he ballots are all in and the votes have been tabulated. I am proud to introduce you to the 2006 inductees into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. This year's class includes a couple of Year One holdovers with mighty impressive statistics, putting all three members of the game's first superstar team into the Hall. The remaining three players were all first-ballot inductees with diverse relationships to the game. One player led the balloting, which should come as no surprise as he has won just about everything else there was to win in this game. Another inductee was as well regarded for his work commentating on the game we all love as much as his Pro Tour play. The final inductee is a Pro Tour first; an active player with the longest running streak of Pro Tours attended.
Bob Maher, Jr.
Known alternatively as TGO – The Great One – or simply Bob, Maher was one of the best players ever to play the game and it is quite apparent when you size up the trophies on his mantle. Not only did Bob win a Pro Tour in front of the hometown crowd in Chicago, he has also won multiple Grand Prix tournaments, a Masters Series, and an Invitational. Perhaps better than all the trophies was having his likeness commemorated on Dark Confidant, the prize from winning the Invitational. While Bob does not actively pursue Magic full-time these days, he even racked up a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix-Madison earlier in 2006.
Maher's attention to detail was legendary.
I had the pleasure of informing Bob of his induction and he confirmed that he will not only be attending the World Championships in Paris this year for his induction, but that he will be playing as well. His wife Courtney, their two children, and his parents will join him in Paris. He and his wife had already begun to make plans for the trip and Bob was happy they were not in vain.
"I believed I would get voted in to the Hall of Fame but it wasn't a sure thing in my mind," said a very relieved Maher after hearing the news. Relief was not all he felt though: "Honored. Very Happy. Magic is something that has been a very large part of my life over the years, and I am honored to be part of the Hall of Fame."
While Bob does not get Hall of Fame eligibility credit for a Pro Tour until Pro Tour-Los Angeles 1997, he was no stranger to that level of competition and remembered his first taste of the Pro Tour back when all you needed to do to qualify was have quick phone-dialing fingers.
"I remember it quite well even now," Bob recalled. "My first event was in the Juniors division (as they called it then) at the first Pro Tour-New York. I know that the Hall of Fame doesn't recognize Juniors, but to me that is still my first event. I remember thinking of how amazing it was that Magic could have an event like that. My first-round match was against Paul McCabe, future Player of the Year. I won. I had hoped to do well, but didn't know what to expect. I believe I ended up around 19th place, and I was happy with my finish."
Bob drew a modicum of attention as "some random guy" on the U.S. National team in 1997 and quietly posted a 10th-place finish at Worlds that year, but his breakout finish would not come until he was in front of a hometown crowd a couple of seasons later.
|Listed below are the top 15 vote-getters for the 2006 Hall of Fame balloting. For complete results and an explanation of the voting formula, click here.
For event-by-event finishes of this year's inductees, click here.
"My best memory of playing on the Pro Tour was winning Pro Tour-Chicago in '99," Bob said, not too surprisingly. "I had been playing on the PT without any real standout performances. It was a great feeling to get a win in front of my home crowd and my family. It was also a great feeling to win because you really start to think after a while that maybe you just aren't good enough to compete at that level. Anyone on the PT for a few years without making the Top 8 has doubts, and I was no different. That win gave me a huge boost in confidence."
That confidence boost was enough to propel him to every major title there was to win in the game, from the Grand Prix to the Masters Series and even into Magic lore as the Dark Confidant. Did he ever imagine it would all lead to something like enshrinement into the Hall of Fame?
"When I started playing Magic, I was in high school, just playing at local tournaments and with groups of friends. I never envisioned getting to play on a Professional Tour, much less getting inducted to a Hall of Fame," Bob marveled. "This is all far beyond what I could have even envisioned, and I am honored to be a part of it.
"It gives me a real sense of accomplishment to be inducted. It means that not only did I win a few tournaments, but I had the respect of my peers. It also gives you the feeling that you were truly great at something in life, and no matter what, that something is in your life. It is a very rewarding feeling."
There were plenty of people Bob wanted to thank in light of his induction.
"Wow, where to start? My parents were probably the biggest factor in my success. My parents saw that I had a passion for the game, and always supported me. Courtney, my wife, has always been great. How far can you really go in any endeavor without the support of your significant other? The people I played with in Chicago and Madison. They are what make the game fun for me, and I wouldn't still be around if it wasn't for them. All the great friends I made during the Pro Tour, especially Neil Reeves and David Williams. They were the reason that I kept going back to the PTs."
