Embracing The Chaos - Hall of Fame Ballot and GenCon Report
It’s the time of the year that I get to exercise a Level 5 privilege: voting for the Hall of Fame. I’ll tell you who I voted for (and not) and why (and not) then give you a recap of my GenCon weekend.
Part One: The Hall of Fame
This one is a no-brainer along the lines of Jon Finkel and Kai Budde. His resume is impeccable. In additional to being simply one of the most skilled players ever to sling spells Gab is a rather entertaining figure with a great if dry sense of humor and quick wit. He’s always great to watch on coverage or in the Arena doing a feature match. And you can’t underestimate the value of the hats! I won’t go as far as Tim Willoughby and say that if you don’t vote for Nassif you should have your vote stripped but I’d certainly raise my eyebrow at someone not voting for him.
While his technical numbers might suffer a bit since most of his accomplishments are from earlier days (although that’s ‘most’ not ‘all’) I like BDM’s argument that you adjust Steve’s numbers for the ballpark. I think selection of Steve this year is nearly as clear as Nassif. His level of play is unquestioned. What more endorsement do you need than Jon Finkel chose to be teammates? One of the other great deciding factors is that Steve is and always has been one of the ‘good guys.’ His demeanor and professionalism have been second to none. He’s never failed to be courteous to judge and opponent alike an affable conversationalist and all-around pleasure to have at an event.
Ted Knutson who understands the big picture of Magic as well as anyone in the world has made the argument and I don’t need to repeat him. Anton Jonsson has earned a HoF spot.
I’m sure I’ve known Bram longer than just about anyone associated with the Pro Tour. We’ve spent many hours discussing the intricacies of the rules and tournament structure. He’s certainly one of the great analytical minds in Magic. He was at one time a L3 Judge a great rules guru and had a significant impact on developing the Dutch Magic community which at one time was the most powerful in the world. I’m normally not a fan of awards for longevity but we’re talking about Ripken-like numbers here. His stance on honesty and integrity elevates him far beyond his peers.
I’m not actually sure that Kibler’s numbers are Hall-of-Fame worthy in the purest sense and I’m really sure they’re not first-ballot worthy; I’d consider them on the bubble. What pushes him over and gets my vote is his impact on the game. I’m clearly not a populist and it’s not his popularity that I’m voting for but what his popularity does for the game of Magic. I understand the knock about him is the fact that he never shuts up about himself but I’m a guy who appreciates a little self-promotion so that’s hardly a sin in my book. The fact is that Brian Kibler is simply great for—and great at—Magic. But I’m listing him last of my five just so he doesn’t get too big a head.
Tsuyoshi Ikeda: Unfortunately Ikeda-san is the odd man out of this ballot. I only get five votes; if I had six he’d get it.
Tomoharu Saito: He’s not a first-ballot Hall of Famer because of his indiscretions early in his career. His resume is good enough already but my votes are going to the guys that have made it all the way without succumbing to temptation. If he’s not elected this year I’ll give him some thought for next since his numbers are insane and he’s arguably the best deck designer in the world.
Chris Pikula: I’m hoping he comes back to play and runs up a few more PT T8s because he’d be a great influence on the game. His stance against the shadiness of his day was valiant and certainly helped me in what I do but I just don’t see the numbers being there.
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa: Clearly the best name in the history of the game. For me he’s a little light right now but if he continues achieving he’ll be an easy vote.
Antonino de Rosa: You can’t help but love Nino but his numbers aren’t even close. I wanted to at least show him a little love though. You haven’t lived until you’ve been hugged by Antonio de Rosa seconds after he’s won $25000.
Scott Johns: A reasonable PT record and impact as a WotC employee still aren’t quite enough for me. The fact that he once made a living as a wine taster gives him doubles on the Honorable Mention list.
William Jensen: Huey has a better record than most people give him credit for and was never boring to be around. In the end I think he’ll always be an Honorable Mention guy.
Patrick Chapin: Patrick Chapin has become one of the good guys. Let’s call it maturity. His talent for self-promotion is second only to Kibler’s. His writing about the game may be the best reason to have a StarCityGames.com Premium account.
Eugene Harvey: Eugene is a prodigious Magic talent. He simply hasn’t piled up Hall of Fame numbers. Likeability and Osyp’s endorsement aside (Osyp’s Endorsement sounds like a Britpop band from 1983) he’s not nearly there.
