From The Lab – Some Players Aren’t Quite As Bad As They Seem…

Read Craig Jones every Tuesday... at StarCityGames.com!
Craig “The Professor” Jones takes us through his personal choices for this year’s Hall of Fame ballot, and questions the very nature of Magic play itself. Why do certain folk acquire a Bad Player nickname, even if their results would lead us to believe different? In answering this question, can we improve our own play?

Things to do:

Win Grand Prix 1998
Play on Pro Tour 1999
Make National Team 1999
Make money at Pro Tour 2001
Top 8 a Pro Tour 2006
Win Nationals 2007
Get invite for Invitational 2007?*
Secure top secret island HQ 2007
Conquer world! 2009?

* may require nuclear bombardment of Brazil

And dead August continues…

I got a little excited when I saw MTGSalvation.com had 26 cards listed in their Lorwyn spoiler. Then I went over to check and realised twenty of those were basic lands.

After the great handbag battle between Pros and Joes, Evan Erwin emerged victorious to win the Storyteller ballot for the Invitational. According to the purists, this spells doom for the Invitational and also signifies a coming Apocalypse that will fry the earth to a crisp.

I might have had more sympathy for the purists except they decided that the guy who finished 68th in the Pro Player race last year was “more deserving” than the guy who finished 25th and racked up a second place PT finish in the process. That sort of undermined the whole “send the guy with the best finishes” argument, in my eyes. But I might just be bitter, so you might want to take this paragraph with a pinch of salt

The great handbag fight wasn’t so much of a fight as it turned out. The main “stop the donk” candidate, Gerard Fabiano, finished a long way behind in third place. Even if you added mine and Gerard’s votes together we still wouldn’t have toppled Evan. This is hardly surprising, as casual players outnumber pros by about a gazillion.

Still, it doesn’t matter. More people decided they wanted to see Evan tell stories from the Invitational than anyone else, which means he’s the most deserving to go. Just make sure you don’t pick up that donut, Evan. Take them out the night before and get the pros so blasted on German beer they can’t make a conscious thought the next day without their heads splitting open like ripe watermelons.

That was my plan, anyway.

Rather interestingly, despite all the brouhaha about Pros and Joes, it was actually Emperor Smmenen who quietly accumulated enough votes for second place. The forgotten people of Magic, the Eternal community, took the opportunity to let their voice be heard. Hopefully next year they’ll get a ballot to send a respected name from either the Vintage or Legacy formats to fly the flag at the Invi.

I quite like the possibilities of the (sort of) new-look Invitational, but it’s a shame that this week, Fan Favorite, is back to the grab bag of voting for whichever Level 4 pro failed to make it in on all the other ballots.

(And that includes me, hint hint…)

But anyway, this is so all last week’s news. The vote this week doesn’t even look that interesting. Judging from the forums I might actually win… the largest share of the 10% of votes not for Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

(But you can always… whatever, you probably get the picture already)

Anyway, enough shameless self-promotion. There was a point to this article, oh yeah. Actually it’s more a continuation of last week’s article. I was also going to talk about the Hall of Fame ballot last week, but ran out of space.

Ye Gods! First he does an article on the Invitational and now he drags out the Hall of Fame. Are there no depths to this man’s depravity?

I’ve never quite understood the level of vitriol that always seems to follow articles on the Mothership about the Hall of Fame. Is this because of jealousy, overexposure, or people just not caring?


Why does everyone hate the Pros? Part 2.

Maybe at some point I should do the:

Why do the Pros hate everyone else?

But anyway, back to the Hall of the Fame. So how do I convey how important it is to people who just play Magic around a kitchen table (although I suspect I may have the wrong market here, and are preaching to the already converted. You guys already paid for this, after all.)

So you already think it’s a big deal to pick five guys and stick a giant gold knuckleduster on one of their fingers.

If you don’t… well, it’s because Magic is balanced. The vast majority of people who have ever played Magic, and will ever play Magic, are casual players. These are the guys that buy all the boosters. Some of them will have never heard of Alan Comer and wouldn’t care even if they had. But the Hall of Fame is important because it gives the game a sense of history. If the game’s been around for ten years then there’s a good chance it might be around for ten more. The Hall of Fame lends Magic a sense of legitimacy. There were people who took the game seriously, because it was worth taking seriously, and reached a level significantly higher than anyone else. A sport/hobby looks far better if you can point to players that made a substantial impact at some point in the game’s history.

But you guys already know that, right?

