Finals: Controlling the Giant

Posted in Event Coverage on February 28, 2009

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

Gabriel Nassif (Five-Color Control) vs. Luis Scott-Vargas (Black-White Tokens)

Gabriel Nassif and Luis Scott-Vargas, two legends of the game, come together in probably the most high-profile Pro Tour final match in recent memory.

Game 1

Two of the game’s greats take to the Arena for their final match.Neither player did much over the first few turns of the game. Scott-Vargas’s third-turn Kitchen Finks was the first contribution to the board. On the following turn, the Finks and a Mutavault dropped Nassif to 15. At the end of Scott-Vargas’s turn, a Volcanic Fallout killed the Mutavault and shrunk the Finks. A second, larger Finks was met with a Broken Ambitions, revealing a Tidehollow Sculler on the top of Scott-Vargas’s library.

All Nassif wants to do in the early game is survive without expending too many resources. To this point, he’d taken a hefty chunk of damage, but he was not in any real danger, facing down a lone 2/1 Kitchen Finks.

Since he wasn’t facing any real danger, as soon as he reached six mana, he dropped a Broodmate Dragon into play. Now his clock was considerably faster than Scott-Vargas’s, and he had a couple of large creatures to hold down the fort should things go south. Unfortunately, the risk he ran was that he had to tap out, which gave Scott-Vargas a free turn to do anything he wanted. The double Tidehollow Sculler that Scott-Vargas dropped ripped the remaining two nonland cards out of Nassif’s grip: a Plumeveil and a Cryptic Command.

Nassif sent one of his Dragons in to attack Scott-Vargas, choosing to leave the other home to guard the fort. When Scott-Vargas attempted an Ajani Goldmane, Nassif countered it with a Broken Ambitions, the card he had drawn for his turn, and the last card in his hand. The cards revealed from the Ambitions had a major impact as well. Sitting on top of Nassif’s deck was a Volcanic Fallout that was going to seal the game from Scott-Vargas.

“I went from good to pretty bad really fast,” Scott-Vargas said as he stared at the Fallout. “I assume you’re keeping?” he jokingly asked Nassif.

“Yeah,” Nassif replied without hesitation. After the Fallout resolved on the following turn, Scott-Vargas drew his card, surveyed the board and conceded.

Gabriel Nassif 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 0

Game 2

Gabriel “Yellow Hat” Nassif, perennial smiler and topdeck wizard.Scott-Vargas started off very aggressively, with a Tidehollow Sculler that stole a Mulldrifter from a hand containing Broken Ambitions, Pithing Needle, Broodmate Dragon, Cruel Ultimatum, and Wydwen, the Biting Gale. Nassif only had two lands in his habd, and Scott-Vargas’s deck is aggressive enough that he can punish Nassif if he stumbles. The Drifter might help him draw out of it, so it had to go. Scott-Vargas followed the Sculler up with a Bitterblossom and a Glorious Anthem.

Nassif’s life total was rapidly diminishing. He had managed to draw two lands, though, so he wasn’t completely out of the game. Remove Soul prevented Kitchen Finks from joining the squad, and Wydwen traded with the Tidehollow Sculler, returning Mulldrifter to Nassif’s hand. With Nassif at 6, Scott-Vargas dropped Cloudgoat Ranger on the table, giving him a creature large enough to survive Infest or Volcanic Fallout.

Nassif did have the Infest and a host of tokens were sent packing. Cloudgoat Ranger still remained, though, and, with the help of an Ajani Goldmane, it dropped Nassif to one. Nassif drew his card and shrugged a little as he played the Wrath of God that he found there. I’m pretty sure the shrug was because he had resigned to conceding, but was given a stay of execution. A second Bitterblossom and Glorious Anthem from Scott-Vargas came down to ensure the inevitable win. After extending the game another turn with Wydwen, Nassif finally packed it in.

Gabriel Nassif 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 1

Game 3

Nassif’s luck turned poor for the third game of this final match. After mulliganing away a weak hand, he drew a completely unkeepable six-card hand. Scott-Vargas wasn’t in too much better shape, as he was forced to mulligan away the “one-land stone blade. Arcane Sanctum, Bitterblossom, you know.” He kept his six-carder and let Nassif take the lead.

Luis Scott-Vargas, cheerful face and PT juggernaut.Nassif’s five-card hand allotted him a Vivid Crag and a Reflecting Pool, which isn’t too bad a start. He also managed to find a third land after only missing one land drop. Scott-Vargas’s draw wasn’t incredibly aggressive, but he did manage to get two Kitchen Finks into play on consecutive turns, forcing Nassif to shrink them with a Volcanic Fallout. Nassif also found a second Reflecting Pool as a fourth land. An Infest finished the job the Finks had started, clearing Scott-Vargas’s board.

Scott-Vargas replenished his forces with a Spectral Procession on the following turn, and then tried to bolster them with a Glorious Anthem, but Nassif put a stop to that with a Negate. A Mulldrifter made up for the earlier mulligans as well as providing him a crucial flying blocker for the Spirit tokens. Ajani Goldmane gave Scott-Vargas a powerful new tool, and after adding counters to his team with the planeswalker, he forced Nassif to trade his Drifter for a token.

