Feature Article – Hall of Fame Thoughts 2010

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Friday, August 6th – Two years ago I appeared on this here site here (that’s how we referred to StarCityGames.com back in the day) to argue the case against putting Olivier Ruel in the Hall of Fame. I was overruled.

Time to flip the script.

Two years ago I appeared on this here site here (that’s how we referred to StarCityGames.com back in the day) to argue the case against putting Olivier Ruel in the Hall of Fame. I was overruled.

Time to flip the script.

(Which in German, comes out as scriptgeflippen — not exactly the smoothest word to work into your flow. But Germans don’t have rap, so nevermind.*)

To make this crystal clear for everyone reading, I have no agenda this year. I’m only writing this because I was bludgeoned into doing so by friends on Facebook. This isn’t to say I don’t care, because I do. I simply didn’t want you to assume that just because I was writing something for the first time in two years, I was going to make a big deal. I’m totally not, so feel free to move along to your normal reading. I bet AJ Sacher has a fresh, happy-go-lucky piece readily available, should you desire other reading material. For the rest of you, let’s begin.

We’ll start with the important stuff, like who I think should be in the Hall of Fame on this year’s ballot.

Actually, I lied. Instead we’ll start with a complaint about behaviour I just don’t understand.

Some people with votes don’t seem to be using their allotted five slots. This baffles me. To me, not using all five slots on your ballot means one of two things: Either they a) don’t feel qualified enough to vote for at least five people, in which case they should be doing more research or not have a vote or b) they feel there aren’t a full five people deserving to get into the Hall, which is arrogant (and to me) misguided. There are five players in this year’s potential class with at least five PT Top 8s. There are thirteen with at least four PT Top 8s and if that isn’t enough, there are nine more with at least three including really interesting names like Blume, Chapin, Kibler, Mori, and Steve OMS. If you can’t find five worthies from all those guys, you are either ignorant (correctable), a donk (unfortunate), or you loathe your fellow Magic players (tragic).

Thus you can assume that I will use all five slots. Additionally, I’m not down with any of this silly gaming of the vote, so I will be doing things like voting for the most obvious candidates, even if everyone else will as well. C’mon sheeple, it’s just the right thing to do.

Right, back to the vote swaying…

I’ll start with Gabriel Nassif.


Hell yes.

I could use 2000 words to explain why, but everyone else will be doing that/has already done that, so for a final time I’ll just say yes. Hat has been nothing short of incredible for his entire Magic career.

Next we have Anton Jonsson. He deserves lengthy explanation because like Dre, it seems like some people done forgot about him**. How this is possible, I do not know, but it’s happening right this very minute.

Five PT Top 8s (this basically auto-qualifies a candidate unless the guy is a real scumbag). Eight GP Top 8s, all of them in Europe (additional degrees of difficulty). The bulk of his career came in the modern era (again, an additional degree of difficulty). One of the undisputed best players in Limited for at least a five year period (2002-2006). He’s also Swedish (more bonus points).

And did I mention he’s awesome? Because he’s awesome.

The knock on Anton is that he was only a Limited player, but he has a constructed PT Top 8 (PT New Orleans where Kai beat Walamies and EDT ate his hat, and which boasts one of the more impressive Top 8s you’ll ever see) as well as two GP Top 8s in the only two constructed Grand Prix he ever attended, so how could you possibly not vote for him?

It’s indefensible.

It’s inexcusable.

Your name would have to be Michael J. Flores to knowingly submit a ballot that bad.

Do you know what Anton has been doing this summer? Working as a carpenter. For free. He also has long hair. What other long-haired carpenters do you know?

Let me put this another way… if Jesus Christ had five PT Top 8s, would you vote him in? Exactly!

Next on my list comes Bram Snepvangers. His baseline qualifications are merely excellent and not totally nuts— four PT Top 8s, seven GP Top 8s. He also gets points for incredible longevity. Did you know he’s been qualified for 62! Pro Tours? That’s six more than Ikeda’s 56 (which is also really impressive) and 16 more than Nassif’s 46. To put that another way, he’s been qualified for/attended more than three years more Pro Tours than Nassif. Regardless, that wouldn’t be enough to give him an edge in a tight field without the community bonus points. Ask the Dutchies (hell, ask most of Europe) whether they think Bram should be in and you get nearly unanimous support. This is rare for a competitive game with strong egos involved, but Bram’s work as a mentor, tournament organizer, and rock of the Dutch and European Magic communities have made him a legend.

Three more fun facts about Bram. First, he has one of the best nicknames of any Magic player in Bram Snapplebanger (which I think is attributable to EFro, but I’m not 100% on that). Second, he might be the single most boring player on Tour, and certainly wears the wardrobe most likely to be seen on some dowdy professor of Flemish Literature. And third, he was responsible for keeping Chris Pikula from his fourth PT Top 8, thus possibly keeping Pikula forever out of the Hall of Fame.

Don’t remember that story? Allow me to elucidate and illuminate your minds.

