Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

March 01, 2024
Corbin Hosler

This weekend, all eyes were on the Pro Tour again, as Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor took center stage at MagicCon: Chicago—and it delivered. The first major event of 2024 featured Hall of Famers LSV vs. Reid Duke, over 100 life on camera, and a seven-game semifinals.

And when it came to the Top 8, it was stacked with World Champion Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, 2023 Player of the Year Simon Nielsen, a mix of first-time Top Finishers on hot streaks, and Pro Tour veterans out for the title.

This was the setting the Magic world tuned into for the final match of Seth Manfield and his format-breaking deck vs. Nielsen, who was incredibly making his own fourth straight Top Finish. It was truly a high-stakes moment with viewers across the globe tuning in. And a lot of very good Magic players watching, at that.

It's hard to imagine many storylines better made for television than Nielsen continuing his wild run of the past year all the way to the finals. The man who told me just last week he was ready to sit one out and cheer on his friends almost made that a reality by biking to Day One of the tournament and getting lost, but here he was, playing in the last match, and doing so with a Boros Heroic deck that had drawn two games in the semifinals against Amalia combo to push the match to seven games. Magic rules quirks can get weird sometimes, but this was the first time it'd ever become a key point of interaction in a Pro Tour Top 8.

And Nielsen was playing against Manfield, the Hall of Famer who won the World Championship in 2015. The Channel Fireball testing member who had helped to break the format in a way that sure felt a lot like the vintage CFB days of Eldrazi or CawBlade. The Rakdos Vampires deck the team had devised for Chicago utilizing the core combo of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord into Vein Ripper was perfectly positioned for the Pioneer metagame there, and posted the best winrate of the weekend en route to this point.

That's a script that brings in supporters from all sides, plus everyone else who wants to see what all the fuss is about.

And so, with the eyes of the Magic world on him again, Manfield did what those who have followed his career knew he would do: win the Pro Tour for the second time in his career. The congratulations started flooding in before he could even leave the table.

The outpouring of support was one of the most complimentary I've ever seen, as the longtime competitive Magic community pointed out the unspoken: with the win, Manfield placed himself in some very rarified air.

It's his fourth win at a Pro Tour level event, following victories at the World Championship in 2015, Pro Tour Ixalan in 2017, and a Mythic Invitational in 2020. The fourth trophy breaks him out of a logjam of players with three and leaves him tied with another World Championship in Nathan Steuer with four.

The only player with more hardware from their Top Finishes? Just some guy you might have heard of named Kai Budde.

That's the stakes that Manfield was playing for in front of all of those people watching last week, among them his wife and kids.

It's that last point that makes this Pro Tour victory so different from any of his others.

"I'm at a completely different time in my life. The past few years have changed everything with Magic a lot," he explained. "For me, it was a chance to focus on playing Magic, to do my best and enjoy it, detached from trying to make a living from it. So, I don't play the game as much or interact with it the same, but I'm just happy to still be playing Magic and [have] these opportunities. It's been a really nice atmosphere to be a part of."

But when Manfield arrived in Chicago, he was as locked in as he's ever been. Multiple people expressed to me during the weekend that Manfield was on his game, and they were right—he may not have shown up with something in particular to prove but he sure did prove something in particular: the game's best just "have it," even when life may take them away from the day-to-day grind of the latest format developments.

This isn't to say Manfield didn't practice. "I prepared a lot for this tournament, and it shows that if you put in the work and prepare the right way with the time you do have, you can do well," he explained. "For instance, I have two kids; I couldn't make the in-house testing. But I could play the queues on Magic Online and do my part to test there."

That's one of Manfield's underrated strengths: he's always willing to pick up the cards and jam. After his semifinal win at Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor, for instance, he immediately enlisted teammate Logan Nettles to play the part of Nielsen's Boros Heroic deck to get in some last-minute practice in the hour before the finals match started. It may not seem like much, but it was an interaction emblematic of high-level Magic at its best. Manfield credited Nettles for the help before one of the biggest matches of his life, and the rest of the team for the deck that brought him to that point.

About that, by the way. It's classic CFB, attacking the format from an angle no one was prepared for: a ward cost on Vein Ripper that several decks just couldn't pay, and a reliable way to make games about that angle. Like using Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord to dump it into play as early as turn 3.

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord 646668

Heck, it even came with a classic Team CFB pun for a name: Sorin Tell (Legacy players will immediately think of Show and Tell, which isn't far off in all honesty).

Maybe all of that is the reason it felt like such a memorable Pro Tour. Or maybe it was the fact that for all the advancements we've had in Magic and technology and Magic technology, a format that the experts thought "solved" had been broken wide open by a back-of-the-napkin brew from Paul Rietzl. Navigating the software to find his draft pod may still prove a challenge for the Hall of Famer, but the format-defining insight was vintage Rietzl.

"We did a meeting once we all had a chance to look at Murders at Karlov Manor, and Vein Ripper wasn't in anyone's top 10 list of cards," Manfield recalled. "I thought we needed to try a Cavern of Souls deck because Azorius Control was popular, but Vampires didn't even cross my mind. I was looking at Humans and Merfolk and stuff.

"But once we added the red cards to the deck two days before deck submission, we thought we had something; Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Bloodtithe Harvester took it to the next level. If you have something innovative, you don't want it to get out, so we were keeping the deck out of Magic Online leagues. It's nerve wracking because you're just only relying on the games your teammates are getting in."

Seth Manfield, Winner Pro Tour Muders at Karlov Manor

Fortunately, Manfield has some very good teammates. And as the spotlights flashed on Manfield's historic victory, it was his teammates he sought out.

"Things like this, it's not just a check. It's a chance to share the victory with all the people and teammates who helped me," he explained. "And this one does prove that I still have it. It's a confidence booster that even as the game changes, I can still buckle down and do this. I felt like I played some of the best Magic I've ever played."

An already legendary career is evolving into its next phase before our eyes, and those who have been along for the whole ride can see just how special this next chapter is.

"What's most impressive to me about Seth and winning this Pro Tour is that after testing with him last year, I know he's trying to not only play Magic, but focus on his life and family as well," explained longtime teammate Mike Sigrist. "Coming from personal experience, I know how hard that can be while also up putting up results. But regardless of how much he has going on he's always someone you don't want to sit across from, because he just plays perfect. This win puts him into my top five all-time discussion for sure."

That may be a discussion for another time, but Manfield proved with his win in Chicago that it's a conversation that will need to continue. The Pro Tour rolls on, and it does so with some fascinating stories in progress.

Next stop for Manfield, Nielsen, Team ChannelFireball and the rest? Pro Tour Thunder Junction, taking place April 26-28 in Seattle. History isn't stopping here.

Share Article