f you have been anywhere near Facebook, Twitter, or the various independent sites that focus on Magic, then you are probably already aware that the ballots for the 2010 class of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame were sent out early this week. Judging by the early clamor, there are a couple of names new to the ballot that are slam dunks for inclusion alongside the likes of Jon Finkel, Bob Maher, Kai Budde and other past inductees. There does not, however, seem to be five new names—the number of votes each committee member receives—and that may open the door for some number of players who have been left out on past ballots to catch up this year.
Let's take a quick look at the ballot and then get some feedback from a few committee members about some of the candidates they have had a chance to see play up close over the years.
Players new to the 2010 ballot are:
There are six different players on that list who have won a Pro Tour, another two won World Championships, three different Player of the Year winners, fifty-one Pro Tour Top 8 appearances, twenty-three Grand Prix wins, and one-hundred-thirty-six Grand Prix Top 8s overall. That does not even take into account Nationals appearances, Masters Series performances, or any of the intangibles that each committee member must weigh on their own. When you include players who remain on the ballot from previous classes the numbers begin to spin like the like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
||Gerardo Godinez Estrada
||Antonino De Rosa
For me, the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is largely about Pro Tour performance. It is not the Grand Prix Hall of Fame, otherwise Alex Shvartsman would already be enshrined and Masahiko Morita, who has won four Grand Prix of sixteen Top 8 appearances, would be working on his acceptance speech. Despite being one of the most dominant players on the Grand Prix circuit and posting impressive numbers on the Pro Tour—he is 7th on the ballot this year in Median Finish—Morita has never stepped on the Sunday stage at the Pro Tour level.
Alex Shvartsman, Masahiko Morita
If you are looking at the numbers of Pro Tour Top 8s that a player has racked up, it is hard to ignore the nine Top 8s that Gabriel Nassif has accrued in forty-six attempts. That is just a hair under a 20% rate of making the Top 8 every time he shows up for a Pro Tour. If he makes his tenth Top 8 within the next four events he will nudge into the twenties in terms of percentage. And even when Nassif does not make Top 8, he is doing well and finishing in the money. His peak three-year median finish—taking into account his best three-year run of Pro Tours—is 46th. His median finish for the other seven years? 46th. His three-year median is exactly the same as his 10-year median finish.
Coverage reporter Tim Willoughby feels that Gab is as much a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame as previous inductees recognizable by a single name, like Jon, Bob, and Kai.
"Anyone that does not vote for Nassif to be in the Hall of Fame should be stripped of their vote. This, to me, is such a clear case that it shouldn't need justification, but conveniently such justification is very easy indeed," said Tim who chose not to focus on matters statistical. "When it comes to Magic, Nassif is simply a master. The Tooth and Nail deck in a field full of Affinity was a thing of beauty. That fifteen-card highlander sideboard in Legacy gives me a child-like sense of glee even now. On top of this, Nassif has been involved in two of the most exciting games of Magic ever to take place (each within the top 5). The called shot on Cruel Ultimatum against Matteo Orsini-Jones was probably more newsworthy. However, I was covering the match against Patrick Chapin in New York, where Dragonstorm decks collided, and I honestly can't remember a game close in gravity to the one where Nassif took mulligans to five and somehow survived a big Ignite Memories in order to take the game. While Nassif lost the match, it didn't matter. He is a class act through and through, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing him pick up his ring in Chiba."
Gabriel Nassif's called shot.
Instant Classic: Nassif vs. Chapin
He is a former Player of the Year, the shot-calling winner of Pro Tour–Kyoto 2009, and the model of consistency. I don't think it is breaking news that Gabriel Nassif is the first name I will be filling out when I cast my ballot for this year's class. After that, things get a little hazy for me.
The next logical candidate is Tomoharu Saito, fresh off of his sixteenth Grand Prix Top 8 and his fourth victory last weekend. Add to that his five Pro Tour Top 8s, which includes his victory in Charleston, his being one of the rare Japanese players who is writing about the game for a worldwide audience, and his Player of the Year title (not to mention a very real possibility that he will win that title again this year!) and you have a slam-dunk candidate for the Hall of Fame.
The only problem I have with casting a ballot for Saito this year is that I did not vote Olivier Ruel in his first year of eligibility due to him having been suspended twice in his career. That is not to say I would not have voted for Olivier on a subsequent ballot but I never got the chance to make that decision as he still got elected in his first year on the ballot. Where this becomes less clear for me is that Saito's suspension was at the very start of his career, while Olivier was coming off of a recent suspension.
