Outrage and Gratitude – Reflections on the Hall of Fame Nominations

One of the masters of Magic article writing reviews the Hall of Fame voting process and has some scathing words for those who did not vote for Jon Finkel. Additionally, Mr. Vienneau has some kind things to say about his greatest enemies in this reflection on the Hall, its voters, and what the entire thing means to him.

Outrage and Gratitude – Reflections on the Hall of Fame Nominations

This past weekend was a bit of a milestone in the annals of Magic history as the first entrants to the Magic Hall of Fame were announced. As both a nominee and a member of the selection committee (and a member of the Player’s Committee – I really get around), I’ve been excited about the idea ever since noticing Randy’s first hint back in early May. As I mentioned in the article explaining my selections, I’ve loved being part of the process. Amusingly when first chatting with Randy before anything was public I expressed concern that the voting be fair and unbiased and the Hall of Fame not be just a popularity contest. Needless to say, they allayed all of my concerns by putting me on the selection committee!

Enough gushing. Now that the first vote is done I’d like to rant. And to (uncharacteristically) praise. And then perhaps some reflection and commentary.

Before I begin I want to take a moment to tell you why you should care about the Hall of Fame. It seems that a lot of people care so little that they specifically take time out of their day to post how much they don’t care in various message boards. That’s a real commitment to not caring and I think it’s misguided. While the Hall of Fame may not affect your individual day-to-day life in any way, it does affect the success of Magic and that’s likely of some importance. I don’t believe any Trading Card Game has survived without a premiere event structure backing it up, so anything that benefits that structure benefits you as a player. No one wants to still be playing 9th Edition cards in 2015 and the Hall of Fame is part of the price you have to pay for that. Suck it up.

The Rant

Jon Finkel only received 67 out of 69 votes.

When Gary Wise first hypothesized about strategically voting for other players under the assumption that Jon was a shoe-in for nomination it evoked outrage among the players, selection committee members and public. It was hoped that no one would give Jon any less than his due as one of the two greatest Magic players in history. Charlie Catino even went so far as to only vote for Jon because he felt only one player truly deserved to be unanimously voted in. I myself was tempted by this strategy as Jon is so far beyond the rest of us that it almost doesn’t seem fair to include anyone else in his class.

Needless to say, I was stunned to see two people decide Jon wasn’t worth of Hall of Fame inclusion.

Both Laura Tomasetti (Magic Pro Tour PR) and Andrea Chiarvesio (Wizards Organized Play Manager – Italy) apparently feel that Jon Finkel and his 380 Pro Tour Points, 11 Top 8s and $291,869 in winnings aren’t enough to perhaps include him with the best the game has to offer.

Let’s start with Andrea because I feel his selection, while perplexing, is at least not insulting. I’m not sure what might have inspired Andrea to leave Jon off his list of nominees. Andrea was on the job during Jon’s breakout years so presumably would have been more than aware of his accomplishments. Perhaps the two had some sort of quarrel in times past? Andrea’s overall selections seem to indicate a non-standard set of criteria, but I find it difficult to come up with any set of Hall of Fame qualifications that Jon couldn’t meet and surpass. Perhaps a Napoleon complex where no one over 6’1 should be honored?

I suspect it has to do with strategic voting. Knowing that both Jon and Darwin were likely auto-nominees, Andrea chose to use his votes to highlight other players. While I’m a big fan of highlighting other players (as we’ll see below), I share the popular belief this kind of “gaming the system” should not be used to exclude the best of the best. Alternatively, and this is just supposition on my part, perhaps Andrea feels only Kai deserves unanimous nomination and hoped to assure that by voting for other people. Certainly an intriguing idea.

Laura, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have that kind of excuse. Laura is in PR. As in “Public Relations”. In all my years of watching and reporting on Jon I’ve never seen a Magic player more willing to assume the mantle of responsibility when it comes to Wizards public relations. He’s always showed up where he’s supposed to, said the right things and generally been beneficial for the game and the company. He’s even good looking! There is no way that Laura should be somehow unaware of Jon’s role in Magic in the past ten years and I would think she’d be especially grateful to him for making their job easier. Have you ever tried to make Kai smile? It’s possible, but it’s not easy.

