When you think of Brazilian Magic, the first name that leaps to mind in most cases is the Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. It's easy to understand why. His numbers have been astronomical and his rise meteoric. He absolutely dominated the Pro Tour and Grand Prix circuit like few players before him had. He is, in every sense of the phrase, a Hall of Famer.
Past PV, I'm hoping that the next name that popped into your head was Willy Edel's. Edel is a bit of an enigma on the Pro Tour. He has been around seemingly forever, but he unfortunately often goes recognized as the Brazilian player who isn't PV. This belies his incredibly strong and steady performances, including six Grand Prix and four Pro Tour Top 8s and a number of other very near misses. It also fails to fully grasp just how important Edel has been to Brazilian Magic, and how different things would be if he had taken a different path.
"I used to play RPGs when I was like fifteen or sixteen," Edel told me, "but I always disliked that you didn't have a winner. You play for fun and everything, and I've always been a very competitive guy. One day at my RPG store, I saw some guys playing this new competitive card game, so I asked them to learn, they taught me, and here we are. It was like 19 years ago."
Like many of the professional Magic players I've spoken to over the years, Edel's competitive streak is what really pulled him to the game, and it took him a bit of time to get up to speed.
"My Pro debut was Pro Tour New York in 2000, the team event," he told me. "I went to the PTQ, which at the time didn't offer flights. At the time there was no help, like sponsorship or anything, so PTQs in Brazil were more like just a big event. Instead of a local event with like 30 people, they were little more than a bigger event with close to 100 people. But I ended up qualifying and deciding to go with two friends. Neither of the guys I teamed with had ever been to the US before, so their fathers helped them to come up with the money for them to take the trip. We have so much fun! If I'm not mistaken we went 3-3 and lost playing for Day 2 in the last round, but it was still an amazing experience. My second Pro Tour wasn't until 2005. I tried for five years to qualify again (I was so bad at the time), but I kept improving and kept improving. The Internet was starting to become a great tool for Magic at that time. We had The Dojo and several other websites, so I was able to improve, and, in 2005, I made the Brazilian National team and played at Worlds. Then in 2006, I qualified for Charleston and have managed to keep it up since then."
Edel knows firsthand how difficult it can be to make it to the Pro Tour, especially from Latin America, and he knows how difficult it can be to stay there. Perhaps the biggest contribution he has made to the Latin American Magic community has been to offer himself as a resource for all of the players that manage to win their qualification, but have no idea how to make what was once nothing but a dream a reality. Many of the things that go into a Pro Tour or Grand Prix trip are things we take for granted, like knowing how to book a flight or hotel. With a limited number of Latin American Grand Prix and such a small number of PTQs, many of the Latin American players simply don't know how to Pro Tour.
"I know pretty much every single Brazilian player that wants to win a PTQ, and most of them are my friends," Edel smiled. "I've been on the Tour since pretty much 2005 with very few interruptions, and any time someone has won a PTQ, they come straight for me. 'How can I book my flight?' 'What about a hotel or renting a car?' They aren't sure what to do because they've never had to do this before. So I started teaching them. Magic in Brazil has really grown. We used to just have one PTQ a season, now we get five. If Magic had more post-player careers, I think I would like to be a coach. I really enjoy teaching. Not just teaching how to play Magic, but how to properly behave yourself, how to carry yourself at the next level. I just love teaching things like this to my friends."
Beyond simply preparing players for the logistics of the Pro Tour, Edel has worked hard to ensure that not just Brazilians, but every Latin American player has access to all of the resources and the highest level of play the region has to offer. Much like Team MTG Mint Card has consolidated the top-level talent of Southeast Asia under one banner, Edel has visions of getting the best players Latin America has to offer to compete with each other to raise their game to the next level.
"I think my biggest goal right now is to get as many Brazilian players and other Latin American players to work together as I can," Edel explained. "In two years, I'd love to see like five or six Latin American players making Gold or Platinum, because right now, it's really only me. Opening my store has made things much easier for everyone, as well. For example, for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, nobody had any Journey into Nyx cards. Nobody had packs to draft. So I went to my store and grabbed eight playsets of everything and plenty of product for people to draft with."
Players from North America and Europe, with much larger player bases, often don't quite grasp how difficult it can be to consistently make it to the Pro Tour for players from the Latin American region. Since the number of tournaments a region gets is determined by the active player base, Latin America's smaller player base means that there are a smaller number of chances to hit the big time here. As Grand Prix are a major method of players making it to the lowest rungs of the Pro Player club, thereby earning Pro Tour invites, it can be very difficult to make it to enough tournaments to accrue the points required to make it to even Silver. As such, it's often much more about taking that one big swing, about making it big at a Pro Tour and earning an invite to the next one.
"It's very hard to be prepared for these events down here, it really is," Edel said with a sad shake of his head. "It's just hard to make it to the next level in general in Latin America. For Argentinean players, for example, they only have one PTQ, and even if you win the PTQ and Top 50 the Pro Tour, most of the time they aren't qualified for the next one. There aren't many Grand Prix down here, and they can be difficult to get to. People may think it's easy for a Mexican player, for example, to come down here for a Grand Prix, but it's not. It's easier to go to an event in the United States. For smaller countries, like Bolivia or Peru, there aren't many flights to get to the Grand Prix. I don't see any Bolivians here today, for example, and I've only seen a couple of Argentineans and Chileans.
