I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about this ballot, and not just in the last few days, but in the past year. Simply put, the Magic Hall of Fame matters. Being on the Hall of Fame is an honor, and it says that you are in the rarified air of Magic history where the greatest of the great reside. I have yet to hear of anyone who hasn’t been humbled by their induction and what it means. To be forever recognized for the mark you had on the game is a true honor.
It feels pretty crazy saying this, but we’re rapidly zooming in on 20 years of Magic. I still think back to my first pack’s rare: Shivan Dragon. It’s almost funny to me now, because I can clearly remember trading it away in my friend Brad’s basement, but I couldn’t tell you what I got for it. I remember my friend Molly’s first rare: Lord of the Pit. "Wow," I told her. "I’ve only seen that one once before!"
As you grow in the game and move towards the pinnacle of tournament play, in my own experience, that kind of awe for cards becomes more and more distant. At a certain point, I moved towards awe for decks. These days, about fifteen years after my own first Pro Tour, the players in the Hall of Fame are the ones that give me a sense of awe at their play and accomplishments on that great stage. Even though I’ve never been one to be star-struck, the accomplishments of the players in the Hall of Fame are so impressive that I struggle to imagine how they could even do it.
I’ve always been a bigger thinker in the game than a player. And while I’m no Bad Player, I’m still, in the grand scheme of things a bad player of Magic. I started writing about Magic so long ago and have spent far too many hours thinking about Magic: Magic decks, Magic strategy, Magic theory, Magic culture, and all the rest. I feel honored to once again be a part of the selection committee for the game, for my seventh time.
Together, the Selection Committee and the Players Committee make up a wide variety of people whose perspectives, insights, and even goals for the Hall of Fame are very different. In short, people see what the Hall of Fame means quite differently. As long as we are all voting our conscience, the Hall of Fame will be composed of people that that imperfect amalgam brings to the top. It’s not a perfect system, but I think it does a good job making sure that the Hall of Fame belongs to all of us, whether we favor people who have taken home trophies, been upstanding and important members of the community, were the most skilled at what they did, were great deckbuilders, were historically important, or whatever criteria an individual may have.
I spent a few hours talking to my friend Jon Becker about how we vote, and while we have some slight differences in our specific criteria, one thing that we both think is important is voting our conscience. He and I have voted for people we don’t care for and not voted for our friends simply because we felt that the Hall of Fame is too important to be given less respect than that. I know I have friends whose votes seem to be based on, "I like these people." I don’t begrudge someone for voting for their friends. I don’t begrudge someone for gaming their vote (not voting for someone who deserves it because "they’ll get in anyway"). I don’t begrudge them, but I sure as hell won’t do that. Becker felt very much the same way, and even though I know our ballots are going to be different, I’m glad that he takes his vote seriously.
Over the years, I’ve regretted a few votes. These days, if one of my favorite people who has ever been on the Pro Tour, David Price, were back on the ballot, I wouldn’t vote for him. He was the King of the Qualifiers. He was a Pro Tour champion. But now, when I look at his resume, I just realize that I was voting from a place of romanticism and not from a real sense of his accomplishments. Over time, this has come to be a real part of what I want to have be a part of the Hall. David Price completely exemplified the integrity element of the Hall, and he was someone who I wished deserved a place there. I must admit that, in revisiting that vote, his resume simply doesn’t make it so.
Eventually, I boiled down my Hall of Fame minimum criteria to the following two benchmarks. I do not ask that other people use these benchmarks, but I hope that they use something that adds their voice to a chorus of other votes that all try to make the Hall of Fame the best it can be. Here are my minimum benchmarks:
1 — The player has won a Pro Tour, Masters, Worlds, Worlds Team Championship, or was the Player of the Year.
2 — The player does not have the largest black mark the DCI can give: suspension/banning. If someone is suspended for something other than invoking the whistleblower clause, they will never get my vote.
These criteria are something that I’ve slowly come to as I tried to decide what the Hall of Fame meant to me. A part of that is that it is a place of champions. There are few people who have profoundly influenced the Pro Tour as much as Scott Larabee. That being said, I don’t think that Larabee belongs in the Hall of Fame. On a similar note, Mike Flores and Rashad Miller have both played on the Pro Tour and have also had very different but very large influences on Magic. Again, I don’t think that they belong in the Hall of Fame. If we want to honor contributions to the game, in my mind we need another way to do that. A player’s contributions to the game are a factor in my decision-making process, just as the rules for voting say they should be. But my first criterion is performanceâ€”in line with the emphasis that the rules make in listing this criterion first.
As far as suspensions go, it boils down to this: I have heard cheating accusations levied at practically every player in the world, even unimpeachable people like Alan Comer, who goes down as perhaps the most ethical player in Magic history. There seems to be a story for everyone. In trying to untangle the questions of these accusations for the purposes of the Hall of Fame, inevitably it leads someone to having to ask for stories, then getting the other side of the story, and then figuring out who you believe. Ultimately, this just has never seemed like a particularly useful way of going about deciding who deserves a vote.
