I’ve been looking forward to the 2016 Hall of Fame voting for a long time.
This will be my fourth year casting a ballot, and in past years I’ve had the honor of helping to vote in some legends of the game, and some players that I consider personal heroes.
Every year, I felt like a history student, learning what had happened in Magic: the Gathering before my time. I had to do research about players that I’d never met, or who had been in their prime before I seriously followed the Pro Tour. Granted, it was a subject I was passionate about, but the bottom line is that each year I was doing homework.
This year I’ll be voting on players that I know firsthand—players that grew and thrived as I was trying to make my own way on the Pro Tour. This is the first year that players from my own era are on the ballot. In particular, I’m talking about Yuuya Watanabe and Owen Turtenwald. These are the players that, to me, represent the modern era of the Pro Tour.
I played my first Pro Tour in 2010. Yuuya Watanabe was Player of the Year in 2009. Owen Turtenwald was Player of the Year in 2011. These guys were the young faces of the Pro Tour at that time. Over the following years, I came to consider Yuuya a respected rival, somebody that I should aspire to match and compete against. I had the privilege to gain Owen as both a friend and teammate.
These are the two players I’m currently planning to vote for. There are a number of strong, borderline candidates on the ballot whom I’ve given careful consideration, but am currently not planning to vote for. Today, I’ll simply be writing about why I feel that Yuuya and Owen have earned my vote.
When I first made it to the Pro Tour, Yuuya Watanabe was it. He showed me what it meant to “make it” in the world of MTG. In a few short years, he’d gone from a new player at his first Pro Tour to being Player of the Year in 2009, and the most feared competitor in the game shortly thereafter. He also demonstrated the money, respect, and prestige that could come along with being truly great at Magic, and he made everyone want to be like him.
You need only look at the numbers next to Yuuya’s name to know how monumental his rise was, and how consistently excellent he’s been since then. From 2009 to 2013, he averaged 61 Pro Points per season. Many of the best players in history would consider themselves lucky to have had a single season where they earned 61 Pro Points! In other words, for a span of 5 years, Yuuya Watanabe was averaging a number of points that a Hall-of-Famer might peak at!
To name just a few of Yuuya Watanabe’s achievements: he has 484 Pro Points, 24 GP Top 8s, 7 GP wins, and is a 2-time Player of the Year. Each of these accomplishments, taken individually, can only be matched by a very small handful of elite players. Yuuya has them all, and he accomplished them in such a staggeringly short span of time!
Watching Yuuya play and win made such a big impression on me that by the time he won the 2012 Players Championship, unifying the Player of the Year and World Champion titles, I had already considered him a legend that could not be left out of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
And right there beside him—or more accurately, on the other side of the world—was Owen Turtenwald. Owen is the only player who’s been able to keep pace with Yuuya, and has even exceeded Yuuya’s results on the Pro Tour level. Owen also took the Player of the Year title in 2011 while scoring 7 GP Top 8s in a single season at a time when such an accomplishment was completely unprecedented.
I’ve been lucky enough to prepare for tournaments together with Owen for several years now. I can tell you, his results are no fluke. If anything, it seems to me that Owen has been both the best and the most well-prepared player at so many tournaments over the past 6 years that it wouldn’t have been surprising for him to come away with even more first-place finishes!
William Jensen, in discussing his Hall of Fame Ballot, describes how Owen stands out even from the rest of our highly-competitive, Pro Tour testing team. “The Pantheon contains many players I’d consider to be among the best players of all time… And without fail, one thing has been clear to all of us for the past few years, as Owen continually plays better than every one of us—Owen is the best player in the world.”
When I play with Owen, I feel lucky if I can think for 90 seconds and come up with the same play that he made instantly and instinctively. He has one of the best Magic minds I’ve ever seen.
If I’m making it sound like it’s all innate talent, then I’m not doing Owen justice. He’s a naturally fierce and brilliant competitor who has tempered his skills with an unmatched amount of hard work. For his whole adult life, he’s traveled for Magic 25+ weekends out of his year. Add to that a consistent 30+ hours of weekday Magic Online and countless more hours of studying articles and videos, and it’s no surprise that Owen has remained at the very top of the game for as long as he has. If it wasn’t for Yuuya Watanabe, Owen would be the little-disputed best player of the modern era. Instead, I think they have to settle for a shared title.
Only 3 Pro Tour Top 8s
Owen Turtenwald has paid his dues when it comes to MTG. He’s put in the hours, and displayed continued excellence across such a large number of tournaments that his skill can no longer be in doubt. He’s reaped the rewards of talent and hard work through his many wins and many more Top 8s. He’s also suffered the heartbreak of trying his best and coming up short. I’m not trying to imply that anyone on the ballot hasn’t “paid their dues,” but I feel strongly that a small handful of tournaments doesn’t define a Hall of Fame career. Even though I’m declining to vote for some players with more Pro Tour Top 8s, I’ll be voting for Yuuya and Owen because their resumes are deeper and more well-rounded.
This will be the first time I’ve ever cast a vote for a player with fewer than 4 Pro Tour Top 8s. If there’s a minimum requirement that would keep Yuuya Watanabe and Owen Turtenwald out of the Hall of Fame, then it feels misguided to hold fast to that requirement. These guys have been so dominant for so long that I feel they set a new bar for what a modern pro player’s resume ought to look like. In the old days, it was easier to judge players on their number of Pro Tour Top 8s, in part because there were more Pro Tours each year. Today, players like Owen and Yuuya find other ways to complement their Pro Tour results and prove beyond doubt that they’re among the best players of their generation. This is a pattern everyone should start to get used to as more players from the modern era become eligible for the Hall of Fame.
The History Books
For me, the Hall of Fame isn’t just about reaching some baseline numbers on the stats page. It’s about making your mark on the game, and being an essential part of its history. Yuuya Watanabe and Owen Turtenwald have both done that. They stand as the two best players of this decade, both because of their results, and because of the almost-unanimous respect of their peers. They’ve also both been the Player of the Year, which is a title I weigh very heavily when I decide my ballot.
Perhaps even more than that, Owen and Yuuya represent the modern MTG pro. There aren’t many players that fully support themselves in the long run off of playing Magic and devote themselves entirely to the game. For these guys, there’s no full-time job, there’s no supplementing income via buying and selling cards—it’s simply the lifestyle of the Grand Prix road warrior. They showed everyone that it could be done, and have hopefully paved the way for a bright future in professional Magic.
You can’t write the history books of Magic without Yuuya Watanabe and Owen Turtenwald. That’s why I’m proud to vote for them for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.