I sat down with Brazil's unofficial Pro ambassador Willy Edel to talk about Pro Magic in Latin America. If you've ever seen an interview with him, or had the good fortune to meet him in person, you know just how passionate he is when it comes to the game we all love. He's also been around forever, and has seen the development of Latin American Magic first-hand.
"I started playing professionally, well, you know, GP's and stuff, around 2000, but I wasn't really a 'Pro' until after 2005 when I got on the train and was qualified for every Pro Tour. That lasted until 2010, then I fell off. So I was unqualified for about 18 months, and I thought, well, I'm thirty-two, I have a family and a business. I need to make a decision: am I going to be a Pro, or am going to stop going after that and just play more casually. I mean, I'm always going to play Magic, but I would devote a lot less time to it."
"So I decided I would take one last shot at it. I was qualified for Worlds on rating, and then I Top 8'd a GP. I won a PTQ to get to Pro Tour Hawaii, and I thought, well this is my last shot. I did well enough to get Silver, but that only gave me one more 'last shot'. Luckily I managed to keep doing well and that got me to Gold, and then with a good season in 2012-2013 I got up to Platinum. It was definitely the hard road back."
I asked him how the competition has changed, and what it's like to play in an era with such large Grand Prix. "Events are bigger, yes, but the biggest change is just in the overall quality of competitors. It's all about information. When I was just starting out there was just one website to get information about high-level play - The Dojo, but in those days it was hard to get Internet in Brazil. I got a lot of my information from magazines like Scrye and Inquest."
"Internet access got better, there were more big tournaments, so more and more information became available. Players would be more prepared. They would know the big decks instead of just whatever they played at their local store. Then with Magic Online it was another big jump forward. Nowadays even at a GP like this almost everyone you play will be prepared."
"The other thing about that is that these days it is so important to have a big team. Three weeks into a format, it is a lot harder to get an edge on the field because so many games have been played and there's so much information that everyone has access to. So it's in that first week of a new format, just before the Pro Tour, that you can really get ahead. But if you don't have a group of people to really work at it, you can't."
And this is a place where Latin America struggles. It doesn't have that critical mass of top-level Pros that the other regions do. "For an up-and-coming player, there are so few chances to qualify. And it's not just, you know, only so many PTQ's and a few GP a year. It's that let's say a guy Top 8's a Grand Prix and qualifies for his first Pro Tour. Awesome. He goes and it's amazing and he loves it but he doesn't do well enough to qualify again. The few Pro Points he gets don't really do him any good because it's so expensive to get to other Grand Prix. So he can't even get to Silver, and then he's back to square one."
"So it's hard. And you know, because there are so few Grand Prix here, our players look forward to them all year. It's expensive to fly, even for me five hours away it was four hundred dollars, so most players will pick one in advance and plan their year around it. And it's great that the event is so special to those players, but they want to take the next step. I had a guy come up to me today and say 'It's my first Grand Prix and I went 0-3. What should I do now?' In other regions they have more opportunities, and other very competitive tournaments like the StarCityGames Open Series events in North America."
"The other thing is, say a guy from Argentina qualifies. He's probably going to the Pro Tour by himself, so it's not like he has people to really playtest with, or share a hotel room with. So we all try to help each other. There's a lot of cooperation now between Brazilians, Argentinians, Chileans, all trying to get better, but you need to be playing people better than you. That's why we need more Gold pros - it's only been me, Paulo and Carlos, and he's long retired. We need people players can look up to, not admire, but you know, someone they can learn from. Someone that makes them say 'I could do that too.' And it's even harder for players from Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, players in the north in very small communities."
"That's what makes the World Magic Cup the best event. I think the qualifiers, even more than the GPs, are the tournament that most players look forward to. You have a better chance to qualify, you'll be teaming up with other players from your country so you have people to work with, and to represent your country, it's a pretty big deal. It's just a great event. Everyone is so excited."
I asked Edel about the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina. "That's mostly soccer. It's very serious. I don't know any American sport that comes close. In Magic, yes you want to win for your country, but still we are all working together, sharing lists, and giving advice."
What about his role as the Captain of Team Brazil, which he's repeating this year? Is that a lot of responsibility to shoulder? "Well I try to do my best to help. These guys, for some of them it will be their first time really playtesting so I help organize tha and also things like their travel plans. Mostly I'm just a coach. You know I teach a bit, but the most important thing I do is just to keep guys calm. It's such a big event for them and you know they don't have the experience of having played in a lot of big events, so they get nervous. During the event I do a lot to make sure our guys are calm and focused."
What was it like for Edel watching his WMC teammate Thiago Saporito Top 4 Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir? "That was incredible. I mean, I've known Thiago for a long time and to see him get better and better as a player, and then in the Top 4 of a Pro Tour, that's just amazing to see. You know when I "retire" (nobody ever really retires), but when I do I want there to be guys like Thiago out there to teach the next generation of Pros. That's why in Latin America, we have to work together."
What about being the Top Latin American Pro at the World Championship? "I think at Worlds, it's not like at the World Magic Cup. It's more about the individual players. Our players still root for guys like Shahar Shenhar and Reid Duke. There's always someone for them to follow. So, yes, I want to do well and show our players that they can do it too, but it's not the same as at the Cup. I'm more excited about that, and I think our team is good too. Not as good as last year, as that team was amazing, but I think we will Day 2 at least, and maybe even do better."
Lastly, which of the formats for the World Championship is Edel most looking forward to. "Well not Vintage Masters. I didn't play much of that so if I go 1-2 in that I'll be thrilled. Khans of Tarkir draft I'll be prepared for, same with Standard. Modern I'm most excited about. I want to see what happens at Madrid, if Treasure Cruise and Jeskai Ascendancy are overhyped or what. If there's some shake-up, I think it will be a very good format."