Introducing the 2008 Hall of Fame Class

Posted in The Week That Was on September 5, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

The ballots from both the Selection Committee and Players Committee have been counted and the fourth class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame has been decided and awaits induction at the 2008 Magic World Championship in Memphis, Tennessee later this year. There were plenty of questions to answer this year that have not needed asking before.

First and foremost among those questions were exactly how many players will be stepping up to the stage to accept their Hall of Fame ring? For the first time in the four-year history of the Hall players needed to appear on 40% of the weighted ballots in order to be inducted, as opposed to automatically inducting the top five vote-getters. Under the new system there could be as few as one inductee, with the potential for more than the traditional five.

In the end the number of inductees remained five with a clean cut between the fifth inductee and the sixth place vote-getter—a margin of around 30% separated fifth and sixth place. No member of this year’s class appeared on less than 45% of the weighted ballots. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to the 2008 class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

    Dirk Baberowski: 52.36%

Another question for this year’s ballot was in regard to who would follow as the lead vote-getter. The past three classes have been led by Jon Finkel, Bob Maher, Jr., and Kai Budde. For the fourth class of the Hall the leading vote getter was Dirk Baberowski of Germany.

Here are the top 10 vote-getters in this year's Hall of Fame balloting. For a complete list of results and vote breakdowns by committee, click here.
NameWeighted %
Dirk Baberowski52.36%
Mike Turian50.13%
Jelger Wiegersma48.19%
Olivier Ruel46.01%
Ben Rubin45.62%
Alex Shvartsman17.21%
Steven O’Mahoney-Schwartz16.50%
Justin Gary14.55%
Chris Pikula14.42%
Scott Johns14.08%

Baberowski has five Pro Tour Top 8s on his resume and three wins tying him with Finkel for the second most wins behind his Hall of Fame teammate and countryman Budde. Baberowski, as a member of Phoenix Foundation, reached the semifinals of one Masters Series and won it all in the Osaka Master Series. He also played in three different Grand Prix Top 8s, but it was a finish outside of a Top 8 at a Grand Prix that helped launch his illustrious career more than a decade ago with a win at Pro Tour–Chicago 1998.

“It was a really strange event in retrospect,” said Baberowski, who had received a pass-down invite at a Grand Prix to qualify, when asked about his first Pro Tour experience. “I was so confident at the time despite not even winning a PTQ. I was there with Kai and we thought if we didn't make Top 32 it would be a real disappointment—and of course one of us had to make the Top 8.”

If you have ever talked to the extraordinarily self-deprecating Dirk Baberowski about Magic, you would understand how out of character that confidence sounds. Still, he did follow in the footsteps of the previous season’s Chicago winner Randy Buehler to be the last man standing when he defeated Casey McCarrel in the finals of his Pro Tour debut.

That finish cemented him as a fixture on the Pro Tour and he would return to the Top 8 with a sixth-place finish when the Pro Tour returned to the Windy City the following season. That was his last individual Top 8 finish but from there he would join forces with Kai Budde and Marco Blume to form the most dominating team in the history of Magic, Phoenix Foundation. Phoenix Foundation went on to win back-to-back Team Rochester Pro Tours and make the Top 4 of another, along with three Top 8 Masters finishes including one win.

It is an impressive career that is rivaled only by Jon Finkel and Kai Budde in terms of lifetime Pro Tour wins and yet Dirk was initially not confident that he would be among those making the trip to Memphis this year.

“I was personally not convinced I would make it but everyone told me I was a lock so toward the end I pretty much did think I would,” he said when asked about his expectation for this year’s ballot.

As to how he felt when he finally heard for sure he said he was relieved but added that he was, “A little sad that Marco (Blume) and (William Jensen) did not get in. I think I wanted Huey to get in more than I wanted to get in.”

He will be attending the ceremony and plans on playing in the World Championship in Memphis.

“I am really excited to see Graceland. I am even going to test. I have a crew to play cards with,” said the former Chicago champion. “I even updated Magic Online last week. I am not going to do well. I just hope not to embarrass myself.”

But will the automatic invite to all Pro Tours be used regularly by Baberowski?

“It sort of depends on my job,” said Baberowski. “Right now it is pretty inconvenient on weekends. I might play one. I would play more if the weekends weren't so rough. I would like to go to Hawaii. I will probably go to Rome.”

