One Man’s Ballot

Mike takes a break from high strategy to discuss the intricacies of the Hall of Fame. He shares his voting thoughts for this year’s ballot, drawing comparisons from a number of surprising places. The writing is evocative, giving us a fine example of the thrill and excitement that dwells within our hobby of choice…

Competitors usually have to wait many years to enter their respective sports’ Halls of Fame. In Magic: The Gathering, we make players wait ten years from their debuts to qualify. However, last June a balding, fortysomething, ex-wrestler named Randy “the Natural” Couture was inducted in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Hall of Fame a mere four months after the knockout loss that told him it was time to hang up the trunks and open-fingered gloves.

For many, Couture’s induction was academic: he is the only man in UFC history to wear both the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight belts. The story of Couture’s rise to the Light Heavyweight Championship is particularly compelling. After back-to-back losses against opponents that out-weighed him by 50-80 pounds each, the aging Couture moved down a weight class and found himself up against the “Iceman” Chuck Liddell, a brutal pugilist and kickboxer who is considered by many pundits today to be the most talented fighter in the current UFC stable; he is certainly the most calculatingly heartless, hence the nickname Iceman. Just weeks shy of his Fortieth birthday, Couture – a former NCAA All-American wrestler – wowed fans and silenced critics by beating the Iceman in a stand-up fight, knocking Liddell out in less than three minutes to win the interim Light Heavyweight title. Tito Ortiz, the brash “bad boy” of mixed martial arts and five-time defending champion came back from injury… only to fall to Randy by unanimous decision after five rounds of an otherwise one-sided affair. With each victory by the older underdog, the fans cheered louder and louder: They loved to watch the Natural; they loved to watch him win. Academic induction, right?

The thing is, and detractors will point out, that Couture retired from MMA with an underwhelming record 14-8.

Sure, he beat Liddell in a memorable, if brief, slugfest… but each of their return engagements in 2005 and 2006 ended with Iceman knockouts of the Natural – the only two knockout losses of his career. In the first, Randy took a thumb in the eye but ill-advisedly tried to beat the UFC’s best stand-up boxer half-sighted anyway… The scorecard, which does not record bad decisions after getting a thumb in the eye, just reads that Couture went down to strikes at 2:06. The last return was a 1:28 knockout that solidified Liddell as the Light Heavyweight Champion and ended the Natural’s in-ring career… And that wasn’t even his quickest loss in a title bout! In his first fight after defeating Ortiz to become the undisputed Champion, Couture’s defense against Vitor Belfort ended in forty-nine seconds due to a cut.

If your love for the competition ended with – and your analysis began at -“the numbers,” you might see a fighter with a curious resume – he retired the only one to wear both Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight belts after all – but whose Win / Loss record doesn’t even approach guys like Matt Hughes at 39-4-0, the Iceman himself at 18-3-0, or Royce Gracie at 13-3-3 (Gracie – already a Hall of Fame inductee himself – has an interesting story to his numbers, more interesting than Randy’s even, and possessed of a far more impressive practical run than 13-3-3 for those who know the history; the 39-year-old Royce came back after eleven years away from UFC’s Octagon to fight the indomitable aforementioned Hughes – a franchise fighter designed specifically to crush Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners – last May. His “loss” to Harold Howard at UFC 3 was entirely the result of a misunderstanding between Brazilian and American rules… Had he known better, Royce would have just not shown up for a fight he was too injured to compete in, rather than appearing just to throw in the towel). If you only cared about “the numbers,” you might over-emphasize the three losses on Royce’s scorecard, or certainly the eight on Randy’s. You wouldn’t think back to how surprising it was to see a small Brazilian chopping down American giants in the early days of MMA, or how inspiring “the Natural,” fighting men ten years and more his junior with a smile on his face and all the pride in the world beaming out of him, may have been to the fan. You might not remember how jaw-dropping it was to see a 39-year-old wrestler out-box Chuck Liddell, or how gratifying it was to see the braggart Ortiz silenced as he had to hand over his title after months of non-stop smack talk.

