When talking with Argentina Magic–mainstay Jonathan Rizzo about the current state of the game in his country, he has a lot to say. He talks about how the country has grown strong in the last five years, and how the scene has gotten increasingly competitive. But above all else, he emphasized that more and more Argentines are starting to travel internationally, and really liking their results.
A community that is all-but cut off from the other parts of the globe—being deep in the Southern Hemisphere—Argentina and its residents have been fanning out more and more lately. Luis Salvatto made waves when he won the Sunday Super Series Championship this year; Martin Quiroga will be joining Salvatto in Seattle next year, as he’s already gotten himself qualified; and Sebastian Pozzo, with a Grand Prix Top 8 to his name, just recently competed in the Magic Online Championship Series.
Argentines have been popping up at Grand Prix across the globe, putting themselves on the international stage. I sat down with Sebastian Pozzo, and talked with him about his recent three-week Magic excursion to North America last month. He competed in three tournaments (the MOCS, Grand Prix Toronto and Grand Prix Atlantic City), visited family in the Northeast, and took in some sightseeing in New York City. Many might have called this a vacation, but Pozzo disagreed.
“Calling it a vacation would mean that I wasn’t focused on the tournaments,” he said. “I mean, there was a lot of fun, and in the end it was what it was, but I would not call it a vacation.” He laughed a little, the mid-twenties Buenos Aires native with a bouncy head of hair has a fun smile, and really tries to engage when he talks to you. Though he worries a bit about his English, he is much better at communicating than he thinks.
Though he traveled all across North America, and spent much longer in the United States than he ever has before, he took his work very seriously. “It’s not easy to prepare for top-level tournaments,” he told me. “The MOCS has three formats, and because none of my friends play Vintage, and only a few play Modern, I was often testing by myself.” Not to mention the formats of the Grand Prix he would also be attending.
Though Sebastian doesn’t often play Vintage, he thought he was pretty prepared, because the format rarely changes. “But in the last episode of the Vintage Super League, Eric Froehlich changed the Workshop deck, and made it much better against what I was playing. It was frustrating.” His Mentor deck usually had an advantage over the deck, but the innovation really changed things. Vintage, by its nature can be a difficult format to get a handle on. “Sometimes it’s luck, and sometimes it’s skill—I can’t tell the percentage easily.” And that was just one of the formats he had to learn.
Despite this having been a “non-vacation” Sebastian did take some time to sightsee around New York City. “My favorite part was renting a bike, just riding around and exploring the city—I went over the Brooklyn Bridge into Williamsburg, and uptown, all over.” This detour in his playtesting was a welcome change from the last time he was in Manhattan. “I was there for three days before Pro Tour Fate Reforged. One day, the highest temperature was -10 degrees Celsius, I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit. This time was much better.” He laughed.
Though the “vacation” aspects of the trip were good, for Pozzo the trip was an amazing opportunity to get more than a one-time taste of the world stage. The only other Spanish speaker at the MOCS was Pro Tour Fate Reforged champion, Antonio del Moral Leon, and Sebastian was amazed to talk and play with him. “I’ve never been so close to such a good player,” he said. “I was great watching him make plays that I would have discounted immediately. In draft, he exploited a dragon—something I would never have thought to do—and it completely won him the game.”
Pozzo said of del Moral Leon, “He really wants to win, always,” he continued, “and I realized that sometimes I don’t play like that.” He said that if the tournament seems “easy” or “not his format” he can take less time, and make more mistakes. Watching the Spanish player treat every game as if it were the Pro Tour finals showed Pozzo the mindset a champion needs to have.
Sebastian Pozzo and Matias Leveratto
Pozzo admits that much of his Grand Prix Top 8, when he was eighteen “was more luck than anything,” but now he knows how better to improve his game. He competed in a smaller tournament when he got back home, and though in the past he wouldn’t have paid it much mind, he focused strongly on it, and won. “It felt very good, and if I had not focused, I could have easily made a mistake and lost the tournament.” In the same week, he finished in the semifinals of an online PTQ. Another tournament he treated as if it were a Pro Tour. He’s already trying to apply what he learned abroad.
Pozzo has been bitten by the travel bug—specifically of the Magic-al kind. Though he wasn’t able to convert any North American performances into more Pro Tour qualifications, he has come home with a new resolve, better knowledge, and an urge to get back on the Pro Tour.
When I asked what his plans were since he got home, Pozzo said to me, “What do you mean? I’m going to qualify again.”
Argentine Magic has been breaking out of its country’s borders and spilling over into the rest of the world. Players like Nicolas de Nicolo, Luis Salvatto, Andres Monsalve, and Jonathan Rizzo have been leading the charge, and they now have a new Magic world-traveling compatriot, Sebastian Pozzo.
It might be months before Pozzo qualifies again, it might be until the end of this weekend, but with Pozzo’s new knowledge, new resolve, and a taste for what international Magic has to offer, it doesn’t really seem like a question of “if” he re-qualifies, but “when.”