At long last, Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame season is upon us again. People, this is my favorite time of the MTG calendar year. It's such a perfect blend of stats and stories, of numbers and narratives, that I just can't help myself from getting all alliterative about it.
Before I dive into this year's ballot, let's first revisit what it is that we're doing here. We're attempting to evaluate the players from this year's ballot based on how voting has valued the various metrics in the past. Please bear in mind that, while lengthy, this is nowhere near an exhaustive discussion on each candidate. In fact, this is only, at best, half of the puzzle. The other half lies outside of what numbers call tell us. What we're doing here is merely beginning the discussion. Personally, I use this annual exercise to narrow down a large list to a more manageable list. From there, the last half of the journey lies in public discourse. It comes from reading passionate posts from teammates and looking up old tournament reports. It comes from rewatching video of famous matches and getting lost in Twitter discussions. It comes from looking up decklists and then looking up obscure cards you've long forgotten about. The numbers are a necessary piece of the picture, but please don't rely on them to tell you everything.
OK, so that's our purpose here. Wizards releases a set of statistics for each eligible candidate on the ballot. They've been doing this since its inception. I've been tracking who got voted in, along with their stats equally as long, which gives me a look at what the voting body has collectively decided is a statistical profile of a Hall of Famer. We're using that profile to narrow our focus on whom to discuss further. Simple enough. Before we get into the specific people, I think it's a good idea to look at the current makeup of the HOF and how that has changed over time.
This is a look at simply how many people were elected each year. Note that 2010 saw 4 people voted in but only 3 inducted. Tomoharu Saito had his election rescinded as a result of his suspension. On its surface, it looks like the voters have gotten a little more selective over time. Or it could be that there have been fewer top tier players. Or it might be neither! The rules have changed since the Hall began. The first 4 years saw the top 5 vote getters1 gain enshrinement, regardless of what percentage they received. Since then, the number of inductees has shrunk even further with the 2 smallest classes coming in the past 2 years. Once again, a rule change could be at play here. In 2017, the rules shifted from needing 40% to needing 60%2 . The point is, simply looking at a graph and seeing the number of HOF'ers elected going down might lead you astray. Context is important.
See? Numbers aren't the whole story. It's true.
Then again, maybe the voters are getting more selective. Let's dig in.
These are the HOF minimums3 as they have changed over time. As you can see, the number of top PT finishes has gone down and both medians have gone up, while Pro Points has remained the same. The first 2 of these indicate lower standards, not the higher standards we suspected. But that is deceptive, too. These are minimums, after all. There's only 1 way they can go. The minimum number of PT Top 8's inducted into the Hall cannot go up unless somehow the person with that minimum gets kicked out. So it makes sense that, over time, these numbers will become less restrictive or remain the same, as is the case with Pro Points. Let's instead look at averages. Maybe the average HOF player has changed.
First, let me clarify what we're seeing. This isn't showing what the averages were for the few players inducted in each year. This is showing what the HOF standards were after those people were voted in and the standards were recalculated for that year. Meaning, when the following year rolled around and HOF voting came up, these were the "new" standards I used. Got it? Good.
PT counting stats did, in fact, go down. PT Top 8s are down 29%. Top 16s are down 23%. Top 32s and 64s are down 19% and 4%, respectively. Part of that is because the first year's standards had 5 people and Finkel was one of them. He kind of distorts things, especially in a small sample. But that's not all of it, the numbers are still down even without Jon.
Both medians also went up (meaning, became less restrictive - a higher median finish is worse than a lower one. You'd rather finish 50th than 70th, right?). But Pro Points have gone up overall (meaning more restrictive).
Pro Points are probably the most easily explained here. Simply put, Pro Points have become more accessible over the years. The increase in GPs and changing structures in point distribution have led to higher overall Pro Point totals. So that part checks out. People have had this discussion for years when comparing players from different eras. To further validate this though, here's the average number of Pro Points for the top 50 players in each season:
From the 1997-1998 through the 2002-2003 season, 6.5 players per season had 50+ Pro Points. The past 3 seasons have averaged 31 such players! Pro Points are simply more available now than they were in the past, which is something to keep in mind when evaluating players across eras.
