The State of Magic

I said to myself that I’d write again if they let me keep my Hall of Fame vote, but I figured since I was so far out of the community at this point I’d never get a vote. Apparently knowledge of PT history still counts for something, as I was given a vote again. I’ll save my actual votes and reasoning for the end of the article. Mostly because as I am writing this I still haven’t finalized my ballot. For now I figured I’d editorialize on some current events. Let’s see what’s in the news.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve more or less retired from the game. While I have been playtesting for Grand Prix: San Francisco, my knowledge of anything interesting or relevant outside Block Constructed comes from watching my roommates draft. I said to myself that I’d write again if they let me keep my Hall of Fame vote, but I figured since I was so far out of the community at this point I’d never get a vote. Apparently knowledge of PT history still counts for something, as I was given a vote again. I’ll save my actual votes and reasoning for the end of the article. Mostly because as I am writing this I still haven’t finalized my ballot. For now I figured I’d editorialize on some current events. Let’s see what’s in the news.

Jeff Cunningham’s Magic Academy comes to an end.

This is the biggest blow to the Magic community as a whole. This was probably the most well written series in our game’s history. This is no surprise coming from the man who brought us the most well written Magic related article of all time. I didn’t follow it extremely closely, but I read when I thought of it and it was some spectacular work. I highly recommend the series to anyone who wants to improve their game. Nowhere else are the fundamentals laid out in such a helpful way. As usual, Jeff’s shoes will be impossible to fill, so they have done away with Saturday articles.

The Invitational Voting.

We all know what the invitational was: The Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour All-Star Game. It’s possible that it was never spelled out in that way, but if you look at the first several years of its existence, this is clearly what it was. A couple of years ago, Eric Taylor was put on a ballot. This was the first sign of the face of the Invitational changing. Last year, Mike Flores was handed a spot on a silver platter. This year it seems like the invitational will be getting even further from it’s original intention.

I was steadfastly opposed to these changes, initially. I liked what the Invitational was. I thought it was really awesome to watch the best of the best in the game go at it in sixteen grueling rounds against the other best players in the world. But what makes me think I’m in the majority. Even if I am in the majority, why shouldn’t the thousands of people who voted for Mike Flores be allowed to see him play? Sure, he had a HUGE edge going into the vote, being the most prolific writer on the list and the only one who wrote for the website on which the vote was held, but so what? That doesn’t change the fact that a huge percentage of the voting fan base put him in. And frankly, the man did deserve it on some level. No one has dedicated more to the Magic community outside Wizards of the Coast. He may not be the best in the game, but he’s put in more work than all the other competitors combined. Nothing wrong with rewarding hard work.

That brings us to this year. This year it seems like the requirements are getting even looser for names considered for the ballot. All of what I have heard to this point has been rumors, so I don’t want to name names, but there are many people I have heard about for the writer’s ballots who really can’t be considered Pro Magic players at all. This just draws me back to the Flores issue.

Should anyone who is voted in be able to play? Is that the most important criteria? I call this the Ripken Effect. Cal Ripkin Jr. started at shortstop in the all-star game for years after he wasn’t the best shortstop in the league. This is because he was the new ironman. Everyone knew him because he was going to beat Lou Gehrig’s record, so he was voted on year after year. He was also a great ambassador for the game. Does the fact that he wasn’t the best mean he doesn’t deserve to be in? He got the majority of the vote every year. He was the man people wanted to see start at short. It doesn’t really matter who the best was because the All-Star game was for the fans.

There is a notable difference between the modern Invitational and the All-Star game though. In the All-Star game all players at a given position are on the ballot. At the Magic Invitational, Wizards cherry-picks the ballots. Again, I don’t really mind this in general, but it does ring sketchy when they include writers for their website as they really come in with an unfair advantage.

What’s the solution to these two problems I’ve talked about? I’m not sure there is one. It’s entirely possible that Wizards is handling this in the best way they feasibly can. I would like to make two suggestions for what I would do. Keep in mind I don’t really know the logistics that they have to deal with over there, so these suggestions come from a distant outsider.

Suggestion #1: Don’t allow anyone who writes for MagictheGathering.com to be eligible for the Invitational. Just put it in their contracts. It’s undeniable that these people have an unfair advantage in the voting. If readers see a person’s name week after week on the very site on which they are voting, that name is simply going to be far more recognizable. It’s a problem that can’t be ignored in the interest of fairness.

Suggestion #2: Have two Invitationals. One that is a Pro Tour All-Star game and one that is for other notable people in the Magic world. I think people like Steve Menendian, Evan Erwin, and Mike Flores all need to be recognized for their great work, but not at the expense of the All-Star game. I’m not trying to slight these people, but I’m sure they’d agree that their biggest contributions to the game lie outside the Pro Tour itself.

The Death of 3-man Team Limited.

This is the saddest news of all. I had hopes that one day this format would return. I had hopes that Wizards was simply wrong about the popularity of this format and that its fans would rush to its rescue. I knew all the Pros who supported it were constantly asking about it. I assumed the community at large would follow suit soon enough as this was clearly the most fun, skill-intensive format ever. Part of me was excited when I saw Aaron Forsythe put a survey at the end of his article asking what team format was the best. I thought finally, 3-man Team Limited can come back. Man was I disappointed. Not only didn’t it do well, it came in dead last.