But Laura’s lack of PR appreciation for Jon is nothing compared to the gross slap in the face of only nominating three people! It’s not that Laura feels there are five people better suited for the Hall of Fame, she’d rather pick no one at all than see Jon get lifetime invitations to Pro Tours. That is some mad hate. I can intellectually understand not picking Jon (or Darwin) because you know they’ll make it so why waste your vote. But to not pick them and still waste your vote – that’s just shameful. At first I thought (hoped) that there had been a typo or perhaps Laura hadn’t submitted all her votes in time or something, but it appears neither is the case – she just didn’t feel anyone was good enough to have her last two votes. Not even one of the two best players in the world. How incredibly disappointing.

Throughout the Hall of Fame voting process one of the concerns voiced repeatedly to me was that there were too many unknown Wizards staff members on the selection committee with no real Pro Tour experience. While that would tend to increase objectivity (though close friends of R&D certainly got lots of attention), there was worry that these “behind the scenes” staff wouldn’t really have followed the Pro Tour close enough to know who was and wasn’t deserving of honors. Could the Vice President of Marketing really find time in his no-doubt busy schedule of hawking new products and schmoozing bigwigs to read the magicthegathering.com event coverage and keep up with the latest stars?*

Unfortunately, the two people who didn’t choose Finkel happen to be relatively unknown Wizards employees (at least to me, and I’ve certainly made myself known to a lot of employees over the years). This damages the overall process as it lends credence to the critiques and diminishes the Wizards staff who have been following the Pro Tour for ten years and really know their stuff. While Mark Rosewater may have made a controversial nomination in Mike Long, he at least stepped up to the plate and defended it using the credentials he’s earned from having been on the scene for the last ten years. I wish Andrea and Laura had provided a similar explanation for what they should have known would be a similarly disputed selection. As it is, they just appear a bit ignorant.

Jon – if I could, I would give you my two votes to bring you to the full 69. You deserve it.

The Praise

Speaking of two votes – I GOT TWO VOTES!

When I first heard about the Hall of Fame, I was feverishly trying to come up with some sort of half-baked nomination criteria that would not only include me in the list of candidates, but also as an eventual nominee. I would absolutely love to be in the Hall of Fame and travelling the world playing on the Pro Tour again. Unfortunately, my credentials just aren’t there yet. While I was absolutely delighted to on the list of candidates, I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time preparing an acceptance speech or reserve time off of work for the induction ceremony.

Two weeks ago as I wrote out my vote explanation I realized that not so deep down, I really wanted at least one vote. While I haven’t won any Pro Tours and certainly had my share of poor performances, I needed at least a glimmer of recognition for throwing my heart and soul into the game for the past ten years both at the table and away from it. But from what I could see, not only was I not even close to contention for an actual nomination, people weren’t even considering me for the secondary votes. As Brian Schneider said in his vote explanation: “I didn’t expect him to have 100 PT points”.

Ouch. I did make Top 8 at only my second Pro Tour! I was an “Up and Coming Star” back in 1997! I dominated the Invasion Grand Prix season with four Top 8s and two wins! I’ve held my own!

But I’m no Finkel. (Though I am both tall and good-looking.) [And a merciless self-promoter. – Knut, providing a counterpoint]

So while I had wild dreams of getting a vote from some friendly member of the selection committee, I couldn’t see it actually happening. I’ve been one of Mark Rosewater biggest defenders and fans over the years, but there was no way he was going to select me over much more deserving Magic luminaries. Thus I was resigned to no votes and the sniggering whispers of “you don’t really belong here”.

On Monday evening when I saw I had received not one but two votes, I nearly wept. Not only because it was at least one vote beyond my wildest expectations, but also because the people who voted for me were so unexpected. I want to take a few moments now to thank each of those people.

Andy Heckt

Andy has been around Organized Play for many years now but for me he was “the new guy” for the longest time. Always keen to please, his enthusiasm for finding answers to my often outraged questions meant I just kept sending more questions (and work) his way. Just a few weeks ago, I barraged him with resentful emails regarding a lack of Limited Grinders and a missing Nationals invite list, but Andy is always polite and quick to respond with a reasonable explanation and an effort to fix the problem where possible. With almost every contact between us a complaint of some sort, I was delightfully surprised to see that Andy understood that I complained because I cared. At least, I hope that’s what he’s thinking – the possibility always exists that he’s just trying to shut me up for a little while!

Either way, I was flattered that he thought so highly of me and I’ll do my best to live up to those expectations.

Carl Crook

Back in the early days of Magic I used to write some fairly savage tournament reports where I would rip into judges, head judges, and tournament organizers for mishandling situations or otherwise failing to live up to my expectations for a quality tournament. Almost all of these judges later went on to become level four or higher and among the best in their craft. I’d like to think I helped.

