Randy Buehler, Director, Magic: The Gathering R&D/Former Pro Tour Player
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This was a tough ballot for me as I can really see the case for nearly a dozen guys. Making things even more difficult, I think the thing we’re actually doing over the course of these first few years of Hall of Fame balloting is defining what it really means to be a Hall of Famer. The official criteria leave things deliberately vague so that each voter can make up his or her own mind. The thing I’m expecting to see happen is that some key benchmarks will evolve. Sure, it takes 100 points to get on the ballot, but does it take some higher number of points to really get considered? How much do community contributions count? Do you downgrade players who you strongly suspect of cheating? And so on…
Last year it took me a long time to make up my mind and in the end I wound up making the case that community contributions should get very serious consideration. I want the Hall of Fame to immortalize the players who made the Pro Tour what it is today and for multiple reasons this led me to make an impassioned plea for Chris Pikula. Because my ballot went up at the end of the process, I’m honestly not sure how many people read it. Rather than repeat all my logic here, I highly encourage you to go read my ballot from last year before you continue with this one. In addition to being just as relevant a year later, I think it was one of the best things I have written in several years.
Before I get to my votes for this year, I want to dwell for a few moments on a few of the candidates I considered, but ultimately chose not to vote for this year. Itaru Ishida and Raphaël Lévy were both intriguing candidates for me as their career totals are sexy (Lévy has the second most Pro Points on the ballot at 276, Ishida has 17 Grand Prix Top 8s, etc.). In addition, Ishida is a giant in the Japanese community, exerting a big influence on both deckbuilding and team makeups for most of a decade. Lévy has maintained an impressive median finish of 55 across fully 51 Pro Tours (including the longest active streak for PTs attended). However, at the end of the day I don’t think longevity alone is good enough and those guys only have three Pro Tour Top 8s between them despite 91 attempts. In addition, Lévy has never finished higher than 10th in the Player of the Year race and Ishida has never finished higher than ninth.
A couple of guys who I am really surprised aren’t getting more consideration are Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz and Scott Johns. Steve was considered one of the best players in the game for a good 3-plus year stretch running from at least his Top 8 in Mainz to his win in LA. Sure, his buddy Jon Finkel was better, but Finkel was better than everyone … why should Steve be more in his shadow than everyone else? Note that Steve put up fully 9 GP Top 8s (including 3 wins) and he did that in just 3.5 years and without ever traveling to Asia. His $88,000 in lifetime winnings may not look all that impressive now, but he accumulated most of it in an era before the Masters Series or the End-of-the-Year payout. I’m not sure if he belongs in the Hall, but he definitely belongs on the short-list and I was shocked to see how few votes he got last year.
Scott Johns is another guy that seems like he belongs on the short list and should have done better last year. No one on this year’s ballot has more PT Top 8s than Scott and I also think Scott should get some credit for all the awesome community building he has done in his career as a website editor. It’s not clear that Mindripper or Brainburst would have existed without him, and meanwhile magicthegathering.com has been the most important thing to happen on the Internet since at least The Dojo.
Mark Justice and Mike Long are also intriguing candidates to me, but in my heart of hearts I believe both players were cheating extensively during the period in time when they racked up their admittedly impressive resumes so I’m not going to vote for them. Long has been a well-documented, much-debated candidate, but I must say I’m surprised Justice isn’t generating more attention. He was Magic’s first superstar, and his results for those first couple seasons were spectacular. It only took him 7 Pro Tours to get to 100 lifetime Pro Points. If you ignore Grand Prix points, no one else has ever done it in less than 9. (Of course, I don’t think you should ignore Grand Prix points because, when you include them, I hold the record for fastest to 100.)
My first two votes this year were relatively easy for me to figure out. I knew right away that I was voting for Bob. I expect him to generate some controversy given that he does have a suspension on his resume, but I interacted with Bob a lot during his career and I just don’t think he was sketchy. His suspension was for an incident that occurred before he made it onto the Tour when his rating benefited from some fake tournament reports that he did not submit, but was aware of. Bob was fairly young at the time. My read on the situation is that Bob, like a lot of teenagers, hadn’t really decided yet what kind of man he wanted to grow up to be. As he grew up, Bob chose to walk the high road and eventually blew the whistle on himself for that early transgression just to be able to clear his conscience. As one of the current stewards of the game, I am quite proud that Magic played a part in the growth of Bob Maher as a human being and I have no qualms whatsoever about voting him into the Hall of Fame. His resume is clearly deserving (highest career earnings on the ballot, a Player of the Year title, a Pro Tour win, a Worlds runner-up finish, an Invitational win, 10 GP Top 8s, 3 GP wins) and his character is deserving as well.
Before I leave the topic of Bob Maher, I want to tell one of my favorite Maher anecdotes. Many people know that the cards that get drafted on the Pro Tour have been pulled from booster packs ahead of time and stamped so that no one can add any cards to their deck. Some people even know that the stamps are on different parts of the cards depending on which booster pack they came from and that this allows judges to completely reconstruct a draft (figuring out who drafted what and when) if necessary. But did you know that, as a player, you can actually look at the stamps on the cards your opponent is playing and know which pick they were? Bob did. I saw several times when he looked at a good card that was played against him and lamented “And that wasn’t even your first pick!” or sometimes “Well, at least I know what all your first picks are now.” Not only did this provide him with some quite useful information to use later in the match, but it also intimidated the hell out of his opponents. This is just one example of an aspect of the game that Bob understood better than almost everyone else. Quite simply, Bob Maher was one of the best who ever played the game.