Nassif drew his card and then put his head in his hand, deep in thought. When he came up for air, he played a Pithing Needle on Ajani Goldmane before passing the turn to Scott-Vargas. The two Spirit tokens represented half of Nassif’s life total, but before attacking with them, Scott-Vargas had a little more in store for Nassif. He played a Head Games, which resolved to reveal an Infest, which Nassif could have cast on his last turn but chose not to, and a land.

While Scott-Vargas looked through Nassif’s deck, he was offered a friendly piece of advice: “So, Ultimatum and what?” Scott-Vargas just laughed and gave him a couple of Vivid lands. He then attacked for four and passed the turn to a defenseless Nassif.

Watching Nassif this Top 8 has been like watching a magician pull a pair of Dragons (or a Cruel Ultimatum) out of his yellow hat. One second he has absolutely nothing. The next, he has two 4/4 Dragons on his side. The Broodmate Dragon from the top of the deck was exactly what he needed to stabilize the game. Unfortunately, Scott-Vargas had a Cloudgoat Ranger on his next turn, which left Nassif again having to trust the heart of the cards to deliver him a burly protector to save him. During his next draw step, he reached deep in to his hat of goodies and drew an incredibly well timed, game-breaking ... nothing.

Luis Scott-Vargas 2, Gabriel Nassif 1

Between games, Scott-Vargas had to get up to use the restroom, and left Nassif alone at the table shuffling his deck. When he returned, he laughed a little as he asked Nassif if he’d used the restrooms recently.

“You know the bathroom doesn’t have any paper towels, right?” asked Luis. “Never doing that again. I had to dry my hands on [tournament manager and portable hand towel] Scott Larabee’s shirt.”

Game 4

This time, it was Scott-Vargas’s turn to start down a card, but his six-card hand still had some gas in the tank. A Windbrisk Heights and Mutavault helped him play a Kitchen Finks and Ajani Goldmane on curve. The Finks met a Broken Ambitions, but the Ajani hit play and immediately started to gain life and loyalty. Nassif had kept another two-land hand, but was in the process of drawing out of it. He made his way to four lands, but he didn’t really have anything to do.

Eventually, Nassif decided to use a Cryptic Command to return the Ajani Goldmane to Scott-Vargas’s hand. He was still stuck on four land, and eventually had to start discarding. The first thing to hit the graveyard was a Cruel Ultimatum. Luckily for him, Scott-Vargas hadn’t contributed anything else to the board during this time, so he had plenty of time to draw out of it. When he did try something, a Bitterblossom, Nassif let it resolve. The Tidehollow Sculler that followed it, on the other hand, was hit with a Cryptic Command, countering it and returning the Blossom to his hand. After replaying it on the following turn, Nassif used another Cryptic Command to return it to his hand, yet again denying him a token. The following turn, it finally stuck and was joined by a Tidehollow Sculler that grabbed a Cruel Ultimatum from amidst a Negate, Infest, Plumeveil, and two Broodmate Dragons. That was a sick little grip, if a little light on permission.

Nassif thinks, and thinks, and thinks, and thinks ....At this point, Nassif was in no immediate danger, still at full life, and had a handful of cards. This is exactly where he wants to find himself at this stage of the game. He untapped, played Infest to kill the Sculler, and got his Cruel Ultimatum back. Scott-Vargas just made a Faerie token with his Bitterblossom and vomited some Kithkin on the table with a Cloudgoat Ranger. He now had enough creatures in play to activate his Windbrisk Heights, which could be very dangerous. Nassif added a Plumeveil to his side at end of turn and a couple of Dragons on his turn now that he could leave Negate mana up.

With his army assembled, Scott-Vargas attempted an Ajani Goldmane. Nassif thought for quite some time about the situation he was now put in. He had only a Negate for protection, and a Head Games here would just absolutely be devastating. Unfortunately, the enhancement for Scott-Vargas’s creatures would be devastating as well, especially given that he had no mass removal. Eventually, after being urged to a decision by the judge, he decided to let the Planeswalker resolve. With Ajani’s help, Luis gave his whole team (including his Mutavault) some counters and passed the turn.

Nassif attacked Ajani with both of his Dragons, but a couple of Faerie Tokens jumped in the way. He enlisted the help of another Broodmate Dragon to help get past Scott-Vargas’s defenses and at Ajani before it was too late, but Scott-Vargas’s Terror killed the new Dragon Token before it had even been down for five seconds. During his turn, Scott-Vargas ran the same trick as last turn, simply activating his Mutavault and adding counters with his Ajani.