Numbers don’t lie per se, but when we are talking about matters as emotional and uplifting and ultimately important as a Hall of Fame, and what it means for a puncher (or player) to earn the right to stand in a Hall of Fame, and what kind of men we want as the icons and champions proudly representing our Halls of Fame, mere numbers just can’t speak the whole of the truth. Randy Couture, fighting at 43 as a beacon of all that can possibly be pure and unfettered and hopeful and right in the confines of a ring, alone but for another warrior, in a contest to see just who is going to floor whom, is everything that the UFC wanted in a Hall of Fame fighter. They looked past the fairly unimpressive raw records to let what was real and true shine forward, and inducted a fighter just four months after his retirement, because his contributions to the sport and the good will he brought out of the fans could not be encapsulated in the four miniscule key-strokes of 14-8.

For all his intangible contributions to the UFC and the sport of MMA, the much-deserving Hall of Fame fighter Randy Couture pales in comparison to our Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame-eligible – and similarly statistically underwhelming – candidate Brian Hacker.

“If you don’t know anything about Brian Hacker, all I can tell you is that he is possibly the most influential Magic player ever to type a word or swing with a two-drop. I don’t know if redundancy would have been discovered, but Hacker was the first player to break the idea of playing more copies of cards that did the same thing in order to smooth out his draws, rather than choosing cards based on power. He understood that Erg Raiders wasn’t as good as Black Knight or a pump Order, but that once you already had 12 of those guys in your deck, you just grabbed the next best thing. He excelled with combo decks, control decks like the Humility-Prayer build that shares his name, as well as weenie decks like Bad Moon Necropotence and White Weenie. A superlative Constructed mind, Hacker will never be remembered primarily for this aspect of his game.

“The reason? He was quite simply the best Limited mind ever to type a Magic article. I like Tim Aten more than you do, once called Nick Eisel ‘the future of American Magic,’ and marvel at the combat skills of Kenji Tsumura, but I can tell you without a doubt that no one has ever written on Limited like Brian Hacker. Today, you as a player who may have never read his work, use Hacker’s Limited strategies every time you play the forty-card decks. His influence in this realm of Magic theory is too vast to commit to a short subsection of a multi-topic article, but can best be summed up in Randy Buehler‘s ‘He taught the world to beat down.’ Dave Price may be the King of Beatdown, but Brian Hacker, at least for the purposes of the Magic mainstream, is its father. A small achievement next to his grand steps in [M]agic thought, Hacker is also simply the best tournament report writer of all time.

“In all aspects of the game, Brian excelled during his short career. He doesn’t have the most impressive resume of the list, but led the Swiss at my first Pro Tour and holds a couple of premiere event Top 8s. It should be obvious that I gush over his theory and his writing, but more than that, as the current color commentator for Pro Tour webcasts, I aspire to his Maher v. Davis. Brian never let the fun leave his work… his reports are full of strip clubs, picking up models in discos, and blue or orange hair. Wondering where he went? Literally the only ‘bad’ thing you can say about Hacker and the Dickheads is that they discovered Poker before the rest of the Pro Tour.”

Everything I wrote in my ballot article about Brian last year remains true. When you swing with a two-drop, you are tearing a page out of a hymnal at the Church of Hacker. When you play a sub-optimal drop because it contributes to the whole of your deck or the redundancy of your deck rather than shining individually as a tier one card, you are tossing your cap in the air and running through the fountains of the graduation ceremony at the Brian Hacker Institute for Technologickal Arts. In the unlikely event that you roll into a club after a tournament money finish and swap tongue-lashings with a blonde with whom you share no other lingual fluency, or perhaps elicit a screaming “Azul!” from a crowd of onlooking Latinas hungry to take in a little spectator Magic: The Gathering, you are clumsily attempting to cram your feet into the worn basketball sneakers of the Hacker of old, the one who broke other people’s games rather than making them himself.

Not considering Hacker for such arbitrary reasons as “he didn’t make three Pro Tour Top 8s” (as if that isn’t an indefensibly arbitrary cut-off point) is like looking at the one hundred dollar bill you have to fork over after donking a team draft and denying that Benjamin Franklin is depicted on the same because unlike the one (Washington), five (Lincoln) or twenty (Jackson), Benjy was never nicknamed POTUS. Luckily the guys who figured out the Hall of Fame of American currency didn’t forget that Franklin was “the first American,” invented the lightning rod, barned Enoch Root at the beginning of QUICKSILVER, founded the University of Pennsylvania (America’s first university, by the way, and an institution of which both Richard Garfield and I are alums), and attended meetings of the – ooh la la – real-life Hellfire Club (go ahead and Google that). His particular technological and community-building contributions, laid down for future generations of aspiring beatdown technicians, Internet writers, and commentators, can’t be easily reduced to abstract statistics provided for balloteers. This does not mean that his contributions, far and above all other candidates – including those others on the same ballot who appeared on MTV as he did – in his unique areas of specialty, don’t tower over even his most deserving co-nominees. To name the legendary mouthpiece of Team Dickhead – the promulgator of 16-land Limited decks, and perfect counterpoint to Randy Buehler – with anything less than “Hall of Fame inductee 2006” ultimately flies in the face of the joy that we experience with every horizontal Grizzly Bears; the camaraderie and learning and growth that come with shared experience; the pride we have that this, this game, is our chosen hobby; and that excitement, that rush, that can be birthed only via great personal risk.

