If you are reading this then it means the 2014 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame has been announced during the live coverage of Pro Tour Magic 2015. These players were extended invitations after a committee of voters drawn from Wizards staff, tournament officials, and commentators along with members of the Hall of Fame and all players with 150 or more lifetime Pro Points had the opportunity to cast up to five votes from the following pool of candidates. Any players who appeared on at least 40% of the ballots get to take part in an induction ceremony at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir this October.
Congratulations to five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, World Champion, and Team Worlds Champion Makihito Mihara; four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and Pro Tour Amsterdam Champion Paul Rietzl; and five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and Pro Tour Yokohama champion Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.
The leading vote-getter on this year's ballot was Japan's Makihito Mihara, who added a fifth Top 8 to his already impressive resume to start the year in Dublin during Pro Tour Theros. Even though that fifth result seemed to cement him in the mind of many voters, Mihara himself was still nervous about the results.
"I thought that I would need another big finish to make it. I did think it was a possibility, though," he said of his mindset leading up to the moment he finally got the call notifying him that he was in. "I got an email from Ron Foster congratulating me, letting me know that the announcement would be made this weekend but that I couldn't tell anyone but family until then. I did get to tell my wife, and she was so excited and happy for me."
Mihara did not expect to change his approach to the Pro Tour, which involves balancing his game play with a full-time job. He was happy to know that if work got busy he will always be able to maintain his spot on the Pro Tour—although for the time being he is going to stay the course.
"I guess the biggest change will be that I can play more "interesting" decks, playing more of my own rogue designs instead of the strongest established deck," he said with a sly grin.
Mihara first made it to the Pro Tour in 2003 when he won a qualifier for Pro Tour Venice.
"I was so excited. The event was great even though I didn't make Day Two. I chose to play a Patriarch's Bidding deck with countermagic, expecting a field of Slide and Beasts without much beatdown, but there was a lot more than I expected. A friend of mine playing the same deck made Day Two, though. It was awesome just to play against some famous players."
He did make the Top 8 of a large overnight side event at that tournament but it wasn't too long before his Top 8 finishes occurred on a bigger stage. His breakthrough came at the World Championship in Paris during the 2006 season.
"Worlds 2006 was my first Pro Tour Top 8, so it was already a big moment for me. The moment when I actually won, though, is what stays with me. It's my most cherished Pro Tour memory."
He would make the Top 8 of a Pro Tour four more times and was on the Japanese National Team five times as well. The last time he captained the team was in 2011, when he won the deciding match to carry his country to the team Championship.
"For teams at Worlds 2011, the thing that stands out is how we won as a team. Our records in the individual portion of the tournament were only so-so, but we 3–0ed all four team rounds. That was incredible."
Mihara was stunned to be enshrined alongside people he looked up to when he started playing the game.
"I'm very grateful. I know that I don't have the community contributions that other Hall of Fame members have, a result of my having a full-time job, so it means so much to me that the voters consider my accomplishments so highly. As a PTQ player I always looked up to Zvi Mowshowitz. He was such an incredible deck builder. To be in the Hall of Fame alongside him is amazing to me."
When given the opportunity to thank the people who have supported him along the way, Mihara turned to both family and friends.
"First, I have to thank my wife, Ryo Mihara. She has been so supportive all these years, letting me spend my weekends on Magic. She's also my frequent playtesting partner, helping me get ready for events," said the World Champion. "I also want to thank all the players from Hajime Nakamura's informal Pro Tour 'Boot Camps.' We would meet at his house the weekend before every Pro Tour and spend the whole weekend preparing. There were usually nine or ten of us, anyone who was qualified, and usually included Yuuya Watanabe, Shouta Yasooka, and Kentarou Yamamoto.
Paul Rietzl has been playing Magic for a long time and his career goes back to the halcyon days of one of the game's first super teams, Your Move Games. Known as YMG, the Boston-area team already has four other players who have worn their shirt in the hall. When those players were at the very top of their game, Rietzl was just getting started as a promising young kid who had to hold his own against the toughest local tournament scene you could ever imagine.
"I've said it before—if I grew up anywhere but Boston, I never would have seen the success I've had in Magic," said Rietzl about the foundations of what has turned out to be a Hall of Fame career. "Darwin Kastle, Robert Dougherty, Dave Humpherys, Justin Gary, and other lesser-known names like Chad Ellis, Chris Manning, Bruce Cowley, Danny Mandel, Chris Senhouse, and others had a huge influence on me. It was a brutal crucible to survive the local tournament circuit in the Northeast when I was a kid, but it made me the player I am today."
Rietzl had been on the ballot prior to this season but fell short before following up with another Platinum season.
"I thought I had a shot. I had a huge advantage in that some of my closest friends in Magic are respected pillars of the community with large megaphones," said Rietzl, of the many people advocating for voters to include him on their ballots. Of course, the Pro Tour Theros Top 8 competitor let his results do the talking for him. "Since last year, I've made one PT T8, one GP T8, and one PT T16. I think a lot of my friends were looking for an excuse to include me on their ballots, and this helped them justify it."
With Platinum already locked for next season, do not expect much to change for Rietzl in the upcoming season. Despite that, knowing that he is qualified for any and all upcoming Pro Tours is a relief for the Pro Tour Amsterdam champion, who already struggles to balance playing the game at a high level with his full-time job.
