One Writer’s Opinion

Posted in The Week That Was on February 24, 2005

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.

This week is something of a two-fer in the Invitational category. After Osyp’s landslide victory in the North American balloting, the caucusing moves across the International Date Line for the APAC ballot. This ballot is heavily Japan-centric as players from that country have been experiencing success at every level of the game.

If you look here, you can find this week’s ballot, so go ahead and pull back the curtain and vote anonymously. That luxury of anonymity is one I don’t enjoy this week as I also kick off the Writers' Ballot with my five votes from the following pool of players.

  • Osyp Lebedowicz
  • Brian Kibler
  • Gabe Walls
  • Jeff Cunningham
  • Craig Krempels
  • Tim Aten
  • Neil Reeves
  • Olivier Ruel
  • Antoine Ruel
  • Marc Zajdner
  • Nic West
  • Sam Gomersall
  • Jeroen Remie
  • Masashi Oiso
  • Paul Rietzl
  • Antonino De Rosa
  • Rich Hoaen

There has been a lot of confusion regarding this ballot because it is called “The Writer’s Ballot” --which implied to most that the candidates would be chosen on the merits of their writing. The actual idea behind the writer’s ballot is simple -- we're not voting for writers, instead we the writers cast the votes. (Of course, there's nothing stopping us from voting for a player who also happens to write a great deal about the game.)

Five writers from each of the three major Magic web sites --,, and -- plus one writer from Inquest’s website have to submit, in order, their top five players from this list. The criteria for the voting for the candidates is “best combination of talent and personality.”

Well, that makes it easy.

Osyp needs no more support -- he's already invited.Osyp Lebedowicz would be an obvious choice -- a fungo, really -- but I assumed he would win the North American ballot even before the results started to trickle in. And now I see no reason to make my job easier by throwing away a vote.

Turn the calendar back a year and there is no question that Brian Kibler and Neil Reeves would have my votes. I am hard pressed to come up with two players who combine a talent for the game with an effortlessly entertaining personality as well as these two fine men. Unfortunately neither of them have put up any results of note in the past year and appear to be stepping back from the game.

There, that's three people I can easily eliminate. After that, it gets much tougher. I wish that I could wait a week to see the results of the APAC vote. I suspect that a vote for Masashi Oiso is wasted but I would hate to see him frozen out of the Invitational and know that I could have tried to get him there. He is having a spectacular season but there are so many worthy candidates on the APAC ballot that I have to leave Oiso in play…

I am having a really hard time with this . . . there has to be a way I can make some sense of this that takes into account both personality and play skill in a weighted manner. Perhaps some primary voting in each category is called for!

If the ballot was going to be strictly determined by performance I could easily rank the Top 5 players -- excluding the already q’d Osyp -- according to their Pro Tour standing after Nagoya, which includes the past twelve months of professional events.

  1. Antoine Ruel
  2. Olivier Ruel
  3. Jeroen Remie
  4. Masashi Oiso
  5. Paul Rietzl

Rietzl is something of a surprise there since he is the only player on that list without a Pro Tour Top 8 to his credit in the past year. In fact, he does not even have a Pro Tour Top 8 to his credit over the course of his career. It is a testament to his consistency and ability to do well in both Constructed and Limited that he is lurking so high in the standings, ahead of multiple players with Top 8s to their credit in the past year.

If I were going to rank the candidates I have not already discounted strictly by entertainment value -- and that could mean anything from their comedic presence, their passion for the game, their writing, or their heart -- then I guess my Top 5 would look something like this:

  1. Tim Aten
  2. Jeff Cunningham
  3. Olivier Ruel
  4. Jeroen Remie
  5. Gabe Walls

Olivier Ruel, larger than life.Let me break down how I came up with this short list. Aten and Cunningham are literally worth the price of admission. Both players' personalities come shining through especially in their writing (both write for subscription-based websites and are simply such talented and funny writers that they justify the annual fee each site charges). I reread a handful of their articles recently and found myself laughing out loud. Olivier and Jeroen are on the list because they have not only highly engaging, larger-than-life personalities but because they really want to be at the Invitational. Obviously, everyone wants to go -- but I don’t know if anyone wants to go as badly as these two guys. Gabe Walls is simply one of the funniest guys ever.

When we collate the results -- awarding five points for first place in a primary, four points for second, etc. -- the Top 5 shakes out like this:

Olivier Ruel - 7 points
Antoine Ruel - 5 Points
Jeroen Remie - 5 Points
Tim Aten - 5 Points
Jeff Cunningham - 4 Points

Probably not the most scientific method, but it got me where I needed to go. I will explain how I seeded the five-pointers below as I address the players one by one.

1. Olivier Ruel

Olivier has had the second best year in Magic behind only his brother Antoine, while traveling around the world from New Jersey to Hong Kong and all points in between. He is the reigning French National Champion and many people think that he is going to win the Player of the Year for the current season. It is always easy to find Olivier at any given event as he will be in the center of a group of players, usually with his newfound Japanese friends honing his mock-fu.

