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Day 1 Coverage of Grand Prix Santiago

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The letter M!ore than 700 players, nine rounds, and more deck archetypes than you can fit in a 1,000 count box, and just one man stands alone at 9-0 after Day 1 of Grand Prix Santiago.

Miguel Angel Romero Caro and his blazingly fast Mono Red deck—a deck No. 7 ranked Willy Edel said was the right deck for the weekend—managed to burn his way through the field at a speed that would put Chandra's Phoenix to shame. In fact, Mono Red aggro might just be the deck of Day 1, putting a number of players through to the second day, including the aforementioned Edel.

Four players did reach Day 2 at 8-0-1, even if their records aren't as pristine as Caro's. Michael Parraga, Cristian Valdivia, Gustavo Iannizzotto and Luis Gutierrez found themselves just behind Caro, but looking down on everyone else. Chilean National Champion Felipe Tapia Becerra and Victor Fernando Silva are among the 20 or so players at 8-1 looking to make a run, and Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is still in it at 7-2.

By and large, players have reached these plateaus ignoring multiple colors, as Devotion and basic lands have been in vogue all day long. Mono Blue Devotion and Mono Black Devotion are getting much of the (deserved) attention, but Mono Red Aggro and various Green Devotion decks are making waves—though not Master of Waves—as well.

Come back tomorrow as 94 players clamor for the crown over six rounds and a Top 8, all looking to claim the title of Champion of Grand Prix Santiago.











 

  • Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – The Evolution of Standard

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The first weeks of a new, post-rotation Standard can evolve quickly. One week's best deck is the next week's also ran, and the previous week's breakout deck or curiosity can be this week's best. The trick is figuring out the trend and riding the right wave at the right time.

    Standard since Theros has experienced similar ebbs and flows. Control was up, then down, then up again. The Pro Tour brought new strategies and highlighted new cards, and the weeks after cemented the place of several decks in the metagame.

    So to catch you up on Standard, we're going to take a trip through the metagame, from week one until today.

    Pre-Pro Tour Theros

    Prior to Pro Tour Theros, the set had a few weeks of legality for new cards and the new environment to shine. Most players who attended the Pro Tour played things pretty close to the vest and kept their most promising brews out of the spotlight, but the early weeks taught us a few things.

    The StarCity Games Open in Worchester, Mass., provided the first glimpse of the format, and also looked like a lot of players were holding over from the previous block format. Esper Control put three players in the Top 8—headlined by block all-stars Jace, Architect of Thought, Supreme Verdict, and Sphinx's Revelation—and UW Control finished second. Beyond that, a variety of Red and Green aggressive decks rounded out the metagame.


    Until the very next week, at least, when Esper specifically and control generally went AWOL. Aggressive decks and midrange monsters dominated the Opens in Cleveland and Milwaukee, with very few control decks emerging from the pack.

    GW Aggro, the starting point for many after Craig Wescoe's win at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, was among the decks putting up results, including a win in Cleveland, while Red and Red/White aggressive decks were almost always found among the top tables. Junk, GR Monsters, and BW or BWR Midrange decks.

    So in the short run-up to the Pro Tour, it looked like multi-colored aggressive and midrange decks were most popular, with Esper and control decks generally fading.

    Then the Pro Tour happened.

    Pro Tour Theros

    All of the results before the Pro Tour? You can basically throw them out. Esper Control was the only holdover to really make a splash in Dublin, and even then it was mostly in the hands of the best control players in the world, including Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Christian Calcano.

    The real stars of the Pro Tour were mono-colored devotion decks of every color except Heliod's white cohort. Mono Blue Devotion won the whole thing and was part of a mirror match in the finals, Mono Green Devotion showed us the true power of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Mono Red Devotion made Purphoros a force to be reckoned with, and Mono Black Devotion brought Pack Rat to Standard.


    Past the decks devoted to Thassa, Nylea, Purphoros, and Erebos, an Orzhov midrange deck also performed admirably, giving Paul Rietzl another Top 8 and placing Patrick Chapin within striking distance of one as well.

    Theros had officially made its presence and power known in Standard, particularly the devotion mechanic. The next few weeks would follow suit.

    Post Pro Tour

    We didn't have to wait long for more Standard play, as Grand Prix Louisville came the week after the Pro Tour and gave us two new evolutions in the format.

    First, Mono Black Devotion and, yes, Pack Rat, made their way into everyone's hearts and minds after three players playing nearly identical lists made the Top 8, including Brian Braun-Duin winning the whole thing. Though it had put a copy in the Top 8, Mono Black devotion had been pushed to the back behind the more dominant Mono Blue and more explosive Mono Green at the Pro Tour. That script was flipped in Louisville as Mono Black stole the spotlight.


    But the Green and Blue devotion decks continued to put up numbers, while Mono Red mostly fell off the map.

    But behind Mono Black's ascension to the throne was Esper Control's re-emergence. A number of top players—including Reid Duke and Hall of Famer William Jensen—did well with the control deck, placing two in the Top 8 and several more among the Top 16.

    Esper Control continued to do well at the Starcity Games Invitational despite a lackluster matchup against Mono Black, as did Mono Blue devotion. However, new offshoots began to emerge. The Black Devotion decks started splashing Green in some cases for Abrupt Decay and several sideboard cards in order to shore up the mirror. Blue devotion decks started hybridizing with UW Control decks to get their devotion from permanents like Jace, Architect of Thought and Detentions Sphere rather than Frostburn Weirds and Judge's Familiars.

    Today

    Where does that leave us for GP Santiago? Devotion across nearly the entire spectrum is still a force to be reckoned with, and Esper Control seems to have cemented its place in the metagame while aggressive Red decks are having a hard time dealing with Master of Waves. GW Aggro, one of the early season's darlings, is relatively absent, while midrange non-devotion decks are feeling the squeeze from both sides.

    Will all of this hold true in Santiago? Will something new break out, or will yet another shift in the metagame crown a new "best deck." Stay tuned to find out...




     

  • Saturday, 10:30 a.m. – Variety in the Early Rounds

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Even with Standard's card pool at its post-rotation smallest, there is still a wide variety of decks being played in the format. GP Santiago is no exception, as a quick walk around the floor in round one revealed nearly a dozen different decks being played—plus the odd brew or two.


    Black Devotion vs. Black-Green Devotion

    Mono Black is the current kind of Standard, thanks to its performance at Grand Prix Louisville, but players are starting to branch out with the deck. Here we see Black Devotion Classic against Black-Green Devotion's new hotness. Abrupt Decay supposedly gives an edge in the mirror by destroying Underworld Connections, but when I walked by, Black Devotion Classic was having his way with the board, despite a Reaper of the Wilds.


    Black-White vs. Maze's End

    Orzhov Midrange, ala Patrick Chapin and Paul Reitzl at Pro Tour Theros, has mostly faded since Dublin, but several players are trying to keep it alive this weekend. Standing in this particular Orzhov mage's way is...Maze's End? The standout from Pro Tour Dragon's Maze hasn't made much impact on new Standard, but maybe this is the weekend it finally breaks out.

