Chris Pikula Belongs in the Magic Hall of Fame

Epistemic Status: Fixing old mistakes, appreciating great old deeds.

(Note to those who do not play Magic: While this is nominally about Magic, I find these points to be of general interest, and wrote the post with that in mind.)

Chris Pikula belongs in the Magic Hall of Fame. Vote for him.

His results, while better than they look, fall short. I do worry about the precedent that will set. But it doesn’t matter. He belongs in the Hall. Vote for him.

Why? Because he did something for the game that needs to be honored and remembered as much as possible. Something that is more important than we realize, and which we need to keep fighting for. Something the world needs more than anything.

All groups, and all people, must decide who to reward, honor and ally with, and who to ignore, shame and oppose.

The default state of the world, the default state of any group, or culture, or industry or profession, is to want to choose strong allies, with high status, so they can help us. We reward what we believe succeeds and can help us. Knowing this, we all strive to emulate and signal these same characteristics, and to judge others as we observe them being judged.

This allows for multiple equilibria.

In the good equilibrium, good behavior like being nice, honoring your commitments, helping others and contributing to the community is recognized and rewarded. Bad behavior like cheating, lying, backstabbing and bullying is punished. Since good behavior is rewarded, (almost) everyone strives to exhibit good behavior. Bad behavior is seen not only as wrong, but also as stupid and weak. The system is (hopefully) stable, as reinforcing this good behavior is also good behavior and rewarded, while failing to do so or undermining it is also bad behavior and punished.

In the bad equilibrium, good behavior like being nice, honoring your commitments, helping others and contributing to the community is recognized and punished. Bad behavior like cheating, lying, backstabbing and bullying is rewarded. Since bad behavior is rewarded, (almost) everyone strives to exhibit bad behavior. Good behavior is seen as stupid and weak. It therefore also gets thought of as wrong. To succeed, one must not only engage in bad behavior, but make others believe that you do so, while nominally pretending to authorities and/or the naïve public that you’re not doing that. The system is again stable. If you don’t exhibit and associate with winners who do winning things, then you’re a loser, and we need to shun you and punish you for such bad behavior. Only the wicked succeed.

The more success is dependent on the judgments of others, the more stable, extreme and perverse such systems can be, with a variety of goals and optimization pressures. Usually such systems reward some mix of the good, the bad and the just plain weird.

I have observed in the past that much of business operates in the bad equilibrium. As do many other major aspects of our world. At the risk of mentioning politics, what we observe today is a deliberate attempt by someone I need not name, to move us from one equilibrium to a much worse one, from cooperation to needless conflict, from honor to dishonor, to judging people as winners and losers, as tough and weak, even their version of smart and stupid, and to see the world as zero sum rather than positive sum. To move us from a not especially great equilibrium to something much, much worse.

Chris Pikula did something that almost never happens. He moved the Magic: The Gathering community from the bad equilibrium to the good equilibrium.

In the early days of Magic, cheating was the order of the day. The rules didn’t punish it much – once I was at a local tournament, and Steve Mahoney Schwartz complained that he ‘forgot to cheat’ at Nationals because the punishment for being caught was having to undo the cheat. The players tolerated it. More than tolerate it, they honored those who were good at it. People looked up to cheaters and known all-around terrible people like Mike Long and Mark Justice. Those in charge knew and actively promoted them as our stars!

Rather than operating on intent and good faith, the rules operated on technicalities. Rules lawyering was epidemic. Opponents would constantly try to trick you into saying the wrong thing, letting go of a card, or otherwise win the game through lying and trickery.

It was not a few bad apples. It was half the apples. Training for the Pro Tour was largely about defending yourself against cheating. You learned how to make sure your opponent didn’t stack their deck or palm cards. You constantly counted their hand, made sure you had their life total in ironclad form so they couldn’t lie about it. You learned all the right terms to say to make sure you didn’t suddenly fail to block, or take mana burn, or pass up your ability to cast a spell. I’d estimate that at least a quarter of my optimization pressure during a tournament was making sure I didn’t get cheated or rules lawyered.

Even the honest major teams had spies and scouts around the world trying to figure out what the other major teams were working on, and steal their technology or alert others to the threat to gain positional advantage. This burned me and my teams badly multiple times.

It says a lot about how awesome Magic was and is, that we didn’t all just take our decks and go home. We endured it all.

