Hacking The Vote

Last year, I had a few choice words to say on the subject of the Hall of Fame voting… and rather than go on again about how Mike Long most emphatically does not, double-underscore exclamation-point, belong in the Hall of Fame, I would raise the one guideline that matters when it comes to voting for the Hall of Fame:

“…The Hall does not bestow the luminous shine of greatness to the Players, it is the Players who grant esteem to the Hall.”

Last year, I had a few choice words to say on the subject of the Hall of Fame voting… and rather than go on again about how Mike Long most emphatically does not, double-underscore exclamation-point, belong in the Hall of Fame, I would raise the one guideline that matters when it comes to voting for the Hall of Fame:

“…The Hall does not bestow the luminous shine of greatness to the Players, it is the Players who grant esteem to the Hall.”

This year has been a reasonably good year for me, as far as this silly little game of ours is concerned. I have made zero PTQ Top 8s, nor did I Top 8 at Regionals or even States, nor did I make Day 2 at any Grand Prix. However, despite all of these things, I have been inches from each of these things… well, except for States, as I disappeared to see a girl instead. My chances for success or failure have been within my own grasp, and while I have screwed things up pretty much every time in one fashion or another, I’ve still screwed them up less often than I used to in the past. I am playing more than I have before at any time short of when I actually worked in a card store in my college years, thanks to Magic Online where you can draft if you want to (if you leave your friends behind). I have a reasonably good weekly column here on StarCityGames.com, which alternates between “awesome” and “good but too wordy” depending on whether I actually chop my words into readable bits.

But what makes this a good year for me, despite no successes in the game to lighten my spirit, is that my interest, enthusiasm, and effort for the game has been rewarded. I have been granted a vote as part of the board that selects the Magic Hall of Fame. In an otherwise very dry year, I have been given what I regard as the ultimate reward for my efforts as a writer and a proponent of the game.

Voting this year isn’t easy, however. It’d have been easy to vote the first year, and not easy but still not hard to vote last year. This year, however, is when everything hits the fan, as we all saw two years ago when the scheme for who might be eligible when was first unveiled. For me at least, the process was one of paring down the list into a smaller, more manageable chunk of information, eliminating those who did not truly have a place ascending to stand among the giants of the game in our collective esteem in our search to pick just five names.

A lot of people in the same situation pore over statistics. Others vote for their friends, or at least would be accused of it. Everyone hopefully realized very early on that there were only four votes to cast, because those who do not vote for Kai Budde do not deserve the right to vote. The same was true in the Year One vote for Jon Finkel… and the only thing besmirching his unanimous induction into the Hall of Fame was some guy trying to game the system. I can understand why one person might want to “game the system,” and even empathize with the desire to kowtow to tradition, so that Kai cannot obtain that which was robbed from Jon. Were just one person to omit Kai Budde from their vote so as to hold Jon and Kai as equals in our near-perfect esteem, I would understand it and not rage at them; an honor that should have been bestowed upon Jon Finkel was denied because of imperfections in the system in the first year, specifically perhaps in the choice of those who would be granted a vote… and Kai Budde is again due that honor, in equal measure. I would not scream “THERE IS NOT ENOUGH CAPSLOCK FOR MY RAGE!” were Kai to fall short of that mark by exactly that one person… but I am not that person.

So, that makes a few things easier: one seat filled, and some seats emptied.

Vote #1 — Kai Budde

There is nothing that needs to be said about why Kai deserves this honor that has not been said a thousand times before. If the Hall of Fame is intended to enshrine the best minds and the best players that the game has ever seen, to not include Kai Budde would make a farce of the Hall of Fame. This is the measure of what the Hall means, and by its very definition as a vision of the game’s best we think of Jon, of Kai, perhaps of Kenji in his time… but there at the forefront of those luminaries of the game we see the German Juggernaut.

Welcome to the Hall of Fame, Mr. Budde. Try not to let the new expansion of World of Warcraft eat too heavily into your Worlds playtest time.

Empty Chairs At Empty Tables
Noah Boeken — 0 PT Top 8s
Igor Frayman — 0 PT Top 8s
Gary Krakower — 0 PT Top 8s
Pierre Malherbaud — 0 PT Top 8s
Satoshi Nakamura — 0 PT Top 8s (and the most painful to exclude for this reason… but I’ll live.)