    Maybe.


    Esper vs. Mono Red

    Truthfully, Maze's End's spot in the metagame is pretty well occupied by Esper Control, a deck which has been putting up solid results almost since the start of the format. However, it has a pretty rough matchup versus Mono Red, a deck that has become increasingly rare in recent weeks...


    Mono Blue vs. Mono Red

    ...because of a certain Master of Waves. Mono Red has very few ways to match or overpower the Mythic Merfolk, and Mono Blue's rise has been one of the reasons Mono Red has taken a back seat recently.


    Green-White vs. Mono Blue

    It's also a big reason why Green White Aggro decks are having a hard time. Main deck Tidebinder Mages are just a bit too much hate for GW to really get a foothold in the metagame. That doesn't mean GW won't be played by many players this weekend. The spirit of Craig Wescoe always prevails.


    Just to show that Heliod is getting some love, even if it's not as much as the other Gods. Granted, it's sitting in the exile zone thanks to Lifebane Zombie, but, still. Someone is showing the Sun God some devotion.


    Junk vs. Esper

    Yeah, yeah, Esper again, but check out the lands on the other side of the table. Junk hasn't been particularly popular, but the deck offers a number of powerful options in the current metagame. Brian Braun-Duin thought enough of the archetype to take it to the Pro Tour a week before his Grand Prix win (albeit with a different deck), so there could be something there.


    Mono White vs. Red-Green Aggro

    Lest you think every match either involves Black or Blue cards, we spotted several Mono White decks making the rounds against various flavors of Red/Green decks, including this aggressive, non-Devotion version. Sometimes, people just want to attack.


    Red-Green Devotion vs. Blue-White Control

    And, of course, the biggest, splashiest deck in the format, Green-Red Devotion, is easy to spot. Here, it takes on UW Control, demonstrating that Esper isn't the only option when it comes to keeping the board as clear as possible.




     

  • Saturday, 11:30 a.m. – Remembering Luchon

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Though everyone in Chile is beyond excited for the first Grand Prix in Chile in two years, the tournament began on a somber note. Yesterday morning, local player and Grand Prix Trial grinder, Luis "Luchon" Ancamil died of heart complications. A member of Team Loss in Santiago, he had been a mainstay in the Chilean Magic community for years. After the players sat down before the first round, the tournament organizer Jorge Peñailillo held a moment of silence while a collection of pictures of Ancamil showed on the hall projectors. When the slideshow ended, the silence was broken by the entire room erupting in applause. For many people here, this Grand Prix is dedicated to Luchon ("Big Luis").


    Provided by Jorge Peñailillo of La Forja de Stone

    So hard is his passing that some of Ancamil's closest friends are missing the event, the biggest Magic event in Chile for years, because of it. However, I was able to talk to Team Loss teammates, Juan Veliz and Cristian Stone about the late Ancamil and what he meant to the community. Though they immediately told me that Max would be the best person to talk to, playing today was too difficult for him and declined to attend. But both Stone and Veliz were eager to extol Ancamil's impact on the Chilean Magic scene.


    Provided by Jorge Peñailillo of La Forja de Stone

    "He knew everybody from across Chile," Veliz said, adding Ancamil learned about all the stores and local players at each while traveling all over Chile and Brazil, hitting up every Grand Prix Trial he could. When Veliz said "all over" he meant all over. Chile is a very long country (about 2,700 miles long, while often less than 100 miles wide), and Ancamil and his team would get on eight-hour-long bus trips to play in another local game store for a Grand Prix Trial. "And he would always seem to win them. Every Grand Prix he attended, he had tons of byes somehow," Stone remembered.

    Speaking further on his competitive exploits, Veliz said that at Grand Prix Rio de Janeiro this year, the local Brazilian coverage featured he and Ancamil in Round 7. He wasn't proud to admit, but he did: "Yeah, he beat me." But Veliz went on to finish in the Top 25, so he shouldn't feel too bad.


    Provided by Jorge Peñailillo of La Forja de Stone

    A player for fifteen years, competitively for five, Ancamil had a large, jovial personality that preceded him wherever he went, traveling across South America playing the game he loved. Stone was quite explicit that Ancamil's personality went well "beyond Magic." Though much of our conversation was spent talking about Ancamil's exploits inside the game, both Stone and Veliz emphasized that his big smile and friendly demeanor extended outside the cardboard. "We went to movies and soccer matches," and he was always a friendly presence in whatever group he was with.


    Provided by Jorge Peñailillo of La Forja de Stone

    Grand Prix Santiago is the largest Magic event to come to Chile in years. It's a weekend to showcase how the community here is growing and thriving; it's a weekend to fiercely compete, pick a winner and show how the Standard format is evolving; but for many in the Chilean Magic community, it's a weekend for Luchon. Not just anyone gets a Grand Prix dedicated to him. Though the event is a solemn reminder of Ancamil's untimely passing, the loud clapping and cheering when the moment of silence ended shows that this weekend is also a celebration of the game that Luchon loved, the community he helped to build, and friends he made along the way.




     

  • Round 4 Feature Match - Jose Francisco D Silva vs. Tomas Weibel

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Jose Francisco D Silva is certainly one of the players to keep an eye on this weekend, as he's managed to Top 8 the last two South American Grand Prix, including a win just last spring in Rio de Janiero. Rio just happened to be a Standard GP as well, meaning Silva could, with a strong performance this weekend, make it back-to-back Standard GP Top 8s.

    And he was certainly playing an interesting deck capable of doing so. Hybridizing Mono Blue devotion with Black Blue control, Silva was perfectly capable of keeping the permanent count of devotion decks down while his own devotion propelled his Master of Waves to victory. And with a field that was heavy on devotion, it looked like his decision could pay off.

    His opponent, Tomas Weibel, is a Santaigo local playing in his first GP and, despite having no byes, has started his admirably at 3-0 with Green Red Devotion. His explosive Nykthos draws were certainly capable of putting anyone under the bus quickly, but Silva had chosen his deck specifically to attack a devotion-heavy metagame. If Weibel wasn't able to come out strong, it's certainly possible Silva could be the first to show him what the losing side of a Grand Prix match feels like.

    Game 1

    Both kept their openers with Weibel starting with a key Elvish Mystic, hoping to get his more powerful cards online early. Silva, though, had other plans.


    Jose Francisco D Silva's game plan against RG Devotion was pretty much to kill all of the things. In the first game, it worked pretty well...

    He Thoughtseized away Nylea, God of the Hunt, killed a few creatures including a Polukranos, World Eater, and then followed it all up with a Nightveil Specter and Master of Waves. Weibel ran out of gas pretty quickly, and he could only sigh as he drew unexciting card after unexciting card.

    When Garruk, Caller of Beasts met Dissolve, Weibel's first action since Polukranos, he was quick to move onto the next game.

    Game 2

    Weibel chuckled as Silva got on the board early with a Pack Rat, a decidedly unexpected card out of a Master of Waves deck. But Weibel would have the last laugh in the second game, as it was pretty much the loneliest Pack Rat ever.


