Quarterfinals: Luis Scott-Vargas (B/G Aristocrats) vs. Shota Yasooka (Esper Dragons)

Posted in PRO TOUR SHADOWS OVER INNISTRAD on April 24, 2016

By Marc Calderaro

Of all the amazing quarterfinals match-ups in this star-studded Top 8, Luis Scott-Vargas versus Shota Yasooka is the only one between two sitting Pro Tour Hall of Fame members. It's also the only one between two Pro Tour winners. It's big.

Luis Scott-Vargas is an emissary to all aspects of the game. From his streaming and commentary, to his articles, and from his team ChannelFireball, to his testing team for this Pro Tour, Team Ultra PRO. Not long ago, there were greatly exaggerated "death" rumors of LSV, after he dropped from Platinum to Silver. But his return to form has been as wonderful as it was unsurprising.

Now he's in back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s, this time with Black-Green Aristocrats, a sacrifice-themed deck that often plays out like Rally the Ancestors without the namesake card.

Only slightly less storied than Scott-Vargas is Japanese Hall of Fame legend, Shota Yasooka. A member of the Class of 2015, former player of the year, and Players Championship runner-up, Yasooka and his importance to the game is difficult to overstate, especially considering his Hall of Fame induction off only two Pro Tour Top 8s. This weekend makes it three.

Yasooka's Esper Dragons deck will likely give fits to Aristocrats. The endless removal and main deck Languish means Scott-Vargas will have to re-fill the board again and again if he wants to win. That's exactly what Collected Company is for, but Scott-Vargas will have to draw well to maintain that stream of threats to overwhelm Yasooka.


The first quarterfinal match was the only that pitted two Pro Tour Hall of Famers against each other.

"Let me see your hand," the spotter said to LSV.

"It's really good," Scott-Vargas responded, and directed it towards Yasooka. He waved his eyebrows.

"Oh yeah?"

Scott-Vargas nodded his head. "Oh yeah." The two finished shuffling, each chuckled a bit, and were ready to go. But the power was out in the whole hall, and everyone had to wait.

We all waited in silence, not breaking the quiet interaction between these two combatants. Among the reset of the power, the rebooting of the cameras, and the stabilization of everything, there was close to twenty minutes of near-silence in the hall.

Though my boss, and others, were upset, and plenty of viewers were understandably impatient, the moment's gravitas was needed.

Yasooka, a lone wolf by nature, was at home in the quiet. It didn't hurt that the language barrier between him and those around is something he is used to. He sat comfortably in his contemplation. Scott-Vargas was more ill-at-ease. "I've never had to sit still and be quiet for so long, and it's really hard," he joked.

We're two feet from two of the best players playing the game. They are sitting in silence, both thinking, planning, and trying not to think too hard and not plan too much.

Eventually the lights burst back on, and the scene jumped to life. These two monoliths in the game were ready to compete the spell of silence broken.

The Games

LSV brought a fantastic hand into being the first game. He cast Loam Dryad, Elvish Visionary, Blisterpod, and Cryptolith Rite all by his third turn. Scott-Vargas was far from finished.

Yasooka waited on his Languish as long as he could, but Scott-Vargas's tiny herd was gaining momentum. Though he cleared the board with -4/-4 and made Scott-Vargas try once again, this time Yasooka would start at 10 life.


Yasooka is renowned as one of the world's very best control deck builders.

And with this hand, Scott-Vargas was fine with that. He cast a Collected Company before his next turn, and found both Nantuko Husk and Zulaport Cutthroat. Along with the Eldrazi Scion left over from the Languish, and with the two more creatures in his hand, Scott-Vargas had enough to just swing with a big Husk, and take the remaining life from Yasooka.

"Good draw," Yasooka nodded to LSV.

"Great draw," he confirmed. "I did say it was good."

In the next game, Yasooka was on the draw, and took "draw" quite literally. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy into Painful truths had him swimming in cardboard by the time he got his fourth turn.

Scott-Vargas looked to have another aggressive hand, again with Loam Dryad helping to power out more creatures than can he could usually afford.


Scott-Vargas and his team brought a phenomenal deck to the tournament, and its power really shows with a start like the one he had in Game 1.

Yasooka tried to solidify his board against the Nantuko Husk. He snipped creatures off like flower stems with Foul-Tongue Invocation, and positioned dragon-shaped roadblocks in the avenues. But he had to work for every inch without a Languish in sight.

