Inspired by Brian David-Marshall article last week on the mothership (not to mention a power outage in the building that cancelled EDH League this past week), I’ve gotten a jump on Hall of Fame season since I’ve already made my choices. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a vote every year since its inception, and it’s a responsibility that I approach with significant amount of gravity. What I looked for was sustained superior performance, contribution to the game in general, and that intangible spark that pushed a candidate past his peers. Performance is the top factor, with the other attributes being tiebreakers (or in the case of poor sportsmanship, deal-breakers).
This year’s ballot is difficult, to say the least. There are more great players on it than I have picks (which is five). The first is a repeat from last year who didn’t make it, one honorable mention from last year, and three new names.
Huey was, simply put, a winner. He is commonly recognizedâ€”by people whose opinions on such things carry a great deal of weight with me, such as Finkel, Kai, and Nassifâ€”as one of the greatest technical players ever. A Pro Tour, two GPs, and a Masters Series win top a great resume. I think he put up heady numbers when it was somewhat more difficult to do so.
I’ll continue to repeat myself from last year: When Osyp tweeted, “Why is it so hard for people to vote for Huey? If I didn’t topdeck against him twice he’d be a two-time PT champion, should be on all ballots,” it was a significant factor in breaking a serious logjam for my fifth spot. Even with other great names on the ballot this year, Huey’s accomplishments and skills are not diminished. This is the vote that I considered the most deeply, since the next four are, in my mind, crystal clear choices.
I bust chops on Patrick Chapin a fair amount, but I have an underlying respect for his Magic accomplishments and community contributions. The PT Top 8s (across three different decades, by the way) are just the tip of the iceberg. He’s overcome some adversity in life and risen to the top of the Magic philosopher food chain. I think there are few players who care about Magic’s success from the big picture the way that Patrick does and few who have contributed to his level. This combination to me warrants the vote.
Six Top 8s. Rookie of the Year. 248 lifetime Pro Points. Lost Player of the Year 2005 by four points despite skipping a Pro Tour. Grand Prix Champion to go with ten Top 8s. Team World Champion. The icing on the cake is that he was the leading edge of Japanese domination of the game. He was the first Japanese player to have multiple PT Top 8s and the first to win a North American Grand Prix, so in addition to all else, he was a trend-setter.
There are maybe four or five players in the history of the game that can have laid claim to the title “Clearly Best in the World” at any given time, and Kenji is in that rarified air. Five Pro Tour Top 8s. Two GP titles. Player of the Year. How much further do I need to go? I also loved that Kenji never let being a fierce competitor get in the way of being a top-flight sportsman. There’s also a side story, below.
Finkel and Kai are looking over their shoulders. An absurd nine Pro Tour Top 8s. Some folks might discount him for a HoF vote because he’s so young and still at the top of his game, but that’s nonsense. He’s already one of the game’s greatest players ever, and he still has probably his best years in front of him. An amazing strategist and writer as well as player and great ambassador for the game, there are few players with a more complete package than PV. This vote was the slammest of dunks.
Honorable mention from last year and moving strongly up the ranks in my mind after a 21st place finish in Barcelona. One more PT Top 8 and I’m pretty sure he gets in on my ballot.
My sixth pick from two years ago and Top 5 last year is unfortunately out of the Top 5 this year. Four PT Top 8s, 6 GPs, and 300+ Pro Points, which, as I said last year, is basically the 3,000 hits club in my mind. Not as splashy as some of the other players on the list, but no less deserving. It’s simply unfortunate that I only have five votes, and I feel compelled to pick the best five.
Midrange finishes at the last two PTs have done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for Ben’s excellent career. One or two more high finishes and he probably has a solid vote.
A strong resume, but just not quite there, especially in this rather strong class. I’ll note that friend, fellow RC member, and L5 Toby Elliott disagrees with me here, and I’m pretty sure he’s voting for Justin.
I have a feeling that unless he makes a comeback and puts up a few more numbers, Heezy will remain just outside looking in on my ballots. Makes me slightly sad because he’s a pretty good guy.
Probably the same story as Herberholz.
There are a few people on the ballot that I’d just like to show some love. Their list of accomplishments isn’t quite HoF-worthy, but for various reasons, it’s worth recognizing them:
I honestly didn’t know he was going to be on the ballot since I didn’t think he’d been around that long. One of the best Magic minds I’ve ever run across. If you want to talk to someone about the game that will make you learn something every time, Simon is the one. He has that same kind of ability to break down the game into its basic pieces that Kai has, with a slightly better ability to articulate it to those of us who aren’t top-flight pros.
A player’s player. I only know him very vaguely, but people whose opinions I value hold him in quite high regard. That’s more than enough for me.
A good man all around and a great player who I think definitely has great days in front of him. I was distressed to find out that he doesn’t have his own entry on Wikipedia.
Because if you don’t shout-out to DW, you don’t love life.
Brief Side Story
Kenji was also involved in the only time I ever raised my voice and swore at players during an event (which, despite circumstances, I want to be clear is NOT EVER the way a HJ should deal with players), although he wasn’t the target of my displeasure. It involved two notable miscreants (let’s call them “Friends of Gerard”) and a plot to stuff Kenji into a trash can. Fortunately, after my string of invectives, they were suitably abashed and returned our friend to the ground upright.