    ...in the second, however, none of the things died as Tomas Weibel's Mistcutter Hydra's did all the dirty work.

    Silva had kept a land-light hand and never hit his third land, meaning his Rat could never multiply. Facing down only token resistance—though no actual tokens—Weibel didn't have to work too hard to win the game. A pair of Miscutter Hydras did plenty of heavy lifting—and heavy hitting on Silva's life total—to send the match to a third decisive game.

    Game 3

    For the final game, both player's decks started out humming. Silva had a Nightveil Specter and removal while Weibel got things started with some early mana creatures, Polukranos and a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. The rookie seemed to be just a turn away from completely blowing Silva out of the water.

    But he never quite got that one turn. Silva smote the hydra with Hero's Downfall as it attempted to go Monstrous, and a second legendary Hydra fell pretty to Essence Scatter. When the dust settled, it was just a few mana creatures against Nightveil Specter.

    After that, Weibel was once again on air, as Silva's Thoughtseize soon revealed just a pair of Forests. Another Garruk met another Dissolve and Nightveil Specter piled up a number of uncastable cards from the top of Weibel's library. But the fact that they stuck around for that long pinned under the 2/3 flier was pretty bad news for the Green-Red Player.


    Nightveil Specter stayed in play for quite a few turns, but never turned up anything useful for Silva—not that it mattered.

    Weibel, for his part, was clearly enjoying his first trip to the feature match area. Stuck drawing the wrong half of his deck, Weibel made noises like he was casting some dangerous bomb...but only laid down Voyaging Satyr and land.

    A few more sarcastic noises and a few attacks from some Elementals via Master of Waves were enough to push Silva to 4-0 and Weibel to his first loss.

    Silva 2 – Weibel 1




     

  • Saturday, 1:30 p.m. – Jose Francisco D Silva, South American GP Master

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • "So are you like, a pro player?" asked Tomas Weibel as he sat down against Jose Francisco D Silva in their round four feature match. Weibel was in his first Grand Prix, so he knew he wasn't the main attraction in the feature match area.


    Jose Francisco D Silva has made the Top 8 of the last two South American Grand Prix.

    Silva laughed. "Not exactly. But I've done well in some Grand Prix."

    "Some" Grand Prix being a pair of Top 8 finishes at the previous two South American Grand Prix, "just" running the back-to-backs in his home country of Brazil. He even won Grand Prix Rio de Janiero last spring. That Grand Prix, like Santiago this weekend, was also Standard.

    So why the humility?

    Silva, despite his repeat successes at Rio and Sao Paolo, crashed and burned at the Pro Tour after starting 6-2. Playing Red agro splashing white, Silva started strong before dropping five straight matches.

    "The deck was terrible. I knew it was terrible, but it was all I had."

    But Silva knew he had a Standard Grand Prix in South America to prepare for, and a title to defend. He started playing with all of the expected Tier 1 decks, primarily Mono Blue, Mono Black and Esper Control. He found each of them had weaknesses that soured him on the decks.

    It was his friend and World Magic Cup participant Juliano Souza who found the deck they were looking for.

    Bending and modifying Shota Yasooka's Black-Blue deck from Pro Tour Theros, Souza started winning with the hybrid Devotion/Control deck almost immediately. Gone were expensive spells like Opportunity, in were new Standard-defining spells like Pack Rat. Placing Pack Rat next to Master of Waves has certainly turned a few heads.


    Together at last.

    "They're not exactly sure what I'm playing," Silva said.

    However, he cautions, the deck isn't set to be a defining trump to everything in the metagame. He said it has a positive, though not dominating, match against pretty much everything.

    "Mono Blue is ok, Esper is ok, Black depends on their Underworld Connections. If they have it, it can be not so good. If they don't, it's ok."

    Silva also felt the need to change up his sideboard in anticipation of a metagame shift in the days leading up to the tournament. When word got out that a number of top players were choosing to play Esper—and some of the best have brought the controlling deck—a number of other top players switched to Mono Red. That, in turn, led Silva to look to pad his aggressive red matchup with Sensory Deprivations—Sensory Deprivations that he barely was able to find on time.


    When asked if Silva felt any pressure to defend his South American Grand Prix streak, he was equally as humble as his first interaction with Weibel.

    "I don't really feel pressure," he said. "Even if I fail here, I already did great at the other ones. I just hope a Brazilian wins, since the last Santiago GP was won by a Brazilian."

    Silva said, if not himself, he thinks Pedro Carvalho had the best shot at winning, though he believed Juliano Sauza also had the chops to take it down.

    In other words, he believes in Master of Waves and Pack Rat, living side-by-side, taking down opponents five tokens (or more) at a time.




     

  • Round 5 Feature Match -
    Agustin Hessel (RG Midrange) vs. Rodrigo Lopez (Mono-Black Devotion)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Rodrigo Lopez, veteran of the World Magic Cup has been touted as the best Chilean limited player, although he thinks that's wrong. He feels people don't give enough credit to Daniel Sanchez, also in attendance today, though he saves a little pride for himself and says they are probably tied. Lopez was running the Mono-Black Devotion deck, inarguably one of the pillars of this Standard format at the moment. He was 4-0 so far, but he was about to run up against another 4-0, the Argentine Agustin Hessel.

    Agustin Hessel is using the RG Midrange beatdown machine. The Argentine, who started playing in 2009, was excited to travel less than 5,000 miles to play a Grand Prix. He said the Argentine scene is growing rapidly, and the amount of Grand Prix in the coming years will get the scene become even more energized. "We need to make sure people are going to the Grand Prix and playing. Playing at the Grand Prix is just good." It's that simple.

    Hessel is playing the hits in his deck: Polukranos, World Eater, Domri Rade, Boon Satyr and even some Deadbridge Goliath to help power through Mono-Black's constant creature kill. However, this matchup is all about the sideboard bullets. Lopez has Lifebane Zombie and Hessel has Witchstalker. Both are insanely powerful once resolved. Either spell can dominate a board if given the opportunity.


    Agustin Hessel

    Both players are jovial and chatted back and forth while shuffling. Sometimes they talked about the speed and dialect of the various South American countries, and sometimes well, variations of South American insults. There are a lot of variations, apparently.

    Game One started out about optimally for both players. Hessel had Sylvan Caryatid into Polukranos, World Eater. While Lopez cast Underworld Connections and then an Ultimate Price to whisk away the Polukranos and draw a card. This first game would be defined by how many removal spells—combinations of Doom Blade, Hero's Downfall, and other killers—Mono-Black could draw, and at what moments. If an early Desecration Demon appeared, providing a formidable clock, Lopez would need fewer removal spells. Otherwise, he would need some more, and would likely have to rely on Underworld Connections to dig for them.

