PV’s Playhouse – My Story

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Thursday, July 23rd – In the run up to Brazilian Nationals this weekend, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is in an unusually reflective mood. Today’s PV’s Playhouse has Brazil’s finest looking back at his rise from eight-year-old beginner to the force he is today. The stories are entertaining and uplifting, and dotted with excellent advice on how to reach the next level of play.


I was originally planning on writing about M10 Limited this week, but after playing the format a little, the idea just didn’t seem very appealing. Everything that looks like a bomb is a bomb, and everything that looks bad is bad, and you should just get a lot of bombs, etc, etc. Since I’m going to Boston and Brighton and they’re both M10 Limited, I’ll have opportunities to write about the format in my reports, so I’m not going to write about it today.

Rather, I’m going to try to do something a little different — I’m going to write about my story. How I started playing, when I started going to GPs, when I learned some valuable lessons that I carry on with me until today, and how I made the transition to Pro Tour Player. I understand that this might be a little light on actual Magic strategy, but I’ll try to sneak it in when possible. I hope you find this an interesting read.

My story starts in late 1995. At the time, I was 8 years old, and reading a magazine about Saint Seiya that I had borrowed from a friend, when a little advertisement that they had sneaked in the corner of a page caught my attention — it was an add about Magic: the Gathering, supposedly a game where you were a wizard fighting another with spells and fantastic creatures. You see, I’ve always been fascinated by this topic — to this day, all it takes from a book or a game is to have a Dragon or a Wizard on the cover and I’ll pick it up to look what it is. A lot of people seem to think that flavor doesn’t matter for pro players, but I assure you, if Fireball was called Sonic Grenade and Shivan Dragon was Shivan Battle Tank, I’d not have touched M:tG.

The advertise made me interested, so I told my mother to call the number they had — since it was for São Paulo — and figure out how we could buy those cards here in Porto Alegre. She found the store number and we went there, with my friend who had lent me the magazine, and left with a Fourth Edition starter and a Homelands booster each. We just added all the cards together, and we had our decks.

In the beginning, playing Magic was very hard. We were so absurdly young, and there were things we didn’t fully understand — for example, I had an Ivory Tower in my deck, but I didn’t know what “Upkeep” was, so I didn’t really have a clue what it did. I also had Inferno, and I played it as deals 6 damage to something, because surely damaging myself and my creatures couldn’t be correct. My friend had Fireball, which was a complicated card; Clockwork Beast, which was the biggest creature we had; and White Knight, which I coveted because it was a card someone had in the Game Examples, in the Fourth Edition manual, which I have read more times than probably any other book (which says a lot, because when I like a book, I read and re-read and re-read it). We were happy playing our five-color eighty-card decks.

Soon enough, the school year restarted and we taught our classmates how to play. They all had their decks, and we played from time to time, but no one was as much into it as I was — no one seemed to like it as much as I did. I started going to the store and watching people play. Since I was so young, my mother understandably did not feel comfortable with leaving me in a room with a bunch of older men she didn’t know, so she stayed in the store with me, even though she didn’t understand anything that was going on. I’m not sure how many hours of her life she spent there, reading or just doing nothing, but it was definitely a lot, which I’m very glad for. Soon enough, I was friends with the guys there, and she got to know some of them too.

One of the guys plays a special part in my story. His name was Rafael, and he was the son of the store owner. He was one of the top players, and he took me under his wing, so to speak — I’m not entirely sure why. Today, I’m a very calm and controlled person most of the time, but when I was younger I was devil incarnate — or so that’s what my entire family tells me. My curiosity knew no boundaries, and I was constantly asking, annoying, wanting to know everything. To this day I’m still a little like that — constantly asking, wanting to know — but not as mischievous as I was before. Still, it didn’t seem to bother those guys — Rafael in particular — and if it did, they never made it obvious to me. Whenever I asked — and I asked a lot — they always did their best to explain to me in ways I would understand.

Soon enough, I was a whole new league ahead of my classmates. I had bought some new cards and my deck was better, and I knew things none of them knew. They would not believe me that Dark Ritual did not put three Swamps in play, and that you could only use the mana once. They would not believe me that you couldn’t Counterspell a permanent. The game in my school started to fade — no one was very interested anymore — but I kept going to the store.

