wish they'd start these things at like noon," Luis said with a yawn.
"I wouldn't have been able to sleep anyway. I haven't been able to sleep well the last couple of nights. My normal schedule's got me going to bed at like 5 a.m.," Craig responded.
"Well, I would have been able to sleep," Luis said with a grin.
"Well, Gabe made sure to stay up and talk to Gerry T all night…"
This first match in the Top 8 of the U.S. Nationals tournament was bound to be epic. Luis Scott-Vargas is a returning member of last year's National squad and has been a powerhouse throughout this tournament. He's piloting the blue-white-green OmniChord deck that features Chord of the Calling to power out the Pickles combo, Arcanis the Omnipotent, or even some good old fashioned beats. His opponent this round is former U.S. National Champion and current Loudest Man on Tour, Craig Krempels. Craig is running an updated version of Solar Flare, which is a stereotypical black-blue-white control deck that uses Court Hussar, Compulsive Research, and Damnation to generate card advantage while Skeletal Vampire and Angel of Despair move in for the kill.
The players shuffled their decks and then presented them to each other for further randomization.
"Classic five piles. No one ever gets a good draw off of the five piles," Craig said as he began to pile shuffle Luis's deck. Only time would tell if he was on to something, or if it was just the insomnia-induced ramblings of a madman.
2006 U.S. National Team member Luis Scott-Vargas faces former U.S. National Champion Craig Krempels, while fellow former U.S. National Champion Antonino De Rosa plays out his match in the background.
Luis started the game off with a Calciform Pools, which met an "It doesn't even produce colored mana!" from Craig. "You've already messed up." Craig then gave a little cheer when Luis missed his third turn land drop. He was quieted a bit when Luis managed to get the next two lands in a row. "Man, two in a row! I wanted the easy one!"
Craig suspended an Aeon Chronicler and passed the turn to Luis. After he played his fourth land, Luis put a Loxodon Hierarch into play. He decided not to block the Chronicler when it came over for 6 on Craig's next attack. Craig also played a Court Hussar to dig a little deeper into his deck. He left up enough mana for a Remand and passed the turn.
Luis played a second Hierarch on his next turn by draining his Pools. This left him with enough mana up to Remand Craig's attempted Remand. He then played a Simic Growth Chamber returning his depleted Pools. The Chronicler swung over to hit for 7 on the next turn, which only dropped Luis to 12 thanks to the 8 points of life he had gained. Craig then pulled a bit further ahead in the tempo game by playing an Angel of Despair on Luis's karoo land, effectively setting him back two turns.
Luis drew his card, replayed his Calciform Pools, and passed the turn back to Craig with both elephants holding down the fort. Craig thought for a bit before playing a Court Hussar on his next turn. He then took a few more minutes to come to a decision, as he sent his Chronicler and the Angel into battle. He was expecting to just trade his Chronicler for a Hierarch and hit for 5, leaving Luis at 5. When his next draw yielded nothing, Luis gave up.
Craig Krempels 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 0
Both players shuffled up for the second game in complete silence, which must have been very difficult for Craig. When it came time for some photos, Craig broke his silence by telling Thomas Drake, playing at the next table over, to look nice for the ladies.
Luis sighed as Craig's pregame shuffling routine seemed to drag on. "Mike Turian always said that he always shuffled more than his opponent. So if he played someone who took a long time to shuffle, he'd just sit there forever."
The second game started fast and furious-only lands for both players through the first five turns of the game. Luis had the advantage, though, as his third land drop was a Calciform Pools, which would put him ahead in the mana race. To add to the excitement, the first play of the game was a turn-six Wall of Roots for Luis. This game was turning into a real barn-burner.
Luckily, Luis decided to spice up the action a little bit and played a Compulsive Research on himself. This brought us to turn seven, and the spell count to one. Craig's attempted Skeletal Vampire got Rune Snagged on the next turn, prompting him to exclaim, "Man! They always have it!"
