Airports, plane rides, and late-night testing sessions after navigating transportation in a foreign country. Three long days of tournament play, then a long trip back home. All this work and effort for the few moments when it all comes together in the euphoria of a tournament Top 8 finish or trophy. For many who have ever sleeved up a Magic card, that experience is once in a lifetime.
For Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, that was the routine.
He began playing Magic in 1995 in his home country of Brazil, and the rest was history: he made his first Top 8 at his hometown Grand Prix in 2004, made his first Top Finish in 2006, won Nationals in the same year, and soon went on to post a Hall of Fame career in short order. He traversed the world to become one of the best players in the game's history and spent two decades of his life carving out a truly unique path as one of the game's most intuitive and naturally gifted, but also its most dedicated, writing strategy articles and making a career out of being very good at Magic.
Through it all, his motivation never changed.
"I've always considered myself a player first—I was playing to get ready for tournaments and that was always the most important thing to me—and a content creator second," he explained. "But that all changed after winning" Magic World Championship XXVI.
The world changed after Damo da Rosa's career victory, and he changed with it. Eighteen months ago, he held the championship trophy high in Hawaii, capping off his storybook career with a fairytale ending 25 years after first learning about Magic in a magazine as a child. With a Hall of Fame ring, a Nationals win, Pro Tour championships under his belt, and now a World Championship title, Damo da Rosa has truly done it all—even standing tied with the legendary Jon Finkel for all-time Top Finishes at 17 apiece.
Damo da Rosa's not just one of the best to ever play, he's arguably the best to do it, and the World Championship title was the perfect peak.
After all that, what comes next?
Winning the World Championship "transformed a lot of things for me," he explained. "I was named the esports Player of the Year in Brazil, and I got to see myself on the bus. That was pretty cool. I had been a name in Magic for a long time, but winning Worlds made people outside Magic take notice, and there's been a lot more recognition."
The victory did more than just change how Damo da Rosa was viewed outside of Magic—it helped to change the way he viewed it, especially after the announcement that the Magic Pro League wouldn't continue after 2022. And for the first time in nearly 30 years, Damo da Rosa is finally ready to view himself as something other than the ultimate competitor. He's begun designing games, coaching aspiring competitors, and preparing for Magic World Championship XXVII, all while exploring his new role in the Magic community.
"One tournament changes peoples' perceptions so much," he said. "Today, when people are asked who they think is going to win a tournament, people use me as the default example, but you go back two weeks before the World Championship and that isn't true. If Marcio [Carvalho] draws the right mana sources in the last game . . . it's his name there. But I'm the same player I've always been."
Today is our 2-year anniversary! Couldn't be happier, here's to many more 🥳😍 pic.twitter.com/6cJwyDF2TQ— [Tempo] PVDDR (@PVDDR) October 13, 2020
It may be a bit uncomfortable that the rest of the world has taken notice of his prodigious talent, but the recognition has come with its share of benefits as Damo da Rosa has adjusted to life as a World Champion. He stepped up his time coaching. He built his own YouTube channel focused on helping players level up their game. It's a new relationship with the game he's synonymous with.
"I see myself as a content creator first now, and it's definitely an adjustment," he said. "But it was a lifesaver, too. We're all adapting a little bit. I've always written articles and enjoyed that, so I've been trying my hand at more content creation. The YouTube channel is about teaching you to be a better player, and I think I'm good at teaching but not necessarily good at entertaining. It's something I've always focused on to an extent, but winning Worlds has made it much more possible."
Damo da Rosa's evolving role with Magic isn't the only thing that winning the World Championship changed, and while circumstances have made the past year the most stressful of his life, it's come with exciting developments for the reigning champ. He has increased his role as a prominent content producer with Star City Games and in his position on Team Tempo Storm, bought an apartment with his partner, and adopted a dog. When he looks ahead to the future of Magic, he sees himself exploring further into content creation or coverage opportunities, something he couldn't do when he was chasing points every season to be the best in the world.
It's a different path and look with fewer goalposts by which to measure success.
But with Magic World Championship XXVII quickly approaching don't let any of that trick you into thinking that Damo da Rosa isn't very much still the best and most hardworking player in any given room—including the World Championship draft table.
"Paulo is one of my favorite people to test with because he's hardworking and willing to play a bunch of games to get a handle on matchups, but also experienced enough, and good enough at trusting his own intuition that he can quickly identify when ideas aren't going to work out, as well as what next steps should be to help fix things," explained Strixhaven Championship winner Sam Pardee, who is working with Damo da Rosa preparing for the World Championship. "Watching him win Worlds last year—although I have to say it feels like it was about five years ago—was really fun because I knew how much it meant to him. I'd tested with him for two previous Worlds, and he has an extra gear that he kicks in for that tournament in particular because it's the most meaningful title to him."
Even playing remotely, Damo da Rosa played the past season on a path straight back to the World Championship. He already had a seat by virtue of his title, of course, but his dominant play throughout the Magic Pro League season would have afforded him an invitation anyway (and added a third slot to earn at the MPL Gauntlet). Now, he'll look to cement his legacy as the greatest of all time.
A long eighteen months later, the Magic World Championship is back. And so is its champion.