Kurt Burgner – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
Donnie Gallitz – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
Andre Konstanczer – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
John Larkin – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
Raffaele Lo Moro – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
Shawn “Hammer” Regnier – <4 PT/GP Top 8s
Brian Selden – <4 PT/GP Top 8s (... again, the most painful to exclude for this reason, but I’ll live.)
Terry Tsang – <4 PT/GP Top 8s

The Black Mark Of Death
David Bachmann
Ryan Fuller
Thomas Guevin
Mark Le Pine
Pete Leiher
Mike Long
Casey McCarrel
Trey Van Cleave

I don’t plan on voting for Voldemort for President in 2008, either. This is not to say that the names on this list are all cheaters, per se… though some are, undoubtedly. These eight names failed the minimum required ethics test, though admittedly some of them would have been excluded along with those above drawn off the list due to a convincing lack of what you might call “dominating Pro Tour or Grand Prix performances.” Some of these names have won Pro Tours. I’ll leave it to the bemused reader to wonder just how.

Two names survived the Black Mark of Death, having been known to have at one point or another “failed the ethics test” but otherwise repented or provided sufficient additional cause to consider them all the same… Mark Justice, despite the Muscle Sliver incident, and Scott Johns. In fairness, this is where I should say that I had a long and very good business relationship with Scott, in his time as an editor at first Mindripper and then Brainburst; it is in at least some way because of him that I am even here writing today, in that he gave me a chance that was otherwise fading towards obscurity when the Magic Dojo closed its doors for good, a chance to be read by the world as a strategist and theoretician for this game. Scott did amazing work in helping to build for us today what we were in danger of losing entirely back then, a functional Internet community for the exchange of ideas and commentary about the game, and that’s even before the role he played in the creation of MagicTheGathering.com, today called “the Mothership.” Scott repented of his ethically unclean ways back in the darker days of Magic when some people presumably cheated under a strange sort of stress to “keep up with the Joneses”… or perhaps the Longs, as it were. Scott has attained a higher level of success after reaching for the moral high ground than he did before, and made an amazing difference in our little corner of the world because of it.

I fear I will not be voting for Scott Johns, when the chips are thrown down and five names appear. But I do feel that a special note was warranted, both to clarify the value of redemption in the eyes of those who watch the game and to give a nod to the fact that while we might have ended up somewhere similar, we would not be where we are today if not for his efforts. I know I will not be voting for Mark Justice, but that is because the press of history has left him behind and the role he had in our history of the game is overshadowed as of Year Three by other achievements.

On that note, we can fill in the second vote:

Vote #2 — Zvi Mowshowitz

… Nepotism, nepotism, nepotism. Much like how I share a history with Scott, I likewise share a history with Zvi… if you call a candle sitting in the shadows of a spotlight “sharing a history.” Zvi has broken more cards, and more formats, than most Magic players can even dream of. Zvi’s accomplishments are not as high as others on the list, by simple numbers… one win, three other Top 8s at the Pro Tour level, and eight total Grand Prix Top 8s. Factoring in his advocacy of the game, his efforts as a thinker and as a writer, and adding in the fact that the only reason he has “faded to obscurity” is because he tried to top this all off with a career making the game the best it can be… Zvi is clearly one of the five who belong in the Hall of Fame this year.

And this is easy for me to say even despite considering Zvi to be a friend, even if I haven’t been much of one to him; I helped Zvi move back into his apartment when he came back from Renton, and have him friended on my Livejournal. One has to be harder on one’s friends when judging their worth and value in such a difficult task… and even then it’s still an easy call.

This leaves us with a lot of statistics, and a fair number of names. Pulling out everyone who only made 4 GP/PT Top 8’s, names fell by the wayside: Trevor Blackwell, Sigurd Eskeland, Yann Hamon, Janosch Kuhn, Neil Reeves. I kept Dave Price and Tomi Walamies, both as people whom I felt deserved better than to be cut at this point, for reasons besides sheer numbers: Dave, as a shining beacon for hard work and fair play, and for his efforts as the editor of the Magic Dojo when Frank Kusumoto left it to pursue other things in life. At 5, we lost Svend Geersten, Masami Ibamoto, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Mattias Jorstedt, Benedikt Klauser, Matt Linde, Gab Tsang, and Matt Vienneau… and again, keeping Brian Hacker “alive” despite the numbers, as the man who taught us how to beat down and how to draft, and whose vivid personality (and perhaps hair, depending on the week) shone out through his tournament reports and brought a stronger sense of the “lifestyle” of the game to those who followed it. We’ll keep chopping at people, saving a few who might deserve additional regard, till we get to double-digit combined Top 8s, and then compare who’s still on the playing field:

By Exemption:
Randy Buehler, Brian Hacker, Nicolai Herzog, Brian Kibler, Chris Pikula, David Price, Tomi Walamies

By The Numbers:
Tsuyoshi Fujita, Itaru Ishida, Steve OMS, Mike Pustilnik, Ben Rubin, Alex Shvartsman, Bran Snepvangers, Mike Turian

Even trying to whittle things down from the abundantly large amount of information to a more manageable group, by judiciously cutting people who underperformed in the “dominance” category… even people who have made more than $100,000 in winnings at the game, or as many as 251 Pro Tour points lifetime (sorry, Justin… I don’t mean to dismiss you out of hand, but the competition is just THAT fierce). We now have to argue in favor of keeping everyone my conscience has twinged at me for the thought of cutting, and I find as much as I’d hope to see Chris Pikula or Brian Hacker make the Hall, we all knew that Year Three was going to be a vicious year and the first two years of voting were their best chance of making it. I can likewise let Tomi Walamies and Brian Kibler go; just because we love them for the humor and everything else they have also brought to the game doesn’t mean others might not have earned a greater right to be stood aside Kai Budde on that stage in New York at the end of the year. From those who have earned a reprieve so far that leaves us with just Dave Price, Nicolai Herzog, and Randy Buehler; of those who so far are still with us by their own merits, sadly this is where I let a few friends from “back then” down.

I am certainly a fan of one Dr. Michael Pustilnik, and cannot profess any sort of ignorance into his career as a card-slinger. I’ve helped to obtain cards for his decks, and driven from New York to Florida with him for a Grand Prix… and if you think the “Storyteller Ballot” for the Invitational was full of hijinks, try being the one in the car who has to tell MikeyP “No!” every time we passed a Hooters. There were a LOT of Hooters between NYC and Fort Lauderdale. But, elevated to the level of “giant”? I find that hard to see and to believe, because the game has grown just that vicious. By that same token I’m to let Alex Shvartsman go as well, with the caveat that I’m certain he’d earn my vote for next year for his work in effectively creating “The Sideboard” tournament coverage in its modern form and evolving the Pro Tour lifestyle by leaps and bounds by trotting the globe on the Grand Prix circuit. There are only five slots, and if I am not filling them with people I would be absolutely terrified to play against then I fear I am doing the wrong thing here. There are a lot of compelling arguments for candidates still on this list, both for utter dominance in the game to advancing the game as a whole.

I find at this point, with that criteria, we have two more votes to add:

Vote #3 — Ben Rubin

Vote #4 — Tsuyoshi Fujita

I’m not terrified of playing Alex, as the one time we played at a Grand Prix (Invasion Block sealed deck, naturally) I actually beat him. Kai Budde is terrified of playing Ben Rubin, and Ben’s numbers can help back up the “why” of that. As for Tsuyoshi, would you want to be playing against him if the first land he played was simply basic Mountain? Tsuyoshi has had an amazing impact on advancing the Japanese Magic scene in the ten years since he began playing, and has had an amazing run of deckbuilding that is clearly on the top ten list of all-time greats. For more on why Tsuyoshi belongs in the Hall, with all the nitty-gritty details, I’ll let Mike Flores fill you in… I’m sure he will in great detail, and most likely has for the same “Flores Friday” this article is scheduled to appear.

By that merit, though, I guess I shouldn’t be voting for Randy Buehler… I mean, I hear Rizzo beat him with Dark Depths that one time. That doesn’t sound very scary to me.

