When last I left you, I had just played in my first Pro Tour – Worlds 2003 in Berlin. That had been a very unique experience. Other than it being my first really professional event, it was also my first trip abroad, my first of many contacts with different people.
The tournament itself was pretty interesting, and met my expectations of what a World Championship should be. I remember that before the tournament there was a player’s party, right across the hotel, and we had some typical local food. At that party, the Brazilians who knew the famous players kept pointing them out to me, and I felt pretty overwhelmed — though, for all I cared, other than Eivind Nitter wearing leopard-skin pants, most of the players were surprisingly… normal. In my opinion, such pre-event parties – though not actual parties, as they are more like dinners – are really interesting. Most of my friends don’t like them as much as I do, but I always make a point to attend. I also care a lot about shirts and whatever else they decide to give us, and I was disappointed that Pro Tour: Kyoto had nothing of that kind… it was the first Pro Tour for two of my close friends, and they didn’t leave with a very good impression.
I also got to play against some famous players: Dirk Baberowski and Darwin Kastle, if I recall correctly, and they were pretty ordinary guys too. Dirk completely outplayed me in the Wake Mirror, though I distinctly remember him sitting down and complaining he had never tested the matchup. I also remember Darwin Kastle making a game-losing decision when he killed my Ensnaring Bridge instead of Cursed Scroll, and just died to it before he could kill me, which I already knew in my head would happen as soon as he announced his target. It might be that, at that moment, I couldn’t see what was going on clearly and his play was correct, but I think he just misplayed. That was good because it showed me that, no matter how famous those people were, I was not the only person who played a Raging Goblin after combat.
After that tournament, things slowed down for a while. I was still in high school then, but that didn’t really prove to be a problem. I just talked to my teachers and took all the exams I had to take a week earlier. That was never a problem for me; even in university, I could always take them before or after the regular time, though at the time I didn’t travel as much as I do today. That obviously doesn’t work if you plan on spending one month abroad.
My next big tournament was 2004 Nationals. I didn’t do very well — I went 3-3 in Draft. Back then Nationals were 6 Rounds draft and then 6 Constructed, not 3-6-3. I had to 6-0 Standard to make it, and I decided to play Affinity, which was kind of a gamble. It was back in Skullclamp times, so the deck was certainly powerful. Brazilian Nationals that year was an aberration, though; everyone gunned for Affinity. U.S. Nationals decks had just been released, and the most famous deck was the GW deck Kibler had played, with Damping Matrix, Akroma’s Vengeance, Naturalize, Oxidize, Viridian Shaman, Purge…
In the end, I went 2-0 before losing to Celso, playing said deck, and I dropped. I remember thinking he had played very well, as there were opportunities where he could have misplayed into a loss, but he didn’t.
Our Top 8 had absolutely zero Skullclamps in it, and as a result it was won by Tooth and Nail, which hoped to prey on the decks that beat Skullclamp (and it did). After that, there wasn’t much for me. I couldn’t really go to any Pro Tours, since the $500 we got by winning PTQs didn’t pay half the plane ticket alone, so I waited. Before Worlds, we again had the tournament that would pay for some people to go watch, and this time I played in them — I was qualified on rating, and if I happened to win it I’d then use the plane ticket to go and watch myself.
The qualifying format was Commons only, and I didn’t really have a problem qualifying because you had to go to Sao Paulo to play in the main event, and no one really cared, so not a lot of people played. The tournament in Sao Paulo was Constructed using the core set at the time — I believe 8th Edition. I’m not sure why it was that format. I think they just wanted to sell 8th, which no one ever bought otherwise. The deck we ended up building for the event was a BG Rock variant that killed mainly with Plaguelords.
We went there by bus, with about 5 from my city, one in each age category. On our way through the 18 hour bus drive, we had to stop because an oil truck had fallen on the road, blocking it completely. We were delayed by 4 hours, and we were terrified of missing the tournament, but we managed to call them and tell them what had happened. That, coupled with the usual Brazilian delay, meant we were able to play in it anyway.