In late 1998 I attended Grand Prix: Birmingham at great expense to myself and did not have a very good time. Carl was the head judge at the tournament and I wrote a very long and angry article disparaging all aspects of his character and judging ability. The report was so vicious that Wizards actually changed their policies so that what happened to me would never happen to anyone else ever again (and it hasn’t).

After that came PT: London which Carl also head judged. I was so worried about the tournament that I wrote a pre-tournament report full of suggestions on how not to screw it up. It includes this memorable quote from a friend in the UK:

“…[H]opefully your next UK Magic experience won’t be as bad as your last. Not that it could get much worse, I suppose, unless during the course of the tournament, Carl Crook broke into your house, burned it down, killed all your house pets, framed you for the offences and then got you a life sentence in jail, sharing a cell with his hugely-endowed older brother who has a secret passion for Canadian computer programmers. “

As you can see, my relationship with Carl was complex.

From there, things became even more strained at the 2001 Magic Invitational that was being run by Carl and Wizards Europe. In a rampant display of unprofessional behavior, I got totally smashed while drinking with Dave Price at various wineries and an open bar and ended up becoming a major pain in the neck for Carl and his staff while roaming the ocean in a crowded boat searching for sharks. At Carl’s request, I was banned from covering any European events after that particular debacle (or so I was led to believe).

With all this rich history between us, it should come as no surprise that I had a strong suspicion that I was not Carl Crook’s favorite person. In fact, of all the various high-quality judges I’ve hassled over the years, Carl is the one judge I never felt I really worked it all out with. His grins were always a bit strained, his handshakes a bit tight (Carl’s not a weak man), and his eyes ever glinting with an increasing desire for my personal demise. I had quite frankly despaired of ever repairing our relationship. And while I’m certain I’ve enriched his Pro Tour experience in ways he couldn’t possibly have expected, the probability of seeing my name on his ballot seemed extremely low.

To have him pick me second only to Finkel for the Hall of Flame totally blew me away.

The enormity of how I have misjudged the man continues to overwhelm me days later. That he would look beyond my rampant obnoxiousness flatters me beyond what I deserve. That he would want to risk seeing me back in Europe – let alone playing on the Pro Tour – moves me. That he would remember my difficult experience in Birmingham seven years later and attempt to balance it with a joyful one now shows a generosity of spirit that I can only hope to return one day. Carl Crook has humbled me and made this Hall of Fame process something I will never forget.

Thank you so very much Carl and Andy.

Reflection and Commentary

There are louts out there who have already begun mocking as a “waste” the votes for lesser lights such as myself. These people are ignorant. While I may have mocked voters for not picking Finkel, I would never be so insulting as to say anyone in the 2005 nominees was undeserving of recognition. Knowing the delight it brought me to achieve even two votes I could never deny that feeling to someone else.

There are several people with weak stats who got lots of votes, and several people with stronger stats who did not. Obviously the selection committee chose to go with more than just performance and include other factors. Future aspirants should take heed – unless you’re one of the best players in the world, you’ll need to do more than just play well if you want to be in the Hall of Fame.

Having seen and benefited from the voting decisions of other members of the selection committee, I believe I will follow their example next year. For my first four votes I will pick the most deserving candidates as I did this year (with a 100% accuracy, I might add). The fifth vote, however, will be reserved for someone who has personally affected me in my ten years of Magic but may not have the raw numbers just yet. Hopefully I can give to them what has been so wonderfully given to me.


Hopefully Andrea and Laura will take a moment to stand up and explain their unusual voting decisions – it’s something many people would love to see. And I hope other Hall of Fame nominees take a moment to thank the selection committee for supporting them, though perhaps not with the lengthy sort of tales I’ve included. Should I get votes next year as well expect to see me once again and if Kai should somehow not receive unanimous selection in 2007 then I’ll be raging at my pulpit once more. I can only dream of one day making the Hall – I expect I’m at least two Pro Tour wins away from such a feat, so it might take a while.

Many thanks to Wizards for keeping Magic in such great condition for the first ten years (we’ll pretend Homelands never happened) and I hope to return to the Pro Tour as soon as possible so I can keep up with the new stars and tell them stories of what it used to be like “back in the day”. If you managed to get this far and still don’t care the slightest bit about the Hall of Fame, please feel free to spend a couple of minutes outlining your displeasure in the forums. For the rest of you, my thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you.

Matthew Vienneau

[email protected]

*Why yes, apparently he can.