The Dependable Expendables

Posted in The Week That Was on July 5, 2013

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

It is hard not to look at today's preview card and think back on the glory days of an analogous card from an era of combo decks—much like it is hard to look at Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables and not think back to his heyday in movies like First Blood and Nighthawks. I have spent a lot of money going to see Stallone movies over the years looking for him to recapture the magic of those early efforts. Needless to say, it has been a long time since I was in a movie theater for a midnight Thursday showing on a Stallone opening weekend.

How does my movie-going habits relate to the Magic 2014 preview card you are impatiently waiting to see? While it might not be able to do all the same stunts as its younger self, I think this Expendable holds up a lot better than the above-the-title star of the film version.

If you have been playing Magic as long as I have, it is impossible to look at this card and not think about Goblin Bombardment, which was a critical component of breakfast-themed combo decks that let you loop a zero-casting-cost creature with Enduring Renewal to do nigh-infinite amounts of damage. Barrage of Expendables avoids introducing a Modern variant (Enduring Renewal was reprinted in Time Spiral on the time-shifted sheet) by putting a red mana restrictor plate on the ability.

Goblin Bombardment
Enduring Renewal

One of the pitfalls of card evaluation is dismissing a card simply because it is not as fully broken as an analogous card from the past. Fauna Shaman was no Survival of the Fittest and yet it has proven itself to be very playable since it was printed. Will Barrage of Expendables do the same? I think it will. Let's look at some of the ways we can use the card and then step back and see what happens in a couple of weeks when it is unleashed on Standard.

Red to cast, red to activate... seems like as good a place as any to start is in a red deck. It is cheap and lets you fling your guys for one last burst of damage in the face of a board sweeper or a fortified defensive position. How much damage can this card offer a red deck? Tricky question to ask, since each additional copy offers you no extra damage after the first one and if you draw it without a creature on the board it might as well be blank, but getting some extra reach from your creatures in the face of a swept board is something a red deck does not want to ignore.

One of the first team-ups from M14 I want to try is Barrage of Expendables and Young Pyromancer. Each of my burn spells leaves a token behind that I can steadily tick down my opponent's life total down with in concert with Barrage. It also teams up quite nicely with Chandra's Phoenix and Pyrewild Shaman for some late-game inevitability.

Chandra's Phoenix

This card is going to be a Limited all-star—and at uncommon a card that will keep me on the lookout for enchantment removal in any Sealed pool or draft pick—and is going to have a ton of synergy with cards like Festering Newt that have an ability that triggers when they die. I am really excited to finish people off with this card in my inevitable M14 Sliver draft decks (seriously, you should not even look at Slivers if we are in the same draft!). Thanks to Manaweft Sliver letting me tap my Slivers for red mana all my creatures will have T: Sacrifice this creature to do 1 damage to target creature or player.

I have been wishing for a card like this throughout the Return to Ravnica block Limited seasons as a way to get extra value out of Act of Treason and Traitorous Instinct, and I hope there is some kind of similar effect in M14 Limited. Even if there is not, being able to sacrifice your creatures meaningfully is always valuable in Limited. If your opponent is going to attempt to steal or kill one of your creatures, you can put it in the trebuchet. It is extra special when you get to counter a spell like an Assassin's Strike that has a single target but is hoping to do a little more than just kill the creature in the crosshairs.

This is definitely a card I am actively looking for in my pool at the Prerelease and will be one of the first uncommons I get a play set of and start fooling around with in Constructed. What are the cards you are looking forward to at the upcoming M14 Prerelease—both for Limited and to unleash on Constructed formats?

Ballot Boxing

The debates have already started on Twitter about who should be on people's ballots for the 2013 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and the official ballots should just be going out now. You can chime in or just follow along with the #MTGHoF hashtag that people have been using, although it is important to note that this is the Magic PRO TOUR Hall of Fame and not the Magic Hall of Fame. It is for players who have been playing on the Pro Tour for a minimum of ten years and have accrued at least 100 Pro Points during their careers (although that number goes up to 150 next season).

