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Breaking Through – The 2014 Hall of Fame

The first year I was given a selection committee vote for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, I did not know what to do with it. I felt like an 18-year-old kid at his first presidential election. I had a vote and I had a favorite, but how much research had I done? How well did I know the players I was voting for? Or perhaps more importantly, how well did I know those players I was not voting for?

The answer was, not enough. I was given a rare opportunity but as far as my ability to use that gift properly, I wasn’t close.

I think I voted relatively well and if I knew all of the things I know today, I would very likely vote the same. However, the problem was not who I voted for, but the lack of a reason.

I listened to players that I respected or players that I knew others respected. I glanced at the Top 8 counts each had for Pro Tours and Grand Prix, but I had no idea how heavily to weigh any of these things against each other. What did any of it mean? It was a lot of numbers and opinions, none of which were my own.

As the Pro Tour Hall of Fame voting came and went year after year, I began to dig into the players’ bios a little more. It helped that players I knew started becoming eligible, so I had more to go off of than just numbers and other voters’ opinions. Last year was the first year where each member that I voted for was someone I had actually played against at one time or another.

I voted for LSV, Huey, Ben Stark, and Makahito Mihara because I truly believed all of those players have served the game with integrity and skill and I was happy to see three of them receive Magic’s highest honor.

I sat and watched as clips of some of my best friends flashed across the screen. It felt real. I felt as though I had voted for the right people and the moments I shared with my fellow Pro Tour competitors, the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the accomplishments of some of the best that have walked among us, meant the world to me.

These were not numbers and deck lists. These were people who had a story. They gave some part of themselves to the game and it was only fitting to see the game give something back to them.

I fully understand that using statistics and numbers is a great way to size people up and evaluate their credentials, as surely not everyone can, nor should, make it into the Hall of Fame, but there is more than that too. What did these people give? How hard did they compete? How much passion did they show? Those answers cannot be found on any Excel spreadsheet, but they are important to me.

I wanted to take some time to honor the people I wish to see in the Hall of Fame this year and share my thoughts on them. My take has a changed a little from previous years and if nothing else, consider this my personal thank you to those individuals who have served the game well over the years. I appreciate it now more than ever.

Exclusions

In year’s past, I have gone into greater detail about the candidates that I am not voting for, but I wanted to focus on those that I feel should make it this year. That said, I did want to make my stance on a few individuals clear.

While I have stated the following before, I wanted to be clear about a few things to anyone who may not have read my ballot last year. I will not vote for any player that I strongly believe has cheated in order to get to the place they are today. For some players, that means that they might have cleaned up their act and I will still not be voting for them as all of the credentials they have built up come with an asterisk attached to them and I cannot bring myself to honor that type of a career. (Discussion about Wafo-Tapa below).

I do not view denied entry into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame as a punishment for cheating, but I do believe it is an honor that should not be bestowed upon cheaters. Tomorahu Saito has consistently delivered when it comes to deckbuilding and if there were a Hall of Fame for just that, he would have my vote, but his play has repeatedly been questionable in method and in motive. That includes before and after his most recent suspension. I will not be voting for Saito, or others like Mori, now or ever in the future. No stat line or new finish will change my stance in that area.

*I understand that for many, Saito is a grey area similar to how Wafo was/is. In my eyes though, there is very little difference between Saito and Mori in terms of my confidence in their results not coming about through fair play.

With that out of the way, here is my ballot for the 2014 Magic the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame:

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

I think that if a player were to look at Wafo’s stat line and nothing else, Guillaume would be an easy vote into the Hall of Fame. The same can be said of Saito or Scott Johns though. So the question is whether or not the suspension handed out to Guillaume should keep him off of your ballot or not.

In the case of Wafo-Tapa, I do not view the “God Book” situation as cheating in the typical sense of the word. Was it wrong? Absolutely. It would also be wrong to throw your deck into the trash after you lost a match in the Top 8, but I would not eliminate you from my ballot as a result. Even if Guillaume was more involved with that situation than he actually was, I do not think we should ignore his immense list of accomplishments because of that mistake. Guillaume did not have access to a God Book during the majority of his accomplishments and the advantage it provided is questionable at best, which is quite different than a cheater who manipulates an in-game situation repeatedly to secure an unfair advantage for himself.

The God Book issue was clearly not good for Wafo. He was involved in a situation that no one thinks should have been allowed, but I also think he has been sufficiently punished, and keeping him out of the HoF is overkill. His play has never been shown to be anything other than clean.

I have played against Wafo a handful of times and he has consistently been one of the more enjoyable players to run into. While he will not say much during a match (or ever), what he does say is generally funny and always respectful. As his opponent, I am able to focus on the game at hand and enjoy the moment, which says a lot about Wafo’s character.

Wafo is one of the best deckbuilders on the planet, even if his range is relatively narrow. And his stat line is impressive enough to justify itself so I really do think the only thing holding Wafo back is the controversy. I am willing to move past that and we will have to see if the rest of voters agree with me.