Vote #1: Brian Hacker

In the winter of 1940, something very strange and special and earth-shattering happened. With the third issue of All-Star Comics, the Justice Society of America first appeared. The JSA were the first “team” of superheroes, the forerunners of the Justice League, Justice League of America, Justice League Europe, Justice League International, JLA, and other superhero teams that do not include the opening word “Justice,” such as the Uncanny X-Men, Avengers, and Fantastic Four.

The JSA were a queer bunch, a product of less logic and certainly precursors by many decades of the superhero deconstruction that would crown Alan Moore’s Miracleman and Watchmen with a godlike quill. It was thought in the Golden Age of Comics that one could logically run a superhero team that would find room for such diverse participants as Doctor Fate (an accomplished sorcerer), the Spectre (an archangel of punishment and the infinitely powerful personification of God’s vengeance), Starman (mad master of gravity itself), Batman (the world’s greatest detective), Superman (a.k.a. god-man), and the Sandman.

No, no, not Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman,” Dream of the Endless… but the Golden Age Sandman: Wesley Dodds, an ordinary noir-esque adventurer with no superhuman abilities, but instead a green business suit, fedora, and gas mask.

No really, that’s all he’s got: a gas mask.

To the best of my knowledge, Dodds’s parents were not gunned down in Crime Alley with him looking on after a night at the movies. He did not train himself to the peak of human capability, surround himself underground with noctornal rodent companions, or drive himself with a mad need borne of unlimited potential (and resources); he did not, to the best of my knowledge, teach himself archery. Wesley was not, as I recall, particularly scarred by anything (though by adventuring in a green business suit, fedora, and gas mask, we can only assume that he badly damaged his sense of style). Why did he become a costumed adventurer destined to join with an archangel and a strange visitor from another planet?


That is, he was bored and wanted something interesting to do.

And really, why is it that we do anything beyond that which is required to sustain ourselves, keep the roof up top and chicken nuggets and onion rings in our bellies? Isn’t it – a great deal of it – the desire to alleviate boredom? To create – or at least embrace, perhaps desperately sustain – a moment of excitement? You may have never thought about it like this, but a large percentage of tournament Magic players are actually in it for the adrenaline rush.

It’s easy to appreciate the excitement of a game of Magic when you’re the one playing it. You play out of an early game mistake. Your opponent errs on a critical turn giving you a much-needed opening. You topdeck the Lightning Helix. In all my years of playing and watching Magic, though, there was only one match where it seemed every player in attendance was more excited for the man under the lights than they had been in one of their own games in months… maybe ever.

The match was Maher versus Davis, in December of 1999.

The man was Bob Maher Jr., local boy coming off a Grand Prix Top 8 in Kansas City earlier in the year, playing essentially the same deck, a master of the most complicated decisions possibly posed by Island.

The adversary in this tale was Brian Davis, a talented rookie and eventual sow-cavalier who would go on to numerous quality finishes apprenticed to such disparate mentors as Seth Burn and Adrian Sullivan… But this time, against all mathematics, Brian’s was the back seat.

It all started with an Unmask opening, followed by Swamp, Dark Ritual, and Necropotence. Davis had luck (or perhaps divine favor) that could inspire — nay, drive — the methodical Brian Hacker to church itself. The games, every turn, were all Davis, all like this. Bob opened up the finals on the ropes, and even when he topdecked the Ivory Mask… and then the Enlightened Tutor to fetch the Null Rod to stop the Nevinyrral’s Disk (to kill the Ivory Mask) to let in the game-winning Corrupt… It never, never seemed that poor Bob stopped leaning against those ropes to make his way to the center of the ring, to fight on two feet.