Getting back to the Hall of Fame standards, the part that interests me is that, at least on its surface, it looks like PT performance has become less valued by the Selection Committee. The number of Top 8, 16, 32 and 64 have all gone down noticeably. Up through 2005, there used to be 6 Pro Tours per year as opposed to the 4 per year we see now. So there was a larger opportunity for putting up some PT counting stats in the 10-year period associated with earning a HOF ballot than there is currently. A person who began their career in 1997 could have played in nearly 60 PTs within their first 10 years of eligibility, while someone who started in 2007 would have only had a chance at 40. While their Pro Points would have been supplemented through GPs and adjusted thresholds, their shot at PT top finishes would have been down by about a third. In addition, it's generally accepted that the average player today is better than the average player 20 years ago, meaning that earning a high finish at a PT today is harder than it used to be. Fewer opportunities against tougher competition reasonably leads to the HOF voters requiring lower counting stats.
I think that helps explain how the HOF standards have gone down with regards to counting stats. Fewer PTs doesn't explain why the median finish at a PT has been steadily climbing. Increased competition likely is a factor, though I do not feel confident that it explains the full delta. I don't have anything to rationalize that beyond the thought that it just might not be the most important thing to voters. Maybe it never was. We're talking about pretty small samples, after all.
Long story short, the HOF standards have been changing ever since the HOF began, and they'll continue to change as the PT evolves. Here's where they are as of this year:
This year's ballot features 39 wizards. There are 11 metrics that have been around long enough to have HOF minimums, so I try to look at folks who meet those minimums. 18 people meet all 11 HOF minimums (nearly half!) and another 10 are missing only 1 minimum (all of them missing on either Pro Points, career median, or PT top 64s). So we'll be looking at those 28 mages. Apologies to the others. I guess just win every PT this season and we'll chat next year, mmmkay?
For each of the 28, I will show their stats, highlighting anything that's better than the HOF median or below the HOF minimum. Then I will give a blurb about either what the numbers mean to me or something else the numbers don't tell us that I happen to know. We are going alphabetical by last name.
Throughout these, items in green indicate measures that are better than the HOF median.
This is now Sam's 4th year on the ballot. After receiving just under 5% of the vote last year, he built on his resume with a 3rd place finish at PT Hour of Devastation. He fell in the semi-finals after a host of mulligans, a loss tempered by the fact that his performance netted him a Worlds seat (where he came in 6th) and Platinum. The other 3 PTs weren't as kind so his median actually got worse year-over-year. He did put up 3 more GP top 8s (across 3 different formats in Columbus, Vancouver and Seattle). Sam is, of course, known for his contributions in deck-building too. Perhaps his crowning achievement was building the deck Tom Martell won PT Gatecrash with. Sam is getting much closer for me. I think another top 8 would put him firmly in the discussion, but 2 more Top 16s might do the same.
Items in red are where the metric is below the HOF minimum
While this is Lukas's 3rd year on the ballot, he had a 2.5 year gap leading into 2014 so some of these counting stats suffer from a lack of opportunity. Lukas had a rough year with his best PT performance being 157th at Rivals of Ixalan. He did pick up a GP top 8 in Copenhagen at least, but I don't think Lukas is going to be garnering a lot of attention.
Marcio is coming off of back-to-back PT top 8's in PT Dominaria and PT 25th Anniversary. I don't think there's any question that his numbers put him on the short list for discussion. He also has a 2 incidents in his part that impact the integrity party of voting. The first time was at a GP in 2009 for peeking at other players' draft picks during a draft. The second time was at the WMC in 2014, for presenting an illegal deck. If you're interested in more commentary about the second one, you can readPat Chapin's article on the incident or Marcio's teammate's open letter. From my point of view, the bans happened and that's that.
The Hall of Fame is an honor. It's not a right. It's not some milestone you earn after compiling N smaller accomplishments. It's an honor. Not receiving that honor is not a punishment. It just means you haven't gotten that honor. There are people in the Hall of Fame today who have been suspended. Personally, I'd rather they weren't. I don't get to make that call, but I do get to vote here. So I'm not voting for Marcio.