Then, one day, I went to the store and everyone was setting up for a Standard tournament. I had never played in a tournament before, but they helped me tweak my deck — taking out the cards that weren’t legal, and lending me some to replace them.

I played that tournament with a Black/Green deck full of my personal combos. Those included Whirling Dervish, and Pestilence, and Thicket Basilisk, and Lure. The tournament was double elimination, and after two rounds I was out — not very surprising, really. After that, I watched Rafael play — he was playing a UW Counter-post deck, which was far too advanced for me, full of counters and card drawing/selection, and he won the tournament beating a Mono-Red burn deck with Bosium Strip in the finals. After the match, I overheard the guy saying “I can’t beat him, he has too much card draw.” I absorbed that.

My next tournament was Limited — a Revised Sealed deck. It was my first contact with Limited, and I had no real ambitions other than opening a bunch of expensive cards, which failed miserably. My Rares were Goblin King and Mishra’s War Machine. I was disappointed — no Dual Lands. I struggled a bit to build my Sealed deck, and as the time was running out, I just went with the safe choice — I played every single card I had opened.

Of course, that didn’t turn out very well, and after two rounds I was out again. Soon after, someone taught me that I shouldn’t play everything I opened, and I should try to play as few cards as I could.

I believe this is one of the hardest things to intuitively understand – that you should always play the minimum of cards allowed. To this day, professional players write articles saying that 61 is sometimes correct, or 41 in Limited — I disagree. To me, playing 61 or 41 is an excuse for not knowing what to cut — valid, certainly, but never the best option. If you play 61, you have to know that you are making a mistake, but so that you don’t take the risk of making a bigger mistake — you have to know that this is not the optimal configuration.

With time, I’ve came up with an explanation that I think is satisfactory — if you are playing 60 cards, those are the best 60 cards for your deck. If a certain card was better in your deck than one of those 60, you would be playing that card over one of the 60 — so, any card that you are not playing inside your 60 is automatically worse than the 60 you are playing. Therefore, if you add a card to your deck, it’s going to be something worse than everything else in your deck, and it’s going to just make it harder for you to draw the 60 best cards and lower the overall quality of your deck. That comment might be a little confusing because there are lots of 60s in it, but I think the point gets across.

My third tournament was a Vintage one. I played my Green/Black deck again, this time without having to remove my Sengir Vampire, and I was, well, out after two rounds again. I did kill someone with Cadaverous Bloom and Pestilence for 17 in the same turn, so it was almost worth it just for that. In the end, the guy who won was playing a complicated artifact deck, with Mana Drains and Titania’s Song as the kill.

I kept playing the local tournaments, and I kept losing, but I also kept learning. Every tournament I had the opportunity to watch good players play, and every time I went to the store I absorbed new concepts. I remember, for example, when a guy told a kid one year older than me that he should cut two Mahamoti Djinns for two Quirion Rangers, for curve purposes — that was not the phrase he used, but that’s what he meant. It took me a long while to understand that just having powerful cards doesn’t cut it, and that a deck is 60 cards and not 60-times-one-card. I also felt very bad for the guy — he had just bought the Mahamoti Djinns, and the guy was telling them not to play them?

Then, the time came for me to do the same. I had bought a Lord of the Pit, and I was happy with it, but there came a time when I understood it was not a good card. But I had bought it, it had cost me money — how could I simply not play it now? It was my pet card, my favorite card, 7/7 trampler of doom, and I was going to replace it with something as simple as a 2/2 Black Knight?

I realized I had to make a decision — I had to know what I was playing for. I could no longer have a pet card, a pet deck, if my priority was to win. I couldn’t be bonded to a card just because I had spent money in it, or because I wanted it to work. Couldn’t be bonded to a deck idea because I had been the one to think about it. I knew what I wanted — I wanted to win. The Lord of the Pit had to go, and in came the Black Knights.

At some point in my endeavors, I ran into a book called Dominating Magic: the Gathering (at least that’s my free translation). Though the writer was not what you could call a big time pro player, I was his targeted audience. The book didn’t have anything on playing, but it had a lot on deckbuilding, and I started to understand the concept of a deck with a focused strategy.

