Okay, you got me, this isn’t the article I had planned for this week. See, I have this list, packed full of all the stuff I’m going to burden your hard drive with every 168 hours or so. As I closed in on the end of last week’s Alpha strike, I wondered what could possibly prevent me from bringing you the true cost of Lorwyn, a highly-detailed economic forecast that will enable you to judge whether you need to sell your wife, house, car, or all three to continue playing Magic during the coming twelve months.
Possible reasons for this Lorwyn-fest getting derailed were, as far as I could see:
My mother dying.
Embarking upon a hot and sweaty affair with Kylie Minogue.
Embarking upon a hot and sweaty affair with my wife.
That was pretty much it. Now the way I saw things last weekend, at least two of these three were kind of unlikely. Besides, the article was already nearly finished, and I felt sure I could work around funeral arrangements and my wife’s work to get the job done. As for Kylie, that was a risk I was prepared to take.
And so I foolishly left the hook out there, leaving you thirsting for Lorwyn facts and figures (possibly). And I’m not going to give them to you until next week, for the simple and somewhat bizarre reason that events in the world of Magic have overtaken me. Yes, in a burst of Summer madness, the whole universe seems to have gone voting-crazy. I only hope I can keep all the things I’m meant to be voting for straight, otherwise Kyle Sanchez, Evan Erwin, Craig Jones, Gerard Fabiano and Jeff Cunningham are about to get some extremely odd votes for the Hall Of Fame, a race for which I am fairly certain that they are ineligible.
Wherever I turn, people seem to be having their say on who should make it to the Invitational on the Storyteller ballot, and then turning their attention to the equally esoteric, but almost certainly of more long-term significance ballot for the 2007 Class for the Magic Hall Of Fame. I guess it’s inevitable that there’s been a greater amount of kerfuffle over the Invitational, since that’s the one in which everyone gets a say. I’ll shine the spotlight on the Storytelling Ten later. But for now, let’s furrow some serious brows and take a look at the Hall Of Fame, a ballot that will have ramifications years from now. If you think I’m kidding, here’s a story I heard about the first Class:
Player A thinks he has a real shot at getting in. He is by no means a shoo-in, but with any kind of prevailing wind and no nasty surprises, he’s a better than 50-50 shot. Player A would not unreasonably very much like to be included in the first Class, given that benefits include a beachfront apartment in Hawaii, a top-of-the-range Ferrari convertible, the supermodel girlfriend of their choice, and two weeks each year as President of the United States. I may have got a few of those details wrong, but you get the idea. So player A has a nifty little plan. What with the Hall being a kinda new-fangled thingy, perhaps some of the Selection Panel might not be as fully aware of his career as they might have been. So player A gets out his address book and starts mailing everyone he’s ever met who has a vote, asking them for their support. Among the people he mails is player B. Player B hasn’t heard from player A in a looooong time. Back in the day, when they were adversaries, player A once wrote something about player B in an article that implied that player B was a less than optimal human being. Still, water under the bridge and all that, and player B had just about made up his mind to vote for player A on the ballot. Until he got the e-mail soliciting his vote. This got player B a little bit wound up. You know the expression “don’t get mad, get even”…? Player B started looking at the list of candidates. He worked out who he felt were guaranteed to get past the post and into the Hall. Then he looked at all the guys he felt could never get in. And then he came to the conclusion that there was one guy in the entire list who could, just possibly, deprive player A from making it in. Player B then starts his own e-mail campaign, pointing out the virtues of this other guy. Momentum starts rolling, and player A misses out.
Player B is not currently on player A’s Christmas card list.
I have to confess, of all the great things that have happened to me since I started covering the game we all love, getting a say in who makes it into the Hall is the thing that I am most honored by. I’ve seen what a difference getting into the Hall makes to a player like Rob Dougherty, who is now back on the Tour, passing on tales from the front line, and busy trying to create new ones of his own. In the first two years, I’ve eagerly entered into lengthy discussion with friends debating who should make it in. This year, I’m partly responsible. So what I’d like to do is share with you some thoughts on some of the candidates, and invite you to respond in the forums. I 100% guarantee that each and every one of you knows stuff about Magic that I don’t, and if you care to take the time and share that knowledge with me, I’ll 100% guarantee to weigh it as carefully as I humanly can before (ignoring you all utterly and choosing the five people I knew last April I’d be voting for) painstakingly narrowing the field down to five.