From accounts, Marcio does appear to have righted the ship. I surely hope that's the case. I'm rooting for him.
Cuneo is great and has been for a long time. His 2 PT top 8's came in back to back team PTs, including when he beat my team in the final round to secure a Sunday draft. He's had a remarkable career, and he even added 3 GP top 8's since last year's vote (Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Toronto). This is Andrew's 7th year on the ballot and he's yet to get even 1% of the vote.
*Note - he just got another GP top 8 over the weekend at GP Providence.
Chris is short on PT Top 8s and none of the other results jump out enough to compensate. The past year hasn't gone well, with his best finish coming in teams at PT 25th Anniversary (81st) and no GP top 8's.
IVAN FLOOOOOO… THOUGHTS ARRIVE LIKE BUTTERFLIES. I will never not make that joke. That's a promise. Ivan's had a solid year with the following finishes: 54th, 59th, 28th, 49th (team). I don't think any of those are going to be the straw the breaks the HOF camel's back, but results like those indicate that it's certainly within reason to expect more top finishes in the coming seasons.
This is Justin's 13th year on the ballot. Prior to last year he had 5 consecutive years of getting between 20-30% of the vote. He has some support. Last year, some of that support vanished. He dropped to 9.13%. It was a long shot for him to make it while hovering in the 20s, then the threshold went up to 60% and his support more than halved. I think last year effectively ended any hope Justin may have had, barring a return to the game.
Mark was prolific both as a player and a deck-builder for a 4 or 5 year stretch, grabbing 4 Top 8s along the way, including a win. He had a legitimate stake to the 'best player in the world' and 'best deck-builder in the world' title for some or all of that time. He was doing this during the time when American Magic had taken a back seat to Japanese Magic, and was seen as America's best hope at returning to dominance. Mark has narrative and he has the outline of a HOF case by the numbers. I think he needs some more strong finishes - doesn't need to be top 8, some top 16s would be nice too - to truly get there.Mark also recently strengthened his HOF deck-building case by heavily contributing to the breakout deck of PT 25th anniversary: Nexus of Fate. The good news is Mark was spotted in the finals of an RPTQ andMark is going to be building his resume.
Mike had fallen off of the ballot 3 years ago before a comeback based on team GP wins across a couple of continents and teammates. He's been on the PT ever since, though without any finishes of mention since 2016's 12th place finish at PT Shadows over Innistrad.
Ikeda has played, like, a lot of Pro Tours. Just sorting the folks on the ballot by number of PTs played gives you an idea.
He'd be comfortably above the median within the HOF. In fact, he'd be 2nd (at the time of selection to the HOF, of course).
The large number of PTs played can help explain the worse career median. Everything else looks like a pretty solid case for the PT HOF. Not necessarily a slam dunk, but what we have here is a viable candidate. Ikeda's case really brings the longevity vs dominance issue up. He was obviously quite skilled- qualifying for that many PTs doesn't happen by accident. Are those Top 8s and Top 16s the result of dominance, or are they just what happens when a very-good-but-not-great player plays in almost 60 PTs for a game with its fair share of variance?
Ikeda's HOF voting peaked in 2011 at 31.5% and has slowly dwindled down, dropping ever-so-slightly below 10% last year. 2011 was also the last time he played in a Pro Tour, so it would take a pretty significant shift in voter philosophy for him to get elected.
I've heard him compared favorably to both Wily Edel in terms of community building and Chris Pikula in terms of fighting against cheating in the early days (specifically the early days of Japanese Magic). I've learned a little more about him since last year (I did not vote for him last year) and while I think he's got a stronger case than I used to, I'm still not sure he's a Hall of Famer.
Kaji was on the ballot from 2013-2015, never breaking 2% of the vote. He earned 4 Pro Points in the past season, though he hasn't played in a PT or made top 8 at a GP so I'm having trouble finding which event(s) he played in and how he finished. I love the symmetry of his results, evenly distributing his 12 best finishes across top 8, 16, 32 and 64. This is a solid, if unspectacular career. I'm jealous.