It’s Pro Tour: Seattle 2004, Pikula is teamed up with Josh Ravitz and Igor Frayman as The Max Fischer Players (excellent team name, by the way). Going into the final round, Pikula’s team is in fifth, tied with fourth place and one point out of third. The pairings come out and Max Fischer are paired down while third and fourth are paired together. This means that the 3-4 match can’t draw, and if Pikula and co get the expected concession from a team that has absolutely no chance of getting to the Top 4, they are in.

Then came Bram.

You see, Bram doesn’t concede. Not ever. He considers it to be against his moral code and in a game with a lot of grey, he’s the ultimate white hat. Thus his team, toernooicentrum.nl/faal (turrible team name, just turrible), was not about to roll over and give Max Fischer the win. So despite the fact that Pikula and Igor worked on Wall Street and were making bank (Investment Banker bank, not small change like I-just-won-a-Pro-Tour bank) and obviously would have covered any potential lost winnings from Bram and Co (they couldn’t say this though, because that, kiddies, would be bribery), Pikula, Ravitz, and Frayman had to play for it. And it was close. Here’s the coverage recap of the final game — Ravitz had already won and Igor had lost, so it was all down to Paluka and Didier Deurloo in game 3 to decide it.

Didier kept the pressure on with an equipped Tanglewalker and he played a full-sized Skyreach Manta. He tapped his Joiner to move the equipment to his flier. Chris thought about his end of turn and shot Didier. He moved his Horned Helm over to his Sorcerer and drew a land to entwine the Rude Awakening but he was two points short of killing the Dutch player.

He realized almost immediately that he could have played the turn differently. He could have shot the Wall of Blood and used the Inflame in his hand. Didier would have either had to let the Wall die or pay two life to save the Wall. Either way — paying two life or having one fewer blocker — would have won the game and the match for Pikula’s The Max Fischer Players.

Chris was beside himself and his expletives rang throughout the hall. He regained his composure pretty quickly and smirked, ‘Plus, I would have been a genius if I had made that play. How could I miss that play?’

Osyp Lebdedowicz pointed out that Didier would have won Game 2 had he ambushed the Stoker. He added, ‘You’re an old man. Nobody expects you to see that play.’

Didier added, ‘His wife is happy now. We saved his marriage.’

For the record, Turian was the one recording that match, and actually had the play written down as how the game would end, but had to go back and change it when Chris didn’t see it. The Potato, already in the Hall of Fame = Absurd. Paluka, only two PT Top 8s and never quite in the Hall of Fame (at least not yet) = notsomuch. If he’d gotten that fourth Sunday though…
So yeah, Bram Snapplebangers, I choose you.

Next on our ballot we have Tomoharu Saito, Japanese expert rogue deck designer, store owner, master Magician and world slap-fighting champion. Saito-san has five PT Top 8s and fifteen! GP Top 8s. (To be fair about the GPs, the bulk of them were in softer Japanese and Asian GPs. Then again, to be fair to Saito, he has been more than capable of travelling abroad and taking scalps there too, like uh… last weekend.) He also has cooler hair than you.

Of course, the book on Saito isn’t all slaps and sea stompies. Back in the early days of his career he was banned for eighteen months as a result of two incidents. The first was bribery during the 2001 APAC championships (with Satoshi Nakamura getting dinged for acting as interpreter, doh!) while the second was a case of unsporting conduct in pursuit of a win.

Now those of you who read my article from two years ago might think that I have issues with players eligible for the Hall of Fame being banned for cheating, but things are different here. First of all, these happened back when Saito was a kid (nine years ago), and we all make mistakes when we are young. Since then Saito has a clean bill of health. (Well, sort of…)

The other thing that is different is that, like I said, I was overruled. Two years ago I made a plea against Oli because I thought it was a big deal not to put someone with a relatively notorious past into the Hall of Fame. The voters disagreed, as was their prerogative. It made me realize that the institution is much more about the legends of the Pro Tour and overall popularity than who did things the exact right way. How else do you explain why so many ballots these days focus less on determining who is “truly deserving” and instead degenerate into “Okay, who do I have to vote for? Nassif? Saito? Done, now I can vote for my friends.”

As a result, provided you are not put off by nefarious deeds committed when he was a small child, Saito clearly belongs in the Hall of Fame.

This brings us to our last slot on the ballot: Mike Long. If run-ins with the DCI don’t matter (and it seems to have decided that they don’t), then Mike Long’s absence from the Hall of Fame is a glaring oversight.

Let’s start with the qualifications — four PT Top 8s plus four GP Top 8s at a time when GPs were not all that prevalent. Those are strong stats, especially from the early years. Additionally, his 3-Year Median finish at Pro Tours was 24th, an astounding figure. On top of that, Mike gets community points for running a store, teaching people to play the game via his website and videos, and going out of his way to help Wizards promote the game and be a major face of Magic. He was also an outstanding deck designer, continuing to create sick decks for Vintage (Long.dec, early Affinity builds, etc) and acting as David Williams primary supplier for years after Mike had retired from the Pro Tour.

