One Man’s Ballot

Glenn shares his recent perspective on Modern, then delves into the meat of this year’s Hall of Fame ballot and shares his thoughts as well as his vote.

Recently, some local Modern events have been firing for a few hundred dollars in store credit. As I’ve got no interest in spending actual money on Magic cards for Pro Tour Magic 2015 and a heavy interest in learning all of Modern’s nooks and crannies, I’ve been playing in them and enjoying a fair bit of success. I’m winning over 80% of my matches, which is quite satisfying and padding my card fund very nicely.

My technical play has shown particular improvement, as I’ve not only been playing pretty tight but I’ve been doing so with a faster pace of play and with much more successful post-game analysis when I do make an error. My weapon of choice has been especially good at leveraging opposing error, so that’s a recipe for success!

Anyway, I know all you guys care about is a list, so here you go:

That’s right, one Wall of Omens. Truthfully I hate the card — it feels a lot like cycling at sorcery speed in a ton of matchups, and my Angels kill people so often that drawing a card or getting some extra benefit isn’t really a dealbreaker. I very much dislike trying to play Wall early, as preserving my instant-speed Flash game to destabilize whatever my opponent is trying to do is usually my biggest priority — Wall either denies me that or comes down so late that its body becomes irrelevant. As a result, if I were to add more Walls I’d be forced to trim Cryptic Commands and add Leaks or Remands, which is a consideration but not one that suits my current interests.

Most of this is pretty normal-looking. Keranos is a sweet card against Jund and any other matchups that get more grindy and attrition-based.

I’ve felt slightly looser against Pod and Scapeshift than I’d like, so I may be finding room for some additional love for them in Shadow of Doubt or Aven Mindcensors, and potentially the third Kiki-Jiki (although that’s not very likely). I’d like a better solution to Reveillark, but currently I just don’t have the room or the willingness to play Relics for it.

The Timely Reinforcements is narrow but very high-impact; you don’t need it without a lot of Burn or U/R Delver in your metagame, and I’ll likely cut it myself soon as those decks have been failing to show up in the numbers I expected.

Let’s get to the meat of today’s article: the Hall of Fame.

I’m very honored to have once more been given a Hall of Fame ballot — it’s a great joy to be able to contribute to the game I love and recognize the players I most admire in this way. It’s a privilege that I don’t consider lightly.

#1. Makihito Mihara

Makihito Mihara has five Pro Tour Top 8s — that’s a Hall of Fame-level resume already. In fact, last year he only had four, and finished 5th in the voting! While he wasn’t especially close to making it in, he went ahead and added a Pro Tour Top 8 to his resume at Pro Tour Theros, and that’s pretty much all you can ask out of anyone working toward a spot in the Hall — more PT Top8s.

Mihara’s one of the biggest names out of Japan, even though the remainder of his resume is rather quiet. He has a relatively low total Pro Point threshold, but it seems odd to punish someone for achieving so much Pro Tour excellence even when their schedule makes it more difficult for them to compete in Grand Prix events, an endeavor that has become less and less valuable to Pro players in recent years.

#2. Paul Rietzl

Paul has had a long career. His name has appeared in tournament coverage for decades now, often with him losing some clutch Grand Prix matches (as he himself has amusingly referenced). I met Paul very briefly during my second Pro Tour, Honolulu 2009, where he managed a resurgent Top 8, and it was easy to see that he was playing at a high level with a real passion for Magic.

He has continued to play at an incredibly high level, posting three more Top 8s since then, including the win in Amsterdam that led to the report linked to above. The story of his Pro Tour/Grand Prix extravaganza in Paris is borderline Magic myth at this point, the sort of urban legend people tell new players to freak them out. He’s having a great season right now, with a Top 8 in Pro Tour Theros after brewing and playing a fantastic deck for that event, followed by a Top 16 in Atlanta.

I’m sure most of you knew all that stuff about Paul, and honestly it would be enough for him to earn my vote all on it lonesome. However, Paul is also an incredible ambassador for the game and one of the most entertaining writers we’ve got, which is saying a lot because the commitments of his day job are so heavy that it obstructs his ability to play many events and even his preparation. The fact that Paul succeeds at Magic has earned him consideration for the Hall, but it’s everything else that makes me confident he’ll find a home there this year.