Marijn has been getting some more attention, he jumped up to 20% of the vote last year. He followed that up with a top 16 at PT Hour of Devastation and 49th at PT Rivals of Ixalan. Those were the only 2 PTs he's played in the last year. The career here is overwhelmingly impressive and also kind of vanilla when grouping it with everyone else on this list. Nothing is standing out.
Well these are some pretty numbers, aren't they? Sign me up. This is the good stuff
Tom is still seeking some extra PT Top 8s to push him into HOF territory. The past couple of years on the Tour have not been kind. Prior to PT 25th anniversary where his team came in 16th, Tom had gotten Top 64 once in 9 tries. Here's hoping that's a launching point for another stretch like his peak (2011-2014). While Tom isn't getting my vote, I do want to stop for a moment to admire that stretch: 7, 289, 16, 131, 13, 213, 20, 1, 12, 14, 60. Those were his finishes. Pretty good, right?
Meets all the minimums, not above any of the medians. Great career. Not a Hall of Fame career. #MengucciCuisine.
You can quibble about the PT top 8s, and that's fair. But this is a strong candidate across the board. Throw in a POTY title from 2010 and we've got a party. Brad is on my short list. If Magic was only ever Standard, he'd be the only person in the Hall of Fame. Of people with 100+ Standard matches in GP/PT play, Brad has the 2nd highest match win % ever at 69.7%. First place? Someone Brad knows quite well – his brother, Corey (70.0%).
Jamie's career remains exciting and comfortably below HOF. His claims to fame are his roots with team Sped, who are responsible for many of the nice things we have today (a lot of the language we use, Cube was originated by them but called 'broken draft', and a lot of decks from the 90s) and also that he made top 8 in 3 different decades. He's a miser.
Where to start? There are 2 camps with Chris and the Hall of Fame: Those who believe his numbers aren't up to par so there's no reason discussing anything else, and those who believe his numbers are enough to get him into the conversation and his contributions to the game beyond that move the needle. He's a very divisive figure when it comes to Hall discussions. Look at his voting history:
So 2005 and 2006 he missed by 1 place, 2013 he was within 0.6% and 2017 he finally got the 40% required but the rules changed. It's fair to say he has some support out there. And rightfully so. The Pro Tour would not be what it is today had Chris not been around in the early days. The Pro Tour Hall of Fame isn't complete without him.
Saito has been suspended twice, in addition to a high profile disqualification that didn't result in suspension. He was DQ'd from the 2001 APAC Championship for bribery. This one, to me, legitimately sounds like there was no ill intent. The first suspension was less altruistic. He was disqualified from GP Kobe in 2001. That one is aggressively shady. When facing a loss, he just started manipulating his deck and then presented it to his opponent, who confusedly cut it. Saito then called a judge to try to get his opponent a game loss for manipulating Saito's deck! The second suspension was for stalling at GP Florence 2010. Everything I said about Marcio holds true here.
Shi Tian, Lee
5 is a lot of PT Top 8s. It is. Only 33 people have ever gotten that many. Even though it looks like the HOF voters are less worried about inducting people with 4 or 3 top 8s, 5 still is something special. Here's a look at how many people have each number of top 8:
22 with 5, then 11 with more than that. This is a very selective group. Of those 33, only 4 are not in the Hall of Fame: Scott Johns, Tomoharu Saito, Marcio Carvalho, Lee Shi Tian. The first 3 all have either suspensions or clouds around their past to explain why they aren't in the HOF. Lee does not.
Let's talk about Twitter. Every year, during Hall of Fame season, people fire up their Twitty Hate Machines and start throwing accusations out to share reasons why not to vote for someone. Things get pretty toxic. Most of what gets shared is hearsay, unsubstantiated, or overblown. Some of it is legitimate and provable. Lee has been a target of some of these claims this year and, best I can tell, it falls into the former category. I encourage you to read this post by Allen Wu. Allen brings up racism, I think it's more like xenophobia. Others might say tomato to-mah-to. Point is, it's bad and worth realizing that something is up. I don't think people who behave this way are doing so with ill intent, but I also don't think that excuses the behavior.
