Flores Friday – Popularity Contests

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It’s August, Lorwyn is just around the corner, and eyes have turned to the upcoming inauguration of the third class of Magic’s Hall of Fame. It’s safe to say that, of this year’s illustrious nominees, there are one or two locks for inclusion. Today’s Flores Friday sees Mike share his opinion on the class of 2007, with a rundown of his final five picks.

Magic today seems full of popularity contests. Correctly reading the metagame is in large part figuring out what bad deck everyone else is going to latch onto for a week, so you can position the appropriate predator. Some people think the Magic Invitational is a popularity contest; others feel that it is a platform where voters and even candidates try to promote their personal agendas. The Mothership conducts direct popularity contests every two years or so… which is why we had Rewind over Dismiss in a couple of years back, and lost Kird Ape to Mogg Fanatic in Tenth Edition. Even StarCityGames.com facilitates a popularity contest every week… Certain writers vie for the top (most trafficked) Premium spots every week, and tangle in regular sub-games of one-upsmanship, compelled to make the concession phone call to each other every Monday. However, this week I am going to discuss probably the most important Magic popularity contest in the game today, the annual ballot for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

This is the third year of Hall of Fame balloting, and the third that I have been invited to be a member of the selection committee. I think I did a terrible job my first year, and a solid, if ultimately not-particularly-successful – job last year… Though to be fair, I voted for one Hall of Fame inductee out of five both times. This year I put myself on hitting 4/5… But I’m not sure exactly which four.

Here are my votes:

1. Kai Budde

For a while, I entertained the idea of not voting for Kai on the basis that Jon Finkel was not a unanimous inductee in the first class and that somebody had to be “brave.” After some consideration I decided that I was just going to lose my votes for the following year if I made such an asinine decision, as well as a fair amount of credibility in the community… and for what? Two wrongs don’t make a right, and Kai is legitimately the first or second best player ever to touch hand to cardboard. I have never been the kind of person to do anything purely on principle, and not voting for Kai would actually be a violation of the most important principle of all: We want the best possible people in the Hall of Fame. Kai deserves my vote: a no-brainer.

Doubtless some other misguided soul is will no-vote for Kai in order to keep the playing field equal with Jon, so I don’t have to.

2. Zvi Mowshowitz

My first ballot for the Hall of Fame was:

Jon Finkel
David Humpherys
Brian Hacker
Dave Price
Hammer Regnier

I was trying to be really unbiased about the choices, but with two years of hindsight I think I did a dismal job. I only got one inductee “right” and I missed Alan Comer. After my 2005 ballot Randy Buehler even emailed me, not quite comprehending how I came to the conclusions that I did yet did not vote for Alan. I was overjoyed when he made it in because I was very angry at myself for not voting for him myself (I still don’t know how the Hump missed the first class… I think he was legitimately the best player on the planet for a while).

My ballot last year was an attempt to correct the errors, philosophically, of my first ballot.

Brian Hacker
Bob Maher, Jr.
Steve OMS
Chris Pikula
Itaru Ishida

I really regret not having voted for Chris and Steve in the first year. I think I tried to hard to seem unbiased and didn’t vote with my heart. The theory is that the selection committee for the Hall of Fame is a special mix. We all have some connection to the storylines, the players, and Magic itself… but have different perspectives. If it were just about lifetime winnings or mean finishes or whatever other metrics, a machine could pick the class each year without the input of people like me. The personal opinions and experiences – and even biases and prejudices – of each individual voter are important. The criteria for picking people with votes is significant. I tried really hard to vote like a machine in the first year instead of realizing the reasons why I was given votes at all.

That actually makes voting really convenient this year. I am not close with Kai but know and have personal relationships with every other person I voted for this year. The proximity I have – and have had – to these great players really informed my experience, both as a player and a member of the voting committee.

Zvi Mowshowitz is a good friend. I enjoy spending time with him, and have learned a lot from him (I flatter myself to believe that I have taught him a thing or two… some of them in Magic, even). For a while I wasn’t sure that Zvi was going to make it in this year, but I now believe him to be a mortal lock. At the Top8Magic.com offices we did a poll of the best deck designers from era to era, and Zvi’s career from that perspective is just bonkers. For a long time I just considered Lauer and Schneider the best of all time (probably because someone, possibly me, declared them such sometime in the 1990s) and never looked back… But in terms of active players (“then” active, meaning in their primes and not necessarily today), Zvi is close to incomparable. His reign stretches from the Zero Effect at Pro Tour: New York 1999 to a Pro Tour win, going on maybe three years (though there is a short blip when I steal it from him for about three months).

Four of my five picks for 2007 are PT winners, and Zvi with the Solution is obviously one of those. He is one of two Magic writers (the other being edt) whose style I actually emulate in my own prose; this is telling because I have more formal writing instruction than both of them put together, but I think they communicate ideas with short sentences very well, so I pepper my usually long and complex sentence combinations with quick phrases out of both (most ballotters probably didn’t figure that into their voting criteria). More than that, I think Zvi might actually have more words than I do… If so, he’d be the only one. Unlike most people, Zvi is actually good people. He genuinely cares about people on an individual basis… At the same time, he can approach a match with ice water in his veins and play ruthlessly… which is more than I can say for myself.

All in all, Zvi was almost certainly the best deck designer, one of the best players, and probably the most prolific strategy writer on top of whatever other criteria people want to attribute (he had a great network, for example) of any eligible player. I am supposed to be this great strategy writer, but honestly, I got a lot of my theories in some form from Zvi; he is also a Chapin-level idea man.

Any ballot that lacks Mowshowitz is only a micron more ridiculous than any ballot sans Kai.

