Hall of Fame 2013 Candidates – Ben Stark

This is part of an ongoing series of interviews with potential Magic Hall of Fame candidates in the 2013 class.
Previous interviews:

Justin Gary
William Huey Jensen

293 Lifetime Pro Points
38 PTs played
4 PT Top 8s (10.5%)
1 PT win – Paris, 2011 (2.6%)
3 PT Top 16 (7.9%)
1 PT Top 32 (2.6%)
10 PT Top 64 (26.3%)
18 PTs at Top 64 or better (47.3%)
9 GP Top 8s
1 GP win – Indianapolis, 2012
Median finish: 77
3 – Year median: 57
Years in PoY top 10: 3
Lifetime winnings: $160,565 (23rd)

You played for a while, then you stopped and eventually came back. Why did you stop? Why did you come back?

I stopped because poker was going really well and I knew I couldn’t give Magic my full attention. People were starting to talk about me as one of the best in the world, and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to play as well since I wasn’t going to dedicate as much time to Magic as I had the past couple of years. I started playing again because I missed it too much. I know as I’ve grown older, I generally care less and less about impressing people or what people think and I just generally want to have fun and I haven’t found anything more fun than the Pro Tour.

What are the big differences in competitive Magic between now and then?

Back then, the whole environment was different. There were around 30 good players in the world who were all very good and most of them were super competitive. The rest of the field didn’t stand much of a chance until Magic Online and writing blew up, giving everyone access to the top decks and strategies. Now the Pro Tour feels much more laid back. Maybe I am just projecting how I want it to be on to it. I know I was more competitive back then than I am now, but the Pro Tour environment feels much more welcoming and friendly.

What is your current relationship with Magic? How would that change if you were inducted in the HoF?

Magic is my favorite game and I enjoy playing it at home on Magic Online and at big tournaments against the best in the world. If I make the Hall of Fame, nothing about that will change. I will just be grateful that someday, in the hopefully-not-too-distant-future when I have a family or other requirements preventing me from traveling to so many Grand Prix that I will still get to play in Pro Tours.

You’re called one of the best, if not the best, Limited players in the world. How did you get to this point?

I think I got to be one of the best Limited players in the world mostly just by playing infinite Limited. When I was young my friends and I would sleep over each other’s houses and team draft all night long. Even when there was a Constructed PTQ coming up we would still just usually draft until the day before, then play like 10 games of Constructed and go right back to drafting. It’s just what we always did in South Florida.

What do you think is the biggest mistake people make in Limited?

Now I think people make a lot of mistakes that prevent them from doing well in draft. The biggest ones are not evaluating each card in the context of that format. People think they should be able to look at a card and have an idea of how good it will be in that format based on how good it would have been in general in Limited. While that’s better than nothing, it’s far from accurate. Card values fluctuate greatly from format to format, so I try to approach each new Limited format with an open mind and see how the cards interact with each other and what’s important in that format.

You’re primarily a professional poker player. What are the main similarities and differences between professional Magic and poker? Does playing one improve your abilities in the other?

I definitely think playing poker and Magic improves your skills in both. There is a lot of overlap in the skill set, a lot of cost/benefit and risk/reward-type analysis in both games, as well as balancing the best play in a vacuum at all times without tipping your hand and staying focused on the big picture.

What other accomplishments do you have that are not listed on the stats page?

I did grind into the Masters once. I have a very good PTQ resume—I’ve Top 8’d almost half the PTQs I’ve played in and made the finals in almost half the ones I have Top 8’d. I am definitely one of the top team drafters and I’m thrilled to see that Wizards is supporting the format now in Grand Prix.

I haven’t invented very many decks but I did kind of invent UG Scapeshift. I played it in PT Austin, the first tournament it was legal after Zendikar came out, and only a small handful of other players in the room had it or even knew what was going on when I cast [card]Scapeshift[/card]. I didn’t do well there, though, and the deck wasn’t amazing for that tournament with all the [card]Dark Depths[/card] around.

What is your best memory from Magic?