In the book, he laid out the most common archetypes — discard, land destruction, counterspells, weenies — and his explanation for each of them. The way he built decks was pretty interesting — he had packages he wanted to fill, like, “Creature Removal — 4 Terrors,” “Early Creatures — 4 Llanowar Elves” — it was the concept of cards finding their way into decks, and not the opposite. He also paid a lot of consideration to the curve — pretty much all his decks had early creatures and mid creatures. I also distinctly remember him saying Craw Wurm was a quick and cheap creature, though.

Then, after the common archetypes, came the fascinating part — the decks that were built around a card. He took, for example, Mana Barbs, and build a deck around it — and it made sense! He had Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise to give him mana, and his deck was all cheap so he wouldn’t take as much damage as his opponents. That ignited some kind of creative spark, and I started to deckbuild as a hobby — most of my ideas would not come to pass, but I had fun just thinking about them and writing them in my school books.

One of my ideas that I actually got to play in a Regionals was my UR Artifacts deck. The deck was centered around Goblin Welder, and I had Lifeline for infinite Welder recursions for Jester’s Cap to kill them. I also had Bottle Gnomes to work with Lifeline, Ensnaring Bridge, and Null Brooch to deal with creatures and spells, and Tinker to find all that — it was a masterpiece. I ended up losing in the Top 16 (back then it was Top 16, not Top 8).

Another tournament I distinctly remembered was another Regionals — this one Extended, and I played Counter Slivers. I went to the Top 16 again, and there I faced a guy who is my friend to this day. He was playing a five-color build, with Whispers of the Muse for card advantage, and then Gerrard’s Wisdom, Wrath of God, Counterspells and Gaea’s Blessing — it killed with a one- or two-of Fireball.

I played some early guys, he dealt with them, and then, at one point, he end-stepped Whispers of the Muse with buyback. I remembered watching his games, hearing arguments — why was he winning his games? What was the key in his deck? I only had a limited number of Counterspells, so I had to be selective on what to counter. I remembered people saying that Whispers of the Muse was really important, that the deck won because it outdrew you, I remembered the guy in my first tournament saying he couldn’t beat Rafael because he drew too many cards — I countered the Whispers.

If that was the right play or not, I can’t say I know — I can remember what went through my head as I was playing that game, but not what else I had in play or in hand, so I can’t say if it was right or not — but that match meant a lot to me, because it symbolized the beginning of me understanding what mattered. I was not playing my cards just because I had the mana to play them — I was playing them for reasons. Though it’s possible that my evaluation was wrong, the fact that I had stopped to evaluate it meant a lot to me — meant I was growing as a player.

A lot of people, to this day, don’t do what I tried to do. One of the most important things in Magic is to know why things happen, so you can know what to do to prevent them — if you don’t know Five-Color Control sometimes beats Faeries because it outdraws you and plays more lands and then spells you can’t counter, you aren’t going to know you have to counter their Esper Charms. If you don’t know Faeries beats Black/White because you Cryptic Command their team and alpha strike, you’ll play two Bitterblossoms and lose to the Cryptic Command. When you are playtesting, make sure you understand why you are winning or losing — it’s much more valuable than to know if you are winning or losing.

That said, I lost this game. Nationals would have to wait.

Sometime later, I played another Regionals — with Accelerated Blue, which was basically a blue control deck that played Grim Monoliths to speed out Morphling and Masticore. At that point, I was already a local good player — my ambitions were not only dreams but possibilities. I ended up getting third, in a tournament that qualified the first two people. I hoped the second place would not be able to go, but he was, and I was without an invite again.

This year, however, I did something I had not done the previous years — I decided to give it a try and go to the Grinders. It took a lot of effort to convince my parents, since it was an 18-hour bus ride to São Paulo — but in the end I managed to go.

The trip was very nice. We rented an entire bus, and the 18 hours passed quickly because everyone was chatting and telling jokes and playing games. I set up my Dragon/Wildfire deck — the deck Kai Budde had used to win Worlds the year before, but adapted for Grinders — and went to battle for the right to play in the 2000 Brazilian Nationals.

In Brazil, we’ve never had a lot of small grinders — it’s always one big grinder, called the Free For All. That year, 20 people qualified.

