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The 2016 Hall of Fame Contenders

To be inducted into the Hall of Fame for anything is special. In various trades and endeavors, people elected to a Hall of Fame have said it feels incredible to dedicate a significant amount of time to your craft and be recognized by your peers or some other voting body as a luminary.

There are reportedly 20 million or so Magic players in the world. There are 42 members of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame. That means that for every half million or so players, there’s a Hall-of-Famer. For every 170 million people in the world, there’s a Magic: the Gathering Hall of Famer. It’s rare. It’s an honor.

The ballots for the 2016 class of the #MTGHOF have been sent out and are due by July 27th. Every year since I’ve had a vote, I’ve tried to put some structure behind my personal methodology for ballot creation. Every voter has his or her own criteria on how they sort and filter the nominees. Some look for specific numbers (3 PT Top 8s. 4? 5?). Others care more about Top 16s or PoY finishes. Others kind of base it on their perception of each person, putting less emphasis on numbers. These are all valid.

My process is a little bit of all of these. I recognize that numbers are not the only thing that matters, so I layer on a lens that takes into account integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game. I do that at the end, though, as that’s the most difficult part. Numbers are easy. Numbers are quantifiable. So I use numbers to narrow the field and work from there.

I don’t use one number. That’d be nice, but there really isn’t a single number out there that I’m comfortable saying encompasses everything I want in a Hall-of-Famer. Wouldn’t that be nice, though? Without that as an option, I try to remove myself from the equation and let history do my filtering for me. After all, 42 people are in the Hall of Fame. They all had accomplishments. I can just use what they did as a baseline.

So I take every current HOF member and look at their career at the time they were inducted. Then I summarize all of that to arrive at what I refer to as Hall of Fame Standards.

Pro Points PTs Career median 3-year peak median PotY top 10 PT T8 PT T16 PT T32 PT T64 PT win GP T8
Average 312 40 67 37 2 5 8 12 19 1 9
Min 174 20 103 91 2 4 5 10 0
Max 505 62 32 10 6 11 18 21 28 7 25
Median 298 38 68 34 2 4 7 12 19 1 9

I have one caveat here. These numbers exclude one current Hall member: Randy Buehler. His career was shortened when he took a position with Wizards of the Coast. His career was brilliant for a span of 12 Pro Tours. His rate stats were gaudy. But due to the brevity of his career, he simply is a different type of player. His career 126 Pro Points wouldn’t even get him on the ballot these days. As such, I exclude him from these calculations. It’s not a slight or anything like that. It’s just what makes most sense to me.

Before I dive into my thoughts on each player meeting the Hall minimums, I want to make some points on the overall process:

  • These are just a starting point. They help you know who to talk about, they don’t tell you the entire conversation. Discussion is the best part about HOF ballots—don’t skip it!
  • These are not even all of the numbers. Nationals, World Magic Cup, APAC Championships, European Championships, and MTGO are all invisible here. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be considered.
  • While these numbers are likely reflective of skill to some degree, they obviously don’t say everything. There’s still variance out there. Many of these players have results that are so similar to each other there’s really no mathematical difference. I’m not a good enough player to be able to point out why one wizard is better than another. Few of us are. If I could recognize those subtle differences, I’d have more than 33 career Pro Points.
  • These minimums are a collective minimum, meaning they weren’t all from 1 person. So I don’t think simply meeting all of the minimums is nearly enough for inclusion.
  • I included GP Top 8s this year. They historically weren’t always included in balloting information, but recent years have included them. So I dug into some archives and found each existing Hall member’s GP Top 8s as of their election.

Using these criteria across 11 metrics, I’ve narrowed the field from 55 to 22. I did this by finding everyone who hit on either 10 or 11 of the HOF minimums. I dip below the minimum line since it’s certainly possible for a new minimum to be established. I don’t want to do so in multiple categories, and there are 10 planeswalkers who have 9 of 11. So let’s talk about each of the 22 magicians. They’re listed here alphabetically, so don’t read anything into their orders. Throughout this exercise, numbers in bold green are ones better than the HOF median and italics red are below the HOF minimum.