"As I move into the 'buying a house and raising a family' portion of my life, it's awesome to know I'll always be able to come back and pop in on a PT from time to time and crack some jokes/packs," he said.
Rietzl began his Pro career by winning an Extended PTQ for Pro Tour Osaka at the Brighton Knights of Columbus outside Boston—one of the tougher tournament venues to emerge from—holding the proverbial blue envelope. He went into the Pro Tour without expectations but also did not want to have to go back for another round at that dreaded Knights of Columbus Hall.
"I used to both anticipate and dread coverage of Pro Tours," he recalled. "I loved watching the superstars, but hated that another opportunity to play had passed me by. I just wanted to be a part of the PT and hoped it wouldn't be my last shot."
It would be far from his last shot, and along the way he made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour four times, including his win at Pro Tour Amsterdam and his recent Top 8 at PT Theros. He has become something of the patron saint for aggro players, with an affinity for decks that attack early and often and put his opponents under pressure right out of the gate, such as the Boros deck he used to Top 8 Pro Tour Paris—on the same Sunday he was playing in the top tables of a Limited Grand Prix also going on—and playing in both of them on camera.
"The craziest, most exhausting, exhilarating week of gaming in my life," was how he described the event. "Just wish I had mana screwed Ben Stark two more games."
Rietzl was humbled by the honor—one that he was not certain he was worthy of.
"I can play pretty well sometimes, I think, but I've obviously run significantly above expectation in some high-leverage situations throughout my career. The one thing I learned throughout this voting process was that everything you do has meaning. The things I've done throughout my life in Magic, whether positive or negative, have all been remembered by someone. They've all had an impact. If anything, I'm reminded to keep treating people with respect and appreciating every day. I'm a lucky guy."
When given the opportunity to offer thanks, Rietzl named his parents, who always supported his hobby and would not only drive him to events as a kid but even sometimes flew with him.
"My girlfriend Kat, of course, who is so supportive and understanding when I have to be away,'" he continued. "But I also want to thank my two grandfathers. My grandpa Cameron has advanced degrees in mathematics and strategy and is a man of impeccable integrity and with an incredible sense of humor. And my Opa is a man with a lifelong love of games, especially cards. He taught me to live life with joy every day and that how you do something is more important than winning or losing. I hope I've made them proud."
If Rietzl is the patron saint of aggro, then control players the world wide light candles at an altar to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. The French player from the city of Nantes first made a name for himself as one of the people credited with working on Pierre Canali's Pro Tour–winning deck from PT Columbus—an event he was not qualified to play in—but he established himself as a deck designer soon thereafter.
"It's difficult to pick the best but I would say my first time in Hawaii," said Wafo-Tapa of his favorite Pro Tour memories. "All the qualified French players stayed in the same hostel and the team spirit was really high. The location was also tops with the beach nearby. I loved my deck and it was my first Day Two—and Top 16—on the PT. The Ruel brothers also both made the Top 8. Definitely good times."
While Wafo-Tapa is known largely for his Constructed prowess and deck building, it was the Limited format that paved the way to the Pro Tour for him.
"I won my first limited PTQ. I remember it very well because on the way back—we had a four-hour drive—our car broke down and we ended up getting back home early in the morning. The others were pretty annoyed, especially because some of them had to go to work right away, but I couldn't care less. I had just won a PTQ!"
Wafo-Tapa is very particular about the cards he plays. He almost always has his decks tricked out with foreign-language foil editions. When he first got to the Pro Tour, he had to teach himself not to be too distracted by the shiny objects.
"At that point I knew I was nowhere near as good as players I looked up to, like Kai Budde and Zvi Mowshowitz," recalled Wafo-Tapa of attending that first Pro Tour. "Besides, I had almost no Limited experience. So I thought making Day Two would be pretty good already. I ended up not making Day Two, even getting a game loss because I was late making a trade on some sweet Chinese Absorbs…"
He is also very particular about the specific cards that go into each deck he builds. Wafo-Tapa expanded on the philosophy that has carried him into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour five different times, including his epic win at Pro Tour Yokohama with a Mystical Teachings deck that seemed able to squirm out of any trouble his opponents managed to get him into.
"I would say the most relevant attribute of a good deck is its consistency. And consistency goes hand in hand with each card in your deck standing well on its own rather than synergy. I think that is reflected in my deck building," he said simply, when asked about his deck-building philosophy.
Wafo-Tapa knew there was a chance he would get elected into the Hall of Fame this year, but he was not fully prepared for the emotional impact once he found out that he would be joining the likes of the aforementioned Budde and Mowshowitz in the Hall. He was testing for Pro Tour Magic 2015 in the lobby of a Boston hotel when he got the call.
"It's difficult to explain the feeling. There's a sentiment of achievement, but at the same time, I can't help but look back on everything I could have done better and wonder if I really belong here. So kind of bittersweet, I would say. I guess it gives me an incentive to try and do better, but I always try my best anyway," he said. "It means a lot. It feels weird being up there next to people I used to look up to. It's certainly an honor and it's very cool."
When given a chance to thank anyone who helped him along the way, Wafo-Tapa time traveled back to that car, stuck by the side of the road with a blue envelope clutched his hand.
"I would like to thank all the players from Nantes who are or were part of our local group at some point over the years, with whom I went to many PTQs and spent many hours playing Magic. In particular, I would like to thank Erwan Maisonneuve, who is the guy I have played the most Magic with."