Fresh off his Top 8 performance at Grand Prix: Richmond in the largest Constructed event in Magic's history, Luis Scott-Vargas is seeking to continue the momentum in a different Constructed format at Cincinnati. Coming off his byes, he squared off against in Round 4 against Dan Cato, who earned his nine points the hard way.
While LSV is riding a hot streak, Cato comes to Cincinnati having not played a sanctioned match in months. The North Dakota native has found success on the tournament circuit in the past, but the responsibilities of running his store at home have kept him away recently.
Not that it's kept him from doing well when he does venture out. The last tournament he played in was the Star City Games Open in Indianapolis, an event he Top 8'ed on the backs of red and green monsters.
Cato was playing Jund Monsters, a new twist on the red-green Monsters deck he had found success with in Indy. The deck utilizes black to employ efficient removal options like Dreadbore or resilient threats like Reaper of the Wilds, though Cato would manage to play three games against Scott-Vargas without ever casting one of the splashed cards.
Scott-Vargas came to battle with Esper Control, the premier control deck of the format and one that Scott-Vargas' ChannelFireball teammate and Hall-of-Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa took to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Buenos Ares last weekend.
Cato was prepared to square off in one of Standard's premier matchups, but before they could even shuffle up, Scott-Vargas called a judge over.
"Calling a judge on me already?"
"I need a pen. And may I please borrow a piece of paper? I swear 90 percent of my judge calls are for pens or bathroom breaks. I wish I could say I was underprepared, but this is actually my average level of preparedness," the Hall of Famer joked backed.
Game 1 between the two players showed the importance of the old Magic adage "Bolt the Bird."
It wasn't a Lightning Bolt or a Birds of Paradise, but Scott-Vargas stayed true to the spirit of the maxim nonetheless when he used a Last Breath on Dan's Elvish Mystic. That proved to set a decisive pace when all Cato could follow up with was a Temple of Abandon and another Elvish Mystic.
Scott-Vargas simply played a land and passed the turn, setting the stage for the barrage of counterspells he threw at Cato for the next several turns.
While Scott-Vargas was preventing any new threats from hitting play, Elvish Mystic and Mutavault alongside Shocklands had whittled the Esper player's life away. That prompted a main-phase Sphinx's Revelation from Scott-Vargas to regain some life and try to hit his land drop, which he did.
That opened the window for Cato to resolve a spell, and that spell was Xenagos, the Reveler, which promptly sent a Satyr/LSV token at the real thing.
But the sphinx had revealed all the right answers to Scott-Vargas, who used Detention Sphere to take care of the Xenagos and a Supreme Verdict to clear the board. A few draw steps later and Jace, Architect of Thought turned up an Ætherling that prompted Cato to scoop up his cards.
Cato dejectedly chooses which pile of cards he's going to give Scott-Vargas to win with.
Both players mulliganed to six in Game 2, a contest that lasted all of about 60 seconds before Scott-Vargas scooped up his cards after missing his third and fourth land drops while staring at a much-needed Supreme Verdict in hand.
Moving to a third game, both players had typical starts. Cato led with Elvish Mystic for the third straight game and spent the next few turns playing threats while avoiding the Syncopate that Scott-Vargas bluffed on Turn 2 by playing Hallowed Fountain untapped and passing the turn. Cato had Scott-Vargas down to 10 life when a Jace, Architect of Thought hit the table and moved up to five loyalty.
That sent Cato deep into the tank. He had an opportunity to resolve Stormbreath Dragon if he wanted, but he wanted to play around the Supreme Verdict he suspected was waiting. After a few minutes Cato opted to take down the Jace thanks to a Ghor-Clan Rampager while putting Scott-Vargas down to eight life.
That was enough to bait out the Supreme Verdict, and Cato followed up the next turn with the Stormbreath to knock Scott-Vargas down to four, who looked to survive another turn by casting a Sphinx's Revelation turning the attack step.
Mistcutter Hydra from Cato's side made sure that wouldn't happen, joining the Stormbreath in the red zone to end the match and keep Cato undefeated on the day.
Through four rounds, Cato is happy with his choice to play the Jund version of Monsters instead of the more-familiar red-green, even though he's not playing popular sideboard cards that black opens up. like Slaughter Games.
"I played a lot of red-green, and I was just really tired of losing to Desecration Demon," he said. "With black you can get more removal out of the sideboard. But I don't like Slaughter Games because I'm not interested in a long, drawn-out game. I was something I can be aggressive with to win the game rather than try and keep them from winning it."