I really enjoy the Magic Hall of Fame season—and a chance to analyze the careers of professional Magic players. Between being a pro myself, becoming a Hall of Fame member in 2013, and being an overly analytical person who jumps at the chance to dissect anything, this is pretty much my Christmas.
There seem to be two main camps: the “small Hall” or “large Hall” camps. Though I think some of the people in the “small Hall” camp may not have started out there (and only recently moved there after most of their close friends got in the Hall) it is a legitimate position. If the Hall inducted only one person a year, and was therefore made up of the best of the best: Finkel, Kai, Nassif, PV, LSV, etc., then that would be a perfectly respectable Hall of Fame. A “large Hall,” as we have now, inducts about 4 people a year and honors lifetime pros with “good” resumes, which is also respectable. I don’t yet know which I think is better overall.
You might think that just because mistakes were made in the past doesn’t mean you should repeat them. I agree with that idea, but I hardly think the large Hall is a mistake, even if it happens to be a slightly worse idea than the small Hall. Wizards created the Hall 10 years ago to induct 5 people a year. The tweak from the original system to the current one that you now need 40 percent of the vote is excellent, because while I think there is a clearly established large Hall, people shouldn’t be forced to put in an exact number of candidates. Maybe one year only 3 people are worthy—maybe another year 6 are.
I have always used all 5 votes, because I have always felt that more than 5 candidates were worthy. This year will not be any different. I think that people are way too hung up on the exact number of Top 8s and even Top 16s. As someone who played on the Pro Tour from 2002-2004 and then again from 2010-present, it is my opinion that it was much easier to amass Top 8s and Top 16s in the old days than it is now. Not because the game was easier—in fact, I think it was harder then—but because before Magic Online, and before SCG Opens, and before great content could be found everywhere, only maybe 100 of the 400 competitors in a Pro Tour stood any remote chance of Top 8’ing or Top 16’ing. Now I find it much harder to get good results since almost every player in the Pro Tour has access to competitive decks and solid Limited strategies. I think the data supports this. If Owen Turtenwald and Yuuya Watanabe played on the Pro Tour from 2000-2008 instead of from 2008-2016, they would have more Top 8s.
Two great examples of this are Alexander Hayne and Andrew Cuneo. I can say with certainty that they are two of the best players on the Pro Tour now. They both have great win percentages, consistently great finishes, and are Platinum regularly. Yet in the past 5 years, they have one combined Pro Tour Top 8. Look at LSV, undoubtedly one of the Top 10 most talented Magic players of all time. Before his recent back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s, it was over 4 years since his last Pro Tour Top 8 at Worlds in San Francisco 2011. Trust me—I knew and tested with LSV a lot over that period—he was great the whole time. We are playing a card game where the best players are no more than 66% to win a match. It’s easy to put up a lot of 12-4s and 11-5s while being an incredible player and fully dedicated pro. I for one am not going to draw arbitrary lines in the sand that prevent me from voting great players and long-dedicated professional Magic players into the Hall of Fame.
So, it’s clear that I believe in the large Hall and that I won’t draw arbitrary lines. So what does cause me to vote for, or not vote for, a given candidate? I view the Hall as a lifetime achievement award. Therefore, I’m looking at total body of work, and integrity is very important to me. Paul Rietzl Tweeted last week: “Spend $100k+ traveling to events, get cheated out of a few results, and then I’ll listen about which dishonest players you want in the Hall.” Some people at home might not realize how much time and effort we put into preparing for and competing in tournaments, and when someone steals a finish by breaking the rules, it’s almost impossible to overlook that.
I want to honor people who have dedicated a large portion of their life to the Pro Tour, had good achievements, and earned them by playing cleanly. I have felt like there were more than 5 deserving candidates every single year, and this year is no different. I wouldn’t use all 5 votes just to use them. I would never vote for someone I didn’t think was deserving, but as long as I think there are more than 5 deserving candidates, I will be voting for 5 people.