My category was only five rounds of swiss — there weren’t many people. I smoothly went 3-0, and then could draw into the Top 8. In my last round, I got paired against a guy with Mono-Red burn, with Ensnaring Bridges. I thought that was my worst matchup of all, as I only had Creeping Molds for Ensnaring Bridge, so I decided to play him and try to knock him out. I was in with a loss still, so that basically gave me an extra chance to beat him.
We played, and I beat him. As a result, I was 1st place in the swiss. And he was 8th. Oops.
In the end, I beat him again, on the back of sideboarded Hunted Wumpus, so maybe the matchup wasn’t as bad as I thought. I then played against a UR control deck that killed with Seismic Assault + Trade Routes and Bribery, and was promptly destroyed. I finished the tournament in third place, which was good for, well, nothing.
The guy who beat me ended up winning it, and he said that he was going to go to San Francisco. None of us had a Visa, but we had time to get it. Second place also said he would go if first place wouldn’t, so I went home pretty hopeless about it.
Sometime after I got home, I talked to my mother and we decided to get me the Visa anyway, just in case. The booking process is pretty tedious. If the Japanese and American thought they had it hard when they couldn’t come here for GP: SP, they have no idea what we go through. First of all you have to pay $30 just so you can book your interview date, which you are only able to do about a month in advance. After that, I had to go to Sao Paulo again, and since I was underage she had to go with me; this time we flew. We went through multiple queues and people interviewing me, asking me why I wanted to go to America. In the end, I was granted a one year Visa, which would be useless if I was not going to that Worlds in San Francisco.
About 10 days before the tournament, I received the news that the first place finisher in that tournament had been denied a Visa. That meant the plane ticket would pass down to second place — who didn’t have nearly enough time to get his Visa now, since it took you about a month. That meant the slot would pass down to the third place —me!
I was pretty delighted at that. I mean, I had no idea if I was actually going, but I had done everything in my power to make that possible. I went to Sao Paulo twice with no guarantee that anything would come out of it, because I really wanted to go to that Worlds. That must have been like how Kai Budde felt when he topdecked that Morphling in the PT: New Orleans final… e got lucky, sure, but if he hadn’t done everything he could, it wouldn’t have mattered.
I rushed to prepare myself for the tournament when I found out I was going, but I didn’t really come to any conclusions. In the end, I decided to just wait and see what the other Brazilians were going to play, and copy them, since I really didn’t have a clue.
Once I got there, I was introduced to some U.S. concepts for the first time, such as tipping. Here, we automatically tip 10% in all restaurants, and that’s it. In SF, we took a cab to the event at some point, and it was something like $8.50. Willy paid with a $10 bill and said “take 9,” to which the driver replied “what? It’s already!” To this day, I find it pretty weird that I should tip taxi drivers — I mean, I’m paying what I’m supposed to pay, right? — But I do tip the American way in restaurants most of the time.
As for the tournament, well, we all played UW. I basically copied their list. It was something like Exalted Angels, Mana Leaks, Wrath of Gods, Akroma’s Vengeances, etc. Looking back, I can remember some things that I was already pretty good at, but in some aspects I was just terrible and I can see that I got a lot better with time, such as mulligans. I remember keeping some very unkeepable hands that I’d never keep today.
Round 2, I played against Antoine Ruel, whose name I recognized. He was playing Big Red — probably the easiest matchup on existence for me. Game 1 is a joke, game 2 he manages to Flashfires away all my lands, and then game 3 I have a pretty good hand… and then he goes land, Chrome Mox, Chrome Mox, Stone Rain, followed by land, Goblin Charbelcher. I have Pulse of the Fields, so I’m managing the Belcher, and then he plays another. At one point I’m at I believe) 11 or 13, and then he activates Belcher. I Pulse, and he activates the other one, hitting me for 14 and killing me. My friends joked that he had put his sideboard on top of his library before activating it and I hadn’t noticed. Later on, I went to look at his decklist and he was playing two Mox and two Charbelcher. I’ve played Antoine a lot of times, and we always get reminded of that match somehow… I think it’s even mentioned in our feature match at Worlds last year.
