PV’s Playhouse – My Story Part 3

The StarCityGames.com $10K Open Comes to Charlotte!
Thursday, September 10th – Brazil’s finest, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, completes his personal journey from novice player to Pro Tour superstar, chronicling the tournaments from Charleston to Worlds in Paris. As usual with PV, there are many tips and tricks to learn if you read between the lines…


This is the third part of My Story.

We had just placed second at Charleston. That meant I had to start thinking about Magic on a whole different level, and I had some decisions to make. At the end of the Pro Tour, I had 29 Pro Points. This was one short of then Level 4 (now Level 6), which gave you one free airfare per year. The next pro tour was Pro Tour: Kobe, so a plane ticket for that would be more than welcomes, since Brazil-Japan tickets are usually around $2000. I needed a way to get one pro point. Before Kobe, I had only one opportunity: Grand Prix: Phoenix.

I had never really considered going to foreign Grands Prix. Not only did I live in Brazil, but I lived in the very south of the country, which meant tickets were even more expensive. This time, though, I had an incentive. If I could get one pro point in Phoenix, I would essentially be buying a ticket to Japan for the price of one to America. The problem with that was that, even if I got my one Pro Point, I’d then have to pay for my ticket to Worlds in Paris. I would get that from Level 4 if I’d not used it in Japan. So the only way this would be useful would be if I got the Pro Point in Phoenix, and then the plane ticket to Paris from some other source, either by making the National team or making Level 5 in Kobe.

In the end, I think what tipped the scale was that I had Nationals one week later, and by going to Phoenix I would get a free stop in Sao Paulo (where Nationals are held) and would thus save a flight. I decided to give it a chance and went to Phoenix. I cannot say I loved the city… if you follow my articles (or if you look at my skin color), you’ll know that me and the sun do not get along very well, and Phoenix was, well, a desert. I remember being very surprised that, out in front of the event, there were a bunch of cacti. Standard vegetation, you know.

Despite the weather, the trip was pleasant. I stayed with Chris Davis, and he helped me practice for my Nationals, since I didn’t really have a clue on what to play. I arrived at the event on Friday and got to see LSV and Paul Cheon, fresh off their Nationals Top 3, playing Cube Draft with some other guys. I had no idea what Cube Draft was back then, and I thought it was pretty interesting, so I just watched them for an entire draft and asked a bunch of questions about it. I think I just hoped they would invite me to play it too, but no one did, so I had to be content with watching.

As for the event, it was Ravnica Sealed with Coldsnap draft on Day 2. I don’t remember anything exciting, except that my deck was average with two Twisted Justice — one foil. During deckbuilding, I called a judge and asked if I could switch my foil one for a normal one, or a proxy, because I didn’t want my opponents knowing I had two in case I played the normal game one and the foil game two — I wanted them to get Twisted Justice game 2 and think “okay, I’m safe now” only to get hit by a second, or not to play around them every time in game 3 as they were sure to do if I showed twin copies. The judge told me that I had to play with the cards I opened, and I could not replace it. I thought it was pretty awkward, and realized that if I had just switched them without asking anyone, no one would have ever noticed. Even if they had, for some reason, gone up to the guy who registered the pool and he gave them the information that there was a foil one, I would be able to say “I just lost it between rounds so I replaced it,” and I don’t think anyone would ever fault me for that. Now I had already asked, and the judge had already said no, so I could not very well change it by myself and had to stick with the foil one. Maybe I should have played without sleeves and bent it a bit so the judges would just give me a proxy?

In the end, I doubt the fact that I had a foil Twisted Justice mattered, and I made Day 2 with a 7-2 record, to finish 18th and inside my one Pro Point range (back then, 18 was only 1 point — we had it hard!). That meant I had my ticket for Kobe, and now I would work on getting it for Paris.

I left Phoenix with the idea of playing BW, since I didn’t really want to play anything else and I was comfortable with it, having played some version of it in both Hawaii and Charleston. Then I got back to Sao Paulo and, during my stay at Leit’s house (the first of many) – which, if I might add, is super duper awesome (he told me I had to say that) – we got to check on the lists from Japanese Nationals.