A lot of writers tend to drag out the stats at this point. I’m hoping to go a little further and try and point out what these people did that made them so much better than anyone else.

(As a little aside, I think that ‘better than anyone else’ is part of what inflames the hatefest the Hall of Fame seems to trigger on the Mothership. Magic players by and large are drawn from the smarter and more competitive sections of the gene pool. They REALLY don’t like the thought of someone being better than them at something they devote a lot of their time to because that generally doesn’t happen to them. Hang around MTGO some time. You can spot the juveniles as they haven’t been put in a situation where someone legitimately beats them at a game often enough yet to learn to accept that they make mistakes.)

I’m going to actually start with my third pick because it sort of ties in with those bitter overtones you may have detected earlier.

First some stats (Look away now!)

First Last # PTs PT Top 8s Top 8 Avg Median Finish 3-Year Median GP Top 8s Career Winnings Pro Points Avg Points
Kai Budde 42 9 0.214 42 23 14 $352,620 475 11.310
Nicolai Herzog 35 4 0.114 83 47.5 2 $187,895 240 6.857
Tsuyoshi Fujita 43 3 0.070 73 25 12 $167,695 274 6.372
Ben Rubin 44 4 0.091 62 42 6 $159,015 274 6.227
Zvi Mowshowitz 38 4 0.105 71.5 36.5 8 $141,460 236 6.211
Justin Gary 45 3 0.067 61 25 3 $128,815 251 5.659
Itaru Ishida 44 1 0.023 80 79 17 $125,995 243 5.525
Ryan Fuller 27 2 0.074 42 28 9 $118,430 186 6.889
Michael Turian 38 5 0.132 72 63.5 6 $118,053 234 6.158
Kyle Rose 30 4 0.133 60 30.5 2 $117,465 176 5.867

I ranked it by Career Winnings, as that seemed a fairly good metric to judge players that play a card game professionally.

Three of my picks were really straightforward and one of them was Nicolai Herzog. Yet I suspect he probably won’t make it in, the reason being the prevailing perception that Nicolai Herzog is a bad player.

This isn’t “bad” in the Mike “Lord Voldemort” Long sense, but just plain bad in the Scrubby McScrubberson sense.

This is an aspect of Magic I’ve run across before and not really held much truck with. I’m a results-oriented guy. I don’t really put much stock in nebulous opinions of how good someone is. There’s plenty of hype and hot air around already.

Put it this way. If you were a football manager, would you take someone with a lot of flashy ball skills or someone who can actually put the ball in the back of the net?

I’m a very simple person.

Show me the results!

I’ve seen it happen before. Person A wins a tournament. But that was obviously a fluke. Then Person A goes and does well somewhere else.

Oh, it’s just another fluke.

Then they do well somewhere else.

Man, that Person A is so lucky…

Uh, at one point do you go, hmm, maybe Person A is… you know… actually quite good?

I imagine there’s a fair few people been tarred with that brush. For example, I’ve heard mutterings before that our esteemed editor is not someone to fear on the British scene (names and addresses in an envelope later, dude). This mainly stemmed from someone once observed him on the Pro Tour forget to attack with a Jackal Pup for one measly turn.

Craig Stevenson forgets to attack with Jackal Pup, so obviously he’s a scrub. (Or whatever brain fart it was.) [I was tired! — Craig.]

Yeah, but Craig Stevenson has a GP Top 8, a PT Top 32, has qualified for multiple Pro Tours, and is still the reigning English National Champion (and will be forever more unless they split the championships again).

I’d hazard a guess and say that’s a better resume than most of the people reading this.

“Badness” is fairly relative in any case. Lets take that Bad Player Flores tag. Ah, that Mike Flores, he’s rubbish compared to “real” pros.

Sure, but it’s round 8 of a PTQ and you’re playing Mike for the Top 8, and you’re the guy that’s just punted the game. Still laughing at that bad player tag…?

In another example, a friend of mine who mainly judges mentioned at one point he thought he might have a shot at me at draft. It’s not Constructed, and Prof’s always going on about how bad at draft he is…

Except it’s all relative. If anything I lose less at draft in my local area, because with Constructed there’s always the risk you get the unwinnable matchup you can do nothing about.

But this is all minor stuff. Let’s take Nicolai Herzog.

He won the Norwegian National Championships in 1999 and then went on to win the European Championships and make the quarter-finals of the World Championships in the same year. That’s a fairly explosive start.

He went on to become the first two-time continental champion with a second European Championship in 2003 (the last one as it turned out).

