If I Had a Hall of Fame Ballot

By Tom Fowler

In a June 6th feature article on magicthegathering.com, Chris Galvin announced the formation of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. With the 10th anniversary of the Pro Tour approaching next year, this is a timely new thing to add. Other competitions (I would say “other sports,” but it’s my firm belief that Magic is not a sport) honor their most legendary competitors. Why should the original and best trading card game be any different?

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Fame...
To be eligible for the PT Hall of Fame, a player must have at least 100 career pro points, must have made his debut on the Pro Tour or Worlds at least 10 seasons ago, and cannot be currently suspended by the DCI. Out of all the players who have ever flopped a Magical card on the professional level, 28 are eligible for enshrinement this year. Only five will get in. A panel of 69 voters will each vote for the five candidates they think deserve enshrinement, with the caveat that they may not vote for themselves. The top four vote-getters will win their spot in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame; the fifth will be decided by a vote of all players with 100 or more lifetime pro points.

Other Halls of Fame give you a plaque and a little ceremony and send you on your way. The PT Hall of Fame will have a ceremony, held at Worlds every year, but it doesn’t stop there. Any player inducted into the Hall of Fame receives lifetime Level 3 benefits in the Pro Players Club, the main perk of which is a $500 appearance fee whenever the player attends a Pro Tour event.

Several people who have ballots have made their ballots public, be they WOTC employees who posted them on magicthegathering.com or writers on other websites. In a travesty akin to Jethro Tull beating out Metallica for the heavy metal Grammy in 1991, I do not have a ballot. Spare your emails of protest and outrage, loyal readers – I am certain this oversight will be corrected. In the meantime, I present to you today my unofficial ballot for the inaugural class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

First, let’s look at who’s eligible.

David Bachmann
Kurt Burgner
Alan Comer
Robert Dougherty
Jon Finkel
Svend Sparre Geertsen
Thomas Guevin
Brian Hacker
Tommi Hovi
David Humpherys
Scott Johns
Mark Justice
Darwin Kastle
Gary Krakower
Peer Kröger
Peter Leiher
Michael Long
Satoshi Nakamura
Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz
Chris Pikula
David Price
Michael Pustilnik
Olle Råde
Shawn "Hammer" Regnier
Jakub Slemr
Gabriel Tsang
Terry Tsang
Matthew Vienneau

There are some very recognizable names on there, and some names which will make many people scratch their heads in wonder. Electors have only the following criteria to work with: "Voting shall be based upon the player's performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general." Performances are pretty easy to measure, since we have things like lifetime pro point standings, money earned, median finish, etc. The rest are quite subjective, and I have to think that is by design. The Hall of Fame will mean different things to different people, and electors should be (and are) free to vote based on what the Hall of Fame means to them.

So, that leads to this question: what does the Hall of Fame mean to me? I’m glad you asked. To me, the Hall of Fame is about not only the best players on the Pro Tour, but the players who have made the largest impact on the game overall. This means someone who wasn’t the most dominating player can still get on my ballot because he makes up for it in overall contributions to the game. I’ll admit that I favor results and skill, which are concrete, over more nebulous criteria like integrity and sportsmanship, and I know that will be important later.

However, just to keep you in suspense a little longer, I’m going to name the five players who narrowly missed being on my ballot. These guys are all deserving of the Hall of Fame, and I sincerely hope they all get in at some point.

1. David Humpherys

“The Hump” is without a doubt an excellent player, and played at the top levels of the game for years. He found success in both individual events, and in team events with the rest of the Your Move Games core group. Like most of the YMG standbys, Humpherys doesn’t play much these days – and, in fact, he works for Upper Deck Entertainment on their VS. game. His accomplishments cannot be undone by dormancy nor working for a competitor, though, and David Humpherys is very deserving of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Of all the people on my near-miss list, I think he’ll get enshrined first, quite possibly this year. In the end, Humpherys lost out on my ballot to his longtime teammate Rob Dougherty.

