My Hall Of Fame Ballot

Sheldon shares his Hall of Fame ballot for this year and presents an argument for why players aren’t the only ones who deserve to be considered for the Hall.

I’ve been honored with a ballot for the Hall of Fame since its inception, and this year is no different. It gives me time and opportunity to recognize that there are giants of this game we love, outstanding competitors as well as outstanding people.

One of the things I like about the ballot is that other than “no write-ins” and “you can’t vote for yourself” it’s up to the individual vote to decide what the criteria are. There’s a list of candidates, and that’s all. There’s a helpful web page with some stats on it (which you can sort by any category). After that, you’re on your own. Despite some odd votes getting cast in the past, I wholeheartedly support this method.

My personal criteria are relatively straightforward: a sustained high level of play, at least three Pro Tour Top 8s, and demonstrated excellence in sportsmanship. Positive contribution to the Magic community is an additional factor, although not required, but it can be significant enough to push someone over the line (like I think it was for Bram Snepvangers). Part of the sustained high level of play includes at least 30 Pro Tours, but that’s not a completely hard number. Had Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa gone into last year’s ballot with 29 PTs, I would have voted for him anyway because of the bazillion Top 8s, not to mention general awesomeness.

Another part of that sustained high level of play is there being a reasonable argument that the player was considered one of the best in the world during his peak. I know that that line is a little fuzzy and completely subjective, but it’s something that coalesces for me the idea of Hall of Fame, not Hall of Very Good. When your peers and the experts who judge and report on the game consider you the best of the best, it’s a factor worth considering.

If you know me at all or you know my history of being an aggressive advocate (okay, enforcer) of fair play, you understand that excellence in sportsmanship includes not being a cheater. That said, I’m willing to forgive a player who while young made a mistake but in subsequent years made amends. Bob Maher is a great example here. He took forward and public responsibility for his actions and turned it into something positive. I don’t think that anyone can reasonably argue against Bob now being a bastion of integrity in the community. We’ll talk about this a little more later as I talk about some of the folks that I didn’t vote for.

Going into this ballot, I had four strong candidates, even posting that on Twitter. The fifth came down to a choice between several excellent players, so the decision was quite difficult. I know that I’m not required to cast five votes, and if I thought that there were fewer deserving people, I would only cast that many votes. In this case, I think there are more than five, so I had some figuring to do. Let’s get to them.

Luis Scott-Vargas

If you hate LSV, you hate awesome. A clear first-ballot Hall of Famer, there’s a serious argument for LSV being one of the Top 5 players of all time. I know that there are some people who are going to game the system and not vote for him, knowing that he’s getting in. This means they can cast an additional vote for someone else that they think is deserving.

I’m not part of the “if you don’t vote for LSV, you should have your ballot taken away” crowd. As I said in the beginning, each voter’s criteria are their own. Personally, I want the candidate to know that I think they’re truly deserving of the Hall. Not only is LSV one of those players, but he’s one of those people, as fine a human being as there is. Gracious in both victory and defeat, he embodies an ideal to which players should aspire to in every aspect of the game.

William “Huey” Jensen

I voted for him the last two years, and after the heartbreak of missing by a single vote last year, I hope this is his time because he was an absolute master. I’ve even promised if he gets in to build a Commander deck in his honor with the commander of his choice. He was clearly one of the great players of his era, as his four Top 8s and 219 lifetime Pro Points (in a time when points were harder to come by) indicate. Also significant to me are the twelve Top 32s, meaning he made a serious run at more than a third of his Pro Tours.

Ben Stark

Commonly regarded as one of if not the best Limited player of all time, Ben had come up short on my ballot before, getting an honorable mention more than once. After winning Pro Tour Paris, I said that if Ben put up one more big finish, I’d definitely vote for him. He promptly went out and won GP Indianapolis and made Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash. Four PT Top 8s and just under 300 lifetime Pro Points clearly put him into the Hall of Fame.

