The Observor: On the Subject of Fame

A couple of months ago, at the Star City Open event in Indianapolis, I was approached by a player. I wasn’t there to play, I was just wandering around visiting people since there was an event in my hometown. This player approached me while I was helping the coverage guys set up their feature match table.

“Are you Nate Price,” he says?

Despite being a fabulously well-known coverage reporter and socialite, I was dumbfounded that anyone would actually have any clue who I am, let alone simply by appearance. After all, most people associate me with some hastily cobbled together words, not an actual person.

“Yes,” I replied, giving no hint at this internal monologue.

“Awesome! I just wanted to let you know that Deadguy Red is my favorite deck of all time!”



To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond at this point. For those of you who don’t get the joke, Deadguy Red was one of the first competitive Red decks built to do anything of note at all on the professional level. It was designed and championed primarily by one Dave Price of Team Deadguy. Needless to say, I am not Dave Price. If I was, I’d be considerably better at Magic. I’d also be considerably more vegetarian. As I said, I wasn’t sure how to respond in this situation given that I was a.) Not Dave Price, and b.) crushed that this guy didn’t know who I was. Apparently at this point, all I amount to is a second rate stand in for a Magic player every one who played a lot in the ’90s has nostalgic memories of.

Oh well, at least he knew my name.

The reason I bring this story up is that this week was the deadline for the voting members to turn in their ballots for the Hall of Fame. Needless to say, as famous as I may be, either as myself or someone else, I am not on the ballot. Unfortunately, we are far enough into the voting process that far too many deserving people are. You see, we follow the same rules that most professional sports Halls of Fame follow in that we have an initial set of criteria to be on the first ballot (a set duration after obtaining first Pro point), and for each year that you receive a certain percentage of the ballots, you are able to stay on through the following year. In order to be inducted, you have to achieve a majority percentage of the votes.

As a member of the voting community, I was placed in a strange spot this year. To better understand, the ballot this year is as follows:

Ryuichi Arita

Akira Asahara

Jose Barbero

Chris Benafel

Marco Blume

Noah Boeken

David Brucker

Franck Canu

Tiago Chan

Patrick Chapin

Jeff Cunningham

Brian Davis

Antonino De Rosa

Jan Doise

Willy Edel

Eric Froehlich

Osamu Fujita

Ryan Fuller

Justin Gary

Gerardo Godinez Estrada

Yann Hamon

Eugene Harvey

Kazuya Hirabayashi

Ken Ho

Rich Hoaen

Mike Hron

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

William Jensen

Scott Johns

Craig Jones

Anton Jonsson

Mark Justice

Mattias Kettil

Brian Kibler

Benedikt Klauser

Shuu Komuro

Masashiro Kuroda

Nicolas Labarre

Michael Long

Antti Malin

Quentin Martin

Patrick Mello

Antoine Menard

Katsuhiro Mori

Masahiko Morita

Chikara Nakajima

Gabriel Nassif

Eivind Nitter

Ryou Ogura

Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz

Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz

Wessel Oomens

Rickard Osterberg

Diego Ostrovich

Jamie Parke

Brock Parker

Mario Pascoli

Chris Pikula

Jeroen Remie

Carlos Romão

Johan Sadeghpour

Tomoharu Saito

Alex Shvartsman

Bram Snepvangers

Jonathan Sonne

Ben Stark

Helmut Summersberger

Mike Thompson

Jens Thorén

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Ruud Warmenhoven

David Williams

Shouta Yasooka

Now for most of you out there, this might be an intelligible list of names. For those of you that have been around for a while, this represents a list of some of the most prolific and well-known players in Magic history. It fell to me and the other members of the voting community to narrow this down to a mere five votes. Five votes to define greatness.

Looking across this list of names, I was struck by a thought: how does one define fame in this context? What metric should we be using to determine the worthiest players? Do you make the case purely based on raw data and numbers? Do you look at a player’s contributions to the game and its progression? Do you simply pick the most well known players? Even amongst all of these potential guidelines, there is going to be bias. There will be country bias, era bias, and simply personality bias.