Alex Shvartsman: Agreeing again with BDM Alex’s insane Grand Prix run isn’t accompanied by a Pro Tour career anywhere near worthy.
Ben Stark: This is just a shout out to my Florida neighbor and all-around good guy. If popularity in your local community got you votes Ben Stark would be a first-balloter.
Who’s Right Out
Mike Long: While I appreciate Ted’s pro-Long arguments even though the Greatest-Jedi-Mindtrick-Ever wasn’t among them I disagree that Long’s villainy was good for the game (and please don’t reduce that argument to “you think that way because you’re a judge”). Perhaps he’s been the unfairly-cast lightning rod for all the malfeasance of his day but that’s the path he chose. Sadder is the likelihood that his play skill was sufficiently good to not need the sketchiness. Mike Long had faded from significance by the time I became a serious influence on the Pro Tour but I can say for sure that he would not have been given the same leeway had I been in charge back then.
Katsuhiro Mori: You can’t question his resume and you can’t question that he came by it dishonestly.
Part Two: GenCon
I attended the Best Four Days in Gaming this year with two tasks: run Massive Multiplayer Magic and participate as a gunslinger in the Champion Challenge. I’m happy to report that both went extremely well. Okay I confess there was a third task: eat delicious food. That also went well.
I arrived early Wednesday afternoon and popped down to have a little lunch with roommate Scott Larabee and we ran into Pastimes’ Alan Hochman and Cryptozoic’s Ben Drago both long-time friends. They joined us and we talked mostly about stuff that had nothing to do with gaming. Scott and I wandered over afterward to inspect the site. We popped into the exhibitor’s hall on the way to the TCG hall and I was amazed at the disarray that would be transformed into the clean neat operation of the following day. There were cranes and pallets and cardboard boxes everywhere. Just 12 hours later the hall would be ready for the 25000 or so people that would descend on the space. Scott and I found an EDH game before returning to the hotel for a drink at the marvelously-themed Red Dragon Inn (also known as the City Caf at the Marriott). Big kudos to the Slugfest Games folks did the decorations music and a fantastic job of lighting. Dinner was at the bar at Harry & Izzy’s with Scott Toby Maheras and Helene Bergeot. All four of us had the world’s spiciest shrimp cocktail (as featured on The Food Network) and the always-delicious Prime Rib sandwich. If you haven’t been to Harry & Izzy’s during your GenCon trips it’s a must-eat destination.
Thursday started the ‘work.’ Pro Tour commentator Rich Hagon was the MC for Massive Multiplayer Magic with R&D members Tom LaPille and Mark Gottlieb being the guest stars. Normally BDM has been the host for this and Rich and I slipped into the same kind of rhythm that Brian and I have—more of a comedy duo than anything else.
Massive Multiplayer Magic (what we used to call “Game of the Year”) features an oversized arena playmat and oversized cards. Members of the audience are invited to play against the guys from R&D and help manage the cards which are bigger than some of the junior participants. This year was the first year we featured three decks plus we added Planechase for more hilarity. Not to rub it in or anything but I’ll mention the R&D guys went 0-for-the-weekend.
In between the two-a-day giant card games I was fortunate enough to gunsling at the Champion Challenge booth. I came prepared with a whacky Standard deck featuring Bloodthrone Vampire Bloodghast Vengevine Mitotic Slime and Abyssal Persecutor. It didn’t stand up against the Tier 1 decks but it held its own against the others. The R&D guys had brought along a few decks as well. The only one I played was a WG Fauna Shaman thing that seemed a little slow out of the gate. The deck that I was most fond of over the weekend was the Primeval Titan/Valakut deck that piled up some damage pretty quickly. That Titan might be good. I also played one game of Archenemy with the Persecutor deck and my minions ruled!
Thursday night we went to the Weber Grill restaurant around the corner from the convention center. I’ll say that while the barbecue was good and the wine list has some surprisingly good choices (2006 BR Cohn Cab which had enough fruit to it that it went really well with the BBQ) I still like the BBQ better in Kansas City (and in particular Jack Stack’s—oh those burnt ends).
