MEET THE CHILEAN VANGUARD

Posted in GRAND PRIX SANTIAGO 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 1, 2014

By Josh Bennett

National pride runs hot in South America, and it is no different in professional Magic. Victories are not just for the player, but for the country he or she represents. Brazil and Argentina have been the powerhouse countries since the earliest days, and have overshadowed Chile until recently. Here's a look at the top players who will be fighting for Chile this weekend.

The Big Two

Felipe Tapia Becerra's incredible performance in 2013 earned him the Rookie of the Year title, and made him the poster boy for Chilean professional Magic. In addition to his remarkable Top 16 at Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal, Becerra put up a semifinals appearance at Grand Prix Quebec City and fell just short of taking the trophy in the finals of GP Warsaw. Despite big finishes on two continents, Becerra has yet to find glory on South America. There'd be no better place for it than on home soil.

Felipe Tapia Becerra

Where Becerra represents the new generation of Chilean players, Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes is the voice of experience. His professional career spans over a decade, bookended by a Top 4 at the first Grand Prix Santiago in 2001, and another at Grand Prix Buenos Aires earlier this year. At the dead center of that span, Echeverria Paredes came within a hair's breadth of the spotlight at Pro Tour Yokohama. Going into the final round he needed one more win to make the Top 8. All he needed to do was defeat future Hall of Famer Frank Karsten. The match was a grind. They split the first two games, and as time wore down neither player could secure victory. The unintentional draw left Ecceverria Paredes in a heartbreaking ninth place.

Jose Luis Echeverria Parredes

The Reigning Champ

Almost one year ago to the day, Luis Navas came out of nowhere to conquer Grand Prix Santiago. Not only had he been playing Magic less than a year, Santiago was his first taste of top-level play. Despite the nerves, he piloted his Rakdos Aggro deck to a clean sweep of his Top 8 matches. Never mind the pressure of playing for the trophy, Navas had the added responsibility of defending his nation's pride. It almost seemed to work in his favor, with so many of his countrymen cheering for him against Argentina's Mattias M. Soler. This year all Chilean players are looking to follow his example and win "their" Grand Prix.

Luis Navas

The Defenders of the Homeland

In addition to Cristian di Silvestro, who Top 4'd Navas' Grand Prix Santiago, and David Kaliski who put up a Top 8 at the 2011 Grand Prix Santiago, the other players to watch are those who have played for Team Chile at Worlds. There, the big names are greybeards Andres Camargo (2001, 2006, and 2007) and Francisco Gaete (1999 and 2003), as well as the relatively-new Roman Patricio (2011 and 2012). That's not to take away from the others here who have battled under the Chilean Flag: Cristian Cespedes, Victor Elizalde, Sebastian Hurtado, Meza Raimundo, Ignacio Parot, Walter Ruz, Basilio San Juan, Ignacio Sanchez, Maximiliano Sanchez, Eduardo Soto, Juan Veliz, and Eduardo Vyhmeister.

In particular, keep eyes on Rodrigo Lopez and Fabian Lucero who joined Becerra on last year's World Magic Cup team. They finished 10th overall, Chile's best finish in history, and just one match shy of the Top 8. They'll be eager to make names for themselves after proving that they can compete on the world stage.