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Sullivan Library: My 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot

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One important truth about the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame is this: it is made up of the collection of visions of a diverse community of people, not any single vision nor any single person.

Hopefully every member of the Hall of Fame Selection Committee has a vision that they're using to guide their vote. Every year, it seems that people take their vote more seriously than the previous year, and that can only be a good thing. For my part, my own vision has shifted over the years.

I have a strong idea of what I want the Hall to be; I've had a ballot since year two of the Hall, 2006, and the composition of the Hall matters a great deal to me. I want it to be the collection of the most accomplished Magic players in the history of the game. I want it to be a gathering marked by integrity. I want it to be a tool we can use to help the game stay strong and grow. I want its members to be ambassadors.

This isn't the same vision that many other people have. And that's okay. Together, we make the form of what the Hall means, the selection committee who mold it over time and the community at large, influencing those votes with their voices.

There are 46 current members of the Hall of Fame. Very few of these members have anything approaching unanimous support - though the folks who didn't vote for Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, or Luis Scott-Vargas really have some explaining to do. 31 of those in the Hall received more than 50% of the ballot, and only fourteen received more than two-thirds of the ballot. Needless to say, there is some disagreement about who should be in the Hall.

As I write this, one week remains until ballots are due. I hope that I can shed some light into my thinking, and perhaps inspire others to view the Hall in a similar way.

Narrowing the Field

This year, there are 39 candidates for the Hall. Of those, up to five could be selected to join the Hall. More realistically, one or two will make the cut.

They are:

Samuel Black, Lukas Blohon, Márcio Carvalho, Patrick Cox, Andrew Cuneo, Javier Dominguez, Chris Fennell, Ivan Floch, Justin Gary, Mark Herberholz, Mike Hron, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Tomohiro Kaji, Masashiro Kuroda, Marijn Lybaert, Seth Manfield, Tom Martell, Guillaume Matignon, Shaun McLaren, Andrea Mengucci, Chikara Nakajima, Brad Nelson, Takuya Osawa, Jamie Park, Chris Pikula, Andrejs Prost, Carlos Romão, Tomoharu Saito, Eduardo Sajgalik, Lee Shi Tian, Mike Sigrist, Geofrrey Siron, Yuuta Takahasi, Gerry Thompson, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Craig Wescoe, Conley Woods, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Ken Yukuhiro.

With only five potential votes to use, some cutting away has to be done.

My first sweep is quite simple: I think that three Pro Tour Top 8s and no suspensions from the DCI is the bare minimum for consideration.

There can be many ways to find a line to draw on the question of "what is clearly over-the-line". I don't want to get caught up in allegations by this person or that person. I've chosen a very, very clear line to avoid ambiguity: I have a lifetime zero-tolerance policy for suspensions.

The Hall of Fame is supposed to be composed of the exemplars of the game, and given how rarely the DCI enacts a suspension, if this has happened to a player, that feels quite egregious. Yes, a player could come back completely clean, but it doesn't erase the tarnish. Personally, I would have two more major event Top 8 finishes were it not for cheaters; these transgressions fundamentally affect many other people's Magic careers. It's worth noting the Hall of Fame member Bob Maher has asserted that anyone who has been suspended should have their Hall of Fame status revoked - a position that would lead to the revocation of his own Hall membership because of the suspension he received after he came forth as a whistleblower on tournament fraud.

This still leaves us with twenty candidates to choose from:

Samuel Black, Patrick Cox, Ivan Floch, Justin Gary, Mark Herberholz, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Tomohiro Kaji, Marijn Lybaert, Seth Manfield, Andrea Mengucci, Brad Nelson, Jamie Park, Chris Pikula, Carlos Romão, Lee Shi Tian, Mike Sigrist, Gerry Thompson, Craig Wescoe, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Ken Yukuhiro.

This is a great list of players. To reduce this further, I go to my next line to distinguish one player from another, I go to something I view as simple and important: titles.

I've long thought that having a major title under the belt matters. Grand Prix are so numerous, this feels far less important to me than what I think of as the big titles. Pro Tour Champion. World Champion. Player of the Year. Rookie of the Year. National Champion. With all of this, I do put a bigger weight on individual performances, but I also find Worlds Team Champion meaningful as well.