2. Alan Comer

When you talk about integrity and sportsmanship on the Pro Tour, Alan Comer is your man. Everyone who played against him will attest to this, and he will no doubt appear on many ballots simply because he dominates these categories. That should not dwarf his playing resume, either: five PT Top 8 finishes, 8th on the ballot in lifetime Pro Points, and almost $80,000 in lifetime earnings. He was also a very influential deckbuilder, most recently with Miracle Gro in the old Extended format.

And I’m sure those accomplishments could have continued had Alan not gone to work for Wizards of the Coast. If you play Magic Online, you owe a lot of thanks to Alan Comer. He’s the lead programmer, and had the unenviable task of cleaning out all the old Leaping Lizards code and building a stable program. Magic Online is more stable than it’s ever been, and version 3.0 promises a complete overhaul of the interface.

Alan’s also a heck of a guy, and I greatly enjoyed playing a multiplayer game of Elder Dragon Highlander with him at PT Philadelphia.

3. Tommy Hovi

For much of its early history, Magic was seen as a game of luck. Sure, critics would say, you can build the best deck in the world, but if you draw a bunch of lands in a row, you lose. The Pro Tour did little to change that impression, as each event featured a different winner. Until Tommy Hovi. He was the first man to win two PT events, an accomplishment that showed that skill was an important factor in Magic. Luck will always be a part of the game, but Hovi showed everyone that skill matters, too. I had a hard time deciding between Hovi and Olle Rade here, so I went with the first man to win two Tours. And while that accomplishment has been eclipsed several times over, its magnitude for its time cannot be diminished.

4. Mark Justice

Justice was one of the early success stories of the Pro Tour, but his career at the top was brief. He made Top 8 in four of his 18 PT events, and racked up over $58,000 in career winnings. Justice was the earliest big name the Pro Tour had, already well-known to his fellow competitors at the very first PT. Later in his career, Justice resorted to underhanded means to try and reclaim his past glory. The fact remains, however, that he was the first player the other players knew and feared, and that counts for a lot.

5. Scott Johns

With five PT Top 8 finishes, and almost $100,000 in lifetime earnings, Scott Johns is bound for the Hall of Fame one of these years. Unfortunately, not this year, at least not on my ballot. Perhaps even more important than his impressive playing resume, Scott has been very involved in the internet Magic scene. He has edited Mindripper and Brainburst while both were at the peak of their influence, and is currently the content manager for Magic’s official website. His articles about playtesting, reading your opponent, and improving your play are recommended reading. Both on and off the Tour, Scott Johns has contributed much to both the Pro Tour and Magic in general.

And that brings us to the five people I would put into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame if I had a ballot:

1. Jon Finkel

Really, anyone whose ballot doesn’t include Finkel should have their voting privileges revoked. There should be no “gaming the ballot.” Some have suggested not voting for Finkel, knowing everyone else (or almost anyone else, when you count fellow potential ballot-gamers) will vote for him anyway, thus possibly getting someone else into the Hall. That, friends, is a steaming pile of rubbish. You don’t not vote for the best player to sling Magical spells just because you know he’s going to get in anyway; you vote for him to give him the unanimity he deserves.

Jon Finkel’s accomplishments are legendary, and while he’ll certainly be eclipsed several times over before the Pro Tour ends, his natural skill might never be duplicated. Kai Budde (who’s not eligible for another two years) picked up the crown of Best Magic Player after Finkel walked away from the game, and while the German Juggernaut has certainly been one of the all-time greats, the crown doesn’t fit well on his head. Finkel had an innate understanding of the game that never went away; several times, he took hiatuses from competitive play, then returned to new formats and dominated with little preparation. If that’s not a measure of skill, I don’t think we’ll ever find one.

The 1st Invitational card printed
2. Darwin Kastle

He has his face on a Magic card.

He has eight PT Top 8s and 11 Grand Prix Top 8s.

