2009 Pro Tour Hall of Fame Class

Posted in The Week That Was on August 7, 2009

By Brian David-Marshall

Once ten years have gone by since a player first played in a Pro Tour, and assuming they can amass 100 career pro points during that span of time, they become eligible for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. The list of players who can count themselves as Hall of Fame eligible is a small group who should be proud of their accomplishments. Smaller still is the list of elite players from that group who have been enshrined in that Hall.

Over the first four years, since the inception of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, 20 players have been inducted—five each year. For the first three ballots it was mandated that five players would get in during each of those years. Starting last year the balloting was changed so that only players who appeared on 40% of the ballots would be inducted—or failing any hitting that total, the top vote getter. This could mean as few as one player could get inducted but it could also be a number in excess of five. In the end, just as in previous years, five players were inducted last year.

The 2009 class will mark the first time that the number of inductees will be smaller than previous classes. Pundits predicted that this could be a "make-up" season for players from previous ballots who had not gotten in as there was not a glut of clear-cut first ballot Hall of Famers, as there was in 2007 when the there were at least seven candidates who nearly everyone considered Hall-worthy. As it turned out, only three players will step up onto that stage in Rome and accept Hall of Fame rings, and all were new to the ballot in 2009.

There were apparently too many candidates deserving of a chance to "catch up" for voters to reach the consensus needed to propel two of them over the 40% mark. With one exception, a very long stretch of the next finishers after the top three were all players from previous classes. Finishing fourth place on this year's ballot but missing by slightly more than six percentage points was Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz. Behind him was the only new player to the ballot for the next twenty spots or so, Antonino De Rosa, who missed by just under nine percentage points.

So who did get in this year you may be wondering? Let's tackle them in reverse order, just as they will be introduced to the crowd at the induction ceremony at this year's World Championships.

    Frank Karsten

Frank Karsten came onto the Pro Magic stage doing what he has done consistently throughout his career: posting impressive finishes and heralding in a new era of dominance for the Dutch Magic scene. After a 9th-place finish at the European Championships in 1999 and a 5th-place finish at Dutch Nationals, Frank found himself playing in Brussels on the Dutch national team alongside Jeroen Remie and Roel Dols when Kamiel Cornelissen and his brother could not attend Worlds. Propelled largely by Frank's individual 17th place finish in the main event the Dutch team would finish fourth at that event and Frank was well on his way to becoming one of the most respected competitors on the Pro Tour.

He posted respectable finishes over the next few seasons but did not improve on his first individual PT finish until 2003 in Venice when he quietly placed 16 in that event. His finishes steadily improved; 10th place in San Diego, 5th place at a team Pro Tour in Boston, and then finally his breakthrough Top 8 in Nagoya, Japan.

Frank lived up to his reputation as Magic's mad scientist when he came to the Rochester Drafts at PT–Nagoya with a detailed list of every card in each set ranked in order—what was dubbed "The List." Karsten had started to earn that reputation when he made the Top 8 of Grand Prix–Zurich—one of six GP Top 8s in his career—with Æther Vial in his Affinity deck and changed the way people looked at the unassuming one-drop artifact forever.

Stories about Karsten have the tenor of tall tales. There is the time at Pro Tour–Yokohama when he played with a tableside bucket throughout the tournament as he was stricken with a stomach ailment that made it impossible for him to very far from a receptacle at all times. He still managed to finish 10th at that event. There is little that sums up Frank Karsten better than his Top 8 Standard deck list for last year's World Championships.

Coming into the event, Frank knew he wanted to play Faeries but did not know what build he wanted to be playing. Ever the analyst, Frank took as many winning versions of the deck that he could find and statistically distilled them down to a deck dubbed Aggregate Faeries, which featured one Ponder and one Loxodon Warhammer in the main deck.

That was the third Pro Tour Top 8 of Frank's career and his second at Worlds—a tournament that has always seemed to favor him. He placed second at the 2005 World Championships in Yokohama with his Greater Good deck. Despite his strong resume, which has him sitting in 12th place on the all-time Pro Points list, it may have been Frank's contributions to the game as a writer for multiple websites—including this very site—that pushed him over the crucial 40% mark.

His detailed analysis, clear and direct style of writing, and unerring attention to detail not only helped players looking to improve their game but provided a window into the inner working of the mind of a truly great Magic player.

"When I got the phone call announcing that I had made it in, I felt very happy and relieved at the same time," said Karsten. "Though I figured I had a decent shot of making it this year, I was never too confident I would really be voted in. So when I heard the good news, it felt great! Being enshrined in the Hall of Fame is an amazing honor. Magic has been a major part of my life for the last decade and this induction feels like an acknowledgment of my dedication to the game. Being recognized for my Pro Tour accomplishments and my writing means a lot to me. All in all, it is a great honor to be considered one of the game’s most influential players."

    Kamiel Cornelissen

Kamiel's first Pro Tour experience nearly resulted in a Top 8 finish but needing just one win in his last two matches at Pro Tour–New York 2000 he drew twice. The Sunday stage was just beyond his reach and he finished in 11th place. He returned to New York the following PT season for the team Pro Tour with his brothers Jesse and Stijn. The trio placed 23rd overall, and while neither of Kamiel's brothers would go on to post notable finishes on the Pro Tour, it was not long thereafter that the Cornelissen name—after remaining in relative anonymity almost since the game was released—was on the minds of Magic players everywhere.

At Pro Tour–Chicago 2000, Kamiel managed to step onto the Sunday stage in spectacular fashion with a 2nd-place finish. The event was Standard, and Kamiel played a CounterRebels deck to a 10-2-2 record to take part in a Top 8 that is considered to be among the best Sunday cast ever assembled—among them, fellow Hall of Famers Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, Rob Dougherty, and Zvi Mowshowitz. The then-unknown Kamiel managed to defeat Finkel and Dougherty in his Hall of Fame bracket but fell to Kai in the finals.