Then there was 2004. Herzog won back-to-back Limited Pro Tours (Amsterdam and San Diego). BACK-TO-BACK!

Despite winning two Pro Tours in a year, Herzog failed to make Player of the Year. Totally giving up on Constructed Magic probably didn’t help his cause much.

Yet we have a bad player tag, and it interests me. I’ve also heard in some quarters that Herzog’s success is possibly one of the more mystifying things in the history of the Pro Tour (I should also point out that Herzog was clean, as far as I’m aware).

I suspect there are types of player that aren’t always consistent. Sometimes when you watch them they might not seem that impressive, and that might make it easy to conclude they’re not the best. But that might be because they don’t have their heart fully in this particular game. It’s when they bring their A-Game to the table you want to watch out.

There are guys that always post consistent, solid finishes, and there are guys that win tournaments. Herzog falls solidly in the second camp.

For me, his resume is just too good to ignore. The one black mark is that he’s not so interested in the game anymore, and permanent Level 3 status might be wasted on him.

Pick #3, Nicolai Herzog.

Talking about A games…

Pick #1, Kai Budde.

Kai got the nickname “The Juggernaut” for good reason. When it came to Sundays he was utterly relentless. Only oddballs like myself (barely counts — this was before Kai became famous), Bram Snepvangers (twice!), and Tobias Henke have ever stopped the The Juggernaut once the tournament went into the last eight.

This for me is the most memorable aspect of Kai’s career. It’s not enough just to make the Top 8. You have to go on and win the tournament, and there were none better than Kai at doing this.

Being able to play under the lights or with tons of people scrutinising your every move is a lot different to playtest matches. Some players are better at handling that pressure than others.

So what can you take from this?

This one’s hard. Once his reputation grew, Kai was able to get a few cheap wins simply because his opponents just crumbled, but he gained that reputation after winning three Grand Prix in quick succession. If you’re a player that consistently makes The top 8 only to be knocked out in the quarter-finals, then you need to take a good long look at yourself. No one likes to own up to letting the pressure get to them, so you have to be brutally honest and try and work out if there’s something you’re doing differently. Maybe you’re playing more conservatively than you would normally.

Pick #2, Zvi Mowshowitz

Why Zvi?

Well, how about this:

Zvi Mowshowitz
“Zero Effect”
[designed by Mogg Squad, including Zvi Mowshowitz]
PT New York 1999

4 Cloud of Faeries
1 Palinchron

4 Frantic Search
4 Fluctuator
4 Grim Monolith
3 Lingering Mirage
2 Opportunity
2 Rescind
4 Stroke of Genius
3 Thran Turbine
4 Voltaic Key
1 Yawgmoth’s Will

4 Blasted Landscape
3 Drifting Meadow
2 Island
4 Polluted Mire
4 Remote Isle
3 Smoldering Crater
4 Tolarian Academy

4 Hibernation
2 Island
2 Miscalculation
1 Opportunity
1 Power Sink
2 Rescind
2 Turnabout
1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Or this:

Zvi Mowshowitz (USA)
1999 World Championships Team Finals Standard

4 Yawgmoth’s Bargain
3 Show and Tell
3 Delusions of Mediocrity
4 Mox Diamond
4 Grim Monolith
4 Voltaic Key
3 Turnabout
1 Blaze
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
4 Dark Ritual
4 Scroll Rack
1 Intuition
4 Vampiric Tutor

4 Underground River
4 City of Brass
3 Crystal Vein
4 City of Traitors
2 Rootwater Depths
3 Swamp

2 Boil
1 Chill
3 Defense Grid
1 Delusions of Mediocrity
2 Disenchant
1 Light of Day
1 Lobotomy
1 Mana Short
1 Masticore
1 Perish
1 Yawgmoth’s Will

Or maybe this:

Zvi Mowshowitz
Fires, PT Chicago 2000

10 Forest
5 Mountain
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Fires of Yavimaya
4 Blastoderm
4 Saproling Burst
4 Assault
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Rishadan Port
3 Jade Leech
3 Two-Headed Dragon
2 Dust Bowl
1 Earthquake

4 Kavu Chameleon
3 Earthquake
3 Flashfires
2 Reverent Silence
2 Tangle
1 Obliterate

Or how about this:

Zvi Mowshowitz
W/U – PT Tokyo 2001

4 Coastal Tower
10 Island
10 Plains

4 Crimson Acolyte
4 Galina’s Knight
4 Meddling Mage
4 Stormscape Apprentice
4 Voice of All
4 Absorb
4 Exclude
4 Fact or Fiction
4 Repulse

2 Aura Blast
3 Crusading Knight
4 Disrupt
3 Gainsay
3 Pure Reflection

Zvi didn’t just break formats, he snapped them in half and then crushed them to powdered ash. Zvi was a master deck constructor, but more so he articulated his ideas to the general public with a regular series of articles.

