Today's King of the Hill started with the player who most deserved the initial title, the winner of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Shaun McLaren. McLaren was the last and ultimate King of the Hill at the Pro Tour, where the tradition started. Coming into this event, he hadn't played in any premier-level events, so it is fitting that a Modern tournament would draw him back out into the open before the Pro Tour next weekend. While he opted for a deck of the same colors to his Pro Tour-winning UWR Control deck, he decided against control in favor of UWR Splinter Twin, citing the lack of Zoo in the field as impetus for the switch. His first test of the weekend came in Round 4, as he faced Sean Ryder and the mirror match. After his run in with the deck in the Quarterfinals of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, McLaren was well-versed in the many nuances the deck has at its disposal, and they helped him assemble a lethal army of Restoration Angels to dispatch his first opponent.
For the next round, McLaren would meet his match, and an early demise. Though his Twin deck had the tools to stop early rushes from most decks, Ricardo Sanchez's flying robot army proved too much, as Cranial Plating ensured that McLaren would retain his crown no longer.
With the crown now firmly affixed on his head, Sanchez began his reign as the new King of the Hill. He opened with an impressive match against China's Tan Gao, playing Pyromancer's Ascension. It was an impressive match, but Gao's deck proved just a touch too slow to prevent Sanchez from overrunning him with creatures, all enhanced thanks to a Steel Overseer.
After defending his position from an ascendant assault, Sanchez turned his attention to the seas, where Tyler Novak's amphibious Merfolk attempted to dethrone him. It was another very close match, but Sanchez's aggression was once again able to narrowly eke out a victory, making it three in a row.
Unfortunately, his magical run would end there. Playing against Jeremy Barbeau's Melira Pod deck in Round 8, Sanchez was unable to assemble a victory before Barbeau was able to find the pieces he needed to sling a Murderous Redcap enough times to take the match.
"This was a lot of fun," Sanchez said after the match. "I've never had a Feature Match at a Grand Prix before, so it was very cool to be sitting here at this table for most of the day. I really had fun."
With only one more round left in the day, Barbeau found himself just a short two game wins from ending the day at a perfect 9-0 and in possession of the King of the Hill crown. Standing in his way was the equally 8-0 Barry Smith and his RG Tron deck. The first game saw Barbeau under an immense amount of stress before managing to go off with Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder. In the end, though, Urza's will was done, with Smith emerging victorious. A card shop owner from Kansas, Smith was excited to open the day tomorrow at a perfect 9-0.
"This is great," he told me. "I don't get many chances to get out of my store and play, but this is near my birthday and I found some friends to go with me, and this has been well worth the trip. I've been playing Tron for a long time now, and I got to play against a bunch of great matchups. I played against Twin Round 3, and it was the only time I lost a game. From there, I got to play against Jund and Pod all day, and I'm 9-0 as a result. It's good to be the King."