He has 320 Pro Points and has made almost $150,000 on the pro scene.

He was qualified for, and played in, 49 consecutive Pro Tours.

An unconventional thinker, he made plays which were not obvious at first glance, and sometimes even seemed bad, but which ended up being spot-on far more often than not.

Really, how can anyone keep this guy off their ballot?

3. Robert Dougherty

While his playing resume is very similar to that of teammate Dave Humpherys, I’m giving the edge to Dougherty here because of long career as a tournament organizer. Not only has Dougherty played the game successfully on its highest levels, but he gave others the chance to do the same by holding many tournaments over the years. To me, that’s making a larger overall contribution to the game as a whole, and to the Pro Tour, and that’s why Dougherty gets the nod over his longtime teammate.

4. David Price

The King of Qualifiers and The King of Beatdown. Dave Price might well be the only man in the history of Magic to wear two crowns like that. While his accomplishments might not stand up beside Finkel’s and Kastle’s, Price contributed much to the game in other ways. And his accomplishments are far from unimpressive: one PT Top 8 and 39 PT appearances, the 4th most of anyone on the ballot. Price, however, taught the Magic world two things: that attacking with Jackal Pup was a good plan, and that you could play on the Pro Tour and still be a good sportsman.

Price loathed cheating in all its forms, and wrote an article about common cheats and how to avoid them. He penned many articles and tournament reports in his day. Dubbed “The King of Qualifiers,” he showed many players that you could go to a PTQ and win your way onto the Pro Tour, a path Price used to qualify many times. Without David Price, the PTQ circuit and the Pro Tour would not be what they are today, and that is why he makes my ballot. You don’t need to win $150,000 to make an impact on professional Magic.

And that brings us to . . .

5. Mike Long

This is the one I’m going to get flamed and lynched for. I already know this. I’m prepared for it.

Of those who have made their Hall of Fame ballots known so far, opinions are divided on Mike Long. Some have voted for him and don’t see what the problem with it is, some have vehemently voted against him, and some have left him off simply because they found other candidates more deserving. It’s possible that Long’s fate may be decided by the time you read this. I’ve talked to a lot of people, most of them judges, about whether or not they’d vote for Long if they had a ballot. Opinions were divided there, too. Sheldon Menery has come out very strongly against Long being in the Hall of Fame, and some other judges I’ve spoken to share his sentiments.

And you know what? I completely understand their side of the argument.

I just don’t agree with it.

Was Long a cheater? Yes. Is he, to date, an unrepentant cheater? Also, yes. Several of his escapades have been documented in articles. He was suspended by the DCI for cheating. Anecdotal evidence says that he’s cheated even when the stakes were far smaller than they were in professional Magic. Being a known, documented, and suspended cheater means Long zeroes out the integrity category, which is enough to knock him off many people’s ballots.

But not mine.

Mark Rosewater has taken a lot of undeserved flak for his public support of Mike Long being in the Hall of Fame. While I don’t always agree with Rosewater, he’s right on the money here. The Pro Tour Hall of Fame is about the history of professional Magic, warts and all. In the early years of the Pro Tour, cheating was rampant because it was easy to get away with, since there were few policies against it and many judges either did not know what to look for or were easily bullied by a Pro player who insisted something worked a certain way. Those days are in the past: DCI policies have been revamped and improved over the years, and judges are more numerous, better trained, and have more spine now than in the past. If Long did get into the Hall of Fame and go back to the Tour, I have no doubts he would have to rely solely on his skills.

Still, just because something is in the past does mean that it can be or should be ignored. A lot of people cheated on the Pro Tour in the early days. Why is Mike Long singled out and made the pariah of the game? You could make the case that he was the most visible cheater and a repeat offender. However, I hate double standards. If quite a few folks cheated, excluding one for the same sins is unfair. If five people robbed a bank, and you knew all of them were guilty, you couldn’t put just one of them in jail.

