People like to talk about 4 Top 8’s as the bar for entry (or serious consideration, anyway) for the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Personally, I’ve always looked for consistent top finishes. If you ask me to judge who the best players are, I rate the guy with seven Top 16s and two Top 8s higher than the guy with four Top 8s but only four total Top 16s.
In fact, if you do want to use a litmus test to cut the ballot down to just the strong contenders, I will specifically recommend “seven Top 16s” as your line. Here’s who you get this year: Eric Froehlich (10), Justin Gary (8), Tsuyoshi Ikeda (7), Shouta Yasooka (7). I already thought this was a year where I might not use all five votes, so only having four names doesn’t bother me a bit. (If you look at the WotC stats it has Osyp Lebedowicz with seven Top 16s as well, but they’re counting his 9th and 12th place finishes in team PTs; I think only members of the Top 8 teams at a team PT should get credit for a “Top 16.”) Just missing the cut-off with six Top 16s, for whatever it’s worth, are Scott Johns and Tom Martell. Interestingly, there are two guys with four Top 8’s each on this year’s ballot who don’t have any additional Top 16s: Willy Edel and Mark Herberholz.
To be clear, I’m not a big fan of the “litmus test” approach to Hall of Fame voting. I think it’s possible to construct a candidate who fails on just about any single criterion but still brings enough other things to the table to make him a worthy Hall of Famer (I’d even include the 150 pro point criterion in this as I have voted for Chris Pikula multiple times in the past). If you want to vote for Willy Edel based on his community contributions or Mark Herberholz based on his deckbuilding prowess then I think that’s totally reasonable. My real point here is that I think Top 16s (and even Top 32s) paint a better picture of who does consistently well on the Pro Tour than Top 8s [alone]. And it’s that ability to succeed consistently that makes you a Hall of Famer in my eyes. If Willy or Mark had six Top 16s (or even a dozen Top 32s) then I could look past what I see as a flaw in their statistical profiles. But they in fact have only seven Top 32s each. Both guys spiked four times — which is awesome — but have shown very little consistency.
Eric Froehlich is, in my eyes, the one slam-dunk candidate this year. There are actually only six people in the history of the game with more Top 16s than his ten (Finkel, Nassif, Budde, Kastle, Levy, and Cornelissen). People talk about the fourth Top 8 he picked up since last year as the clincher, but I think the fact he has two Top 16s so far this season is a bigger deal. He’ll definitely be playing Worlds this year, and he might win a Player of the Year title too. He’s an all-time great talent who happens to be at the peak of his powers right now. An easy vote.
My second vote is going to Shouta Yasooka. Obviously, based on everything I’ve said so far, I like the seven Top 16s and the thirteen Top 32s (which trails only Efro and Justin Gary on this ballot). Those alone are not enough to get my vote, though, with only the two Top 8s. The things that push me over the edge are the runner-up finish at Worlds and the Player of the Year title.
There’s been a lot of debate online about how much to count high finishes at the new version of the World Championship. It’s true that you have to do something else good to qualify, so there’s a danger of “double counting” good PT finishes, but I still think qualifying for that tournament consistently is a significant accomplishment. Yes, I know you get points from one Worlds that count toward the next one, but we’ve still seen a ton of turnover every year. If the current season ended tomorrow we’d only see 10 of last year’s 24 competitors returning, and depending on how things shake out at the last few events, the list of people who have qualified for all of the new-Worlds could easily drop from three down to just Yuuya Watanabe.
The other thing I think is worthy of major credit is finishing well at that tournament. It’s the toughest tournament field of the year, by far. There isn’t even really another comparison. Sure, somebody has to win it and there’s only 24 players, so once you’re qualified then your odds of, say, a Top 4 finish are higher than a Top 8 at a Pro Tour; but I think the people who focus on that math are forgetting about the fact that you had to qualify before you even get into this situation! Anyway, I think when Shahar eventually comes up for Hall of Fame consideration that his two wins at Worlds have to count as major accomplishments. I also think that Yuuya should get major credit for putting up a win and an additional Top 4.
This is all relevant now because I think Shouta’s performance at the first new-Worlds is as impressive as a Pro Tour Top 8. He dominated the Swiss (going 11-1) and doing it with a collection of self-brewed decks that no one knew what to do against. (His lone-wolf approach to deck building and his consistent innovations don’t get enough attention either, in my opinion). He did lose the finals to Yuuya, but I still count his performance as dominant, and rate it a similar accomplishment to a PT Top 8. Meanwhile, Shouta does also have a Player of the Year title. It was fueled by lots of Grand Prix points (at a time when Grand Prix points were uncapped), but whatever… By the rules in place that year he was the best. And besides, I do think it’s impressive to accumulate 400 career pro points and 19 GP Top 8’s.
You have to be really good to put up those numbers even if you do attend a lot of them (especially without traveling internationally). So is a Player of the Year title “worth” a Pro Tour Top 8? They’re quite different, obviously, but I say yes – it counts as another major accomplishment in my book and that gets him to (at least) 4. One could also argue that winning a Pro Tour is a bigger deal than just making Top 8, and I normally would, but his win was in the one team constructed PT and team wins have to count a little bit less than individual wins so I’ll just leave it as a Top 8 and move on. The one other factor I do think is worthy of consideration is the opinions of other Japanese players, who seem to me to universally revere him.
I’m also voting for Justin Gary again. All 14 players who have ever put up 15 or more Top 32’s are in the Hall of Fame. Except Justin. Who has 17. (Not the 20 in the WotC stats, because of the bug with team finishes I mentioned earlier, but still.) Everyone who has ever put up eight or more Top 16s is in the Hall of Fame (or is about to be in EFro’s case). Except Justin Gary and Eugene Harvey. The more statistical analysis happens, the more it looks like the early years of the Pro Tour were easier (in the sense that top players could more consistently put up good finishes), but those numbers are still just plain gaudy. We’re not talking about 10-20 PTs in the 90s, we’re talking about a 45 PT career that spans well into the 2000s. Actually, to be fair to Justin, his last 14 PTs have zero Top 32s as he basically stayed qualified and kept coming for several years just to be able to hang out with the guys. All 17 of those Top 32s came in his first 30 PTs. That’s 17 for 30, including a streak of eight in a row (and two other cashes as well). The only person to rival that 56.7% Top 32 conversion rate is me at 58.3%, but that was in just 12 Pro Tours (and all back in the 90s). Plus don’t forget there are three Top 8’s and a win in there, along with a slew of “non-PT” success: a win at US Nationals, a second appearance on the US national team, a World team title, and a second place finish on the Masters Series. I don’t care if we’re talking about a pre-Magic Online era, if you can go two years without failing to make the Top 32 of the Pro Tour, you’re a Hall of Famer in my mind.
And that’s my ballot. Just three guys this year: Froehlich, Yasooka, and Gary. Tsuyoshi Ikeda does also have reasonable stats for this ballot (and solid community contributions from what I understand), but his counting stats are less impressive to me given that he played fully 59 Pro Tours, so I’m stopping at three. For lots of awesome stats, many of which informed this article, check out this Google Doc.
Randy Buehler is a seven-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor, Pro Tour Champion, the 1997-1998 Rookie of the Year, and a member of the 2007 Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. On the other side of the game, he is a former Developer, Director of Magic R&D, and VP of Digital Games for Wizards of the Coast. You can follow Randy on Twitter at @rbuehler and check out his commentary from the booth at DailyMTG.com.