For reference, here’s the statistical breakdown of all the candidates:
|First||Last||# PTs||PT Top 8s||Top 8 Avg||Median Finish||3-Year Median||GP Top 8s||Career Winnings||Pro Points||Avg Points|
|Tom||van de Logt||17||2||0.118||47||n/a||4||$71,382||122||7.176|
Noah Boeken — Although I can’t see myself getting as far as actually voting for Noah, I wanted to mention him here for a couple of reasons. First, in a three-year span he put up more than solid numbers, including seven GP final tables and winning the European Championships in 2000. Second, Noah was something of a poster boy for the game, a good-looking guy who was apparently a “good guy” as well as a good player, who left Magic to pursue a career in the other epic game of the baize, poker. Doubtless many of you will have seen him on assorted televised tournaments. Of the players who left the game before I started covering it, Noah is high on my list of people I regret not getting to know.
Kai Budde — I’ve been reading assorted forums, and there is a suggestion that Kai may not make it in this year, because enough people on the Selection Committee will consider a vote for him to be a “waste” since he’s “bound to get in anyway.” If you think like that, you are quite simply inaccurate. I understand why you might think that way, but I promise you faithfully that isn’t how it’s going to happen. Here’s why. I’m new at this, and obviously I want to make sure that I do things in the right way. Therefore I’ve talked to a lot of people who have done this before. The deal with Kai is this. Nobody is forcing me or anyone else to vote for Kai. However, if I, or anyone else were to not vote for him, I think it’s fair to say that questions would be asked. Questions like “Did you read his stats?” and “Why exactly would you not vote for someone who is absolutely certainly in almost any list of the top two players in the history of the game?” I’m not certain, but I reckon it’s a fair bet that anyone who randomly “games” away their Kai vote won’t get the opportunity to do something similar next year. BDM had it right when he said that the only question for Kai is whether his entry into the Hall is unanimous.
Randy Buehler — I reckon Randy is just about the hardest person on the whole ballot to evaluate. His career was extremely curtailed, but at least that was for the best of reasons: that he went to work for Wizards, where he still resides. In total he only played twelve PTs, making Top 8 just the once in Chicago 1997, which, as some of you may know, he won. Whilst acknowledging that winning a PT over such a short sample does no harm for statistical average, the fact remains that Randy has a median finish of 18th. At a rough guess, that’s equivalent to getting eleven wins at every single event. That’s ridiculous, and puts RB way ahead of the rest, including the benchmark German juggernaut himself. He also has seven GP Top 8s to his name, and to me it’s significant that three of those seven came in Europe. Magic is a global game, and I have a lot of time for players who make the effort, commitment, and sacrifice (call it what you will) to travel halfway round the world in pursuit of the game. Once he went inside Wizards, it becomes almost impossible to accurately gauge just what a staggering influence Randy had on the development of the game to this point. On the public side of things, he is the undisputed Voice of Magic, and if, as we all hope, Magic is still around in 20, 30, 50 years time, it is the voice of Mr. Buehler that will speak to us from the archives. That too must count for something. So I guess the only question mark is not really whether he deserves to be in contention, but whether someone else will make better use of the benefits membership confers.
Osama Fujita — With plenty of regional Grand Prix final tables, but only one PT Top 8 in Mirrodin Rochester Draft, it’s hard to make a case for Osama ahead of the next guy…
Tsuyoshi Fujita — Now this is a serious career list. Twelve GP Top 8s, including wins in Kyoto 2000 and Bangkok 2003. As recently as 2005 he had multiple Sunday appearances on the Tour, being runner-up with Kamigawa Draft in London, and finishing 5th in Los Angeles in a very different format, Extended. This is on top of his runner-up spot on home territory in Tokyo 2001 in Block Constructed, which was Invasion/Planeshift at the time. Also a National Champion in 2004 and still a Level 3 Pro, if anyone from Japan makes it in, surely it’s him. This seems a reasonable point in time to discuss the geographical make-up of the Hall. After two classes, 7 out of the 10 members are North American. This is as it should be. The overwhelming majority of the heavyweights from the game’s early years were American. Just like other U.S. sports, the Hall will come over time to reflect the changing face of the game. If you think there aren’t many black quarterbacks in the American Football Hall of Fame, that’s because for a long part of the game’s history there were no black quarterbacks. Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are countries without major Hall of Fame representation in baseball. But that will change as the newer generations of Latin American players fulfil their destiny. Therefore, if Tsuyoshi doesn’t make it in as the first Japanese player into the Hall, this is not in my view a cause for concern. Over the next ten years or so, the Japanese dominance of the game will be seen in the Hall, no doubt about it.