Will he be able to add to his total of five Sunday appearances when he does resume playing?

“I mean I have a chance,” said Baberowski. “I am definitely a big dog—big longshot. You really need to have your head in the game. At Pro Tour–San Diego years ago I finished 10th and I was reading cards—it was my Prerelease but I had played a load of Magic at that point and really had my head in the game.”

“It makes sense that such an honor exists but I did not expect me to be one of those people,” he answered when asked if he could have foreseen a Hall of Fame induction when his career began a decade ago. “I guess I would have expected Mark Justice or Mark Chalice to be that player. Not me.”

As for him being the top vote-getter in his class, he was torn. “That seems wrong,” he said. “I feel a little confused by that. I never considered myself to be in the Kai, Jon, or Bob category and I still don't. I thought I had a nice shot of getting into the Hall of Fame but there are only a handful of players who I think are in that class.”

When looking back at his career, Dirk was able to isolate one moment as his best memory—one that everyone who has ever played Magic aspires to.

“I feel like I played one near perfect match of Magic,” he recalled. “It was the Team Masters finals in Japan—against [Itaru] Ishida I think. I got a really great read on him. I played a really great match of Magic. I have played maybe five really good matches of Magic but that was the best one. It was all downhill from there.”

    Mike Turian: 50.13%

Mike Turian was one of seven players considered “locks” for five berths in last year’s Hall of Fame class. Along with Ben Rubin, Turian narrowly missed induction and was hoping that voters did not have short memories for this new ballot with its new rules. You would be hard pressed to find someone more qualified for Hall of Fame membership than Turian, with five Pro Tour Top 8s (including one win) along with six Grand Prix Top 8s (including two wins) and a reputation as both a great sport and formidable opponent.

Like Dirk, Turian’s career began at Pro Tour–Chicago—albeit his was a year earlier—where he finished 27th after qualifying for the event at a PTQ.

“I was a freshman in college and I had just teamed up with Randy Buehler, Erik Lauer, and Dan Silberman,” recalled Turian of that first Pro Tour. “We called the white-red deck I played 'The Car' deck because Erik and I built it on the car ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago. First round I was paired against Tommi Hovi and his Squandered-Stasis deck. It was my welcome to the Pro Tour moment—and I beat him 2-0. At that moment I knew I belonged.”

“I qualified playing a green-white Maro, Mistmoon Griffin, Giant Mantis and AbeyanceMirage block deck,” said Turian, who faced some tough competition at the PTQ level just to reach the Pro Tour. “I took the deck to a PTQ in Akron and beat Jason Opalka and Dave Price to qualify for Chicago. Then I took the same deck to Grand Prix–Toronto and made the Top 8 with it. I was expecting to win Chicago. I was happy that at least Randy won.”

A Top 32 finish right out of the gate is an impressive career start and Turian followed up almost immediately with a Top 16 at Pro Tour–Mainz. He had a handful of Top 32s and Top 16s along the way until his shining moment as a member of the Pro Tour–New York winning team Potato Nation—a name derived from his starchy nickname.

“My best memory was winning Pro Tour–New York,” said an always beaming Turian. “Playing in that event with great teammates, Hall of Famer Gary Wise and Scott Johns, was a blast. We really clicked as a team. In the semis I barely pulled out the win, leading into a finals where Gary, Scott, and I faced down Car Acrobatic Team with Andrew Cuneo, Aaron Forsythe, and Andrew Johnson. At the time I was roommates with Johnson, and they were the team that I had practiced with and against in Pittsburgh. Winning was great but the fact that it was the perfect finals was even better.”

Despite the gaudy numbers there was some question if Turian would be inducted this year. Several voters and observers expressed concern about voting for a standing Wizards employee who could not avail himself of the bonuses of being perpetually qualified. The news that he had been enshrined came as a huge relief to Turian.

“I thought this year would be my best chance to make it into the Magic Hall of Fame. I was pretty confident I would make it this year until I heard that the rules for induction had been changed,” he admitted. “I didn't get 40% of the vote last year so that made me nervous. Aaron Forsythe walked up to me at 8:45 Tuesday morning and was like 'Congrats.' I had no idea what he was talking about until he said I had gotten into the Hall. Then I was happy. Ever since the Hall of Fame was first created I really wanted to get in. Coming so close last year made this year even sweeter.”

