Luis Scott-Vargas is one of the most well-known players in Magic's storied history. The most-recognizable face of one of the biggest teams in Magic, Team ChannelFireball, Scott-Vargas has at multiple points in his career been considered the best player on the planet. Nowadays, Magic has had to take a step back in his life, but he remains one of the best players in any tournament he enters. While his Hall of Fame status provides him access to the Pro Tour, Scott-Vargas is well short of the number of points required to have a reasonable chance of making it to the World Championship later this year. He needs a strong performance this Pro Tour to gain enough points to put him back on track. On the plus side, if he fails to make it to the Top 8 here in Atlanta, he's got a spot reserved for him in the coverage booth on Sunday.
His opponent this round is Vidianto Wijaya, winner of Grand Prix Denver 2012. Wijaya managed back-to-back Top 100 finishes at both Pro Tour Born of the Gods and Theros. In Dublin, he was paired up against Raphael Levy of Team Revolution, who invited him to join the team after their match. Wijaya has proven to be a world-class gaming talent, and he's well on his way to another Top 100 finish this far through the tournament where he sits at 4-1.
Scott-Vargas is running a BUG Control deck piloted by the members of Team ChannelFireball Prime. The deck is built on the foundation of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, two of the most defining cards of this Block Constructed format. Supporting them are a suite of black removal spells, Planeswalkers, and the nigh-invulnerable Prognostic Sphinx.
Wijaya is playing the Team Revolution U/B Inspire deck. While this deck also runs Prognostic Sphinx, black removal, and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, it supports them with a completely different set of cards from Scott-Vargas's deck. Springleaf Drum provides the engine that fuels Pain Seer, Daring Thief, and Macar, the Gold-Cursed. These cards provide a tremendous amount of value that matches the card-drawing engines that other decks in the field take advantage of, including Courser of Kruphix and Eidolon of Blossoms.
With two heavy-control decks such as these paired against each other, this match had long games written all over it, yet the first game passed by in an instant. Scott-Vargas managed a second-turn Sylvan Caryatid on the play, prompting Wijaya to gag a little.
"I just want to vomit when my opponent does that on the play," he said to Scott-Vargas's amusement.
This Caryatid let Scott-Vargas power into the big guns, including Kiora, the Crashing Wave, on turn three, and Prognostic Sphinx soon after. Wijaya had an Ashiok to keep himself even in the Planeswalker race, but Scott-Vargas had a Hero's Downfall to deal with it. The Sphinx just kept fighting, and Wijaya never drew a way to deal with it, conceding just a few minutes into the game.
Just like the first game, the second game was a brutally short affair. Scott-Vargas had his first two attempts at Courser of Kruphix dealt with as Wijaya sat back and protected his Ashiok. The situation grew worse by the minute for Scott-Vargas as he was stuck on only a Mana Confluence as a blue source. Kiora, the Crashing Wave provided a way for him to get out of his situation, but Wijaya used Daring Thief to trade Ashiok for Kiora before using Hero's Downfall to take out the traded-away Nightmare Weaver. A Brain Maggot on the following turn revealed why this game was so one-sided. Scott-Vargas was trapped with three additional copies of Kiora and two uncastable Prognostic Sphinxes in his hand. Infinitely far behind, Scott-Vargas scooped the match into the final game.
It was almost like the final game of the match wanted to make up for the fact that the others had flown by so quickly. With over thirty minutes of time still on the clock for a single game, it still took every minute of time to decide a winner. Unlike the other two games, where the differences in the decks were quite apparent, this final game played out like a bizarre form of mirror match.
Both players managed an early Ashiok, each losing it to a Hero's Downfall after a few short activations. Scott-Vargas, meanwhile, had managed to get a Courser of Kruphix and Prognostic Sphinx in play to the double Prognostic Sphinx of Wijaya. The second Sphinx was crucial, as it prevented Scott-Vargas from attacking with his Sphinx to abuse the interaction with the Courser. Wijaya, meanwhile, found his own card-advantage engine in Pain Seer/Springleaf Drum. This allowed him to find and cast a replacement Ashiok a couple of turns before Scott-Vargas. It also allowed him to find a key third Sphinx.
Now able to both attack with one of his Sphinxes and leave the other two to prevent Scott-Vargas from doing the same, Wijaya was able to set up his Pain Seer draws to minimize his damage taken. While he was now drawing more cards than Scott-Vargas, the additional turns with Ashiok gave him a massive advantage in library size, with Scott-Vargas sitting on roughly ten to Wijaya's thirty. Scott-Vargas managed to Hero's Downfall the Ashiok, slowing the damage, but he was still far closer to decking himself, a game plan that Wijaya was clearly aiming for.
Still, Scott-Vargas isn't considered one of the top players in the world for nothing. Due to earlier scrys, he knew most of the remaining cards left in his deck. He had dropped Wijaya down to 7 life with Pain Seer triggers, and began to assemble his own Sphinx armada. A second hit the table with four cards left in his deck, and a third joined with two cards remaining. Wijaya was unable to kill Scott-Vargas, but he attacked with all of his Sphinxes. He knew Scott-Vargas held a Silence the Believers in his hand and was worried about being left defenseless. The scry triggers were solely to dig through his deck looking for Ashiok. Combining the Pain Seer, Springleaf Drum, and a Triton Tactics in his hand, Wijaya would be able to draw and cast Ashiok, allowing him to mill the remaining cards in Scott-Vargas's library, killing him during the next draw step. Instead, he was forced to Tactics his Sphinx's to keep defenses up.
With one last ditch effort, Scott-Vargas tapped all of his mana to Silence all of the Sphinxes, forcing Wijaya to discard all but one card in his hand. The way was now clear for him to attack Wijaya for lethal damage. Before attackers, though, Wijaya revealed the last card in his hand: Hero's Downfall. Scott-Vargas didn't have anything he could do. He saved the Sphinx, but it was a moot point, as his attack knocked Wijaya down to 1 life but failed to kill him.
"That was brutal," Scott-Vargas admitted after the match. "The second Sphinx is what did it. I'd like to think I could have won that game there, but I'm not really sure how. Good game, Vidi."
"Yeah, it was a very close one," Wijaya admitted, shaking Scott-Vargas's hand. With that, Scott-Vargas falls to 4-2 while Wijaya advances to 5-1.
Scott-Vargas 1 – Wijaya 2