Round 5 Feature Match – Shaun McLaren vs. Ricardo Sanchez

Posted in Event Coverage on May 10, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

"I'm going to try and keep the Modern success train going." Pro Tour Born of the Gods winner Shaun McLaren had declared his intentions in an earlier interview, and made good on his intent so far with a win in Round 4. Staying "King of the Hill" among a field of over 1,600 players is no easy task as there's always someone ready to take over the top.

That's where Ricardo Sanchez fits into the equation. He, too, was without loss going into the fifth round, and he, too, was just as adamant to avoid a loss here as well. It's a tough road, but every player wants to claim the throne in the feature match arena.

In the words of an immortal character, "If you come at the king you best not miss."

While McLaren led off in the first game, it was Sanchez who stormed the battlefield with four permanents on his first turn: two Vault Skirge, Darksteel Citadel, and Mox Opal. There was no question that it was a blistering fast Affinity start McLaren was facing down, aiming hard at the current king.

Mana Leaks and Lightning Bolt kept Steel Overseers and Arcbound Ravager from unleashing an ironworks of counters, but Sanchez's existing aerial force, joined by Inkmoth Nexus, kept the pressure on the Pro Tour champion.

Maintaining control was Shaun McLaren's plan. It wasn't successful in the first game.

Cranial Plating changed the math dramatically in Sanchez favor, as it often does for the Affinity player, even after McLaren used a draw step Vendilion Clique to minimize any combat surprises. One turn and digging down with two copies of Wall of Omens wasn't enough for McLaren find a way out of the artifact onslaught.

Sanchez 1 – McLaren 0

Sanchez didn't roar out of the gates in the second game, which gave McLaren time to find and use his answers. Electrolyze cleared two Signal Pests, and Mana Leaks and Lightning Bolt kept Master of Etheriums and Arcbound Ravager off the battlefield.

However, McLaren's answers began to run dry when Etched Champion appeared. Using his removal on other targets kept him in the game however, with Restoration Angel racing a potentially winning run against Sanchez's Champion – at least until the second appeared.

Ricardo Sanchez was racing for a victory, but ran into a wall of exact answers to force a third game.

Pestermite promised to allow a lethal strike on the next turn, but a second Restoration Angel joined the attack for McLaren as Izzet Staticaster revealed itself as the final answer in his hand.

It was just enough to force a third game.

Sanchez 1 – McLaren 1

Glimmervoid, Vault Skirge, and Memnite meant Sanchez had three permanents on the battlefield before McLaren had taken anction, but the control deck's answer began with a first turn Lightning Bolt into a second turn Stony Silence.

Sanchez, undaunted, used a Thoughtseize to strip Restoration Angel from a hand of lands and Mana Leak for McLaren. Already at 14 life, McLaren could only play land and pass his turn into a second Thoughtseize. It was nothing but mana for the champion left in hand.

Firing into a blank hand meant Cranial Plating, Thoughtcast, two Ornithopters, and Master of Etherium let Sanchez knock Mclaren down to three life. The King of the Hill untapped to reveal a hand of nothing but land.

"Now I play here?" Sanchez asked.

Commentator and Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Randy Bhueler watching the match confirmed: "You are the King of the Hill."

"Stripped of my title!" McLaren lamented.

"You can always win it back..." Beuhler teased.

While losing his coveted seat as King of the Hill, it looked like McLaren flooded out with too many lands in game three. "I had the Stony Silence but only lands after that," McLaren confirmed. "If I had drawn something like Electrolyze I could have blown up with Glimmervoid," he said, lamenting the missed opportunity he had early in the decisive game.

Are games always this close in Modern? "Usually not so much in this match – more of a landslide victory one way or another – but it's interesting," McLaren said. "Something has to go serious wrong after Stony Silence to lose there."

Is there any different between playing against decks online and what you find at Grand Prix? "Usually, lists a tuned against more specific matchups," McLaren said about Modern in physical world. "Online, there's a different metagame – more Burn decks, for example – and more decks tuned to beat the popular decks, to gain the edges there."

Affinity – Ricardo Sanchez

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White-Blue-Red Control – Shaun McLaren

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