For me, I decided that the most important thing to me was to find a middle ground for all metrics. I wanted people who had obviously great careers, contributed immensely to the game, and, by virtue of these, had a decent amount of fame. I also try really hard to get past my regional bias and look strongly at the international community, as we are really starting to get into the heyday of the World of Magic. This is the time when the game ceased to be purely dominated by Americans, and stepped level of play up immensely. It was one of most important times in Magic history, when the game ceased to be another game and became something of a worldwide phenomenon.

I am going to present the first two names on my ballot as a pair, because they have similar stories and, over time, have become inextricably and unexpectedly linked: Brian Kibler and Tsuyoshi Ikeda. Kibler and Ikeda have been playing Magic for a long time. A long time. I remember watching Kibler wearing his tie-dye shirts, smashing his opponents with big dragons on his way to win after win. I saw it this year at Grand Prix-Sendai. I also saw it at grand Prix-Toronto. In 1997.

Let that soak in for a moment. Brian Kibler has won three Grand Prix in his career, and the newest is separated from the oldest by thirteen years. Along the way, he has also managed to pick up a Pro Tour win as well as a plethora of Top 8s. His career has spanned more than a decade, and he is probably playing the best Magic of his career right now. He’s also always been a great ambassador for the game, traveling the world over for the love of the game. Along the way, he’s made a giant network of friends and enemies. Perhaps the most famous of them is his eternal nemesis Tsuyohi Ikeda.

Ikeda-san is another old dog of Magic. He has been accumulating Pro points for over a decade, so it’s no surprise to find that he is ranked 14th all time in Pro points, which actually puts him ahead of Brian Kibler, who has arguably had more success. Just like Kibler, it’s fairly safe to say that Ikeda is playing the best Magic of his career right now. In the past few years, he has Top 8′d three Grand Prix, including a win, finished third at Worlds, made the 2010 Japanese National team, and finished second at Pro Tour-Austin, losing to none other than Brian Kibler. Just like Kibler, he has become a great ambassador for the game in Japan, his card shop Fireball providing a place to meet and practice for gamers across most of Japan. He is also a devoted parent, always listing raising his kids as his favorite non-Magic moments.

Joining these two on my ballot is a man whose Magical exploits are so great that pros know exactly who you’re talking about at the mention of one word: Hat. Gabriel Nassif has been all over the world playing Magic. Originally renowned mostly as a deckbuilding specialist, Nassif has gained immense respect over the past decade as simply one of the best players of all time. Another Pro, like Ikeda and Kibler, who has been playing for what seems like ever, Nassif finally had his real breakthrough at Pro Tour-Kyoto last year with his first individual Pro Tour win. His finals match against Luis Scott-Vargas was one of the most amazing matches of Magic I’ve ever watched. It seemed that at every turn, Nassif knew exactly what was going on and played appropriately. The best moment for me was in game four with his back against the wall. Nassif somehow knew that Scott-Vargas had put a Head Games under his Windbrisk Heights, a spell that would end the game. Instead of jumping the gun and burning his lone Negate on a potentially devastating Ajani Goldmane, Nassif simply let it resolve and played the careful attrition game, letting Scott-Vargas whittle away at his life total as he slowly dealt with his board of creatures and ultimately the Ajani. Eventually, with his hand worn down to nothing, meaning he had nothing to fear from the Head Games, he used his Negate to stop an Elspeth, Knight-Errant. When Scott-Vargas went for the Head Games on the following turn, Nassif smiled, knowing he had read the situation and played it perfectly. It was absolutely unreal to watch live.

My last two votes were for Masashiro Kuroda, all-around fine gentleman and the first Japanese Pro tour champion, and Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz, one of the best American Magic players of all time and one of the pillars of the early New York hotbed of talent.