Slowly, things got better. Cheaters got called out more and more. They got caught more often. The rules started punishing real cheating more, while punishing harmless mistakes less and rewarding rules lawyering less. Even more important, if you had been cheating, people made sure everyone knew, and everyone started shunning you for it. Cheating is bad and you should feel bad, even for associating with a known cheater. The best players know each other, we treat each other with honor and respect, and we work together to create a great competition and culture.

We take that for granted now. It wasn’t then.

Others are better positioned to tell the story of how he did that, but that story needs to be told, more often and in more detail. The world needs to know that it was done here, that it can be done, and know how to go about doing it.

Today, there are still a few bad apples. We must remain on guard. But when I sit down to play a match, until I have reason to be suspicious, I assume my opponent is an honest player there to compete with honor.

Still, there remain strong marginal rewards for doing better in tournaments. Some will fail to resist that temptation, as crazy as it is. When that happens, we must continue to catch them and give them their due. The good equilibrium is self-reinforcing, but we can lose it.

To help remember what happened and how it happened, to help keep what he helped create, and to encourage and assist such quests in other realms, we should elect Chris Pikula to the Hall of Fame. It is time.

When I see people talk about voting people who they believe are cheaters into the Hall of Fame, it boggles my mind. I don’t care what the person has accomplished. I don’t care what the person would have accomplished without the cheating. Doesn’t matter. If you think a player is or was a cheater, do not vote for them. Ever. Ever. Ever. Period. End of story.

There are a number of other Hall-worthy resumes on this year’s ballot, if you judge the players clean. Three players each have five PT top eights and a strong overall resume of results, and I see several other potentially worthy resumes as well. Whether or not you think each of those players have the character and integrity necessary for the Hall of Fame, is up to you. And you can and should form your own opinion about each of them. But if you think the answer is no, then I don’t care what they did. Don’t vote for them.




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13 Responses to Chris Pikula Belongs in the Magic Hall of Fame

  1. But… but… but _how_ did Chris Pikula manage such a feat?! There’s a story there that i want to hear!

    By the way, the link for “mentioning politics” is currently broken.

  2. deluks917 says:

    I always wonder if these sort of stories are ‘fake news’. My default assumption is that Chris probably was anti-cheating but so were alot of people. Chris is pretty well connected so its would not surprise me if his deeds got exaggerated. On the other hand, even if his story is exaggerated, it would be good for the community to honor a symbol of fair play.

    However you were there when this stuff was going on so presumably you have a better idea of how ‘fake news’ the story is. I definitely agree with not voting for cheaters regardless of their results.

  3. “Three players each have five PT top eights and a strong overall resume ”

    And 2 of those were suspended for Unsporting Behavior. As in Chris’ case, statistics are not everything.

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  6. David thomas says:

    Hey all I know this is an old thread but figured I’d say some things from a complete outsiders perspective.

    I’ve been playing Magic the Gathering since I was 12 years old back in 1998. I first saw the World Championships on ESPN2 and was in complete awe, Ben Fucking Rubin. Lol I recorded that hour on a blank Cassette and watched it all the way up till I was 27 and my son broke it. So so so so sad but we went and got Ice Cream so he didn’t realize how upset I was not at him but at the loss of my childhood on an hour long tape haha.


    I grew up very poor and the prospects of meeting friends, traveling the world, making money or back then funds for College were all amazing aspects to me. I asked endlessly for cards for Birthdays, Christmas and saved my summer money from working with my Grandpa. I eventually got very good at the game and found a couple friends to travel to actual tournaments. I top 4’d States when I was 14 and destroyed FNM’s left and right, Drafts yea got those too. My mother finally saw my true love of this game and supported me 100% of the way, it’s better than drugs or alcohol in your future haha. She was worried because I did not grow up with a father in my life and not having College Education herself she constantly worried I would be just another statistic. My mother was a Saint in my book and always tried her hardest to make up for her mistakes and I’ll always be thankful for her and the love she gave me. So anyway we were poor but my mother some how found a way to surprise me one night when she told me I would not be getting a present on my Birthday. I was momentarily heart broken until she told me I was getting the present early. I was even more shocked and confused and finally I asked what was going on. My mother beamed at me and said “I’m taking you to a Magic Grand Tournament”. I remember being completely clueless and felt terrible as I told her no such thing exists. I told her the only Magic Tournaments I knew of at the time were Grand Prix’s which are crazy expensive and they were not close too us in any way. Also I grew up in the sticks of a small ass town in the middle of nowhere to say the least. Wizards did not care about players in my area like that geographically lol. So my mom gets all hyped up and says she has already paid for the hotel, travel, tournament, food and if I didn’t make the second day I could play in any side tournament of my choice on Sunday. I was absolutely blown away and starting to cry because it was more exciting to me than the prospects of Disney World. I remember I practiced with my deck all day every day for 3 weeks and then all my dreams came true.


