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Yet Another Hall of Fame Ballot

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If you weren't aware, I'm a member of the mysterious and oft-maligned Selection Committee for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. This is my second year of voting.

It's just at strange for me as it is for you. For example, a fellow I'd have assumed had a vote this year doesn't:

I agree, Patrick. But there's something here that should be abundantly clear by Nate's revision of his theoretical ballot by further research: Many of us on the Selection Committee without Pro Tour experience take our ballots with upmost sincerity and consideration. We know we're a chosen few outside the elite who have a say on who is elevated even higher. We understand the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is both focused on the Pro Tour and awarding the highest permanent reward for the playing that Magic offers.

I'd wager that others in my shoes have a perspective similar to mine, and it's part of what drives us to be as considerate and careful with our ballots as possible.

I don't know if I can be among the "best Selection Committee members," but I'm damn well going to try.

A Brief Tour of Ballots

Coverage reporter, Gathering Magic writer, and friend Blake Rasmussen joined the Selection Committee for the first time year. His 2013 Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot was locked in nearly as fast as he had received the e-mail:

  • Luis Scott-Vargas
  • Martin Juza
  • Ben Stark
  • William (Huey) Jensen
  • Tomoharu Saito

You can read his reasoning for each as well as his considerations that led up to them, but there's one name on here I'd never consider: Saito. I had a quick chat with Blake while working on articles after he sent his through:

Adam: I admit it's hard to argue the "drawing a line in the sand" like No Cheats

The best I can offer is this

The HoF is more than stats. If it was purely the best available measures of technical skill, there wouldn't need to be much voting.

But HoF is more, and I believe who is awarded the privilege to represent our game (and get paid for it, etc) for all time is more than "strictly best players".

I've been asked to evaluate on multiple dimensions, and I believe those multiple dimensions are important in similar ways to playing capability.

Blake: Seeing as how I nearly didn't vote for him, I don't disagree

Adam: I would not want a player like Saito, specifically because of his circumstances previously, to be given that same privilege again.

Blake: My first draft had him just outside the Top 5

Adam: We're both right, and that's what makes this so tough

Blake: yeah

like, I can't fault anyone for voting either way

Stats matter. Stats matter a lot. But even to the stats guru of Pro Tour data, Paul Jordan, stats aren't everything:

While evaluating candidates I’m trying to be careful to remember a couple of things:

  • Stats aren’t everything. They’re an important part of the story, but not the whole story
  • These aren’t even all of the stats. Nationals, APAC Championships, MTGO, etc, etc are all missing
  • There are only 5 available slots on a ballot. Tough decisions will have to be made
  • There is no single statistic that can be sorted by to find the top 5 people.
  • Paul published a fantastically detailed, stats-driven (but contextually discussed) article that revealed his ballot for this year:

    • Luis Scott-Vargas
    • William (Huey) Jensen
    • Ben Stark
    • Chris Pikula
    • Osyp Lebedowicz

    While Paul's phenomenal work breaking down the data behind the (many!) strong candidates was extremely useful for me to refer to, it were his words about Saito that struck me the strongest:

    Under normal circumstances it would take some serious tap dancing and justification to leave Saito off of the ballot. Under normal circumstances, Mr. Saito would be in the Hall already. He’s already been voted in once before. Yet here he is, on this year’s ballot. Which brings us to what is likely the only relevant point in discussing his candidacy: cheating. Tomoharu was suspended by the DCI, twice, for cheating. The second time was in between being elected into the Hall and being inducted. As he was serving his suspension, he was not inducted.

    Some people will point to Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel being in the Hall after serving suspensions as all the evidence they need to look past Saito’s suspension. I am not one of those people. Some will say Saito has already been punished for his infractions and that keeping him out of the Hall would be double punishment. I am not one of those people.

    I believe that, if you have cheated at Magic, been caught, served a suspension, cheated again, been caught again, and served another suspension, you do not meet the Integrity and Sportsmanship clauses in the Hall of Fame rules. I do not think ‘being kept out’ of the Hall is punishment. I think being elected is an honor, one that so few people earn it can’t possibly be considered punishment to not be on that list.

    In so many words, Paul summarized that Saito is an unsuitable representative for the game. I can't punish Saito: He's done enough to be punished on his own. All I can do is unequivocally say that I believe Saito is not a player who should be awarded the right to represent the game at its highest levels for all time.