    Hessel continued his plan, laying must-answer threat after must-answer threat, until Lopez could no longer answer them. Deadbridge Goliath and Domri Rade both fell victim to removal, but a Boon Satyr which was immediately pumped via the Goliath took 9 points from Lopez, who was already bleeding himself with the Underworld Connections. Another removal spell took out the dead-bug-pumped Satyr, but Lopez had to start using Gray Merchant of Asphodel just to go back into a double-digit life total. And this was the first life Hessel lost.

    Hessel played his fifth-best threat, the Ghor-Clan Rampager (usually much better to use mid-combat). But if Lopez couldn't answer it, the Beast would kill him as good as any of the bigger, better beaters. And boy buddy, did that Beast beat Lopez.

    Flesh // Blood came out from Hessel, and it hurt real bad. A Polukranos was exiled, and the Ghor-Clan Rampager, aided by the Fuse spell, dealt more than enough to take out Lopez in short order. Just like that, game one went to the beatdown machine.

    Lopez immediately threw into his deck Lifebane Zombies from his sideboard. These are killer in the matchup and could help to bring the score back even. But Hessel would be bringing in his own hateful card, the Witchstalker. Both these three drops could give the other deck fits if they land, though both could negate the other. In the post-sideboarded games, both cards played important roles.


    Rodrigo Lopez

    The second game gave Lopez a turn-two Pack Rat, but no third untapped land to activate it, nor to cast the Lifebane Zombie in his hand. And a third-turn Witchstalker meant that Lopez's late Zombie would be ineffective against it. Although it still had some juicy targets.

    Xenagos, the Reveler, two Boon Satyr, and Polukranos were all options for the Zombie. Lopez removed one of the Boon Satyrs, then went on the aggressive tack. He added a Nightveil Specter before hitting with the Zombie and passed to Hessel.

    The pivotal turn was when Hessel got the turn back after adding the Polukranos to the field. He feared the Pack Rat, and thought that if Lopez untapped and killed his Polukranos, the Rat would simply take over the game. So Hessel used monstrosity with X at one, targeting the Zombie and the Rat. Lopez activated Mutavault to save the Rat (by making it a 2/2), and Hessel offered the trade by sending Polukranos with five damage on it into the red zone, hitting the 2/2 Rat head on. After the match, Hessel questioned his play, but he said, "If he had the kill spell for the Polukranos, the Pack Rat just wins it for him. I think it was a good trade."


    However, his board was only Witchstalker. Lopez was attacking with Nightveil Specter and was gaining life thanks to a Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The score was 8-19 in Lopez's favor.

    Hessel thought hard about how to come back, but his hand was ineffective. Neither the Boon Satyr nor the Xenagos would provide near enough damage to win a race if Lopez had another Gray Merchant. So he tried his best to stall. But the second Gray Merchant was already ready. when it reared its Merchant-y head, Hessel knew it was time to pack it in for the third game. It was one game apiece.

    In the last game, the Witchstalker came out even earlier than in Game Two. Perhaps this would be the trick for Hessel. A first-turn Elvish Mystic powered out the 3/3 who started smacking Lopez as soon as he could. Afterward, an unchallenged Domri Rade followed and when Lopez laid his third land, he was already facing an imposing field. The Chilean hunched closely to the board, as Hessel simple folded his hands on the table and kept his chin high. He knew his hand was good.

    The Argentine chose Polukranos to follow the next turn, and without quick answers, he would move to 5-0.

    Lopez laid a Desecration Demon, but the combination of Polukranos growing large, and Domri Rade instigating a fight wiped the Demon to the graveyard while allowing Lopez to 4. Hessel was at 14 himself.

    Witchstalker and a brand new Xenagos Satyr token threatened lethal the following turn. Lopez stabilized for a short time by blocking with Mutavault, then casting a Gray Merchant as another chump blocker. But there was more than power in Hessel's hand to make Domri Rade's fight ability a surefire winner. The Gray Merchant went to the graveyard, and soon Lopez's life total became 0.


    After the match-up Agustin Hessel told me that after the Domri Rade came down, he was pretty sure he had the game locked up. "I didn't even draw a single card off the card, but I still had enough options to choose from to win."

    Turn two Witchstalker into a Domri Rade seems pretty good indeed.

    Agustin Hessel advances to 5-0.




     

  • Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – Top Tables: Round 6

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Six rounds in and initial impressions seem to be correct. Devotion decks are everywhere, specifically of the Mono Black and Mono Blue variety. Esper is right there with them, and a variety of Red decks looking to punish Esper and Mono Black are nipping at their heels.

    Not coincidentally, our Top 32 currently mirrors the tournament as a whole. Mono Blue Devotion leads the pack with seven entrants, but the Pack (Rat) itself is right behind with five copies, alongside Esper Control.

    But a larger trend is emerging directly behind them: Red decks trying to kill you. Red Devotion, Mono Red Aggro, and RG Midrange might be distinct archetypes, but they're all looking to be a little bit faster, a little bit sleeker, and kill you a little bit deader than all of the Blue and Black decks.

    White is getting the least love, partaking in only a couple splashes in decks that have another color as their primary. For example, of the Red Devotion decks, two were splashing White for Chained to the Rocks and a few other sideboard cards. Just a single, solitary White agro deck—splashing Red—could be found among the Top 32.

    We'll revisit the Top Tables at the end of the day, but don't be surprised to see the same patterns emerge: this tournament is being beaten Black and Blue.

    Mono Blue Devotion 7
    Mono Black Devotion 5
    Esper Control 5
    Red Devotion 3
    Mono Red Aggro 3
    RG Midrange 2
    Naya Aggro 1
    WG Aggro 1
    Naya Control 1
    BW Midrange 1
    Mono Black Aggro 1
    GR Devotion 1
    WR Aggro 1



     

  • Round 7 Feature Match - (7) Willy Edel vs. Pedro Carvalho

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • It felt a little early for these two pros to get paired, just seven rounds into the tournament. Pedro Carvalho is a consummate pro and Magic Online player with a Pro Tour Top 8 under his belt and was already picked by Jose Francisco D Silva as the favorite to win on the weekend. No. 7 ranked Willy Edel, on the other side of the table, has had an incredible year and has consistently put up results since rededicating himself to the game.

    In fact, Edel has been so strong, I've consistently looked for him as a barometer of the metagame. When Willy does well, it usually means the metagame is pretty set and predictable. Edel is excellent at exploiting known metagames for an edge, and his rise to No. 7 in the Top 25 rankings is evidence of that.

    However, he certainly lacked an edge in this matchup. Carvalho's Mono Blue Devotion deck was one of the few archetypes Edel felt his super-fast Mono Red was disadvantaged against. A combination of both Tidebinder Mage and Master of Waves, not to mention Jace, Architect of Thought, let Carvalho slam the brakes on Edel's pedal-to-the-metal aggression.

    Even more problematic was the fact that both players were fresh off losses and another loss here would put their back against the wall for the final two rounds. Heading into Round 8 at X-1 meant you had a loss to spare and still make Day 2. Going in at X-2, however, left almost no room for error.