Akira Asahara

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
38 83.5 56 0 2 4 6 15 0 10 228

Right off the bat, I’m sad to say here’s a name with which I’m not terribly familiar. Akira has had an admirable career, especially on the GP circuit (2 of those Top 8s are wins—GP Matsuyama 2005 where he defeated Masashi Ooiso in the finals and Kyoto 2003 where Ooiso lost in the opposite semifinal bracket). His PT Top 8s come in the old form of World Championship, a grueling 5-day tournament across 3 formats, where he made the final day in 2005 and 2008. A career I’d love to have, no doubt, but safely short of the Hall of Fame.

Sam Black

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
34 87.5 48 1 2 3 9 14 0 11 358

Sam was on the ballot last year but only got 2 votes. This is his 2nd year and since last year he’s posted 4 straight Top 50 results, including a Top 32. He also added 2 more GP Top 8s. Those are strong results, but they don’t get you to 40% from 2 votes. Of course, results don’t tell the whole story with Sam (nor with anyone, but you know what I’m saying). Sam is and has been a prolific deck designer. That’s the sort of thing that is annoyingly difficult to quantify while simultaneously being capable of moving someone to the front of the line for the ring ceremony. I’d more than happily overlook some result-based shortcomings for a prolific deck builder, but I think Sam is a little too light on PT Top 8s to make that happen this time around. It’s worth noting that he does have a World Champs Top 4 to his name. The community is still a little unsure of how to value these. After all, it’s a much smaller field to defeat, but wow are they good. It’s an honor just to be invited. I value them somewhere above a GP win and a PT Top 8. I’m sure my opinion will continue to evolve, but for now that leaves Sam a little shy.

Marcio Carvalho

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
28 61.5 55 1 2 3 9 14 0 11 260

Marcio is the first of a few people on this list where I will invoke the integrity and sportsmanship clause in the voting criteria. Marcio has been suspended twice. Whatever claim he may have based on his performance he loses by not meeting the integrity and sportsmanship criteria of the Hall of Fame.

Andrew Cuneo

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
33 59 45 0 2 5 11 17 0 4 240

In a game where the best anyone can do is seek to reduce the impact of variance as best you can, I can’t shake the feeling that Cuneo could benefit from variance. He’s made Top 64 in over half of his PTs. That’s pretty consistent. Consistency is good! But every once and a while it’s nice to spike that extra win or two. Given the option, most Pros would take T8, T16, T32, T64, 300, 300, 300, 300 over 8 Top 64s. This is Andrew’s 5th time on the ballot and he’s received 3 total votes so far. It doesn’t help his case that both of his PT Top 8s are in 3-man team events (back-to-back PT New Yorks in the early 2000’s with Andrew Johnson and Aaron Forsythe —yes director of R&D for Magic) which are, fairly or not, perceived as less impressive.

Ivan Floch

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
28 70 49 1 3 4 4 13 1 4 292

Thoughts arrive like butterflies! Floch began his HOF push with a bang in 2014 with back-to-back PT Top 8s—including a win! He had been playing for a number of years before that with a 12th place at PT Nagoya in 2011, his previous high finish. He added another Top 8 at PT Oath of the Gatewatch in February. In between his Top 8s he went 109, 95, 139, 238 and then he had 55th at PT Shadows over Innistrad in April. Ivan clearly has the chops to dominate a tournament, but I think his consistency isn’t quite there. I’d love to see him string together some Top 32s and throw another Top 8 into the mix. Easier said than done, of course, but this year he will not be getting my vote. So he chases them away.

Justin Gary

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
44 58.5 25 2 3 8 20 24 1 3 252

Justin has been on the Hall of Fame ballot 10 times without getting elected. He’s added 3 Pro Points in that time and this year is his 11th year on the ballot. In that time he’s seen his chances at election dip down and then begin a steady climb upward.