Among those lists there was one he and our friend Xiko liked — the Snow Enduring Ideal deck from Akira Asahara, with Sensei’s Divining Top, Counterbalance, Scrying Sheets, and the Ideal package (Enduring Ideal, Form of the Dragon, Ivory Mask, Dovescape, Meishin, Zur’s Weirding, some Confiscates and Faith’s Fetters). Asahara could have made Top 8 at Japanese Nationals, but he declined his last round opponent’s ID offer, and ended up losing and finished just outside it — and I don’t understand why you would ever do that — so his deck was not as popular and known as it should have been. I, however, was not convinced.

You see, Leit and Xiko both have pretty weird standards when it comes to choosing decks. They both like combo decks, they both like different and awkward decks, they both like funny decks — Xiko especially, who sometimes seems to think “the look on your opponent’s face” is more important than the match result – and they will play something just because it’s different. I’m the exact polar opposite. If something is different, there is a high chance I will not like it. Though it doesn’t apply to this situation because the format was new, I’ve always been a fan of the “if it was good, someone would have built it already” idea in formats that have been around for some time. Therefore, when they said the deck was awesome, I took it for one of their “I wanna be different” surges, and didn’t pay much attention to it. I saw no reason why Enduring Ideal would be good, or better than the BW deck I wanted to run, so I just followed as they tested and got the cards for the deck.

I kept watching them, and my interest grew. Though I am a very skeptical person when it comes to new things, I am not a total idiot, and I could see that the deck was winning most of its matches, and, much more importantly than that, I could see it should be winning those matches. Sometimes people will playtest and go 5-0, but you can just see that they were very lucky and those matches were a fluke, that it should not win with average draws. This time, I felt like those had been average draws.

At some point, someone who was playing had to go to the restroom and I tagged in — and I liked it! The deck felt good to play. It had a control shell with Wraths, Faith’s Fetters, Top, Counterbalance, Scrying Sheets, and a seven-mana “I win” card. You could beat the aggro decks on speed, since no one could kill you faster than you could Ideal, and you could exhaust the other control decks with your snow cards. I brainstormed for a long time and, after playing more against BW and not really losing ever, I decided to do something I had never done before, and changed my deck for a completely unknown one the day before the event. I had to run to get the cards, since I had only borrowed the ones for decks I could possibly play. This is what I do most of the time, since I don’t own many cards myself. By the way, I’ll probably need to borrow some enemy fetches for Pro Tour: Austin, so let me know if you have extras.

During testing, Leit had this idea of playing Wall of Shards in the sideboard, as the drawback didn’t really hurt us. They would be dead at some point regardless. Take that, Solifuge. Other than that, our deck was pretty identical to Asahara’s, and I went to the tournament pretty confident — I did not think I had any bad matchups, other than Heartbeat, which was a faster combo deck.

Round 1, I got paired against Heartbeat. Obv.

Heartbeat was not a very popular deck, and I was pretty mad to have been paired against it round 1. However, fortune smiled upon me, and I played my singleton Ivory Mask turn 3 game 1, and turn 4 game 2. With Ivory Mask out he was not able to kill me before I could Ideal for Dovescape, and I escaped the bad matchup unharmed.

Then I won round 2 and got paired against Xiko — the mirror. Game 1 was all about luck, and though I had Ideal and 7 lands faster than him to lock up the game with Dovescape, but he had Confiscate on turn 6 so he got to Ideal faster. For game 2, we both have Commandeer… and we have no clue how it works with Epic. We call the head judge and he explains that the person who Commandeers the spell keeps the Epic part of it — that is, if I Commandeer his Ideal, it is as if I had cast my own and I essentially win the game. We both sideboard, and he plays a Zur’s Weirding in game 2. We get to a situation where we both have Ideal and Commandeer in hand, and we both have Top out, but he has a Court Hussar (I believe) attacking me. I have a Court Hussar of my own in hand, which I’m sandbagging — I want to be able to set up a Top activation for something good and then put it in my hand with Hussar without being susceptible to Zur’s Weirding.

