I’ll put it out there. The Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Magic does indeed need a Hall of Fame. Think about it. The game has been around for 20 years. Thousands of people have played the game at a competitive level, never mind the countless others who only play at the proverbial kitchen table. Magic has spawned countless of other products and side businesses, such as card sleeves, deck boxes, little boxes of dice, life counters, iPhone apps, card alterations, trading websites, etc. It has spawned careers for countless players, such as Brian Kibler and Justin Gary with Ascension.
I visit something like six different Magic websites daily, and I miss a ton of them. There’s a novel’s worth of content on Magic written on a daily basis, covering countless topics such as storylines, competitive play, community issues, baseless speculation, format variants, etc. And the appetite for the product grows and grows. Modern Masters, From the Vaults, Duel Decks, Judge foils, and on and on. They keep producing it, and we keep consuming it. Magic also has a rich history of heroes and villians, good guys and bad, amazing stories and stories of bad beats.
Long story short, Magic is alive and vibrant, and its history is rich and colourful. It should be celebrated.
And the current Hall of Fame does not do that. The current Hall of Fame has a very narrow mandate and a voter base that does a disservice to the history of the game. If we, as Magic players, want a Hall of Fame that is representative of the entire history of Magic, then the Hall should change in order to reflect that.
Pro Tour Hall of Fame
The Pro Tour Hall of Fame was established in 2005 by Wizards of the Coast to honor the most elite of the elite pro players. Since 2005, 23 players have been inducted. In order to be eligible, a player must have played in their first Pro Tour at least 10 years before their induction, must have accumulated at least 100 Pro Points (which is being raised to 150 next year), and must not be suspended or under investigation by the DCI. Wizards also provides a list of attributes to guide voters, suggesting they take into account performance, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and community contributions.
Members of the Hall of Fame are voted in by two committees, and voters can each select up to five players. The Selection Committee votes count for 67 percent of the vote, while the Players Committee makes up 33 percent of the vote. Players who reach 40 percent or greater on these weighted ballots are inducted into the Hall of Fame; if no player reaches this threshold, the highest vote getter is inducted.
The Selection Committee is made up of about 145 people selected by Wizards of the Coast, and can change year to year. Members include Magic luminaries like Richard Garfield, current Hall of Fame members, key Wizards employees like Mark Rosewater, and other members of the Magic community who observe or influence the Pro Tour. The Players Committee is comprised of players who have accumulated 100 or more Pro Points.
A Sports Comparison
In order to recommend changes to the current Pro Tour Hall of Fame, it would be wise to see how other Hall of Fames operate. The easiest point of comparison would be to look at the four major sports in North America: baseball, hockey, football, and basketball. Each has spots for players, coaches, executives, officials, and other contributors.
Each Hall of Fame has an eligibility requirement; at a minimum, there is typically a five-year waiting period after retirement. Major League Baseball has a requirement that a player must have played for at least 10 seasons. Most Halls of Fame state that players can cease to become eligible after a period of time or if they do not acquire enough votes. There often are provisions for Veterans Committees, so players who have fallen off the ballots can still be inducted.
Voters are independent of the sporting organizations that the Hall represents. They are typically comprised of writers, although other members of the sports community are involved. With the exception of baseball, the voting pool is small, ranging from 18 in hockey to 46 in football. All the halls require inductees to receive at last 75 percent of all votes. Some have minimum and maximum numbers inducted each year. Football, for example, aims to induct four to seven new members each year. This past year, baseball did not induct anyone into its Hall of Fame.
So what’s the problem?
After looking at how other Halls of Fame operate, we can begin to see where the differences lie, and what is wrong with the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
Pro Point threshold
The 100- or soon-to-be 150-Pro Point threshold seems a little arbitrary. I’d actually challenge the assertion that this is even necessary. In the four major sports Hall of Fames, there is no statistical threshold players have to cross in order to become eligible. By their very nature, the statistics come into play during the player evaluation. Some leagues do have a form of screening to shorten that list via a Selection Committee.
Wizards explicitly states that a Hall of Fame member should have specific attributes, and that one of those attributes should be a player’s performance. I can understand that Pro Points are an easy proxy for performance, because accumulating those points would require either a short period of brilliance or a long period of success. However, there are other ways to measure someone’s performance.
Contribution to the game
Both baseball and hockey list contributions to teams and the game itself, sportsmanship, and character as attributes worth considering for eligible candidates. I think these are likely ways to make cases for players on the border of induction, to separate two players with similar statistics. I also think this is complete crap.