Bob presented a unique challenge to committee members voting for this year's class – he was suspended at one point in his career for events that took place before he became a fixture on the Pro Tour. A handful of voters and pundits took public stances to proclaim that they would not vote for anyone – not even Bob – if that player had a suspension on his record. I asked Bob if he had any comments to make about his suspension, his detractors, or the Hall of Fame eligibility of players who have been suspended at some point during their careers. His answer may surprise you – but only if you have never met Bob.
"Ever since hearing of the inception of the Hall of Fame, I have considered my suspension to be a very big deal," Bob revealed. "I was suspended, and I am very sorry for the things I did to get me suspended. Many things can be said about the circumstances or how old I was at the time, but I did them, and I take responsibility. I do think that whether or not a candidate has been suspended should have a large impact on how a person votes. I consider suspensions, myself included, to be a serious issue.
"I have absolutely no problem with the voters who are not voting for people who have ever been suspended," he continued. "In all honesty, it makes sense. The Hall of Fame honors the players, but more importantly, honors the game itself. Being suspended not only puts the player in a bad light, but often reflects that the players aren't honoring the game, and on occasion puts the game into question. I made a mistake, but I have tried to honor the game to the best of my ability since that point. I believe that everyone should come to their own opinion on the matter.
"I would like to thank all the people who voted for me, but I have no issue with those who didn't. I would not consider people who did not vote for me as detractors, I actually consider some of them to be friends, and people should always vote as they believe. If being suspended keeps a person out of the Hall of Fame, they really have no one to blame but themselves."
Dave Humpherys was a machine. He excelled on the Tour from his very first tournament with finishes of 25th, 15th, 16th, and 18th over his first four Pro Tours. He posted a couple of cruel 9th-place finishes at Paris in 1997 and Rome in 1999 before he ever broke through to a Sunday showing. He finally got the tiebreakers right in New York 1999 with the first of what would be five Top 8 finishes, including a win in Washington, D.C. later that season alongside Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty as Team Your Move Games.
Humpherys was a fearsome sight across the red zone.
Despite his fantastic career numbers, Dave missed the Hall of Fame in Year One. Like most players in the first two years of eligibility, Dave knew a strong Year Three class led by Kai Budde meant that if he missed the Hall this year, it was not going to get any easier. He was optimistic about making it in with this year's class, but when he finally heard the news he had two simultaneous reactions.
"I felt honored and relieved," he admitted. "I was disappointed that I did relatively poorly in the ballot last year so this was reassuring. I realized getting in after this year would be an uphill battle."
Dave confirmed that he intends to make the trip to Paris for Worlds and will be playing in the tournament as well. Dave works as a game designer now and is surrounded by active Magic players in the San Diego area. Expect to see him at more tournaments than just this year's Worlds.
"I expect I'll be playing a lot in the near future," said Dave. "I work with a bunch of avid professional Magic players (Antonino De Rosa, Patrick Sullivan, John Fiorillo, Ben Seck, Ken Ho, and Justin Gary) and I know they will hound me to no end if I don't start going to all of the Pro Tours. My old YMG teammates, especially Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, will also put the pressure on me to get back into the game, I'm sure."
Like Bob, Dave's first Pro Tour was the very first one in New York. Unlike many of the other players, Dave did not have to 'qualify' by dialing a phone number. Wizards of the Coast called him: "I was invited because I'd won the worldwide Ice Age prerelease in Toronto."
Maher and Hump battle at U.S. Nationals, long before they became Hall of Famers.
While Dave had been a dominant player on the East Coast tournament scene and had won the Ice Age
event, nothing could have prepared him for the Pro Tour that would envelop his life for the next decade.
"It really stood out as a new experience," Dave recalled. "It was on a grander scale and with an all-new scope, with tons of new faces everywhere. It was a bit of a roller coaster for me starting 5-0 and losing the last two rounds to miss the top 16 cut in what was then a very short Swiss event."
While he looked back at that first event very fondly, there should be little surprise as to his favorite memory playing on the Pro Tour.
"The best feeling was winning the first team PT," said Dave, who teamed for that event with Darwin and Rob. "It was a new and challenging event versus a lot of good competition. It was especially rewarding to share the win with teammates.
"I can say I really ever thought there would even really be anything like a Hall of Fame for Magic," admitted Dave who appreciated not only the commendation but the support it offered him to continue playing by virtue of becoming a Level 3 player for life. "It's an honor and an achievement. In terms of the recognition and the related perks, it is also a strong incentive to play again.
"I've worked with a great number of people of the years and would like to thank them as well as all of the people who made the PT a fun place to be. If I had to single out one person it would almost certainly be Darwin Kastle, as he was a constant source of encouragement. We prepared for and ventured to countless events, even before the notion of a Pro Tour existed. He was the only player I worked with through all those years."