Friday I was only scheduled for two hours in the Champion’s Challenge booth but the requests to play EDH were so great that I’m sure I spent six or more. It was a labor of love. Folks from all around the country came by to play and I was happiest that none of them insisted on playing 1v1. We had lots of great and chaotic games to include one session of EDH Archenemy which lasted a lot longer than I thought. I actually had to get Mana Nation’s Trick Jarrett to sit in for me because the game was still going when MMMTG started. An hour later when we finished the game was still going. There were Slivers and board resets and all kinds of insanity although in the end Trick ended up overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure without advance preparation in both the Archemeny and EDH deck the opponents will most always win since the power of EDH decks can run to the extreme. Obviously a dedicated combo deck can kill an infinite number of opponents (not that I encourage that sort of thing) but I still think the odds are stacked against you when you have three players focused on disrupting you since they don’t have to focus on each other.
Friday evening we decided to get out of the area of the convention center and hopped a cab along with L4 Judge Jeff Morrow and game designer James Ernest to Iozzo’s Italian restaurant. The food was decent although not great and I found a nice little Sicilian wine (Cusumano Benuara Nero d’Avola) on the list. Afterward we headed back to the hotel and James gave us a full demo of his game “Lord$ of Vega$.” If you’re a board-gamer “Lord$ of Vega$” is worth a few plays. The theme is basically building running and taking over casinos (and maybe a little gambling) and having the most victory points when the game ends at a randomly-determined time. My only comment is that there was no opportunity to use “muscle” in the game. You know “Hey that’s a nice hotel; I’d hate to see something happen to it” type stuff. It’s set up to be a two hour game; I think it took us about three. Maybe when you’re experienced in playing it goes faster. Anyway a decent evening’s entertainment.
Saturday was more of both activities again showing up early and staying late for the gunslinging. I was happy that there were few really mean decks most folks really having gotten the philosophy of the group enjoyment idea of EDH. I’m not completely opposed to super-competitive decks or players I just would rather not mix them with the casual ones. Any individual group should set their own tone. I know what I like mine to be and I’m happy to let yours be when you like it to be.
I took four decks with me: Phelddagrif Isperia Karrthus and Kresh. I tried to play them in roughly equal numbers and although I wholeheartedly enjoyed casting a giant Storm Herd with Moat in play the Isperia deck just doesn’t resonate with me. It seems far too reactive. I know that the point was to have a deck with cards I don’t normally play and I now understand better why I don’t play them. Perhaps if I could build some kind of Blue-White beatdown…
Saturday evening Scott and I went back to Harry & Izzy’s with Rich Hagon and Jessica Sheets who is a PR rep working for Hasbro this time in the upstairs dining room. Since Harry & Izzy’s is owned by the high-end steakhouse next door called St. Elmo’s I asked if they shared cellars. When the waitress said they did I asked for their list instead. Jessica confessed to liking Bordeaux getting smiles from me and Scott so we had a 2003 Carruades de Lafite. The great houses in Bordeaux like Lafite-Rothschild have their ‘signature’ wines which are hideously expensive and beyond the reach of most of us. The good news is that they also have ‘second’ labels which is wine from the same producer only it’s their second-best stuff. Second labels are a great way to drink really really good wine on the cheap so that’s what we did. After dinner we had time to sling the 100 card decks but eventually decided that sitting on comfy couches in the lobby and having Sambuca was a better choice. Some interesting folks dropped by as we were sitting there to include long-time game designer and D&D guy Rich Baker. In our brief conversation he seemed like a fascinating guy to talk to so if you’re at a con somewhere and you have the chance I’ll tell you he likes bourbon.
I had decided to fly home on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday so I only had time for a little gunslinging. Once again Trick spelled me as my game ran over into the MMMTG and then it was directly back into the arena. I played as long as I was able until I had to leave for the airport. Huge thanks to Steve and Amber for their understanding (I think I was about to kill Steve and then get overrun by Amber but I’m not 100% sure).
There is no gaming experience quite like GenCon both for scale and feeling. I was really moved as I walked through the various halls and rooms seeing folks of all ages playing and enjoying all kinds of games. All these people descending on this one place in the name of just a little fun. That’s Embracing enough Chaos for me.
Next week back to full on EDH when we’ll talk about everyone’s favorite topic: Power Creep.