In any sport, digital or traditional, longevity is something to be admired. Both it and the ability to stay consistently at a high skill level is a rarity, which is what makes Magic: the Gathering pro Paulo Vitor Damo de Rosa a kind of anomaly.
At the age of 18, PV finished 6th at Grand Prix Porto Alegre in 2004. Since then, he racked up a total of 17 Grand Prix Top 8s, with two wins, and 10 Pro Tour Top 8s, with one win. In 2012, PV was inducted into the Magic Hall of Fame. Currently, Paulo is on Channel Fireball’s pro team and is a Platinum level pro.
I had the chance to sit down with Paulo and pick his brain on the recent bans in Standard, what he thinks has changed about Magic since he first started playing, and how he got into League of Legends and esports.
(This interview was originally posted January 13th, 2017 on PVPLive)
You’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering professionally for quite some time. What has stayed the same since you started and what is drastically different?
To be completely honest, there isn’t anything that I feel has remained the same as when I started – the card design philosophy changed, the tournament scene changed, the people changed, the locations, the incentives. Magic is always changing, that’s part of what makes it a good game, because the people in charge aren’t afraid of doing something new when they realize that what they do isn’t working anymore.
The biggest difference is definitely the level at which information spreads. When I started playing, there were very few MTG websites, and no one played Magic Online. I remember talking to some American friends who would give me the “latest tech from the US” that I’d play in a local PTQ, for example, and I would often build my own decks and play them in tournaments because there was just nowhere to get a list from.
Nowadays, we have access to everything – if someone wins a tournament in Japan, we know their exact decklist within the hour. We can then play the list on Magic Online immediately, and make our own changes. Everything just moves much quicker, and metagames actually get solved because there’s so much information going around.
Take, for example, the Saheeli Rae/Felidar Guardian combo: someone realized it was a combo, tweeted about it, and in five minutes the entire world knew and Saheeli had quadrupled in price and was sold out in every website. If that had happened when I started playing professionally, it’s possible that a lot of competitors would have been surprised by the combo at the tournament.
Nowadays you also have access to the thoughts of some of the best players in the world on a regular basis. It’s something kinda unique to the MTG community that I feel is often glossed over. Like, imagine if you could watch LoL worlds, and then the very next day there was an article by Faker on why he picked the champions he picked, why this mastery and not that one, detailing the game, explaining his choices and why he was at a certain spot at a certain moment, coupled with “this is how the metagame is going to react and it’s what you should do in your solo queue to adapt.” This would be amazing, and it’s something that we consistently have in MTG nowadays.
This wealth of easily accessible information ends up leveling the playing field a lot, and makes it so that the average opponent is much better prepared and knowledgeable, which makes placing well in tournaments much harder than it was before.
Wizards of the Coast recently decided to do the first Standard ban since Mirrodin block. Do you thinks these bans address any of the problems in Standard?
I think they address some of the problems, yes. The power level on Emrakul and Copter was just so far above everything else that, if you were a midrange or slow deck, you had to be casting Emrakul. And if you were an aggressive deck, you had to be playing Copter. If you were in an aggro mirror and your opponent had Copter and you didn’t, you were very far behind and there wasn’t much you could do.
Even not considering power level, Emrakul was just a problematic card. First, it required you to keep track of card types, which was annoying for both those playing the game and those watching coverage; second, it was just extremely unfun – no one comes to a tournament expecting to have to use their removal spells on their own creatures. Controlling your own turn is something sacred that I don’t think they should touch anymore. It’s like untapping or drawing a card: you just expect to be able to do it.
The Reflector Mage ban seems a little bit more puzzling, but I think it’s an anticipation of what the format is going to look like after the Emrakul and Copter bans; there were four big decks before (UW, BG, Vehicles and Marvel), and they super-nerfed three, so they thought UW was going to be too dominant if left unchecked and preemptively banned it as well.
Do you want to see more bans in Standard going forward?
It’s tough to answer this, because as a professional player, I really do. Bans make the format more interesting, promote innovation, and overall just making playing in tournaments better. It’s very frustrating to get together to test for a tournament, full of hopes and dreams, and then find out that every single brew you have just can’t compete because Emrakul exists. In this regard, I think bans are awesome and wish we’d see more of them.
I also understand, however, that there is a very real cost to banning cards, especially in Standard. If you’re not a super serious tournament player, then bans are very bad for you, because a lot of cards that were worth a lot of money are suddenly worthless.