3 PT Top 8s, 3 Top 16s, and 20 in the money (ITM) finishes. He’s considered by many, including myself, to be the best player in the world right now. He’s probably the best player over the past 5 years and unquestionably a top pro for a long period of time. Some people may not love his personality, but I do. At some points he has said some things that were abrasive, and hopefully he’s learned from those experiences. But, at the end of the day I have a lot of respect for people like Owen who may be sacrificing some amount of personal advancement to express their true feelings. This is something you should respect and appreciate. I’m more skeptical of people who hold back the truth to advance their own careers. People like it when someone tells them what they want to hear, as opposed to unflitered information. I respect Owen for his bluntness and honesty, and I’m sure as he grows that he’ll develop a better filter for statements that are unnecessarily caustic, but I for one hope he doesn’t change his general style of being blunt and honest.
3 Top 8s, no Top 16s, but 23 ITM finishes. While it is tough to only look at 3 total Top-16-or-better finishes, I’m not big on these lines and 23 cashes is great. Yuuya has a very high lifetime win percentage over a long sample so I believe he is just on the bad end of variance to snag so many ITM finishes but not many Top 16s. I don’t know Yuuya personally like I do Owen. I do know that I consider him to be one of Owen’s primary challengers for best in the game and he has been for a long time. When I think of who the best Magic players for the past 5 years have been, Owen and Yuuya are the first two that come to my mind.
4 Top 8s, no Top 16s, 16 ITM finishes. Mark and I both Top 8’d Pro Tour San Diego 2004. I believe it was his first Top 8 and it was one of my last individual PTs from my first stint on the Magic Pro Tour. It seems like from that point he just kept winning. I retired so I wasn’t there to see it, but many of my friends still played and it seems like Mark was the Owen or Yuuya of that period. He was considered likely the best in the world and definitely Top 10 for a solid 3-5 year period. He’s also a renowned deck builder and I have never heard of anyone speak of him as having anything less than perfect integrity.
3 Top 8s, 2 Top 16s, and 11 ITM finishes. While Craig may not be one of the top technical players in the world like the first 3 on my ballot, he is certainly a very good Magic player. He has been Gold/Platinum for the past 5 years and amassed 5 Top 8s/16s capped off with his win at PT Dragon’s Maze. Craig builds many of his own decks, and from what I have seen, does a large amount of work in tuning them and bringing new tier 1 strategies to light. In this day of Magic with tournaments every weekend and content everywhere, I think it is much easier to update and tune already established tier 1 strategies than to invent new ones. I know I personally am pretty good at tuning but I can hardly ever invent whole new decks such as we have seen Craig and Mark do regularly. Craig doing it in this time period is even more impressive than Mark doing it from 2004-2009. Additionally, he has been a great ambassador of the game and makes a lot of content for TCGPlayer.
3 Top 8s, 5 Top 16s, 24 ITM finishes. He has probably the best statistical resume of any of the five players on my ballot this year. As Mark started on the Pro Tour right as I was leaving, Justin was leaving as I was starting. This means that I don’t have much firsthand knowledge of him. If you look at his stats alone, he should be an easy vote. It seems like he has some kind of black cloud hanging over his reputation, but no one is coming forward and saying “Justin cheated, here’s how and here’s when.” I don’t like gossip and rumors, and I definitely don’t think they should hold back an obviously very talented Magic player from receiving a lifetime achievement award. But I also don’t like cheating and if anyone wants to come forward and share their story, please do—I can definitely be talked out of this vote. As I touched on when talking about Owen, I greatly respect honesty, not expediency, and will appreciate if anyone has anything meaningful to say. With that said, I absolutely don’t think Justin should be kept out of the Hall because he wasn’t popular or because he rubbed the people the wrong way. His finishes were excellent. As a guy who loves data, I see his resume as an amazing demonstration of skill. So if he wasn’t cheating, he deserves to be in the Magic Hall of Fame.