wo weeks ago we announced the impending Hall of Fame induction of Antoine Ruel, Kamiel Cornelissen, and Frank Karsten at this year's World Championships in Rome. This week we get to hear from the players themselves. Over the past several years this has become one of my favorite columns of each year. The Hall of Fame Roundtable provides me an opportunity to sit down with some of the game's greatest players and hear firsthand about the start of their careers, what they remember most about playing on the Pro Tour, and how it feels to have their name engraved on that Hall of Fame ring.
BDM: First off, congratulations to all of you on your election to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Did you think you would get voted in this year? Can you describe how you felt after you found out you would be stepping onto the stage in Rome to be inducted?
A smiling Antoine Ruel (as covered by Josh Bennett's hair) at Worlds 2001.
Antoine: I hoped I would get into the Hall of Fame. There were lots of great names of the game on the ballot and even if I thought I deserved it, I was not the only one. It is too bad that all the Americans split their votes; Steve [O'Mahoney-Schwartz] or [Patrick] Chapin would have deserved it in my opinion, same for [Matsushiro] Kuroda, [Jens] Thoren, [Ryuichi] Arita, or [Carlos] Romao. If it is an honour to be voted in, it is even more so when I see the big names that did not make it. Most of them are a big part of Magic history. From a strictly personal point of view I would have been really disapointed if I didn't become a Hall of Famer. As my little brother already was, it would have been like a personal failure not to. I don't want to be arrogant nor say that I deserved it more than the others. I dedicated my adult life to Magic, and what took me to the top of the game was my rivalry with Olivier. Being considered his equal in this pantheon of the game is a great relief. Last thing: I am very happy!
Kamiel: I was unsure whether I would be voted in this year. I was definitely hoping for it, but there were a lot of candidates that could be chosen and everyone in the selection committee has different reasons to vote for someone. When friends of mine told me they thought I would make it this year I felt a little more confident. I felt really happy when I heard I was voted in. From the time the Hall of Fame was announced I was hoping to get in, but I was not sure I would make it since I did not play in many Pro Tours for the last two years. Being selected feels like a great recognition for all the years I played at the Pro Tour.
Frank: When I got the phone call from Scott Larabee announcing that I had made it in, I felt very happy and relieved at the same time. Though I figured I had a decent shot of being inducted this year, I was never too confident I would really be voted in. So when I heard the good news, it felt great!
BDM: This question has gotten less relevant since we first started doing Hall of Fame interviews, considering that two of you still play actively. Every Hall of Fame inductee has shown up for the ceremony, but not all of them have played, so I have to ask: will you be attending Worlds for the ceremony, and will you play?
Kamiel: I will be attending the ceremony, and I will also play in Worlds. I'm looking forward to play another Pro Tour, since it was some time ago that I last played one.
Antoine: Of course I will!
Frank: Yes to both. Of course, I'm still a Level 6 pro this year.
BDM: One of the perks of the Hall of Fame is permanent Level 5 Status in the Pro Player's Club. Now that you are qualified in perpetuity, will that affect how you approach the Pro Tour? Do you ever foresee yourself playing on a Sunday again?
Frank Karsten made Top 8 at Worlds 2005 in Yokohama.
Frank: I just got a new job, so I will have less free time on my hands than before. I won't be able to attend all Pro Tours anymore but I would expect to play about half of the Pro Tours from now on depending on the locations and timing. Furthermore, staying qualified due to the Hall of Fame means that I won't have to worry about picking up enough Pro Points every time. In other words, I have less incentive to try to finish as high as possible. So, I can now justify playing more funny, enjoyable, or special decks at the Pro Tour, even if they are slightly weaker. Starting next Pro Tour season, I may very well start playing pure Highlander (Singleton) decks at the Pro Tour, simply because I always have more fun when playing decks with all 1-ofs. You have more options during the game, your opponents don't know what to expect, and every game features different card interactions. I can see myself playing on a Sunday again—hard to say otherwise, as I Top8ed Worlds less than a year ago—although my next goal is to be the first in the history of Magic to do that with a Highlander deck. Never forget to have fun!
Antoine: That is not going to change my approach to the Pro Tour at all. I will always test a lot and try to win those. It mostly will change my approach to Grand Prix, as I am on the train forever. I don't need to reach the 20 pro points anymore, and I can skip the GPs I don't want to attend.
Kamiel: Though I didn't play in many tournaments in the last couple of years, I still followed coverage of the Pro Tour and read some articles online. Now that I'm qualified for each Pro Tour I will definitely play in some when I like the location or the format. For example, I'm already looking forward to the Pro Tour in Amsterdam in my home country next year. However, I don't think I will have time to play in all the Pro Tours every year. I'm not sure whether I will play on Sunday some time in the future. I think it's definitely an advantage to play a lot of Magic preparing for a Pro Tour, and at the moment I don't have the time to do so. On the other side, it could certainly happen. Before GP Brussels I hadn't played much either, but sometimes you get a result you didn't expect.