At the time, I was 13, and unknown outside of my city, so everyone just thought I was one of those terrible kids, which worked to my advantage. Not that I wasn’t bad, but I just wasn’t as bad as I looked. I remember in one match my opponent playing Douse, and passing with two Mana up at some point. I had to resolve Wildfire then — it was my opportunity. I played Grim Monolith and crossed my fingers, muttering please don’t counter it, as if I really needed it. Any person would be suspicious of saying that, but I was just a kid — kids never bluff, and they have trouble containing their feelings, so my opponent believed me — he tapped his two mana to counter my Grim Monolith, though I had more than enough mana in play already. I smiled in triumph — my ruse had worked. I was so smart, I was going to show them not to underestimate me again.

I went to tap six mana and play Wildfire… only then I realized I had tapped two of my Mountains to play the Grim Monolith, which meant that even though I had about ten colorless, I only had one Red left and could not play Wildfire. Oh well, their lesson about underestimating me would have to wait for another day.

I ended up going 5-1-1, which got me easily into fourth place, since everyone just drew a lot.

Nationals itself didn’t go very well for me. Back then, day 1 was Limited and day 2 Constructed, and I dropped without getting to play Constructed, instead going to play in the pre-release.

Overall, even though Nationals didn’t go as planned, the trip was good — it was my first contact with really competitive environment, and I managed to qualify for nationals, which was the goal in the first place.

Sometime later I went to my first Grand Prix — GP: Rio, in 2001. It was Invasion Sealed Deck. This time, I flew instead of taking a bus — 24 hours is a little too much, and the prices were almost the same, though we came back by bus since the return ticket was much more expensive.

I remember my sealed deck being okay, and me going 5-2 and not making it on breakers, since I only had one bye. I was disappointed, because I had had the necessary record, but that would only be my first disappointment with tiebreakers. Overall a very ordinary tournament, though I had the best finish of all the people who had traveled with me from my city.

This year, I did not go to nationals. There was, however, another GP for me at the end of the year — GP: Curitiba.

This was Extended, and finding a deck to play was… troublesome. Kai Budde had just won a PT with Donate, and that was the most popular deck — followed by the UWg “Walamies” deck, and then three-deuce — the RGW aggro deck with multiple enchantment removal to beat the Donates. I didn’t really want to play any of those decks, so I looked for something else.

My friends were playing a three-deuceish deck, except with a focus on lands — it had Rishidan Ports, Armageddon, Winter Orb, and Quirion Ranger, which is a card we historically liked more than the rest of the country. I didn’t really want to play that, and finding cards was not the easiest thing in the world back then, so I decided to play another deck, one that we had talked about a little, one that my friend used to win a FNM — I decided to play Battle of Wits.

I’m not entirely sure why I played Battle of Wits. Rather, I know why, but I’m kind of ashamed of it. I didn’t really play it because I thought it was the best deck — though I did think it was a good deck, or I’d not have played it otherwise. It had the surprise factor (though most of the surprise was gone when they saw the size of your deck), it could theoretically beat everything, it was good against counters — but the real reason I played it is because I wanted to be different. I wanted to be special, for everyone to know my name. I realize now how silly I was — but it certainly weighted the scales for me to choose that deck. I was young, and I didn’t have the sense that I do today, or the priorities. I’d never have done that if it was today. But it didn’t seem like a very bad thing to do back then — after all, I liked the deck and I didn’t think it was bad.
Everyone was very quick to support the idea — almost in the way that everyone is quick to gather around a fight, but no one actually wants to be the one fighting. They got me all the cards and helped me with tuning the deck, sideboarding plans, even shuffling.

I had three byes for this tournament — my Constructed rating was much higher than my Limited — and in round 4 I got my monstrous deck on the table with a weird look from my opponent. While he was shuffling his own deck, he showed me a card — Island. I figured it to be Donate, and I decided to keep my Dual, Thawing Glaciers, 5 spells hand — I remember clearly thinking “He is playing Donate, and that deck doesn’t play Wasteland, so I can keep.” Turned out he was playing MUC, and he Wastelanded my first two lands — and I just never played another one.