Justin Gary — JG is another candidate who straddles two generations of players. On the one hand he isn’t precisely old school, since you don’t see him featuring in tales of the “good old days” of 1993-98. Equally, he hasn’t really been around the scene for the last three years, although he did put in an appearance at San Diego, where the Pro Tour was starting to look like a Your Move Games Reunion Dinner plus a few hangers-on for them to play against. Thing is, when he was playing regularly he was more than okay. He made two GP finals as part of team Illuminati with Zvi Mowshowitz and Alex Shvartsman, winning Pittsburgh in 2003. On the PT side of things he finished 6th in Rome 1998, and then won PT: Houston in 2002, where Your Move Games took all three podium finishes. Let’s face it, that’s the pinnacle of team dominance. And Gary finished on top of the pile. Still, it looks as if he is likely to be one of those North American very good Pros who ultimately falls through the cracks and doesn’t quite get enough votes to make it in. This year especially, there seem to be enough people with monster career numbers to mean it’s going to be another wait before yet another YMG alumni gets his ring.
Nicolai Herzog — When I was starting the game in 1997, the general view around Europe was that the majority of the best players were to be found in Scandinavia. Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians were players you feared, especially when it came to non-North American events like the now-defunct European Championships. Herzog really liked the Euro Champs, seeing as he won them twice. Perhaps making the Norwegian National team wasn’t as hard as in some countries, but he still managed it on four separate occasions. Not a massive Grand Prix man, Herzog’s real achievements lie on the biggest stage. In a little over a year, he made the final match of PT: Chicago 2003, where Onslaught Rochester left him runner-up. Next, Mirrodin Rochester comes along for PT: Amsterdam, which he wins. And finally Darksteel gets added to the Mirrodin mix, and in Booster Draft he wins that too. Rarely can someone have so comprehensively shown themselves to be The Best at a format. If it was Limited, and he was breathing, Herzog was the favorite, and that’s with Kai around (who, naturally enough, beat him in the final of Chicago. Figures). There are two question marks against him. The first is that his biggest successes came over such a narrow period, and in a similar way there will be plenty of people watching with interest to see how Chris Lachmann and Jacob van Lunen follow their sensational win in San Diego. The second problem is trying to gauge how good those Euro wins were, given that we no longer have modern results to compare. A tough one.
Scott Johns — In this year’s ballot, only Kai has more Pro Tour Sunday appearances than Scott, and only Mike Turian matches him. Seeing as they were team-mates, there’s a pleasing synergy to this. With their third wheel Gary Wise already a Hall inductee, it’s easy to see why Potato Nation, as they were somewhat bizarrely called, were such a fearsome force in the team game. When they won PT: New York in 2000, they didn’t lose a single match. Not one. By definition, this is a record that will never be broken. The main problem with Scott’s career is that he suffers from the curse of the quarterfinal exit. This happened to him at Pro Tours in Los Angeles and Columbus in 1996, and Worlds in 1996 and 1998. That’s a lot of tedious losses in the “first round.” However, it’s a first round that, as we’ve said, almost nobody else in the Class got to as often as him. Now of course he’s very much behind the scenes, as a driving force behind MagictheGathering.com. If he doesn’t make it in this year, it will demonstrate what a ridiculously talented Class this is, as, all other things being equal, five Pro Tour Top 8’s would certainly leave me asking ‘What do I have to do?’…
Zvi Mowshowitz — There is approximately nothing you can say to dissuade me from voting for Zvi. For now, I’m going to ignore his more than fine statistics. Well okay, I’ll mention his Pro Tour win in Tokyo from 2001, not least because the English crowd of Ben Ronaldson, Tony Dobson, and John Ormerod amongst others were so instrumental in putting together his winning deck, The Solution. Instead, let’s take a moment to remember what an absolute titan of Magic writing Zvi was. Without doubt, Zvi was the only man who could compete with Mike Flores for the title of The Machine. Reading these guys debate the evolving world of Magic theory was like getting a ringside seat at the Big Bang. It doesn’t matter whether or not you agreed with everything they said. It doesn’t even matter whether or not you understood everything they said. But week in, week out, they would hurl more ideas and concepts at you than you had Tempest uncommons. When my team-mate Neil Rigby beat Zvi in the final round of a GP back in the day to make Top 8, it felt like he’d just beaten a true legend of the game. Only Kai can pack more Magic into three small letters. To me, Zvi is the man, forever and ever, Amen. Plus, for a fun-packed day in the Archives, go and see the path of history as seen through Zvi’s hairstyles. Never mind the brain, that hair had a life all its own.
