After the first thirteen rounds of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, the ever-changing nebulous cloud of the race for Standard Master finally took shape. What began as a tie between Luxembourg's Steve Hatto and Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion Canadian Shaun McLaren turned into an all-out scrum, but an unlikely Argentine had emerged as the new frontrunner.
Argentina's Sebastian Pozzo already came into this weekend as one of the first two countrymen to clinch Gold in Pro Club status. He and Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Top 8ing teammate Luis Salvatto showed up with a Platinum shimmer in their eye, and Pozzo might just do one better. He could not only become the country's first Platinum pro, but the continent's first Standard Master and the first Argentine at the World Championship! Oh, and he could still Top 8 this Pro Tour to boot, which would be his first ever.
After Round 13, Pozzo sat five points ahead of five-time Pro Tour Top 8er, Hong Kong native (11) Lee Shi Tian, and six points ahead of former frontrunner McLaren. Below them were a clump of players whose chances had just gone out the window with Pozzo's win over Takuma Morofuji in a Ramunap Red mirror match for the ages.
Pozzo had solidified his lead that round not only by winning, but also thanks to his Ligamagic teammate Marcos Paulo de Jesus Freitas beating McLaren. Freitas had told Pozzo at lunch that he was going to beat McLaren, even though it was unlikely to be paired against him, but the Brazilian made good on his promise, which edged Pozzo further into the lead.
Round 14 saw Pozzo make his first Constructed misstep, taking a loss to ninth-ranked Seth Manfield. Though McLaren was unable to capitalize because he lost to Ivan Floch, Lee took the reigns and beat up Max McVety to edge within two points of Pozzo.
With only two rounds left, unless both Pozzo and Lee went 0-2, McLaren was out, and Pozzo would need two wins in a row to guarantee victory. Because Lee would win in the event of a tie (Lee has more Pro Points), even taking a draw was not safe for Pozzo. That was, of course, unless Lee just loses and Pozzo just wins.
In Round 15, Lee faced down Ari Lax, and thanks to Lax's characteristic bombast, it was easy to tell who was leading at any point in their match. Pozzo was across the feature area against Dmitriy Bukatov.
Pozzo's Ramunap Red might not have been favored against Blue-Red Control, but if it wasn't, it sure felt like it was. Pozzo kept Bukatov on the back foot the entire time, keeping command of the red zone with tiny red creatures and an artifact or two.
The highlight of the thrashing was undoubtedly Pozzo's destined-for-fame Bomat Courier, which, after attacking seven times, became a windfall for Pozzo, sacrificing itself for an entire opening hand's worth of cards. Just look at all the cards under the little bro that could! And all for two mana. That's better than a Wheel of Fortune!
The little Courier that could.
Pozzo gorged through the round with a dessert of Deserts, and then all eyes moved to the match between Lee and Lax. On Mono-Black Zombies, Lee would have to weather Lax's fast Black-Green assault if he wanted to amass enough undead creatures to overwhelm the American. If Lee lost, that would be it.
Though Lee forced a rubber game, a couple early Verdurous Gearhulks in Game 3 from Lax proved too much.
When the match concluded, there was raucous applause, but Lax's teammates' cheers were subsumed entirely by the roar of the DEX Army team of South America, Mexico, Portugal, and Spain, because Sebastian Pozzo had just locked Standard Master.
The look of simultaneous joy and relief on Pozzo's face was palpable. He was a man who refused to talk about the race all weekend unless he was forced to. He had been tightly wound, and in that moment, the springs inside him sprung.
Pozzo was flanked by his cheering friends once the race was over.
The first thing Pozzo did after sitting down to talk with me was collapse into his own arms.
With his head now nestled comfortably in the crook of his elbow, he said, "Now at least there is much less pressure on the next round." Pozzo had completed one journey, but still needed another match to make Platinum, and become the first Argentine to accomplish such a feat.
"It will be tough, but if you told me last week that I would be here now, I wouldn't believe it, so I'm feeling pretty good."
When I asked about the World Championship, it still seemed so surreal to him and out of his reach he joked, "I don't even know what that is!" But his joked revealed some truth.
After a good laugh Pozzo said, "But honestly, I am worried I might feel a little out of place. I don't have a Pro Tour Top 8, and there will be 50,000 in that room." He paused. "I wonder if I deserve it. I, you know, just played aggro every Pro Tour," he laughed a slightly nervous laugh.
But as he sat contemplating his last statement, the realization began setting in. Of course he deserves it. This is what he set out to do, and he did it. No one else in the world has a better Constructed record at the Pro Tour. He has rightly earned his place there. Someone who two years ago, few people outside the country even knew his name.
He gave a knowing look and said, "I guess it's one more trip for the Traveling Argentine, right?"
"Do you know about astrology?" He asked. "I am a Libra, and when I was younger, I was very attached to it. Being a Libra is all about balance, and I tried hard to be balanced. I studied some; I worked some; I played some Magic because I liked it. For some people, balance comes easy, but I always had to work at it."
Pozzo continued that after a disappointing few years dabbling in tournament Magic, he made the conscious decision to tip his scales, and unbalance them in favor of Magic. "I sacrificed some things in the last few years to do it. I think now that it was worth it." Though Pozzo is proud as a countryman, he's also proud as a just a man.
Sebastian Pozzo, 2016-17 Standard Master
"Right now," he said contented, "I'm super happy about me, really. I've played a lot more Magic, I'm glad that all this has paid off."