Raphaël Lévy's first-ballot induction into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame represents the first time a current full-time player has been so enshrined. Lévy, who began playing on the Pro Tour at the first European stop on the Tour, is currently in the thick of the Player of the Year race and had already locked up Level 3 status in the Pro Players Club for the 2007 season with two Pro Tours to go.
If you've ever been to a Pro Tour, undoubtedly you've seen Raphaël Lévy there.
Over the course of his impressive career, the French player has attended 51 Pro Tours with a consecutive-events streak that will hit 48 when he registers for Kobe. He was second among all eligible players in lifetime Pro Points and has managed a very impressive median finish when you take into account 10 years of solid play. The only thing missing from Lévy's resume are Top 8 finishes. He is also the first player to be enshrined with fewer than four Top 8s on the Pro Tour – something that worried Lévy as he waited to see how he fared in the balloting.
"I believed I had a fair shot but I knew it would be hard, mostly because one of the most important criteria, the thing that stays in memories, is PT Top 8s, and I only have two of them," Lévy explained. "People around me told me that the voters will take seriously into account my consistency and longevity. That kind of scared me as I started to believe that I would make it for sure but I knew I had to keep my expectations as low as possible to not be disappointed in the case I would not have made it."
He needn't have worried. In fact, Lévy did not get the news immediately because he was returning from the United States after racking up a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix-Phoenix. He could barely bring himself to open an email with the word 'congratulations' in the title.
"My heart started to beat like hell when I read the subject of your email 'Congratulations Raph!'" he explained. "I rubbed my eyes a couple of times before opening the mail. I called my friend over to testify that I was not dreaming, I stood up and let a deep sigh out of both relief and happiness. I took her into my arms and repeated a couple of times: 'I'm so happy! I'm so happy!' "
Several people around Raph had expressed concern that he would retire from the game – the opposite path of other Hall of Famers – now that he had this magnificent achievement to close out on, but Raphaël disagreed.
"I believe it will work the other way around. Knowing that people believe in me, after all these years, makes me stronger. I will prove them that I'm not an old timer, nor an old-school player. I have been there for a long time, have never quit and will still be around for a while!"
While looking forward to continued success on the Pro Tour, Raph looked back to his first time playing at a large event. Fittingly it was at Pro Tour-Paris, the same city where he will step up on stage this winter and slip on his Hall of Fame ring for the very first time.
"I qualified through a PTQ not so far from Toulouse, my hometown. Back then, winning a PTQ, becoming a Pro Tour player really meant something! I had absolutely no clue of what was ahead. I was only 15 and did not really have anyone to playtest with for that event," reminisced Raph. "I was told so often that everyone was so much better on the Pro Tour, that I believed it. I did pretty poorly there, but mostly due to my lack of preparation. I knew I could and would eventually take those guys! I qualified for Worlds the same year through my Nationals, where I did much better there than in Paris. I won what would be the last PTQ I would ever play in to qualify for Pro Tour-Mainz the following season.
"Call me old, but I can not remember my best memory," he jokingly admitted when asked to recall his favorite moment on the Tour. "There have been so many! After 51 Pro Tours, 50 Grand Prix, I have met so many people, travelled to so many countries, played so many games, went through so many experiences... I just know that my memories make me want to play the game on and on and create new ones every time."
Lévy flashes his own version of Bob, from Worlds 2005.
While he does not have the basis for comparison, Raph was confident that there could not be a greater feeling than the one he has been experiencing since learning of his induction: "When I first heard of the Hall of Fame, I thought that it would be something I would love to be part of. I dedicated half of my life to that game I love so much. What if the game itself thanked me for such a dedication? I saw Olle, Darwin, Tommi, Alan and Jon last year in Yokohama and I told myself: this has to be better than winning a Pro Tour. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to win one (yet?), but it feels like this is the supreme recognition. I felt that way when I saw my Pro Player Card in Ravnica
starter packs, but this is the next step, the highest step."
Raphaël seemed overwhelmed by the honor and wanted to make sure he expressed his gratitude to the many people who were there for him along the way. "Looking back at everything I have achieved in the last 10 years is strange and exciting. I am glad I will be inducted in the same city where everything started for me, almost 10 years ago. I am also very happy that my closest friends will be able to attend that wonderful day.
"First of all, I would like to thank my parents, who have always been there for me, and who trusted me when I started playing the Pro Tours. Parents don't like to see their kid going away for a few days, skipping school and jeopardizing the success of their studies. But they allowed me to go, and I didn't fail them.
