There is much that could be said about the air about the final table of a Pro Tour. Under the hot lights, surrounded by judges and cameras, knowing that everyone in the Magic world is going to dissect and scrutinize your every move, it can be nerve rattling. Add to that the fact that this event's Top 8 is sequestered in a back room, far from the ambient noise of the spectators, and there is clearly a heightened sense of tension.
Despite all of this, the room felt calmer that it had at any point of the Top 8 so far, right when the most was on the line. Part of the reason for this has to be the fact that Shaun McLaren and Jacob Wilson have a very friendly relationship. It's reminiscent of when Pierre Dagen and Jeremy Dezani played each other in the Finals of Pro Tour Theros. You could tell that they were both at ease, and the jokes began to come out.
"This deck is nowhere near as good as that other deck was, though," McLaren laughed.
The deck he is disparaging has carried him to a 9-2-1 record on the weekend, good enough to get to first place in the standings and eventually through to the Final. W/U/R Control, a departure from the Flash decks that are far more commonplace in Modern, provides McLaren with all of the best control elements in the format, the main reason he picked the deck up. Wilson, on the other hand, prefers to both be able to answer and ask the important questions. After trying and failing to build a deck that could stand up to Melira-Pod, Wilson simply decided that since he couldn't beat it, he'd join it.
McLaren's opening draw contained everything he wants in a strong opener: countermagic and lands. He was able to put Wilson off of his first couple of plays, Remanding a Wall of Roots before Mana Leaking a third-turn Birthing Pod attempt. He even managed to Snapcaster Mage/Mana Leak an attempt at a fourth-turn Ranger of Eos.
Things were looking quite strong for McLaren by the middle of the game. He had countered most of Wilson's threats, burned away the ones that got through, and even used a pair of Tectonic Edges to drop the young Pod player to a mere two lands. Wilson was floundering, and McLaren was taking full advantage of it. Between Celestial Colonnade and Lightning Bolt, McLaren was easily able to defeat Wilson before he could draw another land, taking the first game of this best-of-five match.
Wilson had commented between the earlier rounds of Top 8 that he really wants to avoid relying on his combo against a control deck, preferring to just play creatures and attack. He attempted to enact that plan in the second game, running an Obstinate Baloth and Ranger of Eos out early thanks to a Wall of Roots. The Baloth ran afoul of a Mana Leak, but everything else that Wilson played hit the table. By the end of his fourth turn, Wilson had six creatures in play.
McLaren had a way to slowly grind at those creatures with the incredibly interesting Porphyry Nodes, but it was an incredibly slow way to get the job done. Wilson also used a Chord of Calling to fetch an Eternal Witness, keeping himself that much further ahead. He was so far ahead, in fact, that all he had to do was aim a Thoughtseize at McLaren's hand to earn the concession.
Both player potentially have a large amount of their sideboard that could come in during this match. One of the more interesting cards, in light of the second game, is the Anger of the Gods sitting in McLaren's board. Against a deck that tries to win through creatures, like Wilson's, the Born of the Gods rare is incredible, especially when some of those creatures have a nasty habit of persisting through death. Had he had one of his copies in the previous game, it would have wiped Wilson's board clean, turning around a nearly impossible situation.
Wilson opened the third game with another very important sideboard card: Thoughtseize. Looking through McLaren's hand, he saw that he had kept Mana Leak, Cryptic Command, and a bunch of lands. Wilson stripped him of the Leak, attempting to clear a path for a third-turn Birthing Pod. Unfortunately for Wilson, McLaren's draw the turn before the Pod could hit was Stony Silence, negating the Pod before it could even hit the table.
With the Pod route denied to him, Wilson decided to go for the old-fashioned method of simply casting his creatures. Ranger of Eos was an ideal draw, allowing Wilson to fetch out a pair of Noble Hierarchs, turning his Ranger of Eos into a potential six-point threat. Rather than take the hit, McLaren used Cryptic Command to tap Wilson's army down, digging for that Anger of the Gods. Instead, he found a Path to Exile, good enough to remove the Ranger, but not good enough to stop the barrage of exalted triggers from simply allowing one of his other creatures to become a gigantic threat.