    Game 1

    Carvalho got to work early on Edel, with a perfect 1-2-Thassa curve and the Tidebinder Mage to pause Edel's early aggression. It was, short possibly a Frostburn Weird, pretty close to Carvalho's ideal start against Mono Red.

    But Edel's deck was fast and unforgiving, and a Chandra's Phoenix forced Carvalho to trade his Tidebinder Mage for a Firefist Striker lest he fall behind. Carvalho lost several more creatures over the next few turns to try and stem the tide.

    It wasn't a creature that turned the game to Carvhalho's favor, however. Instead, he had to call on some assistance from a certain ubiquitous Planeswalker to turn the game around.


    Considered one of the most talented Brazilians playing today, Pedro Carvalho would have to go through Brazil's top pro Willy Edel to stay on track this weekend.

    Jace, Architect of Thought virtually cut Edel's attack in half and helped turn on devotion. The game suddenly had become something of a stalemate, as Edel was out of gas, and his army of 2/2s became incredibly ineffective in the face of Jace and blockers.

    Stalled as he was, there was little Edel could do to stop Thassa from unblockably attacking for several turns. Edel was able to turn off Devotion for about two seconds with a shock on Nightveil Specter after blocks, but enough mana symbols off the top of Carvalho's deck (it happened to be a Bident of Thassa, but it might as well have been blank) let him swing in for the win.

    Game 2

    This one was brutal.

    On his second turn, Edel threw most of his hand on the table, curving Rackdos Cackler into two Burning Tree Emissaries and a Gore-House Chainwalker, following up with Chandra's Phoenix for the full-on whammies.

    Carvalho, eyes bulging slightly at the sight across the table, tried to stem the tide with a pair of Frostburn Weirds and a Master of Waves for five tokens, some of his best cards in the mirror.

    It was almost enough. Almost.

    Lightning Strike you to three, throw down a second Chandra's Phoenix to fly over for the win. Move on to game three and thanks for playing.

    Game 3

    Carvalho, importantly on the play for the final game of the match, took the first mulligan of the round. Despite the presence of both Tidebinder Mage and Master of Waves in hand, Carvalho knew the single land in his grip would likely spell doom against Edel's ultra-fast deck, super consistent deck.

    His second hand wasn't much better, with just a Cloudfin Raptor and Jace for non-land spells, but it was better than going to five. Drawing a Tidebinder Mage immediately improved his hand, and a second a few turns later once again kept the battlefield under control.

    Edel's start, however, wasn't nearly as fast this time around and he struggeled to get Carvalho's life total dropping fast enough to really pressure him. Despite two lightning fast game ones, the two players had reached something of a standstill by what counted as the midgame—turn four.

    That, fortunately for Carvalho, favored the player with the Jace. Or, at least it normally does. Carvalho, not worried about blocking for the moment, chose to minus Jace rather than protecting himself in order to find some action. All he got, however, was a Cloudfin Raptor that could do little more than chump block.


    This is what Willy Edel looks like when he's winning. Or when he's losing. I imagine he probably looks like this on a rollercoaster too.

    That gave Edel an opening. Attacking with the three creatures eligible to do so, Edel forced Carvalho to pause, consider, and then reconsider his blocks. Rubblebelt Maaka kept Firefist Striker alive through the attack and helped unlock one of the creatures under Tidebinder Mage. Suddenly, Edel was very much in the driver's seat.

    With only lands coming to the top of his deck, Carvalho was unable to keep control of the board, and a pair of Firefist Strikers kept Carvalho's best blockers on the sideline where they couldn't do anything to stop the onslaught of small red creatures.

    "I definitely don't think the matchup is in my favor," Edel said. "But if I have creatures on turns one, two and three, I can win."

    He went on to say that, while Master of Waves and Tidebinder Mage were certainly bad for him, his low curve and aggressive starts could often outclass non-Tidebinder and non-Frostburn Weird starts for the Blue devotion deck.

    With a slightly unfavorable matchup against one of the most popular deck, I had to wonder why Edel was playing the deck.

    "I was trying to play some kind of Mono Black Devotion, I tried splashing Green, and it was good. But I kept losing to Mono Blue and Mono Black. I didn't want to play mirror all weekend. Red is well positioned: it beats midrange without lifegain, Mono Black, and the Mihara deck [GR Devotion]."

    Edel said he was also an underdog against the Green White aggressive decks, but said no one plays that deck.

    "I think the deck has to be fast," Edel said. "My curve stops at Chandra's Phoenix. I have no Fanatic of Mogis, no devotion. I play a lot more creatures and Burning-Tree Emissary. It's got to be fast."

    Edel 2 –Carvalho 1




     

  • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. – Top Tables: Round 8

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • I was originally going to wait until the final round of the day to do the Top Tables round-up again, to give the tournament room to breath, grow, and change. I didn't want to just repeat what I said in the Round 6 metagame report, that Blue and Black Devotion decks plus Esper Control were at the top. It would be dull and uninformative.

    Turns out I didn't have to wait long.

    As you can see, Mono Red Aggressive decks, much like the one played by Willy Edel have taken over the top spot. Blue and Black-based devotion decks are still near the top, but Esper specifically and control generally have taken big dips. Let's take a look at the chart:

    Mono Red Aggro 6
    Mono Blue Devotion 5
    Mono Black Devotion 3
    Green Red Devotion 3
    Green Blue Devotion 2
    Red White Aggro 2
    Mono White Aggro 2
    Green Red Midrange 2
    Red White Devotion 1
    Black Green Devotion 1
    UW Control 1
    UWR Control 1
    Esper 1
    Naya Aggro 1
    WG Aggro 1

    Basic lands are reigning supreme over all the land. Devotion and Mono Red are easily dominating the Top Tables in all forms and varieties. New entrant Green Blue Devotion eschews Red for powerful cards like Cyclonic Rift and Prime Speaker Zegana, but essentially run on the same engine as GR Devotion. In fact, we can probably break this down into some more inclusive macro-archetypes:

    Red-based Aggro 8
    Blue-based Devotion 5
    Black-based Devotion 4
    Green-based devotion 5
    Red-based Devotion 1
    UW-based Control 3
    Selsnya-based attack decks 2
    Gruul-based attack decks 2
    White-based attack decks 2

    Or how about this?

    Mono Colored 16
    Small Splash 9
    Two colors 4
    Three colors 3

    It seems the more hopelessly devoted you are to one color—whether you're using the actual Devotion mechanic or not—the more likely you are to remain among the top tables. Players have talked extensively about how difficult the mana in Standard can be, and this weekend, at least, the most stable mana bases seem to be winning out.




     

  • Round 8 Feature Match - Victor Fernando Silva vs. João Paulo Araujo

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Both these Brazilian players are sitting at 6-1. Victor Fernando Silva and João Paulo Araujo both hail from around São Paulo and traveled across the Andes to get here to Santiago, and have impressive records to show for it thus far.

    Silva has been becoming a name in the grinder scene. After qualifying for the World Magic Cup but was unable to attend due to visa issues, he trained hard on Magic Online, came back, and is perched as one of the next hopes of Brazil. He is playing the Esper deck knowing that the control deck allows you to outplay whoever is on the other side of the table if you have the skill set. And Silva's skill set is stellar.


