In this Issue:
There were two Grand Prix this past weekend: one in Toronto, Canada, and the other in São Paulo, Brazil. Both events were Standard and both events were won by hometown heroes defending their borders against players from neighboring lands looking to plunder their trophies.
It was not too long ago that, if it was Day Two of a Magic tournament, you would find Pro Tour Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa dejectedly kicking a can down the street while everyone else was still playing Magic. For the first time in his career, Damo da Rosa was in the midst of a slump that saw him straggling behind multiple players for the captaincy of the Brazilian World Magic Cup team and far away from any berth for the World Championship.
Of course, that was all before the age of Esper Dragons.
PVDDR Returns on the Wings of Dragons
At Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, Damo da Rosa started out 1-2 in Draft and looked to be headed to another frustrating Pro Tour. What he did not know as he headed into the Standard rounds was that his deck box contained 75 cards that were going to define Standard for the coming month. He would go 8-2 in Standard with Esper Dragons—and teammate Josh Utter-Leyton would go 9-1 with the same deck. A weekend later, at GP Krakow, the Hall of Fame Pro played Esper Dragons into a Top 8 finish. This past weekend, on his home turf, he hoisted the trophy as the Grand Prix São Paulo Champion.
Pro Tour Hall of Fame Pro and Grand Prix São Paulo Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Along the way, Alexander Hayne won Grand Prix Krakow in an Esper Dragons mirror, and there were multiple RPTQ events that featured at least half the players who qualified sporting the deck that Dama da Rosa and Utter-Leyton both played to Top 16 finishes in Brussels. Not that Damo da Rosa had any clue that the deck was going to be that impactful heading into Round Four of the Pro Tour to play it for the first time.
"I thought it was good, but I didn't think it was that good. I think the main reasons are that the Mono-Red matchup is a bit better than I thought it would be, and that most of the decks we had in testing were more tuned to beat Esper, while the tournament went in the opposite direction," said Damo da Rosa. The lists he and his ChannelFireball teammates were expecting to see were just not really the versions they had been expecting.
"We knew the Esper deck was good early, so we skewed our own metagame to beat it, and it was still the deck that performed the best. When we faced a metagame that was not prepared for it, it was a bloodbath."
There was a point in his career when you could count on a Top 8 finishes every handful of Pro Tours from Damo da Rosa. He had racked up nine such finishes in a torrid Hall of Fame career, but his recent slump had started to get into his head before the Pro Tour. Logically he knew he still had the capability and the resources to excel, but for the first time in his career the expectation that he would do well wasn't there for him.
"I'd been losing for so long on the professional stage that it kind of came as a shock to me when I didn't lose, to be honest," said Damo da Rosa of the start of his recent hot streak. "I played the tournament with a very 'If it works, it works. If it doesn't, whatever…' attitude, which is very different than what I had in the past."
What a difference three tournaments make. After his Pro Tour Top 16, Top 8 at GP Krakow, and his win this weekend in Brazil, Damo da Rosa is locked for Platinum status with the 3 guaranteed points for attending Pro Tour Magic Origins. He has also leapfrogged Thiago Saporito and Willy Edel for the lead in the World Magic Cup race, and also leads the race for Latin American berths at the World Championship. You can expect to see Damo da Rosa playing in nearly half a dozen Grand Prix between now and the end of the season.
Thiago Saporito (left) and Willy Edel (right)
"My hope is that I get 3 points in one of those events, which would give me Platinum benefits before the PT. Other than that, it's going to depend on how Thiago and Willy do—they're 1 and 3 points behind me [respectively] now. So if they don't get more points, I don't need more points either, but if they do I have to match them," said the São Paulo Champion of his plans for the rest of the year.
"In the end, it would be good to have some cushion to do worse than them at the PTs so the GPs are certainly important, but I'm only truly going to know about those slots at the end of the season."
I have only been lucky enough to cover a South American Grand Prix once, but it was an amazing experience that felt very different from almost any other event I had ever attended. There was a pretty intense rivalry between the players from different South American countries, right down to onlookers waving their national colors and singing their fight songs.
