After sixteen rounds of Team Sealed and two Team Drafts, the field of 261 teams was now down to just a single trio! Earmarked as one of the hottest teams in the tournament, Sebastian Pozzo, Luis Salvatto, and Lucas Esper Berthoud lived up to expectations and methodically worked their way to the top.
What were the other exciting stories which took place at Santiago? I invite you to join me as we relive the most critical moments of the weekend.
A Tale of Four Dinosaurs
Spoiler alert. This story is about four Dinosaurs.
So, we introduced three of the most prominent teams from South America yesterday. Today we'd like you to meet the trio of Matthew Boccio, Ben Rubin, and Antonino De Rosa, three of the longest-tenured players in the room. With gaming experience even before the 2000s, they were among the most experienced teams in the tournament hall.
Just to clarify, the term “dinosaur” doesn’t mean they’re big or nasty like the ones in Ixalan. The term is casually used within the Magic community as a euphemism to refer to “a veteran player” or, by expansion, " a player who hasn’t played Magic in a while." Let’s begin with just a little introduction to these esteemed dinosaurs, for the benefit of our newer players.
Matthew Boccio, Ben Rubin, and Antonino De Rosa
De Rosa had 11 Grand Prix Top 8s with four wins as well as a US National title. Rubin himself had 8 Grand Prix Top 8s with two wins. Rubin also had 4 Pro Tour Top 8s to his name and was a Pro Tour Hall of Famer.
Boccio from New York was the least known of the trio, but his most recent success was with Rubin and Tillman Bragg at Grand Prix Louisville 2016. There, they made it to the finals before falling to eventual champions Sam Black, Justin Cohen, and Matt Severa. For an additional blast from the past, Boccio also made the Top 8 of the 2001 Junior Super Series with White-Blue Rebels!
So, how did these decade-long friends become so close to one another, eventually converging in Chile? De Rosa shared, "we used to work in Curacao together, living in the same beach house. I am currently living in Costa Rica now, so Ben and Matt decided to come hang out for a week and catch up on old times." Despite living in the United States, they made the far-flung trip and traversed to Costa Rica before continuing their expedition to Santiago.
Despite making it through to Day 2 at 6-2, the team's metaphoric wheel fell off pretty quickly. However, we witnessed one particularly exciting game in Round 12. If you’ve played against Profane Procession, you’ll find that it is pretty devastating. Unless you were already ahead on the board while tying up your opponent’s mana, it was unlikely that you’ll be able to “race” it. Best if you had something like Cleansing Ray, Demystify, Crushing Canopy, or Vraska, Relic Seeker as a clean solution.
He was up against a Profane Procession which he had no immediate solution to. However, he did have Form of the Dinosaur on his side, so both sides of the board were cleared of creatures. The game crawled to a point when Rubin even started to count the number of cards in his library as his win conditions whittled away. As he discussed with De Rosa the game plan, they found a way to win possibly, but only if the cards showed up in the right order.
Firstly, Rubin would need to get twelve mana to cast Zacama, Primal Calamity and activate its second ability - it was the late game, and his opponent was holding up five mana all the time. Then, he would need to quickly draw Thundering Spineback to populate the board, since he was running low on actual win conditions. Rubin would also need his opponent to not have a removal spell for it, so Rubin had to bait out Luminous Bonds and a pair of Impales with other creatures. Finally, he was able to deal lethal damage with precisely 1 life and one card in his library, against his opponent’s empty library.
Yet another Zacama hits the battlefield!
Close shave! Despite winning this spectacular match, the trio was no longer in contention for the Top 4. Nonetheless, Boccio had a positive outlook.
“This was more of a friendship trip more than anything. I just wanted to see my old friends again and play some Magic!"
If you’ve been playing Magic for over ten years or twenty years, stopped for a little bit, and then came back into the game, we welcome you to “The Dinosaur Club." Even though the trio of Boccio - Rubin - De Rosa won’t be making the Top 4 this weekend, what was important was that they celebrated their cherished friendship this fortnight.