This double standard could come to the forefront next year, when Bob Maher is eligible for the Hall of Fame. Maher is considered by many to be a lock for enshrinement. However, he has a past suspension for tournament fraud. Maher blew the whistle on tournaments which were used to elevate his rating, with the usual benefits, and got a reduced suspension. I don’t know if he blew the whistle once he become aware of the situation or because he thought someone else might report it first. That’s not for me to judge, and everyone I know says that Maher is a great sport and an all-around good egg. Still, tournament fraud is basically cheating on a large scale. So if Long stays out and Maher gets in with an arguably more serious violation, what does that say for the process?

The fact is this: the early days of the Pro Tour were very important for Magic. A lot of new players came into the game because of the increased visibility the Tour afforded. Web sites and magazines would cover the events, and even ESPN 2 joined in the act, with the broadcasts easy to catch if you were an insomniac in East Timor’s time zone. Still more players heard about the game via word of mouth. The PTQ circuit caught on in a big way and is still going strong to this day.

Mike Long was very instrumental in growing Magic in those early days. He was the player everyone heard about and talked about. Sometimes, it was for his unquestioned play skill, and other times, it was for his shenanigans, but the point is that people talked about and took interest in Magic when Mike Long was at the top of the game. A lot of the people who heard about him and talked about him might have been rooting against him, but they were hooked nonetheless. Long’s matches at Grands Prix and Pro Tours always drew larger crowds than anyone else’s. Some in the gallery were no doubt hoping to see some shenanigans, and I’m sure many were hoping Long would go gown in defeat. Whatever their reasons for being there, however, the crowd couldn’t keep away. Mike Long was publicity when Magic needed it most, and as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. In his own way, Long was responsible for the growth of Magic on the tournament level.

Many people who would not vote for Long for the Hall of Fame draw comparisons to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the continued ineligibility of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Without getting into a rant about Rose, whose grisly demise would leave the world no poorer, I’ll just say this is a completely invalid and irrelevant argument. Mike Long is eligible for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame; Rose and Jackson are ineligible for baseball’s Hall because of the rules of the game. There is no system in place that forbids a player once suspended by the DCI from getting into the PT Hall (though any currently suspended players are ineligible until their suspensions end). So let’s drop the silly baseball comparison before it gets going.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “But Dr. Tom, you’re a judge. How can you condone the actions of a cheater?” Simple: I don’t. I’m aware that Long has cheated, and that those actions have cost other players match results and money on the professional circuit. I’m also aware that the early days of the Pro Tour were rife with shenanigans, and that punishing one person for the sins of many is unfair. Let’s be clear about this: I don’t tolerate cheating in my events, and I don’t condone it at all. I’ve disqualified people for cheating before, and I’ll do it again without hesitation should I catch other cheaters. I’m “voting” for Mike Long because I think it’s absurd to exclude one of the most skilled Magicians in history from a body that exists to honor those skilled at the game.

Another common objection: the Level 3 Player’s Club benefits pay a $500 appearance fee for every PT event, and isn’t it awful to reward cheaters with cash in hand? First, how do we know Mike Long would return to the Tour? He might be happy selling cards and having his own Magic strategy and training program. Second, as we’ve already seen, the Pro Tour of today is much different than it was in Long’s heyday. Give him his $500 and let him take his chances against the best in the world. With the increased presence of judges, coverage staff, and spectators, and the improvements in DCI policy and the judge program over the years, no one could make a living cheating on the Pro Tour these days. If you don’t think Mike Long could survive on skill alone, then the best way to see if you’re right is to let him try.

Personally, I’ve judged in at least four DC-area events where Mike Long played when he still lived in the area. Three times, I table judged his matches in the Top 8 rounds. Zero times did I have any reason to suspect there were shenanigans afoot.

It comes down to this: fame and skill are not judgments of moral worth or integrity. Mike Long was one of the most famous and best players our game has ever seen. It is for that reason that I would vote for him if I were able.

That’s my ballot. What’s yours?


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