Face it, no one was more important to the Pro Tour in the early and middle period than Mike. Don’t believe me? Mark Rosewater, one of the guys who came up with this Hall of Fame idea in the first place, devoted an entire article to why he voted for Mike Long and why it mattered.

“The final straw that pushed Mike over the edge for me was the historical context that I’m overlaying over this first ballot. It is hard to talk about memorable moments (both good and bad) of the Pro Tour without constantly stumbling over Mike’s name. For good or for bad, Mike was an integral part of the Pro Tour for quite some time.”

Now obviously there are some knocks on Mike that, along with a lot of ridiculous prejudices, have helped keep him out of the Hall thus far, but let’s address those.

Complaint #1) Mike was banned for cheating.

Response: You are correct. He was banned for one whole month in his entire career. Bob Maher was banned for six months. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Olivier Ruel was banned for six months. He’s in the Hall of Fame. Saito was banned for eighteen months and he’s probably going to be in the Hall of Fame. All of those horrible things you think Mike Long may have done merited a suspension of less time than three of the game’s greats. Perhaps he wasn’t nearly as bad as he’s been made out to be…

Complaint #2) Mike Long was bad for the game.

Response: Rosewater didn’t seem to think so, and he’s kinda had the longest tenure of anybody, plus he has a vested interested in what is good and bad for the game. Magic thrived with Mike around and so did the Pro Tour.

Mark Brown, a level 4 judge from Australia, even told me that if he hadn’t received his vote from being a judge, he would absolutely vote for Mike Long. And that’s just it, judges these days can totally handle it if Mike were to try and pull any of his previously alleged shenanigans.

Complaint #3) Mike Long was evil.

Response: First of all, you likely don’t know Mike Long and only feel that way because you read it somewhere on the internet. You obbbviously believe everything you read, don’t you?

Take it from someone who learned to draft in his store, who knew his friends and his ex-wife, and who played basketball with him every week (uh, me) – Mike wasn’t evil, he was chaotic energy. You never knew what you would get from him, but you were guaranteed that it would be spectacular. This was true in almost every aspect of his life, but he was a masterful gamer, constantly pushing to try and find an edge to get ahead.

I was discussing this issue with unofficial Mike Long historian Jonathan Becker the other day and Jon brought up something I actually didn’t know in Mike’s defense. I was complaining about Mike’s fidgeting in his seat when you played him and his noted tendency to perch (which many people thought Long might have been using to get dirty peeks at people’s cards).

Becker: He had a note!
Knutson: What do you mean?
Becker: No joke, he had a note from his chiropractor. Mike had some old back injuries from wrestling in high school that wouldn’t allow him to sit still, so he had an official note to explain it.
Knutson: That is amazing.
Becker: It probably read like Epstein’s mother or something.

Dear Mr. Kotter:

Please excuse Epstein from not sitting on the regular seat, and instead perching. It helps his back.


Epstein’s Mother

Becker, by the way, has voted for Mike Long. It has been a looong time since Mike was around the Pro Tour regularly, and a lot of the hatred spewed at him came as a result of overblown hype because Magic needed a villain and he played the part masterfully.

I can see you thinking, “well why wouldn’t you just vote for Mark Justice, his resume is actually better?” Because in the history of the game, Mark Justice doesn’t matter nearly as much as Mike Long. Who is the player people would be shaking in their boots to see across from them in a feature match? Mike Long. Who would you be most excited to see lose to your favorite player when playing for a Top 8 spot? Mike Long. Who is the bogeyman you would tell your kids about to make them behave – the only Magic player who could truly be described as ‘infamous’? Mike F***ing Long.

No one in Magic has ever personified the role of villain with so much flair and relish as Mike Long. And likely no one ever will. If run-ins with the DCI and things like short-term bannings are going to be explained away and brushed aside (and they certainly have been), then Mike Long absolutely, positively belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Let me put this another way: If Mike Long were to suddenly make a comeback to the Pro Tour, would you click every one of his feature matches, just to see what would happen? If your answer was yes (even a grudging one), then you are already agreeing that we need to make this happen. The man is a legend, and it would be awesome to see him back on the Pro Tour at every stop.

I’ll be back next week with a really long article from two old guys shooting the sh**. Seriously.

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* Or do they?] (thanks to DirkB)

** Yes, I am so old and out of touch that I have to go back ten whole years to find a valid pop culture reference to kick off this section. Thankfully, Becker went back a full 25 extra years with his Welcome Back, Kotter reference (foreshadowing). It’s nice to have friends (a lot) older than you. Ask him about his term in Vietnam some time.

*** This is what Pikula had to say recently about the Oli article I wrote two years ago. “Somehow I had never read this article. It was fantastic! After all these years the cheaters still make me sick.” Given the tone and content of this article, I don’t think I can expect quite the same response.