Round 4: Frank Karsten (Red Aggro) vs. Luis Scott-Vargas (Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact)

Posted in Event Coverage on July 31, 2015

By Josh Bennett

It's time for players to shelve their Limited decks and unveil their finely-tuned weapons of devastation. First on the block is a showdown between Hall of Famers who are looking to improve on their 2-1 start to the day.

On one side of the table sat Frank Karsten, the Hall of Famer from the Netherlands, best known for his analytical approach to the game and his delight at bashing faces in Modern with Affinity. This weekend he's left the artifacts behind and has hitched his hopes to straightforward Red Aggro, featuring Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh.

Opposite him and boasting his trademark upbeat attitude (complete with grin) was fellow Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas. Scott-Vargas has been a fan favorite for some years now, but has struggled to put up big finishes lately. Part of that can be attributed to that demon, Real Life, slayer of so many pro careers. In fact, he almost missed this event entirely due to work responsibilities, and was only able to fly in at the last minute, arriving last night. Fortunately his team could compensate for his lack of playtesting by handing him their build of a Blue-Red aggressive artifact deck that takes advantage of the deadly Ensoul Artifact.

If you guessed that Frank Karsten was playing the artifacts deck, then boy, do we have a surprise for you!

The Games

Scott-Vargas kept his opening hand, but Karsten had to go down to six. His scry showed him a card he wanted to keep on top. He led out with Mountain and Monastery Swiftspear, prompting a raised eyebrow from Scott-Vargas.

"Is this where we are?"

"Oh, this is where we are. This was Plan B. Plan A of breaking the format didn't work out."

Scott-Vargas spilled out a sequence of Island, Springleaf Drum and a pair of Ornithopters, earning immediate appreciation from his opponent. "I love it. Obviously I tried to build this as well, but couldn't get it to work."

Karsten's follow-up was less than blistering. He simply played a second Mountain and hit for 1. Scott-Vargas's retort was an Ensoul Artifact on his Springleaf Drum and 5 damage on the chin. Karsten hit again, then played a third land and summoned Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. Scott-Vargas hit for another 5 and brought out a Phyrexian Revoker to shut down Chandra.

Scott-Vargas's artifacts show no mercy.

Karsten was not so easily dissuaded from his plan. Searing Blood cleared out the Revoker after an attack from Chandra but before blocks, which let her ping Scott-Vargas for a third point post-combat. That ignited her spark and transforming her into the Planeswalker Chandra, Roaring Flame. He ticked her up and did 2 more damage to Scott-Vargas, leaving him at 7, while a Firedrinker Satyr followed.

Unfortunately for Karsten, Scott-Vargas had a second pair of scissors. He tapped two and put Ensoul Artifact on one of his Ornithopters and swung for a lethal 10. Karsten jokingly put his Satyr in the way of the 5/5 Drum, and then scooped up his cards.

While they shuffled up for the second game, Karsten talked about his struggles trying to make the artifact deck work. "And also nobody believed in it. They just thought 'Yeah, yeah, Frank's just building Affinity again, let's work on real decks'."

Scott-Vargas laughed that his team's experience had been somewhat similar. "Josh McClain built it, but he built it upstairs where no-one could see it."

Both players went down to six and pushed their top card to the bottom with their scry. Karsten led out with Firedrinker Satyr, then added Monastery Swiftspear and hit for 3. Scott-Vargas untapped, added a Mountain to his Darksteel Citadel, and pointed Roast at the Satyr. To say Karsten's face betrayed disgust would be an understatement.

Karsten suffers from a painful Roast.

He untapped and brought out Abbot of Keral Keep, scoring a free Mountain off the top of his deck before hitting for 1. Scott-Vargas continued to pour on the pain, this time with Ensoul Artifact on the Citadel to hit Karsten for a hasty 5. Karsten needed to shift gears. He hit for 2, holding back his Swiftspear to chump, and brought out Chandra. After the Swiftspear dove in front of the Citadel, Scott-Vargas brought out a 1/1 Hangarback Walker and passed with an Island open.

Karsten took a moment to think and then swung in with both of his remaining creatures. The Walker stepped in front of the Abbot. Karsten aimed a Wild Slash at Scott-Vargas's face, untapping Chandra and enabling post-combat transformation. Upping her loyalty left Scott-Vargas at just 7 life. Eidolon of the Great Revel hit the table wearing a 'Kick Me' sign.

Scott-Vargas gamely swung in with just his Citadel, devouring the Eidolon. He added a Chief of the Foundry and passed the turn. Karsten upped Chandra again and went for Lightning Strike to the face. Scott-Vargas showed him Stubborn Denial.

"I needed that," said Karsten with a frown. "In hindsight the other sequence would've been better," he added, putting down a second Eidolon of the Great Revel.

Scott-Vargas sent his whole team. As expected, the Abbot chump-blocked and the Thopter token and Chief brought Karsten to 6. Four mana enabled a 2/2 Hangarback Walker, sidestepping the Eidolon's damage. Still, he was down to just five. Karsten had one draw to turn the tables. Chandra took Scott-Vargas down to 3, but Karsten passed the turn, all but showing the Mountain that he had drawn for the turn.

Karsten 0 – Scott-Vargas 2

I asked Karsten about his decision to swing out with Monastery Swiftspear in the first game, the move that allowed a lethal attack with the second Ensoul Artifact. "I could have played it more cautiously," he said. "In this case I lose to Ensoul Artifact and Shrapnel Blast, assuming he's playing that. If I play defensively, though, I think it becomes much harder for me to deal enough damage."

I asked him what he thought of the matchup overall. "I think it's better than it seemed there. My draws were slow both games. I think it's a pretty fair, fast matchup."

When I caught up with Scott-Vargas he was of the opposite opinion. "The thing is, Ensoul Artifact is very difficult for them to deal with. If it flies, they can't Roast it, and on Darksteel Citadel they have no answer. Also Hangarback Walker is obviously very good." I asked him if he felt more confident in his team's deck after that match. "Oh yes. That match was, after all, a significant portion of my playtesting."

Frank Karsten's Red Aggro

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Luis Scott-Vargas's Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact

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