Seth Manfield of Columbia has travelled all over the world playing Magic: The Gathering, a strategy card game. In 2015 he won the World Championships in Seattle. Manfield just returned from Barcelona and will be headed to California in October for his next competition.
Seth Manfield of Columbia has travelled all over the world playing Magic: The Gathering, a strategy card game. In 2015 he won the World Championships in Seattle. Manfield just returned from Barcelona and will be headed to California in October for his next competition. (Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Growing up, Seth Manfield and his friends would spill a deck of Magic: The Gathering cards onto their school’s blacktop during recess time and play.

“It’s a complex game that I have been learning for almost 20 years now. I don’t fully grasp everything, but that’s what makes it a pretty good game,” the Columbia resident said.

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“I grew up with this as a kids’ game. I didn’t see myself playing at 28 [years old].”

Magic: The Gathering first hit the gaming scene in 1993. The object of the game is to be the last player standing with the most points to the initial starting number, 20. While each player wants to stay close to 20, they are also using their cards to drop their opponents’ numbers to as close to zero as possible. The cards are used to attack opponents with creatures and spells, among other things, to drop players’ scores.

Manfield doesn’t just play to play anymore; he now earns his entire living from it. And he’s an inaugural member of the Magic Pro League.

In its first year, the Magic Pro League has 32 pro members worldwide. Manfield is currently ranked fourth.

He recently traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and Las Vegas for tournaments. Magic: The Gathering, commonly referred to as Magic, has taken Manfield all over the United States, as well as Europe, Japan and Australia.

In 2015, Manfield won the Magic World Championship in Seattle, Washington.

“It’s very much a global game, even though I would say the biggest player base is in the United States,” he said.

Turning a hobby into a career

As Manfield played Magic more and more during school recess, he eventually wanted to buy the cards himself.

He saw it as a good way to socialize with his friends as they would get together and play at someone’s house. It wasn’t until he was 13 years old that he began to take the game a little more seriously.

Manfield entered his first tournament at Dream Wizards, a game store in Rockville. Growing up in Bethesda, Manfield would go to many Friday night tournaments at Dream Wizards, where he still goes today.

Seth Manfield, of Columbia, has been playing Magic: The Gathering, a strategic card game for nearly 18 years.
Seth Manfield, of Columbia, has been playing Magic: The Gathering, a strategic card game for nearly 18 years. (Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

“I realized I was doing pretty well at the events, but it was a gradual thing,” Manfield said.

He eventually qualified for a pro tour, the biggest competition at the time, which was in Japan. While the Magic Pro League is in its infancy, there have been pro tournaments for years.

Manfield has always been interested in strategy games, as his father, Ed Manfield, was a world champion bridge player. Before his father’s death in 1999, Seth Manfield would play games with him and continued with the rest of his family, including bridge.

Manfield also enjoys playing chess but gave it up after his teenage years because of Magic.

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Besides earning money from tournaments, Manfield has a contract with the league and writes about Magic for TCGPlayer, an e-commerce site for a variety of card games.

For TCGPlayer, he focuses on writing about game strategies and producing videos. He plays games on the online format and creates videos, explaining his moves and techniques.

“I’m playing a children’s card game, but I am making a pretty decent living off of it,” he said.

For the remainder of the tournament year, Manfield is focused on doing well in the pro league.

‘A community-based game’

Over the years, Manfield has accumulated more than a hundred thousand Magic playing cards. He has an entire room in his home dedicated to storing his cards, some of which are worth $1,000 apiece, depending on their rarity.

He has binders with his most valuable cards, but some are scattered everywhere, even in the glove compartment of his car and his mom’s house. He also has several boxes of unopened cards.

Comics To Astonish, a store in Columbia, opened in 1993 and has been carrying Magic cards ever since the game came out that same year.

Store owner Keegan Conrad said that while comics are his biggest seller, Magic is next in line.

“It’s been that way since we opened the store,” he said.

“What makes the game popular is not only the cards themselves, but the stories behind the cards,” he added. “It’s a community-based game that people like to play [together], and that’s the biggest key to it.”

Comics To Astonish hosts Magic tournaments every Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

When new releases of the game come out, the comic shop hosts a whole weekend of events, usually an event Friday night, and two on Saturday and Sunday, Conrad said.

Magic has also started to move into the esports gaming world, with digital cards and digital platforms to play and compete.

Manfield has never lost his desire to play it.

“I’m still learning things about the game. I’m still growing as a player and that’s what keeps me coming back,” he said. “The game is never stale.”

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