At some point, I basically decided to trust the DCI and their investigations: if they think someone has done something sufficient to ban a player from the game, even for a short length of time, this is enough for me to say that that player isn’t worthy of the vote. Whistleblowers get an exemption for helping the DCI investigations (so far, this is only Maher as far as I know, but it could be anyone in the future). If you’ve done something so bad that you aren’t just DQ’d, but are removed from the game, I don’t think you belong in the Hall of Fame.
Other people may have other criteria. This is mine.
Just shy of one-third of the 74 candidates meet my basic criteria. They are, in alphabetical order:
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Still a lot of people.
From this point begins the long process of whittling down. I already know without finishing the whittling process that I’m going to have three specific people on my Hall of Fame ballot. But I need to do something to cut it down some more. My first step is simple: get rid of anyone who hasn’t been in the Top 10 in the Player of the Year race ever, and get rid of anyone who has only had one PT Top 8. This brings the list to just twelve. Only five of the following will get my vote:
After a lot of crunching, here are my five. First:
The Big Three
These first three should be on anyone’s ballot who takes the Hall of Fame seriously.
For a long time now, it seems like everyone has known that when PV got onto the ballot, he should be a lock for it. A stunning nine Pro Tour Top 8s, a two-time National champion, a Pro Tour champion, and one of the most impressive players to ever play the game.
The only arguments I can see for not voting for Paulo are if you are either gaming the ballot with your vote because you think PV will get in no matter what, or if you don’t think one should vote for currently active players. I don’t subscribe to either of those philosophies. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa will be one of the most worthy members of the Hall of Fame the moment he is inducted.
2 — Kenji Tsumura
The 2005 Player of the Year, Kenji Tsumura is widely regarded as one of the greatest to have ever played the game. His incredible six PT Top 8s are an accomplishment only matched by a few current Hall of Famers and the two others in this class that are on my ballot. While he has never won a Pro Tour, he has finished 2nd through 4th an amazing four times. During his peak, his median performance at the Pro Tour was an excellent 32nd! There is a reason he was once called ‘The Best Player in the World.’
3 — Masashi Oiso
A two-time member of Japan’s National team, Masashi Oiso was a part of 2005 National team that won the Worlds Team Championship. Oiso, like Tsumura, has an astonishing six PT Top 8s under his belt. While Oiso never won the Player of the Year title, he was in the running for it an impressive three times and was the 2003 Rookie of the Year. A Grand Prix winner and Japanese National champion, Oiso is among the game’s elite and well deserving of a nod for Hall of Fame.
The Final Two
After those three, it can be a hard decision to weigh when it comes to who you select. I’m going to repeat two of my votes from last year. They were deserving then. They are deserving now. For many, though, they are going to need to hear more to understand why. So here it is:
4 — Mark Justice
I don’t expect that Mark Justice will make the Hall of Fame without a real game-changer happening. That said, I don’t game my ballot, and Mark has made my ballot for a very long time for what I think are good reasons.
The Hall of Fame is supposed to be about honoring the greatest players to have ever played the game. In his era, Mark Justice was the greatest player to play the game. In fact, in the history of the game of Magic, Mark Justice was the first player to have the consensus in the community that he was the best.
I haven’t surveyed the entire Hall of Fame, but over the years, Justice’s name has come up when I’ve talked with people. Bob Maher told me that he has voted for Justice for Hall of Fame every time since the first ballot, when the Player’s Committee only got one vote. Jon Finkel told me that he believes that Justice belongs in the Hall of Fame, but Jon prefers to use his votes where they’ll count. Rob Dougherty put it best, though: "If you’d told people back then that there was going to be a Hall of Fame and Mark Justice wouldn’t be in it, they’d think you were lying."
A lot of people don’t realize what Justice’s accomplishments look like. Here it is: his Pro Tour history, as best as I could find it.
US Nats 95 – 1st
Worlds 95 – 3rd
Team Worlds 95 – 1st
PT NY 96 – 6th
PT LA 96 – 24th
PT Columbus 96 – 76th
Worlds 96 – 2nd
PT Atlanta 96 – 10th
PT Dallas 97 – 32nd
PT LA 97 – 12th
PT Paris 97- 2nd
PT NY 97 – 48th
Worlds 97 – 17th
PT Chicago 98 – 62nd
PT Mainz 98 – 13th
PT LA 98 – 117th (Note: This is the moment he is widely considered to have stopped focusing on the game)
PT NY 98 – 7th
Worlds 98 – 193
There is at least one event not on this list: Pro Tour Washington DC. There, he played with Brian Kowal and yours truly. He was basically retired from the game at this point, and Brian and I were not in his league. We managed to qualify because he played with us in a team event on a whim, and suddenly he qualified for the PT with us. Unfortunately, some of the data from some early Pro Tours is not publicly accessible. I don’t know what place we all got (it was bad), and I know that another event is missing as well. I hope that Wizards recovers the coverage of these early events, but as of now, they have not.
