Many know the great Magic players to come out of the United States, Japan, Brazil, and Portugal—Luis Scott-Vargas, Ken Yukuhiro, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, and Márcio Carvalho, to name a few. These iconic competitors stand as part of incredible communities of players. While the spotlight is often on these stalwarts from their regions, events such as the Zendikar Rising Championship offer the chance for new faces to prove their mettle and build their community up.
And it's Portugal's time to rise.
The three Rivals League members from Portugal—Bernardo Santos, Frederico Bastos, and Miguel da Cruz Simões—seek to advance not only their position in Rivals but continue recognition of Portugal's competitive Magic community and join their countryman Carvalho on top of the world.
Of the three, Frederico Bastos is the most veteran and decorated. While he is a fresh face to the Rivals League, he has played Magic for over twenty years. Bastos is a two-time Portuguese National Champion, taking the title in 2000 and 2009. He was also the first Portuguese player to earn Top 8 at a Pro Tour—Pro Tour Tokyo in 2001—and has two under his belt.
After nearly a decade away from competitive Magic, Bastos is pleased to compete at the at the top level once again. "It was a long road to get here and I've been out of high-level competitive play for quite some time, so this was a welcome return," he said. That road included qualifying for Mythic Championship VII and earning enough Mythic points to land a spot on the 2020-21 Rivals League.
Through the Zendikar Rising League Weekends, Bastos racked up 16 points and a spot near the top of Rivals League standings in his league debut.
For Bastos, his experience so far has been full of amazing "top decks and some incredible beatings. Almost every game was a rollercoaster!" He also knows how skilled his Zendikar Rising Championship competitors are too. "I respect everyone and I am wary of the skill involved. I am eager to play every match, all of them being a very hard test that I hope to overcome."
And Bastos knows his fellow countrymen are ready to do the same. "Both Bernardo and Miguel are really good players. Bernardo is the more seasoned player and has been consistently one of the best players in Portugal for the last few years. Miguel burst onto the scene last year playing Arena, with a string of unbelievable results that culminated in the Top 8 at Mythic Championship VII and the qualification to the Rivals League which just shows how talented he is."
There's a reason Bastos cited Bernardo Santos: Santos is a player with years of competitive experience primed for a breakthrough finish at an event like the Zendikar Rising Championship.
Santos began playing Magic in 2013. In that time, he's competed in the Magic Online Championship multiple times and earned three Grand Prix Top 8s. In the Rivals League, he has put up consistently strong finishes thus far and now sits third in the standings.
The November Zendikar Rising League Weekend was Santos's favorite so far, and the feeling of being under pressure in a tournament pushed Santos to succeed even more. His 7-5 record for November was built in part on a 4-0 start on Day Two, and combined with a total October performance of 9-3 for a 16-8 season record—plenty to sit as third in standings, an excellent position through the first split of the season.
Went 4-2 today for a final score of 7-5 on the weekend and 16-8 on the total of the split. Again started 4-0 and lost the last two which makes it fell a little worse but overall a good result for the day and an ok one overall. #Hareruyapros #MTGLeagueWeekend— Bernardo Santos (@Bernardocssa) November 8, 2020
He sees the upcoming Championship field as stacked with high-level opponents who will not make winning easy for him. However, with his friend claiming that standings leader, Luis Scott-Vargas, is "unbeatable" it made one goal for the Championship clear for Bastos. "I would like to beat LSV because he's on the top of the standings."
Though he strives to focus on himself and what he can control, the pressure to continue to excel is still there. "My ultimate goal would be securing a slot on the next year's MPL. However, it's not going to be easy. I need to focus on the things I can control and try to improve my Magic-related decisions and see what happens," he said.
If there is one person who believes Santos can achieve this goal, it would be his close friend and Portuguese star, Márcio Carvalho. Carvalho describes Santos as pure talent. "I'm sure he will be in the MPL in the near future."
Alongside these two players is newcomer Miguel Simões. Simões has been playing Magic casually for years. However, the advent of MTG Arena propelled him into the competitive circuit. He broke onto the scene in 2019 when qualified for both Mythic Championship V and Mythic Championship VII, where he earned his first Top 8.
His performance impressed his fellow Portuguese countrymen and players around the world. Santos expects Simões to continue to do well too." I think he has a lot of great tools going forward for him as he's very confident and practices a lot, " said Santos. "He just keeps improving and is already very good, so I think he can really succeed in the game."
Like Bastos, Simões appreciates the challenge of being in the Rivals League. Competing against other top-level players, some who have been playing since before he was born, pushes him to learn and improve daily. "I believe this is only the beginning of a big journey. I still have a lot to work on and learn, and I believe if you work hard enough on something you will always reach your goals," Simões said. Looking ahead to the Zendikar Rising Championship, it is not only his hope to win the tournament, but to face a fellow Portuguese player in the finals.
The desire to see a fellow Portuguese competitor at the top table makes sense given how strong the Magic community is within Portugal: The desire to not only see themselves succeed but also other community members is a common thread between these players. There is a sense of unity and pride for both their home country and their Magic comrades that is unmistakable.
"As a country, we have a former Magic: The Gathering World Champion [Andre Coimbra], an Invitational winner which resulted in the creation of one of the best cards ever," Bastos said, referring to Tiago Chan and the eventual printing of
While these players are each talented, a community that actively works to build up its members is part of why these players continue to thrive. "The Portuguese community is very tight and helpful. We are always rooting for the next one and trying to put more people in the leagues," says Carvalho.
Indeed, it was because of Carvalho that Santos became involved in competitive Magic in the first place. "At first, I just enjoyed the game like everyone else and was actually not even aware that a big competitive scene existed...My friend Luis Gobern introduced me to Márcio Carvalho, who...talked to me about the paths that existed to play competitively."
That introduction developed into a tight friendship, not only with Carvalho but with many other successful Portuguese and international players. Most of the Portuguese competitors are in the same Discord group, where they communicate and test for tournaments. The group also contains Brazilian and Spanish players.
Santos cites the warm welcome that he and other up-and-coming Magic players received from Carvalho as one of the reasons he looks up to Carvalho the most. He "helped all of the currently successful Portuguese Magic players and a lot of other people too in a lot of different ways. At the time he brought me in to test with the Brazilians before the Pro Tours, and he did that for a lot of other players too."
The formation of the Portuguese-Brazilian testing group is one that has remained strong, with the players often collaborating. In preparing for the Zendikar Rising Championship, Santos noted the testing team is quite large, but included powerhouse MPL and Rivals League players such Carvalho, Carlos Romão and Lucas Esper.
Although anything can happen at a high-level tournament, Santos, Bastos and Simões have a supportive community behind them. And if they succeed at the Zendikar Rising Championship, they will be lifting their community and the standing of Portugal along with them.