Crossing off names from those who were still with us by combined number of PT and GP Top 8s, we cut mercilessly down for that last slot to be filled: Itaru Ishida, Steve OMS, Mike Pustilnik, Alex Shvartsman, and Bran Snepvangers all get the axe. Some of these hurt terribly: Alex is surely worth inclusion in the Hall, but this year? Against this competition? I’m less convinced. Steve certainly has the level of game, and a sufficiently commanding level of dominance, to be worthy of suggestion… he even won a Grand Prix this year, and with the monkey of teaming with Top 8 Magic’s Matt Wang and the monkey of it being a Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix. Of those still alive on merit alone, it’s because there is more than merit alone to warrant it, and at that even moreso than Alex had: Mike Turian.

Let us compile that short list of names for the fifth and final vote. Mike Turian. Dave Price. Randy Buehler. Nicolai Herzog.

Nicolai and Dave are hard to sell for, in this company. Dave truly loved the game… and was one of those competitors you feared to play, as anyone who was on the receiving end of The Stare would say at least so long as they were still on the receiving end of that death gaze… oh, and he kinda sorta y’know “saved the Magic Dojo” when it seemed that the newly-born and slowly growing “Internet phenomenon” of online Magic theory and discussion was about to be smothered in its crib. Nicolai has a level of mastery worthy of sufficient note that it’s kept him alive this far… but I fear no further. This leaves me weighing Randy Buehler and Mike Turian, each as our first representative to the Hall of Fame of Team CMU. Both could have accomplished more if they hadn’t, you know, stepped away from playing the game to start making the game, as it seems so many of CMU’s greatest brains did.

I don’t remember Mike Turian being beaten by Rizzo with Dark Depths, so that’s a humorous nod in his favor on the “absolutely feared” scale. He also played Secret Force at Worlds one year, which proves a certain flexibility of mind as well as a certain sense of humor, when all you need to do is make sure you pull a couple of wins against people you know will be playing Red decks. Both have a nebulous shadow of mystique hiding their efforts at Wizards of the Coast from the public view, one cannot say which has been the “better” contributor to Magic in that time… though you can probably point to Fact or Fiction and say Randy had the bigger share in designing that one, take that as you prefer it, either a feather in their cap or with scorn as you remember the phrase “EOTFOFULOSE!” You could also humorously look at Randy’s new job as manager of Digital Games, and weigh the promised sea change that is Gleemax.com against the promised and as-yet nonexistent “good version 3.0 update”… and worse yet the utter horrific dread that is the new interface we may get stuck with suggests that maybe the Digital Games head hasn’t been using said head enough if we’re getting the shaft with 3.0.

Between the two, for me, we have a neck-and-neck tie. And when it comes to those, for me at least, the nicer guy always wins… because how often does that happen out there in the real world? Mike Turian inspired that level of fear that would see me place him beside Zvi, Kai, Rubin, and Tsuyoshi on that platform in New York, and he did it all with a pleasant demeanor and a goofy smile on his face (though maybe a bit of growing up will have reduced the level of “goofy” in the smile… I know it helped for me). Randy Buehler inspired fear, it’s true… but that might be attested more to his explosive attitude at times, and for taking things inside of the game very personally outside of the game.

Some things cannot be printed on family websites. So the words that ring in my ears as I have to choose one but not both is “Good luck getting a deck for tomorrow,” and you’ll have to understand that the words actually used were not quite as polite, and were enough to get a significant penalty as he left the Rochester draft table 1 year at Worlds. While it’s quite possible neither of these people will “make good” on the permanent Pro Tour invite conveyed by membership in the Hall, I don’t see that as any reason to, say, choose a lesser luminary for that position… to do so cheapens and demeans the ideal that we are hoping to express, in reward for mastery and in acknowledgement of skill. But I know which of the two I’d be happier to see return, although I’m told Randy’s temper has significantly mellowed now that a bit of age has come and the solo life has become the family life. But in response to the person who was, those fateful words are not what I would want to see hanging around his neck, LOLcat-style, on a certain stage as he stood beside the German Juggernaut whom we told we were honoring so greatly.

And thus the Irishman asks for potato. Make of that what you will.

Vote #5 — Mike Turian.

Many names have been left along the wayside. The job would be far easier with ten. But we have five… and harrowing as it was to get there, I am pleased to name them at least in my mind thusly:

Kai Budde, Zvi Mowshowitz, Ben Rubin, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Mike Turian.

And I marvel that little old me was entrusted to utter such words of power. O brave new world, that has such people in it…

Sean McKeown
smckeown @ livejournal.com