It’s been almost 4 years exactly since I returned to playing competitive Magic. I almost got into the Hall of Fame, and got a special invite to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. At that time, I began working with the team that would evolve into what is today known as Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon. Through that opportunity, I was able to connect with several old friends, and make several new friends as well—that was the Pro Tour where I started to develop friendships with both Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke. In the years since, the 3 of us have become known as the Peach Garden Oath. We’ve all become best friends and Owen and I have even become roommates. My close relationship with Owen is no secret, and while I admit that it’s basically impossible not to be biased, I can also say without hesitation that I do firmly believe everything I say about Owen as a person, a professional, and as a competitor.
Owen has a lot of characteristics I respect. He’s honest (some might say he’s brutally honest), intelligent, and fiercely loyal. Owen might have a bit of a rough exterior at times, but inside, he has a heart of gold. We’ve been through a lot together over these past few years and when push comes to shove, there is nobody better to have in your corner.
Owen is a true competitor. When he puts his mind to something, he really puts his mind to it—he will do everything in his power to succeed at it. Luckily for us, the thing that Owen has put his mind to for a majority of his life is Magic. Owen eats, sleeps, and breathes Magic. When he isn’t playing Magic, he’s talking about Magic. When he’s not doing either of those things, he’s writing about Magic or recording a video. Even when he isn’t directly involved in an activity related to Magic, he’s constantly thinking about it. Over the past 10 years of playing on the Pro Tour, Owen has proven himself to everyone as one of the all-time greats and has earned his spot in the Hall of Fame.
I have been playing Magic for a very, very long time—about 20 years at this point. In all of my time playing Magic, I have never seen anyone consistently try as hard as Owen does to remain at the top of his game and to continually improve. I cannot count the times I’ve woken up in the morning while he was doing something “simple” on Magic Online. I say “simple” because with Owen, the work is never complete. Whether it’s preparing for a specific tournament, trying to learn his deck or the value of one narrow sideboard card over another, there is no amount of time and effort too great for any Magic knowledge gained, no matter how small.
I have never seen anyone who derives as much joy from winning at Magic as Owen does. Nobody is as hard on themselves for their mistakes. Success at a Magic tournament will make Owen smile for a week—on the flip side, a boneheaded play on something as low-profile as a random Twitch stream will leave Owen bothered. That’s just how invested he is in the game. He loves Magic more than anything. And I’m not saying that because Owen has told me so—I’m saying it because I witness it every single day. Just a couple days before I was writing this article, Owen was passed a Jace, the Mind Sculptor during an Eternal Masters Draft on Magic Online. Watching him react to it, you’d think he was a 6-year-old kid on Christmas Day getting exactly what he asked for. That’s the effect Magic has on him.
I don’t think there has been a single moment of Magic broadcast on Twitch over the past few years that Owen hasn’t watched at least once. Sometimes, after being on the road for a few weeks playing multiple Magic tournaments, we’ll get home, and I admit, I’ll be happy to have a few days to relax, and decompress—not Owen. Owen will, without fail, immediately start to take in every minute of action from the tournament and learn everything he can about every aspect of the event. Whether he is studying the decks, the sideboards, the drafts, the Limited play, or even individuals player’s preferences, there is nothing he leaves unnoticed. As Rich Hagon said, “He is literally transforming what it means to be a professional Magic player before our very eyes.”
A consistent finisher and performer at top-level Magic tournaments for a long time, his career accomplishments are highlighted by 21 Grand Prix Top 8s including 4 wins, 3 Pro Tour Top 8s, and 3 more Pro Tour Top 16s. Most impressive is his continued high quality finishes in the Player of the Year standings. In addition to his Player of the Year win in 2011, he finished 2nd to Jeremy Dezani in 2014, and is poised to finish among the top few players again this year (currently sitting in 2nd place behind Seth). Only two players have ever won the Player of the Year title more than once (Kai Budde, and Yuuya Watanabe). Even achieving Player of the Year status a single time in the course of a career is more than some of the greatest Magic players of all time are able to achieve. Owen has already won it once, come within a match or two of winning it a second time, and this year, is in striking distance to win it again. This demonstrates a continued excellence and consistency that is nearly unparalleled in the modern era of Magic.
In almost any competition, there are a consensus 1 or 2 best players in the world. In basketball, it’s LeBron James. In Magic there was a period of time where Jon Finkel was the best player, and the conversation becomes: “Besides Jon, who is the best player in the world?” After that it was Kai and Jon, then just Kai. Later on, it was Luis. And for the past several years, up to and including right now, it’s been Owen (you could argue that it’s been Owen and Yuuya, but either way, it the answer includes Owen). There have been times in my life where I’ve been close to being that guy, which might be the reason the label has a fair amount of distinction to me, but in the first half of my career I was never quite as good as Jon or Kai, and in the second half I was never quite as good as Owen.
Naming a player the “best in the world” is not an act that I take lightly, and I know it’s not a label that other top players throw around easily. The Pantheon contains many players I’d consider to be among the best players of all time. Even in practice drafts and play testing, we all want to win. It matters to all of us to be our best. And without fail, one thing has been clear to all of us for the past few years, as Owen continually plays better than every one of us—Owen is the best player in the world.
I am proud of a lot of things about my own Magic career. I am proud to have been inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, and to have earned the trust and respect that was bestowed upon me in receiving that honor. I am proud of many of my accomplishments, results, and finishes. In addition to all of those things, I am extremely proud of Owen. I am proud to call him my friend and teammate, and to be a member of the Peach Garden Oath. I am not only proud, but also humbled to think that I may have had some amount of influence, no matter how small, on Owen’s success as a Magic player. I can say with absolute certainty, that we can all be proud should Owen be elected to the Hall of Fame. In what will likely be the most meaningful ballot I will ever cast, I will be voting for Owen Turtenwald.
I would be remiss to write an article about my Hall of Fame ballot without also mentioning Yuuya Watanabe. Yuuya Watanabe is a consummate professional. Last year, I went to a Nico Nico event in Japan. One of the activities was to play a game called Magic Basketball. No surprise, but this was a game that was a hybrid of Magic and basketball. In one of the matches, we played Two-Headed Giant. My partner was Yuuya. As it turns out, of all the people I tell about the event, my trip, and my experiences in Japan, the thing people tend to be the most impressed by, and the most jealous of, is that I got to play Magic (such as it was) with Yuuya as my partner. I greatly enjoyed the experience, and it’s one that I won’t soon forget. Yuuya is a player that has earned, and commands, that level of respect. In addition to Owen, I will be casting a vote for Yuuya Watanabe.