ne of the best parts of my involvement with Wizards of the Coast has been overseeing the induction of Pro Tour Hall of Fame since the inception of the program in 2005. It is hard to believe that this year's incoming class will be the seventh group to be so enshrined at this year's opening ceremonies at the World Championships in San Francisco. The group of players being fitted for their rings makes up a three-person class that follows the growth of professional Magic around the globe and through three different eras of the game.
Without further ado, let's meet the inductees: Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz, Anton Jonsson, and Shuhei Nakamura. Here are the ballot results for the top twenty finishers (as a reminder, the ballots are weighted two-thirds Selection Committee, one-third Players Committee and candidates with a combined 40% are inducted):
||Antonino De Rosa
It is with no small amount of joy that I type what was once the longest name in the DCI database. Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz has been on the ballot since the Hall of Fame was created and has come up just short of ring-fitting on multiple ballots. I have known him since he was a teenager, years before he played in the Junior division of that first Pro Tour held in New York, and he was a cornerstone of the early New York Magic community.
Despite vocal support from some high-profile Magic writers, when this year's ballots went out, Steven was worried that he would find himself just short for another year.
"Once voters started to post their ballots on Twitter or on various other websites I could tell that I picked up more votes then last year and was very hopeful—but still nervous—about getting in this year," said O'Mahoney-Schwartz of his expectations for this year's class. He went on to describe his reaction to hearing the good news that he would be booking a trip to Worlds.
"I first felt relief and extreme happiness to be recognized in the Hall of Fame for my contributions to the game," he recounted. "Once that wore off I bit I started to think about how exciting it could be to start playing in competitive Magic events again."
Steve expects to play in at least a couple Pro Tours a year now that he is qualified again by virtue of his Hall of Fame status. He admitted that preparing for his recent wedding and other real-life concerns over the past year have left little time to play Magic, and that perhaps some rust had set in that would make adding a fourth Pro Tour Top 8 to his resume a little challenging—at least for the immediate future.
O'Mahoney-Schwartz and his GP Boston partner Matt Wang.
"I haven't played Constructed Magic in many many years," said O'Mahoney-Schwartz, who most recently won the Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix Boston teamed with Matt Wang. "There's lots of opportunity for me to draft in NYC, and I'm confident that I can pick it up quickly. With all the Pro Tours being split formats now I think being so far behind in being prepared for Constructed will hold me back."
Steve began his career in New York City at the first Pro Tour ever held, playing in the Junior division along with fellow future Hall of Famers Jon Finkel, Bob Maher, and Brian Kibler. To qualify for that first event you only needed to call in and it was frustrating for Steven—one of the winningest players on the East Coast in all-ages competition—to have to be segregated with the younger players. He had tried to play in the Masters division but was not given the option to do so. In hindsight he realized that the Juniors division may have been the tougher half of the field.
"Imagine a world of competitive know-it-all gamers, with lots of experience testing decks and more time than the average working adult to play games, all battling each other," said Steve, who had high hopes for that first event. "I was disappointed in finishing in the Top 128 at the time. Looking back, I didn't realize how strong Magic tournaments were already, as I played against quite a few other opponents who went on to have successful Magic careers. In the end they allowed the Top 128 juniors play in the second Junior PT so I was able to continue on."
Steve would join the ranks of the Masters by the third Pro Tour, but did not become a fixture on the Pro Tour until the following season when he posted Top 32 finishes in Los Angeles and Paris. All three of his Pro Tour Top 8s would come over the next three seasons, starting with a second-place finish at Pro Tour Mainz—and a reputation as one of the game's most formidable Limited players. His second Top 8 came at Pro Tour Los Angeles 1999 and remains Steven's favorite moment from his storied career—made even more special by the presence of his brother and eventual Pro Tour Washington DC teammate, Daniel O'Mahoney-Schwartz.
"After coming so close to winning a PT at PT Mainz I had really tried to step up my game and work even harder on my drafting," recalled Steven. "The payoff of finally winning was very sweet. It was still the prime playing time of all my friends, and having my brother and friends there to cheer me on and then celebrate with me made it so much more memorable for me. I was in a state of shock after winning and I think my brother Dan was even more excited than I was."