Imagine being a school kid who finally gets their set of Copters to play and then have them banned a week later – it feels awful! Standard is already an expensive and fast rotating format, and having regular bans will make it even harder on the people that aren’t deeply enfranchised.
I think that, as much as I personally like bans, they shouldn’t happen very often in Standard – I’d only ban something if it was making the format truly horrible.
How are you feeling about what Aether Revolt is going to bring to Standard?
I think Aether Revolt is an amazing set, and there are lots of cards that can be played in current strategies as well as lots of cards that can go in new decks. I unfortunately can’t dwell much on Standard, though, as we’re already preparing for PT Aether Revolt and my team wouldn’t like it very much if I gave away all our strategies.
Are you looking to pre-release this weekend? From a casual perspective is there anything you’re excited to open and play with?
I’m actually not going to the pre-release, but the most exciting thing to open (outside of some amazing Masterpiece) has got to be the Saheeli-Felidar Guardian combo. Going infinite in Limited basically never happens and this one is actually doable, since it’s only two cards and one is an uncommon!
If we want to shoot for the moon, then I’d like to open Grindstone and Painter’s Servant.
You’re also a big fan of League of Legends. How’d you get into the game?
Like a lot of League of Legends players, I started with DOTA a long time ago. Unlike most, however, I actually played the Warcraft: Reign of Chaos version, the original DOTA map (most people start with the Frozen Throne version, which was called DOTA Allstars. It was the same concept, but the map, items and heroes were different – each side had heroes that only them could pick, and you had teleporting healers for each team, for example).
After a while, I upgraded to the DOTA Allstars version, and then I was introduced to League of Legends by some US friends. I thought the game was worse, but none of my friends played DOTA anymore, and I wanted to play with friends, so I learned LoL. With time, I was captivated by the tournament scene, and started thinking the game was actually better.
Nowadays if try to watch DOTA I just think it’s unnecessarily complicated and much worse visually, so I stick to LoL.
I also know you’re a fan of the esports side. What about it interests you?
There are a lot of things that interest me in esports!
The first is that I legitimately enjoy the games. I like the non-committed nature of them – I can join a game, play for 40 minutes, stop playing for a month, and then come back and do the same. Because everything is contained inside a game, there’s no pressure to level up more than other people, to acquire better items, like there was in something like Diablo. You just play your match and that’s it. I find it very relaxing to be able to do something where the outcome of how I do is only going to affect those 40 minutes – even if I do horribly, I get to start over next time, and if I do very well, I still start on equal footing next game. It’s also nice to play a game that isn’t only about thinking and that’s real-time moving, since that’s different from what I do as a living.
I also like the tournament scene a lot, especially for LoL. Esports are just naturally more interesting to watch than card games, as they’re much flashier and dynamic. If I’m playing Magic and I make an insane play, chances are the audience is not even going to realize it; if someone in LoL makes an insane play, it’s clearly insane, everybody sees it, and it’s very exciting.
The production for tournaments is amazing, the prize pool is insane. There are millions of people watching and the best players are actual celebrities. Riot and other esports companies are so good at promoting the players and teams that you can’t help but be invested in the outcome. It’s basically what I’ve always dreamed MTG would be.
As a Brazilian, soccer was all around me when I was young – I took soccer lessons, my father took me to games, and so on. My father is a soccer fanatic and so are my two older brothers – one of them used to be a TV sports journalist focused on soccer. When we get together, it’s basically all they talk about. Yet, I never really cared for it; to give you an idea, at some point, I started bringing comic books to read at the stadium so I would have something to do other than watch the game. I never understood how they liked it so much, and how they could be so heavily invested in the outcome of something they had no control over.
When I started following the LoL tournament scene, I realized that I actually cared about the players and the teams, similarly to how my father and brothers cared about soccer. When Bjergsen flashes in for a triple kill, when Peanut steals a Baron without Smite, when Madlife predicts a Flash with a Thresh hook, I’m legitimately excited, because I care about those people and what they are doing, even though I have never met them and what they do has no real outcome in my life whatsoever. I attended some of LoL Worlds this year in San Francisco and I was very surprised at the energy that the spectators and casters displayed – when the Brazilian team INTZ beat pre-tournament favorites EDG I felt excitement that I’ve never felt in a sports stadium.
In a way, the esports tournament scene and culture represent to me everything that I was supposed to have with Soccer as a kid, but never did, and I love them for that.