As I’m trying to set this up — perhaps a double Commandeer, or a Confiscate for his Hussar — the head judge comes and tells us that he had been mistaken, and the rule was that the person who Commandeered the Ideal would get the first copy but the opponent would get all the subsequent copies. We complain that we’ve been playing the entire game with the knowledge the rule was different, and that information made us play completely different than we would have, so he rules that, for the duration of that game, the rule will be as he had previously ruled. We continue playing and I’m still confident I cannot possibly lose this game, and at some point I draw a Dovescape with Top because I have nothing else to draw and don’t pay attention. Then I manage to play my Hussar, find the card I need and resolve Enduring Ideal — except, well, I don’t have the Dovescape in my deck anymore because I am an idiot. I’m then powerless to stop his Enduring Ideal, since I can’t play spells, and he ends up beating me because I forgot I had removed an early Confiscate for Commandeer and thus cannot Ideal for the second one to steal his Ivory Mask (which I sided out). In the end, it was all a bunch of mistakes that cost me the game. Because of the Commandeer ruling, our match (which was a feature match) delayed the round for about 40 minutes.

I go 5-1 in Draft, for a 7-2 record, and then I get to play against Sea Stompy. I win 2-1, losing game 2 because he is at 250 life from my Walls, which I can’t let die because he has Trygon Predator, and I can’t kill him before I get decked, since he played 3 Thoughts of Ruins and I have trouble reaching seven mana.

So, I have to win one more. I get paired against Mori’s UBW Counterbalance deck, which is a pretty good matchup, and I’m pretty confident. Both games are pretty academic, though I mulliganed a lot, and I draw into Top 8.

At this point, I’m pretty excited. Brazilian Nationals had always been a frustrating topic for me, because I thought the competition was not that strong and I had never managed to do well before. I was even more excited when I saw the Top 8 pairings — I was going to play against UG aggro. He didn’t have any counterspells of any kind, and he was not fast enough to race me. I won in three quick and easy games.

In the Top 4, I played against Carlos, with Boros. He won a game with Pacifism on my Wall of Shards, but I won the other three. In the finals, I went to play against Elton, with UB Control, who had beat Xiko in the semis. The match was not really hard for me — my Counterbalance and Top were much better than his, and I had Boseijus and Confiscates (I won a game by Confiscating Meloku).

One interesting situation happened in one of the post-boarded games. I Topped in my opponent’s end step, drawing and leaving a four-mana spell on top. On my opponent’s turn, he tapped out to play Annex on my Boseiju, and I had a Counterbalance and a land untapped. I’m about to just flip the top card of my library to counter it, but then I think — did I really put the four on top?

I agonize for some minutes over this decision. It’s the finals, everyone is watching. If I Top before the Counterbalance, I’ll have to spend one in my upkeep to Top again so I don’t draw the four. More important than that, though, I wanted to impress people. A good player is supposed to know what he put on top of his deck with Top, especially if he has Counterbalance in play. It’ll make me look like an idiot if I top into the exact same card.

But what if I am mistaken and it’s not the top card? How much of an idiot am I going to look THEN? Isn’t it more important to win the game than to look smart, anyway? I decided I would not take the risk of being mistaken, and Topped again. And, of course, it turned out the four-mana card was not on top. I put it on top, counter his Annex, and win the game on the back of my Boseiju. Now, I imagine what I would have done if I had just flipped the top card and it was not a four — I would probably have lost the game right there, looked even more of an idiot, and killed myself in the process. This is probably where I learned to not let the fact that I’m going to look bad change the way I play. It’s much more important to win than to appear good. Also, if I make a mistake, it’s better to look like an idiot and try to play better from then on than to pretend it was not a mistake at all.