Still, I think that things are moving in the right direction. They're getting better. As the community down here grows, we get more Grand Prix and more PTQs, which makes it possible for more people to qualify and try to make headlines. Still, getting to Gold or Silver is very difficult for Latin American players unless they do very well at a Pro Tour, and I'm not sure how to remedy that except to get as many people together as possible to try to raise everyone up to the next level. We're working with three Mexicans for the next Pro Tour, for example. We haven't seen a Mexican win a prize at the Pro Tour in like five years, but we're starting to all band together, and I'm really proud of everyone."
And those big finishes really do help. Players that have big finishes at major events are highly celebrated in the Latin American community, much as Edel is in Brazil. Brazil has been fortunate to have a number of very celebrated professional players over the years, from Edel and da Rosa to former World Champion Carlos Romão. This has done wonders for their community down here, and is one of the major reasons that they are leaders in the region. But Edel wants that influence and celebration to spread outside the borders of Brazil. By incorporating players from other Latin American countries, Edel hopes to create beacons for all of the other countries in the region, to see their communities grow the way his own has.
"I really want to have a Mexican player or an Argentinean make it to at least Silver, maybe Gold," he told me. "Then, they can go back and inspire their communities to play more and harder. I think it's important that when a player has achieved a certain level of success, they come back and give back to their local community. I've gotten a lot from Magic. A lot of friends say that I am sacrificing myself working with the Latin Americans instead of a big team. I get several invites every Pro Tour to work with one of the big teams, and I always decline them. Maybe that's dumb. Maybe I could have better personal results if I would work with them, but I really enjoy what I am doing. For Pro Tour Born of the Gods, we only had about three Brazilians qualified, so I worked with some of the Europeans and only one of the Brazilians. I felt a little bad that I couldn't share my deck with the other two. I'm not sure what I'm doing for Portland yet, but if enough people qualify for it from Latin America, of course I will test with them. I have been told that I should focus on myself more, but I just can't.
And it's going to be even harder for him to focus on himself here in a couple of months.
"I have a child coming along (my first one) in July," he said with a big smile on his face. "I'm not sure that I can afford to keep playing as a full-time player if I'm just Gold, so making it to Platinum is more important than ever. If I am fortunate enough to make Hall of Fame this year, it would be amazing for me. I would be able to take the first year off to take care of my child, only travel for the Pro Tours, and have no pressure of maintaining my Pro Player level. Either way, though, I need to keep doing well, both to try and hit Platinum and to give myself the best shot at making into the Hall of Fame. I have to focus on what's right in front of me for the time being, because in two months, my life will change a lot."
Keep doing well was the appropriate thing to say, as Edel has had a very good year thus far. He's sitting on 38 points coming into this weekend, making him effectively just shy of getting Platinum for next year. Still, it's more than good enough for him to be both the leader for the top Latin American representative for the World Championships and the frontrunner for Brazilian National captain for the World Magic Cup.
"The World Championship last year was amazing," Edel gushed. "I played in the last Invitational in 2007, and it was the best tournament ever. The World Championship feels really close to that. They make you feel so important. They do a lot of advertising and publicity. And the other fifteen players were all really good! If I play here and leave 6-6, I would be really disappointed. You can't be disappointed with a 6-6 performance against the actual top players in the world. I really want to go back, this time prepare a little bit better. This year, there are two Latin American spots, so I would love for the two delegates to be myself and Paulo. He always works so hard and he's such a good player, I know that if we went and prepared together that we could do well."
"For me, though, the best tournament in the world is the World Magic Cup. If it were between that and the World Championship, I would take the chance to represent my country in a heartbeat. I always wanted to be a soccer player, but I am so bad...there's just no way. I just love the thought of being on my national team, people cheering and singing the national anthem... I really like the thought of this. There's just such pride at the World Magic Cup, not just for the individual player, but for the country as a whole. I have never gotten as much support as I got when I was on the World Magic Cup team. And I can do exactly what I have been practicing for all of these years for the Pro Tour. I get to take my teammates, get everyone together, and work together with the other Brazilians. The last World Magic Cup was such a good experience! We had a very good team. We came just short, losing a very close match to miss out the Top 8. And I've never felt so sad for being unable to qualify my friends for the Pro Tour. I was really sad. I really want to go and really want to try again."
Regardless of what it may mean to him, Edel always seems to be putting the thoughts and successes of his friends and the rest of the Latin American community over his own. He has been through the lean times, has succeeded only to fail time and again before finding his feet and making it to the top. He knows what it takes to succeed and has spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to help convey that to his fellow players so that they don't have to go through the same trials and tribulations that he did.
"Players around here always ask me what they can do to get better, to make it to the Pro Tour, and my answer is always the same: Play more."
It really is as simple as that. All he asks is that players play more and continue to work and help Magic grow. With time and hard work, the successes will come. The hard work will pay off. And when it does, Edel will be there to help get prepared for the challenges to come.