Pro Tour Ixalan Player to Watch: Sebastián Pozzo

Sebastián Pozzo

Age: 28
Residence: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Team: Hareruya Pros
Qualified via Pro Club Gold Level, PT Hour of Devastation Top Finisher
Pro Points: 87 lifetime (#2 in Argentina), 4 in 2017–18
Pro Tour debut: Pro Tour Berlin 2008 (Extended)
Pro Tours played: 8
Career median: 53.5
Best Pro Tour finish: 34th (PT Kaladesh)
Pro Tour finishes in 2016–17: 34th (11–5), 71st (10-6), 36rd (11-5), 36rd (11-5)
Combined records in 2016–17: Standard 30-10 (75%), Draft 13-11 (54.2%), Total 43-21 (67.2%)
Top 8: 2 Grand Prix
Sebastián’s PT results
Planeswalker Level: 44 (Battlemage)

Q: You became the Standard Master of the 2016-17 Pro Tour Season, then you won 75% of your Standard matches at Worlds and your recent GP Top 8 was on the back of yet another strong performance in Standard. What’s the secret to your perpetual Standard success, a format that many players still consider a little less skill-testing than the Eternal formats? And how much do you actually like Standard? Is it the only format that you like to play, or just something you happen to be very good at while you actually prefer other formats?

Well, when I think about my results over those 6 events (4 PTs, GP Porto Alegre, and Worlds) I’m impressed by how lucky I was in Standard. But with such a large sample it probably wasn’t all luck. There are some aspects of my game that I am quite confident in:

Mulligans: In other formats like Modern, which I also enjoy playing, mulligans are super important. In Standard, even though you shouldn’t mulligan as much, they are still very important, especially when you play aggressive decks like the ones I chose for the PTs and GP. Actually, one of the things I love the most about Magic is that a lot of the choices you make, like mulligans, can’t be proved to be wrong or right, and you just intuit what you think is best for you.

Sideboarding: In Standard, in contrast to Modern, sideboarding is a lot more difficult and challenging. Unless you play the classic aggro vs. control matchup, you won’t have hate cards in the sideboard and dead cards in the main deck. And also the cards might change their power when you are on the play or on the draw. In all of the PTs and the GP (B/R Aggro two times, Mardu two times, Mono-Red) my decks had the ability to become more grindy and controlling with planeswalkers, discard, or more removal. I think that probably in many matches my opponents sideboarded anti-aggro cards and I got an advantage by playing the control role while they thought they had to stop my rush. If you are on the play, most will feel tempted to go for the aggro version of the deck, but a mulligan or a prepared opponent would stop that a lot of the time, whereas if you play a more controlling deck and your opponent packs anti-aggro cards you will gain a lot of value even if you have to mulligan (and planeswalkers on the play are much better since you are very likely to land them on an empty board).

Risk management: I’m usually quite confident with my decisions to commit my hand against a sweeper or holding something back, playing my best threat into possible countermagic or holding it, etc.

Knowing the right path to victory: I think I can anticipate quite often the way I should be able to win a game in terms of racing vs. grinding. That was very important when I was playing with Heart of Kiran alongside Gideon. Sometimes I wouldn’t bother to attack in the mirror match of Mardu if they had black open mana even though most lists had only 2 Fatal Push since I recognized that the 4 damage was not that relevant and the game would probably be decided by who would get ahead on resources.

What I think I lack the most is paying attention to what my opponent might have due to the way they are playing. This is a lot more important in Limited where you don’t have to play around a certain removal spell if you know that your opponent would have cast it the last turn if they had it. For example, yesterday I read Ondrej Strasky’s analysis of game 3 of the Worlds finals, and he pointed out that by the way Jensen played, he was giving Javier Dominguez the information that he had both Essence Scatter and Harnessed Lightning. I wouldn’t have realized that if I was Javier.

Q: During the last season you had a bunch of 8-2 results in the Standard portion of the Pro Tours, but unfortunately your Drafts never went all too well. Thus despite your impressive Standard showings you were never particularly close to a Top 8. Did it feel a little like a missed opportunity? Do you generally consider Draft to be your weak spot, or was that something that happened due to lack of preparation? What’s your explanation for the gap between your Draft and your Standard results?

Well, I could call myself unlucky for drafting 5-1 in the only PT where I didn’t 8-2 the Standard portion. But that would be a bit hypocritical considering what a great and unexpected achievement the Standard Master title was. And also some part of my Standard success might have been facilitated by an 0-3 start and two 1-2 starts in the last three PTs.

In some Draft formats I feel quite confident, but others I just don’t understand. I also find it hard to identify signals naturally and have a good read on the Draft as a whole. When I finish drafting I never really know what the people drafting next to me should have. That’s something I should work a lot more on now.

Q: So you got to play at Worlds. This is something that many of us certainly think about, but that also seems completely unrealistic. To Top 8 a Pro Tour you need to have two good days, play your best, and get a bit lucky. It is certainly hard, but a person can see how it could happen. Qualifying for Worlds on the other hand is not something that happens just like that. Before the season did you think Worlds was something that you could ever achieve? At what point did you think, “I actually have a shot at this?” And how did the event itself compare to your expectations?

Well, my goal at the start of last season was to hit Silver and to not miss many Pro Tours. If you asked me back then if I felt capable of qualifying for Worlds I would have told you that yes it was possible, though incredibly unlikely. I realized that I was in the race after the third PT. The first one was 6-4, the second 8-2, and the third 8-2. And there I was 3 points behind two players, 1 point behind another, and 3 points ahead of a fifth contender. But there being three players with an advantage over me, I thought that my chances were maybe around 10%. So I never really felt close until the very last rounds of PT Hour of Devastation.

The tournament itself was an intense experience. The closer the date came, the more I realized how nervous I would feel. 23 Platinums and me. Around 60 or 70 Pro Tour Top 8s and me. A bunch of Hall-of-Famers and me. 6-digit lifetime earnings and 3 digits of lifetime Pro Points…. and me. When all these thoughts started flooding into my head, I just kept telling myself, “I am grateful that I am given this opportunity and forgive myself for not being confident enough” and “I just have to play the best I can, and if I do so then any result will be fine.”

I also dreamed a lot about the trophy and the 1st place prize money, to be honest—probably too much. Thinking about the trophy is not something that will help you prepare better. The tension naturally struck me during the first rounds, which “casually” didn’t go well for me. Once I didn’t have the chance to win a whole lot any more I started to play more relaxed and “casually” started to win more rounds. I did punt one round (well game 2 where I was down a game) against Muller on Day 1. He was playing fast and instead of taking my time to think about what was best, I went with his flow of the game and did not attack Chandra properly, let her live, and gave him the match. That was the only big mistake I recognized during the rounds, and is something I can forgive myself for and learn from for future occasions.

Q: What’s it like to be a competitive Magic player in Argentina?

The majority of the players are from Buenos Aires or near it, but there are also many players from Córdoba, Mendoza, Patagonia, and other places. For them it’s even more difficult to have a chance to qualify for a Pro Tour, but despite that, some of them made it several times. It also doesn’t help that in the last two years there hasn’t been a GP in Argentina, and we had only one in Chile and two in Brazil per season. Those are the only ones in South America, and for me they cost around $250 to $400 just in airfare. So it’s not easy. And if it’s not easy for me, who would usually play the GP the week prior to a PT, imagine how hard it is for the aspiring players to get in on the pro circuit. MTGO was key for me to play all the PTs last season, since two of my four invites came from online PTQ wins.

On the other hand, I was not the only one who had a good last season. My friend Luis Salvatto had a very good season too, and earned the Captaincy of Argentina despite my 47 Pro Points. Not being captain of Argentina with 47 points is something that, in the past, nobody would have believed could ever happen. We are the first two players to achieve Gold since this type of Pro Club exists. There weren’t even any Silver players before us, I believe. There are, however, some other competitive players who would probably match our results if they had the time to playtest more, play more MTGO, and travel to GPs. When I qualified for Worlds only 6 months after playing in PPTQs, some local players expressed to me how motivating it was for them to see that with effort, anyone could achieve their personal goals.

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