So, I won the finals and I became the Brazilian National Champion. I was overjoyed — I had proven my worth on national soil! It seemed everything was going my way, though truth be told, though, I didn’t need a lot of luck. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as dominant as in that Nationals, deck-wise; it was really a very good deck. Our team was me, Elton, and Carlos, and we had high hopes. We all had PT experience and it was hard to imagine a team that was much better than that one for us. After the whole team enterprise, I also came to see Carlos as some kind of older brother, so things went really easily, and I’m glad I will have the opportunity to play with him again.

After Nationals, I decided to talk to Willy about the 2HG Pro Tour that had been announced. I knew I wanted to play with him. We were both good, and we had gotten along well in Charleston, and I trusted him enough, so I saw no reason to delay the invite any longer. I didn’t want him to get things arranged with Celso before me, after all. I talked to him and we agreed that we would play in San Diego the following year.

After Nationals came Kobe. Kobe was my first visit to Japan, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The people traveling with me all hated Japan with a passion, but I decided to stay some extra days to sightsee there anyway, because those people hate everything. The first step was getting a Japanese Visa. We need one every time we go to Japan. I went to the Japanese Consulate with all the information they asked for in their website, which is A LOT, including very specific stuff such as what are you doing on each single day that you are there. “Playing a tournament and sightseeing” does not make them happy, you have to write “on Sunday I’ll be playing the tournament, on Monday I’ll go to Palace X in city Y, and on Tuesday I’ll take the train to City Z,” etc.

Arriving there, I meet Walter, the guy who had won our PTQ for Kobe. The representative talks to me, I explain the situation, hand all the papers, the invitation letter from Wizards, and wait a while. At some point, he calls me and points to Walter’s DCI card — the one with your DCI number — and asks me why I don’t have one of those. I explain to him that I do have one, but it’s at home, and I didn’t really think about bringing it because, well, I’ve never used it for any reason anywhere before that, and all the documentation I had should be more than enough to prove that I’m a Magic player. He says I have to go pick my DCI card at home and bring it back to show him, so I take a cab, because the consulate is almost closing. I make the return trip in record time… I think I was lucky to even have found such a card in the first place.

I get my visa and leave Porto Alegre, connecting in Sao Paulo and meeting the other Brazilians there. For our flight, we had a connection in Dallas, like most AA flights. In the airport, we found out we would be sharing a flight with the Americans — LSV, Cheon, and Zac Hill, among others. LSV had brought his Cube — the one I had watched in Phoenix — and this time the 12-hour flight gave me plenty of opportunity to play. Someone had a seat by the emergency exit, and we just sat there and drafted for the most part — it was actually amusing that they let us do it, as most of the time flight attendants will step in and say you are breaking some rule when you start having too much fun in the aisles. That was probably the most enjoyable 12-hour flight I’ve ever had, and I got to know those people better, so it was pretty good.

Arriving in Japan, we were met with an immediate problem — we didn’t have a hotel. I guess I could have chosen any different Pro Tour to not have a hotel and it would not be as bad as it was in Kobe that day. First of all, we took a long time to get from the airport to the city, and by the time we got there it was already dark. Second, Carlos was beyond sick (and he blamed Japan for that). Third, all the hotels were full.

At some point we stopped walking from hotel to hotel because Carlos wasn’t feeling well, and I stayed with him in some lobby while Celso and Willy went to look for hotels. Sometime later, they came back unsuccessful, and this time Celso stayed with Carlos and Willy and I went the other direction.

When they had told me that Japanese people didn’t speak English, I have to admit I didn’t believe them. That walk for a hotel was all it took to convince me. Eventually we stumbled across a weird-looking hotel and were able to comprehend that they had room. Then we said we wanted to book one and the old lady said we couldn’t, in the Japanese way of saying no, crossing your arms across your chest.

Then a conversation followed, in which we asked things in English and she replied in Japanese, and it was clear no one had any clue what the other was talking about. Still, we had found out they had room, why couldn’t we book it? Eventually, Willy started drawing signs on a piece of paper, and we understood at last… we could not stay in the same room because we were both boys. I mean, seriously? We could not convince her to change her mind, so we had to look for another hotel. [So what was the sign for THAT? — Craig, amused.]