I won game 2, though it took a long time — I had exactly 200 cards in my deck when I killed him on my upkeep. Of course, I already knew that — I had planned for that to happen that turn — but he didn’t, so he counted my library like 4 times. That took some previous time away, and we didn’t have time to finish the third, though I was going to win. So I sat at 3-0-1

Round five I played against a famous guy, nicknamed Pitbull for his temper. He took his time to pile shuffle my entire deck. Game 1 he destroyed me, playing the Walamies deck. Game 2 I used the “little kid ruse” again — I played Abeyance and then shook my head in frustration, and mumbled something about miscounting. He let it resolve with a grip full of counters, and I played the land I was holding and the Battle of Wits, and that was game.

Game 3 he again pile shuffled my deck, even though I told him not to because we didn’t have much time, and he had the advantage from the beginning with a Devout Witness I couldn’t answer. The time was running low, though — his fault, really, for insisting on pile shuffling it every time. Then, time ended. We were on the extra turns. He had a lethal Morphling — I had no answer. The turns ended just before he could attack for the win. We drew.

He asked in some kind of disbelief if I wouldn’t concede, facing lethal damage and all that. I, at the height of my 14 years, decided to tell the guy nicknamed Pitbull that no, I wouldn’t, and so sorry but time had ended, and maybe if he was worried about it he shouldn’t have pile shuffled my deck every game after all. He went berserk, but had to accept it. I don’t believe he liked me much after that — nowadays I think he does, but it took him a long time to get over it.

My views on this subject are quite clear, they’ve always been — no one is forced to concede. Of course, if a draw is the exact same as a loss, such as right before the Top 8 of a PTQ, I’d expect the person who is blatantly obviously going to lose to scoop, and I’d do so in that situation as well — but in something like a GP, one point can be the difference between making Top 8 and not. Winning a game of Magic means you beat your opponent in the time you are given, not that you get a favorable position. Some people might say “well, why wouldn’t you concede the game you can’t possibly win?”, but to those people I ask “why would I concede a game I can’t possibly lose?

Anyway, after that, I was 3-0-2. I got paired against Illusions/Donate and lost quickly, and that was the end of my GP.

In the end, I had fun. I got some of what I wanted — here is the coverage for the event, for example:

“The last thing you expect from a player who earned his three byes through ranking is to bring a wacky deck to an Extended tournament. Well, Paulo Rosa did just that. When he approached the Head Judge to find out how he could register a deck with more than two hundred cards in the tiny registration sheet, the story started to spread. By the end of round 4, he was already a star in the tournament. At the end of every round everyone wants to know how the tiny Paulo and his huge deck fared.”

Here is a picture —

So, I had gotten some recognition — though I’d much rather have it because I had done well with a weird deck, not just because I had played a weird deck. As I said, it’s not a chapter of my story that I’m particularly proud of, but it helped shape who I am today.

The day after, I played the PTQ with my friend’s deck — the three-deuce with Armageddons. I made Top 8 of that one, losing to a BG aggro deck in the quarters. That wasn’t a very big deal at the time because PTQs didn’t give out plane tickets — I’d just get 2 boxes if I had won. My friend ended up winning the GP with the very same deck, which was interesting. To this day, a lot of people tell me it’s like the worst deck to have ever won a GP — but win it did.

This GP was also interesting because it was my first contact with the foreign pro players — namely the Ruels. Not that I so much as exchanged a word with them, but I got to see them play. I remember Olivier going to the local store one day before the GP, and watching him play the Donate mirror and killing his opponent with Stroke of Genius — you could tell from the way those guys played that they were so much better than I was, that everything they did was with a game plan in mind — it was easy to see that Olivier knew he was going to Stroke his opponent out many turns before he did. I vowed to one day be as good.

After that GP, I joined some online leagues — Imagic, mtgonline, etc. I became a regular in those, and my game really improved. I also had access to information many locals didn’t — finding decks on the internet wasn’t as easy, but I talked to people from other countries so it was easy enough for me. I remember playing an Invasion Block PTQ and getting a Domain list from an American friend that was just much better than everything everyone else was playing, and easily winning the tournament.

I started to make a name for myself in those leagues, and the internet community started to grow overall. There was a Brazilian Magic website, and I could read reports — I’ve always had this thing for reports, which is probably why I like writing them so much now.