I finished 4-2, and in the first draft I was feeding Carlos Romao. I know I’ve mentioned this over and over, but I’ll not forget the time I went up to him (I did not really know him, and he was by far the most famous Brazilian player) and asked what colors he liked, and he told me to just draft my deck that he would draft his. Since then, whenever people try t o set up color combinations before the draft, I always remember this. I was in awe to even have a conversation with him, I’ll admit it.
In the end, I finished 4-2 in Draft too, and then went to play Block. I was playing RG Tooth and Nail, with Cloudposts, because I, well, had no idea what to play. Five minutes before round 1, I lost my sideboard. It just vanished. At this point, I panicked. I ran to a dealer and gave him the list of cards I needed. Three minutes and $115 later, I had my sideboard and was going to sit at my table.
My first opponent was the then-not-so-famous Katsushiro Mori, playing RG. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember I made a lot of mistakes, some because I didn’t know and some because I was just too nervous with the missing Sideboard situation. The matchup was too good, though, and even though I tried very hard, I couldn’t really lose. It’s no wonder Mori started playing sloppily… I probably would too if I had lost that match against me.
I navigated my way to the last round. With a win, I was Top 32, with a loss Top 64, so I was guaranteed money at my second Pro Tour. I played against Andre Muller, with KCI, and he beat me 2-1. I called home, to explain how I had done, and this time I felt really disappointed. Last time I had won my last match, so the feeling was that of success. This time, it was defeat and total failure. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think I deserved more – If I had needed to win my last match for Top 64, I’d have welcomed this result with open arms, but, as it was, not really. The difference between winning and losing that last match was about $1000, which, for how old I was and where I lived, was a lot. It would have meant going to another Pro Tour!
The other interesting story from San Francisco was the winner, Julien Nuijten. I knew Julien from earlier; we both played in the same online league. He was not my close friend or anything, but we did talk a bit and we greeted each other at Worlds when we met, and asked how the other was doing between rounds, etc. After he won, I kind of stopped talking to him — I said congratulations, and that was it. He didn’t show up on the league as much as before, and I had the impression that, if I talked to him, it was just because he was the world champion, and I didn’t want to give him that impression.
This is one problem I have to this day. I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice that, because of the success I’ve had inside MTG, some people want to talk to me just because it’s me. Because of that, I’m always very wary not to do the same myself, which sometimes makes me shy away from people. Something similar happened with LSV — we talked a bit, then all of a sudden he started winning and I was afraid he would start thinking “wow, this guy never talked to me that much, and now that I’m famous he keeps trying to initiate conversations,” but in the end everything worked out fine.
Nowadays I talk normally with Julien, as an equal one might say, and he is a really cool kid, and I feel kind of silly for not talking more with him at the time he won, though no matter how silly it was I couldn’t help feeling that way back then. I’m getting better at it, though — maybe it’s because I’m better now, so it’s easier to convince myself that I’m not looking for fame by association or anything like that.
Another interesting thing with Julien is that he started his Nationals 2-3. He then won every single match up to the final, became part of the national team, and won Worlds. Whenever I’m in a really bad spot at the start of a tournament and need to x-0, I always remember this story, because it shows me that it’s doable.
Worlds passed, and the next big tournament was GP: Porto Alegre — my hometown!
It was quite a change, having to pay $1 instead of $1000 to go to the venue. I hosted some people, it was all great fun. The format was Kamigawa Rochester draft. I top 8ed, and in the coverage they call me the local hero, as well as the Brazilian with the biggest credentials in the Top 8. That made me really happy. There were five of us, and we all lost in the quarters, except for the guy that beat me, who then proceeded to lose the semis. This meant Argentina took the Top 3 slots, and Jose Barbero won.
Then came Pro Tour: London. I played the finals of the PTQ against a friend, and he was surely going, while I thought I wasn’t. The plane ticket was too expensive, even with the $500 you got from winning the PTQ. I thought about scooping, but, in the end, I knew I was not going to do it — there was always a chance for me. I’d made it to Worlds in Sao Francisco, so there was definitely a chance I’d go to London. So we played, and I won.