#3. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Anyone’s decision to vote or not vote for Wafo-Tapa seems to hinge on their assessment of the New Phyrexia Godbook situation. His stats are quite strong, and his contributions to Magic include some incredible evolutions in deckbuilding in addition to well-received pieces of content.

My understanding of the Godbook situation is essentially that Guillaume Matignon violated his NDA by sharing the Godbook with Wafo-Tapa, who then in turn violated Matignon’s trust (and perhaps by some views, an implicit extension of Wizards’ trust) by sharing it with others, and so on and so forth. I feel it’s relevant to point out that Wafo-Tapa himself was not, as near as I’ve been able to tell or recall, under any kind of NDA himself — he was not supposed to have the information in the first place, so there’d be little need for that.

I take the concept of trust and confidentiality very seriously — I’ve had to, between working in coverage with highly competitive players and befriending similar people in my personal life. When someone asks me to not repeat something or asks for my opinion in confidence, that’s exactly what they get — so Wafo’s passing that info along strikes a nerve with me on a personal level.

However, as near as I know he did not go to some active or extraordinary length to get information he wasn’t supposed to have. He wasn’t asked, except presumably by his friend, to keep it to himself. You can make the argument that he should’ve known Wizards wouldn’t want that information leaked, but that’s certainly not stopping anyone else — we’ve got articles on websites across the internet translating images of cards as soon as anyone gets their hands on it and professional players filling our sites with content based on that information.

Wafo’s error seems very human to me — not made out of malice or lack of sportsmanship, but rather just poor judgment in murky waters. I wish he hadn’t done it, because that would make his place in the Hall assured and without blemish, something I’d be very happy to be a part of doing. As it stands, I can vote for him with a clean conscience because while he did harm to Magic, I don’t believe he meant to, and intent makes a world of difference to me.

#4. Justin Gary

Justin’s results aren’t as flashy as those of many Hall of Famers. He has a Pro Tour win but only three Top 8s and very limited Grand Prix success. He’s from the “old school” but hasn’t received the ringing endorsement that other candidates less familiar to modern players and voters have, and he doesn’t have a widely-known body of Magic content to popularize him.

However, as both a player and a coverage professional, Justin’s numbers have always just looked fantastic to me. They say the Pro Tour rewards spiking the occasional big finish more than several consistent ones, and that’s definitely the case with popular opinion. For example, if this wasn’t Jared Boettcher’s rookie season then his fantastic finishes would’ve received far less narrative attention because that’s how the community generally values finishes outside of Top 8 — they receive very little press.

Justin’s median finish over 44 Pro Tours is 58.5, which is strong but not insane. His three-year median, an effort to gauge players “at the height of their powers,” is 25th — that is a pretty serious number. It’s his 8 Top 16s, 20 Top 32s, and 24 Top 64s that earned him that, numbers no one in this year’s class can even touch when taken in aggregate. Those numbers are a sure indicator of his ability to compete at the highest level.

In addition to those stats, Justin’s been a very positive force for gaming culture, which is valuable to me. The Magic community as a whole is bettered by having Justin connected to it, and his career is worth consideration. Adrian Sullivan has also made a case for Justin Gary that may interest you; I’ve voted for him before, and I’ve not seen a reason to change my mind.

#5. Osyp Lebedowicz

I agonized over this fifth vote for quite some time. In the end, I relied upon my gut feelings after narrowing it down to three choices: Osyp, Eric Froehlich, and Tsuyoshi Ikeda.

Osyp’s numbers are solid but nothing absurd. A quick comparison of his resume to EFro’s gives him EFro the median edge overall by virtue of his strong three-year median, despite Osyp’s slightly better career median. From there EFro’s got him narrowly on everywhere before a solid lead on Grand Prix Top 8s. Osyp’s saving grace is his Pro Tour win, a stat EFro has yet to match. A win is worth a lot to me, simply put.