    So, who is? Here is a sample hand of others' ballots, each of which belongs to someone I respect as a player, commentator, or follower of game. (This is not an all-inclusive list of individuals either!)

    As you can see, there are some common threads throughout many of the ballots above. I'll touch on a few highlights.

    Luis Scott-Vargas Is This Year's Finkel.

    If you're not voting for LSV, you're gaming your ballot. Gaming, here, is excluding "the obvious shoo-in" to add a vote for someone that "could use it" instead. It's why nobody, not even Jon Finkel or Kai Budde, received "perfect" rounds of balloting.

    Is gaming one's own Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot inherently bad? I don't know, but I have serious trouble believing it's good. If each player's ballot is his or her vehicle to honestly vote for the players he or she finds most suitable for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, I have serious issues with anyone actively choosing to leave LSV off. His stats, strength of character, and ongoing contributions to the game are all remarkable, and require little explanation. He's just that kind of guy.

    Luis Scott-Vargas was my first lock on my ballot. That was two weeks ago. Everyone else has been in flux.

    I Will Never Vote for Wafo-Tapa.

    I have no doubts about Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's skill at Magic. In fact, I immensely enjoy watching him play and find him to be an overall impressive player.

    My issue is I take fault with his New Phyrexia suspension.

    Guillaume Matignon certainly did himself a disservice, to both the integrity of his historical Pro Tour performance (he had access to god books "for the last few years" prior to New Phyrexia via Lotus Noir) as well as his own by breaking the trust (and non-disclosure agreement) of Wizards. His seeking input from Wafo-Tapa was an unfortunate decision, but at least one I can empathize with. It was still a terrible decision to follow through.

    Wafo-Tapa agreeing to access that information is something I find more reprehensible.

    I know the feeling of having more information but being unable to share it. Prior to New Phyrexia, I was given much more preview material for upcoming sets for my articles on DailyMTG. For the past year and a half, I've been in the position to both see upcoming set information for DailyMTG articles and run a spoiler for the community here on Gathering Magic.

    Having more information makes writing easier. Having more information you're excited to talk about and share is always a temptation. But I don't have a choice: I agreed to write and withhold. It's a package deal.

    Wafo-Tapa, for as brilliant, charming, and skillful as he is, chose to access information he knew he shouldn't. "Just say no," may be a terrible anti-drug message, but it's brutally necessary with this type of information. I could speculate that this had been happening regularly and therefore should cause his performance in prior Pro Tours to be slightly suspect, but qualifying that speculation and quantifying the edges of having advanced knowledge of the set are all but impossible.

    What I do know is Wafo-Tapa had a decision to uphold his integrity and chose to not to. I'm not comfortable with voting for someone who simply had to say "No."

    I'm Torn about Mihara and Yasooka. And Juza. And Lybaert. And Edel.

    When I talk about Magic to friends and coworkers unfamiliar with it, I talk about that it's printed in at least ten languages. I talk about how it has held events in locations all over the globe. I talk about the international player base and that I receive e-mails from players the world over.

    When I think about the Pro Tour specifically, I think about how it's an international event celebrating the greatest players from nearly every country with Magic players. (And it hit home hardest doing research on and interviewing the 2013 Rookie of the Year Felipe Tapia Becerra at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze.)

    Tom Martell's reply is as correct as my feelings of desiring international diversity in Hall of Fame inductions are. To Tom's point, winning Pro Tours is invaluable (as it should be) for Hall of Fame consideration. My point wasn't that Brian Kibler's ballot is wrong inasmuch as I'm uncomfortable with a US-only ballot without really digging into whether it's the whole story.

    I'm going to bias toward English-speaking players whom I'm most familiar with, so it's my responsibility to overcome it if necessary. To wit, I'm looking over Paul Jordan's 2013 Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot stats summary as he presented it. (If you can't tell, I really like to look at stats to help drive the conversation.)

    • Martin Juza is a terrific player with consistent high-level finishes at Pro Tours, with a three-year median finish of 26.5. He's also under the average of three appearances for Pro Tour Hall of Fame members.
    • Marijn Lybaert is a terrific player with consistent high-level finishes at Pro Tours, with a three-year median finish of 32. He also has a win with three other Top 8 appearances, consistent with many folks already in the Hall of Fame.

    I know Juza is charismatic and outstanding, but on paper, it's Lybaert's pure Pro Tour performance that stands above. Choosing one or the other is simply a dial on how you contextually evaluate Top 8s at Pro Tours in conjunction with other premier-level Magic play. In other words, it's a judgment call that's correct to make either way.