Ben Rubin — Shingou Kurihara is a Japanese player who has hit the Pro scene recently. Regular readers will know that he looks, let’s put it charitably, miserable. Some people just have a face that, in repose, says “life sucks.” Kurihara is one of these, yet it’s misleading, as he has a great smile and a friendly manner quite at odds with his “from a distance” demeanor. Ben Rubin is the same. Rarely smiling, Ben seen during play looks like he’s about to kill someone. It might be himself for not making the optimal play. It might be the opponent for seeming to have the answers. And it might be you, coverage boy. The reality is quite different. It turns out that it’s only when he’s concentrating that he looks like a serial murderer, and when it comes to Magic, Ben Rubin concentrates a lot. Away from the table he’s warm, observant, witty, and a real pleasure to do business with. We spoke earlier about trying to evaluate the European Champs accurately. With Rubin, our problem is the Masters Series. See, he won two of them, and that feels like a pretty nifty accomplishment. Add in a couple of GP wins, 4 PT Top 8s, including runner-up at Worlds 1998 and PT: Los Angeles the same year, and a serious amount of cash, and you have a career that stacks up just fine against his storied Classmates. The big thing for me, however, has always been how players respond away from the table. It’s pretty much a given that the top players are good at the game, but a player like Shuhei Nakamura is an example of someone who goes the extra mile, averaging a Sanctioned tournament every week for the last 18 months or so. For PT: Geneva, Rubin didn’t just go the extra mile, he went the extra thousand miles. Travel disasters led to the most expensive taxi in Magic history, and that says a lot about will to win, will to compete, and insanity, in roughly that order. A serious, serious contender.
Mike Turian — This is the guy from my list I feel most bad about. I’ve never met him, and couldn’t reliably put a face to a name. I’ve never heard him feature in a PT anecdote. No dancing girls, no 5am disasters, no losing his deck, no turning his hair blue, no bringing his nine wives to the venue, nothing. Which probably means he’s just a regular guy who happened to be very good at the game, and then joined Wizards to continue the good work from inside the fence. With so many “famous” names on the ballot, are his numbers enough to get him in unaided? I’m not sure they are. So, if anyone out there can shed some light on him for me, I’d be grateful, as more than anyone on my shortlist, I feel my knowledge to be properly lacking, and he deserves better. Help!
And then we come to my “wildcard” selection. I’ve searched and searched, and I’ve yet to find anybody mentioning this guy, so I suppose he won’t be making it in. Nonetheless, if I eventually decide he should be in, I’ll vote for him anyway, because that’s the way it has to work. Who am I talking about? Well, I have a comprehensive card index of everyone who’s ever made Top 8 of a Premier event. This guy’s card is absolutely covered in notes. He is the undisputed king of Grand Prix, with a simply ridiculous 21 final tables to his name. He has played with some of the best in the game at team events (Zvi Mowshowitz and Justin Gary, amongst others) and won events alone. My “bonus” reason for including him here though comes away from the game. For those of you who remember the heady days of The Duelist, the monthly Magic magazine, there was a feature by this guy each issue talking about Trading. Before people decided that games like Magic were Collectible Card Games, first and foremost they were Trading Card Games, and every month this guy lifted the lid on the trading scene, telling you which cards to offload, what that Hammer Of Bogardan should be worth, why Extended was going to change the value of the original Dual Lands — everything you wanted to know about being savvy and helping your card collection grow, this was your man. Stand up Alex Shvartsman. To me, he embodies an entire facet of the game that many of us have mostly forgotten in the modern era of four-of-a-kind playsets and buying direct off the Internet. The Hall should reflect the history of the game, and someone who virtually invented the Pro Tour lifestyle of marauding around the world playing and trading seems to me to be an ideal candidate. Discuss.
