Lessons from the Draft Master

Posted in 2016 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP on September 3, 2016

By Chapman Sim

Everyone at the World Championship has their own story and Márcio Carvalho is no exception. His success is hardly an accident, a combination of natural talent and hard work.

The Draft Master's 20-3-1 Limited record in the past season's four Pro Tours translates to an incredulous win rate of over 83%. Naturally, this statistic is higher than anyone else in the world, which ultimately resulted in Carvalho receiving an invitation to the World Championship this weekend. Going 3-0 at his first Booster Draft yesterday, this also means that he has achieved a combined 15-0 record over his last five Booster Drafts at Pro Tours and this event.

In Rich Hagon's words, when was the last time you ever won a draft five times in a row, let alone at the highest pinnacles of Magic premier play? Today, Carvalho was going for his sixth consecutive grand slam.

At his very first Grand Prix in Grand Prix Porto 2000, he placed 26th, displaying early signs of talent and genius. After racking up a few Grand Prix Top 8s, he was finally able to attend a Pro Tour which took place during a time where it utilized only a single format. At his debut, Pro Tour London 2005 was a Booster Draft Pro Tour. Naturally, this is Carvalho's forte and he eventually finished 10-5 (going 2-1 at all 5 draft pods), placing 28th. Despite the solid showing, Carvalho wasn't entirely pleased.

"At that time, I was already doing pretty well at the Grand Prix circuit, so I went to my first Pro Tour with high expectations," he said. "10-5 is decent, but it just wasn't good enough for me. I was much younger then and I couldn't afford to travel often, so every single Pro Tour felt super important to me. I didn't know when I was going to be able to qualify the next time and even if I did, I wasn't 100% certain that I could attend."

Since then, he has chalked up two Pro Tour Top 8s and eleven Grand Prix Top 8s and is a three-time Portugal National Champion. His career, spanning over a decade, has led him to this anointed moment. He singles out becoming the Draft Master as his proudest achievement.

"For me, drafting is something that I am really, really good at," he said confidently. "I'm not shy to admit it. The fact that I became the Draft Master in the first attempt is proof of that. I feel like all my hard work over these years has brought me to this single moment. I get my shot at becoming the World Champion simply because I draft better than anyone else."

But the real question is, how did the Draft Master become the Draft Master?

Draft Master Márcio Carvalho, showing off the spoils from his latest Limited deck. Going into today's draft, he had a sterling 15-0 record in Shadows over Innistrad block matches at the Pro Tour and this event.

Most people don't realize that any action is a good action if it is proactive and there is a positive intent behind it. Carving time out and taking responsibility of your own schedule is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself. To be fair, nobody is going to do that for you. Carvalho mentions that he plays around three to four hours a day on average, and on a "non-lazy" day he racks up eight to ten hours in practice.

This is how he ended up with 287 Clutch of Currents in his Magic Online trade binder. As the ancient adage goes, practice makes perfect, but Carvalho doesn't think so. In his opinion, practice doesn't make perfect, but perfect practice does. That's why Carvalho never lets his guard down regardless of the stakes and even when practicing on Magic Online, he sets high bars for himself.

"My win rate is around 75-80% on Magic Online," he explained. "I estimate that I go 3-0 seven or eight times for every ten 8-4 drafts I play. And then, I backtrack and wonder how I didn't go 3-0 in those two or three. To me, booster draft is like a jigsaw puzzle and solving the format is one of my favorite things to do."

Does the Draft Master have any tips for anyone who wants to improve in Limited?

"I don't believe in pick orders," he said. "We always have people ranking how good each and every card is and despite being a good guideline. It is not always a foolproof resource. Sometimes, you see two cards, one of it is an 8 and the other is a 6.5. However, your deck really needs the 6.5 and not the 8, and this is where the pick order lists fail. You need to be able to quickly assess which is the biggest upgrade for your deck instead of blindly picking the supposed better card. For example, if you already have three Somberwald Stag, do you pick another five-drop that's worth 8 points? You can't play that many five-drops and you're likely better off picking a two-drop or a three-drop even if it's worth only 6.5."

He also mentions that many less-experienced drafters are overly-attached to their first picks. "Sometimes, you get a really good card in your first Booster and you just feel like you need to play with that card. Some players ignore the signals and fail to identify what is really open. If you see the other colors flowing, don't hesitate to make the switch. You could end up having a better deck.

Switching back to the World Championship, how did he feel about his deck today?

"I think it was really good," he shared. "I ended up in Green-Blue Emerge and then I found out that Reid Duke had two copies of Lashweed Lurker in his sideboard. That really made me drool! However, I was passed Ulrich of the Krallenhorde and Burn from Within and that really boosted my deck a lot. Mike (Sigrist) probably didn't want to commit to two colors in his first pick but since I already picked Somberwald Stag, it was an easy decision for me to move in."

Triumphant against Grand Prix Master Brian Braun-Duin and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Champion Lukas Blohon, Carvalho eventually fell to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Champion Jiachen Tao. Despite that, he maintains his lead at the top of the pack and will attempt to clinch his Top 4 berth tomorrow.

Despite his success in Limited thus far, Carvalho still has deep-seated insecurities he needs to overcome.

"I feel that I have to make better Constructed decisions," he admitted. "In the last two Pro Tours, I went 6-0 in Draft. If I just had an average record for Constructed, I would have made Top 8. I don't know how to build decks or how choose a deck. I just can't do that. The way I see it, I have a lot to learn and the way to get around it is to get great Constructed players on my team who are willing to help me. I also hope I made the correct choice for tomorrow's Modern portion, because all I need is one or two wins to make the Top 4."

Well, victory is sweetest when you've known defeat. I'm sure that by the time Carvalho finds a way to overcome this hurdle, he'll ascend into an even greater person than he is today.

Whenever you see a successful player, you only see the public glories and never the private sacrifices to reach them. This is not just a story about Carvalho. This is story about reaching for your dreams, with courage and will, whatever it may be. As you can see with persistence and perseverance, you'll find that most things are attainable and achievable.

Our greatness weakness is usually giving up. Never give up.