“Ruter the Viking” and His Seafarers
There is a local hobby store in Blumenau, Brazil, who culture is a little different from others. Nestled midway between Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre, it had a comparatively smaller community as compared to the bigger metropolitan cities.
The story started with 24-year-old Rodrigo Frischknecht, a passionate Magic player since he was 10. “I started out as a casual player and then I began to play more tournaments. As I grew up, an opportunity was offered to me to buy an existing store. I always had a dream to build a good place for the players by the players and that was how “Casa de Ruter” (The House of Ruter) came about."
The store was named after its mascot, a cute, bearded Viking which everyone was happy to wear their team attire. However, what made this group of individuals so unique was their shared ideology behind community building.
Meet the Vikings of “Casa de Ruter”!
(top row) Marco Aurelio Melz, Guilherme Augusto Pagel, Denner Floriani
(bottom row) Rodrigo Frischknecht, Roberto Fujiyama, and Elisiane Geisler
32-year-old Roberto Fujiyama also began playing Magic when he was about 10, even though he took a long pause in between. However, when “Casa de Ruter” opened its doors under new management, Frischknecht employed Fujiyama, and the pair began working on their vision.
“I was hired to be the coach of the store. My mom is Japanese, so I guess it’s fair to call me the ‘sensei.' Since I had been playing Magic for such a long time, Rodrigo thought I would be a good fit to help teach the game to new players and also to help everyone in the store improve."
After numerous brainstorming and conceptualization sessions, they rolled out a program which had the primary goal of growing the business and the community. “In my experience, many stores have small groups of players who don’t interact with other groups. In some occasions, there might be rivalry and politics and these cliques were not a kind environment for everyone. This is why
What Fujiyama was saying is that, if you’re a new Magic player, you can walk into “Casa de Ruter” and learn how to play Magic immediately. Well, that’s no different from any other store. However, what sets them apart is their “Team Building Program," an initiative designed to build as many teams as possible.
As we all know, while it is possible to succeed in Magic as a solo ranger, your rate of success goes up tremendously when working with a team. You can’t practice for an 8-man Booster Draft with less than that number of players. You can’t practice for Team Sealed with less than six. Also, if you have a team of ten practicing five different Constructed matchups, the collective data can be shared with the entire group.
Roberto continued, “our concept is that anyone can join our team. It can be intimidating for a new player to step into a game store all alone, and it is even more so if you want to join larger tournaments. By welcoming them into a team and quickly introducing them to a few friends, we hope that they can feel more comfortable taking their game to the next level, whichever level it may be."
For instance, the third member of their trios team was 28-year-old Elisiane Geisler. Having played Magic for only a year, this trip from Brazil to Chile might not have been possible without the welcoming arms of Ruter the Viking and his seafarers.
Marco Aurelio Melz was the travel expert of the group and he is often tasked with organising road trips. “A good way to welcome a new player is to let them know that they are never alone when traveling around to play Magic. For example, twenty of our players drove out to a PPTQ together, wearing the same team gear, and had a great day together. This time, I managed to find us a deal for air tickets and hotels for a little under $400!"
Geisler added that she felt more comfortable traveling in a group and that having someone help with coordination quieted some of her uneasiness. “We also thought it was a great price for a short trip, so I decided to pluck up the courage and tag along for my very first Grand Prix. It is also everyone’s first time in Chile." If you don’t have a designated travel advisor in your community, it might be a good idea to get one! It does take the worries away from inexperienced or unacquainted players.
Geisler shared with me that they also organized regular playtesting sessions and anyone was welcome to join. In total, the six players about ten Team Sealed practice sessions, and six was the perfect number because they could play against one another and put their deck construction theories to the test.
Frischknecht - Fujiyama - Elisiane Geisler at Table 1 after Round 12
Their hard work paid off handsomely even if the trio of Marco Aurelio Melz, Guilherme Augusto Pagel, and Denner Floriani failed to make the Day 2 cut because Frischknecht – Fujiyama - Geisler were at the top table in Round 12! Marco Aurelio Melz, Guilherme Augusto Pagel, and Denner Floriani had been cheering on their fellow teammates from the sidelines all day long, a testament to their unity.
