Josh McClain, the Iowa native and Grand Prix Detroit winner, sat down and shuffled in the feature match area. He was one of the few top players slinging Abzan Midrange today. It's slightly teched out, with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and two Anafenza, the Foremost, but it looked familiar.
"I like the Anafenza against the Whip of Erebos decks," he told me. "Also, it helps attack planeswalkers against decks like Mardu. Getting a couple more 'haste' creatures can really help out," he said as he made finger quotes around "haste."
Jason Hernandez is a San Antonio local, and this is his first Grand Prix ever. A long-time player, he's finally gotten to a point with his work and family that he can really afford to take the time to get in some mage battling. He'd been playing since Mirage and seemed pretty excited to be hanging out. A policeman when he's not a wizard, he's really looking forward to coming to events more often. That's definitely a feeling you get when you're sitting 4-0. He's yet to lose in a Grand Prix.
"Didn't y'all get hit with a lot of snow recently?" Hernandez asked McClain.
"Yeah, but actually when I left it was like 40 degrees. I really left at the wrong time." They both laughed.
The two bantered about weather patterns, the cluster-hell that was Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth last year, and the scary potential for Grand Prix Omaha coming in January. They presented their decks, both kept their opening seven cards, and battled.
McClain cast a turn-one Thoughtseize to get a look at what he was up against. Playing the Abzan deck, the most consistently powerful deck around, McClain wanted to clear the way for his big ol' Rhinos and Rocs.
Heir of the Wilds, Chandra, Pyromaster, Forests, and Mountains was Hernandez's hand. He tricked McClain by keeping his Goblin Rabblemaster on the top of his library, so at the end of his third turn, he had an Heir, a Rabblemaster, and a 1/1 Goblin token—joined soon by an Ashcloud Phoenix on turn four. Hernandez had drawn a great curve for himself and McClain quickly dropped to 9.
McClain was a tad nonplussed, and cast an Anafenza, the Foremost to trade off some cards. But Hernandez kept the pressure on thanks to a Lightning Strike on the Anafenza (after it slaughtered the 1/1 Goblin). McClain tried to keep composed, but when the second Phoenix came down for his opponent, his life total was 1, and he drew a blank for the turn, he packed it in.
"I'll play next game." McClain said. Good choice.
In the next game, Hernandez had a hand full of Lightning Strikes and Ashcloud Phoenixs, with a Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker cherry on top. The only problem was no red mana. On turn three, he had two Elvish Mystics and an Heir of the Wilds, but the rest of his hand was uncastable.
McClain went on the offensive this time, and it showed in his life total. Pain from Thoughtseize, Caves of Koilos, and Abzan Charm (using the drawing-cards mode) brought him down to 13 quickly. This is not really a big deal for the Abzan deck, as Siege Rhino and Wingmate Roc can change that right quick. McClain cast these right on time, and there was very little his opponent could do. Quicker than Hernandez won the first game, he was now looking at an even match.
"I hope it'll be a good game three," McClain said, slightly disappointed at the lack of opposition he had just faced. But Hernandez was back on the play for the last one, and because he was playing the faster deck, McClain would likely be on the back foot.
And on the back foot he was. Hernandez had an Elvish Mystic, Heir of the Wilds, Goblin Rabblemaster, Chandra, Pyromaster, and got three tokens before McClain was able to get online. Jeezum Crow. McClain stemmed the bleeding with two Sylvan Caryatid while building to his two Bile Blights, but he was dying out here.
The damage was coming very, very fast. McClain was at 9 and down one Caryatid when he got his turn back. He did nothing but cast another 0/3 Hexproof. This is not how he was going to win this game.
He passed the turn with mana up to cast a Bile Blight, but he would have to do some tight math to survive. There was an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, just champing at the bit in his hand, but he'd have to untap again to get there. And now that Hernandez had added a Polukranos, World Eater, the board, and the Heir of the Wilds, was that much more imposing.
The Blight took out four Goblin tokens as McClain sunk to 5. He thought a lot about this turn. A simple Elspeth, Sun's Champion wouldn't do it. He cracked a Windswept Heath and went to 4. He thought his best line was to cast an un-raided Wingmate Roc.
But all that thinking was for naught. On the next turn, when Hernandez flashed a Lightning Strike, while all his attackers laid in wait on the battlefield, McClain was ready to extend his hand.
San Antonio local Jason Hernandez has defeated Josh McClain 2-1, as he advances to 5-0.