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The Heart of the Champion Belongs in Brazil

February 20, 2020
Corbin Hosler

An avalanche of messages began immediately: from those in attendance at the tournament, who then rushed the stage; from fellow pros across the globe, sending their congratulations to the man who had finally captured the one trophy he had yet to win; from every corner of the internet of longtime and new-to-Magic fans and supporters of Tempo Storm ready to cheer their champion; from friends and family back home, who had stuck around through the late-night barbeque and into the early morning viewing party, hanging on every decision and draw step.

But in the those first feverish moments following a legacy-defining victory at Magic World Championship XXVI, there was only one person Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wanted a message from.

"I had to talk with my wife Kharina," he explained in the aftermath of the event. Between the Player Tour, where he picked up another Top Finish on his way to the World Championship, Damo Da Rosa's travel schedule had dominated his time. "I've been gone from home for a month traveling for tournaments and preparing for the World Championship—and it's been really, really hard for both of us. It's hard for her to be at home alone, and I get really sad when I'm gone."

"But we both knew I must do it because it's my job."

"I don't think I could do this without her. She's incredible," Damo da Rosa gushed. "When I lose, she's the one I talk to who makes me feel better. She pushes me to work harder, or to back off when I need to. A few years ago, I had two down years in Magic where I thought everything sucked. Then we started dating and I was happier, and my results started improving again. Having someone who supports you no matter what means so much."

That job is one Damo da Rosa has done better than perhaps anyone else in the history of the game. As soon as he defeated Márcio Carvalho in the epic Magic World Championship XXVI Grand Finals—capping his fourth top finish in a row stretching back to the finals of Mythic Championship VI—the only question anyone had spread like wildfire.

Was Damo da Rosa, with 17 Top Finishes, a two-time Pro Tour champion, and now Magic World Champion, the greatest of all time?

It's the particular kind of unanswerable question fans love to debate. Who is the Magic GOAT—the greatest of all time? Kai Budde won seven Pro Tours, more than double anyone else in a feat that Damo da Rosa himself believes will never be matched. Jon Finkel led the world with an astounding 17 Top Finishes until Damo da Rosa tied him. Gabriel Nassif notched yet another Top Finish at the World Championship—tying with Budde at 11—while posting those results over an incredible 20-year run. Luis Scott-Vargas and, now with his second Magic World Championship finalist finish, Carvalho are right behind at 10 each as well.

So, who is the best to ever sleeve up a Magic deck?

The impossibility of the question is what makes it fun, of course, and arguing it is a beloved pastime across a sports realm where only one name is needed. LeBron-Jordan. Gretzky-Howe. Tiger-Nicklaus. Kai-Finkel-Paulo. It's the kind of all-encompassing topic that will never be settled, and that's why we'll never stop trying to.

Who's the greatest Magic player of all time: Jon Finkel, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, or Kai Budde?

In a world where the greatest personal achievements instantly become public domain, it can be easy to forget that behind the persona lies a person who just can't wait to tell his wife and his mom all about his big weekend.

"You have no idea how many times I've dreamed of this moment," Damo da Rosa confessed. "I've gotten everything else but this. But, finally, I'm the World Champion. There are so many people who don't know anything about Magic, and winning a Pro Tour or Mythic Champion means nothing to them. But everyone knows what a World Championship means."

No description necessary.

While tens of thousands watched for the metagame, there was one house watching just for the man who never stopped daring to dream big.

"My mom's family had a whole viewing party, and watched the broadcast in Portuguese because most of my aunts and uncles and my wife's family don't speak English," Damo da Rosa said with an unmistakable pride that even his in-laws watched him fulfill a wish he's harbored since he first picked up a Magic card at eight years old. "They're all so proud and they tell everyone—I don't think there's anyone at my wife's work who doesn't already know I was playing at [the World Championship]."

There's one other thing that doesn't come up in those conversations about the greatest of all time: No matter how many titles come, no matter how many trophies line his mantle, Damo da Rosa is just as nervous as when he played his first Pro Tour match when he was 15 years old. There's no stage brighter than the World Championship, and Damo da Rosa was open throughout the tournament about struggling with nerves. His candid interviews gave fans a glimpse into the mind of the man behind the Magic machine, and what they saw in "Paulo" is just as real as the astonishing stats that belong to Damo da Rosa—and a lot more familiar.

However, it comes as no surprise that Damo da Rosa doesn't see winning the World Championship changing all that much for him. He's still going to vacation with his wife next week as he always was—they're headed to Norway to view the Northern Lights—and he's still going to prepare for the next tournament the same way he did the last.

"I've done 'everything' there is to do in Magic, but it doesn't change how I approach the future," Damo da Rosa said. "I'm going to always try my hardest, and just because there may not be this weight on my shoulders anymore doesn't mean I don't want to win, or won't practice as much. It's like getting married—it didn't feel like much of a change for me, but it does change how other people will see me."

Which brings us back to the great, impossible, question: Where does Damo da Rosa see himself in the conversation for the greatest of all time?

"Look, I don't think we'll ever settle that," he said. "I know people want to talk about it, but the eras are so different, and if someone thinks I'm the best or third-best, it doesn't really matter. The difference between the best player and the tenth-best player is so small. Would I have been the greatest if Márcio had drawn a Plains [in the deciding match] and beaten me?"

Damo da Rosa stopped to sign for fans before heading off to celebrate his decades-long journey to win the Magic World Championship.

"I'm just honored to be a part of the conversation."

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