The second guy to make my ballot was also pretty easy: David Humpherys. “The Hump” has the most Pro Tour Top 8s on the ballot (tied with Scott Johns and Rob Dougherty at 5), the most Pro Points on the ballot (281), and he’s second on the ballot in lifetime winnings with $ 143,742. In addition, he was always one of the most well-respected and feared players on Tour throughout his 48-event run (second on the ballot behind Lévy’s 51). Humpherys also contributed some innovative decklists, especially during the early years of the Tour, and in later years he was one of the key players on one of the most important teams the Pro Tour has ever seen in Your Move Games. I didn’t vote for Dave last year because he’s “just” a player – he doesn’t bring much else to the table in terms of other contributions to the game – and when judged as a player he came up a bit short, especially when compared to Finkel and Darwin Kastle. I expected at the time to be voting for Humpherys in a future year and the competition just isn’t quite as tough this time around so I fully expect the Hump to get voted in.
My third vote goes to Gary Wise. He doesn’t have the resume of his peers nor does he strike similar fear in his opponents that some of these other guys do, but I still believe strongly that we shouldn’t just be voting for the guys who put up the best results. I think we should be enshrining the community builders who turned the Pro Tour into the awesome institution that it is today and, love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Gary played that role. He was an incredibly important and influential writer and he used his talents to paint a very seductive picture of life on Tour. Whether he was debating pick orders or regaling us with tales of another late-night “side draft” where he and Gab Tsang put Mark LePine on tilt, Gary was always talking and the audience was always listening. Brian Hacker may have been there first, but Wise wrote more, longer, and also put up more results as a competitor as well (4 PT Top 8s and more than $130,000 is certainly nothing to sneeze at). Pikula got my “community builder” vote last year, but I think Gary is more worthy of that slot this time around.
After those three, things get a lot tougher for me. Should I vote for Pikula again, using up two of my slots on community builders in an effort to make my point even stronger? Should I vote for a second Your Move Games guy? How about a third? Both Rob Dougherty and Justin Gary seem worthy of close consideration. Or did I talk myself into Steve-O with that paragraph up near the top of this article?
When I sat down to start studying the stats, I was more or less expecting them to convince me to vote for Justin Gary. I have a lot of respect for players that can constantly finish well at Pro Tours, even if they don’t make the Top 8, and Justin had a reputation as a guy who was constantly making Top 16 or Top 32 of Pro Tours and just not getting the breaks he needed to break through into the Top 8. I expected that when the stats came out, he was going to have a gaudy median finish and that he was going to be this year’s Tommi Hovi – a borderline candidate based on the headlines who turns out to just look like a terrific player upon closer scrutiny. However, the numbers just aren’t there. Justin’s median finish is just 58.5, 13th on the ballot. He does have the fourth-most Pro Points and the fourth-highest winnings on the ballot, but that’s not quite enough to make the cut in my mind without some more supporting evidence. I did some research into the Player of the Year race to try to find a second way to put a stat to this memory I have of Justin as a consistent winner. His run went 12th, 27th, 27th, 35th, and 2nd (from ’99 to ’04). To my eye, that’s the resume of a damn fine gravy trainer, not a Hall of Famer.
You know what, I am going to vote for Steve O. He was one of the best players on Tour for several years, putting up a third-place finish in the 1997-98 Player of the Year race, a fourth-place finish the following year, and a 17th-place finish in 1999-00. He was feared, he was one of the first players to ever travel internationally for Grand Prix (winning in Madrid and Zurich during season three, plus finishing second to Finkel in Rio), and he was one of the first players who ever really mastered the art of Limited (especially Rochester Draft). Throw in some high finishes on the Junior Pro Tour that aren’t reflected in his career statistics, and I really think Steve deserves a Hall of Fame ring.
My last vote goes to Rob Dougherty. Five Pro Tour Top 8s and $120,000-plus in prize money puts Rob squarely into contention, but it’s his role as the organizing force behind one of the truly great Magic teams coupled with his several-year-long reign as one of the game’s best deckbuilders that puts him over the top in my mind. He’s also been a long-time store-owner and tournament organizer, which doesn’t seem directly connected to the Pro Tour but does seem like it should still get him some amount of credit in terms of contributions to the game.
No Constructed Pro Tour has ever been dominated the way Your Move Games dominated Houston. YMG players finished first, second, and third and they did it with three different decks. Dougherty was the runner-up to Justin Gary in that event, but it was Dougherty that most people gave the credit to for orchestrating YMG’s remarkable performance. Dougherty was the organizer that held the team together and he was also the brains behind several of the team’s best decks, in both Houston and other events. Dougherty was also the highest finishing person on the Year One ballot who did not get inducted so he would seem to be one of the favorites this year.
Randy Buehler’s ballotBob Maher