And that’s it, as far as it goes. While I’m quite happy for you to post in the forums about Trevor Blackwell if, for example, you’re Trevor Blackman’s Mum, the chances are I’m still not going to vote for your boy. Sorry. My list above is pretty much what I’m down to, so please take the time to think it through and post your thoughts. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.
And now on to the somewhat less serious, fantastically entertaining, emotionally charged, everyone-can-enter vote — The Invitational Storyteller ballot. Let’s kick off by saying that Wizards must be ecstatic at the sheer number of responses and viewpoints this has been getting in assorted forums. Whilst I understand the argument from the so-called purists, who believe that the Invitational should be a hallowed testing ground for an exclusive band of the world’s best players, I believe they (you?) are missing the point, in at least three ways.
First up, this hallowed testing ground already exists. It’s called the Pro Tour, and the clue was in the first word. Yes, there are less outstanding players available to beat on Day 1, but as only 1/3rd of the field make it to Day 2 there are huge numbers of talented players who don’t get to see Saturday play. Once you’re into Day 2, there are no easy matches, and the Top 8, miraculously unfair metagame matchups aside, always delivers heavyweights going toe to toe. No, the world’s best already have their event.
Second, the formats at the Invitational are not designed to showcase the best talent in the world, they are designed to showcase how much fun Magic can be. Indeed, the fun of Magic is absolutely the underlying theme of the Invitational. I fail to see how Auction of the People is a format that demands Kenji Tsumura should face Jon Finkel any more than Evan Erwin and Co. Indeed, watching Kenji off 5 cards and 9 life up against a non-Pro with 7 cards and 20 life sounds like an excellent bit of entertainment. Again, entertainment is what the Invitational is all about.
Third, I don’t want to spoil things for you here, but I’m going to reveal a universal truth about the game. Ready? Here it is:
Magic is dull.
Well, okay, Magic isn’t dull as a whole, but any given duel frequently is. For every Lightning Helix topdeck there are dozens of games that go “he made a bunch of guys, I didn’t draw Wrath, he killed me,” or “he countered my first four spells, made Teferi, and I died.” I am clearly biased here, since I haven’t played in 50-odd Pro Tours, but when I look back over my involvement with the game, it is the writers and commentators that bring the game alive. Here’s five guys:
Brian David-Marshall, Zvi Mowshowitz, Craig Jones, Mike Flores, Evan Erwin.
Ignoring my Hall of Fame shortlist, I defy you to come up with five more names on the Hall ballot that have had more of an impact on the history of the game than these five. Without them, and many others like them, the history of the game is just a dull, lifeless thing, a succession of facts. Somebody won, everybody else lost, big deal. Take San Diego. Two relative unknowns win. The story of San Diego isn’t that they won, it’s how they won, and the Fastest Sunday In Sports History etc. It’s people like BDM and Randy and (oh alright then) me that try to bring the game to life. It seems to me that to insert one of the Storyteller Ten into the Invitational is a fantastic thing, not as a thank you to them, but because it guarantees you all the color, the razzmatazz, and the sheer excitement of the whole thing, from someone whose sole purpose in life isn’t necessarily the correct manabase.
As for who to vote for, I think Pete Hoefling had it right when he congratulated the whole StarCityGames.com team on being nominated. I too am going to decline to comment on who you should vote for. It will not I think surprise you to learn that since my dear friend, team-mate, and moxradio stalwart Craig Jones is on the list, I will be sending my tuppence ha’penny his way. Whoever you vote for, please take the time and make sure that the Storyteller vote absolutely swamps any of the others in sheer weight of numbers. That’s the way to ensure that you get the best stories direct to your PC when the Invitational rolls around in October.
And that about wraps it up for this week. Lorwyn economy next time, or your no money back. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I think I hear Kylie knock knock knocking on my door.
Thanks for reading, as ever,
PS: I am delighted to confirm the vicious rumour that there will indeed be full audio coverage of the Invitational, courtesy of the same nice people who do the audio for the Pro Tour, which turns out to be, er, me.