This year's class of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame has been determined and two players will be suiting up for the induction ceremony taking place during the weekend of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica in Atlanta later this year.
Seth Manfield will be going into the Hall of Fame very much at the peak of his powers. Seth had already been on the ballot previous to this season, but when he added a fourth Pro Tour Top 8—which culminated in him winning Pro Tour Ixalan—to a resume that already included winning the 2015 World Championship, he was one of the most mentioned names as ballots were being sent out.
"When I first found out that I was getting into the Hall of Fame, there was just a tremendous amount of excitement," said Manfield during the build-up to his year's World Championship. "This was something that I have wanted ever since I started playing Magic and realized I could play at the Pro Tour. It has just been a lifelong dream and goal of mine to get there. I knew being on the ballot this year and having put up some additional strong results that I would have a good chance and be someone in the discussion for it."
Manfield was attracted to the game at a very early age by both the collectible aspect and the strategic elements. Even though he was only eight years old when he began playing Magic, he knew that strategy games were something that spoke to him at the very fiber of his being.
"My dad was a world champion bridge player—that's a strategy game—so I knew that I had the DNA to play," said the second generation World Champion. "Magic is just so complex that I don't even know all the rules still. I can go back to old sets when I was not playing and still not know what banding does. It is just a game where I can constantly learn and evolve myself. All those different layers of complexity are what drew me to the game."
He competed on the Junior Super Series and even won a PTQ for a tournament in Japan that he did not travel to as a young teenager. When he was sixteen he first made a real name for himself when he won Grand Prix Daytona Beach, defeating another young bridge player in the finals.
"The first event where I thought that I could compete with the best of the best was when I won Grand Prix Daytona Beach," recalled Manfield. "Keep in mind that I was only sixteen at the time and I was in a star-studded Top 8 where I got to play against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa in the finals. I knew that if I could win a Grand Prix filled with top pros, then what can't I do."
As Seth Manfield attempts to become a two-time World Champion this weekend in Las Vegas he will have one of the players—also a Hall of Famer—who inspired him at the onset of his pro career commentating on his matches for the Japanese coverage team.
"When I first started playing the player I watched the most—and thought "Wow! This guy is just absurd"—was Kenji Tsumura. Watching him make all those Top 8s was just really special," said Manfield. "Also playing at my local store there were pros like Alex Majlaton—who I still play with—who you can see yourself getting better with. That is also pretty special."
Getting inducted into the Hall of Fame and being included in the same breath as someone he looked up to like Tsumura felt a little dizzying to Manfield.
"I can be emotional. After I won the World Championship, people did see that side of me and this is something that is very meaningful to me. Sometimes it is not just about a monetary value or how many Pro Points you have. It is about your peers respecting you and having them vote for you into the Hall of Fame. It is just kind of crazy. It is something I have devoted my life to up to this point, and to know that I have achieved what I set out to is a weird feeling because in many ways I am still in my prime as a Magic player."
Manfield has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. His most recent Top 8 was that win to start the season at Pro Tour Ixalan, and he ended the year with a piece of the Player of the Year title—full ownership of the title will be fought for in a playoff in the near future—and racked up multiple Grand Prix Top 8s this season to pad his resume to sixteen Top 8s, including five wins.
"I am still getting better and seeing myself learn new things about the game. This is a huge step in my journey as a Magic player. It is certainly not over. I am not one of those guys who will stop playing a ton. It is just an incredible feeling. There are so many things that go into it. I never thought I would actually get to this point. There are so many different levels of achievement that you need to reach in order to be in the Hall of Fame. It is not just one year of success or even two years of success. It is an entire career. A lifetime of playing Magic well."
Manfield will have the opportunity to make some remarks during the induction ceremony in Atlanta, but wanted to single a couple of people out at this point.
"First of all, I have to thank my family for sticking by me. Specifically my mom, Melanie Manfield. She has been a part of my entire Magic journey from being a teen and not letting me go to Japan when I won my first Pro Tour Qualifier, but at the same time traveling with me to the Junior Super Series and the Grand Prix and just following my career. The fact that I have people in my life—my daughter Eve, my girlfriend Jennifer Cole, my fellow players who have watched me evolve and put up these great results—means I am living not just for myself with these finishes but for my friends and family."