Pundits and historians would say that Davis earned wins in each of the first four games, but that was little consolation to the scrappy Maher, who found himself in an improbable Game 5 for the Pro Tour, as Davis once again opened on Unmask, Dark Ritual, and the inexorable Skull. The will of the crowd palpably buckled as Davis played Wasteland after Wasteland, knocking down and kicking at the already mana-crippled Maher. As both a spectator and friend to Bob, I remember thinking no, not this way… not like this over and over to myself… And looking around that room as the collective color and life drained out of every eye glued to that giant monitor, as if that sorcery in Davis’s hand were pointed at each of us, individually, I know I was not alone.

But then Bob did it.

It was Bob being Bob.

It was Bob backing up the nickname The Great One.

Somehow, the stars aligned and the Blue cards fell into place, and Maher ended a streak of Drain Life and Corrupt, stranding Davis without a single life point to fuel his Necropotence. Brian would later say that he was rattled by the crowd, maybe never had a fair chance at all, as it seemed the entire city of Chicago cheered for every Maher play and booed so audibly the songs of displeasure tore into his sequestered finals area with every one of his topdecks. Maybe it was like the end of an old time rasslin’ title bout, with the butts out of the seats, the hands together, the cheers from the millions and millions of fans watching on pay-per-view joined with those in the arena, physically lifting Hogan, the Warrior, Macho, Sting, or the Rock from their backs, defying chair-shots to the head, salt in the eyes, scalding coffee violently hurled by curvaceous valets to make a man champion 1-2-3 in the face of all probability, in defiance of any and all laws of the Natural World. Bias? Fair? None of it mattered then. We were fans. We were shocked fans. We were ecstatic when Bob won, and when he emerged from the closed-off set we would have borne him on our shoulders like some Golden God C3PO, but Courtney was tearing through our throng to meet him, the fans and well-wishers parting like the Red Sea as the future Mrs. Maher left the ground to be caught, embraced, swung in some panoramic display for the ages, distilled like a World War II sailor’s black-and-white photograph, Bob bending and dipping Courtney so low as he kissed her that the world spun for us, too. We all knew one thing. We all thought the same thing: this game should be a postcard, but then (and collectively): if it’s like this… if the Pro Tour can be like this… no Sandman will ever have us dreaming of boredom ever again.

I could talk all day about Bob as a player; about the fact that he just Top 4’d a Grand Prix cold; that he is one of the finest human beings you could ever meet, let alone shuffle cardboard against; that his mental game was second to Jon’s — at worst – and a close second; that he really and truly deserved the nickname “the Great One” … expounding on all the facts of why, his Triple Crown… the incredible win over Eugene in Detroit… But compared to the most exciting Pro Tour finals of all time, capped for the crowd by a singular connection of B embracing C, that image burned into our minds like the trapezoid “… long time ago…” at the beginning of Star Wars or Farrah’s big-hair poster, twisting together Magic and victory and life in their own philosophickal embrace… By comparison, really, that stuff is pretty boring.

Vote #2: Bob Maher Jr.

Let’s play a guessing game. Which of these popular characters would you like to read about, or perhaps watch films concerning?

1) Whiney farm boy
2) Underage four-eyes with facial disfigurement
3) Reluctant, vertically challenged gardener / valet with hairy feet
4) God

None of them are very interesting types in the abstract, right? What happens when you pair them up with their bitter rivals, you know the glue that puts the story together?

1) Darth mutherloving Vader
2) Lord mutherloving Voldemort
3) Sauron, the mutherloving Dark Lord
4) Jesse Custer

Now all of a sudden you’re interested in Luke (even if he’s no Han), and you look past the fact that Samwise is short and fat. The fact of the matter is that heroes are defined by the quality of company they keep, and in this case, we’re not talking about friends. What keeps Red Sox and Mets fans from jumping off their roofs? Nothing but the fact that the Yankees are such formidable rivals, and that success in the face of such villains makes any success, however fleeting and far between, all the sweeter.

In competitive Magic, we have two great icons. One of them is raiding Molten Core these days instead of the Pro Tour, and one of them is already in the Hall of Fame. But as we measure the worth of heroes by who the battle, can there be any better candidate for the 2006 Hall of Fame than the latter icon’s best friend… and bitterest opponent?