Learn more about this year's Pro Tour
Hall of Fame candidates here:
Main Page
2013 Ballot

How do voters on the Player and Selection Committees make sense of the seventy-one candidates on the ballot—all of whom have had impressive careers by any normal Magic-playing standards? Pro Tour stat-guy Paul Jordan went through all the current members of the Hall of Fame and established baselines of average, median, best, and worst for ten different statistical categories. This can lead to a wide range of numbers, from Randy Buehler's lone Pro Tour Top 8 all the way to Jon Finkel's staggering fourteen Sunday finishes, but it does give us a sense of what it means to be a Pro Tour Hall of Fame player.

Paul explained:

I started by establishing new HOF standards. To do this, I dug up last year's file and added the four inductees' numbers in and simply re-calc'd average, minimum, maximum, and median for each of the categories. Since I calculated all HOF standards based on when the person was inducted and not their entire year, it was fine that I was using last year's file. Those are, after all, the numbers used for voting. Prior to last year's induction, the standards looked like this:

  Pro Points # of PTs MEDIAN 15-event Median POY Top 10 # of Wins #top8 #top16 #top32 #top64
Median 305 43 56 30 2 1 4 7 13 20
Average 313.3 41.0 61.5 32.8 2.0 1.1 4.8 7.8 12.9 19.5
Best 505 62 17 10 6 7 11 18 21 28
Worst 126 12 97.5 76.5 0 0 1 4 5 10

Now it looks like this:

  Pro Points # of PTs MEDIAN 15-event Median POY Top 10 # of Wins #top8 #top16 #top32 #top64
Median 293 43 66.5 33.5 2 1 5 7 12 19
Average 308.2 42.8 66.4 34.1 2.1 1.1 5.1 8.1 13.0 19.9
Best 505 68 17 10 6 7 14 22 25 36
Worst 126 12 111 76.5 0 0 1 4 5 10

When Paul compared the players on the ballot to his baseline numbers, he found twenty-one players who achieved the minimum level of accomplishment or better in all ten categories and another ten who were at that mark in all but one area.

"I'm going to be going through this all in more detail as I have the time to before I cast my vote. But I'm pretty sure I'm starting with these thirty-one spellcasters and narrowing the field from there," said Paul, who acknowledged that entry into the Hall is not just about the numbers. "Of course, if someone isn't in here but has remarkable 'playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general' I'll be happy to drag them back into the fray."

A lot of the debate around the Hall of Fame this year has centered around players with four or five Pro Tour Top 8s in their career—nobody on this year's ballot has more than five.

Five Top 8s

There are three players with five Top 8s. When you go by Pro Points, the first of that trio is Tomoharu Saito, who ended up getting suspended while on his way to the Hall of Fame just a couple of seasons back, which revoked his induction. It will certainly be interesting to see how the two committees regard the suspension now that Saito is back on the Pro Tour and back on the ballot. He certainly demonstrated his deck-building prowess in the days leading up to Pro Tour Gatecrash , when his aggro deck threw a hand grenade into the metagame even though he was not even playing. I know that I weight suspensions very heavily when casting my ballot, although other voters have not let that dissuade them.

Luis Scott-Vargas comes onto the ballot this year and the the Pro Tour Berlin champion has to be considered a favorite to be inducted, as he meets all the statistical criteria and all the intangible criteria. His three-year median finish is 16.5 and he is a beloved community figure. He has been written on my ballot in indelible ink for a couple of years now. In my mind, he is the only slam dunk candidate on the ballot, which has led to the heated discussion on social media.

Luis Scott-Vargas

Scott Johns has been on the ballot since the first year of the Hall of Fame. His numbers and his community contributions are both well documented—and he has maintained a large enough share of votes each year to stay on the ballot—but with so much of his success coming early on the Pro Tour, perhaps he has not been given the same amount of credit for his finishes as other members of the Five Top 8s Club by voters.