In the end, the ticket turned out to be cheaper than I expected, and I managed to convince my mother to let me go. We didn’t have much money then, and I understand that she made a lot of sacrifices to give me this opportunity. At the time, the Pound was 1:5 with the Real (our currency), which made things REALLY expensive for me.
I made a lot of plans for that trip. I planned to stay with two friends, one from the Netherlands the other from England, in a hostel that was right by the subway station that would take us directly to the event. We were supposed to meet at the airport.
It was as I got to London, one day before the event, that I had my first contact with British accent (and Immigration). I remember the guy firing up a lot of questions in an English accent in which I couldn’t understand a word, and my kneejerk reaction was to just say “what?” Apparently he found that very offensive, for he lectured me for some minutes on how “what?” was not the proper response to an officer, and how I should be careful with my tone or he would just send me back. I had to wait for half an hour in a room as he checked that M:TG really existed, and then he let me through. And then there was pandemonium.
The entire airport was in a state of uproar. There were policemen with gigantic guns going around, announces of “any unattended baggage will be removed and destroyed” all over, and no trash cans. It took me a while to figure out what was happening, but in the end I worked out through investigation that London had been attacked by terrorists. At that moment, one thought was persistent in my mind… “oh my god, they are going to cancel the Pro Tour”. No, not “oh my god, I’m going to die.” One has to have his priorities straight.
Truth be told, I never believed for a moment something was going to happen to me. It would be really unfair for me to travel and be killed in a terrorist attack. How unlucky could I be? I decided I did not deserve something like that, and God would not let that happen.
I checked the internet, for the bargain price of five pounds, to see what was going on, and I was relieved to see that the tournament would go on. Armed with news of what I was going to do next, I called home.
“Hi! Mom, I’m okay!”
“Great, but… why wouldn’t you be?”
“Because they are bombing the city.”
After I called, I realized that, due to the time zone difference, it was still something like seven in the morning in Brazil, and she wasn’t even awake, let alone aware of what was going on in London. Once it became clear I would not meet my friends, since they were unable to get to London, and our hostel was not viable anymore because the subway we were planning on taking had just been bombed, we decided my best course of action was to go to the event and try to meet someone.
After some time, I managed to find a Brazilian family that wanted to go to a place close to the event, so we shared a cab from Heathrow. I got to the event and met Jon Fiorillo, whom I knew because he was my editor on another site at the time. He sympathized with my condition and said they had a sofa in the place they were staying, and I could stay there until I found another place. If I’m not mistaken, also in that place were Antonino, Osyp, Mark Herberholz… that was my first contact with them, though I’m not sure they remember.
At the event, I went 5-2 on day 1, drafting BG each times, though I wasn’t forcing it. We went back to the place we were staying, to find a hole in the door and all our clothes scattered. All the passports in there had been stolen, though not mine, because I kept it with me; I believe you should always do that. In the end, nothing of mine was robbed, because all I had there was clothes.
At the site, I met another Brazilian player who was staying by himself, and after that happened he told me maybe I could go find a place in his hotel, so we went there. The hotel was fully booked, though, and his room was for one person only. Things were looking pretty desperate, when the guy at the reception told us “just give me a tenner and I’ll let you go up”. I didn’t really see a lot of options for me — I couldn’t really sneak in after this — so I paid his Â£10 and went upstairs with the guy. I stayed there for the rest of the event, dodging the guy at the reception every single day after the first. The only time he saw me leaving was when the hotel owner was there as well, so he couldn’t really say anything about it.
I finished the tournament in the Top 64, again. Highlights included me playing against a very young Frank Karsten, and then the following exchange with Adam Chambers:
“Do you write?”
“Oh, so that is there I know you from.”
To me, this meant I was not a complete nobody, since someone whose name I recognized had recognized me from my articles.