I did vote for Bob Maher, Jr. in his first year of eligibility and he had been suspended early on in his career and I would have certainly voted for Olivier with only his suspension from the start of his career on his record. It is a tough call and I am just not sure which way my vote will swing on this, but I suspect that whichever way I vote I will not have another chance to decide regarding Saito's candidacy. The recency of the suspension is the major contributor to why I am not considering Katsuhiro Mori for this year's ballot.
Going down the list in order of Pro Tour Top 8 finishes is Anton Jonsson—someone I thought would be getting a little more buzz as a candidate. Former coverage reporter Ted Knutson recently wrote a note on Facebook urging those with a Hall of Fame vote to consider the Limited specialist from Sweden.
In the post Ted pointed to the five Pro Tour Top 8s and eight Grand Prix Top 8s. He also notes that the Grand Prix finishes should get an asterisk for being extra hard European Grand Prix. He then addressed the concern that Anton was not a fully rounded player in terms of Limited and Constructed.
"The knock on Anton is that he was only a Limited player," wrote Ted. "But he has a Constructed Pro Tour Top 8 (PT–New Orleans, where Kai beat Walamies and Eric "Danger" Taylor ate his hat, and which boasts one of the more impressive Top 8s you'll ever see) as well as at least one GP Top 8. Oh, and in case you have some image of him not caring about Magic any more, he has something like 200 draft sets each of the last two blocks sitting on his MODO account, so how could you possibly not vote for him?"
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is a player that I would not be surprised to see step onto that stage in Chiba, although he does not get my vote this year. What is especially notable about the Pro Tour–Yokohama winner was his peak median finish of 22nd. That number is by far the best of any player coming onto the ballot this season. What is startling is the disparity between that and his median finish when you factor in results from the other seven seasons—which is 103rd. If Mattias Jorstedt, who had an amazing run concentrated in a few seasons, is not getting into the Hall of Fame—and he actually fell off the ballot this year—then I cannot see what GWT has done so far that sums up to a Hall of Fame career.
Besides, this really does seem to be the year of the catch-up ballot. Guillaume is still playing and is one solid season away from sweeping into the Hall of Fame, while greats from ballots past continue to become more obscured by time. Mike Flores, who was on the receiving end of Ted's criticism for not voting for Anton, is one committee member who does not like the idea of looking at the ballot strictly on the basis of the numbers. Mike published his ballot on his website where he explained his votes for Nassif, Saito, Brian Kibler, Steve OMS, and Chris Pikula—the last three players all holdovers from previous ballots.
"Jon Finkel has the same exact ballot as me and said it was the easiest ballot he ever had to cast for the Hall of Fame," said Mike when I asked him about his choices for this year's class, and about the exclusion of Anton from his ballot. "They don't just take the spreadsheet and sort it by results. Why would they even have a selection committee then? They could just data-sort people into the Hall of Fame. We are entrusted with something special."
"I think all these people are worthy of being inducted," Mike continued, when I asked him about other "catch-up candidates", like Bram Snepvangers and Tsuyoshi Ikeda. "If your pet person does not get in this year because there is a grassroots effort for Pikula, there is just a better chance of your guy getting in if Pikula gets off the ballot and into the Hall this year. Getting Chris and Steve into the Hall of Fame is like compound interest for next year's ballot. I would have no problem with Bram Snepvangers getting in—I would like to see them all get in. Everyone on the ballot has fulfilled the objective criteria of getting into the Hall of Fame, save for the formality of voting them in."
Mike has been very vocal about his ballot and in trying to get as many other committee members to align their votes to get as many players as possible onto the stage in Chiba to accept their rings. There was a change to the voting rules a few years ago that means players must appear on 40% of the ballots to get into the Hall as opposed to the Top 5 vote-getters earning the honor from the first three seasons.
Pro Tour Hall of Fame 2008 inductees: Dirk Baberowski, Mike Turian, Jelger Wiegersma, Ben Rubin, and Olivier Ruel.
"I think the 2009 ballot was a tragedy," Mike said of the ballot that had Steve OMS in fourth place at 34%. "I have nothing against the players who were enshrined, but there were only three of them. The best thing that we can do for the Hall of Fame is to induct five players—or more than five, but I only get five votes."
Mike explained that there are many sentimental favorites from previous ballots that will continue to fracture votes unless there is a community effort to get them into the Hall of Fame, which will then make for clearer ballots in the coming years. He had decided that he was going to vote for Kibler no matter what happened in order to "clear" him from the ballot. That decision became a lot easier when Kibler went on the best winning streak of his career, winning both a Pro Tour and a Grand Prix since the last votes were cast.