"Then in no particular order, I'd like to thank my closest friends, all the ones who have been there for me when I needed them and who I hope are now proud of me today: Jaybee, Yohan, Mathieu, Marc, Mattias, Emilie, Carly, and Lisa. Also all the Magic community that supported me, and a special thank to all of you who always make my journeys to the PTs memorable: Olivier, Alex, Antoine, Geoffrey, Berber, Manuel, all the Dutchies, and many more..."
I had a chance to talk to Gary Wise during the recent Grand Prix stop in Toronto. During the lead-up to the induction of last year's Hall of Fame class, Gary was a vocal advocate for the process and took part in lively debates on the Magic forums. I expected that Gary was going to be even more involved in the Year Two debate considering the stake he had in it. Gary informed me that was exactly why he was going to remain silent this year.
Wise's passion for the game was always visible.
Gary has quite an impressive resume as a player; four Pro Tour Top 8 finishes including a win at Pro Tour-New York, played with three different teams in those finishes, was the third-highest money winner on the entire ballot, was one of the top Limited players in the world at one time, and has a peak median finish that was among the very best in his class. On top of all that, Gary was one of the most influential writers in the game. He was one of the first players to write about, and embrace, the Pro Tour lifestyle; was the first writer that I can recall tackling Limited on a regular basis, and was even banging the drum about up-and-coming Japanese Pros long before me, Toby Wachter, or even Josh Bennett inked their names into the collective Magic
Gary was not going to write about the Hall this year because he felt he was already going to be drawing a lot of support based on his written contributions and did not want to exert any undue influence over the process.
"I thought there was a decent chance," admitted Gary when asked whether or not he was expecting to get in. "On the numbers alone, I don't think I was in the top five candidates, but the popular sentiment seemed to be that my extracurricular work on the game would be a difference-maker. When I did get in, it was a moment of great relief, because I was named as sixth or seventh on a number of [public] ballots. I also didn't feel like I'd have much of a chance after this year."
Gary will definitely be in attendance when the rings are handed out in Paris, but was unsure if he would be shuffling up for round one.
"I've been to France, but never Paris, so I'm looking forward to the trip. As for playing, a lot of that will depend on what time allows; I'm running a business now and can't be away for very long, so if I feel hopelessly outclassed as the tournament goes (I'm a little rusty), I might duck out early."
Even if he does not play at Worlds, Gary was sure that with a little practice we can expect to see him play at some events in the future -- maybe even on a Sunday. "I think I'll visit occasionally. The lifetime Level 3 benefits are obviously incredible, so to not use them would be a shame. I see myself travelling to nearby Pro Tours, as much to visit old friends as anything. As for Sunday? Sure, I'll play again. I'm sure there'll be a side draft going on somewhere."
As with all the players who were inducted, I asked Gary to look back to his first Pro Tour event, which was in Dallas: "I remember the excitement. I was with a very powerful contingent of Toronto players, all of whom were already accustomed to the whole thing. It represented the accomplishment of one set of goals and the beginning of a new set, so it felt really important to me.
Wise, teamed here with fellow Hall of Famer Bob Maher and Neil Reeves, as Courtney's Boys at Pro Tour-Boston.
"I also remember I had one of the most brutal schedules of opponents in the tournament. I played Henning Rimkus in the second round, then Mike Katz in the third. They were both solid Pros, but that barely set me up for the next four rounds, playing Hammer (the second PT Champion), Matt Wang (a strong New York pro), Mike Loconto (the first PT Champion) and Dennis Bentley (the then-reigning U.S. Champion) all in a row. I was 4-1 before losing to Loco and Bentley, with Bentley Balancing me down to no land, no cards in hand when he had Ivory Tower
, Zuran Orb
and Sylvan Library
on turn three after I'd ritualed out a Hypnotic Specter
on turn one. Brutal stuff. I finished 5-4, good for 77th, I think.
"I qualified by beating Gabe Tsang in a very tough semifinal match in a two-slot qualifier. I was playing my Snow-covered/Drift of the Dead deck against his Fleischman-style four-color control. In the second game, he tried to get off a Mind Warp with two counters for protection, I survived it, untapped and Warped him out."
Just like Bob and Dave, Gary's best memory of the Pro Tour – from the countless ones stored in his brain – is of winning a Pro Tour. Along with Scott Johns and Mike Turian, Potato Nation won Pro Tour-New York 2000-01. It was something he had always imagined. What he could not have imagined was the existence of a Hall of Fame – which is surprising considering Gary's penchant for promoting the game's best players.
"I was always an advocate for increasing the Pro game's profile, so I guess I could have recognized the possibility, but only in a best-case scenario, and I didn't think I'd be one of the guys who made it in. Really, this whole thing is a real validation of the time I spent arguing for developments that recognized the best players."