    We arrived at the tournament just my mother and I of course. I pointed out professional Magic players left and right, all the excitement in the world. To any other normal person it would of been like seeing an entire professional football team or two all in one venue. My mother was awesome and played along, listening, asking questions and all around just being awesome. I remember how excited I got when I pointed out the big guns of the room. Jon Finkel!!!!!!!!! My eyes are on the Myth the Legend himself, the flesh and blood body of Johnny Magic. Words and thoughts even now cannot describe how I felt at that exact moment and my mom knew it. My mom grabbed my arm and walked me over to where he was standing and I started to panic understanding this was not allowed. I was 14, a complete nerd, my glasses were bent old and too big for my face. My clothes were old too big and my hair was in desperate need of two hair cuts. I literally looked like an ugly Harry Potter with dirt on my face instead of a Lighting bolt scar on my Forehead. I was too embarrassed to want to actually go near him. My mother pulled me over and confidently walked right up to Jon and said something to the extent of HI there how are you doing today. This is my son David he’s a huge fan of yours and this is his first Grand Tournament. Jon looked at me smiled and laughed just slightly. He actually was talking too me and in no shape way or form was he judging me at all, if anything he may of even felt sympathy for me looking back. I had such a great time though even just talking for like 2 minutes. Jon told me to have fun in my first grand Prix and to just enjoy the experience first and foremost. I was told good luck and I told him good luck. My mother laughed at me and took me to the food court for a drink. I was so excited and happy and my mother knew it, I think she was happier than I was honestly. She saw me happier than I had ever been and it had been because of her, all her sacrifice and savings for this moment to be real.


    We talked and I pointed out more pro’s in between rounds of this amazing nerve racking tournament. I saw Zvi, Mike Turion, David Price and pointed them out to my mom with such happiness especially the master of red decks David Price himself. While we were sitting down though I noticed “HIM” and I told mom that “HE” was the bad guy of Magic. Know who I was pointing out yet? It was none other than Mike Long and he looked truly the villain in every way in my eyes. I told my mom about how apparently he was a huge cheater and the “Dead Guys” were after his ass. I explained to my mom David Price and Chris Pikula and how they didn’t take shit from cheaters. I explained how they were apparently the good guys of Magic and Mike Long was the Villain. My mom told me some stuff about how happy she was I knew right from wrong and chose the right path in a world she had no part of and knew nothing other than good guys are good and bad guys are bad.


    I played every round on the day and even won 2 matches and 5 total games. I was on top of the world and so was my mother, we went to our Hotel Room and ordered Pizza. I had just had the greatest day of my young life and it was going to happen again tomorrow. So of course my story has to hit some type of negative spot here eventually right??? Well yes it does and Sunday was not like Saturday, it was the exact opposite and it is all because of one person!