    Victor Fernando Silva

    João Paulo Araujo is slightly more casual about Magic, if evident only by his jocular demeanor compared to the stoic Silva, but is no stranger to the scene. He finished Day Two in both Grand Prix Houston and Las Vegas, and is looking forward to being able to attend more Grand Prix events next year. He was playing Mono-Red Devotion with Fanatic of Mogis. A punishing deck that can top off the curve with a Burning Earth to really wreck Esper's day, Mono-Red's only flaw was its inconsistency. Its best draws were unbeatable; its bad ones unbearable.

    This matchup was going to be a fun and brutal one in one way or another. Mono-Red Devotion against Esper starts off fast and can sometimes end dreadfully slow. If it's the former, Mono-Red is happy, if it's the latter, not so much.

    In the first game, Araujo's start out the gates was slowed by an Azorius Charm—Esper's best early defense against the many two-power–one-mana dudes that Mono-Red could throw out. This opening roadblock was indicative of the entire first game.

    Silva went Azorius Charm, Dissolve, Azorius Charm, Hero's Downfall, then, into a basically open board, he cast a Sphinx's Revelation for three. The total was 20-19, technically in Araujo's favor—technically. But the life total was about all Araujo could say was going his way. But he kept on fighting as hard as he could. He laid Boros Reckoner after Boros Reckoner only to watch each one quickly vanish with spot or mass removal. He binned each one in succession, and grew a little grimmer each time.

    Silva was at 16 when he felt it safe enough to cast an Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Though Araujo was able to use two Lightning Strikes to kill it, for his troubles he received another Elspeth the following turn. Araujo didn't smack his forehead when the second one came down, but I could see it all the same.

    It was then Mono-Red started looking like a very sad deck indeed. Turn 8 Firefist Striker looks very different than on turn one, two or three. And Elspeth was basically making three Firefist Strikers every turn. For free. So Silva just started swinging for the fences. He brought in all his 1/1s, gladly sacrificing one a turn to a blocker to get the other damage through. It didn't take too long Araujo to see the writing on the wall.

    The second game was that other type I mentioned earlier. Mono-Red quickly got Silva down to 8 with a flurry of hasty dudes, and forced Silva to tap out for a Supreme Verdict. Though that three-for-one seemed to favor Silva, that allowed Araujo to resolve a Burning Earth, and all of Silva's lands were non-basic.

    Silva had to take two damage just to bin the Chandra's Phoenix Araujo cast the following turn. Now, with his opponent at 6 life with four non-basic land on the field, Araujo put the last nail in the coffin. He cast a second Burning Earth. Gross.


    João Paulo Araujo

    The game was elementary after that, and Araujo tied the series 1-1.

    In the first two games, the archetypes and the match-up played out like the Platonic ideal: Game one was fairly long with Esper Control dominating from turn two or three, after blunting the first wave of the red aggressors. While Game Two saw Mono-Red take full advantage of a mulligan from the control deck and explode on the board, doing enough initial damage to let a four-drop bat cleanup.

    Which way of play showed up in the rubber game? Well Araujo didn't have a first-turn play, then cast a second-turn Rakdos Cackler. That's usually a decent indicator. No Burning-Tree Shaman into an Ash Zealot or something awesome. Just tap one of the two Mountains to make a Rakdos Cackler. And for the third game in a row, Silva had an Azorius Charm ready for the already-fashionably-late Cackler.

    After that, Araujo tried to go over the top early. Hammer of Purphoros could threaten constant damage, if unanswered. He laid it turn three and if it lived, it would make every land a guy, and every guy a winner. But Silva had the Detention Sphere ready. Araujo still followed it up with the Cackler, Boros Reckoner, then a Fanatic of Mogis, dealing five damage to the face, but it wasn't as rosy as you might imagine.

    Blood Baron of Vizkopa from Silva was mitigating basically all the damage that Araujo's deck could dish out. Paired with some spot removal—a Doom Blade here, an Ultimate Price there, another Detention Sphere all around—and it was looking grim for Araujo.

    Araujo desperately started throwing damage at Silva's face, taking him from 17 to 14 to 12 to 10 to 8. He passed the turn with a Cackler and a Fanatic of Mogis on the field.

    It was here Silva had a choice. He could keep relying on the Blood Baron and risk dying to the creatures on the board, or he could lean into the Supreme Verdict lying in wait in his hand but lose his meal ticket on the board. This could make the difference in the game. Though Araujo was low on cards, Silva was only at 8. He could die to many combinations of cards from Araujo.

    Silva opted for the second plan; he swung with the Blood Baron. Araujo accepted Silva's trade offer of Blood Baron for Fanatic, and Silva then cast Sphinx's Revelation to gain 5. The life total was 12 to 13 in Silva's favor, and that lead wouldn't change throughout the remainder of the match—the Revelation had found another Blood Baron. And even though Araujo was able to kill the second one, it bought just enough time to find the third. Silva rode that third lifelinking 4/4 powerhouse across the finish line.

    Silva had to make a fairly risky choice—without the second win condition in his hand, letting the Blood Baron die then not draw anything off the Sphinx's Revelation could have cost him against a deck that could win at a moment's notice. But it was the right play, and it paid off.

    Victor Fernando Silva wins 2-1 over João Paulo Araujo moving to 7-1.




     

  • Round 9 Feature Match Round Up

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Coming into the last round, there were five players at 8-0 and a few players at 7-0-1. That left us with two matchups of 8-0 vs. 8-0, so we covered them both. Because we want you to be happy.

    Felipe Tapia Becerra vs. Miguel Angel Romero Caro

    The last time Santiago hosted a Grand Prix, a Brazilian hoisted the trophy. To this day, they remain quite proud of stealing that championship while defending their own turf for subsequent Grand Prix.

    But if anyone was going to defend their home turf, Chilean Felipe Tapia Becerra had as good a chance as anyone. He was their National Champion the previous year and was 8-0 on the day with Mono Black Devotion splashing Green. He was playing well and, nearly as important, was playing in his home country.

    Standing in his way was fellow undefeated player Miguel Angel Romero Caro. Caro had cut his way through the competition with Mono Red and was looking to punish Becerra's greedier mana base and end the match quickly before Gray Merchant or Whip of Erebos could get online.

    Game 1

    Becerra opened on Thoughtseize, seeing a plethora of virtually interchangeable burn, including two Shocks, Lightning Strike and Magma Jet, plus a Fanatic of Mogis Caro was a long way off playing. Still, Caro immediatlely started throwing the burn at Becerra's face.

    "It's ok, it's ok," Becerra said as the first damage came his way. His Black Green devotion deck was well-equipped to kill permanents, but less well equipped to deal with too much damage coming straight from the hand.


    Felipe Tapia Becerra might be Chile's best hope of keeping the trophy on home soil.

    It was even less well equipped to operate at three mana, which is where Becerra was stuck for several turns, using Hero's Downfall to stay alive long enough to land a Desecration Demon and start attacking.