Still my first Pro Tour: PT London ’99. I turned 16 right before the PT and I had never even been to a GP yet. Even though I didn’t do well there, if memory holds there was the Mercadian Masques prerelease at midnight to play in and we did lots of drafting. It just felt really special. It was both Antonino De Rosa’s and my first Pro Tour and we went together. At that point it wasn’t even about winning or losing, I was just the little kid happy to see Jon Finkel. After getting on the Pro Tour, my favorite by far was Houston 2002. I played [card]Pattern of Rebirth[/card], which was all kinds of tutoring and discard and [card]Wall of Blossoms[/card]/[card]Spike Feeder[/card]s. I have never had even close to as much fun playing in a tournament as I did in that one.

Have you ever written Magic articles? Can you give us the link to the one/ones you like the most?

I write for ChannelFireball, and I think my best works are generally theoretical articles on drafting/playing. I am a much bigger fan of teaching someone how to do something than telling them exactly what to do, so I usually feel like those articles are my best work.

What do you think your greatest strength is as a player, something you do better than most people?

I think my greatest strength as a player is exactly as you said when you wrote about a lot of our team’s different strengths and weaknesses. Every time someone does anything, it means something to me, so while sometimes I outplay myself, I win some pretty sweet games of Magic, going far out of my way to play around cards. My general philosophy is not to play around too much until I have a reason(s) to believe they have it, but then once I do, I will generally go to great lengths to beat what I think they have based on their previous plays.

Do you have a preferred archetype?

My preferred archetype is generally the sweet decks. I loved Tinker and Pattern. Decks that can do a lot of very different things with disruption, be it discard or counterspells, and search effects. In my opinion, Magic is supposed to be about the play back and forth between you and your opponent. If you guys don’t both have a lot of reasonable options, why play the game?

What are your favorite deck and card of all time?

Well as I said, Pattern of Rebirth is my favorite deck. Though [card]Counterspell[/card] or [card]Psychatog[/card] was probably my individual favorite card of all time.

What’s your favorite format?

My favorite draft format of all time is Champions of Kamigawa, that block was amazing for Limited with soulshift, splice, and ninjitsu. Everything was a choice and you rarely lost to mana flood or screw because the cards were slow and you had time to draw out of mana screw and if you had a few extra lands you could always find ways to use the mana.

What Ravnica guild are you?

I don’t have one.

Imagine every person that gets in the HoF gets to make a card to represent them, like the Invitational. What card would you make?

I would love to make a nice counterspell, maybe with landcycling. Obviously [card]Traumatic Visions[/card] isn’t really too hot at 5 mana. If that card had cost around 3 mana, it would have been a really sweet Constructed card. I know they wouldn’t print something like that nowadays, but I think that good cheap removal and disruption is what leads to the best games of Magic.

What is your Hall of Fame ballot this year?

My hall of fame ballot is LSV (who, if you don’t vote for, you should lose your vote), William Jensen, Martin Juza, Eric Froehlich, and Shouta Yasooka. First person to miss for me is Paul Rietzl. I don’t value PT wins or Top 8s much higher than Top 16s and Top 32s. I feel like I was mostly lucky to win the matches I did at the end of the PTs I Top 8’d, and if I only had 2 Top 8s but had two more Top 16s, I would still be just as proud as I am of my Pro Tour career. I think EFro, Martin, and Shouta have all put together tons of great finishes in Pro Tours and Grand Prix, so even if they don’t have a lot of PT Top 8s, I don’t think that should be a bar that stops them from being recognized for their accomplishments and getting into the Hall of Fame.

Favorite movie?

The Matrix.

Favorite book?

I don’t really read much fiction anymore, but I really liked the first Harry Potter when I read it way back then. Lately, I think I enjoyed Blink the most. (Thanks Pat Cox or LSV, whoever recommended it.) The main concept of the book applies so heavily to Magic. It mostly talks about how you should trust your initial “gut feeling” on something even if it doesn’t reason out. Obviously not because anyone is psychic, but generally the subconscious brain does a better job. Almost all the best Magic players I have ever witnessed played very quickly, I have always found double-checking things just leads me to more mistakes.

Favorite food?

Pizza or Chik-fil-A.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

As someone who doesn’t put much stock in a given tournament or even a given year because there is so much variance in Magic, making the Hall of Fame really means a lot to me. I started playing this game when I was 11, almost 20 years ago. It’s played a major role in my adult life and it would be incredible to be recognized alongside the best players in the history of the game.


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