BDM: Simply by the virtue of your being on the ballot, we know that your first Pro Tour experience was over 10 years ago. What do you remember about attending that first event, how did you qualify, and what expectations did you have for yourself?
Antoine: My first team Pro Tour we ended up like 11th, losing to Kai [Budde]'s team. He beat me there with Game 1 Masticore. When I thought he was Masti-locked, he played Time Spiral and destroyed me. Game 2 I was on 8 life, he had zero cards in hand, and I attacked with everyone to kill him next turn no matter what. He untapped and drew Time Spiral into Keldon Champion and Parch and killed me. Welcome to the Pro Tour. My first individual was the Rebel Pro Tour in New York—probably the worse PT ever. I went 1 win, 2 losses, and 2 draws, playing my first round against Adrian Sullivan. On the same weekend I was playing in the Team Challenge. I was expecting to win this one more than the PT. In the semifinals, it was really tough. We were playing against [Alan] Comer / [Brian] Selden / [Kurt] Burgner. Comer did a very bad thing to us, and that added pressure for me. We eventually beat them and then [Jon] Finkel / [Steve] OMS / [Dan] OMS in the finals, thanks to Florent Jeudon, my old teammate, one of the players with the most skills that I have ever met. Without him, Oli and I would probably not be Hall of Famers.
I tested a lot with Olivier and Frederic Courtois (owner of laboiteacartes.com who contributed a lot to my success) for that two-slot PTQ in Paris. Semifinals: Frederic won his match, whereas I was paired against Olivier. Olivier had already played in a Pro Tour and said "Merry Christmas"—it was April and I had already gotten a present—and scooped. Olivier then won the next PTQ and the week after that Top 8ed GP–Madrid. In the end, his concession against me allowed him to earn enough points to qualify for the first Masters.
Kamiel Cornelissen's most recent big finish was just last year at GP–Brussels, which he won.
Kamiel: My first Pro Tour was the Masques Block Constructed Pro Tour in New York in 2000. I qualified for this PT playing Trix in a PTQ, at a time point where it was just much better than all the other decks in the format. I prepared quite a lot for the Pro Tour with my friend Tom van de Logt and the other qualified Dutch players. We played a Rising Waters deck we designed ourselves, similar to the deck Sigurd Eskeland used to win the Pro Tour. I felt pretty confident our deck was good, but I didn't know what to expect playing at the Pro Tour. The Pro Tour was a real nice experience. All my opponents were very friendly and I did well. In the end I needed one more turn to win my last round and make the Top 8, but I was still very happy with my result.
Frank: Contrary to how most people have qualified for Pro Tours, I have never won an individual Pro Tour Qualifier in my life. A 5th-place finish at Dutch Nationals qualified me for the European Championships, where I finished in 9th place. That qualified me for the World Championships in Brussels. I was just sixteen years old but very exited to be able to play at a Pro Tour. I played an Angry Hermit deck in Standard and did very well at that tournament, finishing in 17th place. A National Team slot was passed down to me since Jesse Cornelissen could not attend. The Dutch team (also led by Tom van de Logt's individual Top 8 finish) ended up in fourth place. That definitely exceeded all the expectations I had beforehand and fueled my drive to become even better at Magic.
BDM: What is your best memory of playing on the Pro Tour?
Frank: Good memories of playing on the Pro Tour are manifold; where do I start? If I just have to focus on memories regarding actually playing games of Magic and not the great experiences surrounding the Pro Tour (traveling, meeting friends from all over the world,...) then I guess the World Championships in Yokohama 2005 stands out. I was really on top of my game then and I played in Standard with my favorite card of all time: Gifts Ungiven. Gifts is a really skill-intensive card because you have to methodologically consider all the possible choices and wonder which cards your opponent will likely hand you. You can use the card in so many creative ways, and I built a Greater Good combo deck with a wacky sideboard plan around it. Between all the options generated by cards such as Gifts Ungiven and Sensei's Divining Top, it was a deck where I had had to reside non-stop in the think tank, but that sparks the type of games that I love.
The deck also turned out to be pretty good. I'm sure that Akira Asahara, my semifinal opponent, hadn't considered Goryo's Vengeance when building his Enduring Ideal combo deck. I remember winning the die roll and electing to draw first. On my first turn, I did not play a land and simply discarded Yosei, the Morning Star to effectively win the game right there. His only win condition was Form of the Dragon, so when he would eventually play Form, I could cast Goryo's Vengeance on the Dragon that was already safe in the bin. A while later, a Gifts Ungiven for two cards (yes, you can do that) decided my advancement to the finals. Receiving a big second-place trophy afterwards was very nice, and ignited a little hope that one day I might make it into the Hall of Fame.