One final thing I want to address here is the omission of a couple of players from my final votes, and my reasoning. The first is Mike Long. Long is one of the most polarizing people to have ever played Magic. He was the original heel of professional play, at the center of some of the biggest controversies in the history of the game. Mark Rosewater has been one of his biggest champions, asserting that Long made Magic tense and interesting. I will completely agree with Rosewater on that point, and his point that Long is one of the best star-builders in the game. He is one of the best hype-men in the game, much like Patrick Chapin. They both know how to market themselves and make sure that people know who they are. The one thing I disagree with is whether his impact on the game, though undeniable, was positive or negative. Rosewater sees his contributions to the game as positive. I do not. I will admit that I wasn’t as close to the game then as I am now, so my perspective is necessarily going to be different than Rosewater’s. I admit that this difference, and my own bias towards players that were big when I started playing seriously, has put him off my ballot for these past two years. As long as there are enough people in the world who appreciate his contributions to the game, though, he will remain on the ballot, perhaps one day making it in.

The other omission I have made is on a related note. I have chosen to leave Tomoharu Saito off my ballot for this year. I specifically say this year because I feel that Saito has some extenuating circumstances in his case. The topic of cheating comes up a lot in discussions at the higher-level events, especially around the time of the Hall of Fame voting. The question always comes up whether or not you vote for a cheater in. As for Saito, there was some speculation, that very early on in his career he was not the cleanest of players. Since that nascent part of his career, it is widely accepted, including by me, that he has clean as a whistle. There is no denying his skill, contributions to the game, and fame. However, I feel that I would be uncomfortable voting him in on the first ballot, just as uncomfortable as I would be if he never got in at all. I have gotten to spend a great deal of time with Saito and know that his head and heart are in the right place. He is a great player and will be rewarded with induction. It just may not be this year. With that said, I have left him off my ballot for this year with the full intention of voting him in next year if he doesn’t make it in this year through the others’ votes.

Feel free to discuss the decisions I have made and who you would have voted in under the comments. I am really interested to see how you would have voted. Thanks!

Nate Price

  1. My sentiment is vote for Saito. In Baseball, older voters cling to the concept of “First Ballot votes”. Sometimes they understand that a player is HoF worthy, but since _____(lets say an all time top 20 player) didn’t make it first ballot, this ____(all time top 50 player), shouldn’t be a first ballot entry. This person, knowingly understands that the latter player is deserving and plans to vote for him eventually. However, he will obstruct this player in the first year for a reason I believe is petty. What is past is past. We are looking at a player who is beyond deserving, who is unquestionably a HoFer.

    So what marks the difference between someone who enters on the first ballot and someone who doesn’t? They’re all HoFers. Will what people remember about Saito be that he got in on his second time on the ballot? Objectively, a person is a HoFer if he is a HoFer. To temporarily delay a vote for someone is nonsense. They don’t suddenly become a HoFer because it’s his second ballot. His alleged “cheating” either disqualifies him from the HoF or it doesn’t.

    (My Bias: <3 SAITO. <3 NASSIF TOO. So terrible, watching Nassif play fills me with such glee)

  2. My bias would go towards Bram Snepvangers (huge resume and did a *lot* for the game), but I really don’t know enough about enough players to make a well-informed decision.

    Saito I would probably vote for, though. He’s a real master and ‘bribery’ is such a strange thing in MtG. Plus, it was frickin’ 9 years ago! If he’s still cheating then he’s pretty damn proficient at it because he plays plenty of feature matches and he does just fine.

    Other than that, Nassif is obvious. I would vote for Finkel and Kibler too. Finkel has been around and has lead a crusade against cheating, which is something I personally despise too (note: still voting Saito and I don’t think that’s contradictory). Kibler just seems like an all-around great guy. He’s very outgoing, has played magic forever and is always fun to hear from on ggslive or whereever. Seems like a great guy and a real ambassador for magic.

    Hmm, guess I can fill up a ballot:
    Saito, Snepvangers, Nassif, Finkel and Kibler.

  3. Like you said, I think Saito deserves to make it in and probably will, regardless of whichever way you vote.
    To me it doesn’t matter if a player is on their first year of eligibility or say their fourth. If he deserves to get in, I would vote for him.

    I would also vote for tsuyoshi ikeda