Sitting at 10-2, where there was a six-way tie for first seed, they needed to win their next crucial match before taking a possible ID for the Top 4. They were handed their third loss in Round 13, cutting their dreams of the Top 4 abruptly short. Nonetheless, it was a great showing for Team Casa De Ruter. Their 10th place finish had already exceeded their expectations for the aspiring grinders.
“You’ll definitely be seeing more of us in the future," Frischknecht quipped. “We will continue building our community, not only making it bigger but also closer."
The Bolivians Make A Mark!
Did you know that, as of today, there were only around 330 registered Magic players in Bolivia?
Hence, it was astonishing to witness a team of three Bolivians crack the Top 4. Diego Roca Suárez, Marco Vargas, and Alejandro Van Mourik may not have been the first Bolivian players to make a Grand Prix Top 8 - that honor went to David Sologuren when he made Top 8 at Grand Prix Santiago 2014 - but they were the first trio from Bolivia to make it to the elimination rounds.
Diego Roca Suárez, Marco Vargas, and Alejandro Van Mourik, the first Bolivian trio to make the Top 4!
As one of the smallest markets in the world, Bolivia was also an emerging market with a very, very limited selection of game stores. Ok, I’ll admit I’m playing fast and loose with the word "selection” because there is only one store in Santa Cruz, the city in which they live. Less than a handful of other stores were “littered” across the country with an area of 400,000 square miles.
I’m not sure which is more impressive, the feat of actually finding a three-man team out of a possible 300 players who were willing to make the seven-hour flight, or fighting through a sea of fierce competition at the top tables at a Premier Event.
Considering that the country had such a small community and limited resources, they still managed to hone their skills to stack up against the competition, through practicing with each other and on Magic Online. Their story also makes me feel more appreciative of how accessible it is for me to play Magic, a little privilege which I often take for granted.
As the pioneers of a growing community, they’re also the most seasoned veterans of their land. The fact that they made the Top 4 alongside three superstar teams was proof of their skills. They proved to the world that they could succeed even in the face of adversity.
Three cheers to Roca, Vargas, and Van Mourik for their historic breakthrough. For their valiant efforts, all three players earned invitations to Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in Minneapolis, where they will be competing against hundreds of other aspirants in the largest Pro Tour in history. Quite literally, you’re playing with the big boys now. Bolivia’s hopes on the Pro Tour laid upon the shoulders of these three men.
Wow that #GPSantiago Top4! Magic must be a luck game after all!— Andrea Mengucci (@Mengu09) March 11, 2018
Excluding the three players from Bolivia, the nine other players had a combined of 5 Pro Tour titles, 22 Pro Tour Top 8s, 16 Grand Prix titles, and 45 Grand Prix Top 8s. A lot has been said about them already (come on, I just wrote about them yesterday!) so let’s see what the community has to say about the stacked Top 4 and have them send their well wishes across the Atlantic.
This #GPSantiago top 4 is crazy stacked— eric froehlich (@efropoker) March 11, 2018
In particular, Team Hareruya Latin’s presence was fully felt. Ok, not wholly. Just about 83.33%, because Marcio Carvalho was at Grand Prix Madrid. He did not make Top 4 there and was naturally the target of a little well-natured ridicule.
However, Marcio Carvalho took it in stride, and simply told the rest of his pals to “crush it."
And they did.
Earmarked as one of the hottest teams, the trio of Sebastian Pozzo, Luis Salvatto, and Lucas Esper Berthoud - all donning Team Hareruya Latin gear - lived up to expectations and methodically worked their way to the Top 4.
The epic finals of Grand Prix Santiago 2018.
There, they defeated the Bolivian team of Diego Roca Suárez, Marco Vargas, and Alejandro Van Mourik in the semifinals, before besting Willy Edel, Juliano Gennari Souza, and Thiago Saporito in the finals, claiming the three shiny silver cups for themselves.
Once again, kudos to Sebastian Pozzo, Luis Salvatto and Lucas Esper Berthoud for winning Grand Prix Santiago 2018!