Many blocks (and plenty of hours) later, we finally found a hotel. We booked two rooms, and went back to the other hotel to pick up Carlos and Celso.

Registration took place at a Karaoke bar, which was awesome. All the other Brazilians didn’t think it was very awesome, and quickly registered and left. I decided to stay. I like socializing, I like people, I like trying new foods and drinks, and I like Karaoke. It seemed like a good opportunity. I knew a lot of people there, so I kept bouncing between rooms, and in the end I spent most of my time in the room with the Spaniards, singing Shakira.

The food was not spectacular, I must admit, but it was probably the registration party at which I had the most fun out of all the ones I’ve attended. Every time they go to Japan I hope for another Karaoke party, but it’s never happened. Now they give us some boosters instead.

The PT itself was very ordinary for me. My first draft was really good, but I made a very big mistake in deckbuilding. I had double Teferi, but only something like 4 other Blue cards, so I decided to keep the Blue to a minimum and cut both. Teferi was such a powerful card, though, that I should definitely have stretched the manabase to accommodate them, especially since I had two. I sided them in (along with a bunch of Island) in two of the three matches, and they were pretty decent, but I could only manage a 1-2 score.

Then I drafted a pretty average deck, on a table full of people I recognized, and 3-0ed with it to Day 2, managing to get paired against the two unknowns in the first two rounds. After that I had a reasonable record and finished 48th. Willy got second, and I jokingly reminded him that he had already agreed with me about the 2HG tournament and now he wouldn’t be able to ditch me for a better teammate even though he had gotten better results.

Staying in Japan afterwards proved to be a problem, since none of the other Brazilians were staying. Luckily I found a group of Mexicans during a money draft who wanted to go sightseeing, and we took a train to Kyoto after the tournament ended, because it was the former capital of the empire and we had a lot of things to see there. We ended up getting to Kyoto very late, though, and we didn’t really… have a hotel. We were planning on staying in a hostel, but we couldn’t find it, so we had to look for hotels. Everything was full, except for one, which only had Japanese style rooms. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, as they say, so we took that one (not that we had much choice).

The room was… different. It had no bed, just a very thin mattress (not exactly a mattress but just something you lie on) on the floor. The door was paper-ish, which kept reminding me of Simpsons in Japan, when Homer just walks through the door without opening it every time, and the bath tub was below floor level — instead of just being something that rose from the floor, it was a depression on the bathroom floor that you could step into. Thankfully they had a normal toilet seat (which in Japan means it does everything short of talking to you) instead of one of those Japanese style things. I put on my Japanese robe that they had in the wardrobe and went to sleep on my Japanese mattress.

The following day we actually found our hostel, and it looked very much like a hospital room. I think we had about 30 beds in it, with white sheets and curtains, but it was surprisingly pleasant. We went to a lot of different places, the most memorable one a temple where we had to ditch our shoes for some special footwear (the biggest of which was about half my foot size) and then use those to climb very small steps (the biggest of which was about half my foot size). We went up and rang some luck bell, and then, on our way back, I asked what some statues were and found out they were water guardians, to prevent fires, but that they apparently didn’t work very well because the place had had to be rebuilt after a fire at some point.

Overall, Japan was very nice. People were always pleasant, though no one could very well communicate with us despite us speaking English, Portuguese, Spanish, German and French between us. The food was awkward, but not necessarily bad, and all the temples and shrines were very interesting, most of the time dedicated to a different animal.

Also in Kobe, it was brought to my attention that a coverage reporter had warned the U.S. team (Vargas, Lundquist, and Cheon) to watch out for the Brazilian team, because we were shady. That left me really angry, because I’ve never really done anything shady, and, as far as I know, neither had my then-teammates, and I cared a lot about it — it just didn’t seem fair to me, and to them. I think that, nowadays, no one really thinks I cheat anymore (or do you?), but it’s one of the reasons I’m always very slow to make such accusations.

