Nickname: TBS (The Ben Seck)
Residence: Barcelona, Spain
Team: Brian Kibler and Jamie Parke
Qualified via Special Invite
Pro Points: 119+ lifetime, 5 in 2018–19
Pro Tour debut: Pro Tour New York 1997 (5th Edition-Visions Draft)
Pro Tours played: 21
Best Pro Tour finish: 7th (PT Yokohama 2003)
Career median: 153
Top 8: 1 Pro Tour, 3 Grand Prix (2 wins)
Ben’s PT results: http://www.mtgptresults.com/player/benjamin-seck
Planeswalker level: 49
Q: Over the years you have competed in 21 Pro Tours. Never too many in a row, but also never quite gone from the PT either. You have three GP Top 8s, one PT result that led to another invite, and you must have won 15+ PTQs. If those numbers hold up, you might actually be the person with the most PTQ wins ever. Weren’t your fellow Australians tired of you beating up on them all the time?
What is it like to play professional Magic in Australia? Allegedly, the 1996 World Champion quit Magic because it was unsustainable to fly to PTs from Australia. Is it still like this or did it become reasonably attractive over the years with more tournaments in the region and cheaper flights?
From my personal account, I think I was able to win about 28 PTQs because at the time, there were no rules against winning multiple PTQs or conceding in the finals for a split. So I guess you could say that my fellow Australians might have been “sick of me winning.” But I tried to be a positive force in the community.
I was also a tournament organizer, and at one stage was helping manage an LGS that had the biggest store based events in Australia. But back to the original question—playing “professional” MTG from Australia back in that era (my first Pro Tour was in ‘97 and my best results were in the season of ‘02-03) was immensely hard, as there was no travel prize support (you got a $500 travel voucher, which was about one-third of the actual cost of a flight) and the community was relatively small and underdeveloped, which meant that every time that you actually played at the Pro Tour, you were so overmatched by players from bigger and more connected communities.
In some cases, I would qualify for an event, but it was just too expensive to justify going, especially to the European Pro Tours. So it was really hard to thrive and grow as a Pro MTG player from Australia, especially in the pre-Magic-Online era. But two things drastically changed the viability of being a player from Australia (and New Zealand for that matter) in the last 15 years: the advent of Magic Online, which democratized the availability of good opponents and frequency of events, and the second was that PTQs and GPs began giving complete travel subsidies. This meant that entire groups of Australians were able to go to the Pro Tour at the same time, which in turn created bigger local testing groups, which finally meant that players were more prepared for the world stage. By the time that most of this happened, my heyday had passed, and I had moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in game design.
Q: Of all the PTs you played, you only cashed one. Although you made that one count with a Top 8, it was not even particularly close at those other PTs. How does this go together, scourge of Down Under on one hand and being walloped at PTs all the time on the other? What was different about Pro Tour Yokohama 2003?
One of the biggest differences that contributed to the local Australian Magic scene pre-Magic-Online (when I was very successful locally) and the Pro Tour was the lack of a group of players who were testing together for the Pro Tour. I was often the only one of either two or three Australian MTG players at an event, and in most cases I was the most experienced, meaning that it was hard to get good, competitive practice games for the event. So inevitably I would get destroyed at the Pro Tour.
This somewhat changed with the 2002-2003 season, where I won two Grand Prix and Top 8’d the Booster Draft Pro Tour in Yokohama. The biggest difference was the advent of MTGO, which I played a ridiculous amount. I’d like to consider myself one of the better drafters in the world that year, but what consistently let me down was my on-board play—too many sloppy mistakes. But I still contend that I was one of the better people at the time when it came to pick orders and navigating a Draft, as my memory for remembering what was in packs was impeccable at the time.
Rochester Draft was a big format then, and memory really helped when you knew every card in every person’s deck—nothing could ever surprise you.
When it comes to PT Yokohama, what was different? I think I was well prepared with a distinct strategy. The format was Onslaught/Legions Booster Draft, a tribal format known for some of the most broken common picks: Sparksmith and Timberwatch Elf. But I was ready with my counter strategy of forcing Wizards, in particular taking Lavamancer’s Skill much earlier than other players. Long story short, I was able to win three Drafts in a row forcing this archetype. My preparation really paid off, as I was not fighting for the more popular strategies.
Q: You are playing the Pro Tour with Brian Kibler and Jamie Parke. How did you end up on Kibler’s team? Who is going to play what, and how did you prepare for a Pro Tour where you attend as a team, but cannot test together because everyone plays a different format?
I’ve known Brian for a long time. In fact, when I first moved to the U.S. to begin my career in game design, he was my roommate for three years. We were always good friends, but we became very close during that period. Fun fact: we actually never sat down to play a single game of Magic against each other during those years, with Brian focusing on playing World of Warcraft with his waking hours.
Anyway, after living together for so long, we built a strong friendship that has endured to this day, even though we don’t live in the same place anymore. So when Brian asked if I would be interested in playing together, I jumped at the chance. Jamie was an easy inclusion to our team—he is a close friend to both of us (we grew up in MTG during the same PT era) and is no slouch himself, having Top 8’d three PTs.
As for formats, it was pretty easy: Brian hadn’t played MTG regularly for a few years and would be more comfortable in a constrained format like Standard. It doesn’t hurt that there are many competitive green and Dragon cards in the format, too. Jamie hadn’t played much Legacy, so Modern was a logical choice. I personally had played a lot of Legacy, and recently felt quite at home playing Grixis Delver. Little did I know the bans were coming up. As for preparation, we had plenty of friends who were qualified and testing for this event, so we joined with them for this event. Most of our testing had been remote and on MTGO, but we shared our thoughts and results on a FB group made for this purpose. The testing group isn’t too shabby, with Hall-of-Famers such as Kai Budde, Gab Nassif, Ben Rubin, and Eric Froehlich, as well as many other current and up-and-coming pros.
Q: You have announced that all of your winnings will go to charity. Is this something you’re doing because it feels right when PTs come as a kind of free roll, or why did you decide to do it? What kind of charity did you choose to support? Is there one that the three of you chose for the team or did you have different ideas where you would like the money to go?
The choice to donate our winnings for this event came relatively easy. Firstly, we wanted to acknowledge the fact that 2/3 of the team would not normally be qualified, so it would make everyone feel a little better that the value of this would be going to a good cause.
Second, this event is a celebration of Magic, a game all of us owe a great deal. In our different ways, Magic, the Pro Tour, and the people we had met because of it, had given the three of us very successful careers (two of which are explicitly game-related), and this was an opportunity to give back (with the donation to Gamers Helping Gamers).
Finally, all three of us are fortunate enough that luck and circumstance meant that we had the means and opportunity to help others. We have the privilege to play a card game for the chance to make money. But not everyone is that lucky. This brings us to the second group that we are supporting, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They help defend those who do not have the means to protect themselves from systems that infringe on their civil rights. It is incredibly heartbreaking to see recent news of families being broken up, especially with children being separated from their parents. So we all felt that if we could do even a little bit to help their plight and situations like it, it would make doing well at this Pro Tour even sweeter. Brian has shown even more generosity on his part, offering to match pledges 100% with his Silver Showcase winnings, and I would encourage that if these causes are important to you, to go to his page to help. I’m honored that I get to be a part of the 25th anniversary Pro Tour. Magic: The Gathering has been such an influential part of my life and will always continue to be. It is exciting and humbling to be able to take part in this celebration of the best game ever.
Further reading: Introduction of Ben Seck in the GP Sydney 2016 coverage.