    I wake up, shower, we get free breakfast and the bed was so damn comfortable. Seriously as a poor kid, Hotels are fucking amazing hahaha. So we head to the Convention Hall and all is right with the world. I got into the PTQ on Sunday and still my pro tour dreams were alive haha until round 2 that is. I had won round one of this Limited PTQ with what yes was a busted sealed deck looking back. I was playing against a guy I had never seen or heard of but he was being pretty rude and mean to me even though he had won game 1. I was doing my best to stay within my mothers advise, “If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all”. I kept my mouth shut and pretty much just acted like a mute even though I was being tortured and my hands were absolutely shacking with every turn I took. Finally I saw a guy approach my table and I was in shock and amazement as it was Chris Pikula himself. The best way to describe my emotions were of absolute amazement and finally I knew this guy would shut his mouth and stop talking to me the way he was. I had a “Dead Guy” standing beside me and it was the one I knew to be the “leader” he would not put up with this torture of an undersized, nerdy 14 year old. REDEMPTION, PROTECTION is all I remember thinking and he seriously came right up to our match at the end of the Table we were sitting at and looked directly at my opponent and asked how the match was going. I was so completely confused and honestly did not understand at all what was happening in front of me. The guy looked at Chris and said it would be over soon and then they could get drinks. Chris looked at me laughed and started complaining about how he had just lost to some guy who couldn’t even play correctly. I remember him saying something to the affect of if he had that guys pool it be a top 8 lock. My opponent looked at me and said yea I know what you mean man. I played the rest of my match listening to Chris Pikula bash his Garbage opponent, while my opponent rudely asked me to hurry up and play my turns faster. Eventually I seriously just attacked with all my creatures and when he was still alive I just picked up my cards and started to walk away. My opponent told me to hold on and reminded me I needed to sign the match slip while laughing. I remember Chris still standing beside the guy said yeah and sign it in the write spot so you do not get an undeserved win. They both started laughing and took the slip from me and left without another word. I remember seriously starting to tear up and just wanna curl up in a ball and die after this incident. I could not believe what had just happened to me and how awful I felt on the inside and out after this. So naturally I go back to where my Mom had been sitting and she was not there. I figured she had gone to the bathroom or something so I just sat down until she came back, still in complete disbelief as to what had just happened to me and how to even explain it to my Mom without crying. I thought about how I never wanted to play Magic again and how foolish I was to think I could be part of such a terrible Communities who’s true colors had just been shown to me. I thought my life couldn’t get any worse and then it did.


    I noticed a guy walking up to my table with a confused look on his face. The man came up to me and asked if I was ok? I had to have a look of terror in my eyes as I had small tears rolling out of the corner of my eyes. The man looked at me and again asked if I was ok? If I was lost from my parent or something? The man was of course Mike Long. I looked at him I’m sure in total fear because, well I was in fear honestly. I told him I was ok and that my mom was just going to the bathroom I assumed or getting us food. Mike realizing I probably knew who he was I assume and said “man I’m sorry, but I promise you there are worse people in here than me”. I told him I was sure he was correct because I had just met one face to face. Mike asked if he could take a seat and I said yea sure or something to that affect. Mike asked if this was my first Grand Prix and other small talk stuff like how was my pool and other Magic related topics. I truly think he was just trying to help calm me down as after I had stopped crying and regained my composure he asked what had happened? I told him shortly what had happened and that I was just really disappointed. While talking to Mike I realized how insane it was though that I was talking to Mike Long about how Chris Pikula had just made me feel like a complete piece of shit. I remember mike told me some things like some stuff in life is not what its made out to be and that we need to make our own beliefs from our experiences not just what everyone around us tells us to believe. Mike was genuinely nice and after speaking with him I remember him telling my I wasn’t the first nor would I be the last person Chris had made feel this way. Mike not once though said a bad word against Chris, which would have given me a golden opportunity to vent further. I think Mike knew I wanted to say terrible things against a guy I had looked up too without knowing his character. Mike told me to forget it and go have fun and to not let this one incident with 2 people ruin an amazing game and time I could have. Mike stood up and looked at me and told me its just a Game, Games are fun, most people are nice and decent and that the minority should not ruin things for me. I remember thinking I knew he was right but still I absolutely did not like Chris Pikula. Mike tapped me on the should and told me to go get the next one and that if I ever saw him to not be afraid to come say Hi. I thanked Mike and as he left the table I remember thinking that I was just in the Bizarro World or something.


    When my Mom came back she immediately looked worried and confused. I told her I had a rough match with some rude people and that someone had helped me understand that there will always be rude and nasty people in the world and it just sucks more when you think those are the good guys. My Mom agreed and I was on to the next match. During the 5th or 6th round I met a kid a few years older than me that was pretty cool and actually only lived 45 minutes away from me. We got along great and even exchanged phone numbers and are still friends approximately 19 years later.


    It had been the best weekend of my life and I will always thank Mike Long for helping a 14 year old kid out when clearly he needed it. Mike did not have to go out of his way to help a kid that he saw was clearly having issues. Chris Pikula did not have to help put down and 14 year old kid that was already being emotionally attacked. Was I an emotional child, yeah I was and I was in a room with other Nerds, Geeks and Dorks. My Hero was the Villain and the Villain was one of the Hero’s in my book.