Chris Pikula

I understand that this is going to be a controversial choice because some folks think his resume isn’t as good as others or that Chris has benefitted from a good PR campaign. I gave Chris a shout out last year, mentioning that I didn’t know him all that well. I’ve had the opportunity while doing coverage to get to know him a little better, and I’ve gotten the sense that I’ve underestimated his contribution to the game.

To those critics who say that his raw number of PT points isn’t enough, I’ll remind them that he has more than Randy Buehler. Additionally, I’ve listened to the opinions of some folks who I deeply respect, and they feel like the combination of Chris’ three Top 8s and Invitational win (not to mention five selections to the Invitational, tying him with Jon Finkel) along with his unrelenting stance against shady play are Hall-worthy. I agree, and I’m voting for him because I think that Chris Pikula is exactly the kind of representative the Pro Tour Hall of Fame deserves. I would absolutely love to see him with a lifetime invitation. Magic will be better for it.

Justin Gary

For the last two years, I’ve had Justin in the honorable mention category. Then I took a deeper look into the numbers. In addition to a win at Pro Tour Houston 2002, there was a Worlds team win 2003. Add to that two more Pro Tour Top 8s and an incredible twenty Top 32s (an absurd 45%) and we have a clear argument for a HoF resume. I once compared him to Bernie Williams on those great Yankee teams of the 90s, but upon further review I find him quite a bit more Jeter-esque.

Honorable Mentions

Makahito Mihara: Ugh. A great resume and reputation, but unfortunately ends up sixth on my ballot. He put up some wonderful numbers and is credited with being one of the great deck designers, and he’s pretty likely to get one of my votes in 2014.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda: One of the most friendly and colorful fixtures on the Pro Tour, I feel bad because I’ve voted for him in the past in somewhat weaker classes and feel like now he’s going to constantly be outside looking in. Two things which swung it for me this year were his median finish of 123, which is one of the worst of all the folks with 3+ T8s, and his zero Player of the Year Top 10s. Suddenly, he looks more like Rafael Palmeiro and less like Frank Thomas.

Mark Herberholz: I’ll say the same that I said last year. He needs to come back and put up few more numbers. That’d be fine with me because he’s a great guy to have around the Pro Tour.

Marijn Lybaert: Four Top 8s is quite something. There is clearly an argument for him being a Top 5 player in the world at his peak and the greatest Belgian player of all time (no offense to Geoffrey Siron). It’s a case of having five other folks that I think were more deserving of the vote.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa: A great resume, but his recent suspension, which had nothing to do with cheating (my experience is that he’s a clean player), nonetheless disqualifies him for me from being voted in on the first ballot, which I think should be reserved for those who exemplify all the positive attributes of a PT player. The Pro Tour win, four Top 8s, and four more Top 16s in a short time (only 27 PTs) mean he’s a front-runner for my ballot next year.

Eric Froehlich: EFro is a great player. A really great player. I’d like to see one more big finish from him before considering him Hall-worthy. Given his skill level, I’m willing to bet that’ll happen sooner rather than later.

Martin Juza: Arguably the best player in Europe right now, Martin has eclipsed the 300 Pro Points mark, which at one time I would have considered enough on its own. Five Player of the Year Top 10s are worth mentioning as well. Four GP wins and two National Championships don’t hurt his resume. He’ll have to put up one more Pro Tour T8 for me to be sure to vote for him, but there’s a reasonable argument for him now.

Paul Rietzl: Needs at least one more big finish for solid consideration.

Willy Edel: The four PT Top 8s is impressive, especially since he’s played in only 24. He needs to sustain the run a little longer to get a vote.

I won’t run down every single eligible player. There are some great names on the list whose time I’m sure will come, such as Craig Wescoe and Tom Martell. I’ll also give my annual shout out to the Three Amigos, Osyp, Antonino, and Gerard, who always made my life as a Pro Tour Head Judge quite interesting.

