Chris Pikula vs. Maro: The soul of the MTG Hall of Fame

Earlier today Mark Rosewater tweeted this out:

There was immediate blowback:

That’s a lot to unpack, so let me break it down. Tom, Paulo, and Christian are taking issue with a representative from WotC taking a side, and bringing morality (the right thing) into it. They have a point. Mark has spoken about his thoughts on the Hall of Fame for years, which I’ll get to shortly.

Patrick Sullivan goes a bit deeper, and bringing up an issue back from when the Hall of Fame was new:

http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/it’s-long-story-2005-06-27

That’s probably the screed Sullivan is talking about. I say “probably” because Rosewater had written something earlier about his support for Long, but that wasn’t nearly 3,500 words. Let me note what the qualifications were for the MTG Hall of Fame:

“Voting shall be based upon the player’s performances, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, and contributions to the game in general.”

That gives us five criteria to weigh. Mark admitted Mike lacked integrity and sportsmanship, but considered those among the least important categories. In other words, they were neither necessary, nor sufficient. Player performance was paramount, as was playing ability. Except, that’s not the true crux of his argument either. What it really came down to was this:

“But where Mike blows this category out of the water for me is in what I called charisma last week and today will call “star power”. You see, I spent almost ten years working on the Pro Tour. My primary job was star building. I’m the guy who came up with the idea for feature matches. I’m the one who chose who was featured. It was also my call who was put on camera during the final rounds on Sunday. And I had input into how the Pro Tours were covered in print and online.

In short, my job was to make the Pro Tour interesting and exciting. I had to make all of you care about it. And in the history of the Pro Tour three players blew everyone else out of the water. Interest in them dwarfs all the other players combined. Those players were Jon Finkel, Kai Budde and Mike Long. (Notice I voted for Jon as well and I vow right now to vote for Kai in two years.)”

As much as I want to ignore “Notice I voted for Jon”… I can’t. You don’t get any fucking credit for voting for Jon, any more than you get credit for voting for Kai. Not voting for Jon would have been an absurdity, and impossible for Mark to defend.

Was Mike Long famous? This was covered in The Three Amigo’s.

Mike Long was El Guapo. He was an infamous cheater and Mark loved him because Mike brought eyeballs. He was also absolutely terrible for the game of Magic. Let’s go back the 1998 US National Championship. Mike Long was found to have a Cadaverous Bloom in his lap. After much discussion Long was given a match loss (it may have been a game loss that ended the match, but I think it was an actual match loss penalty). There were a large contingent of players that wanted Long to be DQ’ed, Pikula chief among them. Rosewater did not feel Long should have been DQ’ed, and in the end head judge Donais agreed with Rosewater. Pikula went ballistic, with chants of “When will it be enough?!” Long ended up losing in the finals to Matt Linde, and was part of the eventual world champion Team USA.

Amazingly, Rosewater had the balls to write:

“I Do Not Condone Cheating” and “I think it is a blight on the game” in the same article as:

“When I was asked to pick the top ten best Pro Tour finals, Mike Long vs. Mark Justice in Paris topped my list. Mike had the ability to make any match he played in compelling. I was the “star building” guy for so long that it’s impossible for me not to recognize the value this added to the Pro Tour.”

That’s the crux of it. Mark valued what Long brought to the game (eyeballs). Pikula valued the integrity of the game. Those were the two incompatible worldviews some two decades ago. Mark fought for drama (think of wrestling with heels and heros). Pikula fought to clean the game up.

Let’s look at the Hall of Fame:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic:_The_Gathering_Hall_of_Fame

Yes, numerous cheaters got in during the early years, but it has gotten much better since then. Saito saw his invite revoked when he was suspended. The fact is, Mark might have won the battle, but Pikula won the war. The integrity of the game was more important then… charisma. I’ll come back to this in a second. Players revolted against lax enforcement of the rules. That led the pendulum to swing too far, where honest errors led to severe punishments, which led to angle shooting and rules lawyers. Eventually, they found the right balance, although a case can be made that the penalties once caught red-handed are still far too lenient. That’s an issue for another time. Now, let’s talk about charisma:

http://icametogame.com/2011/mark-rosewater-on-mike-long/

Some highlights:

“I felt like my job was to build up celebrities.”

“One of the things that saddens me, the fact that Mike isn’t in the Hall of Fame is the fact that we actively played him up as a bad guy because that made sense for the Pro Tour.”

Note: This isn’t true for the players who were there. Mike was a savage cheater, and an incredible asshole to boot. He was a pox upon the game and we collectively wanted him gone. Mark didn’t make Mike the bad guy. Mike made Mike the bad guy. Mark just tried to capitalize on that.

As for “The speech” that Mark refers to… “If this happens again, that would be bad.”

WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??? elnkgrgnlewrnkgnk45wnk4hlnk54wnkehnlk4w5rnlkhkldnklbwetlknhblknerlkngnkleqra

 

 

Sorry. It’s just that in the case of Mike Long this meant “If this happens again, we’ll get more viewers, so please keep cheating/winning.”

Seriously:

“How did Mike fare at star building? He’s the best I ever had. If I put him in a feature match or on camera, people showed up. In large numbers. The best example I can give of this was the PT Los Angeles won by Trevor Blackwell. Mike got into the Top Eight after a controversy with Darwin Kastle in the last round of the Swiss. Now normally the quarterfinals are low turnout as the event starts at 9:00 am. But in Los Angeles, the room was packed. It was at the time the best attendance we’d ever had for a quarterfinal match. Mike wins and advances to the semi finals. Even more people turn up out of the woodwork to watch. In the semi finals, Mike loses. The finals was the lowest turnout we’d ever had. Everyone came to see Mike lose. Once he did, they left.”

To Mark, Mike Long was the hand that fed. To Chris Pikula, Mike Long was a scourge to be eradicated. Amazing side note: The year Rosewater wrote this article, Pikula fell one vote short of making it into the Hall of Fame. There’s no way anyone could have known that at the time, but Rosewater held the power to elect Pikula in his hands. He chose to use it instead to promote Mike Long. That makes today’s tweets truly surreal to me.

I don’t have the time to write about how much Pikula did to clean up the game. He started local, cleaning up his own gaming group, and then worked to change the culture in and around NY and the East Coast. He worked tirelessly to move the Overton Window on what was and was not acceptable behavior. In retrospect history seems immutable, but it’s possible that without him the game would have developed completely differently. At the Pro Tour Rosewater could promote a feature match between white hat Reid Duke and black hat Stephen Speck. Then again, Gresham’s Law might not have been so kind. It’s possible players like Duke would not want to play a game where cheating was tolerated, if not encouraged. We’ll never know.

What we do know is that Pikula’s vision won out. For that, I am profoundly grateful. I wish he had made the Hall of Fame year’s ago, and I hope he’s enshrined one day in the future.

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