It is very easy to assume that Olivier is having such a good time playing Magic because he is doing so well, but I would actually suggest the opposite. I think Olivier is appreciating the opportunities afforded him through Magic -- seeing the world, winning money, meeting smart and interesting people, etc. -- and that appreciation and the enjoyment of those opportunities has sharpened his game to the finest edge he has ever honed in his long and illustrious career.

2. Antoine Ruel

Antoine Ruel was runner-up at PT San Diego.Antoine is a mystery to me. I know almost nothing about him. When I first started writing the biographies for the ballot pages I was shocked to learn that Antoine’s last 12 months of Magic were better than anyone else’s in the game. While he is as quiet and mysterious as his brother is boisterous, I had to seed Antoine highest among the five-pointers simply based on his tremendous performances. If he does not end up at the Invitational, something will have gone terribly awry.

3. Jeroen Remie

Jeroen is another player who writes about the game, although his writing tends to focus more on the strategic aspects of the game. Remie is one of the top players in the game and has a Pro Tour win under his belt in the past year with Von Dutch. Like many of the APAC players are destined to be this week, he was lost in the shuffle of a power-packed European ballot. Even if people saw past the star power of Kai, Jeroen still had to contend with the Ruels, two-time Pro Tour winner Nicolai Herzog, and Limited powerhouse Anton Jonsson -- as well as both of his Von Dutch teammates, Jelger Wiegersma and Kamiel Cornelissen.

Maybe the only player on this ballot who wants the invite more than Jeroen is Olivier, and that is definitely only a maybe. Jeroen is another player who seems to be enjoying the game and taking maximum advantage of the opportunities afforded to him by it. I juggled the third- and fourth-place votes on my ballot back and forth multiple times and eventually settled on Remie in the higher position because of his passion as well as his Pro Tour title. Both his and Tim Aten’s biggest success this year has been in the Team format, and Jeroen's Pro Tour title trumps Aten's Grand Prix win.

4. Tim Aten

Aten, far right, manages to hide his hatred for a few moments.Tim hates it when people write nice things about him, so I will try to get in and out here as quick as possible and keep it to a minimum. He will have to get used to it though, since I expect that he will show up on more than one writer’s ballot over the coming weeks. Tim hates a lot of things and that hatred manifests itself in some of the best Magic writing on the web. His topics range from actual strategy to his ongoing revue of three-person team names to his efforts to get a Genju of the Realm into play -- sometimes they all end up in the same article. Tim is also the portal through which all Magic slang travels from “the kids” to the masses, and if you want to know what all the kids are talking about you need to read his column.

I would not be the least bit surprised to see Tim win this ballot based almost entirely on his skills as a writer. Fortunately, Tim is also one of the better American Limited players although he is most decidedly not the future of American Magic -- since that is a term that pains him to no end.

5. Jeff Cunningham

Much like I struggled with the seeding between Aten and Remie in the final positioning, I struggled with Aten and Cunningham. Jeff is a laugh-out-loud-funny writer like none other in the game, and he even backed up my position that Glacial Ray is better than Kokusho, the Evening Star in draft formats in his column. Based strictly on writing, I had the two neck and neck. I went to the Nagoya standings as my tiebreaker and Tim was eight Pro Points up on Jeff.

Jeff manages to write in an effortless style that is both entertaining and informative. He would easily be the best player to have never made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour if he didn’t actually have one to his credit already. Jeff is one of those players who regularly lurks in the money of the Pro Tour. He is also one of the more notable Canadians I slighted by not including that country in my Nagoya preview. One of the more interesting tidbits about Jeff is that he has molded the draft strategies of the last two Canadians to Top 8 a Rochester Draft Pro Tour.

So there you have my ballot. The remaining 15 ballots should be revealed over the coming weeks in similar articles on this site and the others mentioned above. You should be able to track how the vote is shaping up as each article is posted. Each writer ranks their top five as I did, with five points going to first place down to one point for fifth. My first ballot also represents the current standings but that will change with each article -- sort of. The votes from each writer have already been submitted to Scott Johns, so there will be no changing of the vote based on how the race is shaping up.

I’ve done my part, now get out there and do your part. The APAC polls are open now.

Firestarter: Old Timers' Ballot

This is not an actual category for the Invitational but I would love to see something like this in the future (although I am sure there will be plenty of bristling at the term “Old Timers”). There are so many great former players at Wizards of the Coast in R&D, Online Media, MTGO, and elsewhere that you could make up an amazing ballot of former Pro Tour Top 8 competitors. If the following ballot were real, who would you vote for and why? Use the “discuss” button below to be swept away to the land of forums and never-ending dissent and discussion.

Randy Buehler (1 Top 8/1 win)
Alan Comer (5 Top 8/0 wins)
Mike Donais (0 Top 8/1 win - Canada Team Championship at Worlds 1997)
Aaron Forsythe (2 Top 8/1 win - U.S. Team Championship at Worlds 1999-2000)
Scott Johns (5 Top 8/ 1 win)
Matt Place (2 Top 8/2 wins - includes U.S. Team Championship at 1996 Worlds)
Henry Stern (2 Top 8 [includes 1995 Worlds]/1 win - U.S. Team Championship at 1995 Worlds)
Mike Turian (5 Top 8/1 win)
Worth Wollpert (1 Top 8/0 wins)

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