How did it feel for Gary to be recognized as one of those best players? "It means a lot. There were a lot of times where I felt like my efforts weren't sensible, so this gives me some vindication. It also means that despite my not being as consistently strong a player as the nine guys I'm in with, my passion was worth something. It still hasn't hit me completely, but I think the disappointment of not getting in would have."
With the threat of disappointment behind him it was on to gratitude. Was there anyone in particular he wanted to thank? "Everyone, really. The guys who I called teammates, both in the tournament and test-group sense; the people at Wizards who provided me the chance to travel around the world doing something I loved; the readers; my dad for instilling the love of games that got me here."
I asked Gary how important he felt his other contributions were in terms of making it into the Hall. He was pretty frank in his assessment. While I agree with his sense of himself as a writer, I think he sells his playing career a little short.
"I have some accomplishments as a player I'm very proud of. Making it to Sunday on three different teams, winning Pro Tour-New York, making seven straight limited top 32s in '98-'00, playing every Pro Tour from New York '98 to World 2004, but the truth of the matter is those accomplishments hardly made me Hall-worthy. There are guys on the ballot who didn't make it in who were far better Magic players than I was. To me, that means my induction has everything to do with my writing about the game."
Rob's induction covers all three players from Your Move Games, the winners of the first team Pro Tour in Washington, D.C. Rob has not only been playing the game since before the beginning of the Pro Tour, he has been nurturing and growing it as a store owner and tournament organizer. Somehow he still found the time to make five Pro Tour Top 8s, be one of the top Constructed deck designers in the game, and be part of one of the most dominating finishes in a Constructed Pro Tour ever by a single team.
Rob helped build the powerful New England Magic community.
Perhaps splitting votes with teammate Dave Humpherys from committee members who did not want to vote for all three YMG members on the same ballot, Rob found himself just missing the class in Year One. He was nervous but optimistic about his chances for this season, and will certainly be playing in Paris in addition to accepting his ring.
"I did very well in the voting last year, so I was hopeful... nervous, but hopeful," Rob said. "Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is such a great honor, I can't imagine not being there."
He also could not imagine failing to take advantage of the Level 3 perks that come with his induction – maybe he would even get another Top 8. "I'll be using a walker to get to the featured match table when I'm 90. Making a Top 8 takes good play, a good deck, and good luck. I think I can muster the first two, and the good luck is just a matter of time.
"They didn't have qualifiers for the first Pro Tour. You had to call Wizards on the phone and sign up. I dialed the phone and was lucky enough not to get a busy signal. I kid you not," laughed Rob as he looked back at how his career began at the very first event.
"I had done quite well in Nationals that year (my Constructed deck went undefeated) so I was relatively confident going into the first PT," Rob recalled of his high hopes for that tournament after a tantalizing but frustrating experience at Nationals, which illustrates how far the tournament scene has come in the decade-plus since he started playing.
"On an interesting side note, that U.S. Nationals was the start of my long struggle with Limited formats. The event had been advertised as entirely Constructed. I was armed with a metagame-crushing deck that got me through a meat grinder, but during the Nationals itself they took a show of hands vote on whether they should do half the rounds with this new Sealed Deck format (no, seriously, a show of hands vote). I did great in Constructed and OK in Sealed and just missed the cut to Top 8. Oh, the foreshadowing."
A three-headed giant: Dougherty, Humpherys, and Kastle, all Hall of Famers.
Your Move Games has been at times both a specific team and a larger entity made up of great players who all made each other better. Rob struggled between those two incarnations when searching for his favorite Pro Tour moment. "God, that's a hard question. Making my first Top 8 was great, as was the Team YMG win in D.C.
, but the best has to be YMG's absolute dominance in Pro Tour-Houston
"I've loved playing Magic since I first tried it way back in the 'Alpha' days. Being publicly recognized as one of the greatest players in the game's history is an incredibly gratifying honor," Rob prefaced before thanking the players who helped him achieve that honor. "Darwin, Dave, Justin, Zvi, Alex and the rest of team Your Move Games. Practicing with them gave me the skills to excel on the Pro Tour and their company and camaraderie made it fun."
Firestarter: And then there were 10...
Now you have seen the second class of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame, which brings the number of so-enshrined players up to an even 10. Including the Year One class of Jon Finkel, Darwin Kastle, Alan Comer, Tommi Hovi, and Olle Råde, which Hall of Famer will be the first to return to the Sunday stage with one more Top 8 finish at the Pro Tour level? Go to the forums and handicap the race.