Plus, and this is a big one: I don’t think I could look Zvi in the eye without making this vote.

3. Tsuyoshi Fujita

For me, this was an easy vote, and the one I was most glad to cast. I think Tsuyoshi is close to a lock, because a large majority of the voting populace sees Japan as a dominant force in the game, and Tsuyoshi was the first of the truly great Japanese players to actually show how great he, and they, could be (he lost to Zvi in the finals of PT: Tokyo). Many see a vote for Tsuyoshi as symbolic, “that he should be the first Japanese inductee,” but I personally had to problems voting for the superb deck designer Itaru Ishida last year.

Speaking of superb deck designers… Tsuyoshi probably has more Q-rating as a deck designer than any other active player, probably since Zvi. Not very many people have said this, but the Time Spiral Block Mono-Blue Pickles deck that most attribute to Kenji Tsumura is basically Tsuyoshi’s Pro Tour deck, but pre-sideboarded. Before Mono-Blue he boasted the 20/20/20, Red Deck Wins, Boros Deck Wins, Sneak Attack, Pro Tour-winning Go Anan deck (predecessor to Kuroda-style Red), his own Japan Nationals-winning G/R Goblins, Goblin Bidding, Legend / Paddle, and probably tons of additional decks. I obviously love a deck designer.

Lastly, I have a great personal admiration for Fujita. He is extremely loose and easy-going. Despite a definite language barrier, he is quick to laugh or to give a productive deck critique. He has a good heart and cares deeply for the health of the game and the fostering of young players (unlike most top level professions, Tsuyoshi regularly attends Friday Night Magic). If you look at him out of the corner of your eye, you might accidentally see his halo. All in all, Tsuyoshi is one of the best people I have ever met on the Pro Tour, and I am happy to help make sure he has the opportunity to play forever if he so chooses.

4. Michael Turian

Now we enter a more controversial phase of the balloting. I think that Kai is automatic and Zvi near-automatic; my assumption is that the active 100 point players will carry Tsuyoshi even if his popularity among the selection committee is a little lower. By my count there are four players vying for the last two spots on this year’s ballot, and the axis for voting rests largely on how you feel about voting for a present member of Wizards of the Coast R&D. As you can see with my #4 vote, I have no problem voting for present R&D members.

To me this vote is basically Turian versus Herzog. Both are Pro Tour winners; Nico actually won two Pro Tours; Mike was also featured in both Top 8s, and Nico actually beat Mike in one of them. By the vote-Guillaume-over-Heezy Invitational criteria, shouldn’t Herzog almost necessarily beat out Turian for this lot, or at least push him down to my last vote?

This is where the personal experiences of individual voters comes in. I had Nico on my short list, and I think he is a perfectly serviceable vote (I have seen him on numerous ballots). I don’t buy the “Nico was / is an extremely bad player” argument. I am not familiar whatsoever in Nico’s technical game. That said, I am extremely familiar with Mike’s.

I asked Randy Buehler at U.S. Nationals if Steve Sadin could have the 7-0 plaque for Limited, you know, kind of like a consolation prize for missing Top 8. “The problem,” Randy responded, “is that Mike Turian took the Limited plaque home and just kept it. Forever.”

Mike is about the best team draft partner you could imagine.

Mike is possibly the best Limited beatdown player in the history of the game. He knew when he could steal two points by sending a Grizzly Bears into a Hill Giant, and took Green cards in a way that no master before or since can or could boast.

One of my favorite tricks for a draft is to wait for him to sit down and then “randomly” sit directly to Mike’s left (I have done this many times and have been paid off every time). Basically Mike never takes Blue cards and always takes Green cards, so sitting to Mike’s left protects my Blue picks (I don’t want any Green cards if this is my play). There is no danger because assuming we are playing Jonny draft rules, I have an equal chance of being on Mike’s team regardless of where I sit (this differs from “ordinary” draft rules, where teams sit in alternating places). Turian is good for a 2-1 or better every time; you don’t want to be on the opposite side.

5. Randy Buehler

The biggest argument against Randy is that he is presently employed by Wizards of the Coast. As you can see by my #4 vote, I don’t consider that a valid reason not to vote for someone. One of the thing the present crop of players doesn’t – can’t – know is that Randy was absolutely unstoppable for a solid term. I remember sitting down next to Jon and Randy shooting the spit at U.S. Nationals 1998 and asking them which one was the best player in the world. Jon kind of smiled “It’s me, obviously,” and Randy nodded that it was probably Jon… But you could see that Randy knew how close he was. It was something that you would actually have to think about.

What can you say about Buehler’s game? He won his inaugural Pro Tour. He was a hell of a rookie. He was the Road Warrior before we started to keep track of things like that. “How can you compete with Randy?” Chris Pikula once asked me. “He make the Top 8 of more of those easy European Grand Prix tourneys than most American Pros attend.”

I regret not putting Ben Rubin on my ballot this year, but Ben has just cemented an actual Level 3, and doesn’t need Hall of Fame this year to keep playing. Ben was the odd man out on my ballot… I think he has a fair shot of making it in this year nevertheless.

Looking ahead…

Next year is another rough one. Dirk should be automatic, and I think it’s hard not to vote for Marco right behind him. I am definitely voting for Billy Jensen… But does he even have the resume of a Steve OMS? I’ll have to look it up. 2008 has dominating players like Carlos Romao, and popular present professionals like Olivier Ruel and Jelger Wiergsma. It should be another shootout.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s ballot. I know it’s not as deliciously profligate as last year’s… But I think I’m going to get more “right” this time around. Just to recap:

Kai Budde
Zvi Mowshowitz
Tsuyoshi Fujita
Michael Turian
Randy Buehler

Thanks for reading.