While some may argue that Grand Prix are more prestigious than National Championships, I feel that titles like National Champion speak to the cultural importance of a player. When we think about how players are inspired, winning a Grand Prix is, frankly, just winning a large tournament, whereas being a National Champion makes you a part of that country's true Magic history.

This cuts it down somewhat. Here are the thirteen remaining players, and their titles:

  • Sam Black: Worlds Team Champion
  • Ivan Floch: Pro Tour Champion, Worlds Team Champion, National Champion (twice)
  • Justin Gary: Pro Tour Champion, Worlds Team Champion, National Champion
  • Mark Herberholz: Pro Tour Champion
  • Tomohiro Kaji: Team Pro Tour Champion
  • Seth Manfield: Pro Tour Champion, World Champion
  • Andrea Mengucci: World Magic Cup Team Champion
  • Brad Nelson: Player of the Year
  • Carlos Romão: World Champion, National Champion
  • Lee Shi Tian: National Champion
  • Mike Sigrist: Player of the Year
  • Gerry Thompson: Pro Tour Champion
  • Craig Wescoe: Pro Tour Champion

This is a great list of possible candidates. While just working from instincts, I don't think that all of these candidates would fully make the cut, I can absolutely see any of these candidates being a defensible pick on someone's ballot. If you haven't given a player on this list some active thought, you're probably not looking deeply enough.

To mark true excellence, with all of these players, I'd want to see how they did at the peak of their game and compare it to other members of the Hall of Fame at the time they were inducted. To that end, I've compiled a database which does just that.

How much everything from here on in matters to whether someone belongs in the Hall of Fame is entirely subjective, and from here on in, it would be easy to see someone make different decisions. I hope that my own process is clear and understandable.

Measuring the peak play could be marked in any number of ways. One of the most impressive, though, is the "3-Year Median", which gives the median finish during a players best three years of the game. For comparison, I've included all the current Hall of Fame members who received more than two-thirds of the vote during their inclusion year, as well as three other pseudo-members of the Hall of Fame, "Median High", "Median Middle", and "Median Low", which represent the median numbers for the current Hall of Fame at the highest third, middle third, and low third.

Here are all of these players, ranked best to worst, according to their peak performance in the game, their median place at Pro Tours during their best three years:

  • 12.0 - Jon Finkel (12!!!)
  • 16.5 - Luis Scott-Vargas
  • 23.0 - Kai Budde
  • 25.0 - Justin Gary
  • 26.0 - Josh Utter-Leyton
  • 26.5 - Martin Juza
  • 26.75 - Median High
  • 29.0 - Owen Turtenwald
  • 29.0 - Brad Nelson
  • 32.0 - Kenji Tsumura
  • 37.0 - Shuhei Nakamura
  • 37.0 - Tomohiro Kaji
  • 39.0 - Makahito Mihara
  • 39.5 - Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
  • 39.5 - Median Middle
  • 43.0 - Seth Manfield
  • 43.0 - Anton Jonsson
  • 44.0 - Masashi Oiso
  • 45.5 - Lee Shi Tian
  • 48.0 - Sam Black
  • 49.0 - Ivan Floch
  • 51.5 - Yuuya Watanabe
  • 53.0 - Andrea Mengucci
  • 57.0 - Median Low
  • 59.0 - Mark Herberholz
  • 68.0 - Paul Rietzl
  • 68.0 - Mike Sigrist
  • 87.0 - Craig Wescoe
  • 107.0 - Carlos Romão
  • 130.0 - Gerry Thompson

In this context, players at the top of this measure held some time among the very best players in the world. There is no doubting that every player on this list is extraordinary, but the ones toward the bottom of the list (below "Median Low") haven't ever dominated the Pro Tour.

At this point, this makes four groups compared to the medians, above High, between High and Medium, between Medium and Low, and below Low. For the first two groups, I'm just going to immediately consider them for potentially being in the Hall, for the group between Medium and Low, I'm going to look for at least one individual title, and for the final group, I'd want at least two titles.

