It was the win Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was looking for his entire career. After dominating success as a professional player for over a decade, which earned him entry to the Magic Hall of Fame, there was one trophy and title together he wanted to win: Magic World Champion.
A year ago in Honolulu, Hawaii was where his career triumph was finally earned. Already in discussion as one of the greatest players of all time, winning Magic World Championship XXVI seemed the culmination of his career.
Damo da Rosa "accomplished basically everything that one could set out to accomplish when it comes to Magic," said fellow Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas, and it was true. From the Pro Tour to the Hall of Fame and, finally, a World Championship title Damo da Rosa checked off everything a competitor could achieve.
Yet his victory included one of the most exclusive benefits ever offered in the game: having your likeness featured on a Magic: The Gathering card in a future set, now known as Strixhaven: School of Mages.
After winning, the first person Damo da Rosa talked to was his wife. The second was Dave Humphreys, part of the entourage of Magic designers and developers in attendance. Ushered to a side room, and after completing requisite paperwork, Damo da Rosa saw the card he would eventually appear on.
It wasn't final, of course, but it's place in Strixhaven was a slot meant to support non-blue control decks. Its name changed from "Elite Tollmage" (and "Elite Tithemage" too) alongside tweaks to target an opponent and ensure MDCF lands from Zendikar Rising would still see play. There was a brief period where every player in a game revealed their hands, and it taxed anyone trying to cast a card of that name in any way.
All of that was tightened up but there was one major piece missing: It also needed artwork which featured him. The art description fleshed out how Damo da Rosa would be painted:
Show Paulo as a SILVERQUILL MAGE, hovering in the air in a badass spellcasting pose, surrounded by swirling LIGHT MAGIC. Near him floats a SPELL-CAGE, a small sphere of silver lattice that has captured an enemy's blue-fire spell. Maybe his costuming and robes float a bit, as if gravity doesn't even apply to him.
Mood: Stern and serious. "It has come to my attention that you were trying to cast this. I am here to stop you."
"Having a card with your likeness on it ... is a very big honor." Illustrator Ryan Pancoast knew how important getting it right would be for Damo da Rosa. "I wanted my likeness of him to be as accurate" Pancoast shared, including final adjustments to reflect Damo da Rosa's more svelte appearance he earned after his World Championship moment.
It makes sense wanting to be remembered forever at your very best, both in-game and outside of it. In the end there was no denying it was Damo da Rosa appearing in the artwork on the card. This is Elite Spellbinder, appearing in Strixhaven: School of Mages.
Surprisingly, it's not a blue card. It doesn't counter spells or draw more cards. But it's a powerful way to shape a game of Magic, which is exactly the strength Damo da Rosa played to. While he will play any deck—as long as it's the one he believes will win the event for him—his early career was defined by success with control strategies such as Faeries during Lorwyn-era Standard. Now, Elite Spellbinder can give future control decks a tool to slow down key spells and quickly turn the tables attacking through the air just like his World Championship-winning Azorius Control did for him before.
But that doesn't mean he didn't try to add the things he felt would ensure it became a powerhouse to play with. "I kept trying to make the card better," he explained. "How about we give it flash?"
If that sounds familiar it's because a Faeries player like Damo da Rosa knew exactly what we was looking for by adding flash to a 3/1 flying creature with a control effect attached.
Making it an effect that would appear at almost any moment set the bar too high, at least from the perspective of the developers working with the card. The design was consistent throughout it's time in the design file. In fact, there isn't a long list of potential and tried designs to share because, as Magic designer Andrew Brown put it, the card "is [almost] completely unchanged since its inception."
Even without requiring an Island or being powered up even higher, Damo da Rosa is in good spirits. "Hopefully it's still good enough to see a lot of play. I'm excited to play with [it]."
Beginning April 15 on MTG Arena, and April 23 through local games stores near you, we'll all have the chance to play with a legendary World Champion when Elite Spellbinder joins Magic with Strixhaven: School of Mages.