusted himself off, and stayed with Magic, spending his time in tournament
purgatory building his business in the secondary market. This business
eventually sprouted the Hareruya game store network, whose flagship store
I’ve been lucky enough to visit in Tokyo. It’s a treat, let me tell you.

He has contributed immensely to the Japanese community via his tireless
efforts with Hareruya, and he maintains a presence on the Pro Tour. The man
is very good at Magic and bringing Magic to the world.

Unfortunately, his rap sheet is incontrovertible. Sinners can repent.
Sinners can rehabilitate. Sinners can be forgiven. Sinners can be brought
back into the community. Saito’s long list of incredible tournament
accomplishments is, however, tainted by his history of tournament
violations, and must therefore be discounted significantly in terms of
evaluating his fitness for the Hall of Fame. If Saito Top 8s another two
Pro Tours with no evidence of fishy play, I will strongly consider giving
him my vote. Until then, I’ll paraphrase Paul Rietzl and simply repeat that
it is neither a punishment nor a sign of animosity to decline to vote
someone into the Hall of Fame. It is simply a choice not to honor them in a
specific, narrow way. That choice, given all the above, is one given to
everyone with a vote for the Hall, and one that I will not judge anyone for
making in either the affirmative or the negative.

Marcio Carvalho

Moving on, of course, we have Marcio Carvalho. Marcio has an amazing
resume’ in his own right. Five Pro Tour Top 8s on top of a finals finish at
the World Championship in 2016 is incredibly impressive. Were it not for
some run-ins with the DCI, Marcio would be an instant Hall of Famer and on
the shortlist for “best player in the world” right now. Despite his clear
and obvious skill, though, Marcio is going to have to contend with a heavy
weight on his resume’. He knows it, we all know it. He’s incredibly
unlikely to get in as it currently stands, and it’s all because of some
dishonest play over his career.

Marcio has been disqualified and suspended in the past. The most egregious
was an incident with a Hornet Queen under a life pad in a spot where it
would be incredibly beneficial to slide the Queen into the graveyard to be
reanimated by Whip of Erebos. There was a peeking incident at GP Rotterdam
ten years ago. There are a number of stories beyond these two
disqualifications and subsequent suspensions. Articles have been written
about Marcio’s checkered history with the rules, and there is enough
evidence here to support the theory that Marcio did not earn all his
accolades with 100% clean, fair play.

The most important article I found in my research
for this review deals with both Marcio and the next player on the list,
perhaps the most controversial and divisive candidate of all:

Lee Shi Tian

Let us be absolutely clear. Lee Shi Tian has never been suspended for
cheating. Lee Shi Tian has not been disqualified from a premier-level event
for cheating. Lee Shi Tian has no rap sheet with the DCI. Lee Shi Tian has
five Pro Tour Top 8 finishes, which is pretty much the gold standard for
Hall of Fame candidate. What gives then?

There are stories. Stories about Lee playing with foils and feeling his top
seven cards with a Griselbrand on the battlefield, ostensibly to count the
number of “draw seven” effects he could use before he decked, but possibly
to feel which foils would be in the cards on top. Stories about Lee messing
up his Jeskai Ascendancy triggers in order to obfuscate the gamestate and
get an extra loot. Stories about messing up Cryptic Commands that should
have been countered when the only target was made invalid. Stories about an
extra land here, a shifted target there, and just a general low-volume
background hum of “well, he might try to angle shoot you or
opportunistically cheat if you let him.”

What is the point of these stories? They don’t serve to bring about any
real justice. They just foster a climate of distrust and suspicion. They
dovetail nicely with the lingering prejudice about non-American players as
preternaturally dishonest. They serve to create a very real, very invisible
division in the Pro Magic community, and they make it incredibly difficult
to sort out true evidence from hearsay and conjecture.

I would love for the DCI to open their vaults of data on some of these
players to reveal if there appears to be a pattern of warnings for sloppy,
advantageous play on a controversial candidate like Lee Shi Tian. An
absence of this evidence would be a huge benefit to Lee’s candidacy,
silencing the naysayers with data. Evidence of a pattern would be a huge
benefit to the Hall of Fame, allowing voters to see with their own eyes the
hard facts of a career spent wheedling one’s way into unfair advantages.
Unfortunately, we are not going to see something like that.

In that case, I am forced to put my faith in the DCI, to believe that if
there were sufficient data to support the claim that Lee is a cheater, he
would have already been suspended. Therefore, I will not allow hearsay and
rumor to influence a vote that, were there no confirmation biases and
ingroup/outgroup biases in the Pro community, would not be up for debate
whatsoever. Lee Shi Tian gets my vote, and I sincerely hope that the
absence of hard evidence of cheating is, in this case, hard evidence of
absence of cheating.

Seth Manfield

And of course, we come to the final player on the list, the World Champion,
Pro Tour Champion, and soon-to-be Hall of Famer (hope this doesn’t jinx
it!) Seth Manfield. Seth has an incredible Hall of Fame-worthy resume’.
He’s humble, he’s hardworking, and he’s a world-class Magic player. He is
an everyman–he gets nervous when pairings go up for a big match, he
tinkers and tweaks his decklists up to the last minute, and he seeks
reassurance from others when he’s not feeling particularly confident in his
deck choice. Everyone should get the chance to meet Seth, even if just to
reassure them that great minds can come from the most unassuming, sheepish,
slightly rumpled-looking characters at the event.

My friend and teammate Ondrej Strasky recently called Seth out for
egregious slow play and repeated badgering for a concession in Pro Tours
back in 2015-2016. I believe Ondrej. I believe that Seth played too slowly.
I believe that a man who gets as anxious and nervous in high-pressure
situations as Seth does might awkwardly and repeatedly ask for a concession
when he thinks he might be able to get one. It’s not the most sportsmanlike
trait in the world, but it is understandable. In and of itself, it does not
disqualify someone from being honored for high achievement.

I believe that, due to his nerves, he might also slow down beyond his
normal methodical pace in a key match, and that to an opponent this would
just appear to be advantage-seeking stalling. This was especially ugly when
Seth was in the Top 8 in question with a draw and Ondrej needed the win,
but I am comfortable letting this type of high-pressure anxiety-driven
slowdown pass without intensive investigation. Whether there should be
judges more adamantly intervening in high-tension situations where one
player is playing too slowly is another matter, but yes, I believe that the
judges were probably too lenient and inattentive in allowing Seth to play
slowly in this match.

This type of after-the-fact analysis of Seth’s play doesn’t move the needle
on my evaluation of his achievements, all of which were earned without
incident or intervention from the DCI. Tomoharu Saito was banned for
stalling after he was voted into the Hall of Fame. It’s not like
the DCI is impotent when it comes to going after suspected cheaters on the
Pro Tour. Seth has been playing at the highest level for years, and the
lack of any type of official reprimand or punishment on this subject is
enough for me to examine Seth’s results as honest, hard-won, and 100% valid
for purposes of evaluating his Hall of Fame candidacy.

I took it as a given that I’d be voting for Seth when he hoisted the trophy
at Pro Tour Ixalan last year, and I’m proud to do it now. It was a
true cherry on top of an already stellar career, and this Hall of Fame
induction should be all the better for honoring his commitment to the game.

My ballot then, as it currently stands:

  • Seth Manfield
  • Lee Shi Tian
  • Mark Herberholz
  • Marijn Lybaert
  • Tsuyoshi Ikeda

I look forward to congratulating the inductees at the next Pro Tour!