After Kobe came the time to prepare for Worlds. Playing Teams was not very viable, as we each live in a completely different corner of the country, but I could try to figure out Standard and Extended. Dragonstorm was the most popular deck in the format back then, but I didn’t really want to play it because of the hate and the awkward draws, so I was trying some form of UW Control, with Draining Whelks and Sacred Mesas. For Extended, I didn’t really have much clue (though I tested a little in the airport and liked Boros), but from my experience no one ever does, always delegating it to the day before the Extended portion begins, because it’s the last and because Extended decks at Worlds are always proven archetypes. You often have to just pick one instead of building something completely new.

We arrived in Paris some time before the tournament, because we wanted to sightsee. We went to the Louvre, and I took a ton of pictures. I’m generally not impressed by art for art’s sake — which is most art, in my opinion — but sometimes I’ll find something that I like, such as the way the Mona Lisa always seems to be looking at you no matter the direction you face it. There is a painting in the United Nationals building in Geneva that is like that, too. We went to the Eiffel Tower (though I didn’t go to the highest floor, as there was a one-hour queue for the lift and I don’t have a very good stamina to climb it all), to the Arc de Triumph, to the Champs-Élysées, etc.

The city was very beautiful overall. Most of the time I don’t even pay attention to this, but Paris was pretty; I kept looking at it. I was also a big fan of the Crepes, Crepe-Nutella especially. Most of the time we ate Crepes and Kebabs instead of the McDonalds from the U.S. One day, though, we wanted to go out to eat at night — because of the time zone — and there was absolutely nothing open.

We did some testing at the hotel and I realized UW would not beat Dragonstorm, and that was not something I liked very much, so I ditched it. We went to the event, I met the other Brazilians, and Willy was sold on playing Boros, so he convinced me to play it too. I talked to a lot of people about it, and no one really knew anything.

In Paris, it was easy to notice a difference from my first Pro Tours. Back in Berlin and San Francisco, I would just watch everyone, wonder who they were, hope someday I would be accepted in the group. In Paris, I actually talked to people — not only as a player, but also as a person. Once you start going to tournaments, you start meeting people again and again, and they become your family of sorts. It’s not absurd to say that I’ve spent more time with Martin Juza or Luis Scott-Vargas this year than with my two brothers, for example. Yes, I have two brothers… everyone seems surprised for some reason. And no, they don’t play Magic; they think it’s for nerds.

As we were going inside to eat, they called the National Champions for the rehearsal of the opening ceremony.

And it was awesome. The full realization of it hit me at once. I was the National Champion. I was representing my country. I had always wanted to represent my country. I understand that some people don’t care much about those things, and I remember going to previous Worlds and watching arguments because the first place finisher did not want to carry the flag, and neither did the second place finisher… but I do care a lot about those things. I care about the shirts, I care about flip-flops, I care about karaoke party, and I care about carrying the flag. For that moment, I felt like an athlete in the Olympics. I was important.

Then the moment came for the actual flag ceremony, and it was even better than the rehearsal. I remember, a few days ago, I was walking to my father’s house and I started thinking about the flag ceremony for this year… and it was as if some kind of energy built up inside me. I really, really like those things. It’ll be an awesome moment for me when I’m carrying the flag again this year. I don’t care if no one pays any attention because the first round of Worlds starts fifteen minutes later. I’ll be doing it, and feeling like the proudest person in the entire world.

The tournament went pretty well. I played well, but also got extremely lucky with my draws. Everything just seemed to be working – and managed to go 11-1 the first two days. Day 3 I lost early, but then quickly won two in a row, and only needed a draw to make it. I played against Katsushiro Mori and offered the draw, which he declined because he was not in. Then we played game 1 and I was beating him, and he offered the draw then, which I happily took, since for me it was the same as a win. So, I was locked in two rounds before the Top 8. It seemed it really was “my year,” if such things exist.