Luis went deep into the tank on his next turn before coming out with a morph that immediately flipped up into a 5/4 Brine Elemental. Craig was still more or less tapped out from his Vampire last turn, so it was effectively a ten-mana Time Walk. When Luis went for a second morph on his next turn, Craig played Slaughter Pact to kill the Brine Elemental. Luis let it resolve and then played a Chord of the Calling for six, leaving two mana up. "Goo," Craig said with a grimace. Realizing he couldn't do anything, he just said sure and conceded when Luis got his second Brine Elemental and flipped up a Vesuvan Shapeshifter for the lock.
Craig Krempels 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 1
"Did you have another Pact in your hand at the end of the game?" Luis wondered.
"Yeah, lovely River of Tears," Craig sighed. He only had one source of black mana during his upkeep thanks to the River.
There was a great deal of banter about beards, jobs, and life choices between the second and third games.
Luis came prepared for Craig's early tricks in the second game, as he had a Spell Snare for Krempels's turn-two Castigate. Craig then chose to take advantage of Luis's tapping out for a Wall of Roots to play a Compulsive Research. Not to be outdone, Luis shot one back on his turn. His was a little better, though, since he could keep Remand or Snag mana up on Craig's turn thanks to wall of Roots. Craig failed to oblige, though, and just played a Dimir Aqueduct and passed.
On his next turn, Craig suspended an Aeon Chronicler for one. Luis had the answer again in a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Craig took his card off of the Chronicler and then let it fade back to the removed-from-game zone, never to return. He decided to just play the next one from his hand and pass the turn with six cards in hand.
Luis drew his card, played a Simic Growth Chamber and a morph, and passed the turn. He had taken a bit of damage from his lands thus far in the game, and was sitting at 13, which meant the soon to be 7/7 Chronicler was a pretty good threat. He did have a few blockers in his two Wall of Roots, though, so it would take a bit to kill him.
Craig wound up and swung with the Chronicler, which Luis blocked with his life total, dropping him to six. On his turn, though, he played and flipped a Brine Elemental to keep Craig under lock and key for at least a turn. He swung for eight, knocking Craig to 12. A morph hit play soon after. When Craig couldn't come up with an answer to the impending lock, he conceded the game.
Luis Scott-Vargas 2, Craig Krempels 1
Both players were happy with their hands for this fourth game of the match. When Luis played his Breeding Pool on the first turn, and it came into play tapped, Craig struck. A Castigate ripped a Wall of Roots out of a hand that also contained two Vesuvan Shapeshifters; a Venser, Shaper Savant; Remand; and a Rune Snag. Notice that it contained no other lands.
Craig continued to develop his mana with a Signet and some more lands, while Luis stumbled around on two lands for a couple more turns. His deck did finally cough up a land, though, and it was the perfect on in a Calciform Pools. Now he could play lands without actually playing lands. Craig was way ahead, though, and he keep the pressure on by suspending an Aeon Chronicler for one and sending it back to Luis. Luis started to build up his own board with a morph, but he was still stuck on only three lands.
Krempels takes careful notes while resolving Castigate.
When Craig Castigated Luis on his next turn, he saw a hand that had gotten an additional Remand and a Rune Snag, but not much in the way of business. It also still contained two Shapeshifters, meaning that the morph in play was either a third, or something else. Krempels took the Venser, since it would buy Luis some extra time here in a few turns if it hit play. Craig was so far ahead in mana sources that the Snags wouldn't hurt him too much, especially since he knew to play around them. Craig kept beating with his Chronicler and dropped Luis to 10.
When Luis flipped up his morph-which was a third Shapeshifter after all-and copied Craig's Chronicler, Craig had a Slaughter Pact to clear it away. Luis just calmly played another morph and passed it back to Craig. Craig was in the weeds waiting with a third Castigate to wreck Luis' hand, and it was a doozy. He ripped the last Shapeshifter from a hand that nowcontained Brine Elemental, two Remands, a Rune Snag, a Compulsive Research, and a Nimbus Maze. A swing from Craig put him at 3.
"A tight spot," Craig said as he saw the look on Luis's face as he contemplated his turn.
"I guess my deck does a little better when I don't miss my third land drop. Maybe I won't keep any more two-landers. I guess I'm going to say go."
Craig untapped, killed the blocker with another Slaughter Pact, and didn't get a chance to swing before Luis packed his cards up.