Yasooka slowed the pace of play down when he first untapped with Dragonlord Ojutai. He started dotting the table with his fingers—Magic Morse code—and eventually attacked. When Scott-Vargas harrowed over his own next attack, he would return the same finger-tapped communication. The mental calculations and recalculations of imperfect information.

This game was going much better for the Japanese all-star, but he still worried about each spell. The damage estimates against Aristocrats is never quite as good as you want.

"Attack you," Scott-Vargas said as he turned a Nantuko Husk and some compatriots sideways.

Almost cutting him off, Yasooka grasped, "Take 5?" He had planned for this attack well in advance, finger-tapped from his nails to his brain.

Yasooka had done an incredible job this game of making each inefficient Foul-Tongue Invocation work for him. He gained life each time, and never let Scott-Vargas get more than just a single Cutthroat drain out of the deal. Thanks to those, Jace, Telepath Unbound, and a few other spells, Yasooka had effectively cleared Scott-Vargas's multiple creatures with simple one-for-one removal and counterspells. Yasooka knew exactly when trading an Invocation for a Scion token was correct, and when it wasn't.


Yasooka is poised and fast, all while piloting the more complicated decks of the format.

Scott-Vargas was handless, and began fiddling with his now-empty fingers. They gave the what-am-I-supposed-to-do feel, while Scott-Vargas slowly tried to fight out of this rut. But by this point, Yasooka had attacked four times with Ojutai, while adding Ob Nixilis Reignited and Dragonlord Silumgar to the board. Scott-Vargas was at 2.

That was the end of the non-sideboarded games.

"...and that was a very good draw too," Scott-Vargas sighed.

After they finished sideboarding and shuffling, Scott-Vargas added, "and you won with no Languish too!" Yasooka nodded, then smiled.

With the game score even, Yasooka started the third advantaged. Scott-Vargas's six-card hand was a slower one, and Yasooka immediately punished him for it.

Grasp of Darkness, Duress, and Ultimate Price stopped Scott-Vargas from ever starting the turn with more than one creature on the board. This is very bad for a Nantuko Husk-centric deck.

After top-decking a Collected Company and immediately finding Nantuko Husk and Catacomb Sifter, LSV threw it all down, hoping to get something going. But the "control-deck" turn was upon us. You know that turn when a control player looks both ways and crosses the street. Then you see them on the other side and wonder how they got so far away from you. Yasooka causally cast Dead Weight on the Husk then laid Dragonlord Ojutai. Looking at the board, you wondered why we ever thought Scott-Vargas could have been coming back.

Scott-Vargas raised his eyebrows. Over the next turns, LSV tried to find all the reach he could. He couldn't land a Duskwatch Recruiter, so he sacrificed Hissing Quagmire to Nantuko Husk, solely to transform Liliana, Heretical Healer and return the Duskwatch Recruiter with Liliana, Defiant Necromancer. Got all that?

If not, just know Scott-Vargas knew the only way to get this game was to keep the cards flowing, and he was willing to sacrifice board presence to make that happen. He was gaining back ground in inches, but things were on the rise.

Then the tell came. Once Yasooka attacked Liliana instead of Scott-Vargas, the player on the receiving end knew exactly what Yasooka had found: Languish. The American shrugged, accepting his fate. The board was now clear, save for a transformed Jace, and a couple of Zombie tokens (thanks, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet).

Yasooka had been straining Scott-Vargas' resources the hold game, and now they had finally broken.

Despite a heroic death throe from LSV (top-decked Elvish Visionary, into Elvish Visionary, into Collected Company finding Nantuko Husk and Elvish Visionary, into Loam Dryad) Scott-Vargas still couldn't get the game back from Yasooka's meticulous control.

"Good top decks, but I still think I'm dead." He was.

Just being around the fourth game, you could tell it was different from the rest. The entire game was played in Magic shorthand. It was hypnotizing.

The rhythm of the cardboard thumps, and the mono-syllabic responses to guttural reactions progressed into one another. The pace flowed like the Mississippi, because it was Yasooka setting the game's tempo. His precision and mastery were on full display.

Early removal and flooding land defined Scott-Vargas, and it meant Yasooka could stop an entire assault with just a Shambling Vent. He sensed the win, and wasted no time setting it up.

So Yasooka, at his own lightning pace, circled Scott-Vargas with his blue and black pack, and went in for the kill.

Shota Yasooka defeats Luis Scott-Vargas 3-1 and advances to the semifinals!

Luis Scott-Vargas: Black-Green Aristocrats

Shota Yasooka: Esper Dragons

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