Then came teams. Other than the practice draft we did the day before, we had never played as a team before, and only Carlos had some practice with team Rochester, so he got to do most of the picks. Sometimes we disagreed, but most of the time we agreed or I went with his decision, except one time where I picked a card he told me not to, and then later I regretted it because he was right. Teams can be an awesome thing, but I can only imagine the horror of playing teams with someone you didn’t like… you probably feel like murdering them if they pick a card they shouldn’t, because, if they do, there is nothing you can do about it. Maybe that was why Amiel and Max Bracht both got DQed, so they wouldn’t have to go through the process? [Ouch! — Craig, amused]

I promptly went 0-4 in team Rochester, though I believe I should have gone 2-2, based on the deck’s strength. We went 2-2, losing the third match to Portugal in an incredible amount of bad luck from Carlos, and we were out of the Top 2. It was a shame, because our team was good and I think we deserved a chance to battle Holland in the last round to go to the finals — Japan was locked in already — but, as it was, we were only playing for Top 8 — which we won. It was still relevant, because it locked my Level 6 and Carlo’s Level 3.

I did not playtest my match before the Top 8, as I knew how it worked already. I tried to get sleep. I was tired from all the Teams action the previous day too, and I didn’t think testing at that point would do much for me. I had a strategy, and I was going to follow it. It was a very important match… not only was it worth thousands of dollars, but if I got to the finals I’d be the Player of the Year.

The match, versus Mihara and Dragonstorm, was 50-50ish. He won the first two games, I won the next two. Then came the fifth game.

I started with a double mulligan, but his hand was pretty slow. I think I played this entire match well, and the fifth game was no exception, playing around his Remands when I could, even if I was short on lands. Still, I did not have much hope, as I had mulliganed to five and stalled on one land after all. Then he started playing spells and counting, and I thought I had already lost, which I was ready to accept. Rite of Flame, Rite of Flame

And a pause. A look of horror on his face.

I started to get my hopes up again — maybe I could win after all? He paused, and kept looking at his cards, as if by staring at an Island long enough he would turn it into a Seething Song. Then, after about five minutes — and I watched the match about a month ago on video, it was really a very long time — he decided to play Repeal. Then he drew into his third Rite of Flame and killed me.

I’m not entirely sure why this play is not famous, but Craig Jones drawing the Lightning Helix or Gabriel Nassif drawing the Ultimatum is. I think if there was a dictionary definition for the word “topdeck,” it would have a picture of Mihara drawing the Rite of Flame, snatching victory at the jaws of defeat after a mistake. I don’t see how you can have more of a topdeck than this. I was surprised, but not angry… I thought I was going to lose when he started playing Rite of Flames, after all…

Later on, I had my first contact with Richard Hagon, back when he worked for Mox Radio, and he asked me if I was mad. I said no, not really. I had achieved so much already! From being a complete unknown, I became the first level maximum player from all the Americas. I got that level with only one point from Grands Prix, which I did not need in the end since I had 51 points, and I was almost the Player of the Year. I had guaranteed all the plane tickets for the Pro Tours the following year, and I was going to have another year as wonderful as this one. How could I be angry? I was ecstatic about all that.

We had the Top 8 lunch, and I got to try a lot of different types of French Cheese (again, that was before the Top 8 lunch became McDonalds Happy Meals), and I was called off for trying to get a second dessert. I can’t help it, I just like desserts too much (and I didn’t know they were counted). After that, I watched the rest of the finals. It was really pleasant to watch, because every single person who made a mistake got punished for it and lost the game to said mistake (except, of course, for my opponent).

Then I was approached by Craig Stevenson. At the time, I thought the person who gave the “Hi, I’m Craig” speech was Craig Jones, so I was a little confused as to whom he was. He introduced himself as the StarCityGames.com Editor, and he wanted me to write for them. The result was my first StarCityGames.com article: a Worlds report. I started writing sporadically —three or four articles a year — but the column you are reading would only come three years later. [And we all love your column, PV… long may it continue. — Craig Not Jones.]

Overall, I can say I had a close to perfect year, Magic-wise — I don’t think I’ll ever have a year like that, where I can just pass on GPs — I believe the only person who could match that was Willy, who became Level 5 (today’s 7) even though he skipped the first two Pro Tours. Willy, by the way, jokingly came up to me after the event and reminded me that I had already agreed to play the 2HG Pro Tour with him; there was no going back.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series!