Luis Scott-Vargas 2, Craig Krempels 2
Craig laughed as Luis presented his deck for Craig to shuffle. "I think I'm going to have to give you the five-pile again," he said. "This is a tight match."
"Except for Game 2, none of our games have even been close," Luis replied.
The deciding game started the same way as the last. Luis played his Breeding Pool tapped, and Craig Castigated a monster hand with two Compulsive Research, Teferi, Rune Snag, Remand, and two lands. He removed the Mage and let Luis go. The next play was a Dimir Signet that ate the Rune Snag in Luis' hand. Both players got to resolve a Compulsive Research on their next turns, but Craig got to sneak in a Dimir Signet as well, putting him ahead in the mana race.
While he was ahead in mana, he was behind in cards. Craig was forced to discard two cards instead of a land to his Research, and failed to play a fifth land on his next turn. He managed to suspend an Aeon Chronicler for one, though, and passed the turn.
Luis has a card in his sideboard just for the Chronicler, though, and the Riftsweeper swept the Chronicler back into Craig's deck. Now Luis had a grip full of cards and a board full of lands, while Craig was behind on both fronts. Craig had another Chronicler to suspend, but still no more land. When he tried to resolve it on his next turn, Luis was set to Remand it back to Craig's hand.
"Tight spot," Craig grimaced.
All he could do was sigh and re-suspend the Chronicler. Luis played a Vesuvan Shapeshifter from his hand and used it to sweep away Craig's second Chronicler.
"Aw, I just want a land! Lend me a Nimbus Maze."
Craig went deep into the tank after he played a Court Hussar. He finally decided to snag himself a land and used it to play another Court Hussar. This left him completely tapped out and vulnerable to a Brine Elemental, barring a Slaughter Pact, of course. On Luis's next turn, Luis played Chord of the Calling for six, which signaled Briney, and Craig had to Slaughter Pact in response. Luis had the Rune Snag to get Craig in the lock. He was going to be mopped up if he didn't draw another Slaughter Pact soon.
Fortunately, he had it, and was able to slip out of the lock for the time being. Arcanis hit the table for Luis, prompting a chuckle from Craig. Despite the laugh, he knew that wasn't very good for him. Luis didn't have much in his hand, and had tons of mana, so Arcanis wouldn't be easy to kill. Craig tried to Damnation, but was met with Remand. When he untapped, Luis's deck vomited cards into his hand.
On his turn, Craig put his head into his hands and thought for a really long time. "Am I just dead, Fob? You can tell me. I think I'm just dead."
Craig managed to resolve a Damnation, but Arcanis slipped back to Luis's hand. After a brief vacation, Mr. The Omnipotent came back for a bit more action.
"You're caught in the Arcanis lock. People have been making fun of the Arcanis all weekend. But… you know."
Craig did know, and he went to great lengths to try and get rid of it. He tried to Slaughter Pact the big Wizard, which just prompted Luis to bounce it again. Now that it was back in hand, Craig tried to rip it out with a Castigate. When Luis tried to Spell Snare the Castigate, Craig was forced to remand the Castigate back to his hand. On the following turn, Luis added a creature that was actually going to attack to his squad. The morph he played was quickly revealed to be a Willbender as it bent the Compulsive Research Craig had aimed at his head to Luis.
Craig tried to get in for a hit with a Castigate, but saw only land.
"That Arcanis didn't treat me too well," said Scott-Vargas. "Neither did that Research."
Craig fought back, though, and suspended a Chronicler for 3. While he was drawing an extra card a turn, Luis was just drawing all of them. Arcanis only turns sideways for one thing, apparently, and it's to make Luis giggle. It found him a reason to laugh, though, as he played and flipped a Brine Elemental.
To give you an idea of how deep Luis was in his deck, his next Arcanis activation left him with eight cards left in his library. Regardless, Craig was at 8, and Luis had 9 power on the table, if you count Arcanis. Damnation met Remand, then again, leaving Craig with only three land, unable to try for it again. There was nothing he could do, and he conceded to Scott-Vargas.
Luis Scott-Vargas defeats Craig Krempels 3-2 and advances to the Semifinals.