It is certainly a factor that I want to see Wafo-Tapa back on the Pro Tour, which is a privilege afforded to him through Hall of Fame status.

Makahito Mihara

I voted for Mihara last year as I felt he was just deserving enough. He was far from a lock, but I respect Makahito’s game and his stat line was quite impressive. Since that time, Makahito has gone and Top 8’d another Pro Tour and a Grand Prix, for whatever that is worth. Not only does this give him five Pro Tour Top 8s, which is very hard to argue against by itself, but it also shows longevity, which I value pretty highly.

Makahito has been winning tournaments for a very long time and brings a lot of unique deckbuilding to the table too, which is something I can relate to and tend place higher on my list of criteria.

I feel that Makahito has represented the Japanese Magic community, and the Magic community as a whole, with outstanding play and behavior. At a time where there is much talk of shady things from various players and to various degrees, Makahito reminds us that fair play and skill still rule all.

Paul Reitzl

Paul is the person I am most confident with in terms of knowing they should be in the Hall. I know that if I were just looking at stat lines (and Paul’s is quite strong), that might not be the case, but Paul is certainly one of those people who are bigger than their stats.

Paul has been bringing a care-free, engaging, intelligent sense of humor to tournaments for as long as I have been playing competitively. I remember watching the Top 8 of the Legacy Grand Prix Chicago and watching Paul was interesting. Here was a person clearly wanting to win. You could tell from his plays to his demeanor. However, he was also so aware of everything around him. The crowd, the coverage. Those were real things and he was sure to acknowledge that.

Paul brings an energy about him that is contagious. If you have ever played Paul in an event, or even just played at the same table that he was playing at, or even in the same quarter of the room, you have probably heard him or some of his antics before. They are always in good fun and they help to remind you that we are all playing a game.

At a Grand Prix during Innistrad Limited, I was sitting a few seats down from a match that Paul was playing. Paul shot his hand up into the air and called for a judge. As most players do during a slow point in the match, I listened in to see what the problem was. The “problem” turned out to be that Paul did not think his Puresteel Paladin should die to Burn the Impure. Paul’s argument was that the Paladin was certainly not impure, it said so right in its name! The judge was not sure whether he should be playing along or honestly explaining to Paul that the names of cards had no rules implications attached.

Paul’s opponent was a little caught off guard at first, as one probably should be. But after a minute you could see the stress melt away from his face and the realization that he was about to have a fun match of Magic set it. Paul was being a little unprofessional by most standards, but it was all in good fun and it reminded not only his opponent, but everyone within earshot that we were here playing a game. Victory can be praised and success be sought, but at the end of the day there was so much more about this game to be cherished than just those two things.

It is important to me that Hall of Famers be people I want to see on the Pro Tour and Paul more than qualifies. Because Paul cannot attend many Grand Prix due to his job, he is one of the more “at risk” of active Pros who could fall off the train at some point and I’d like to ensure that never happens. To be honest, the fact that Paul has had so much success in limited attempts during recent years is just a testament to his skill and is all the more reason I will be voting for him.

Wrap Up

I decided not to use all five of my votes this year because I struggled to separate the remaining players on my short list and I honestly found it awkward to vote for one over the other. The three individuals that need just the slightest bump for me are Eric Froehlich, Marijn Lybaert, and Willy Edel. All three have very comparable stat lines and have contributed to their respective regions throughout their career.

Marijn has something special going on with European coverage right now and if he continues to grow and develop as a caster, I will almost certainly be voting for him next year as I really value that level of community involvement.

EFro was close to making my ballot last year and although he has had another solid year with 40 points currently and a Top 16 finish at the last Pro Tour, I am not sure I can quite get to justifying voting for him over Marijn or Willy. Part of my hesitance is likely tied to wanting to avoid a personal bias, as I am friends with EFro and definitely want to see him in the Hall, but I also want to take my position as seriously as possible and not let that influence my decision, even though I realize that is essentially impossible. In fact, perhaps I am being too hard on EFro as a result of knowing him. If EFro picks up another Top 16 this year or obviously a Top 8, I cannot imagine not voting for him next year. That all said, if you are on the fence about EFro, I think that he would make a great addition to the Hall of Fame and I know he views the honor more highly than almost anyone else.

Willy Edel is very much in the same position as Efro. He is at 38 points this season and will not be falling off the train so I would like to see one more year of his career. Willy picked up a Grand Prix Top 8 but added no PT Top 16 finishes to his resume which especially hurts because he has zero Top 16s total to pad to those four Top 8s. I like Willy a lot and think he is very good for the game and for Brazilian Magic, but he comes up just short, for now.

If I had to pick another person to round out this list, it would be Mark Herberholz, as his stats are very comparable to all three of the people above. That said, I think he lacks the level of community involvement that the three above do and therefore he is step removed from my vote.

Good luck to all of the candidates this year and I am really looking forward to the upcoming ceremony. This is an amazing game and I am glad we recognize those that have been amazing to it. Thanks for reading!

*I have not submitted my ballot and may still make adjustments as needed, although the above ballot is very likely to be final.

Conley Woods

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