Now, all of Scott-Vargas’s creatures save a lone Faerie token were at minimum 3/3s, so Nassif was drawing to Wrath of God to clear them away. He had to think for a long time before coming to a decision. Ultimately, he chose to send all of his Dragons to attack Ajani. Scott-Vargas chose to lift his Cloudgoat Ranger to eat one of the Dragon tokens (so Nassif couldn’t get back a Broodmate with his Ultimatum) and let the others through to off the planeswalker. The Ultimatum resolved on the next turn, filling Nassif’s hand and leaving Scott-Vargas with only one card in hand. The card he was left with just happened to be an Elspeth, Knight-Errant, which prompted a resigned puff of a laugh from Nassif as it joined the stack. He did have a Negate for it, but he clearly wasn’t happy. After attacking, Scott-Vargas revealed the card Nassif has been playing around all game from underneath his Windbrisk Heights: Head Games, exactly like he had expected earlier. Nassif was in a hurtlock, and he was going to have to once again trust his deck to provide for him. His first draw: a Vivid Creek. Not exactly an answer. He swung in with one of his Dragons to keep Scott-Vargas’s Faerie token population under control.

Scott-Vargas had no attack on his turn, not wanting to lose virtually his whole team unless it meant he was definitely going to win. The game had entered a strange sort of parity, where both players had incredibly strong boards, and any shift in momentum would topple the game. Both were also close to, if not already, drawing off the tops of their decks. Nassif passed on his turn, not wanting to attack into a jumping Giant.

A Tidehollow Sculler from Scott-Vargas that revealed that Nassif was still working with fumes and a Kitchen Finks soon joined Scott-Vargas’s squad. He attacked with his whole team, and Nassif blocked the Giant and Mutavault to take them out. When Nassif drew his card for the turn and it turned out to be a Mulldrifter, Scott-Vargas declared that it was a gamebreaker. Scott-Vargas kept his team home and opted to try for a Head Games, but a Broken Ambitions put a stop to that. At the end of Scott-Vargas’s turn, a pair of Esper Charms further widened the gap between the two players. Scott-Vargas tried to even things up with a Spectral Procession that resolved, but his Glorious Anthem ate another Broken Ambitions. Had that Anthem resolved the game would have been all but over.

Instead, he was forced to attack with a slightly smaller team than he was hoping, and Nassif killed the next to last of his Kithkin tokens with his last Dragon, as well as killing the Finks (the first time) with his Mulldrifter. All of this blocking was to maneuver the game to the exact perfect state to play Volcanic Fallout. Nassif had dropped to 7 from the attack, and was looking to drop to 5 after the Volcanic Fallout that inevitably came on his next turn. The board now consisted of a 3/3 Kithkin token and a Bitterblossom for Scott-Vargas and a Broodmate Dragon for Nassif. He added a Mulldrifter to his side and passed the turn. Scott-Vargas played a Glorious Anthem and to which Nassif responded with a Volcanic Fallout, dropping him to 5 and clearing the skies for the dragon. Knowing that the last point of damage was going to come from his own Bitterblossom, Scott-Vargas conceded.

Gabriel Nassif 2, Luis Scott-Vargas 2

Before the final game started, Nassif was pulled aside by the judges for a second. When he returned, Scott-Vargas smiled at him and asked, “Did you get a little lecture from the judges about playing fast?”

Nassif just grinned right back and said, “I might have.”

Game 5

The final match plays to a packed house.”So many Arcane Sanctum hands,” Scott-Vargas joked as he shuffled his hand back into his deck.

“Only one land?” Nassif asked him. Scott-Vargas just nodded with a smile on his face.

Apparently his second wasn’t much better, and he offered a nice peek at the top card before throwing it all back. “I’ll guess I’ll take a decent hand now,” he laughed as he prepared himself to go to five. This game had the potential to be quite anticlimactic.

As he’s come to expect from his hands, Scott-Vargas had an Arcane Sanctum to start the game off. In fact, he even had a second copy to match it. He did have a Kitchen Finks for the third turn, though it was hit with a Broken Ambitions that revealed a Cryptic Command to come for Nassif.

All Scott-Vargas could do for the next few turns was make a Mutavault and attack. At the end of one of Scott-Vargas’s turns, a Volcanic Fallout put an end to that plan. Neither player did anything for the next few turns, and at the end of one turn where Nassif failed to play a land, Scott-Vargas asked him how many cards he had. When Nassif replied “Seven,” Scott-Vargas laughed and said, “You’ve got seven spells in your hand?” Nassif just smiled.

When Scott-Vargas tried to get a threat on the table in the form of a Kitchen Finks, Nassif denied it with a Cryptic Command. When he tried on the following turn to make a Cloudgoat Ranger, it was denied by a Remove Soul. This game seemed to be merely a countdown to Nassif’s victory, as starting two cards down had almost put the game out of reach for Scott-Vargas. When Nassif resolved a Cruel Ultimatum to leave Scott-Vargas with no nonland permanents and no hand, all Scott-Vargas could do was laugh. He managed to draw a Cloudgoat Ranger off the top, but he admitted that it was “not going to be enough.”

Nassif made a Broodmate Dragon on his turn, to which Scott-Vargas replied, “Normally I would concede here, but I’m not going to concede in the Finals.” A Glorious Anthem made for a pretty addition to his board, but ultimately it didn’t matter. It let his Ranger trade with a Broodmate Dragon, but a Volcanic Fallout swept the board clear again. A second Cruel Ultimatum on the following turn sealed the deal and gave Gabriel Nassif his first individual Pro Tour title!

Gabriel Nassif defeats Luis Scott-Vargas and wins Pro Tour–Kyoto!

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