This year, I was qualified for Nationals on rating. I went 5-1 in draft this time — including beating a player who hid one of my cards with Mesmeric Fiend to try to get me a game loss for having 39 cards — which was a surprise, because we didn’t really playtest much draft. It was hard to find people who wanted to play, and who would be willing to pay for that?

To give you an idea, I have more than once taken out random packs of 15 cards and built 24 boosters, and then lay them out in a draft pattern and just gone through all the boosters, for all the “8 people,” making the picks for every one of them. Then I would build the decks and play them against each other. That was how hard it was to find players for a draft, and that was how much I liked Magic.

My hype didn’t live after the Constructed rounds, though, where I went 2-4 playing an UG aggro Upheaval deck that had been doing well in the online league I was playing. One of those losses was to the Pitbull guy, and it was really frustrating — I remember drawing something like 15 lands in a row and making some stack mistakes, such as pumping my Basking Rootwalla before damage when in combat with his Grim Lavamancer, so that he just shoot it and I did not force a trade — for all you people saying the combat rules don’t give people who know them an advantage, well, there you have it.

This year, my friend got fourth at Nationals, playing a UGR Opposition deck. He was going to Worlds in Australia. But he was not the only one.

At that time, I didn’t really follow coverage as it was happening all the time — usually I’d read everything, but some days later. I was in no hurry to know Kai Budde had won another tournament. It was my surprise, then, when I opened Sideboard.com and saw a familiar face grinning at me — Carlos Romao’s face. I didn’t really know him — other than having watched him play in GP: Rio, which he won — but I knew of him, knew who he was. I was happy he had won — happy because of what it meant for my country — but also jealous, because it was him and not me. I wanted to be the one winning for my country — that was my new goal.

My wish was granted the next year. I had lost the last match for Top 8 of Nationals, but I was informed Devir (Wizards local representative, so to speak) would be paying the traveling expenses of everyone who was qualified — at the time, the Top 8 of Latin America qualified for Worlds, and I was among them. Devir decided to set up a colony in a resort in Spain, where we were supposed to meet the delegations from both Spain and Portugal, countries that Devir also handles.

That trip was something different than anything I had ever done. For one, I had never left the country. Second, I didn’t actually know my travel mates — I knew of them, had talked some with them, but they were not my friends — they were all from São Paulo and Rio.

I met them at the airport, and from the beginning I realized that the trip would be awesome, but it would have some things I’d have to cope with. Everyone else was long term friends, and they were all older than me — so I was both the youngest, the guy from the other country, and the first timer.

There was also another matter — a matter I never considered to be a problem, but seemed to be then. Since no one really knew me, no one really understood how I had such a high rating that got me qualified to Worlds. I didn’t really have expressive results besides making Top 8 in every single tournament in my city (and when I mean every single, I mean every single), which was where I got my high rating from. So, their natural suspicious went to this — I faked tournaments.

“Suspicious” is actually an understatement — they were sure I faked tournaments. They asked me about it — I denied it. They never really believe me. It was just everything added together — I didn’t really… fit in. I think that drove some of them to be rather cruel with me at some points — to this day, I haven’t forgotten it. Forgiven, but not forgotten — I’ll never be able to look at two or three people on that trip and not think what they made me go through for no real reason other than their personal amusement. Things got better, though, when we met the delegation from Portugal, and I met the person who had the same interests I had — Tiago Chan.

Once we got to the resort, everyone seemed to forget why they were there — the gigantic swimming pool was too appealing. I wanted to get a deck ready — after all, I was playing Worlds in a week — but no one seemed to care nearly as much. No one except for Tiago. I don’t know if Tiago was some kind of outcast from his own group as well, or if he just cared about it too much like I did, but I’m glad I found him, since he actually wanted to work on our Wake deck. We talked, and played, and talked some more.

After Spain, we went to Germany, and met the rest of the Brazilians, the rest being a group of five people who were the lucky winners of five promotional tournaments Wizards was holding — the “go watch the World Championship” series. There were five players — one for each age range, though neither was actually playing the tournament. That meant, among other things, there was someone younger than me — a new target. Not very nice of me to enjoy that, I know, but I couldn’t help feeling relief every time they made a cruel joke at his expense and knowing that, if he had not been there, the comment would have been directed at me.

Among those new Brazilians who showed up, there was one who was more supportive to me than the others. He defended me, but he also talked to me like I was one of them, he didn’t ignore things I had said just because it had been me who had said them — he made me feel more important. I think that might be because he was older than everyone else, and so a lot more mature — basically past the stage where you make fun of others to show off to your friends – or because he just sympathized with me, but there is no doubt that his presence made things much easier for me that trip. I would not really talk to him until Charleston, though, where we ended up teaming by accident — but that’s for later.

Another new addition was the then world champion Carlos Romão. The fact that he got there later, instead of going to Spain with us, only served to increase his aura of mystery. I didn’t really exchange any words with him at that tournament — again, that would come much later.

As for the tournament itself, I ended up playing Wake — a very wise decision, if you ask me. Wake was one of the most dominant decks I’ve ever seen — it really did not have a challenge. Before Scourge, some people had the misconception that Wake lost to Tog, but that was just not true — even though Tog had more counters and card drawing, Wake could simply tap out for threat after threat, or even something like Deep Analysis, and Tog could never punish it for that, but the moment Tog tapped out Wake would slip a Mirari or Mirari’s Wake through and the game would be over. After Decree of Justice got added, there was no question that Wake was the king of the control decks.

My first round was against a Black/White Braids deck. I led with Krosan Verge, and my opponent played Cabal Therapy for Compulsion, whiffing. In my second turn I promptly played Island and Compulsion, so I knew I’d be in for a good day.

I finished day 1 on 4-2, which I thought was good.

Next came the Rochester portion, and I went 3-3, though one of my losses was a match loss for forgetting to register a land — go me.

My two most interesting matches of the tournament were the last two of Extended. I was playing Goblins for basically lack of options, since everything seemed bad to me. I was 2-2, and I needed to 2-0 to get in the money. I was paired against Gabriel Caligaris, playing the deck of the tournament, Mono-Blue Desire.

We split the first two games and I have Pyrostatic Pillar on the third, so I’m looking good. Then, all of sudden, he goes spell spell spell spell, go to two, bounce the Pillar. He then plays Desire for a billion, and hits another Desire to flip his entire deck — a deck which doesn’t have Tendrils of Agony. He Brain Freezes my entire library — which included three Lava Darts I had sided in for Seal of Fire. I only had two Mountains, though, so he Wished for Mana Leak and passed. On my upkeep I show him the fourth Lava Dart that I’m holding and he just stands there, speechless, for about half an hour after signing the result slip trying to figure out how he lost.

My last match was against Darwin Kastle, playing Reanimator. We split the first two games again, and, in the deciding one, I have my mind set on attacking and then playing Mogg Flunkies. I attack — and then realize that I should play the Mogg Fanatic in my hand, and not the Mogg Flunkies, for whatever reason. That left me with one untapped Mountain. A lot of people were watching, since it was on one of those tables at the border, and there had been a lot of drops already. In the end, I took a decision not much unlike the one I took at GP: SP a month ago, and tapped my leftover mana to play Raging Goblins — after attacking, into an empty board. I still get made fun of because of that nowadays, but, given the situation, it was the best I could do.

That one damage I missed proved not to be crucial, though, and I won the match anyway.

So, I finished 55th in my first Worlds — which was better that I expected, and better than everyone but two people from the many Brazilians who had gone there, so it felt like a victory for “the good guys.” Kind of “so, who fakes tournaments now, uh, uh?” Of course, that didn’t really change most people’s minds on the subject — little did I know about that. I think the threshold was probably Charleston, where people started not believing I faked ratings anymore, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some people still believed, today, that I faked tournaments back then.

More important, though, was that this finish put things in a whole new perspective for me — not only I had traveled to two foreign countries for free, I also had gained money from it — and a lot of money for my standards back then, since I was 16 and in it was like double in Brazilian currency. It showed me that I could get something out of playing those games, that they were not only silly games I played for fun but they rewarded me. Basically, it felt like serious adult business instead of a children’s game. It lit a fire inside me that couldn’t really be quenched anymore — I wanted to play my second Pro Tour. That would only happen one year later — at Worlds in San Francisco — but that’s for next week too.

I honestly hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, because I certainly enjoyed writing it. See you next week (or this weekend if you are going to Brazilian Nationals (no, I don’t know what I’m playing yet))…