Most who follow Magic—and plenty who don't—know the story of Luis Scott-Vargas.
The American exploded onto the scene in 2006, alongside friend Paul Cheon, with a third-place finish at U.S. Nationals then went on to win Nationals and a Grand Prix a year later, and punctuated his ascent with victory at Pro Tour Berlin in 2008.
Of course, the rest is history. The rising star Luis Scott-Vargas became "LSV" the living legend:
- 11 career Top Finishes, putting him in a tie with Kai Budde for fourth.
- An undefeated run in the Swiss rounds at Pro Tour San Diego 2010.
- A career full of format-breaking decks and dazzling displays of skill at the highest levels.
With a few burritos along the way, this is the career of Scott-Vargas as we know him, a master of memes and Magic alike.
Perhaps the greatest feat of Scott-Vargas was posting back-to-back Top Finishes twice in his career, the highlight being a three-event streak in 2016 where he posted Top 8s at Pro Tours Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon.
It was a run no one unthinkable since days of Kai Budde—the German Juggernaut; competition had just come too far for anyone to be so dominant, right? Scott-Vargas made history happen again. At his competitive peak, he estimates he was playing Magic upwards of 60 hours a week. Now, Magic is no longer quite as all-consuming as it once was.
So what drives him today?
"My goal today is the same it's been for the past couple years: doing a good job of preparing myself for whatever the next event is—not naming any names but I don't want to be the washed Hall of Famer who tries to Ancient Grudge a Mutavault," he explained with trademarked playfulness. "On the one hand I'm not playing as much as I did when I was full-on Magic but because there's no traveling it means I'm playing more than I used to, and I feel pretty dialed in and I've been running pretty well."
"Look, I don't expect to play like I did at my peak, but I want to know what's going on in Magic. I'm a competitive beast, and beating my opponents still matters."
To that end, Scott-Vargas has been dominant over the last few months. He posted a Top 8 in the 2020 Mythic Invitational in September and is in sole possession of first place in the 2020-21 season of the Magic Rivals League, holding a narrow edge on Matt Sperling, Bernardo Santos and Stanislav Cifka. That lead was built over two weekends of League Weekend play in which Scott-Vargas's entire testing group fared well. It's a blistering start reminiscent of some of his's most memorable runs, and leaves the rest of his Rivals League contemporaries hoping they aren't about to become the next footnote in his career.
It's a notion the Hall of Famer isn't afraid to address.
"It helps that I've been one of the best Magic players in the world, and you can print that," he said matter-of-factly. "But even in those events I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's also a bit different now, compared to then. One thing that was more true of Pro Tours than of League Weekends is that the cadence was a set would come out, and two weeks later was the Pro Tour. People weren't playing the quantity of games they are now. When we played Stoneblade in Paris, only like 12 people were playing it in the tournament. That's not something that happens these days, where a broken deck exists for two weeks and no one even knows about it."
The Stoneblade deck of Pro Tour Paris 2010 went on to define Standard in the way we've seen with recent Standard decks over last year, including meeting its end with a ban falling on cards.
And the shift in deck and card knowledge changed what it takes to beat the best in the world, which is what LSV and the other 47 members of the Rivals League are trying to do over seven weekends of league play. Each set of matches contributes to a season-long points total, and Scott-Vargas has his eyes set on the Top 4 in season standings, earning invitation to the Magic Pro League and Magic World Championship XXVII.
"I'm obviously happy with my start, but it's a marathon, not a sprint," he explained. "The way I look at it is that I'm ahead after two laps, but there's seven laps in the race—I could easily get hit by a 'blue shell' and that's it," Scott-Vargas said, referencing the famous item in Mario Kart. "The two weekends have gone great, but all it takes is one 4-8 weekend to demolish what you've built up."
Preparing for a big tournament in December 2020 looks quite a bit different than it did when Scott-Vargas was breaking Modern with Eldrazi at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, but one thing hasn't changed: the importance of a strong testing circle. With the quickly shifting MTG Arena metagame, that's especially true for Standard events.
But world-class players tend to keep each other's company, and it's a who's-who of the best: William "Huey" Jensen, Reid Duke, Kai Budde, and Gabriel Nassif round out the Hall of Fame starting five, and a crew that dominated the fresh Standard format as a group has established itself as the premier testing team among the dozens of players playing professionally.
But the Hall of Famers aren't the only ones involved, and one member has a very different memory of Scott-Vargas during those historic streaks.
"It was a Legacy Grand Prix right after Young Pyromancer was printed in 2013,” recalled Rivals League newcomer Eli Kassis. “I went X-2 and the deck caught on a bit after that, and I remember LSV coming up and telling me he really liked my deck. That really meant something, the person I was the biggest fan of telling me they were a fan of my deck."
"It was an honor to join the team, and it feels great to be a part of it," said Kassis. "The key to success is that they're really good communicators, who question [each other] really well."
The collaboration has paid off. While there are no hidden Stoneforge Mystic decks to be found, there is still room for innovation to gain small advantages. Scott-Vargas praised Kassis's contributions, and emphasized the importance of being surrounded by a great team.
"When Reid added Shark Typhoon [to Dimir Rogues] over Lurrus of the Dream-Den to sidestep the metagame, that really changed how the matchups played out," Scott-Vargas explained, noting the first League Weekend that netted Duke a record of 8-4. "The testing team has been really good, and I'm excited to about this season.
“We've never had a season before where the best players in the world have played against the best players in the world for this many matches. Each player gets to play 84 matches against other players in their league. Magic is a game of a lot of small edges, and the more of them you can pick up the better you can do. … You don't get sunk by one bad deck, or even two potentially. You are rewarded for doing a very good job of being prepared every weekend."
"We're going to find out who can put in the sustained effort and show up every time." If history is anything to go by, Scott-Vargas will continue to define this season one way or another.
That's a formula that has made his perhaps the most famous Magic player in the world, and one that has carried him to the top of the Rivals League so far. With the way he's been playing, there may be a few more victory burritos coming this season.
Watch as Scott-Vargas looks to make history again at the Zendikar Rising Championship broadcasting live December 4-6, beginning at 9 a.m. PST on twitch.tv/magic!