    Unfortunately, Caro, for all of his promising start, ran out of gas before Becerra could drop a second Desecration Demon. He only got Becerra as low as 9 before a Gray Merchant pushed him high enough to withstand anything Caro could possibly draw.

    Game 2

    A pair of Ash Zealots and a Mizzium Mortars were good enough for Caro, even if his hand was slightly land heavy. Becerra, meanwhile, sent his first hand back immediately. He hesitated on his second hand, and a grip full of Shock and Scry lands revealed his plight. His development would be severely stunted by his mana base.

    Caro made him pay for it too, with Ash Zealot into Boros Reckoner into a second Ash Zealot. Hero's Downfall killed the Reckoner, but only at the cost of two life. Becerra tried to stop the bleeding with Nightveil Specter, but Mortars was more than ready to clear out any blockers. After that a Skullcrack and Lightning Strike dealt the final six damage.

    Game 3

    Caro leaned forward in his seat, ready to get the first game started, practically bouncing as he looked at his opening seven. A first turn Thoughtseize revealed why.

    Caro's hand was virtually perfect. Two lands, a pair of Burning-Tree Emissaries, Firefist Striker and an Ash Zealot. Absent Thoughtseize to break it up, Becerra might have been dead before his fourth turn.

    Even with it he was still under the gun. Thoughtseize took out one of the Emissaries, but the second one brought with it a Firefist Striker, and the pair were later joined by Ash Zealot. Still, Becerra started methodically taking out Caro's creatures bit-by-bit, removal spell by removal spell.

    It was a race to see who ran out first: Caro out of creatures or Becerra out of answers.

    In the end, Caro's threat-dense deck outlasted the removal spewing forth from Becerra's deck. Without a large creature to stem the bleeding, Becerra eventually ran out of answers and Caro simply ran him over to finish Day 1 at 9-0.

    Caro 2 – Becerra 1


    Miguel Angel Romero Caro ended Day 1 as the lone 9-0 player.

    Cristian Valdivia and Michael Parraga

    Sitting just to the side of Caro and Becerra were Cristian Valdivia and Michael Parraga. Valdivia was playing one of the tournament's most popular decks with Mono Blue Devotion, while Parraga was on the far less prevalent Naya Control deck pioneered by Brad Nelson in recent weeks.


    One of these players would end the day undefeated (Cristian Valdivia on the right, Michael Parraga on the left). The other one...well, read on.

    Game 1

    Assemble the Legion and Elspeth came too late in the first game, as Michael Parraga, already under the gun from some fast creatures, including a pair of Cloudfin Raptors that would eventually grow to 3/4, couldn't muster enough tokens to block Christian Valdivia's horde of Elemental tokens. Even with four tokens blocking his path, Valdiva was easily able to overrun Parraga's defenses to take an early lead in the match.

    The next game wouldn't be so fast.

    Game 2

    Luck wasn't with Valdivia in the second game, however, as a mulligan to five left him starting slowly.

    Let me rephrase that. Luck wasn't with Valdivia initially. However, she smiled sweetly on him as the game progressed.

    Valdivia actually started building a respectable board position with Thassa and Master of Waves, but Anger of the Gods and Xenagos let Parraga retain some semblance of control over the board. The two parried and poked at one another, but even Valdivia's mulligan didn't push him out of the game.

    At one point Valdivia and Parraga both appeared to forget Valdivia's Mutavault was a 3/3 thanks to Master of Waves, and Valdivia turned his Mutavault into a 3/3 Frog Lizard with Rapid Hybridization in order to block an incoming 2/2 Satyr token. After casting a second Master of Waves the next turn, Valdivia realized his mistake, laughing it off even as he attacked with his Frog Lizard.

    He was, however, punished for the mistake when Anger of the Gods once against cleared out the tokens—including the funny Frog Lizard.

    Tidebinder Mage turned on Thassa the next turn, but Selesnya Charm quickly dispatched the sea God to wherever it is Sea Gods go when they're bedeviled by the charms of the Selesnya conclave.

    Valdivia was in topdeck mode, but was making a fight of it, even after his mulligan. He continuously drew gas, even pulling what would have been a backbreaking Anger of the Gods off the top of Parraga's library with Nightveil Specter.

    That's the third Anger of the Gods, if you're playing along at home.

    Chanting for Master of Waves before his draw step, Valdivia was rewarded with the Mythic Merfolk just as Parraga was threatening lethal with Stormbreath Dragon. Nightveil Specter could block the Dragon long enough to allow Valdivia to swing for the win and a 9-0 record, but if you've already scrolled down to see how much text is left, you know that isn't how it ended.

    Instead, Parraga showed that wasn't without his own powers. Down to his last turn, facing lethal and needed to get his Stormbreath Dragon through for the final points, Parraga reached for his library, slipped the card up just enough to look at, and surveyed the table stoically.

    His "Team Peru" teammates behind him weren't nearly so stoic as the fourth Anger of the Gods was looking back at Parraga. Game three it was.

    Game 3

    With time winding down, Valdivia get aggressive early with a Mutavault and a Frog Lizard he created when Frostburn Weird was hit with a removal spell. Far from getting Devotion with Thassa, Valdivia started fighting through removal spells when time was called. He looked completely unable to deal enough damage to close out the match.

    Parraga, however, found himself close to dealing 20 with a Xenagos and Mistcutter Hydra leading the way. He got Valdivia as low as five, but was unable to close the deal before time ran out.

    After all of that, after an epic second game and a fascinatingly fast first game, both players ended the day undefeated...at 8-0-1.

    Valdivia 1 – Parraga 1




     

  • Saturday, 8:45 p.m. – South American Unity and Pride

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Anyone who has been paying attention to the Magic tournament scene in the last couple years will have noticed the more frequent Grand Prix events in Central America, Mexico, and South America. What was once a rare event is now becoming more commonplace. This trend likely won't be changing soon. With more high-profile events, allowing for more opportunities of high-level play, South America is experiencing more international competition, and has been stepping up their game. We are consistently seeing more Latin Americans near the top of the standings. Sure Brazilians Carlos Romao, Willy Edel and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa paved the way, but now it seems that South and Central Americans are consistently bubbling under the surface, ready to take their place in the Magic universe.

    The World Magic Cup is no doubt a large part of this. Allowing people to compete on the world stage in ways unimaginable before, the tournament has brought attention to places not often in the Magic limelight. Here at this tournament there are more than 15 World Magic Cup veterans from just this past year. Players like Luis Luks from Venezuela, or Daniel Verdesoto from Ecuador, or Vladimir Mayoral from Columbia. All these players have been able to make worldwide names as competitors in the World Magic Cup, and as often the case, this makes the whole community, as well as the competitors themselves, crave improvement in the game.

    Though very differing countries, one thing South Americans share, is pride in their country, in the continent, and in themselves. I interviewed many tournament goers to learn more about what makes these countries tick.