As for his votes for Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz and Chris Pikula:
"Even if you are going to be so myopic to just sort by stats, Steve has a better resume than many people already in the Hall and he got screwed by the rules change," said Mike. "He finished fourth last year and did not get into the Hall of Fame. The fact of the matter is, that at the time of his retirement he was the second best player in the World. Can he compete today? He has played in two tournaments since he retired and in one of them he won a Grand Prix."
"Pikula has had a couple of times where he was the odd man out. He is the best argument for why we have a voting committee and don't just use the spreadsheet, but I think that it is pretty clear that he was one of the best players. Anyone who doesn't think he was one of the best simply never saw him play. Plus, Chris always held himself to a higher ideal than the rest of the room. He had two Top 8s when there had only been five Pro Tours."
While Mike and Jon have been banging the drum for Steve and Chris, and Kibler bangs his own drum by playing the best Magic of his career, Bram Snepvangers has been the focus of an effort by the Dutch Magic community to get him into the Hall of Fame. Bram has been on the ballot for years and has more Pro Points than any player from those previous classes that is not in the Hall of Fame. For the European community Bram is much more than the sum of his points though.
"Recently I was pondering the most influential people outside of R&D in the history of Magic," prefaced Tim Willoughby when asked about Bram. "Some names that make the list for me are great writers, while others are tournament organisers, or judges who have redefined the shape of Magic as we know it. In the middle there sits Bram. While he has had substantial Pro Tour success, it is, to me, more his community involvement that pushes him over the top as a Hall of Fame candidate. We'll ignore the fact that he is one of only three people ever to beat Kai on a Sunday. Bram is the man that nurtured the Netherlands into being a dominating force in global Magic, not just in terms of standards of players, but also high-level judging staff. Also, he scored yet another Top 8 at Worlds in 2009. Seriously. Bram is just bloody good at Magic."
There was a point when Tsuyoshi Ikeda and Brian Kibler were battling in Austin when it occurred to me that there could be a Hall of Fame ring lurking inside the trophy for the victor of the match. Ikeda, like Bram, has a tremendous history of community involvement through his game store, Shop Fireball. You may recognize that name from a couple of teams that have done well over the years.
If you take a quick scan of the players on this year's ballot you will notice an influx of seven Japanese players—a number that is likely to continue to rise with each ballot. It is because of the early success and community efforts of players like Ikeda that the Japanese Magic community has been able to flourish. According to Japan Territory Manager Ron Foster, there was a sea change in the Japanese Magic community a little more than ten years ago that saw players put aside personal and regional rivalries and begin to emulate the team building that they saw going on in Europe and America.
Ron has had the opportunity to observe the Japanese Magic community up close over the years. He lived there for many years and has been a player, judge, reporter, and tournament official. Ron, who will not be voting for either Saito or Mori due to his publicly stated position of not voting for players who have ever been suspended, has been an advocate for Tsuyoshi Ikeda finally getting inducted into the Hall this year as one of the players in need of a little catch-up.
"As anyone who looks at the Hall of Fame page knows he has had a very long and distinguished career with a number of achievements," said Ron of Ikeda. "Most recently he had a GP win in Niigata and the finals finish against Kibler in Austin. Just this year he got a berth on the Japanese National team and what a lot of people might not remember is that this is his second time on the National team. His first was in the early 2000s."
"He is also a very dedicated family man," said Ron who has been an invaluable resource for any non-Japanese coverage reporter over the years. "He has—I think—three kids now and I always smile when I work on the Top 8 profiles at a Grand Prix or Japanese Nationals and we get Ikeda’s in. For a question like, 'what are your hobbies outside of Magic?' he always says 'I like playing with my children and watching them grow.' He is a successful business man, has this family that he cares about and supports, and he is able to go out and win tournaments and play Magic at a level that people without all those other things often can’t do. I think he is a really great guy with a bit of flair and showmanship while always being humble and smiling. He is the type of Magic player everyone should aspire to be and I think that is worthy of—and his results support this—inclusion into the Hall of Fame."
It is possible under the new system for more than five players to get into the Hall and it would be amazing if the American, European, and Japanese communities could garner enough support for their players from previous ballots to push Bram, Ikeda, Steve OMS, and Pikula through alongside Nassif, Anton, and the likely Saito. I know I only get five votes and I am not close to figuring out how to squeeze on everyone I want to vote for this year.