Who I Actively Won’t Vote For

I’m not going to single out anyone, but there are strong reasons I won’t vote for someone. As I said earlier, if someone is young and makes a mistake, I’m willing to give them the chance to redeem themselves. This is especially true if the offense is something outside play of the game as opposed to active cheating in game, which is the lowest of the low. Repeat offenders are right out. A second suspension means you’ll never get my vote, even if you somehow come back and win a bunch of events. Players with a shady past who’ve done nothing to overcome it are out as well. In addition to believing that having a Hall of Fame vote is a privilege, I think receiving one is also a privilege. There are things that make a player undeserving of said privilege.

Other People Who Belong in the Hall and Why

I’m going to make an argument here that might come across as a little self-serving, but it’s worthy enough that I’ll suffer the slings and arrows that come with it. I’ll concede that it might appear to come from a point of self-interest (although it really isn’t), but that doesn’t undermine the value of the argument. Plus, it’s also a convenient excuse to recognize some people who have done great things for the Pro Tour in their Magic careers. I can’t underscore enough that this isn’t an “I belong in the HoF” argument but a reasonable discussion of why there should be more than players in it.

The first part of the argument is that it’s the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame, not the Pro Player Hall of Fame. The Pro Tour is made up of more than just players. It wouldn’t happen without the judges, scorekeepers, coverage people, and staff. I’ll agree that the players are the marquee individuals and the primary reason it’s popular. No one tunes in to listen to me do coverage; they put up with me because their favorite players are in the event and Magic is an awesome game.  

That said, there are individuals who’ve made significant contributions to the Pro Tour in addition to their other community contributions. For the sake of the argument, we’ll even exclude folks who were WotC employees (I’d start at the beginning with Skaff Elias and go all the way to the present with Greg Collins with many stops in between) since that’s their job and the list might be too long to be manageable.

The second part of the argument is that the contribution of these individuals has been truly significant. They’ve shaped the Pro Tour as we know it (and this perhaps lends additional strength to the choice of fair-play advocate Chris Pikula as a Hall of Fame choice) through their hard work, ceaseless dedication, and remarkable talent.

Brian David-Marshall: In addition to being the Pro Tour Historian, BDM took an active role in pushing forward what we do with coverage, getting people to look deeper into the standings than just at Top 8s. He was an original proponent of crafting the narrative that we’ve developed on the Pro Tour. He was the first person to combine a real skill at the game with a real skill at broadcasting. He’s one of two individuals who have played in, judged at, and done both text and video coverage for the Pro Tour.

Rashad Miller: With the creation of GGSLive, Rashad showed us that extended video coverage of Magic is possible and viable. He’s still the mastermind behind the GP coverage, and the reason you don’t hear him on the air more is that he’s busy making sure the stream is live and the audio/video quality is up to snuff. He’s the second person to do the four-bagger, even playing to a Top 16 finish (14th to be exact) at Pro Tour Berlin.

Mike Guptil: Back when we were still making it up as we went along, Judge Emeritus Mike Guptil was a major figure in inventing how we judge at Pro Tours, making it so much more than just rules knowledge and tournament procedures. He created a continuity document chock full of instructions and suggestions to make the event better for both judges and players, creating the beginnings of the judge community and culture that we know today. If there was anyone I looked to for guidance as an up-and-coming judge, for a positive example to follow, it was Mike.

Toby Elliott: Tied for third place on the all-time Pro Tour Head Judge list with Collin Jackson at eight, Toby is a primary mastermind behind many of the tournament rules and procedures that define how the Pro Tour is played. He helped make what was once policy by fiat into something coherent and understandable. From Toby’s fertile brain, for example, comes the simultaneous mulligan rule.

I could certainly make arguments to also include Richard Hagon, Gis Hoogenjik (although he spent a fair amount of time as an employee), Rune Horvik, and Collin Jackson as well (and I’m hoping I’m not forgetting anyone). My main point is that there are many people other than players who have made the Pro Tour into the incredible show that it is today, and they deserve their own place in history. I hope someone other than me has thought about this.

Next week: how do I update 23 decks with new cards from M14? Tune in and find out!

Embracing the Chaos,


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