“I think people should vote for whoever they feel is most deserving. Personally, I have voted for three different Wizards employees—Alan Comer, Randy Buehler, and Scott Johns. I felt good about voting for all three of them,” said Turian of the debate about voting for Wizards employees.

While Turian will not be able to use his invites, he will be seeing plenty of Pro Tours in the coming months.

“I will be at Berlin gunslinging, I will be at Worlds for the Hall of Fame, and Steve Port of Legion Events just invited me to be a gunslinger on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico for the Conflux Launch Party. So the next few months will be filled with great events.”

“If I ever do play on the Pro Tour again, I will be playing on Sunday,” he added. There should be little reason to doubt him as Turian retired from playing to take a job at Wizards while at the height of his Pro Tour career after back to back Pro Tour Top 8s in Limited at San Diego and Amsterdam.

“For a long time my goal was to make it into the Magic Invitational,” said Turian when asked whether or not he could have anticipated his enshrinement in a Pro Tour Hall of Fame. “I never made it into an Invitational, so I certainly hadn’t dreamed of making it into a Hall of Fame that didn’t exist at the time.”

So what does his enshrinement mean to him?

“It stands for all of the love I have put into Magic,” he replied before thanking a long list of people who supported him along the way.

“I’d like to thank Team CMU. It formed and reformed many times over the years. The primary members include: Randy Buehler, Erik Lauer, Nate Heiss, Dan Silberman, Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Johnson, Andrew Cuneo, Eugene Harvey, Elliot Fung, Paul Sottosanti, and Nick Eisel.”

“Gary Wise and Scott Johns—They are both great teammates and great contributors to the Magic community.”

“Dirk, Olivier, Ben and Jelger—For making the 2008 Hall of Fame a fine class.”

“Ari Shtulman—For convincing me to play Magic, and telling me that I should play 60 cards instead of all my cards.”

“Nate Heiss, Evan Davis, and my dad—For all the time we spent growing up playing Magic and being friends.”

    Jelger Wiegersma: 48.19%

Jelger Wiegersma just seems to get stronger the longer he plays. His career began rather inauspiciously at Pro Tour–New York (in New Jersey) over ten years ago and it took a couple of seasons for him to find a handhold on the so-called gravy train. Once he qualified for every event from 2001 through this current season, he has been the picture of consistency and has steadily climbed up the leaderboards in both points and lifetime winnings. He has strung together Top 32 and Top 16 finishes around three Pro Tour Top 8 appearances with a win as a member of Von Dutch at Pro Tour—Seattle. He also has thirteen GP Top 8s with two wins—including a win within the current Pro Tour season.

“I wasn't sure I was going to get in,” admitted Jelger despite his high profile and continued success. “I knew a lot of my friends on the Pro Tour had voted for me, so I thought I had a decent shot. I was very happy when I got the news that I made it. I didn't even realize the voting had even ended yet, so it was definitely a surprise.”

While there is no question that Jelger will play at Worlds—he was already planning on it in the course of normal events—the Hall of Fame may have come at just the right time for a player who will shortly be entering the workforce. “I just got a new job, so I might not be able to attend all the Pro Tours, but I will try to go as many as possible. When I do go I will make sure I have enough practice with the format to be competitive. I hate losing, so I hope I get to another Sunday at some point. I never really expect myself to win and am always surprised when I do well, so I won't make any predictions about playing on Sunday. I will definitely try to get there though.”

“My first Pro Tour was in Secaucus, New Jersey,” recalled the Dutch player of his first taste of Pro Tour play. “It was Urza Block Constructed and I qualified in Extended with a Pox deck. We didn't have Top 8s in our PTQs back then—just straight Swiss. I was behind on tiebreakers when there was only one match going on in the last round. Fortunately one of my earlier opponents was still playing and he managed to win, pushing my tiebreakers just far enough for me to qualify.”

“I was only fifteen and I remember that I was very excited to travel all the way to the U.S. I had a great time with Noah Boeken, Alexander Witt, Roel Dols and Bram Snepvangers. And even though I didn't do so well—3-5 I think—I knew that I would do anything to try to qualify again because I just loved competing against all the great players. I remember playing against both Randy Buehler and Ben Rubin.”

