This week saw the Hall of Fame ballot drop into the inboxes of those eligible to vote on who gets inducted into Magic's prestigious Hall of Fame. This is a collection of the best and most accomplished players in Magic: The Gathering's history. It also offers tangible rewards in the form of a permanent invite to the Pro Tour and a very nice ring.
I spoke to some of the players both already inducted and on the cusp of induction about their thoughts on this year's crop of eligible players.
Belgium's Marijn Lybaert was one of Europe's best chances this year. He had reached the Top 8 of four Pro Tours—PT Geneva 2007, PT Hollywood 2008, Worlds 2009 and PT Amsterdam 2010. We had been teasing him this weekend (Lybaert is part of the coverage team) about his 1-4 record in those Top 8s, but four PT Top 8 finishes is right up there with the top candidates on this year's ballot. Despite this Lybaert didn't think he would have much of a chance.
"Maybe five percent," he said. The reason for this he ascribed to too low of a profile in the United States. He didn't think the Americans would vote for him.
When asked on his thoughts who would make it this year he listed Eric Froehlich, Shota Yasooka, and Willy Edel as the names most likely to make it.
The other strong European candidate this year was Martin Jůza of the Czech Republic. With 22 Grand Prix Top 8s (four wins) as well as eight Pro Tour Top 32 finishes, Jůza would have been a shoe-in if it weren't for a lack of appearances on the PT Sunday stage. In that, Jůza had a similar problem to Shota Yasooka—brilliant stats everywhere, but only having played twice under the lights on a PT Sunday (in Berlin in 2008 and in Austin in 2009).
Jůza was reluctant to talk about his own chances this year. Of the other candidates he felt Edel, Yasooka, and Lybaert all had strong shouts.
He also made an interesting point about timing of finishes. In a year like this, with a lot of candidates that are there or thereabouts, an active player posting a good finish at a major tournament could gain a significant edge in the voting just by putting themselves back in the public eye.
Also playing this weekend and hoping for a finish to put him back on the public's mind was Japan's Tomoharu Saito. Saito needed a strong finish for other reasons as well, as the Japanese player wasn't currently qualified for any upcoming Pro Tour. From the data I have seen, Saito would need to rack up at least twelve wins this weekend to earn enough Pro Points to reach Silver in the Pro Players Club and to qualify for Pro Tour Magic Origins. Grand Prix Lille and Grand Prix Dallas were his only chances left to do this. He acknowledged that it would be hard, but he liked the challenge of the comeback.
Saito rated his own Hall of Fame chances as small. Of the other candidates, he named Yasooka, Sam Black, and Edel as the most lilely candidates. He also mentioned Froehlich and Craig Wescoe, but said he'd need to look more closely at their stats.
Next, I spoke to some players that had already been through the process and claimed their spot in the Hall of Fame. I talked to Raphaël Lévy just after he'd completed his round four feature match about his thoughts.
The Frenchman said he had broader criteria for determining who should be inducted than results alone. He said he valued contributions to the game and community highly. After some pressing from me for who he felt deserved mention, he offered Edel and Yasooka—both highly respected players in their respective communities.
Also present here at Grand Prix Lille was another Hall of Famer, 2010 inductee Bram Snepvangers. I imagine most people would assume he was either playing or part of the coverage team. Not Bram. When I asked him what he was doing here he gave me an unexpected answer: "Judging."
He mentioned that this was not so surprising as he'd been judging throughout his illustrious 20-year association with the game. I asked him whether he preferred to play or judge and he answered it depended on the format. He prefered playing Limited so, given the format here was Legacy, it was no problem at all for him to come and don the all-black of the judging crew.
As for his opinions on the current ballot, he answered he hadn't had a chance to give it a full appraisal. This wasn't very helpful for our quest to speculate on who might make it this year, of course. But the topic of players contributing to the game in various ways outside the playing arena had already been raised and Bram clearly qualified as a very good example here. I thought it made a suitable end note to add the story of the Hall of Fame player who was willing to work as a judge rather than play.