My Take On The Hall Of Fame

Jon Finkel brings us his ballot this year for the Hall of Fame. Who does one of the world’s all-time greats vote for?

It’s that time of year again. Hall of Fame voting is upon us, and this probably won’t be the only article you’ll read in the next few weeks about Hall of
Fame voting. The Magic Hall of Fame has become a huge deal in the Magic community, and by any metric it should be seen as a rousing success. Obviously
voting has some subjectivity, and many will see that in my ballot. While I am a quantitative person at heart, I understand that in a game like Magic there
is so much variance that to just look at finishes would be to miss a large part of the story. I’m not saying finishes don’t matter – you aren’t going to
see me voting for someone with only one Top 8 or not voting for someone with eight, but the line between making Top 8 or not is very thin, and you need a
lot of luck to win a Pro Tour. So here is my ballot:

Luis Scott-Vargas

Yeah yeah obviously. He should be on everybody’s ballot, but he won’t be because Magic players like to game the system. As I’ve said before about other people, I’d be in favor of revoking future votes from anyone who doesn’t vote for him. He’s won a Pro Tour and has five Top 8s, won US Nationals, won four Grand Prixes and had a pretty absurd win % and median finish when he was at his peak. Most of his play coincided with my absence from the game, but just talking with him, it’s clear that he truly was elite. I always liked how uncertain he was of his choices and his openness to the possibility that he was wrong. I find that lack of ego refreshing and think it likely served him well. I could talk about the outside the game stuff, or how he’s a genuinely decent guy, but he could be the douchiest, most arrogant player in Magic history and he’d still have my vote based on his talent and his record.

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William “Huey” Jensen

I think Billy has a really good chance to make it this year. He was one vote away from making it last year because Brad Nelson mistyped his ballot (Which he apologized for on Friday). Billy had an insane run in 2003, winning Pro Tour: Boston and Top 8ing two others, accounting for three of his four PT Top 8s. He also won a Masters Series in 2000, beating Jason Zila 2-1 in one of the worst matchups of all time. Since the Masters was eliminated in 2003 (eventually becoming the modern Pro Players Club), most people don’t fully understand how big of a deal it was. While it wasn’t quite winning a Pro Tour, it was certainly more than Top 8ing a Pro Tour, with a higher payout to reflect that. Given that he also won two Grand Prix (with eight Top 8s), I think his record easily merits inclusion into the Hall of Fame simply on its own.

He was also an incredible player. In 2000 and 2001 as my interest in Pro Tour Magic was on the decline, there was no one I had more respect for as a
player. I don’t know if it’s possible to say someone with a Pro Tour win, four top 8s, and a Masters win ran bad, but with Billy that just might have been
the case. His career was certainly abbreviated. He was only 21 in 2003 when he’d already racked up all those accomplishments, and then poker – which he was
very good at – captured his attention along with an entire generation of American Magic players. In some other universe, he’s in the discussion for best of
all time.

Chris Pikula

I know his resume is a bit below par for the Hall of Fame (though it would not be the worst) but I believe he deserves it for all the reasons beyond resume. Patrick Chapin is a good analogue. He made it in last year with four Top 8s without a win over a much longer career because of the strength of his writing and community involvement. He won an Invitational, which is somewhere close to Top 8ing a Pro Tour itself. I know most players would trade a Pro Tour Top 8 for their own card. Not only did Chris beat me in the finals, but Meddling Mage comes out turn two and could name Shadowmage Infiltrator, if it ever saw tournament play.

There’s a reason why if you find any of the old ESPN videos, Chris is the commentator. He was very involved, knew tons about the game, and was one of the
brightest personalities out there. They even tagged him into the booth at Worlds 98 after he lost in the quarters. Chris also played a role in helping to
clean up the game and teach the judging staff what to look out for. He was one of the most outspoken voices when it came to identifying, outing, and
punishing cheats. Something many of you take for granted these days, but without people like Chris, it would have taken a lot longer.

And that’s it. My ballot has three players. I was very close to voting for Ben Stark. I even wrote up the following thinking I would:

Ben Stark

Ben Stark

Part of me didn’t want to vote for Ben. I don’t like self-promotion or braggadocio and Ben is one of those players who isn’t quite as good as he thinks he is. But the reality is that he is almost that good, which, along with his most recent Top 8 at Pro Tour: Gatecrash makes him worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame. A Pro Tour win, a Grand Prix win, four Pro Tour top 8s – his resume is basically Billy’s minus a Masters win and a GP win, albeit over a longer period of time. (He gets some of it back for an individual victory instead of a team victory, but Billy was in the pilot’s seat for the team drafts, so the difference is much smaller than it would be otherwise.) If I thought he weren’t that good of a player, or perhaps a bit sketchy, or someone whose behavior reflected poorly on them, I wouldn’t feel compelled to vote for him. But he’s none of those things. He’s an excellent player and an upstanding guy. People like to describe their picks as slam dunk choices but somebody has to be just over the line. In my case, that’s Ben Stark. I’m pretty sure he’s going to pad his Hall of Fame resume in the next few years – I’m not sure whether that makes me more or less inclined to vote for him, but it does make me confident he will eventually be included.

But after listening to conversations about the Hall I realized I had to tighten my standards, especially for still-active players. With each year that
passes, the number of shots at Top 8s people have will increase over time. Just as the resumes of many Hall of Famers have improved since their induction,
the threshold for induction has to move up as well. Magic is a game dominated by counting stats, so career longevity really matters. And Ben Stark’s resume
is basically Herberholz’s, who I also consider to be very close but not quite there.

There are a number of other players that are in the conversation. I have thought about them all and rejected them for various reasons – maybe I don’t think
their resume is quite good enough, maybe I don’t think they were as good as their resume (or at least not better), maybe I thought they were sketchy
players, maybe one of a half dozen other reasons. I’m not going to give specifics as to why I elected not to vote for somebody except to say that I don’t
quite think they measure up. There are a ton of people who probably get in with another top 8. Hopefully they’ll go ahead and do it. But I also think that
a Hall of Fame that inducts two or three players a year will in the end be a more impressive institution than one where all the borderline candidates make

After extensive discussion with a lot of top pros, I have moved back into the voting for Ben Stark camp for the Hall of Fame, and I do not expect that to change. Among others, Patrick Chapin asked me if I thought Ben S was one of the 33 best players of all time, and the answer is an easy yes. Sam Black also gave some arguments I found especially convincing. I think standards for the Hall need to rise, especially in terms of counting stats, but Ben is not the place to draw the line. If he retired tomorrow, he would belong in the Hall.