Brazil is home to Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Willy Edel, two of the greatest players in all of Latin America. However, it might come as a small surprise that the Pro Point leader of Brazil (and Latin America) at this moment is a relative unknown.
Many fabled stories have already been written about PV and Edel, so I thought I'd spend a little time getting to know the delightful young man that is Thiago Saporito.
Gold Pro (39 Pro Points), Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Top 4, Thiago Saporito
Saporito was introduced to Magic in 2005, around the time that Champions of Kamigawa was released. His brother was the one to teach him the game and he was instantly hooked.
His first deck was straightforward and simple enough to understand. A mono white weenie deck with creatures such as Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Lantern Kami, with support cards like Bonesplitter and Glorious Anthem. In all honestly, it doesn't sound so bad at all!
Much better than Scaled Wurm.
The Road to Nationals
Soon, he was introduced to the local community and started to play outside of his own kitchen table. That same year, he won a National Qualifier and qualified for the Nationals Championships. It was the first time Saporito would participate in a major event.
"My first competitive deck was Tooth and Nail, with a blue splash for Condescend. I prefer aggressive or midrange decks and I guess the inclinations surfaced early."
Saporito starts to get serious.
He didn't do very well, so he decided to try again next year. In 2006, he played almost all of the Nationals Qualifiers and failed to qualify. The same misfortune fell upon him in 2007. For two quiet years, he honed his skills, learnt from his mistakes and began to improve without even him knowing it.
The Leap of Faith
It was not until the year later that something exciting happened. On a random whim, he decided to attend Grand Prix Buenos Aires in 2008. As a young student with limited allowance, he scrimped and saved for an air ticket from his hometown in São Paulo and took the plunge.
This was his very first Grand Prix, and he arrived with the White Blue Red Reveillark deck designed by Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara. He cruised through the Swiss rounds and found himself playing for Top 8 in the final round. Unfortunately, the match went to time and ended up in a draw.
"That definitely exceeded my expectations considering it was my very first Grand Prix. To finish in the money would already have been acceptable, but playing for Top 8 made it really exciting for me."
Regardless, a very happy Saporito finished in the Top 16, and that qualified him for Pro Tour Berlin 2008.
Pro Tour Debut & Realization
Saporito's Pro Tour Debut was at Berlin 2008. It was Saporito's first time in Europe, and also the first time he had traveled outside of South America.
The format was Extended and his deck choice was Black Green Death Cloud. While it was a decent choice, he soon learned the hard way that his deck was far from being "Tier One". Faeries and Zoo were all great decks at that time, as was Tezzerator, as Kenny Oberg would attest.
In fact, the entire tournament was dominated by Elf Ball, an supremely powerful deck that put six players in the Top 8, including Martin Jůza, Matej Zatlkaj and Tomoharu Saito. When the dust settled, Hall of Famer Luis Scott Vargas was the one who went home with the Champion trophy.
Pro Tour Berlin 2008 Champion, Luis Scott-Vargas
His deck was not as good as he thought and quickly crashed out of the tournament (2-4). Saporito ended up visiting the Berlin Zoo, and he was enthusiastic enough to point out that he saw a polar bear. I guess that is kind of a big deal for a South American considering that polar bears are not naturally found in the Southern Hemisphere.
"I knew I wasn't great at Magic at that time, but I was excited to be in my first Pro Tour. I remember playing against Olivier Ruel and got crushed. Then I understood what the Pro Tour meant. I was not in my little playground anymore. It was where the best players in the world converged for the highest levels of play."
Saporito was not about to be discouraged just like that. He started to learn about the Organized Play system and began attending more events, notably Grand Prix Trials and Pro Tour Qualifiers.
In 2010, he unlocked the achievement of "Pro Tour Qualifier Win" and found himself on his way to Puerto Rico. Pro Tour San Juan may have been Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's weekend, but Saporito quietly finished in the Top 64. In just his second attempt, he had managed to finish in the money, a sign of great things to come.
Pro Tour San Juan 2010 Champion, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
He followed that up with a Pro Tour Qualifier win on Magic Online and attended his third Pro Tour that very same year. After 14 Rounds, he found himself playing for the big bucks once again. Unfortunately, he went from 9-5, to 9-6, to 9-7 to finish outside the money. "My expectations had started to increase then, and this tournament was a huge disappointment."
Thanks to his great finishes, he was invited to the World Championships in 2010 based on his rating. However, he was unable to attend it because airfare was not provided for back at that time.
"I was still a student, and I couldn't afford the airfare to attend. Nowadays, if you made Top 25 at a Pro Tour or Top 8 at a Grand Prix, you received free airfare, but that wasn't the case in the past. It was heartbreaking to be qualified and being unable to go, but I'm glad it is not a problem anymore."
The Big Break
Regardless, his best finish came at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir at Honolulu. A devoted Magic Online grinder, Saporito regularly puts in around 8 hours every day and it seemed like his hard work was paying off.
Only playing in his 4th lifetime Pro Tour, he had broke into the Top 4 against a field that was tougher than imaginable. Alongside Pro Tour Champions Shaun McLaren and Ivan Floch, two-time Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe and four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Lee Shi Tian, it seemed like Saporito was the biggest underdog.
However, he did manage to dispatch (now two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor) Ondrej Strasky before falling in the semi-finals to eventual Champion Ari Lax. "It felt like a dream come true and everything I ever wanted. I never expected my success to come so early, I guess I was having a really good weekend."
Thiago Saporito at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu
When asked if he thinks he is better at Constructed or Limited, he claims that the latter was his stronger suit. "I went 6-0 at the Draft Tables at Pro Tour KTK, so perhaps I am better at Limited. This is the reason why I spend most of my time practicing Standard on Magic Online."
Not to be overlooked was his X-3 performance at Grand Prix Orlando, where he picked up another 3 Pro Points before his stellar performance at Honolulu. Within a fortnight, he had picked up 25 Pro Points to jump start his career.
Then, at Pro Tour Fate Reforged in Washing D.C., he piloted Abzan Aggro to finish at 10-6, receiving enough Pro Points to lock him up for Gold. Just like that, he found himself qualified for the next six Pro Tours, worthy to be called a Pro for the first time in his young career.
Playing with the Big Boys Now
Currently sitting at 39 Points, he is the frontrunner to become the Brazilian National Champion. However, I do not envy the competition he is facing. Racing against Willy Edel (37 Pro Points) and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (35 Pro Points), two of the greatest players in the world, he confesses that it is a little intimidating.
"It looks like everything will boil down to Grand Prix São Paulo, Grand Prix Buenos Aires and also Pro Tour Vancouver. These three events would be extremely important for us all. Not only was the National Champion title at stake, the spot at the World Championships was too."
"If I can reach Platinum, I will consider flying to more Grand Prix. The USD$250 appearance fee does help a lot. Otherwise, I will be happy to just play in all the Latin American Grand Prix and attend all the four Pro Tours in the next season, and perhaps play the Grand Prix before and after the Pro Tours."
However, he humbly professes to be really bad on the Grand Prix Circuit. He's played in 5 Grand Prix this year and only received Pro Points for one event. This mean that he is far from utilizing his "6 Grand Prix Point Cap".
He has also yet to achieve a Grand Prix Top 8 yet.
"I hope it can be this weekend at Grand Prix São Paulo. It will be a super special moment for me, to achieve my first Grand Prix Top 8 while locking up Platinum!"