Looking at the numbers in a vacuum, this guy should be in the Hall, right? Sure, 3 PT Top 8s isn’t the magical 4 that many voters look for, but everything else checks out. He’s better than 7 of the HOF medians. 8 other people in the Hall have 3 or fewer Top 8s. The voters have shown a willingness to dip below 4 in the past. He even has a U.S. National Championship and a Team World Championship (and a Masters finals appearance) to put a few cherries on his résumé sundae. This doesn’t appear to be a case of what’s missing, so it must be a case of what’s keeping Justin out? It seems obvious that something has to be, right?

Back in the early days of the Pro Tour, abuse of the rules was common and rampant. Players accumulated reputations, justly or not, and those reputations followed them around. Justin has never been suspended. Many people from those times have not. I think that’s what’s happening here. Justin did have a reputation, and the voters of the past decade seem to have taken that into account when voting. At some point, I think someone either is or is not a Hall-of-Famer. After 10 years on the ballot, I think Justin is not.

Mark Herberholz

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
35 79 59 2 4 4 7 16 1 4 205

Mark’s 4 Top 8s are obviously terrific. Nobody argues otherwise. The rest of the results, to me, aren’t quite there. I really wish he had scattered some more Top 16s in there or hit Top 64 at a better rate. GPs aren’t what’s going to put Mark over the top, so what is? Well, Mark was known as being a brilliant deck builder. I mean truly top-notch, best-in-the-world stuff. That’s why his case gets a closer look than someone with a similar profile might. I love people who are the best at something—anything. Those are great stories. Mark saw his best percentage of votes in his first year on the ballot back in 2011, at 18%. Since then he’s gone 6%, 7%, 15% and 17% last year. So he’s climbing back, but still seems to be a long way away.

Rich Hoaen

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
40 63 49 0 1 7 10 20 0 9 257

Rich fell off of the ballot last year. He came back with 2 GP Top 8s (both in teams, with different teams on different continents) and a 9th place finish at PT Magic Origins. Rich is known ubiquitously as being, during his heyday, the Best. Limited. Player. In. The. World. Period. There was never any discussion. Hall-of-Famer Kenji Tsumura once wanted to improve his Limited game. He already had 3 Top 8s to his name, but felt his draft game could improve. So he sought out the best. He sought out Richie. I don’t know exactly when the tutelage began, but I’m pretty sure it started somewhere between 2005 and 2006. Want to know how it went?

kenji

And that’s in almost twice as many matches. It went pretty well, right? It’s a great story. I love this story. I don’t think this story makes up for Rich sitting on a lonely Top 8. But I still love the story.

Mike Hron

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
28 90 58 1 2 5 6 12 1 5 167

Mike was on the ballot from 2009-2011 and fell off unceremoniously. He’s back on the ballot because the man can play team Limited like few others. He traveled to Beijing to win with Craig Wescoe and Rich Hoaen and then he won again in DC with Justin Cohen and Matt Severa. He also put up an individual Top 16 at PT Shadows over Innistrad. It’s great to see him back on the ballot and it’s always wonderful to see people succeed after taking some time off. I hope he continues his streak and makes everyone think harder in the years to come. For now, I’m just happy he’s back on the ballot.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
59 123 67 0 4 8 12 18 0 6 313

Ikeda was on my short list last year, but this year when I’m looking at this I just can’t get past that he has 18 Top 64s in 59 tries. That’s a really low conversion rate. 59 Pro Tours is an incredible amount. It’s tough to sustain a strong median finish over that many events. But his is 20 places lower than the lowest in the hall currently. He had 4 Top 8s, which is great. As are his Top 16s. But with numbers like that you’d expect a POY Top 10 at least. He’s never converted a PT Top 8 for a win and the more I look at this, the more I can’t help but think that this is someone who is excellent at getting on the Pro Tour and then is experiencing the success that is bound to come from a very good player getting a lot of opportunities. I would love to have this career, or really a portion of it.