What this creates is a place where you can make cases for marginal players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Take a look at Patrick Chapin. He has 217 lifetime Pro Points, but no PT or GP wins, four PT Top 8s, a couple of GP Top 8s, and that’s it. Statistically, he’s a borderline case. It was his contributions to the game that put him over the top. His prowess as a deckbuilder and his strategy articles gave him an advantage and put him into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Not his Pro Tour and Grand Prix stats, but something outside of that. Which leads to my next point …
No provision for non-pro players
Currently only people who have played on the Pro Tour can make it into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. I believe these players should be honored, but what about all of those people who contributed to the game that never made it onto the Pro Tour? Believe it or not, there was an era before the Pro Tour. Today we take for granted concepts like card advantage, mana curve, who is the beatdown, etc. But there was a time when these things didn’t exist; talented minds came up with them and pushed the game forward. These people should be honored as much as pro players; in many cases, their contributions pushed the game forward in a way few pro players could ever imagine.
Take the previous example of Patrick Chapin. Maybe his stats get him into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, maybe they don’t. We do know that Chapin is an excellent writer and his contributions to the community have been great, to the point where people used that to justify a spot in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. If his community building and writing are so great, then maybe he deserves to be enshrined for those alone.
Plus, don’t you think Richard Garfield should be enshrined in a Hall of Fame somewhere?
Bias toward newer players
I think the bias comes from two places: the Pro Point threshold, and memory.
There was a time in the game where there was no Pro Tour, no Grands Prix, and no concept of professional play. There was no concept of traveling to Grands Prix, becoming globetrotters in the process. Now there are four Pro Tours a year, 40-plus Grands Prix, with people traveling far and wide to attend. The game is vastly different now than it was 20, 15, or even 10 years ago. The game has grown dramatically, bringing in an influx of players who have little or no concept of the history of the game. This creates a huge disadvantage for older players.
Bertrand Lestree was a French national champion who took second place in the inaugural World Championships AND the first Pro Tour. He was considered to be the best player in the world at the time, and his Worlds deck is considered to be one of the first technologically advanced decks ever (Argothian Pixies, efficient creatures, and burn). But his time was before the Pro Tour and Grands Prix, and he hasn’t really been heard of since 1996.
Older players also don’t have the place in voters’ memories the same way that newer players do. Think about players like Chris Pikula, Huey Jensen, Mark Justice, and Mike Long. There are a number of voters who probably know these four by reputation only, and so there’s a lot of research necessary to determine that they are worthy of a vote. As humans, we’re inherently lazy. Why research when I can just vote for people who I know about? Why research Justice and Long when I know their reputations, instead of letting their stats and other contributions speak for themselves? Ssay what you will about Long, but he was a brilliant player and deckbuilder.)
Low threshold for induction
To get into the Hall of Fame, players must be on 40 percent of the weighted ballots. Doesn’t that strike people as oddly low? In the major sports, you need at least 75 percent of ballots to get in. In Magic, you need to be on less than half the ballots, which is likely because of the weighted system.
Number of voters
The Selection Committee is made up of about 145 people, and there are roughly 225 players with more than 100 Pro Points. Take out the 33 Hall of Famers along with maybe 20 percent who probably don’t vote, and you have about 170 players who vote. That’s a grand total of 315 voters. Seriously. Hockey has 18. Football has 46. Basketball has 24. Magic has 315.
Isn’t more always better? Not really. Imagine a company that makes all of its decisions by allowing all of its employees to vote. Some employees care, some won’t. Some will have better information than others. Some employees will vote the way their boss tells them to, or will listen to the loudest voice in the room. Now, I recognize this is a Hall of Fame, but the comparison holds true. The voters are not there because they are the ones with the most information, not because they care the most, nor because they are the most influential. They are there because they are either handpicked by Wizards (who, you would hope choose the most influential, informed, and impartial voters) or are players who surpassed an arbitrary threshold of Pro Points.
Players with votes
I think this is the biggest flaw in the system. In no sport do active players have a say in who gets into the Hall of Fame. Yet Magic allows it. I can see the argument for allowing players to vote; if the attributes for a Hall of Famer include performance, skill, and integrity, then who better to assess that than a fellow Pro player? These players may have played against a candidate, watched the candidate play, or know them by reputation.
The first problem arises with a reliance on statistics. A lot of the discussions that go on are based on statistics like average median finish, Top 8s, wins, winning percentage, etc. If players base their votes solely on statistics, then what is the point of even having players vote? Wizards can create an algorithm, feed in the stats, and come up with a perfect candidate that way.
Have you seen the #mtghof hastag on Twitter? You had some of the biggest names in the Magic community openly lobbying for certain players to get in. I’m not saying that Huey Jensen or Chris Pikula aren’t deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, but what happens when you start to vote for a candidate because LSV, Chapin, Flores, or any number of Magic players make the case for them? The ability for one, or several, people to influence votes is too high.