Just one Pro Tour later, Kamiel and Finkel tangled again in a Top 8—this time in the semifinals of Pro Tour–Los Angeles. Just 20 years old at the time, Kamiel was already being called the next Jon Finkel after he dispatched Jonny Magic but fell to Mike Pustilnik's "best rats ever" in the finals. In an interview after the event Kamiel chalked up his success to playing in qualifiers for a long time, constantly practicing and learning to eliminate mistakes from his game.

While not the flashiest player on the Pro Tour, Kamiel would become one of the most consistent and methodical, posting a string of Top 16 and Top 32 finishes en route to over 300 lifetime pro points, putting him in 10th place all-time for that category. Despite his consistency, he did not post another Pro Tour Top 8 until a team event in Seattle alongside fellow Dutchmen Jelger Wiegersma and Jeroen Remie as Von Dutch.

Paired up against fellow Magic silver medalist Jin Okamoto, Kamiel finally got to hoist a trophy and cash a giant check as his team took the title. Kamiel would make two more Pro Tour Top 8s down the stretch of his career—giving him a total of five in his career—finishing in 5th place at Pro Tour–Amsterdam and Worlds that year.

On the Grand Prix side of the ledger, Kamiel made the elimination bracket six different times with two wins to show for it. His most recent of those two came in Brussels during the 2008 season while in semi-retirement, triumphing over Gabriel Nassif in the finals. His other victory came over Chris Benafel at Grand Prix–Heidelberg during the 2001-2002 season.

Kamiel has always been a quiet, methodical player who has let his actions speak far louder than his words, and those actions spoke loud and clear to the two-thirds of the Hall of Fame voters who put him on their ballots.

    Antoine Ruel

Team competition has always seemed to play a large role in the career of Hall of Fame players, and Antoine Ruel is no exception. Antoine made a name for himself on the Pro Tour scene with his Hall of Famer brother Olivier and Florent Jeudon, winning Grand Prix–Cannes as team Black Ops. That finish, combined with an 11th-place finish at the first team Pro Tour—Antoine's PT debut—earned that team an invitation to play in the Magic: The Gathering Team Challenge.

It was a special event for the ESPN cameras at Pro Tour–New York 1999–2000, and Antoine's team was the relatively unknown quantity coming in against teams featuring eventual Hall of Famers Rob Dougherty, Darwin Kastle, Dave Humpherys, Jon Finkel, and Alan Comer. Black Ops emerged on top, due in no small part to Antoine's victory over Jon Finkel in the finals.


Here are the top 10 finishers in the 2009 Hall of Fame balloting. Complete results can be found here.
Antoine Ruel63.43%
Kamiel Cornelissen62.48%
Frank Karsten44.79%
Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz33.72%
Antonino De Rosa31.22%
Chris Pikula23.69%
Scott Johns19.70%
Justin Gary15.81%
Alex Shvartsman15.09%
William Jensen14.08%

Antoine would finish in 6th at the 2001 team event in New York, but his first individual success would also be his first Pro Tour Top 8. At Worlds 2001 Antoine piloted a three-color Nether-Go deck list to a 3rd-place finish at that event and the first of four Pro Tour Top 8s in his career.

Antoine took down a 2nd-place finish at Pro Tour–San Diego before finally securing a win at Pro Tour–Los Angeles in 2005. He defeated Billy Moreno in the finals of that event playing a Psychatog list. He had to navigate a shark-infested bracket to get there, defeating future Hall of Famer Tsuyoshi Fujita in the quarters and Kenji Tsumura in the semifinals. His play against Kenji is widely regarded as some of the finest ever seen on the Sunday stage.

In Game 2 of that match, Antoine had the mana and the opportunity to Force Spike a Mana Leak that would counter his Duress, but declined. Kenji, thinking the coast was clear, trotted his turn-three Psychatog out only to have it Force Spiked. There were many levels to the play as Antoine made it seem like he was considering the Force Spike which Kenji read as an obvious bluff.

With 18 career Top 8s to his resume and a pair of wins among them, only Alex Shvartsman and Antoine's brother Olivier have reached the elimination bracket of a Grand Prix more often than Antoine. While he does not travel to as many events as his brother—and let's face it, who does?—Antoine is every bit the worldwide ambassador for the game that his brother has been.

Antoine and Olivier share a special bond that goes beyond fraternity and into the realm of best friendship. Antoine's most recent Pro Tour Top 8 may have been the most poignant for him, as he and his brother Oliver became the first brothers to make the Top 8 of the same individual Pro Tour. They now become the first pair of brothers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"I have so many feelings to be honest," said Antoine when reached for comment shortly after learning he had been inducted. "The Hall of Fame is the greatest Magic achievement possible. I am glad to join Finkel, Budde, obviously my little brother Olivier, and the others in this pantheon of the game ... a game which is not only been the best game, but has been such a huge part of my life over the last 13 years."

    Friday Night Magic Foil Spotlight

Head down to your local FNM location for a shot at August's Friday Night Magic foil: Lightning Greaves.

    Firestarter: Hall of Fame Memories

When I think of Frank Karsten, I will always think of him playing his heart out with his stomach lurching into a bucket in Yokohama. For Kamiel it will be beating Jon Finkel in back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s early in his career. For Antoine I will always remember the complex layers of bluff and counterbluff that went into his Psychatog / Force Spike play on Kenji in the semifinals of Pro Tour–Los Angeles. What are your favorite memories of the 2009 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame? Head to the forums and share your thoughts, links, and favorite deck lists there.

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