Hall of Fame Ballot Ballet

Posted in Event Coverage on July 5, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Voting for the 2015 Class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame began shortly before Grand Prix Montreal, and it was one of the many topics on the tips of players tongues for the weekend.

Like many of those eligible for selection, players casting ballots were out in force playing. One of them was Josh Utter-Leyton. A player with multiple Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8s himself, Utter-Leyton has played with and against Magic's greatest for a decade.

Josh Utter-Leyton will have his turn in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame discussion later. For now he advocated for a high bar that stays raised.

"A good ballot is a ballot that is voting for the people you most want in the Hall of Fame," Utter-Leyton said with all seriously. "It's a non-statement but I don't know what other criteria there can be. Everybody values things differently, so I don't want to say ‘This is most important.' because it's going to be different for someone else."

That doesn't mean Utter-Leyton doesn't have his priorities though. "Personally, I set a pretty high bar for the level that should be in the Hall of Fame," he said. "Last year I didn't use all my votes and I'm not going to this year. I think a good candidate needs to stand out from the pack, have something that sets them above and beyond the others close in contention."

Why does Utter-Leyton feel that way? "There are a lot of people that are close, and I don't think it's sustainable for the Hall of Fame to keep including everyone in that close level," he explained. "There is a sizeable amount of the Pro Tour eligible for the Hall of Fame. We can't have like 20% of the Pro Tour be the Hall of Fame: If there's a feature that's Hall of Fame versus Hall of Fame it should be awesome and special. That's kind of the reason I only want to vote for the people that stand out in some way, and that some way can be a variety of different ways like community contribution, or pure stats that way Eric Froehlich stands out."

As a teammate for years there was no way Utter-Leyton would have experience with the depth and caliber of the player like Forehlich. "Obviously Eric is a friend of mine and a fantastic Magic player," Utter-Leyton said. "He has some of the best stats on the ballot and I think it'd be a shame if he didn't make it."

Another player with both a reputation for skill and a Hall of Fame ballot to cast was Reid Duke.

Reid Duke was years away from entering the Hall of Fame discussion but had carved out a name for himself like few others had.

Duke's approach to determine a balloting was built upon performance. "Based on the people that are in the Hall now and what a standard of a really impressive career there is, there's a baseline standard: Four or more Pro Tour Top 8s and something else, like Masters Series success or Grand Prix wins," he explained. "There's a baseline for what you expect, and for me I like to see someone meet those standards then have something that sets them apart from that. Personally, I like to see that someone was the best at a certain period of time or otherwise some sort of exclamation point like a Player of the Year or a Pro Tour win."

Duke was a stickler for hard numbers too. "One common debate is ‘Does it have to be Pro Tour Top 8 since there's only one match separating a Top 16 from Top 8?' I think the answer is yes," he said. "Your skill is a part of it but there's more to make your mark on Magic history. I don't automatic rule out people that don't make that four Top 8 threshold but it takes a lot to overcome that."

"Other things that set players part are integrity, dedication to the game, and excellent play skill," Duke continued. "Stats and average win rate do matter to me, but I want to see a long career with dedication – a full-bodied resume. If someone played four Pro Tours and made Top 8 at all four that's impressive but I don't think four tournaments define your Magic career – I want extra success beyond the Pro Tour or money finishes. I wouldn't penalize someone for playing tournaments when they're semi-retired or not at their best even though that brings down their averages."

As one of the few players that regularly tests with many already in the Hall of Fame, had his idea of what makes a good ballot changed over the years since he began playing? "Yes, for sure. Being able to know so many of the Hall of Fame intimately is an advantage," Duke said. "It gives me something as a baseline, and something that's important to me is that somebody I'm voting into the Hall of Fame is someone I can look up to as a player, a sportsman, and somebody that's a good person. [William Jensen], Jelger [Wiegersma], Paul [Rietzl] – all those guys are people I'm proud to represent my game, and people I'm going to vote for are people like that too."

While Duke was still years away from his Hall of Fame discussion, other players in Montreal already had theirs. Ben Stark was a member of the 2013 Class.

Ben Stark's long career resulted in his Hall of Fame induction a couple years ago, but his views on ballots have remained the same throughout.

Stark's approach to the ballot stood in contrast to Duke's stats-focused plan. "Most of the pros discuss this every year," he began. "For me it's a lifetime achievement award. I'm not that concerned with efficiency. If your finishes are what they are I don't care how many attempts it took you. I don't hold people to any particular line like a certain number of Pro Tour Top 8s, but I judge on the totality of their finishes: The total number, but no minimum number of a thing."

"Community contributions count," Stark continued. "I'm strongly considering voting for Willy Edel because he's been a great leader in his Magic community. As far as my ballot is concerned I'll definitely be voting for Froehlich: He has incredible results. Everybody else I'm strongly considering are players like [Shouta] Yasooka, [Mark] Herberholz, [Martin] Juza, Osyp [Lebedowicz] and [Marjin] Lybaert. I'm going to listen to the arguments on both sides and be convinced by other people."

Stark's career spans over fifteen years. Has his view of the Hall of Fame changed since becoming a member himself? "My view on that hasn't changed," he said. "I've always looked at it as an lifetime achievement award. I played my first Pro Tour when I was 16 years old when it was my birthday and got inducted right at my 30th birthday. Over the history of the Pro Tour there's only like 1,000 nameable names and 40 in the Hall of Fane. It's the pinnacle of Magic."

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