After the tournament, we did some sightseeing — we went to the Buckingham Palace and watched the guard change, and we went to Madame Tussauds wax museum, which was great. I distinctly remember saying “I’m sorry” to a wax statue that was supposedly taking pictures of another when I stepped in front of it. People were generally unpleasant, but whether that was due to the fact that the city had just been attacked or because they lived up to their reputation as rude and arrogant people, I cannot say. They definitely seemed better the last time I was there, so maybe it’s the first explanation. [I’m sure it is — Craig, amused.]
All in all, London was a good experience. It taught me a lot, and I had to go through pretty unique things. I suppose my practical approach helped when those things happened, since I could have just stayed scared for the entire time and not done anything. I’m not going to say I’m glad things happened, since it was terrible and a lot of people died, but from my point of view only it was definitely part of my formation as a traveler and as a person. It also helped convince my parents that I had more maturity to do most things I wanted, since nothing I was going to encounter here would be worse than a terrorist attack and a robbery at the same time, and I had handled myself just fine in there, though, admittedly, with help most of the time.
My result was good — it was not super exciting, but it was another Top 64. I now had 3 in my 3 tries, which was more than most Brazilians.
Then came Nationals. The Limited format was Kamigawa, and I went 6-0, which makes me think I was good in that specific format, with a GP Top 8, a PT Top 64, and this 6-0. I had to go 3-3 in Standard to make it, but I ended up 2-4, playing Mono Blue Tron, the deck with Menmarch. I was playing the last match for Top 8, and my opponent got a game loss for presenting a 59 card deck, but I ended up losing anyway.
I was pretty disappointed at that. It meant I was not going to Worlds that year, though I was qualified. It was simply too expensive for me to go to Japan.
Before Japan, though, there was a PTQ for Honolulu, and the news PTQs would now give out plane tickets. For some places in the U.S., that’s just the same, or worse, as the $500 we got, but for us it was a huge difference. Our Hawaii plane ticket, for example, was over $2000.
I ended up winning that PTQ, playing Gifts Rock. I think I was, at the time, playing at a much higher level than I had played in my first two Pro Tours, and honestly I think I deserved to win that PTQ. It was the start of my golden year in Magic.
I was very excited about that trip, a lot more than for all the previous trips. I remember being absolutely thrilled, having some kind of electricity running through me as the trip was approaching, and I kept thinking about it. Honolulu was like a dream come true… a place far away, completely inaccessible. I had never even heard of someone who had gone to Honolulu. But I was going!
Deck-wise, I liked my choice. I ended up playing a BW deck, similar to Olivier Ruel, but, in my humble opinion, better. I got paired against another Brazilian guy round 1, playing the exact same thing, and he beat me. After that I went 9-0, beating Osyp, Shu Komuro, LSV (though not famous at the time), until finally losing to Antoine Ruel another time, because I didn’t really know the matchup (he was playing the OWL deck) and ended up playing badly. After that I lost some more, and then played the last round for Top 8 in my first feature match ever. I lost both games to Jitte, in the mirror. My opponent ended up finishing 9th (I would have made it), and I finished 20th.
Honolulu was different for me also because none of the Brazilian known pros were going. It was too expensive for everyone who had not won a PTQ. We were all new people there, and I was the “most famous” Brazilian in the tournament for the first time.
After Honolulu, but before Prague, came the time to PTQ for Charleston. I had a team already — me and two good friends of mine who were both strong and had international experience. They lived in Sao Paulo, or close enough, and we agreed that I would go to SP to play the PTQ there, and then if we didn’t win they’d come play the PTQ here. I bought my plane ticket, and then they ditched me.
It was a bit more complicated than that, but this is basically it. Out of nowhere, they had found a third teammate; apparently, they had agreed to play with him. They said even though they wanted to play with me, they couldn’t go back on their word. I told them they had also given me their word, and I had already bought my plane ticket because of that. The whole affair was pretty messed up, and I’m not sure to this day what happened, but in the end I grew tired of begging for a place in a team and decided to leave it at that.