We always think of Jon Finkel and Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz together. They made the Top 4 of a Team Pro Tour as two-thirds of Antarctica, and played together most recently in Charleston. They were team-mates and friends, grew up together, hung out at Neutral Ground and in the same circles. In many ways we see Steve defined by his relationship to Jon, and perhaps as a disservice to him (who has quite a fine individual record), that association with Jon ends up unfairly overshadowing Steve.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way…

First of all, Steve was a hell of a player. He had a Pro Tour finals in Mainz and an individual championship on top of the D.C. Team Pro Tour. Long before Olivier Ruel was riding the countryside on the Wizards dime, Steve was the true Road Warrior. He collected nine final tables before 2001, running up wins in the 1997-1998 season from Madrid to Zurich, stopping for a finals in Rio and hooking up to Toronto (forget about any great finishes actually on American soil). There were no travel awards back then. As there were no Levels, the Pro Tour points were irrelevant to a gravy trainer like Steve. In order to just recoup his costs, Steve would have had to consistently make Top 8… Luckily, he did.

Forget about all that. There are a half-dozen players on this ballot with resumes comparable to Steve’s, with Premiere Event finals and wins. To be a hero, you have to kick somebody’s ass. To be a hero worth talking about – let alone inducting into the Hall of Fame – the ass you kick had better be packing a red lightsaber, glowing down from a tower in Mordor, or, you know, ruling the universe from a golden seat in Heaven or something. You want to make the Hall of Fame? Take out God.

Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz

That Pro Tour win on Steve’s resume? Do you know whom he took out to get it? His best friend, Jon Finkel. Steve is the only player to have beaten Jon for a Pro Tour, something that even mortal lock Bob Maher with his impeccable mental game failed to do in the Tinker mirror match at Worlds 2000.

And that’s not even Steve’s impressive win.

In Magic, Chris Pikula maintains that the toughest task any player can attempt is to take on Jon Finkel in the Forbidian versus Draw-Go matchup, or alternatively Draw-Go versus Forbidian matchup. How about the first round of Maher’s Chicago, when Steve went heads-up in the Forbidian mirror to the tune of 2-0 (Jon, being Jon, would go on to recover and score Top 16). So having accomplished the most difficult task in tournament Magic on top of winning a Pro Tour in the face of the game’s then-undisputed fiercest competitor, you’d think that was enough firepower for Steve’s resume as giant killer, right? Not by a long shot.

How about ending the man’s career?

“Sitting next to Jon in the draft, SteveO received a fourteen card Odyssey pack from Finkel with a missing rare, and after the draft asked if Jon has picked a white card. ‘Yeah’ Jon replied ‘I took Wayward Angel’. Steve walked away satisfied, but when he played Eric Taylor in the second round of the draft and started discussing his upcoming match with Finkel, Taylor corrected him, informing the PTLA 4 champion that Jon had actually drafted Kirtar’s Wrath. With a head full of steam and vengeance on his mind, Steve headed to the feature match pit ready to go to war, with his best friend on the other side.

“After the match, the two had words, most of which are not publishable here, but Steve made a valid point: If Jon didn’t want to share that information, he should have just told Steve so instead of lying to him. General consensus amongst the assembled was that Finkel, a poker enthusiast who is as a result used to lying to friends amidst competition, was wrong to jeopardize his friendship, and that no match was worth it. Steve admitted that he wouldn’t be pissed off forever, but maintained that he should be forgiven for staying angry through the day. After seeing the whole drama play out, Randy Buehler said ‘A lot of people were saying Steve should have thrown his deck at Jon or never forgiven him, but I think ending his career was good enough’. Jon later apologized for his error in judgment.”

The full match report can be found here.

Now obviously the whole “career ending” didn’t take, and even before the Hall of Fame got Jon re-invited to each and every big show, he went on to additional 40-card Top 8 success… but we didn’t know this at the time. Really, Steve’s two Swiss wins over Jon – particularly the Wayward Angel fight – had a great deal of dramatic effect on us at the time.

The fact is, Steve was a Road Warrior, Pro Tour Champion, and awesome heads-up against the best at a time where being insanely better than everyone else just wasn’t rewarded as it is today. His numbers don’t look as good as they should because he excelled before a lot of the payouts Pro players receive today were not in place… And yet Steve reminds us that he retired third in both winnings and pro points. Yep. You can pick your jaw up now.