This leaves me with the following seven potential candidates, alphabetically:

  • Ivan Floch
  • Justin Gary
  • Tomohiro Kaji
  • Seth Manfield
  • Brad Nelson
  • Carlos Romão
  • Lee Shi Tian

Let's address them each in turn, with the following seven categories to weigh, measuring them as strong, moderate, and weak, compared to current Hall of Fame members: Median, 3-Year Median, PT Top 8s, PT Top 16s, PT Top 32s, PT Top 64s, and Titles.

Ivan Floch

Floch only has three Pro Tour Top 8s, but he has four titles, including two major ones: a Pro Tour Championship, two Slovak National Championships, and a win at Worlds for the Team World Championships. His median finish was 67th, with a three-year peak at 49th.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

3 T8 (8.11%)

5 T16 (13.51%)

6 T32 (16.22%)

18 T64 (48.65%)

Strong: 0

Moderate: 3

Weak: 4

Justin Gary

Gary only has three Pro Tour Top 8s, but he has three titles, including two major ones: a Pro Tour Championship, a United States National Championship, and a win at Worlds for the Team World Championship. His median finish was 58.5, with a three-year peak at 25th.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

3 T8 (6.82%)

8 T16 (18.18%)

20 T32 (45.45%)

24 T64 (54.55%)

Strong: 3

Moderate: 3

Weak: 1

Tomohiro Kaji

Kaji also only has three Pro Tour Top 8, and a single title, Team Pro Tour Champion. His median finish was 56th, with a three-year peak at 37th.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

3 T8 (13.04%)

6 T16 (26.09%)

9 T32 (39.13%)

12 T64 (52.17%)

Strong: 0

Moderate: 2

Weak: 5

Seth Manfield

Manfield has four Pro Tour Top 8, with a World Championship and Pro Tour Championship among his titles. His median finish was 59th, with a three-year peak at 43rd.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

4 T8 (16.00%)

6 T16 (24.00%)

8 T32 (32.00%)

13 T64 (52.00%)

Strong: 1

Moderate: 3

Weak: 3

Brad Nelson

Brad Nelson has three Pro Tour Top 8 and won Player of the Year in 2010. His median finish was 57th, with a three-year peak at 29th.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

3 T8 (8.57%)

6 T16 (17.14%)

13 T32 (37.14%)

18 T64 (51.43%)

Strong: 1

Moderate: 3

Weak: 3

Carlos Romão

Romão has three Pro Tour Top 8 finishes, including two major titles, a Pro Tour win and a World Championship. His median finish was 121st, with a three-year peak at 107th.

Here are his top finishes and conversion rates:

3 T8 (5.88%)

4 T16 (7.84%)

10 T32 (19.61%)

12 T64 (23.53%)

Strong: 1

Moderate: 0

Weak: 6

Lee Shi Tian

Lee has five Pro Tour Top 8 finishes and one major title, a Hong Kong National Championship. His median finish was 70th, with a three-year peak at 45.5.

5 T8 (16.67%)

6 T16 (20.00%)

8 T32 (26.67%)

14 T64 (46.67%)

Strong: 0

Moderate: 3

Weak: 4

From a statistical standpoint, only three of these candidates have more strong or moderate stats than weak ones:

Justin Gary, Seth Manfield, and Brad Nelson.

I'm going to address these three in increasing order of strength.

Brad Nelson is very close for me, but doesn't get my vote. Yet. He has built some impressive performances via his stats, but is just slightly shy of the mark for me. Another major title would certainly lock it in, but a collection of strong Pro Tour finishes could easily make his stats high enough in enough categories to earn the honor, even without that title.

Seth Manfield also has two major titles and very solid stats. Still young in his career, it has been a rather storied one. He would enter the hall as a solid member by many, many counts. He also has my vote this year. I've prepared for Pro Tours with Seth, and his contributions were impressive; I count Ari Lax's win at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir as being greatly influenced by Seth's hard work. When you also consider his contributions to the community with content creation, he is good candidate for the Hall.

Justin Gary has two major titles and an absurdly high collection of stats. When measured against the current Hall of Fame, he would enter as a strong member of the Hall by any number of counts. He has my vote this year, as he has had for many, many years. I go into great detail about this on my Facebook page.

I think there are a great many ways that a member of the Selection Committee could thoughtfully choose to vote for the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame. This one is mine.

Here's to an excellent 2018 Class for the Hall!

- Adrian Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter