I won the roll and led with Krosan Verge—the best possible start, but one that signalized clearly that I was playing the breakout deck of the tournament, Mirari’s Wake. My opponent understood what it meant, and led with a turn one Cabal Therapy, naming Compulsion—my most important card, and one his discard-based deck had particular trouble beating. He whiffed. On turn two, I played Island and a freshly-drawn Compulsion. Perhaps this World Championship tournament was not so bad, after all…
This was my very first game of my very first Pro Tour—Worlds 2003, in Berlin. It was a very overwhelming experience, and different from everything I had ever done. It was the first time I left Brazil, the first time I ever interacted with someone who was not from here, the first time I actually had to speak English and see if I had learned anything in those classes I took. It was the first time I was immersed in truly competitive Magic, the first time I ever saw many of the game’s most famous players, and the first time I played against some of them.
I ended up finishing 55th in that tournament, winning $500. 500 dollars was a lot of money for a freshly-turned 15-year-old boy who lived in Brazil and had never truly had any money of his own to speak of, and it redefined to me what it meant to play Magic. It showed me that I could actually make money doing the things I liked. And it gave me something to strive for, because being the World Champion just seemed way too cool.
Throughout the years, the World Championship has been very kind to me. I Top 64’d the next one as well, in San Francisco, then skipped the following one in Japan. Over the span of 6 years that ranged from 2006 to 2011, I managed to reach the Top 8 a whopping four times, which is more Worlds Top 8s than anyone else in the history of the game. This means that I Top 8’d half of my eight World Championships. I truly did love Worlds.
Then, all of a sudden, Worlds vanished. It was instead replaced by a small Worlds, then called the Players Championship—an Invitational-esque tournament with few players and big prizes. I did not like the change from an overall perspective, since I thought Worlds was the best tournament for people from small countries, but it was undeniable that the changed benefited me. At that point, I had been the top Pro Point winner from this region for the past five or six years without anyone else coming close, and my friends started calling the Latin American slot the “Paulo Slot,” since they felt it was almost guaranteed to be mine due to the lack of other professional players from this region who traveled to every event.
Everything went according to the plan on the first year, and I got the Latin American slot without any real competition. New Worlds was one of the most fun tournaments I’ve ever played—a great mix of casual and professional where I knew everyone there and had a blast every round. I ended up 3rd in that tournament, continuing my tradition of doing well at World Championships.
Then next year was when reality hit. I did astonishingly badly at the international stage, and all of a sudden the “Paulo Slot” was up for grabs—and Willy didn’t waste any time grabbing it, surpassing me in points by a considerable amount. I ended up not even close to qualifying for Worlds that year, and had to watch on the sidelines as many of my close friends competed in the event, which culminated in a win for Shahar.
Then, for next year, they decided to expand the tournament to 24 players, as opposed to the previous 16. For that, they added, among other slots, a second Regional slot. According to my friends, that was the “Paulo Slot” all over again. But this time,I knew better. I had tasted defeat after doing so well for so many years, and I knew the rest of Latin America could—and would—challenge me for that slot. And it did. After another sub-optimal year, I found myself having to win my last couple rounds at the PT to qualify, with Willy the clear first and Marcelino Freeman from Mexico hot on my heels in our battle for second place. I managed to win them, and narrowly made it to my second Players Championship, which I was sure not to take for granted any more.
And so, we get to the present (or the near-past, anyway).
My preparation for this World Championship was lackluster. This happened mainly for two reasons, one of which was my fault, and one of which was not. The “my fault” part came from the fact that I had the opportunity to meet some of my testing group (Shahar, Martell, Josh, and Willy) in the U.S. before the event, and I declined. I thought I could simply test online and then meet them a little before GP Strasbourg. I knew it wouldn’t be the same—I’ve never liked Magic Online and didn’t expect testing to be nearly as good as in person—but it was a conscious decision that prioritized other aspects of my life, and I was willing to live with it.
The second reason was Magic Online—specifically the fact that it’s so bad. I made the decision to stay home on the assumption that I would be able and willing to playtest at home, but it had never dawned on me how bad of a program Magic Online V4 truly was. My first attempt to transfer cards from one account to a secret account took literally two hours, during which I encountered problems such as random crashes, cards being of different versions, cards not showing up, cards not being tradeable, having to do everything manually, and ORCs telling me something couldn’t be done when I later found out that it could. It was such a frustrating experience and it took all of my willpower to resist banging my wall against the keyboard several times in desperation.
After finally doing all of the transfers, I joined a Modern 2-man. My weapon of choice was our Ascendancy deck, which proved unplayable due to the multitude of triggers required (which is certainly my fault to some extent, since, at least regarding this, I’m the one who doesn’t have much experience with the program). Ascendancy itself is already bad to play, since it triggers twice for every spell, but add to that Fatestitcher, which means you have to tap a land for mana and then Fatestitcher it (as opposed to just tapping itself for mana) and the problem is exacerbated. And I could clearly forget about ever having two Ascendancies in play, because there was no way I was managing to add mana in between Ascendancy triggers.
After two matches, it was time to leave. Then I had to transfer all the cards back, which was another lengthy and frustrating process.
I decided I just couldn’t deal with Magic Online, and my IRL preparation of a couple days would have to do—clearly not a very smart decision on my part. I did end up playing some matches with the Ascendancy deck against Luis, which was good because I could just declare victory instead of having to go through the motions to actually kill him.
Overall, my days before I left for Strasbourg were miserable. I knew I should be playing more, I knew I should be dedicating more, but I couldn’t find it in me to brave Magic Online and do it—it was just too frustrating. So I didn’t test much, but neither could I do much else because thoughts of how stupid I was being kept looming in the back of my head, tainting all my other endeavors. It felt like when I was back in school and had an annoying assignment. I never did it, because it was annoying, but then I kept thinking about how I should be doing it, and didn’t enjoy doing anything else in the meantime.
By the time I arrived in Strasbourg, things were a bit chaotic. Josh had told us the Modern Ascendancy deck was really good, and he seemed to favor Jeskai in Standard. Shahar liked Jeskai and Burn, and Tom didn’t like anything. Willy liked BUG in Standard and was undecided on which color he wanted to splash in his BG Modern deck. I had no strong opinion on the Ascendancy deck, but knew I wouldn’t like to play Standard Jeskai.
GP Strasbourg itself was uninteresting, as I received what I perceived to be an average pool and ended up losing my last round for Day 2. I did get plenty of comments on my foil Polluted Delta + 2 fetchlands, though!
Not making Day 2 was both good and bad. It was bad because I didn’t Day 2, but good because it gave me some valuable time to playtest. We ended up meeting in some sort of lounge in the hotel and playing/watching Magic for the better part of the day, until I figured out that I would most likely end up playing Sidisi in Standard and Ascendancy in Modern.
I didn’t share Josh’s enthusiasm for the Modern deck—I thought it was good but not insane—but he seemed to think it was very good, and in those spots he’s rarely wrong, so it didn’t seem bad to just go ahead and trust him. I did the same with Willy, who liked the Sidisi deck and had been playing some variation of that for months (so much that he didn’t even bother with secret accounts on MTGO, since everyone knows he plays the same kind of deck every time).
I also got to test what ended up being my one meaningful contribution to the team—the sideboard Gifts package. It was quite good against people who hated on enchantments and on cards in hand (though not so good against those who hated graveyard), and it gave us something different to do against Pod, Affinity, and BG decks, so I quite liked it. The fact that you could board some number of Gifts against the other blue decks, such as Scapeshift and UWR, was also good.
After semi-settling on decks, we went to the event to buy the cards we were missing, since we were informed there would be no dealers during Worlds. We went to two dealers and bought some cards from each, and were ready to leave when Tom Martell spots one of the dealers we had just bought cards from talking to Jeremy Dezani. Apparently, said person was reading to Dezani from a list that included every card we had bought, as well as cards that previous Worlds competitors (e.g. Sam Black) had bought earlier in the day.
Once we realized what was happening, we were furious. In a field of only 24 players where everyone is pretty good, there are very few edges to be gained. To have information of what cards other teams of competitors are playing is an insane advantage, because each team is such a large portion of the field. The way I see it, there is an implied agreement between players and dealers, especially for an event of this magnitude—if I’m buying something from you at an event, you’re not going to go around telling everyone. You’re especially not going to premeditate having a list of everything I buy, so then you can tell my direct competitor and his team just because of national pride.
We felt like it was a breach of our trust and, though not necessarily illegal, highly frowned upon. We expressed our concern to the TO and to Wizards officials that this was not OK, and they said they would investigate. We decided it would be fair to tell the other Worlds competitors that Dezani knew what they were playing, which prompted the same reaction from basically everyone we talked to. Chapin, in particular, seemed especially livid considering he had placed a big online order with the same store.
My personal opinion is that what happened was strongly against the spirit of this competition. When confronted about it, Dezani denied having any knowledge of any cards whatsoever. Later on, his story was adapted to, “I was told of a couple cards, but I never asked for this information, the dealer just started telling me randomly, and after he listed some of the cards Shahar and Martell had bought he was told to stop because this wasn’t OK.” For our part, we never saw a third person and we never heard anyone telling the dealer to stop listing cards, and we also listened to him getting a list of cards Sam Black had bought. In the end, there was nothing we could do about that particular thing, so we had to just let it go. We can only hope this particular behavior is not repeated for next Worlds Championship (and for any tournament, really, though Worlds being only 24 players really magnifies the issue).
We arrived in Nice on Sunday night,and went straight to sleep. The following day, we were supposed to do some interviews at the site. Due to some miscommunication, I believed Willy had already gone to the event, so I went there a bit earlier and WOTC personnel were holding a meeting. I waited for about 50 minutes, and eventually someone approached me and told me that “never mind, we are only interviewing eight people and you are not one of them.” Uh, OK. Apparently this happened with the other Worlds competitors too, all of which went to the site with the idea that they were going to be interviewed only to be promptly informed they weren’t. It was particularly funny when Jacob Wilson showed up and asked if he was supposed to do anything and was met with, “who are you and what are you doing here?”
We went out for lunch and playtested some more before dinner, which was provided to us by WOTC, along with a bag with a ton of cool stuff like multiple packs for us to draft with. We weren’t very inclined to draft, though, so we just met in our room and discussed more Constructed before it was time to sleep.
The tournament started with Vintage Masters, the format I was least confident about (which says a lot considering I wasn’t super confident in either Constructed format). I had played zero Vintage Masters the first time around, and they had only been back for a week or so before I had to leave for Strasbourg.
WOTC was nice enough to provide us with plenty of VMA packs, since we couldn’t play the format anywhere else, and I drafted a bit in the time I had—about 3 drafts a day. I concluded that I liked white aggro (paired with any color, really), UG Madness (though it was easy to get a madness deck that didn’t work), RW Slide, and some blue control decks if you got the right cards. I strongly disliked Goblins and felt like black aggro was inferior to white aggro in every way, but an archetype that you could draft if you had no other choice. BR aggro was particularly interesting and the best of the “bad” decks. Storm decks I had no idea about, but they were reportedly not very good unless they were insane, so I never tried them.
My draft was, for the lack of a better word, chaotic. I started with a Grizzly Fate, which is a great card, and second picked a Recurring Nightmare—one of my favorite cards. Then, everything went downhill from there. My lack of experience caught up to me, and when I couldn’t place myself firmly in one of the established archetypes I was used to, I didn’t know what to do. I ended up taking multiple cards from multiple colors, many of which weren’t even good, and in the end my deck looked incredibly bad. This is what I ended up playing:
My first match was against Owen, and I believe that was featured on camera. Owen was playing a RW Slide deck that consisted of basically 3 cards—Balance, Lightning Rift and Astral Slide—and 37 cyclers. I thought that as long as I could avoid one of the enchantments making an appearance super early I actually had quite a good matchup. He had very few ways to deal with my Grizzly Fates, my Decree of Justice, and some of my big guys. Game one he never found an enchantment and I think he ended up not playing any spells, and game two he found a Lightning Rift but that was a little late. Balance cleared my board, but I rebounded with Aether Mutation on his Eternal Dragon followed by two Grizzly Fates, and with his board sweeper already gone he couldn’t do much about that.
My second round was a nightmare against William Jensen and his storm deck; lacking in both speed and interaction, I was easy prey both games.
My third round was against Shaun Mclaren, in what I thought was actually also a good matchup. Game one was looking good for me until a Famine + Buzzard combo killed about 50 toughness worth of creatures and let his big guys attack for lethal in the same turn. Game 2 was looking good for him, until I produced a Recurring Nightmare to go with my Man-O’-War; eventually I started playing two Recurring Nightmares a turn and the game ended.
Game three he had a powerful start, with turn two Hymn to Tourach, turn three Hymn to Tourach + Elf, t5 Visara. I played Aether Mutation on it and he followed it with Buzzard, and then I made quite an awful attack that led me to losing an extra creature for no reason. He replayed his Visara and gradually came back, and in the end I lost the game with him at 5 life and me with a boarded Laquatus’s Champion in hand, unable to access my second black source with Bad River because I had both Swamps in my opening hand and one was discarded to Hymn to Tourach early in the game.
Next was Modern, and I was hoping my deck was as good as Josh thought it was. Here is what we ended up with:
This is a combo deck, but it has a lot of control elements, so you aren’t desperate to combo. Turn three kills are possible, but rare and usually not necessary. The best way to win the game is to play a turn three Ascendancy and then plan on killing turn four by reanimating Fatestitcher and untapping your lands multiple times. Conclave also works for this, though it takes an extra two mana.
My round 4 against Lee Shi-Tian’s Scapeshift left me quite confident. I lost game two, but my combo ended up being a little bit faster and a little bit cheaper, so it was hard for him to fight it.
The following round I played against Reid Duke, with the Ascension deck. Game one I had a turn four kill, but he was on the play and killed me on his own turn four. Games two and three he stumbled on one land and I managed to resolve Gifts for Iona on red, which was game over.
Then I played against Owen, with the same deck. Both games I was on the play and had Ascendancy on turn three, which would produce an effective win on turn four once I untapped, but both games he killed me on turn three. I had some disruption in my hand (and a lot of it game 2), but felt like it was correct to tap out because the long game didn’t seem to favor me. I needed to get Ascendancy in play so I could find the Fatestitcher or have mana to animate Conclave, and my counters are soft and can be worked around given enough time, so it just seems better to tap out sooner rather than later. For game two, I Probed him before tapping out, and saw Manamorphose, Manamorphose, Ritual, Past in Flames; it didn’t seem likely that I would die, but he drew a Ritual and Manamorphosed into another, which gave him enough mana to go off with Past in Flames.
I then played against Yuuya on Delver. Game one it was looking a bit even—I had Ascendancy in hand but no Fatestitcher in sight. I then played Thought Scour and milled not one but two Fatestitcher, prompting a reaction from even the usually stoic Watanabe. After that, combo’ing off was easy.
Games two and three were not so good, and I just got outclassed by his sideboard cards, which were better than mine. I think you’re advantaged game one, because they have few counters and they are all soft, but game two is a different matter because they bring in a lot more of them. You have your own counterspells, sure, but you get constrained on mana a lot of the time—Swan Songing a Spell Pierce is not exactly optimal.
Still, I believe I could maybe have won game three if I had played correctly. I played an end of the turn Izzet Charm, fully intending to untap and play a turn four Fatestitcher (which is actually a great move against anyone who has no access to Path). Then I drew two and discarded the Fatestitcher. I then went to play it on my main phase and it obviously wasn’t there anymore. You usually discard Fatestitcher, so I just did it automatically, but it was definitely incorrect that game and might have cost me the match. The game then took many more turns to finish, during which he played two or three Treasure Cruises and got way ahead of me on lands. At some point during the game, I Probed him and his hand was Deprive, Deprive, Spell Pierce, Dispel, Spell Snare, and Destructive Revelry. With six lands to his ten, there wasn’t much I could do before he eventually killed me with Swiftspears.
So I ended the day at 3-4, which was obviously not great but not entirely unexpected. Our combined record with the deck was 8-4, which is very good in this field, though I am skeptical of whether we broke it or not. I think our deck was just good, and not insanely good. The fact that it has an even to slightly unfavorable matchup against Delver, which is the most popular deck and also very good, should be enough to keep it from attaining “broken” status. I do think it’s better than all the other Ascendancy builds, though.
The next day started with Khans draft, and the draft was also somewhat chaotic. I started with a black card, then moved into red and eventually took some very late blue and green, so it’s safe to say I was keeping my options open. Pack two had Utter End and Icefeather Aven, which I think are relatively close in power level. Since it didn’t feel like I would end up BW, and I was certainly seeing more UG from the other direction (the one I would get in pack 3 again), I decided to pick the Icefeather Aven. The rest of the draft was spent deciding whether I was going to play RGu or UGr. In the end, I got some very late blue and Temur cards and settled for UGr:
I thought my deck was decent, and the card quality was overall pretty good.
Round 2, I played against Jeremy Dezani, with UWR. His deck was solid and had tons of removal, but lacked early drops. If I recall, he had only six guys to play before turn four, and three of them were morphs. I won game one, got demolished game two, and then won game three when he stalled a bit on lands and my draw was good.
Round 3, I played against Jacob Wilson on camera. He was 2-0 in the pod (since he had started 2-5), and his deck was better than mine. Both games I relied on him not having multiple removal spells, but both games he had them and I fell a bit short.
Then, it was time for Standard. At this point I had the great record of 4-6, so I kind ofjust wanted the tournament to be over. I was extremely tired and sleep deprived, which culminated in my sleeping on top of chairs between rounds, and I had no desire to play Magic anymore, though I understood I was still playing for a lot of money and Pro Points, even if I could no longer Top 4 the event.
My weapon of choice was the Sidisi deck:
The deck was a very standard BUG deck, with the exception of the maindeck Ashioks, which were a concession to what we expected to be a green-heavy field. Turns out way over half the people played green, so our decision in this regard was definitely right.
I got paired against Dezani again round 1, and he was playing Mono-Red. I was feeling pretty confident about my game one after having Thoughtseized and seen he only had a bunch of lands, but I accidentally played the wrong land and couldn’t cast a Sidisi, which gave him one extra turn to draw a Stoke the Flames and kill me. If I had just cast a turn four Sidisi and followed it with Whip (as opposed to doing it in the other order), I very likely would have won the game. Game two I took about seven damage from my Mana Confluence and ended up losing the game with a lot of spells I couldn’t cast in time.
Round 2 I got paired against Reid Duke, playing the BG Constellation deck. When I saw my opening hand with Ashiok I almost had a heart attack, but then I remembered we had actually moved them to the main deck last minute and realized it was actually great that it was there. I played a turn three Ashiok and felt like there was no way I could ever lose, until he untapped and played the one Hero’s Downfall they had in their list, at which point it felt like I could never win because his deck was simply much more powerful.
Game two I again had a turn three Ashiok, and this time it went all the way. I got it to 11, but ended up not needing the ultimate, as a Doomwake Giant plus a stolen Courser cleared his board.
Game three was interesting, but in the end I couldn’t quite beat Pharika—it’s incredibly hard to get through 1/1 deathtouch tokens, and it even answers Whip by itself. We had Pharika too, but only one, and they had two plus Communes and Eidolons to find it, so I don’t think it was a great matchup unless we managed to Ashiok them out.
The following round I got paired against Lee Shi Tian, who was also playing his Ascendancy deck—with three Digs. He turned out not to need any, though, as my deck was just completely inept at applying any sort unless of pressure unless I had a very fast Sidisi draw, and I had no disruption game 1. I did play two Doomwake Giants, but he finally drew Ascendancy the turn before I was going to attack him for the win.
Game two my match got a bit better, since I had access to some enchantment removal. I ended up drawing multiple lands after an already land-heavy opening hand and felt like I had to cast a Sultai Charm to draw two cards, since I had no pressure at all, at which point he just naturally killed me on turn four.
Round four I got paired against Nam Sung Wook playing Mardu, and he made short work of me both games, which included me probably taking the wrong card with Thoughtseize game 1 and then drawing all lands game 2.
In the end, I finished 0-4 in Standard, for a stellar 4-10 record. Our deck apparently wasn’t great, since we went a combined 7-13, but I don’t think it was as bad as the overall record reflects. I knew I was relatively unprepared, and I wouldn’t have been surprised at an average finish, but I was not expecting to tie for last. The tournament was very nice to play, though the jetlag/no sleep aspect certainly made it worse, and the fact that I didn’t win any rounds didn’t help the matter, so by the end I was just glad it was finished and I could finally go back and have the pressure off.
I hope I get the chance to play this tournament again—this year is looking tough, with multiple Latin American players already way ahead of me. If I do end up in it again, I’ll make sure to travel to wherever it is earlier, because I’ve finally realized that I suck at online practice and really must meet in person before events if I’m going to accomplish anything meaningful.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you next week!