All of this is a long way of saying that I think Lee is certainly qualified and should be in the Hall of Fame.
Sigrist picked up another Top 8 at PT Ixalan and carried 2 no-names (well, small names. 5 letters total. PV, LSV) to 28th place at PT 25th anniversary. This is basically a representative line of what a very good career looks like. He also has a POTY title to his name from the 2014-15 season. 12 Top 64s out of 29 PTs is not a great conversion rate. Mike is an all-around great guy and could get some support this year, but I'd be surprised if it's a significant amount.
Siron fell off of the ballot after 2013 and is back based on his team (Vincent Lemoine, Davy Loeb) finishing 2nd at GP Amsterdam. This is the exact type of career I would have if I had every break fall my way and every opponent had to mulligan at least twice per match. But it's not a Hall of Fame career.
Yuta added a 44th place finish at PT Rivals of Ixalan after re-emerging the previous season with a finals appearance at PT Eldritch Moon. Another case of "I would love this career for me, but not for the HOF."
Gauhas had a lengthy, successful career. I don't think he's had the consistency he would like, with him making Top 64 less than one third of the time. His 2 Top 8s came in a 5 PT span from PT Nagoya 2011 to PT Avacyn Restored in 2012.
Craig has never gotten above 5% of the vote, and a disappointing year leads me to believe that he'll get little support this year as well. What stands out to me most from this is that he's made Top 64 barely over 1 out of 4 times at a PT. This kind of looks to me like an Ikeda resume, minus about 3 years. Craig has played in a ton of PTs, has some strong counting stats, but really suffers when looking at consistency. Craig even has the community involvement that Ikeda has, albeit in a different form. I don't think Craig is a Hall of Famer, but I think another top 8 would make it really interesting.
Conley hasn't played in a PT since Khans of Tarkir in 2014. 22 PTs is pretty low on the HOF spectrum, as are 2 Top 8's. All of these are low, really. Each one, on its own, could easily be overlooked. Taken as a whole though, and this is a career that really needs 2-3 more years to build up. The rate stats are strong. I hope he gets back on the tour to show us what he can do.
Yamamoto came in 9th at PT Ixalan and grabbed another GP Top 8 at Minneapolis in the past season. Last year he was short on Top 64s to meet the HOF minimum and now he no longer is. I think the career is still shy of HOF overall, but each year he keeps building a resume. I really wouldn't be surprised if he became a legitimate HOF contender within 2 years.
I have to admit, I'm a little shocked at these numbers. They're strong than I expected. Decent consistency. This is Ken's first year on the ballot. I haven't really heard anyone mentioning his name, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a little bit of support.
We've reviewed a lot of players here, but there are 2 names that have not been addressed who I've seen circulated in discussions this year: Gerry Thompson and Carlos Romao. The reason I haven't discussed them is that they both miss the HOF minimums in 2 areas (I looked at people who hit all areas or missed 1). They both missed in career median and 3-year median. Hope that preemptively answers some questions.
After all of that, I have a very short list of people I'm considering:
- Seth Manfield
- Brad Nelson
- Chris Pikula
- Lee Shi Tian
As of now, that's my ballot. There's still about a week left for me to submit my final ballot, so I'll keep reading and listening, but right now that's where I am.
Find me on Twitter @magicPJ!
1 The first year saw the top vote in the players' committee and the top 4 from the selection committee, but the point remains that 5 people would get in.
2 OK, technically you don't need 60%. If nobody gets 60% of the vote, the highest vote-getter gets in.
3 Throughout this analysis, Randy Buehler's brilliant but short career has been excluded from all data sets. Randy retired from the PT to go work for WOTC. The shortness of his career makes it an extreme outlier that distorts the conversation. Everyone I've spoken to about this over the years, including Randy himself, agrees that it makes sense to ignore his (again, brilliant) career for our purposes.