And Wizards already discounts the Players Committee, which only receives 33 percent of the final weighted vote. Theoretically, you could have every single player vote for one specific candidate, yet that candidate still might not get in to the Hall of Fame. It would require at least 11 votes from the Selection Committee to induct that player. So why have players vote when you’re already discounting their votes in the first place?
How to fix it?
I’d get rid of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and rebrand it the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame. Naming it that way makes it evident that it is about the game, and allows you to open it to a wider group of people. I’d rename the Pro Tour Hall of Fame the Player’s Wing. Any player elected into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame would automatically be inducted into this wing, because you do not want to revoke their accomplishment. For future inductees, I’d remove the Pro Point threshold, but keep the minimum of 10 years since they first appeared on the Pro Tour.
I’d open up a new wing for contributors to the game. The concept is to celebrate the people who have made significant contributions to the game of Magic over the years. And there are many. Tournament organizers, judges, designers, writers, theorists, deck designers, etc. They all have played an important role in making Magic what it is today.
Unfortunately, the criteria is a little nebulous. Anyone nominated for induction would have to demonstrate significant contributions to the Magic community. Their contributions would move the game forward in a significant fashion and their influence felt by players during their time and since.
As a first cut, here are my thoughts:
- Richard Garfield (if I need to explain this, then you need to do a little research)
- Peter Adkison (founder of Wizards of the Coast)
- Frank Kusumoto (founder of The Magic Dojo, the first “must go to” site for Magic)
- Rob Hahn (author of the first Magic strategy articles, “The Schools of Magic”)
- Brian Weissman (creator of “The Deck” and founder of the concept of card advantage)
- Paul Sligh/Jay Schneider (creator of sligh and founder of the concept of the mana curve)
- Mike Flores (prolific writer, theorist, and deck builder)
- Sheldon Menery (longtime, now retired, judge; helped popularize Commander/EDH)
- Jeff Donais (onetime best player in the world; wrote Official Tournament Players Guide; headed what is now Organized Play for six years)
I know I’ve missed tons of people, but that seems like a pretty good list to start off with. Players who are part of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame would also be eligible for the Contributors section. For example, Zvi Mowshowitz and Patrick Chapin would be deserving of being in this section of the Hall of Fame. What this does is it takes out the “contributions to the game” criteria for players and puts it in the appropriate place.
This would probably be the biggest change. I’d get rid of the Players Committee altogether and pare down the Selection Committee dramatically. There’s no reason for it to be so big. You could easily get away with 25 or 50 members without sacrificing quality. In fact, without the players vote, I’d argue that you’d increase the quality of voting.
I’d want a committee that represents the history of the game, or at the very least has a knowledge of the history of the game. This would be important for the selection of contributors to the game, as well as selection of players for induction. This is why baseball leaves its selection process to the BBWAA; the writers typically have been around for a long time and tend to be students of the game. Their knowledge of players and contributors gives their votes credibility.
Knowledge of history also allows for the ability to have a Veterans Committee. You could use the same set of people, a subset, or an entirely different group of people than the Selection Committee, but the purpose would be to evaluate players who have fallen off the ballot, or were never on the ballot to begin with. This allows the committee to honor the players who played early in the game’s history and never accumulated Pro Points, as well as players who were overlooked the first go-round.
Right off the bat, the Veterans Committee could look at the following players for induction:
- Zak Dolan
- Bertrand Lestree
- Mark Justice
- Mike Long
My suggestion is that players who have been suspended by the DCI on more than one occasion for the same offense, or three time for any offense, should not be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Lifetime bans will be upheld by the Hall of Fame.
I’d also give the Hall of Fame its own website. Not a series of pages under Daily MTG, but its own site with its own domain. Give it the same look and feel as the other Halls: profiles, game history, videos, decklists, etc. Basically, a one-stop shop for Magic history.
A physical presence would be nice, but might be hard to pull off. It could be two things, either a fixed location or a traveling roadshow. A fixed location could be hard to pull off, with questions like where would it be, why would people visit, and who would own it. I don’t see myself traveling just to see the Magic Hall of Fame, but I’ll make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown. But a traveling roadshow could work. It could be a package that a Tournament Organizer can get. It would go out to larger tournaments, like SCG Opens, Grands Prix, and Pro Tours. You could have a display with profiles, maybe a video of some memorable moments (Gabriel Nassif’s called shot for example), as just something for people to do between rounds.
Basically, what you want is something that keeps the Hall of Fame in people’s minds throughout the years, not just when their Twitter accounts blow up every year at the same time. The Pro Tour Hall of Fame needs to go and a Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame needs to rise out of the ashes. All of Magic needs to be celebrated and not just the people who have had success on Pro Tour.
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