A 2006 appearance of Team Antarctica (left to right, Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz, Jon Finkel, Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz).
Alongside his brother and first-class Hall of Famer Jon Finkel, Steven would get his third Top 8 as a member of Team Antarctica at the Team Challenge in 2000—the Top 4 teams of which now have six out of twelve combined players in the Hall of Fame.
Steve was also the original Road Warrior traveling to Grand Prix events before it was de rigueur to do so—this is before the advent of Pro Club levels, and traveling overseas for a GP was often a money-losing venture for everyone but the victor. In 1998 Steve was chasing after the Player of the Year title and hoped to pick up some points at Grand Prix Madrid. At a time when the big-name American players were not traveling to Pro Tours, his appearance caused something of a sensation among the locals, who did not think a non-European should be allowed to play in the event.
"At first it seemed like the lower-level judging staff agreed with them and I wasn't going to be able to play," Steve recalled. "After talking with the Head Judge and TO as quickly as I could, the situation was corrected and it was explained to the room that anyone who wanted to play could sign up."
By virtue of his willingness to travel, Steve found himself as one of the original gunslingers and ambassador for the game.
"I often stayed a few extra days at each location and got to meet and hang out with local players, which led to an opportunity to volunteer my time to travel as an ambassador to the game to gun-sling, host Magic quiz shows, and just meet local players at events I couldn't play in," he explained. "So I went to the first Latin American championships and a couple of JSS [Junior Super Series] Championships and had a great time experiencing the game and different parts of the world."
Despite his involvement and success with Magic, he could never have imagined being honored in a Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
"I always knew that Magic had a lot of life as a competitive game, but I would never have guessed how big and established an institution the Pro Tour has grown into," said Steven. "Being enshrined in the Hall of Fame is a validation of a very big and influential part of my life. I haven't played in a Pro Tour in a while, but the friends I made have lasted a lifetime. Along with going to college and getting married, playing Magic is a Top 3 influence on where I am in life."
It was some of those Magic friends that Steven wanted to thank as he looked back on the people who helped him along the way from the Junior Pro Tour in 1996 to the Hall of Fame in 2011.
"There's a lot of people I should thank," warned Steve. "Nick at high school, who never played a tournament, but was the person who introduced me to the game and taught me how to play. My brother Dan for always being there for me and being a great teammate. Jon Finkel for always challenging everyone to be better at everything they do and being a good friend/teammate. David Williams for helping to convince me that all those bad-idea Magic trips were really a good idea and for being a great travel buddy. Alex Garamvolgyi for introducing me to competitive magic by showing me that besides playing with friends, card shops and TOs existed who ran Magic events. To BDM and the rest of the NY Magic / Gray Matter / Neutral Ground owners for running all the big NY area Magic events and owning a great card store. My parents for being open-minded and letting a little kid follow his dreams no matter what and for being my biggest supporters."
As O'Mahoney-Schwartz's career was winding down in the United States, Anton Jonsson was just getting started in Sweden. His first Pro Tour appearance was in 2000 at Pro Tour Tokyo. He came on the ballot last season for the first time, and like Steve, he finished on the outside looking in for the induction ceremony in Chiba. Despite falling just short last season. Anton felt good as the 2011 ballots went out even if he could not completely wrap his head around the concept.
"I always thought my chances this year would be pretty good, especially with the way the voting last year went and me doing regular content for StarCityGames.com," explained Anton. "Also, once people started posting their ballots on social media I became pretty confident since most I read had me on the list. This all leads up to a really weird feeling when I actually got the call that I had made it in. One part of me had already accepted that I would be voted in, while the other was still processing just how absurd it is to be voted into a Hall of Fame—any Hall of Fame."
Anton is not one for long-term plans, but he expected that he would play in Pro Tours using his Hall of Fame invite if he had the time and money to travel and the opportunity to prepare sufficiently. If all that lined up, did he think he still had the chops to play on Sunday again and add to his five Pro Tour Top 8s?
"I play Magic on most Sundays, but I guess you are talking about the Top 8 of a Pro Tour," joked Anton. "Realistically it is very hard to make the Top 8, but I wouldn't attend if I didn't think I could win."
Anton's Pro Tour career kicked off with a Top 64 finish, and he knew he could have done better.