Top 5 Greatest of All Time
As I mentioned, writing up my ballot now was partially inspired by the power outage at Armada and partially by BDM’s article, in which he polled a cross-section of the Magic community (me being one of them) about the greatest players of all time. The first four came right off the top of my head. Choice number five was tougher because there are so many great players out there both from Magic’s past and still playing today.
The most prodigious talent the game has ever known combined with the drive to succeed that hallmarks a true champion. I think there’s a Gretzky-esque division between Jon and everyone else, to include Kai. Â Â
Much has been made of Kai’s work ethic and ability to study and break down the game to atomic levels, but I always found his play quite inspired. Sure, it was technically amazing, but I think he was also just one step ahead of everyone. Like Neo and the Matrix. His results are undeniable.
Perhaps the player that I’ve always found the most clever and intuitive, not to mention the best at reading the combination of both the game state and his opponents, Nassif has put up all-time great numbers by being great at all aspects of the game.
Arguably the person who has done the most, in the big picture, to promote a positive image of the game, people get lost in the rest and forget Brian’s raw ability. The man is simply great at playing Magic. He has the trophies to prove it.
After those four, there are many names which occurred to me, such as Shuuhei Nakamura, LSV, Ben Rubin, Raph Levy, Kamiel Cornelissen, and even that upstart named c. It’s no disrespect to any of them when I say:
Frank is just smarter than the rest of us. I think he understands the game at the quantum level, in a fashion that few can ever grasp, and translates that to lines of play we would never get to. He finished 38th at Pro Tour Geneva while battling a full-blown case of something akin to food poisoning. Pure brilliance.
Embracing the Chaos
I did manage to get in some casual games before the power outage put us out of business for the day. In one I got to play Animar with Jesse (Ghave), Melvin (his new Maelstrom Wanderer) and Adam (with my Phelddagrif, since he had just come from work and didn’t have his own). Animar is now down to six other non-permanents besides Primal Surge, and as we started playing, Melvin mentioned that his deck had only three or so non-permanents. This made the game eerily devoid of board sweepers, and after eliminating poor Jesse (poor only in that his Ghave deck hadn’t yet vomited out an army of tokens), we played a relatively long game which simply got locked up with creatures.
I had Evolution Vat plus Spike Weaver going early, which is how the game lasted so long in the first placeâ€”since Melvin’s Champion of Lambholt would have otherwise gotten both of us crushed. At the point where it had 15+ counters on it, I started doubling up on Spike Feeder because my life had gotten kind of low. Once I got Plaxcaster Frogling and Inexorable Tide going, it was difficult for anyone to target my guys.
Melvin took a shot at taking out Adam, which I didn’t prevent since Adam was the only one with board sweepers. I figured that Melvin’s only real way to kill me was with combat damage, and if I could keep alive Spike Weaver, he really had no outs. We hunkered down for the trench war. I kept up with Evolution Vat plus Spikes since I didn’t really need to double up on Animar because I was just casting so many creatures that between those and the proliferates, he was large enough.
I played conservativelyâ€”I probably could have been slamming my fewer but larger guys into his army, but I didn’t want to lose either Spike since they were keeping me alive. I thought I had the game won with an EOT Cryptic Command to tap all his guys, but he had Mystic Snake. The very next turn, I cast Djinn of Wishes, but then when I activated it at Melvin’s EOT, I got one of my win conditionsâ€”Kessig Wolf Run. A pretty good crowd had gathered, and when I flipped that up, everyone laughed. At least they didn’t point.
When we got to the point where Melvin was living off the top, I did start just throwing my guys into his, knowing that I’d eventually win the attrition war. With Spike Feeder now at 40 counters, I knew I had inevitability. There was a dicey moment when he ripped Leyline of Punishment. I took 20 counters off in response to keep myself alive (knowing exactly how much damage he could attack me for), then he took my life total to a precarious nine.
Fortunately, my next peel was a game-saving Woodfall Primus. Then, for the first time ever, I cast Primal Surge. There were maybe 30 cards left in my deck at this point, and I knew the only card that would stop the chain was Skyshroud Claim. It was two cards down. Still, the two cards I got were Darksteel Colossus and Spine of Ish Sah, which I suppose is a decent investment for ten mana, just lots less than I had hoped for.
In the other three games I played, Kokusho made only one appearance, in Shea’s new Karador build, which is about 80% similar to Armada owner Aaron Fortino’s. The card was a significant factor in getting him out ahead in the game and sweeping the four of us (having sat down to a rare five-player game). I would say that it didn’t devolve because there were no battles over it. About every other turn he could recur it, no one had answers online, and although it was a creature rush that got us killed, it was the KK drains that got us low enough in the first place. It was great in the game, but not what I’d call broken.
If you’re at GP Atlanta this coming weekend, don’t forget to stop by the booth and say hello. The number of hours for Chaos Embracing will be low, but we’ll do our best to squeeze in some anyway.