While many of the players enshrined before him had retired by the time the Hall of Fame was introduced, Jelger has been an active player for the last three World Championships and he could not help but to fantasize about stepping up on stage himself.

“I attended all the other induction ceremonies—seeing all the great players—so I was always hoping that it would be me some day. Of course when I first started playing on the Pro Tour I would never have even imagined I would be so successful. Being honored in this way is definitely not something I would have expected 10 years ago. I am honored to be considered one of the best by the people who know most about the game.”

In that vein, Jelger wanted to “thank everyone who voted for me. I want to thank all my good friends at the Pro Tour for making all the tournaments so enjoyable. I want to thank all the organizers and judges who ever had anything to do with the Pro Tour for their great work. I want to thank Wizards for making Magic.”

    Olivier Ruel: 46.01%

When you look at Olivier Ruel’s career numbers, there is little doubt that he would have been the leading vote getter in the 2008 class under different circumstances. Many voters took exception with the No. 2 player on the lifetime Pro Point standings having recently been suspended from the DCI on top of an early suspension near the start of his career. Despite that tarnish he still received more than enough support across the ballots to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

It is hard to ignore the numbers which include five Pro Tour Top 8s and, despite not winning a Pro Tour, no finish below fourth place once he is on the Sunday stage. Perhaps even overshadowing the Pro Tours—if it is possible to eclipse five PT Top 8s—are a record 23 Grand Prix Top 8s (and counting) across virtually every continent, with four wins to show for them. Oliver recently surpassed Jon Finkel on the lifetime Pro Points list and has his sights set squarely on the leader Kai Budde and the elusive Player of the Year title this season.

“I had sincerely no idea either I would make it or not,” said Ruel. “I was really stressed out about the results. I knew I would be told before the fifth if I had been voted in. Therefore, I couldn’t move from my computer—I was checking my emails every 30 minutes. Then came the phone call from Scott Larabee announcing the good news. I feel both relieved and extremely happy.”

Just as with Jelger, there was little question that Olivier would be making the trip to Memphis as he finds himself right in the thick of another race this season. He explained: “The ceremony will be the climax of my Magic career, and if I do well at Worlds, I might become Player of the Year, which is the only thing as strong as being a Hall of Fame member to me. So it would be hard for me to find a good reason not to go to Worlds!”

“I'll keep on going as long as I can anyway,” he added. “Playing on Sunday is definitely a goal. The last time I did was two and a half years ago, and I really want to get back there as soon as possible!”

His career began at Pro Tour–Rome and Olivier had little idea what he was in for when he made the decision to attend that event.

“I had won a PTQ in Tempest Block Constructed in Dijon. I was playing the mono-blue list Jean-Louis D'hont had made Top 8 with at the previous two GPs. I don't remember the deck exactly, but it had Tradewind Rider, Legacy’s Allure, Counterspell and Helm of Possession. I also remember that my deck was one card short, so I added a Killer Whale shortly before the tournament started and it won me a game in the semis!”

“I had no idea what the pro world was back then and I didn't even know how High Tide or Academy worked—to tell you how well prepared I was for the event!” laughed Olivier. “I missed the cut by four places but it was a great experience. It made me want to get better to get another chance on the big stage.”

Olivier and his brother garnered some notice as Black Ops the Grand Prix–Cannes-winning team and had his first taste of success on the team level, but it was Pro Tour Osaka where he really broke out with the first of his five Pro Tour Top 8s with a second-place finish. But it is his Top 8 finish in Honolulu—which saw him and his brother Antoine both playing on Sunday—that stands out as his most cherished Pro Tour memory.

“After I drew for Top 8 I went to support my brother,” Olivier recounted. “To have a chance for Top 8 he had to beat Shu Komuro and two other results had to turn in his favor. Even then it would only be a 50/50. The three matches went the way he needed and when the announcement was made we were together, surrounded by friends. "And in eighth place... from France…"We didn't even hear the name, there was too much noise around us. We fell into each other’s arms and it felt like that moment lasted forever.”

“I've always been testing with him, when we were younger, we even played handball on the same team. There is no better win than a team win, and being in the same Top 8 as Antoine is, and will probably forever be, the best accomplishment of my Magic career.”