Scott Johns

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
27 52 32.5 1 5 6 10 17 1 2 164

Scott is another one who has a reputation from the days when the Pro Tour environment offered plenty of opportunities for those who wanted to win and were willing to use methods beyond simply making the best plays. There have been enough stories of this ilk and voters have long enough memories that it looks like Scott is destined to remain out of the Hall.

scott johns

He’s far more likely to fall off of the ballot (which happens after 3 consecutive years of sub 10% results) than he is to be voted in.

Martin Juza

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
40 97.5 26.5 5 2 5 8 15 0 25 454

Martin has added a Top 64 and 3 GP Top 8s since last year (and 51 Pro Points). Juza is someone for whom I’m comfortable overlooking a lower PT Top 8 number due to his prolific GP career and his 3-year median. It’s not like he only succeeds at the GP level and falls on his face at the PT. He’s still a force. He does suffer a bit on the Top 64 conversion topic but I think his other numbers make up for that. Martin is on my short list.

Osyp Lebedowicz

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
37 57 41 2 3 7 12 21 1 4 239

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. That’s what Osyp once told me. He’s demonstrated it on several occasions. Osyp has the pedigree of success necessary to warrant further discussion. He’s not a serious contender though. I think the 4th Top 8 is holding him back in that regard. Numbers aside, his wit and outlandish character are almost always on, except when he’s deeply involved in a match. It’s incredible to see the two sides of Osyp bounce back and forth. He can effortlessly slide from one to the other in a manner that I maintain is fully calculated in an effort to throw his opponent off. Of course, Osyp will never admit to that. Unless it would make for a good story.

Marijn Lybaert

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
31 89 32 1 4 6 9 14 0 3 206

Marijn is firmly on the very-good-but-not-great list. All of these numbers are wonderful and, with the exception of a gaudy 3-year median, nothing stands out. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have much color to add here. This is about as bland as a great career can look on paper. Even the Top 8s were stretched out across 4 different years and he went 1-4 in Top 8 matches.

Tom Martell

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
25 70 16 2 2 6 9 12 1 9 288

Tom didn’t get much support for the Hall last year and didn’t have a great year on the Pro Tour this year, though he did add 2 more GP Top 8s (and a win in Atlanta, beating Owen Turtenwald in the finals). Tom’s biggest argument for inclusion is his straight-up bonkers 3-year median of a Top 16. There are 3 people in the Hall who can boast a better median. It isn’t even Kai. Finkel (10), Kamiel (13) and Zvi (14) are the only ones. Kai’s best 3-year median is 17, LSV and Randy are at 16.5. This is a real upper-crust number. Tom is still kind-of-sort-of a baby in the whole HOF thing though. He qualified for 2 PTs early in his career (Chicago 2000, 272nd place and Houston 2002, 87th place) before hitting 22 PTs from 2010 onward. For the 3rd year in a row now I’m saying that Tom needs another year and some high profile results on the PT.

Katsuhiro Mori

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
38 68 48 1 3 7 12 18 1 15 314

Here’s some history, courtesy of Rich Hagon:

“Mori cheats. All the time. As far as I can see in every turn of every game of every match of every tournament he’s either cheating or working out how to cheat. At Grand Prix Gothenburg this past weekend I saw Mori play 3 matches. He got a warning in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM.”

Read the entire entry here, but Rich doesn’t take these things lightly. Mori has been suspended for cheating. He doesn’t meet the HOF criteria.

Koutarou Ootsuka

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
26 66 34 1 2 3 9 13 0 8 187

If I were to dream up a Pro Tour career that I thought was great and amazing, and would make me totally happy while still being at least within the shades of gray between possible and impossible, this is basically what I would dream up. This looks attainable. It’s not video game numbers. It seems realistic for someone like me. Of course, this hasn’t happened. 2 Top 8s 3 years apart? Sure, that could happen. Another Top 16 while in beautiful Hawaii? Why not? Koutarou should be incredibly proud of this career as I would be if it were mine. Neither of us would be in the Hall of Fame though.