Looking at those early events, his incredible numbers are mind-bogglingly good. While a lot of people might say that events were much easier back then, do we fault the greats of old in sports and say, "Well, they couldn’t compete today." I think that the Hall of Fame is about measuring people’s accomplishments when they’ve made them and not asking them to live to a standard that it simply wasn’t possible to have lived to in their time.
Just think about this insane statistic: during his three-year peak, Mark Justice’s median finish was 13th. His median. According to statistics cited by Randy Buehler, Jon Finkel three-year peak was 13th (Jon, incidentally, puts this number at 10th, but the raw data isn’t easily available for me to evaluate it). His career may have been short, but his career median is better than nearly every player ever‘s peak median.
In addition to being one of the most dominating players to ever play the game, Justice wrote books about the game and was one of the players that really reached out as an ambassador to players around the world. Old-school Japanese pros widely cite Justice as the first pro to make them feel at home on the Pro Tour and feel welcomed into the game. Justice reached out to the community and was more than just its greatest player at one moment in the game.
His status as ambassador isn’t unblemished, however. Mark Justice has been accused of having been a long-time cheater. He was indeed DQ’d from a side event at a GP that is referred to as The Muscle Sliver Incident, in which he played a Muscle Sliver bought from a dealer in his draft deck. Justice, at the time, claimed that he replaced a damaged Muscle Sliver from a draft with one bought from a dealer and he then threw away the damaged card, and the judge then offered to either have them both go through the garbage together to find the card or just accept a disqualification. Mark opted for the disqualification.
Some people have claimed that Mark’s career was marred by more than this incident, but this is the only one I’m aware of in his career. I know that if we were to go through the Hall of Fame, we could find accusations that have been levied at nearly everyone, the vast majority of which would be entirely specious. This is a part of why I have my bar set at the level of banning/suspension by the DCI; if they have decided that someone has done something worthy of that kind of censure, it is enough for me. Mark himself has told me that he deeply regrets having blemished his reputation and having let down the Magic community. I am confident that should Mark Justice return to the spotlight, we would be proud to have him there.
Who knows what the Pro Tour would be if it hadn’t been for Justice being its first superstar. Would we have one today? Maybe we would, but it seems incontestable that Mark Justice was a part of the bright shine of the Pro Tour that lit the dreams of so many players. I know that it did for me and for countless players grinding it out at PTQs for many years. He was our Jon Finkel, our Kai Budde, and our PV. He richly deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.
5 — Justin Gary
I’ve actually already written an article making the case for Justin Gary for Magic Hall of Fame. I highly recommend that you read that much longer piece there.
Some highlights, though:
Three Pro Tour Top 8s with a win in Houston.
Two US Nationals Top 8s, twice on the National team, once the US National champion.
One Worlds Team Championship.
One GP win.
The finalist in the Nice Masters.
One of the highest career earnings in the game ($128,815).
I talked briefly about peak performance as measured by the three-year median, first proposed, in part, by Randy Buehler. The idea of this measure is to show just how consistent a player is over time when they are really focusing on the game. Here are all of the people in the Pro Tour’s history who have a peak performance of Top 32 or better (and I’ll add in my other votes this year for completeness):
Jon Finkel: 13
Mark Justice: 17
Kai Budde: 23
Tomi Hovi: 24
Justin Gary: 25
Darwin Kastle: 25
Tomoharu Saito: 25
Olivier Ruel: 27
Michael Long: 28
Kamiel Cornelissen: 29
Kenji Tsumura: 32
Olle Rade: 32
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: 39.5
Masashi Oiso: 44
There he is, Justin Gary, with a peak performance among the best of all time.
If we count Top 16s, Justin has nine Top 16s to his record, just like PV. If we talk about Top 32s, he has twenty, nearly double that of his nearest rival, William Jensen. By this measure, my other votes also pale (PV, 11; Oiso, 11; Tsumura, 10; Justice, 10).
I’ve been voting for Justin Gary for years. I think the only thing that would make me stop is if a class comes out that is so thick with PVs that Justin just doesn’t make the cut. Somehow, I doubt that day is coming.
Honorable Mentions and My Ballot
Every year there are people who don’t make that cut just quite. It’s a fine line. I wish I could have so many more votes than I already have. This year that person is William Jensen. I wish Huey the best this year, and I hope he makes it. I know that I couldn’t put him in this Top 5; not because he wasn’t deserving, but rather because the competition was so fierce.
Here it is, once again: my ballot, in alphabetical order:
Thank you everyone. My best wishes to all of the candidates. Good luck!