    • Makihito Mihara may have popped up due to the recent spotlighting at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, but his stats are similarly situated as Lybaert's—or slightly worse. "Unexceptional among those considered for this year's Hall of Fame ballot," might sum it succinctly.
    • Shouta Yasooka is similar to Juza in stats, and I found Paul's comparison apt. If you're willing to consider Juza or Lybaert, you should also be considering Mihara and Yasooka.

    If you're considering the Japanese contingent, these two seem to be the center of most conversations. But it becomes problematic. As Toby Elliot put it, when I asked about his choice of Mihara over others similarly situated:

    Clumping indeed. Looking at Willy Edel is a reflection of Lybaert and Mihara, only with rougher overall stats. All five seem stunning, and I have Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's series of interviews to thank for fleshing out the context between many international (and US) candidates:

    I'm Reaching Back in Time to Find the Hall of Fame Future.

    When I think about the players as contenders for the ballot this year, it's all US-centric. The first is byline to most of the ballots I've seen: Ben Stark. You'd think it'd be easy to say Ben is a slam dunk, right?

    If you look at Lybaert and Stark at the Pro Tour level, their stats are extremely similar. Stark has more Pro Points, probably a function of his higher Grand Prix performance stats. Without jumping into an it's-easier-to-rack-up-points-from-GPs-in-the-US-than-anywhere-else argument, I'm willing to consider Stark a step down from where others are placing him. He's a Pro Tour winner with stronger stats than Lybaert, but it's closer than you'd think offhand.

    (Remember that I'm still referencing against Paul Jordan's breakdown of stats for this year's ballot. I don't want to just copy everything over to here, so I recommend just keeping it open in another tab or window.)

    Last year, I voted for Justin Gary. I won't go into why I voted for him over Patrick Chapin, but the same rationale applies this year: extremely strong numbers when considered contextually with his peak era of playing. Paul Jordan pointed out that Gary racked up twenty Top 32s at Pro Tours in attending just forty-four of them. Last year, I believed that Gary should be in the hall, representing the game. Nothing's changed other than that an even larger glut of similarly-performing players has emerged.

    Last year, I also voted for William (Huey) Jensen. Similar to Lybaert and Mihara, Huey's stats don't necessarily scream out above everyone else. But he earned them far earlier and was "a rounding error away from induction" last time. His sportsmanship and recent team resurgence alongside several of today's greats (such as Reid Duke and Own Turtenwald) says plenty about him: He’s willing to keep working hard. Again, not enough has changed this year to dissuade my vote for him.

    Not everything is as rosy as the above two. I find Chris Pikula to be among my top desires to be in the Hall of Fame. The fact he crusaded against the dark side of Magic's early days is a story that cries out to be validated. His stats, however, aren't overly impressive. In fact, his 135 total points won't be enough to sustain the conversation forever with the new 150-point minimum. The question I've asked myself is this: Is voting for history and heroism acceptable against others with stats that stand significantly taller?

    What's the Final Ballot?

    There's plenty more (mostly US) players whom I could consider and discuss:

    • Eric Froehlich
    • Osyp Lebedowicz
    • Tsuyoshi Ikeda
    • Paul Rietzl

    Ultimately, I came to a ballot that reflects my perspective of the Hall of Fame criteria: All of its components, including contributions on the community, are important. Stats have guided my considerations and shaped who stands out in my mind. But it's my heart's desire to see the context of players matter just as much that led me to my final ballot:

    • Luis Scott-Vargas
    • William (Huey) Jensen
    • Justin Gary
    • Chris Pikula
    • Ben Stark

    It feels very wrong to not include any non-US players. In fact, it's something I've deeply struggled with in finalizing my ballot. But I can summarize my argument for each of my picks in one-sentence sound bites:

    • LSV is a master, both in the game and about it.
    • Huey is a Masters winner (among other things) who missed last year in a fluke of voting.
    • Justin Gary was dominant in his time (Pro Tour win, team Worlds win, and a Masters runner up to boot!) and is still deserving today.
    • Chris Pikula belongs among the game's greats for working to ensure the game became even greater.
    • Ben Stark's stats give him the edge among a very competitive class of players; it's only going to grow even harder for voting from here.

    The illusion of the perfect ballot leads to hard feelings and tougher calls. This ballot was significantly harder than last year's, and I'm looking forward to the challenge that next year's will bring.


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