"I think it comes mostly from Soccer," said Damo da Rosa of the passionate atmosphere at South American events. "When we play locally, there's a very clear distinction between Brazil and non-Brazil when it comes to cheering and supporting someone. But when we play internationally, I think this distinction completely disappears. We're all Latin America. I think that I've played internationally for so long that I've kinda become Latin American already. So Brazilian people get happy that the trophy stayed in Brazil, but I think non-Brazilians still see me as part of their community, since I represent them internationally a lot of the time, so they didn't get very upset that I won instead of someone from their country. Or at least I hope they didn't!"
"As for me personally, it feels awesome winning in my own country because a lot of my friends are there to support me—I can tell there were people who were genuinely very happy when I won. The Latin American community is very enthusiastic about Magic (about everything, really) and it shows in the way people react," said the Pro Tour Hall of Famer, who seems to have gotten his groove back and could very well be representing his country and his continent at the World Magic Cup and World Championship once this season ends.
Meanwhile, in Toronto…
Lucas Siow has had some Grand Prix success in the past, with three previous Top 8 finishes. For a stretch of Pro Tours, Siow was even one of the most dominant Constructed players in the game. Much like his Brazilian counterpart for the weekend, Siow was not in the midst of a terribly exciting season. He had made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Ottawa and made Day Two of Pro Tour Fate Reforged, but he went into Grand Prix Toronto without being qualified for anything other than the next Regional PTQ weekend.
Grand Prix Toronto Champion Lucas Siow
That all changed with his win playing Abzan at the Grand Prix. It leaves him with a guaranteed 19 points with the minimum 3 points he will get from Pro Tour Magic Origins. If he can find 1 more point at the various Grand Prix between now and then—or at the Pro Tour itself—it will get him to Silver, which would send him into the next season with an invitation in his pocket.
"I have always done better in more established formats. I am not the best brewer, but am good at refining and tuning decks to attack the established format. I try to look at whether there is a particular threat or set of answers that are very well positioned in the current metagame," said Siow, who had the benefit of tons data to work with. He recently took a dive into all that data in his column for ChannelFireball.com and knew that the Esper Dragons deck was a force to be reckoned with, but also knew that Abzan had the tools to tussle with the dragons in the middle of the room.
"In this particular case, I felt like you had to feel comfortable against Esper Dragons if you didn't want to play it. In particular, Abzan gets to play a lot of cards that are good against Esper—Nissa, Thoughtseize, and Abzan Charm. It also has Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which a lot of the popular decks like Raptor or Abzan Aggro are just completely unable to get around," said Siow about his preparation for the event.
Much like Damo da Rosa, Siow was also the hometown hero. The event was not only in his country but the actual city in which he lives. Having so many local people cheering him on was a huge boost—as was having access to a local data plan while playing in a Grand Prix.
"Lots of people who might not normally follow coverage were tuned in and watching me and sending me texts/messages—which I could receive!" marveled Siow. "My friends were incredibly supportive and their help, both in testing and during the actual tournament, was integral to my success."
The win was sweet for Siow, who has always done well but does not have many trophies on his virtual mantle outside of PTQs.
"Unfortunately, I have a well-earned reputation as a poor closer, so there aren't many wins that I remember," he said before recalling the details of his first PTQ win. "I barely remember anything about this tournament except that I rolled dice on whether to keep a one-lander in the semifinals. In the car ride up, my friend Teng had told us about a book he was reading regarding a man who only made close decisions through the use of dice. I ended up casting Empyrial Archangel on turn seven."
April Magic Player of the Month: Martin Dang
I had initially thought this was going to be a slam dunk for Martin Dang, who missed out on the title the previous month in spite of winning Grand Prix Liverpool. But Shota Yasooka had strong vocal support on Twitter after reaching the finals of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and following up with a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Kyoto. Both players were split down the middle in terms of support, and in the end I had to make a judgment call on tiebreakers.
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion Martin Dang
I decided that head-to-head competition was going to be the difference maker. And the last time we watched the two play was in the finals of the Pro Tour, when the veteran Danish player dispatched the Japanese former Player of the Year in four games to become the champion with his Atarka red deck. You will be able to watch Martin Dang in action in just two weekends when he takes part in the Magic Online Championship , which will be streamed live from Seattle.