"It was Pro Tour Tokyo, and the format was Invasion Block Constructed," Anton recalled. "The most surprising part was probably that Jens Thorén had created an awesome deck—the blue-black Rat deck—and he wasn't even qualified! Jens never really built that many decks but when he did they were obviously awesome. I made Top 64, but if I hadn't made some really bad mistakes that deck could have done much better. The other big memories from that event are the thrill of playing in a big cash-prize tournament for the first time and of course experiencing the wonder and magic that is Japan."
Anton earned the chance to compete in Tokyo through a PTQ, and Thorén—the inspiration for Solemn Simulacrum—played a key role in Anton's deck selection.
"We actually had a PTQ in Umeå—one of the few we ever had—and I remember that I wanted to borrow cards for a deck from Jens," Anton explained. "Only problem was that like four or five guys had borrowed cards from him before I even knew about the PTQ, so I was stuck playing some Stompy deck. This was Extended and Necro/Donate was legal, so Stompy didn't seem optimal to me, but the deck had already qualified two Swedes and somehow the little green men got me there too."
As he headed to his first Pro Tour, Anton tried to have no expectations, but the game had always come easily to him and some thoughts could not help but creep in.
"I was happy to have qualified and happy to play a big tournament," said Anton. "Subconsciously, though, I think I had been conditioned to believe I would always do at least OK. Whenever I played in local tournaments or even nationals or Grand Prix I did OK, and I think I was just dumb enough to think that the Pro Tour level would be no different."
He got back to the Pro Tour the following season in New Orleans, and his subconscious proved to be correct, as he made the first two of his five career Pro Tour Top 8s that season, capped by a Top 32 finish at Worlds to boot. Anton credits a big part of his success to his affiliation with the likes of Tomi Walamies, Thomas Rosholm, Mattias Kettil, and Mattias Jorstedt, who made up Team Punisher at a time when European players were bursting onto the Magic scene in a big way. He felt that the emergence of European playtesting teams at the start of the millennium had a lot to do with the shift in power from North America to Europe at that time.
"Basically you had all these really good players who had finally understood that they needed to form good teams so that they could show up at Pro Tours with good decks," Anton said simply. "Like Kai and his collaboration with people like Ben Ronaldsson and John Ormerod, or the emerging Dutch players like Kamiel [Cornelissen] and Jelger [Wiegersma], or the French headed by the Ruels [Antoine and Olivier] and [Gabriel] Nassif. In the US this had been going on for a while, but suddenly Europe was doing the same thing and unsurprisingly taking a piece of the cake."
"Personally, I had the opportunity to work with Team Punisher, which was comprised of some of the best players in Sweden and Finland—and later on Norway—with a sprinkle of Denmark, Switzerland, and even Australia," Anton continued. "The team had been around for a year when I joined, and even with playtesting that often could only be described as 'chaotic' we would find good decks for most events. I think the biggest reason for our success was that we had a good size team with members that actually trusted each other."
Anton became known as one of the all-time great Limited players, picking up the mantle from Steve OMS, and was one of three players who all appeared in the same two Limited Top 8s during the same season. Anton now joins Mike Turian and Nicolai Herzog in the Hall of Fame.
A second-place finish at Grand Prix Gothenburg in 2010 reminded everyone of Anton's mastery of the game.
The year the Pro Tour Hall of Fame was first announced was also the season that Anton posted his fifth Pro Tour Top 8 with a second-place finish in Nagoya. Commentator (and Pro Tour Hall of Famer) Randy Buehler and I asked Anton at the time if he thought he would eventually be enshrined, and he admitted that it was a possibility.
"Ever since then I could envision it happening, I could hope it would happen, but the fact that it is happening is still surreal," recalled Anton half a decade later when asked what the induction meant for him. "I have played Magic for more than half my life, and I am almost 34 years old. Apart from stuff like eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking I don't think there is one activity I have spent more time on. So what does being enshrined mean to me? More than it probably should."
Looking back at his career, Anton could not single out one thing as his highlight: "Can I say all of it? Playing in Top 8s for thousands of dollars is just so much fun, and something I will remember for the rest of my life. But also of course the friends, the laughs, the drafts, the food, the drink, the world."
