Seth Manfield just had one of the greatest weekends in competitive Magic history. He came into the 2015 Magic: The Gathering World Championship largely unheralded in a field full of former Player of the Year winners, Hall of Famers, and World Champions. He was not even the person on his team singled out as a dark horse to do well at this event. That honor went to Steve Rubin, who worked with Manfield, Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Champion Ari Lax, and former Player of the Year Brad Nelson.
That was all fine for Manfield, who proceeded to end Day One of the event with a 6-1 record—including two wins against former Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe—as the tournament frontrunner. He would not lose again on the weekend. He went 7-0 the rest of the way in the Swiss, and proceeded to take down both Sam Black and former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald. Manfield, who had been a bundle of nerves throughout the Top 8, seemed to burst with emotion as all his preparation culminated in a $50,000 check and the title of World Champion. It was also marked the first time an American had won that title since Hall of Fame pro Jon Finkel won it more than a decade and a half ago.
Seth Manfield, 2015 Magic World Championship Winner
The first time I remember seeing Seth Manfield show up in the standings of a large event, it was sometime around the halfway mark between the two American World Champions. He won Grand Prix Daytona Beach in 2007, which came as no surprise to the players who knew him from the Junior Super Series-era of Magic. That win gave him his first crack at playing on the Pro Tour, but it would not stick the first time around. Always a fierce competitor, Manfield knew he was not going to be able to give the game the full attention it demanded to compete at that level while he was in school. When he was done with school, he fully expected that he would be able to get back to that level.
"That was when I realized just how difficult it is to actually qualify for a Pro Tour, as I was playing in PTQs for a while, until my break came when I won Grand Prix Kansas City," said Manfield of his journey back to the Pro Tour. "I knew that this was my opportunity to become a professional Magic player, and I might never get the opportunity again. One of the newest developments for preparing for larger events like Pro Tours is teaming up with other players, and listening to others' ideas has really helped me further develop my game. This idea of super teams has completely changed the dynamic of Pro Tours, which is very different from my first Pro Tour experience in 2007, when I was in Geneva."
Manfield would connect with a collection of players that have been called Team Luxurious Hair, Team TCGPlayer.com, and finally Team Luxe over the past couple of season, and he was able to post the first Pro Tour Top 8 of his career during Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Manfield was not even the favorite to win from his team, but he did not let that get to his head for the tournament.
"A good friend of mine, Steve Rubin, was called the dark horse going into the event, and I was very much a dark horse as well. I haven't put up the kind of results that some of the other household names of the tournament have, but I knew that I had the ability to put up the performance I did," said Manfield of his mentality heading into the World Championship. "I tried not to buy into the hype around which players were expected to do well and which weren't, because if I did I would have lost confidence—I wasn't a high pick when fellow players started fantasy drafting the people they expected to do the best. I feel like now I have proved that I can compete with any Magic player, on any stage, and that is a great feeling."
Seth Manfield and members of his team
Manfield was as surprised as anyone to discover that he was the first American to win the title since 2000.
"Jon Finkel is an incredible Magic player. He's the best player of all time in my eyes, so winning the same title that he won back in 2000 is surreal. It is hard to put into words everything that winning the World Championship means to me. For a professional Magic player, it is the highest possible honor, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life—though I have no plans on giving up the title to someone else next year," he said of following in Johnny Magic's footsteps.
Like all competitive Magic players, Manfield has tremendous respect for the accomplishments of Jon Finkel. But it was a different Hall of Fame pro he was thinking about as he won Magic's toughest tournament. His father, Edward Manfield, was a bridge champion, and is enshrined in the American Contract Bridge League Hall of Fame.
"My father was my ultimate role model, and unfortunately I was young when his life was cut short. He loved to play bridge, and traveled to events the same way I do for Magic. I think that there is something in my genes that has made me love Magic as much as I do," said Manfield of his card gaming legacy. "I think he would be proud to see me now, I just wish I could've gotten a chance to teach him Magic like he taught me bridge. I know that one day my daughter, Eve, will look back and be in awe of what happened, and will see me as a World Champion, though it may take some time before she is able to comprehend its importance to me. Who knows, maybe she will follow in my footsteps."
Perhaps the turning point of Manfield's season came just days before he went to compete in Grand Prix Ottawa, when he learned that he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby later in the year. He went on to win that tournament, which propelled him into a Platinum season and a berth at Worlds. While Manfield knows that there is a certain amount of streakiness in the game of Magic and acknowledges that he has been on the plus side of that ledger, he ascribed his success to a mental switch that flipped upon learning he would become a father.