Lee Shi Tian
Hong Kong's Lee Shi Tian will become the first non-Japanese player from the APAC region to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Lee felt extra pressure on himself as he waited to hear the results of the balloting in his first year of eligibility. With five Pro Tour Top 8s and tremendous community contributions, he seemed like a slam-dunk candidate—but he did not want to make any assumptions. In fact, he did not even know he would get a call from Scott Larabee before the announcement this weekend, however the balloting turned out.
"I am the first APAC player that could be considered as a strong candidate, but I didn't have an easy way to predict my chances of making the Hall of Fame," said Lee. "I was expecting to tune into the announcement at Worlds and prepared to wait for that long. I just tried not to think about it. I was having lunch when Scott called me. He congratulated me at the very beginning of the call about the news and I wanted to shout "YES!" but I was not able to do so as there were too many people at the restaurant. I kept myself calm and finished my lunch real quick to get a celebration drink."
Like Manfield, Lee Shi Tian had his eyes on the Hall of Fame right from the outset of his Magic-playing career.
"Being a Hall of Famer is the biggest grind-able goal for a Magic player. It was on my task list since the first day I tried to be a pro. The goals of a Magic player will normally become greedier and greedier. Once I wanted to play in a Pro Tour. Then I wanted be a Pro Tour regular. Then I wanted to make Top 8. Then I wanted to make more Top 8s, and at the end I wanted to be Hall of Famer. And here I am. Today the job is done."
Lee began playing Magic around the release of Odyssey after being turned onto it by a shopkeeper from a store where he was spending time playing another card game.
"I was hooked on Draft really quickly and drafted multiple times a week," remembered Lee, who would not step his game up to the pro level until he went abroad.
"I was an exchange student in Guildford and I took the chance of going to some European Grand Prix. I ended up winning Grand Prix Birmingham and started playing on the Pro Tour."
Lee's big breakthrough came when he made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, which showcased Modern—a format he would become known as a master of. Two of his next four Pro Tour Top 8s came in the Modern format.
Early on his career, Lee Shi Tian learned a valuable lesson from watching two future Hall of Famers battle in the Top 8 of the 2006 World Championship.
"This is a story I seldom tell, but it was the first competitive video coverage I ever watched," recalled Lee. "The match was Makihito Mihara playing against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. At that time I was still a casual player and rooting for Mihara to win. He made a mistake going off, miscounting one mana. He used Repeal and topdecked the third Rite of Flame. Since then I have been totally hooked on combo decks. And I learned a huge lesson from Mihara: never give up."
Even though his breakthrough Top 8 came during Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, it was Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir where Lee decided he really belonged on the Pro Tour. It came at a time when there was a lot of political unrest back home in Hong Kong, and being able to get to the Sunday stage and represent his country was a pivotal moment for him.
"I got some crazy topdecks to get my win-and-in match. I was having a tough time at my home and it meant the world to me getting that appearance on the Pro Tour Top 8 stage. Since then I know I can represent my home and wanted to prove myself at a higher level."
Throughout the Hall of Fame debate, Lee Shi Tian's community building was cited as a pillar of his candidacy—as if somehow five Top 8s would not be enough—and getting his teammates to cry is something Lee is immensely proud of.
"From Christian Calcano to Yam Wing Chung to Javier Dominguez, getting people burst into tears of joy is always the best reward for any effort," said Lee proudly. "And forming a successful testing team from more than ten countries is my biggest achievement in Magic."
That team was first and foremost on his mind as he started musing about who he would thank during his remarks at the induction ceremony this November.
"I would like to thank the original members of Team MTG Ming Card, Chapman Sim, Huang Hao Shan, and Kuo Tzu Ching. We started the team from nothing. I wouldn't be here without you guys. I would also like to thank Tomoharu Saito; it is impossible to form this team without him.
Congratulations to both Seth Manfield and Lee Shi Tian, the 2018 class of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame! You can watch both players during the induction ceremony from Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica at the start of the upcoming Pro Tour season.