He could never have imagined such an honor when he began to play: “It took me three years in the train to start making a living out of Magic. But lately, ever since the Hall of Fame was created, I was waiting for this moment. Many people asked me 'what's the point of getting in the Hall of Fame when you are invited to all Pro Tours anyway?' It's not about the HoF benefits. It's much more than that. It means a lot. I've dedicated myself so much to the game, and now my game, my work, and my personality are acknowledged. Even though I've made mistakes in the past, hard work compensated for them. It means I am now part of the history of the game I love so much, it's just amazing.”

“Oh yes there are!” exclaimed Olivier when asked if there was anyone he wished to thank. “My parents first for giving me the passion of games, and for being very understanding when I became a pro and for letting me lead my life the way I wanted. It must not always have been easy for them.”

“My brother Antoine, of course, for being a great bro and testmate for so long. I would probably not even know what the PT was if he wasn't there and I can't wait for him to be enshrined next year.”

“My thoughts also go to my roommate Alexandre Peset. Three years ago, he offered to leave Paris and launch a magazine about Magic with him. It changed my life. Not only did it make (my life) better than anytime before, it also made me a better Magic player as I was forced to play Constructed more than before to be able to write good columns inside the mag.”

“And a final word and big thank you to all the people who voted for me and to those who supported me! De tout mon coeur, merci à tous!”

    Ben Rubin: 45.62%

Just like Mike Turian, Ben Rubin narrowly missed induction last year when he was one of seven players voters considered to be an auto-include on a five-player ballot. Ben had burst onto the scene ten years ago as a 15-year old player going toe-to-toe with David Price in the finals of Pro Tour–Los Angeles and later that year finished second again at Worlds. All totaled Rubin made the Top 8 four times. While he did not win one, he never finished worse than fourth and was one of the most feared competitors for many seasons. Twice he dispatched none other than Jon Finkel en route to Masters Series wins. He also racked up six Grand Prix Top 8s, including two wins—one which was highlighted by keeping a no-land hand in the finals.

Despite being a player Finkel would rather not sit down to play in a crucial match of Magic, Rubin feared his Hall of Fame ship had sailed.

“After missing last year, and seeing that, to my understanding, the vote-getting requirements would be more difficult this year, I did not think I would get into the Hall of Fame anytime soon,” said Rubin. “After all of the time, focus, emotional and creative energy I have invested in Magic—along with my successes—I don’t think being in the Hall of Fame or getting a ring (hopefully I get a trading card too) is a stretch.”

“It’s groovy—still sinking in,” said Rubin, who plans to play in Memphis and said he will certainly dip his toes in the competitive waters from time to time, although he was not sure how frequently.

“I came back for a year, and left because I felt I was spending too much of my time on Magic,” he explained. “I had intended to return sporadically, hopefully spending my preparation time more efficiently. My plans have not changed.”

As for that blazing start to his career, showcased by his Pro Tour–Los Angeles 1998 performance?

“I qualified via PTQ, after narrowly missing Top 8 at Grand Prix–San Francisco needing to win one of my two final rounds against Casey McCarrel and Ryan Fuller," Rubin recollected. "I had no expectations, but I was pumped.”

“As it happened, I played the best Magic of my life,” Rubin continued. “And, despite playing a deck that was not up to the standard of decks I would build and play as I matured, I came in second. Coincidentally, the Queen Mary, former PT–LA site, was engineered by Sir Steven Piggot, my great-grandfather. Awaiting the finals, being fifteen, catching my mental breath on the Queen Mary is my best memory.”

Rubin’s win at Grand Prix–Anaheim involved him making the gutsy decision to keep a no-land/no-first turn play hand in the Finals against Nathan Saunders’ Red Deck Wins with his homebrewed Dump Truck, which showcased his deckbuilding and decision-making skills in one finals feature match.

Looking back at his career, Rubin singled one player out for thanks: “Dan Clegg is not someone I’ve enjoyed personally for quite some time. But he is undoubtedly the reason I got into, and succeeded at, competitive Magic. That I eclipsed him so suddenly, chasming our friendship, is testimony to how very much he taught me, and how many doors he opened for me in the world of Magic—despite being a young man himself.”

    Firestarter: Your 2008 Hall of Fame Class

Please avail yourself of the forums to congratulate and comment on the 2008 Pro Tour Hall of Fame class.

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