Kamiel: My best memories of the Pro Tour are the wonderful places I was able to visit thanks to playing Magic, like Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Moscow, and Hawaii. I always had a good time playing the game I love, meeting interesting people and playing at locations I otherwise likely never would have visited.
Antoine: The announcement for the Top 8 of the first Pro Tour Hawaii. I came in 8th on the second tiebreaker. Oli was in the Top 8 already and we jumped into each other's arms and shouted like crazies! Then, of course, my win in Los Angeles. Someone from the staff—I believe it was you, Brian—told me he had never seen someone as happy to win a tournament as I was.
BDM: When you began playing Magic or playing on the Pro Tour, did you ever anticipate being seen as one of the game's top players, much less having your name inscribed on a Hall of Fame ring?
Kamiel: When I started playing the game with my brothers and friends I never expected anything like this. Even when I was doing well at the PT, I always just played and did my best since I was enjoying the game and the people and the places.
An absurdly young Karsten at Worlds 2001.
Frank: Of course when I first started playing on the Pro Tour, I could have never envisioned having my name on a Hall of Fame ring. I never anticipated that one day I would be honored for my success and contributions to the game. When I bought my first booster pack 12-13 years ago, I couldn't have guessed that I would later be traveling over the world and doing a booster draft with foreign friends in a beach house in Hawaii. But that is what this great game has brought me, and I can look back at an amazing and satisfying time.
Antoine: I have always played to reach the top and anything that comes with it. I would be lying if I didn't say I wanted to become part of the game's history. As I said earlier it is a great honour and I am really proud that I reached this pantheon of the game. As for the ring ... my last name is already on a Hall of Fame ring =).
BDM: What does being enshrined in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame mean to you?
Antoine: I would like to thank Wizards for creating the Hall of Fame to reward the players' successes and contributions to the game. I have played so much and dedicated my life to Magic. That recognition from my peers and from the important people in Magic makes me happy and proud. It is a great reward for all the time spent and dedicated to Magic.
Kamiel: It is a great honor to be enshrined in the HoF, joining so many other good Magic players. I certainly like the benefits of being selected in the HoF as well, since at the moment I can't find much time to play in the PTQs, but I still enjoy competing at the highest level from time to time. Now that I have been selected for the HoF, this is a possibility.
Frank: Being enshrined in the Hall of Fame is an amazing honor. Magic has been a major part of my life for the last decade and this induction feels like an acknowledgement of my dedication to the game. Being recognized for my Pro Tour accomplishments and my writing means a lot to me. All in all, it is a great honor to be considered one of the game's most influential players.
BDM: Is there anyone in particular you want to thank?
Frank: First, I want to thank everyone who voted for me. Special thanks also go out to all the Dutch pro Magic players. Without them, the travels to the Pro Tours would not have been as pleasant and enjoyable as they have been. Furthermore, working with them in preparation for tournaments is what allowed me high finishes. Lastly, I want to thank my parents for their support and understanding.
Kamiel: I'd like to thank my parents for always supporting me in playing Magic. In addition, I'd like to thank my brothers Jesse and Stijn, and my friend Tom for starting playing Magic with me. Without playing against them, I don't think I would have been able to do as well on the Pro Tour. Also, I would like to thank my teachers at the University of Twente, who always tried to make arrangements when I couldn't make a test because of a Pro Tour.
Antoine: Of course I feel like this annoying guy on TV who wants to say hello to all his friends, but I will: Olivier and Florent Jeudon, I owe them everything; my parents Gilles and Claire because they will probably read this article, but they really helped a lot; Franck Canu, Frederic Courtois, who I tested with before becoming a Pro; everyone from Wizards, the judges, staff, employees, and former people who contributed to make Magic the best game ever; every single of my friends in the game, they will recognize themselves and are too numerous thanks to 10 years on the train for me to name them all; and my girlfriend, Iara, who is happy to see me playing Magic and doesn't try to make me quit for a casual and safe job =).
Sebastian Thaler, former Rookie of the Year and current Germany National Champ.
Germany Steps Up the Competition
Congratulations to Sebastian Thaler on winning the Germany National Championship this past weekend. Sebastian added 10 Pro Points to his already impressive lifetime total and will lead an impressive German team into a talent-rich team competition that includes a U.S. team led by Pro Tour–Hollywood winner Charles Gindy, the star-packed Japan squad led by reigning Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura, and a Brazil team led by PT juggernaut Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa alongside former World Champion Carlos Romao.
There is no question that the addition of Pro Points on National Championships has turned up the competitive flame at these events, and we could be be looking at one of the most star-studded Sundays in team competition history this year in Rome.