He was similarly hard pressed to single out anyone for thanks beyond his earlier acknowledgement of his Team Punisher cronies, singling out only two special people.
"My mom and dad for showing support always," said Anton, before adding: "I started a list here but it is just so long. I'd like to thank everyone that supported me both playing Magic and outside of Magic and everyone that made playing on the Pro Tour so much fun."
To the surprise of exactly no one, the leading vote-getter in his first year of eligibility is Japan's Shuhei Nakamura with his five Pro Tour Top 8s, 416 (and counting) lifetime Pro Points, and 2008 Player of the Year trophy. While the induction may not have come as a surprise for Shuhei, it did not mean he was nervous while waiting for the votes to be tallied.
"I thought that if I didn't get in this year, I never would," said an extremely relieved Nakamura. "When I learned I had been inducted, I guess I felt relieved more than anything else. It didn't help that all my friends were giving me a hard time over it."
To say that Nakamura is an active player is the height of understatement, as he has spent virtually every available weekend for the past few seasons chasing down Pro Points and locking up Level 8 after Level 8 result. He admitted that his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame could coincide with a more relaxed travel schedule but explained that he already thinking along those lines.
"I was already thinking about changing my approach to the Pro Tour, but now that I am in the Hall of Fame, I suppose it will change," said Nakamura, before adding that he still had some unfinished business that was driving him: "Winning a Pro Tour."
Shuhei first qualified for Pro Tour New Orleans in 2001—the same event where Anton earned his first Top 8—but did not attend due to the financial costs. He qualified for the next Pro Tour in San Diego and managed to play in a handful of events over the next few seasons before finally stringing one event into the next with a Top 50 finish at Worlds in San Francisco at the end of the 2004 season.
Looking back on his first trip to the Pro Tour, Shuhei saw himself playing during two different eras in terms of how Japanese players performed and were perceived on the Pro Tour.
"I didn't make Day Two. This was when Japanese didn't do well at all on the Pro Tour. I wasn't disappointed or upset," Nakamura recalled of playing at Pro Tour San Diego 2002. "What I took home from that first Pro Tour was the feeling that it was an obstacle I wanted to someday overcome. One other thing I remember from that first Pro Tour was that I met someone I thought was really, really good―Eugene Harvey. Although now that I think about it, that was right around the time he debuted on the Tour as well."
Things were changing for Japanese Magic players. Tsuyoshi Fujita had already made the finals of a Pro Tour, and at PT Venice Akihiro Kashima made the Top 8 while Masahiko Morita, Masahiro , Kuroda, and Katsuhiro Mori were winning the Masters Series.
Following his performance at Worlds in 2004, Nakamura kicked off his breakout season on the Pro Tour with a second-place finish at Pro Tour Columbus—a Top 8 that featured three Japanese players—and another Top 8 to close the season at Worlds in 2005. It was the year that Japan swept winning the World Championship, the Player of the year title, and the Team Championship.
"I think the reason Japanese players were able to blossom the way they did is that we were paradoxically able to take advantage of the fact that we were held back for so long by our geographic and linguistic distance," posited Nakamura. "It took a while, but eventually Fujita and then [Akihiro] Kashima made Top 8, and my impression is that they primed everyone else. After that, players who we Japanese had known for a long time were capable, but were unknown outside the country, started racking up Top 8s."
That was also the Worlds where the first class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame was inducted, and Shuhei was sitting in the audience watching. He reflected on his ten years of professional Magic and whether or not he ever expected to join the likes of Jon Finkel in the Hall of Fame.
"Ten years ago, I never would have imagined this day would come," admitted Shuhei. "Six years ago, I realized it might someday come, but it would be a long time in coming. Three years ago, I made it one of my goals. Entering the Hall of Fame is one of the endposts of my Magic life, and I hope it will be one of the better achievements of my life."
In becoming the second Japanese player to be inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, Shuhei wanted to thank the person who paved the way for him to get there—the first such Japanese player to do so.
"I would have to thank Tsuyoshi Fujita," said Nakamura. "His influence has been a major reason for me continuing Magic over the years."
That is your 2011 Pro Tour Hall of Fame Class from three different eras and three different continents. Good luck at Worlds, gentlemen, and congratulations!