    First up was the home turf here in Santiago: Chile. I talked for a while with World Magic Cup competitor Rodrigo Lopez. First he talked about how great it was to compete at such a level. He said it was an incredibly nurturing experience, as the players are better than he had seen before (and you can't beat constant free drafts).


    Lopez during his feature match.

    He then talked about how at these Grand Prix events in South America it's very important for the Chileans to do well, and not just have a bunch of people fly in from out of town and swoop up a trophy. Lopez said Chilean Magic is growing, with lots of new-new players, but also new-old players. Because of this Grand Prix and the one in 2011, many retired players are coming back to the fold. For example, Rafaël A Le Saux Da Silva ("Rafa") came back from retirement and immediately took down a PTQ. Because of that, he'll be representing Chile on the next Pro Tour. Lopez said events and opportunities like this are extremely important for the community. The more events that happen, the more Chileans have a chance to succeed.

    Rodrigo Lopez also made sure I mentioned his thoughts of Luis Ancamil. He told me that "Luchon" was a truly great friend, a real compañero, who always made every situation joyful. He was always the one making sure the "fun didn't stop". Lopez said the whole Chilean community will sorely miss him. Lopez didn't want me to print anything about him, without making sure to mention Luis.

    The Chilean community is tightly knit, and losses like this one impact the whole community.

    "Community" was quite the refrain from Peru. And by Heliod, Peru has community in spades. More than 20 people are traveling together with the Peruvian squad and have traveled like this before. They are an army. And with their matching T-shirts and jackets, they even look like an army—or at least a soccer team.

    "Team Peru," as they call themselves, are the paragon of unity. Though Peruvian Magic has not yet seen the success of the top Magic countries, this team, de facto led by Juan Pablo Barzola, is using the strength of unity to build the country up as high as it can go.

    The team started traveling together five years ago (to Grand Prix Buenos Aires in 2008) and has been adding traveling members ever since. There was a blip in the trajectory, as Peruvian Magic saw a high-water mark in 2001, attracting crowds of around 200 to bigger events ("that's almost one-third of a GP", Barzola added). But after that, the game tapered off for a bit. But in the last few years, it's been coming back in full force and Peruvian is looking closer to the scene of old and beyond.

    Some team members say the resurgence is because of the increased Grand Prix numbers; some say its because of the increase in jobs in the country as the economy bounces back; but Barzola seems convinced that a big part of the Peruvian resurgence is the unity. "The most important thing we have done is work together." He continued, "We sent people to Rio [de Janeiro], Las Vegas, and Miami," and players have been finishing in the Top 16 or 25 at each event. Peruvians are starting to make their presence known. In fact, Michael Parraga finished Day One at 8-0-1, behind only one undefeated player.

    To build that unity, before each event, Barzola has been hosting a barbeque at his house, and the first-timers get dos and don'ts from veterans. Then, the group of 20+ hop on a plane and go wherever the next event takes them, becoming a force of nature creating a sea of white and red jackets. I was able to get them all together for a picture, but Barzola was nowhere to be found.


    Not in any order: Javier Vargas, Christian Arenas, Jorge Meza, Francisco Sifuentes, Guillermo Loli, Carlos Honores, Oscar Galessio, Carlos Ampuero, Ian McKay, Justo Chacón, Jose Antonio Vidaurre, Franz Azañero, Renzo Arana, Jose Velarde, Luis Salazar, Karina Reyna, Luis Allende, Diego Hurtado, Michael Párraga, Luis E. Meza. Not Pictured: Juan Pablo Barzola

    But don't worry about missing Barzola, Team Peru was on the case. After some raucous, kerfuffle and general chaos, Barzola was roped in and starred in his own photo (although some other team members couldn't resist jumping in).


    Juan Pablo Barzola

    Next up was Argentina, with Grand Prix Rio de Janeiro Top 4 Finisher and National Champion of Argentina, Andres Fabian Monsalve. Playing since 2005 and competitive since 2008, Monsalve has been putting up some great finishes, and echoed the team-oriented statements of the rest of the South Americans. At the World Magic Cup was the first time he was able to experience playing as a team—and he loved it. "Here you're on your own, but with a team is completely different."

    He said the strength of Argentine Magic scene has been incredible, saying that they can host back-to-back events, drawing hundreds of people each time. "That has never happened before in my country."

    Monsalve believes that as the player base ages, they end up taking the game, and the community more seriously. "And the two Grand Prix were huge. It was the dream." Social media has been hugely important in bringing the people together. Going even further than Peru, Monsalve spoke of the unity not just of Argentina, but of South America as a whole.

    "We all have to help each other. All the countries love having the Grand Prix here. Just look at the Peruvians! They are bringing tons of people, traveling all across South America!" He said it's important that the whole of South America band together. And he thinks they are.


    Andres Fabian Monsalve

    He continued, "When I started, it was when first Grand Prix happend [Grand Prix Buenos Aires 2008]; I wasn't very good. But I saw how much better I could be." That pushed him to become better, and by the time Rio rolled around, he was ready for primetime. The more people I talked to, the more I heard this—when countries see the spotlight, they want to achieve it. They want to reach it and prove themselves capable.

    This is where the outsiders come in—Miguel Gatica of Costa Rica, and Marcelino Freeman of Mexico. Though not of South America, both internationally competitive players offer insight on where these South American countries are leading. Central America and Mexico have seen strong growth and both players have helped the international presence for both of their countries.


    Miguel Gatica

    Marcelino Freeman

    Gatica told me that even though Costa Rica is small, the few players they do send out of the country do well, and are getting better and better. He said tournaments in new areas are important. And he should know: Grand Prix Costa Rica was his first international tournament, and he finished ninth on tie breakers. When he tasted that success, it launched him into an international campaign.

    Because there is still only one PTQ a year, the Magic community can only grow so much in Costa Rica, but it's bursting the seams. The international success of Costa Ricans has strongly invigorated the more casual players. They see Gatica doing well and say, "Man, I beat that guy at FNM all the time; I can do that!" And so the vigor of the community grows more every day. This sounds exactly like what the South Americans were talking about. With a strong new player base, and the success of their fellow countrymen, success begets success.

    Marcelino Freeman echoed Gatica's thoughts about his home country of Mexico. He said that people read about him and other Mexican competitors and know they can do better. In fact, this next year a large group of players are taking Freeman's lead and starting to travel across the globe to see what they can do if they commit.

    If Mexico and Costa Rica can do it, so can Peru, Argentina, and Chile.

    To me, this story isn't just about a family in each country; it's about a family of countries. The communities are growing stronger together. Humorously, I gave each group of people an opportunity to talk some healthy smack on the other South American countries to start a rivalry, and none of them took me up on it. Not one.

    These guys are even above good-natured ribbing. The increase of Grand Prix numbers, the larger turnouts to local events, and marquee players putting up great finishes is too big to joke about. Apart from Brazil, South America has often been a continent behind North American, Europe and Asia, the three largest Magic-playing continents. But with an ever-growing, ever-maturing community, committed to strength through unity, the possibilities for South America are endless.




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