Four Top 8s

This crop of players has become crowded of late, with multiple players getting their fourth Sunday finish, which—at the time—seemingly cemented their Hall of Fame legacy. Again, sorted by Pro Points, the list goes like this:

Tsuyoshi Ikeda has been on the ballot since 2007 and surged with his fourth Top 8 in 2009 in Austin but the longevity of his career seems to work against him in voter's minds. Of course, being in Japan has not helped either, where his community efforts as a store owner and tournament organizer are much more opaque than if he were almost anywhere else in the world.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

Ben Stark now has two Pro Tour Top 8s on either side of his short-lived retirement. Pro Tour Gatecrash was his most recent finish, coming a couple of seasons after his triumph at Pro Tour Paris. What makes his success all the more impressive was watching him climb back into the game via PTQs and Grand Prix when he realized that there was a hole in his life where Magic used to be.

Makihito Mihara just earned his fourth Top 8 at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze to pad his already-impressive resume. That resume includes his World Championship win and his Team Worlds win, as well as being a fixture of Japanese Nationals Top 8s.

Miakihito Mihara

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa was also suspended, albeit for something that was not attached to tournament play, and is certainly something I weigh less heavily than the ones for Saito or Olivier Ruel. Like the two previous candidates, he has a win to bolster his case in his four trips to the Sunday stage.

William Jensen missed being inducted into the Hall of Fame last year by a single vote. Widely regarded by the best players in the game to be one of the game's elite players, he continues to have tremendous vocal support from current pros and Hall of Famers alike. He has won a Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and a Master Series in his long career.

Joining Mihara and Stark in the recently-crossed-the-fourth-PT Top 8 category is Willy Edel, who supplanted Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa as the top Brazillian player this year. He kicked off the past season with his Top 8 in Seattle at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and followed up with a Grand Prix win and another Top 8 that season.

I was talking to someone about Mark Herberholz at Grand Prix Las Vegas and he was clearly dismayed at all the Hall of Fame talk around Willy Edel, Ben Stark, and Makihito Mihara. Not that he was suggesting they were not worthy of being in the Hall of Fame discussion, rather it was the exclusion of Herberholz—who already had four Top 8s and a win, along with a pedigree as an outstanding deck builder—from that discussion. Discuss.

Mark Herberholz

Marijn Lybaert is new to the ballot this year and he should be appealing to members of the electorate. The Belgian player recently won a WMCQ for Worlds Week in Amsterdam and has been a columnist and commentator on Magic in his career.

Mark Justice is another player who gets votes each year sufficient to remain on the ballot, but he has not been able to gain the momentum to be inducted. Like Scott Johns, he was one of the game's early standouts and the first real star of the game. Many voters seem to view the early days of the Pro Tour as being another era of the game and it is reflected in Justice's vote totals.

Three Top 8s

Three Pro Tour Top 8s has been sufficient for several players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and when you look at the players in this tier you can see any number of them accepting a ring in Dublin. But with only five votes, ballots are already starting to get swollen from the fours and fives. Names that have bubbled up in the early discussion include Pro Tour–winners Justin Gary, Paul Rietzl, Osyp Lebedowicz, and recent winner Craig Wescoe.

Chris Pikula does not have that elusive win, but he came within one scant vote of making it in the first year on the ballot and has bobbed just below the surface ever since. He was an early voice of the game and a crusader for fair play in the early days of the Tour. Can recent Legacy Open Top 8s keep him fresh in the minds of the electorate?

Eric Froehlich memorably and emotionally earned his third Top 8 at Pro Tour Gatecrash and is someone whose name has come up in the public discussion about ballots.

Eric Froehlich

One name that has not come up—and it seemed impossible to imagine when he was at the height of his powers—is Gadiel Szleifer, the Pro Tour Philadelphia Champion and one of the fastest players to reach 100 Points. Tomohiro Kaji is another Pro Tour winner who gets lost in the shuffle at this tier. The "Fame" clause of the Hall can be rough for players who are out of the limelight, played in the early days of the game, or have a language barrier. Make sure to dig into Paul's statistics and see which players have careers that appropriately reflect their level of fame

I know I am going to take the maximum amount of time before handing in my five votes. There is a lot to dig through!


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