Jamie Parke

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
34 90.5 63 0 3 4 6 15 0 4 198

Jamie is perhaps best known for being one of a small group of people who have gotten a Top 8 in 3 different decades. The 3rd of those came shortly after Jamie decided to take some time off of work and see what he could do if Magic was his job. And shortly after that he went back to work, having proven to himself that he still had it. Jamie is a miser through-and-through and the game is better off for having him. Still, Jamie is not a Hall-of-Famer.

Tomoharu Saito

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
42 86.5 25 4 5 6 10 16 1 21 471

Tomoharu meets the skill and results criteria for the HOF but falls on his face when I look at sportsmanship and integrity. Saito has twice been suspended, the 2nd time coming after having been announced as a HOF inductee but before the actual ceremony. This caused his induction to be rescinded and here we are. Saito is reportedly taking steps to reform himself, which is admirable. I hope he does this in earnest and helps others do the same. That won’t erase what has happened, and what has happened removes him from contention for the Hall.

Owen Turtenwald

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
30 92.5 29 2 3 6 10 13 0 20 416

I’ve only ever met Owen once. When I was introduced, he looked at me and said, “Some of your statistics suck.” True story. Well, Owen, these statistics don’t suck, do they? Owen is considered by many of the game’s elite and fans alike as one of—if not the—best in the world right now. This has been true for maybe around 2ish years. It’s almost certainly true. As I’ve said, I’m not good enough to notice the subtle differences between an Owen or Kai or Jon just by watching them play. I can see in the results that they’re clearly better than the other great players, but they’re playing at a level too far above my head for me to understand how they’re beating other people. If the best in the world are saying Owen is better than them, I’m in no position to argue.

The numbers, though, don’t jump. GP Top 8s jump, sure, but everything else is pedestrian by our lofty HOF standards. Even the Top 64 conversion rate is lower than I expected. Honestly, I kind of expected to open up the spreadsheet and see some sort of numeric nirvana when I got to Owen’s name. I’m a little let down. I think he’s on the short list. Maybe this is a case of me having too high expectations based on what I’ve heard others say. Maybe I’m missing something.

Gaudenis Vidugiris

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
33 125 68 1 2 5 8 12 0 8 302

Gau (pronounced “go”) has another one of those careers that seems entirely plausible for someone like me. Like, sure, it’s 98% percentile for me, but why not? Gau’s median obviously stands out here, and what’s concerning is that it isn’t over a massive number of events. That’s relatively few PTs in terms of the HOF and a median over 20 spots worse than the current HOF minimum. Everything else is perfectly good. Very good, even.

Yuuya Watanabe

PTs Median 3 yr Median POY T10 PT T8s PT T16s PT T32s PT T64s PT Wins GP T8s Pro Points
36 64 51.5 5 3 3 10 18 0 23 484

On its surface, this looks almost eerily similar to Owen. I came in with high expectations and left thinking I’m missing something. In this case, I am. Yuuya has played in the new-format World Championships 4 times (Owen has 3) and he’s gotten to the Top 4 twice (Owen has 1), including a win. He also has 6 GP wins to Owen’s 4. Really both of these merit further discussion. At this level, I’m nitpicking. Nitpicking is okay when discussing who does and doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame.

Summary

After reviewing each case, I’m left with 3 names I’m still interested in:

  • Martin Juza
  • Owen Turtenwald
  • Yuuya Watanabe

Those are the names I’ll be focusing on learning more about in the coming week or so. Ballots aren’t due until July 27th. If you want to play along and look beyond what I’ve shared here, WOTC has posted a bunch of stats for every candidate here.

Discussion

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