Osyp is one of the many players who have become a part of the social fabric of Magic. His antics earned him plenty of press in the past, making him into some bizarre cult hero among Sideboard readers and fans. He’s been a content provider, and an enjoyable one. Since then he’s graduated to SCGLive, where he’s more directly representing himself and the Magic brand in the modern age as a member of the commentary team.

Osyp’s resume is strong enough to consider, and he has a Pro Tour win in addition to his history as one of the game’s greats and a reputation as an excellent ambassador for Magic.

Honorable Mentions

I wrote a similar summary for all of my potential votes, in order to help me make the decision. In order to not let those words go to waste, I’ve edited them below for two “honorable mentions” that may better explain my perspective:

Eric Froehlich

EFro’s numbers are hot on Justin’s heels, with his only real lags in PT Top 32s and 64s being made up for by seven additional Grand Prix Top 8s to his name. I’m not saying Grand Prix Top 8s are some especially hot commodity when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, as participation varies, but they’re certainly not nothing.

Considering the emphasis I’ve placed in previous votes on how my vote-earners affect Magic not just as a player but as a representative of the game, I’ve had some people criticize voting for EFro as hypocritical. I disagree; EFro can be a polarizing character for members of the Magic community, but I heavily respected his recent article taking responsibility for some of that negative press. That article also happens to be a great tournament report — one of the many he’s written. In fact, I think he’s been a positive ambassador as his connections to the more serious industry of poker have had a positive mainstreaming effect and he’s also earned himself a strong set of fans, myself included.

If I had six votes, he’d get one. To be totally honest, I copy/pasted him and Osyp back and forth a few times.

At the end of the day, Efro’s career seems to be one bound for the Hall of Fame eventually — he shows no signs of slowing down and remains one of the best technical players involved in the game today. That’s likely not going to be much consolation if he near-misses this year, but I’m confident that he’s got what it takes to earn that spot and would be happy to vote him into it in the future.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

It may seem odd to list the four-time Pro Tour Top 8 player here, but outside of that extra Top 8 he’s lagging well behind Justin in virtually every category and EFro’s edging him out overall. Ikeda’s 15 extra Pro Tours don’t make those numbers look better, and his median of 123 and his three-year median of 67 are especially unimpressive. He doesn’t have a Pro Tour win, and he’s enjoyed average success on the Grand Prix circuit.

His lengthy career has also seen zero years in which he vied for Player of the Year, a distinction he shares with Paul Rietzl. It’s not the most relevant stat, but it’s certainly nice to have because those players are often the ones we perceive as having been “legends” of the game. Paul’s playing has more than made up for that lack, but Ikeda cannot say the same.

My hesitation to vote for Ikeda doesn’t stem from any one of these particular weak points, but from their collective presence. Is a Pro Tour Top 8 worth more than a Top 16, Top 32, and Top 64 with 15 less Pro Tours? What about when you add on 4 GP Top 8s and median finishes that are half Ikeda’s own? I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking that Pro Tour, but I’d rather have EFro’s career or Osyp’s trophy if it were up to me.

Really hope I didn’t typo any of those stats. Please (politely) let me know if I did!

Regarding Tomoharu Saito

I’ve decided to adopt a more harsh line than I’d previously considered regarding this issue. In light of the potential for having stained the finishes that first qualified him for the Hall of Fame, I’d like to see him re-earn the qualification threshold while playing clean at a high level before I consider him for my ballot. Others may make their choices, and I respect that, but that’s how I’m going to handle it.

You’re welcome to debate my ballot and my choices below — I may engage you, although to be honest I probably won’t. Simply put, I value the things that I value, and that’s kind of the point of the Hall. I’ve seen many people submit ballots with less than five people, and some even with people who didn’t make my short list: that’s totally fine. We value different things. It’s from the aggregation of many values that the Hall is actually created.

It’s a vote that draws from the personal experiences and opinions of so many people for a reason — because those are the kinds of ballots that the creators of the Hall wanted weighed. Any purely objective stats-based system wouldn’t need any voters or inspire any discussion, and the Hall would be worse for it.