It did not make much sense to me back then; they SHOULD want to play with me. I was the new hot thing in Brazilian Magic… they should be eager to play with me, not the exact opposite, and that’s only counting the strictly professional aspect of it, as there was also all the friendship involved. The friendship was not really the same after that. You might have noticed that I am pretty radical in the emotions department, and I was really angry at them for agreeing things with me and ditching me at the last minute without a real explanation. At the time, the conclusion I drew was that they wanted to keep the fame all for themselves if they did well… they didn’t want to be eclipsed by the “new hot thing in Brazilian Magic”. It doesn’t make much sense, but it was the only thing I could come up with for that drastic change of events.
Nowadays, it’s all fine and forgotten. I honestly think they have probably punished themselves for it more than I ever could. After all, my team did get second in Charleston, and they will have to live their entire lives with the knowledge that it could have been them instead.
So, I turned to the people I knew were good, and were looking for a teammate — Willy and Celso. I had had contact with them at Worlds 2003, and then with Willy at Worlds 2004 and Celso at Nationals, and we knew each other to some extent… and I knew they were both competent. They had a third teammate, but they were looking for another one, because their third didn’t have a U.S. Visa and they didn’t fancy his chances of getting it. The guy knew of the situation, and understood it that he was only there for as long as they couldn’t find someone else; after all, if he didn’t get a Visa, the whole team would not be able to play.
It was a quick process: I talked to them and I was in. I flew for the PTQ, and we went 6-0 without one of us ever losing a match — that is, 18-0 (it was also the first of many times I got to play against Carlos). I played BW, because I had played that in Hawaii and knew how to play it; Willy played the Gifts/Greater Good deck; and Celso played UR Magnivore. Then we drew, and lost in the Top 4.
They flew to Porto Alegre to play in our PTQ, which was considerably easier. Most teams were not going to go — no one had Visas, let alone three people. We had to battle a team from Uruguay for it, but overall it was not a hard PTQ and we ended up winning. I played BW again, though this time the Husk version from Michael Diezel (which I did not like at the time, and still don’t), Celso played Magnivore again, and Willy played GW — he is more comfortable with attacking for two than controlling the board, and we figured the metagame would be more aggressive here.
So, we were qualified for Charleston, but I still had Prague to attend. I played in one PTQ for Prague, going 1-2 and losing to a guy that had 56 cards in sealed deck, but I was qualified through Hawaii, and I decided it was worth it to go. Since I was already qualified for the next Pro Tour, it seemed worth it. We went to Prague without ever having seen a card from Dissension, as our Prerelease got delayed (as is now customary), but that didn’t stop us from practicing on the Internet.
I learned one of my most valuable draft lessons in Prague. At the time, I liked the UGR combination more than the others. Since I liked it more, the cards from those colors moved up on my list — they became better. And then, since UGR had all the better cards, it was logically the best combination to draft. To put it simply, I was picking Galvanic Arc over Last Gasp, because it was Red, and I was picking Red over Black because it had superior cards, such as the Galvanic Arc that was better than Last Gasp… except it wasn’t!
I realized the circular logic trap one day before the Pro Tour, and changed my way of thinking about the format. It’s important to note the distinction between this and forcing a color. I was not forcing UGR, at least not consciously. I was merely deceived by misevaluations. Thankfully I was able to overcome that before the PT, and at the PT I picked the Last Gasp.
I ended up going 10-2, with none of my drafts UGR (if I recall correctly). I was at the first table for the final draft, and I needed only to win my first round. My deck ended up a Jund monstrosity that had good cards but no clear focus and a very bad curve. Still, it had powerful cards, so I could definitely see myself winning games.
I got destroyed by Takuya Oosawa match 1, and my second match was a Feature Match against Olivier Ruel. I thought I was going to win, and then I lost, and I’m not sure what happened — I probably made a lot of mistakes. I also lost my next match to go 10-5, finishing 30th… good times when 10-5 was Top 32.
I was obviously happy with my result, though disappointed that I had, again, came very close and then lost at the last minute. That would become a trend for most of my Magic career. I’d go 10-1 then 10-5 all the time. Nowadays, I usually just go 13-2 or 2-13, which I suppose is better than going 10-5 all the time, money and Pro points-wise, though not as good for your ego, since nowadays I can’t say “I haven’t missed Day 2 in X events” and stuff like that.