I name Steve O’Mahoney-Shwartz Hero, brother to dragons and dragonslayer both.

Vote #3: Steve O’Mahoney-Shwartz

Last year these were the players I voted for:

Jon Finkel
Dave Humpherys
Brian Hacker
Dave Price
Hammer Regnier

Because I voted using some sort of bullspit numerical system I think that I got a lot of my votes wrong. How can you reduce something you love, which you are entrusted to shape for posterity, positively affecting the lives of people you respect and want to see doing well, to numbers? Can you quantify the palpable feeling of hope? What is the square root of inspired play? At one point I had Alan Comer leading multiple categories, and somehow he fell off my ballot (luckily he still made it). I definitely should have voted for Alan. In hindsight, I don’t know how I missed voting for Steve… or Chris Pikula (at least I’m voting for them now). Hopefully in reading the above section you can see what a mortal lock Steve should have been… But the fact of the matter is that if we had started the Hall of Fame a few years ago, Chris would have been unanimous, too.

I’m not going to try to be dramatic or funny in this section because, frankly, we’re talking about the Meddling Mage, and as with all things Pikula, the arguments to be made must be sober and serious.

In the early years of the pro game, Pikula was one of the most feared players on Tour… He racked up multiple Top 8s before Finkel had his first final table. Coming out of Pro Tour IV, Chris was riding a Top 8 into my first Pro Tour (Dallas)… Where he followed up with another Top 4. Though he stepped away from the game in large part at the end of the 1990s, Chris has essentially never stopped putting up quality numbers, sneaking into a Worlds 1998 Top 8, and consistently performing at the Grand Prix level when he bothered to play. Just last year he was in the finals of the essentially virgin Legacy Grand Prix Philadelphia with a deck of his own design… That’s what Chris did, and that’s what, in Philadelphia, he proved he can still do.

What you may not immediately understand is that Magic was different ten years ago. Not only did Chris battle without the advantage of Magic Online, the networks he used to reach success were smaller. When Dave Price won Pro Tour: LA in 1998, it was just Chris and Dave and their tiny core group fighting in a pretty insular kitchen table environment.

While (unlike certain other writers) I think it’s asinine to try to diagnose players with mental disorders whose exploits and shortcomings I might know only from reading other people’s Internet accounts, extrapolating flimsy arguments with only passing tangents to fact, I will argue with great enthusiasm that Pikula is one of Magic’s most fiercely honest stars, and that I can’t imagine him ever cheating at this game we all love. Plainly put, in the dubious Wild West of the early years’ ballots, Chris is not just a good vote, but a vote for a good man.

Vote #4: Chris Pikula

At the risk of seeming anticlimactic, my last vote goes to Itaru Ishida. While I’m on friendly or better terms with everyone else on my ballot, I’ve actually never even spoken to Itaru, and therefore have no clever things to say beyond the fact that as a deck designer and total package, Ishida greatly impresses me. The reason I regret not voting for Alan Comer last year is I did not properly recognize him as the designer of Turbo Xerox and Miracle Gro. As someone who spent most of last year’s Pro Tours in the booth, watching Kenji Tsumura go from talented technician to multiple Top 8s to Player of the Year, there is one thing that seemed unavoidable to notice: Kenji would not have made those Top 8s without Itaru.

In Philadelphia and Los Angeles both, the reigning Player of the Year was piloting Ishida control decks. I’m sure Kenji’s transition from unknown to best player on the planet in a few short months was a point of great pride for Itaru, and the fact of the matter is that he deserves recognition for the contributions he made to not just those incredibly visible finishes, but for fostering Japanese Magic for the past ten years. Itaru is the godfather who helped propel the Japanese to Team Limited greatness while the rest of the Pro Tour were still twiddling our thumbs. And while he pairs his incredible longevity with only a single Pro Tour Top 8 (in fact a signature Team Limited finals), the ridiculous 17 Grand Prix Top 8s – behind only Olivier Ruel and Alex Shvartsman – should be credibility enough.

To me, the vote for Ishida is important because it recognizes not just his amazing individual Grand Prix performances and mentoring of one of today’s finest players (and arguably a dominant nation of similarly fine players), but the vitally significant collaborative network element of Pro-level Magic that is so often overshadowed by the individual successes of a solitary, talented, team member.

Vote #5: Itaru Ishida

Back to strategy, tech, or whatever next week, I assume.