"I believe that while I have been getting lucky when I have needed to, I have also been thinking about the game in a different way. My mindset has changed," said the three-time GP Champion. "I went into the Top 4 of the World Championship thinking that I was going to win. This was not a mindset I would have had a year ago. Not only is Magic my passion, it is also my job, and I have worked even harder than ever before—even with being a father on my plate."
Nobody goes to a Magic tournament and expects to go 15-1 on the weekend, especially against a field like the one that competed for the World Championship. Manfield more than exceeded his own personal goals at the tournament, which included showing the world he was as good as he believed himself to be at the game.
Brad Nelson congratulates new World Champion Seth Manfield
"Going into the World Championship, like any other event, my goal was to play as well as possible. Sometimes I play super well and still do poorly—that's the game. I never thought that I would do as well as I did, but that doesn't mean I didn't think I had it in me. It just means means that to put on a performance like I did, a lot needs to go your way. The way I was stringing the wins together, it felt like I was unstoppable. Honestly, this is the point where I can finally look back and take in what happened, and it feels amazing. I believe that I am one of the best players in the world, and this performance validates that feeling," said the World Champion.
One of my enduring memories of this tournament will always be a victorious Manfield staggering backwards from the table and all the coiled up emotion he had been battling all day finally coming loose. If not for a savvy move by interviewer Marshall Sutcliffe to engage Manfield about some of the technical aspects of the finals, Manfield might have completely lost it at the newsdesk.
"The build up to Sunday was intense, as I wanted to test as much as possible to prepare myself for the Top 4. It is not every day I get to compete to be a World Champion, and all I needed was to win two more matches. I wanted to maintain my focus and not think about what winning would mean, right up until I won the fifth game against Owen Turtenwald. After that, I let everything out and I couldn't control it. Becoming a World Champion has been my dream, and now it is a reality. I don't mind letting people see how much it means to me."
The experience of becoming the World Champion has been a disorienting experience for him and he has seen people around him treat him differently.
"Friends and family have been extremely supportive, even those that don't really understand Magic. My girlfriend was watching the majority of the tournament, and she says that both she and my daughter Eve were mesmerized by what was going on. My mom knows how much Magic means to me, and she was glued to the Twitch stream as well," said Manfield, who will begin testing for the next Pro Tour as soon as the new set is fully revealed. Nothing has really changed for him.
"I will be playing GPs and hope to be in the mix for Player of the Year, but there is still a lot of Magic left to be played this year, so stay tuned," said the freshly crowned Champion. He has no plans to rest on his laurels. "I want to be the best player that I can possibly be. Accomplishments like winning a Pro Tour, winning Player of the Year, and even being elected into the Hall of Fame are still goals of mine, and I plan to continue working toward them over the next few years."
August Magic Player of the Month #MTGPoM
It is rare that someone wins a Pro Tour and is not an automatic slam dunk for the Player of the Month award, but that is exactly the scenario Joel Larsson finds himself in with another major event on the August calendar besides Pro Tour Magic Origins. Larsson kicked the month off with the second Pro Tour Top 8 of his career, and plowed through a bracket of Stephen Neal, Matt Sperling, and current Player of the Year Mike Sigrist with his mono-red Burn deck. So who is vying with that accomplishment for the title of Player of the Month?
Owen Turtenwald has had a typically strong month, with a Top 4 in the Team Sealed Grand Prix Detroit. When he wasn't doing that, he was head-down on Magic Online, preparing for the Magic World Championship in Seattle for the better part of each day. Turtenwald finished second at the World Championship, and he jumped up four spots in the Top 25 Pro Player rankings when they were updated following the World Championship.
Of course, that leaves the person who beat Owen Turtenwald in the finals of the World Championship, and defeated him three times in the tournament—Seth Manfield—as the final candidate for Player of the Month. It is hard to argue with a 15-1 performance across four formats, but this is an excellent opportunity to debate the value of winning a PT versus winning the World Championship.
Which accomplishment stands out the most to you? Do you value the last-person-standing in a 400-person field of the Pro Tour, as accomplished by Joel Larsson? Or does the 15-1 record against an elite field of 24 players, as achieved by Seth Manfield, shine more brightly? What about the unstoppable consistency of Owen Turtenwald, who posted two remarkable tournament finishes in one month? Share your thoughts on Twitter using the #MTGPoM hashtag. You can send your thoughts to me at @Top8Games or just send them to @MagicProTour. You can also just use the hashtag while debating with your friends. I will be listening and take all your feedback into consideration when selecting the Player of the Month for August.