After that, I read Olivier Ruel report. That was good, because I got to read about the awesome Scorched Rusalka play that I’ve already talked about, and because I got to read about me. I believe Olivier wrote something like this:
“Round 14, against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (or one of the standard misspellings of my name): Brazilian Magicians are not too scary those days, but my brother Antoine has played Paulo on a number of occasions, and before the match told me to not underestimate him.”
That made me feel really… good. I was glad that Antoine had even remembered playing twice against me, let alone that he would tell Olivier not to underestimate me! It was like a small victory. He also wrote “he made some mistakes, but I believe they were caused by inexperience rather than ineptitude.” Well, I guess it could have been worse. I had made mistakes, I knew that much, but Olivier thought I was just inexperienced… he didn’t think I was terrible!
After Prague came Charleston. Our preparation for Charleston was pretty extensive, or at least mine was. About one month before the tournament, Diego Ostrovich gave me a BW decklist that I fell in love with, and I played with it, perfecting both the list and the player. It was pretty convenient, because not only was it good but it also took very few cards from other decks, Skeletal Vampire being the most important one (for those who don’t know it, Charleston was Team Ravnica Block, and you could only have 4 of each card in a team). After that, I worked on a BUG deck; it just seemed like we HAD to play four Simic Sky Swallowers.
Before the tournament, I tried to introduce my teammates to Apprentice. After playing about two games each, they both deemed it absolutely unplayable, said it was too much work having to do everything, there were no pictures and it hurt their eyes, so I tested a little bit on my own.
We went to the U.S. with two decks — BW for me, BUG for Celso. Willy had to play some form of RGW, it seemed. We were torn between a fat tricolor Zoo aggro deck with 9 Bounce Lands, and RW aggro which did not beat anything. At the event, we learned that RW didn’t beat anything, and Willy decided to play the Zoo in the end.
The first day of the competition went really well — I went 6-1, and they both went 4-3, but we were very lucky that they never lost their matches in the same round, so our final record was 6-1. I was very happy with the deck I was playing, as I knew a lot about it. It reminded me of Faeries in a way that it was absurdly synergistic, and knowing all the synergies gave you a huge advantage, and also in a way that it changed roles in the match very suddenly. You were behind, then out of nowhere you were attacking with five double Pontiff pumped tokens and a Vampire.
I think that, within MTG, playing this kind of deck is one of my greatest skills. I’m really good at knowing when I have to shift roles in a match, which is why I’ve been successful with Faeries. You should obviously play to your skills, so I was the one with such deck, and Celso, who had played Control for his entire life, played BUG. Willy always says that he doesn’t know how to Wrath, but he is very good at being Wrathed, so he got the aggro deck. We were the perfect team.
Day 2 went just as well, and we beat a lot of good teams, until we got to play against Gadiel, Pelcak, and StarWarsKid. As most of you probably know, that match had certain… repercussions. I had finished my game already, and I was watching Willy’s match against Gadiel. Willy had the game pretty much won, and he tapped three lands to play Rumbling Slum, when he had Loxodon Hierarch in hand. I paid no notice to it, but Gadiel called the judge — Willy’s lands were Boros Garrison and Sacred Foundry, which meant he didn’t have GG.
Now, I can definitely understand where Gadiel is coming from, though I believe he overreacted greatly. I did not watch the beginning of the match, and I do not know what happened, but that specific play that triggered everything else I did watch. I also didn’t realize he didn’t have the mana, because (if I recall correctly) only 5 lands in his deck didn’t produce Green, and that was not a common scenario. It also didn’t matter in the slightest whether he played Slum or Hierarch that turn, as Gadiel was dead either way.
The Head Judge gave Willy a warning, and we beat them 3-0, but that was only the beginning of it. Soon enough, I started hearing other teams we had played some rounds before saying “Ah, I thought I had noticed something shady in the way they played.” From there, it snowballed to “now I’m sure they stacked their decks against us.” None of those people had uttered a single complaint before that round, but when given the opportunity to excuse their loss, they were quick to jump in.