When it came to deck construction Zvi was a master of navigating through the maze of possible card combinations. His winning Tokyo deck was dubbed “The Solution.” Basically, they hadn’t broken the format, they’d solved it.

This mastery of the 60-card format gave Zvi an edge over practically everyone. Unfortunately, this is probably one of the hardest things to learn from. After all, not everyone can be Zvi.

The remaining picks are a nightmare. Last year I didn’t get Mattias Jorstedt, Alex Shvartsman, or Mike Pustilnik. This year the ballot is just too strong for them to get a look in I think, although Shvartsman’s 21 Grand Prix top 8’s is notable.

I always want to make room for Mr Consistent, Justin Gary, but I’m never quite able to fit him in.

A lot of people tell me I should include Michael Turian. He won a team event with Potato Nation at PT New York 2001 as well as picking up multiple top 8’s. I think he’s strong, I’ve heard a few old time pros mention they didn’t relish the prospect of taking him on at Limited.

But as an old reporter I’m a sucker for the newsworthy stuff. Give me wins or a story! I think I can do better, but it feels tough to say so.

This ballot is just brutal.

Pick #4: Randy Buehler

This was a tough choice. There are a number of black marks against Randy. One, his career is really short (just 12 PTs) and the other is that he works for Wizards, and it’s sort of a waste of giving someone permanent Level 3 status.

To be honest, I’ve never liked the “they wouldn’t be able to use it” argument. The only criteria for me is what the players have done, not whether they can use the benefits or not.

Randy’s career was short, but explosive. He won the first PT he played in (Chicago 1997), and I believe is still the fastest player to rack up 100 Pro Points.

His career was cut short because he went to work on the other side of the fence. Since then he’s become a regular sight in the commentary booth on Pro Tour Sundays.

The interesting conundrum is how far could Randy have gone had he stayed as a player. Could he have challenged a Finkel or Kai?

This is all hypothetical, of course. Had Randy gone and taken a well-paid job in the city, his name wouldn’t be on this list. However, it’s for services to the game overall that pushes him over.

The last decision was really tough, as it came down to Ben Rubin or Tsuyoshi Fujita.

It’s Superman versus the first Japanese player to ever Top 8 a Pro Tour.

Sorry, but it’s the reporter’s instinct’s again.

First Japanese player to Top 8 a Pro Tour!

And this is the deck:

Tsuyoshi Fujita
U/B – PT Tokyo 2001

11 Island
4 Salt Marsh
9 Swamp

2 Phyrexian Scuta
4 Ravenous Rats
2 Urborg Shambler
4 Addle
4 Exclude
4 Fact or Fiction
3 Prohibit
3 Recoil
2 Repulse
2 Spite
4 Undermine
2 Yawgmoth’s Agenda

4 Gainsay
4 Nightscape Familiar
2 Phyrexian Scuta
2 Spinal Embrace
2 Urborg Shambler
1 Yawgmoth’s Agenda

And it all ties in neatly, as who did Fujita lose to in that final… none other than Zvi Mowshowitz.

However, Fujita has also been assembling some of the best Red decks ever since then. This example propelled him to his third PT Top 8 in Los Angeles in 2005:

Tsuyoshi Fujita — Boros Deck Wins
Pro Tour-Los Angeles 2005 Top 8

1 Plains
4 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Windswept Heath
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep

4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Savannah Lions
3 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
4 Goblin Legionnaire
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
4 Firebolt
4 Lava Dart
4 Lightning Helix
4 Molten Rain
4 Pillage
1 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Purge
3 Fledgling Dragon
3 Blood Moon
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Flametongue Kavu

This is close to the 20:20:20 model, which is almost the starting blueprint for most Red decks nowadays.

If you want to pack Mountains and sling burn, then this philosophy is a damn good starting point.

So this leaves my picks as:

Kai Budde
Zvi Mowshowitz
Nicolai Herzog
Randy Buehler
Tsuyoshi Fujita

…from an inordinately talented ballot.

If you get a chance, I would heartily recommend checking out their games in the past coverage section. Sure, the Hall of Fame may not mean a great deal to you, but the best way to get better at the game is to look at the example shown by the very best.

Thanks for reading