I consider Two-Headed Giant a joke format on many levels. There’s little skill in the draft, and even less skill in the play. People can debate the draft, but I think once you’ve ironed out pick orders, draft is little more than a flashy sealed deck. As for the play, simple math can show you why variance in Two-Headed Giant is far higher. You have twice the number of decks to get poor draws. Some people cite this as a variance reducer since there are two decks, but if either deck is out of commission, the team can’t win unless the other team has similar issues. The team starts with 3/4 of the life as a normal game of Magic. Two opponents attacking 30 life rather than one attacking 20. And, of course, one game rather than two. Not hard to see why this format is considered a disaster by the pro community. Yeah the “Sliver Kids” found Virulent Sliver when no one else did, so they earned their victory from that angle. The simple math shows you why it’s the worst format since Necro was legal. People want to blame the variance on storm and slivers, but that’s simply not where it truly comes from. They just make it a whole lot worse. It’s great for casual gaming, but to allow it to supplant the most skill-testing format of all time? Tragedy.

So I’ve been trying to figure out a way to bring back 3-man Team Limited. I came up with nothing. There’s no good financial reason for Wizards to bring it back. In fact, bringing it back would apparently be spitting in the face of most of their customer base. So I can say only this:

The Magic Pros have been very good to you over the years. Please just throw us a bone and bring it back every once in a while.

The problem with catering to the majority is that the minority gets trampled…

Hall of Fame Vote

I’ve stalled long enough. Time to get down to it. This year was, in fact, the toughest year yet. There are people from earlier classes who I really felt deserved it who aren’t even making my long list anymore. I’ll start with the people I really wanted to vote for, but didn’t make it on for various reasons:

Mike Long

He should have been voted in on the first ballot. Now the problem is, he’s just not as good a Magic player as the people in these newer ones. It’s tough to compare the old guard to the new. The older players didn’t have the resources the newer players do. It’s a shame, but Mike has probably missed the boat.

Brian Hacker

He has the same problem as Mike. These two founding fathers of the PT are likely going to be lost to obscurity because they simply don’t stack up to the newer players. Brian taught the world to draft. He also should have been in on the first ballot.

Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz

With his recent win at GP: Massachusetts I really wanted to be able to vote for Steve. I think if he had followed it up with a good performance in San Diego I very well may have. I truly hope to be able to vote for Steve next year if he shows the kind of modern consistency that Ben Rubin has.

Nicolai Herzog

He had an impressive resume, but here’s where I’m tainted by being a former pro player myself. I liked Nico personally, but he simply was not a very good player. I know he has the resume for the Hall, but I can’t get away from the fact that he was actually a poor player.

Justin Gary

A solid performance in San Diego would have earned Justin a vote as well. I hope in the coming year he can get something rolling. He’s an amazingly talented player and a great guy.

Without further ado, here is my final ballot for the 2007 Hall of Fame:

Kai Budde

I made a statement after the first year that anyone who didn’t vote for Finkel was either not informed enough to be voting or clearly gaming the system and should have their right to vote taken away. Obviously there are some problems with this viewpoint from a democratic standpoint, but it’s hard to argue the other side when talking about a player of Finkel’s stature. All the same can be said for Kai. He simply needs to be voted in. You don’t need to seem my reasons, you all know them. For those of you that don’t know, he’s also a great guy in addition to being the most dominant player in the game’s history.

Ben Rubin

Kai’s nemesis and probably the most consistent player in the game’s history. What I love about Ben is that he’s still bashing people to this day. He’s had a great season this year and he was supposedly retired years ago. Ben is still feared as much today as when he was a Top 8 fixture in the late 90’s. It’s just a matter of time before he plays on Sunday again. I’ve never seen a player so amazing at attacking. It was as though he invented that part of the game. I am truly a fan of Ben and always have been. There’s no way I could even consider leaving him off my ballot.

Randy Buehler

I struggled with this one for a while. Randy actually gets a big fat F on two of my biggest criteria for voting. He had an absurdly short career as a Pro (though his stats in those 12 PTs were unreal), and he won’t use the Level 3 status he’d be granted, at least not any time soon. The fact that he’s getting my vote anyway shows exactly how much I feel he’s done for the game. Last year a precedent was set to let people into the Hall based on accomplishments outside the PT itself. With that in mind, leaving Randy off the ballot seems like a sin. There’s no one outside of Richard Garfield who has done more to make Magic what it is today. Job well done, Randy. I truly hope you get into the Hall.

Zvi Mowshowitz

Zvi wrote the best strategy articles available. No one could compete with his analyses and they were also entertaining. When considering contributions outside of the Pro Tour, Zvi has tons. He also has 4 PT Top 8s and was one of the most feared players of his time. He was a deckbuilding master and played just as well. He truly deserves a spot in Magic immortality.

Mike Turian

To a great extent, Mike was responsible for my success on the PT. I was a relative unknown when I qualified for PT Osaka, and Mike welcomed me into the CMU fold with open arms. He has always been one of the nicest and funniest men in Magic. Mike also closed out his Pro Tour career with a run of Top 8s that would make Kai blush. He was one of the best Limited players to ever live, and was no slouch with a Constructed deck either. He, again, fails my test for use of the Level 3 status, but I can’t deny this man his spot.