We finished first in the swiss, and got to play against Gadiel’s team again in the Top 4. It was the first Top 8 for Brazil since Carlos (who I got to know a lot more at this tournament, since he played with two German guys but spent most of the time with us), and everyone was pretty excited about it. People in Brazil were introduced to the live podcast, and I remember stories of Willy’s wife frantically calling his friends in Rio because she didn’t really understand what was going on.
Our quarter final was very easy, and it went without incident. I had a really easy matchup against Pelcak; he was playing the RW deck that didn’t beat anything. Celso lost the mirror to SWKid, and Willy beat Gadiel. We celebrated a lot, and even more when we found out we were going to play against the other Japanese team in the finals. Though they were a lot more famous, their decks were a lot better for us.
We proceeded to the Players’ Lunch on Sunday, which was a great opportunity to socialize with the people from coverage. They didn’t know much about us, and they were surprised when I told them of my recent results, and the fact that I had barely missed Top 8 in both Pro Tours in the season. They concluded I was leading the team, and they mentioned that in the coverage. They said it was unusual that the leading player was on the left, not in the middle.
Well, the truth is, I was not leading the team. I suppose Willy was our unspoken leader, though we all respected each other’s play space. We gave advice when asked, but it was very rarely relevant, as it’s hard to play a game when you haven’t played all of it, since you don’t know what your opponent has and the way he has played his cards, and the person playing the whole match is more likely to make the correct decision than someone who just jumped in. We decided to put him on the middle because he had the fastest deck, and so was likely to finish earlier than us, and then he was already on the middle, so he could give advice to both of us after that if we needed it, that was all.
I was sure we were going to win the tournament. Willy had won his match, I was up a game in a good matchup against Saito, and Celso was playing the mirror. In the end, Celso lost, and I lost the next two games in a great display of “oversideboarding.” The Japanese team knew Saito was not going to beat me on even terms, so they had this plan of taking out all the creatures and boarding in all the burn spells, and just trying to burn me out while my hand was full of removal spells… and it worked. It was not likely to work, but it gave them more chances than doing what I wanted them to do, and they fully deserved their win over us. If I had realized his plan sooner, I’d probably have been able to combat it, but game 2 was atypical and, though I knew some of his strategy, I didn’t know the extent of it, so I only sideboarded out some of the removal for game 3. I did get pretty unlucky, but it was one of the aforementioned situations where, if you don’t do everything in your power, it doesn’t matter if you get lucky or not. They did everything in their power.
We were obviously thrilled about it anyway. We had finished second. I’m not sure I can explain what we felt by then. It was a sense of accomplishment — we were good — mixed with the sensation of just having gained ten thousand dollars. I had not really considered that before the tournament, but that result, coupled with my two good results from the beginning of the season, left me with 29 Pro Points, one short of then Level 4 and a free ticket for PT: Kobe.
It was an entire new world for me. Suddenly, much more than when I made Top 64 at my first PT, the dream of playing everything, of going to all those countries, seemed very real. I’d not need my family to make sacrifices for me to travel anymore. If things went well, that would not be needed for a couple of years. I had found something that I was good enough in that I got paid to do — and paid a lot, for my age and country — that was priceless!
After the tournament, we made a really good use of our time in the U.S., going to Orlando for shopping and the amusement parks. It was the first of many times I went to those amusement parks. I had to be constantly reminded that I could spend money from there on. It was a gradual change from all those times I traveled with counted nickels, and it took me some time to get used to it.
I was going to end the year in this article, but this is already very long, and my 2006 Worlds report was my first article for StarCityGames.com, so you can find it if you want to know the rest. I’ll gladly write another article on this subject, talking about the time from Charleston to today, if feedback on it is positive. Although I did write reports from all tournaments in which I did well, they were focused on strategy more than story, and some of the tournaments were pretty interesting and I never talked about them, such as the Invitational. Also, if you have any other topic suggestions, feel free to give them to me in the forums.
Until next week!