    Remember this: It’s not how you treat those who you feel are your equal that shows your character. It’s how you treat those who think they are beneath you that shows your character.

    The fact that Mike Long is not in the Hall of Fame is honestly sad to me but to anyone that did not meet him and just heard the legendary stories I understand I truly do. Mike had a lot of Stories around him and that is all most people have is stories from those who they feel are the Hero’s of the game. Even if some people in Wizards admit to helping make the stories to give Magic a Villain when Magic needed Character. The sad part is though if you ask people who played against Chris or heard Chris complain when he lost or even how much he complained when he won but it was too close of a game for him. Those people from the very late 90’s and early 2000’s would tell you he was a nightmare of a person to listen too, it’s not just me.


    With all that has happened with the HOF though I think it’s time to be fair and just say finally that KARMA is a Bitch and she always’ bites you in the Ass eventually. There is no Chris Pikula and his great contributions without Mike Long. There is no anti cheating without the cheater, there is no Hero without the Villain.


    Incase anyone actually read this and gives a shit. 14 years later, while on the Pro Tour “oh yes I made it that far” I got to play none other than Chris Pikula. Chris clearly would never of remembered me and I wouldn’t of expected him too at all. The satisfaction of hearing him complain and try so hard to collect the much needed Pro Points to keep him on the Ballot for the HOF. The immense satisfaction of beating him 14 years after the incident at 14 was perfect Justice for me and the fact he’s still not in the HOF show’s you get what you give. Seriously though I laughed so damn hard at that Pro Tour with my friends as he walked away from the table alone with his fucking head down. I seriously went into the bathroom and a couple tears came down my face as I was so damn happy, pleased and the 14 year old from 14 years prior was proud.


    Not everything is as it seems and not everyone is who they are made out to be.


    Thank You

    • TheZvi says:

      Thank you, I can totally believe that happened. I appreciate the alternative perspective. There’s no question Chris and his group could be rather rude and abrasive back then; they certainly didn’t want anything to do with me when I was starting out. And Mike could definitely be a nice guy when he wanted to be, which was a nice part of having him as the designated bad guy – when Ryan Fuller and Chris Benefal took that role later on, it was much worse, because they took pride in making everyone’s day and life worse whenever possible.

    • Nicholas Decker says:

      Quick question: Are you writing under a pseudonym? Because no person with the name of David Thomas has ever played Chris Pikula at the pro tour, and of all the people to beat Chris Pikula at pro tour Theros, which was the only one he played for several years in any direction, the only non recognizable pro person with a grand Prix played before 2010 was a person named Eric Philipps, but the GP he played was in 1998, when you would be 12, not 14. I’m curious as to this.

  7. DeShawn Washington says:

    Zvi, how do you feel about known cheaters like Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel being in the Hall of Fame? I don’t mean to imply that they are just cheaters with no actual ability to play the game. But then again, the same could be said for many of the game’s villains.

    • TheZvi says:

      If someone cheated in games of Magic on the PT level, and we don’t have something like “they were 15 at the time and they grew up and their subsequent career is good enough on its own” they shouldn’t be in the Hall, period. Olivier Ruel should not be in the Hall, but it happened.

      Bob Maher did not cheat in games of Magic; as I understand it, his store altered his rating and he didn’t blow the whistle on them. While that’s certainly not *good* and it’s a point against him, I don’t feel like it should invalidate his entire career. He is the great one.

      • DeShawn Washington says:

        Wait, you’re saying Bob didn’t blow the whistle on the store and himself? For years, I have labored under the impression that he blew the whistle and that’s how he was able to cut himself a deal. I agree that he’s a great player, by the way. That much is beyond contest.

        As for Ruel, if he doesn’t belong in the HoF because he’s cheated, I’m curious as to who else you think doesn’t belong there, if anyone. I’m certainly not asking you to turn this into a hit piece. But it does seem there are elephants in the room that no one wants to acknowledge and you do seem like one of the straight shooters of the Magic world.

      • TheZvi says:

        Yes Bob eventually did turn the store in, but damage done, etc.

        Ruel I know about because he cheated against me. I caught him dead. Judge did nothing. Sigh. I wrote it up, no one seemed to care.

        I don’t like to speak on the internet about what people did, if it’s all second hand. Not a good road to go down. If I say it here it would be because I know it for a fact.

        The important thing is to not reward those who you believe are guilty. If you think someone is innocent, that’s fine

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