McLaren's deck simply refused to provide him with any additional removal. With no other options, he began to animate and block with his Celestial Colonnades. After going through two of them, McLaren's deck mocked him with a Cryptic Command that he could no longer cast. He finally drew a Lightning Bolt on the following turn, but a Thoughtseize from Wilson stripped him of it, clearing the path for Wilson's victory. He attacked with his Scavenging Ooze, sacrificed a bunch of his creatures to Viscera Seer, and then ate them with his Scavenging Ooze, turning it into a very lethal attacker.
The fourth game of this match began in a very similar manner to the rest. Wilson played some creatures, and McLaren countered them. Unlike the last game, McLaren had more than enough removal to fill in the blanks. With Wilson sitting on an empty board, McLaren landed an Ajani Vengeant, which he used to keep Wilson from being able to advance his board, as he slowly built up enough loyalty to ultimate.
While McLaren was building up Ajani, Wilson managed to stick a Birthing Pod, a bit of a hollow threat with no creatures on the table. The hollow threat became very real a few turns later, when Wilson played a Kitchen Finks, using the Birthing Pod to turn it into a Murderous Redcap. The Redcap redirected its damage to Ajani, pushing him back further from his ultimate. With the Pod tapped, McLaren switched his target, releasing his grip on Wilson's Temple Garden and focusing it instead on the Pod.
Wilson still had cards in hand, and now that his full mana was at his disposal, he began to play them. Unfortunately for him, his playing out additional creatures played right into the Anger of the Gods that McLaren was holding, resetting the board. Before committing anything else to it, Wilson double checked McLaren's hand with Thoughtseize, revealing a second copy of Anger that he immediately stripped. This left McLaren with just an Island and Porphyry Nodes in hand. Wilson quickly added his two one-drops to the board and passed the turn.
McLaren's Ajani Vengeant ticked up to seven, and things were about to get ugly. Wilson just dumped his hand on the table, adding Voice of Resurgence, Entomber Exarch, and a previously dead Birds of Paradise to his side of the table, anticipating the impending explosion. McLaren used Path to Exile to kill the Birds before blowing up Wilson's world.
On his turn, Wilson peeled back the top card of his deck to reveal a Verdant Catacombs, one of the best possible draws in his deck. I have never seen someone crack a fetch land as fast as Wilson in my life, and he quickly got a Forest, allowing him to activate Birthing Pod, turning his Exarch into a Reveillark. It was an incredible, devastating turn of events, but he was far from safe. The exchange had taken him down to 3 life, well within reach of the burn spells McLaren's deck contains. Worse still, he was now under Porphyry Nodes, threatening to eat through any progress he might have made with the exchange. Things were certainly tight, but he was at least now in a game that had previously been out of reach.
Down to just his Reveillark, a Forest, and Birthing Pod, Wilson was barely clinging on. During McLaren's turn, he wisely activated his own Celestial Colonnade to ensure that there was going to be a creature on the table after his Porphyry Nodes destroyed the Reveillark. Wilson returned a Birds of Paradise and Voice of Resurgence to the table. McLaren attacked with his animated land, using Path to Exile to push the Birds of Paradise out of the way, and sending the match into the final and deciding game.
With everything on the line, Wilson found himself starting down a card in the final game. He also had to think for quite some time about his second hand before keeping, eventually determining that the Birds of Paradise, Voice of Resurgence, four-land hand was good enough. His first draw of the game brought him a Thoughtseize, allowing him to strip a potentially devastating Electrolyze from McLaren's hand, leaving him with a Relic of Progenitus, Snapcaster Mage, and some lands.
Wilson began to attack. The goings were far slower than they had been in the previous games, but McLaren's hand had virtually nothing to stop him for the time being. That changed with a Path to Exile, which removed Wilson's only offensive creature. Now, with the Snapcaster in hand, McLaren looked to be in control of the game. Obstinate Baloth gave Wilson an attacker, but the Snapcaster Mage in McLaren's hand brought back Path to Exile for a return trip. Now, neither player had anything in their hands, and McLaren had the slight edge on the board. It was all up to the tops of the decks.
McLaren was the first to see a new card, using Relic of Progenitus to see two, and boy were they good. Mana Leak and Threads of Disloyalty were an intimidating pair, especially when a second Mana Leak joined the party on the next turn. McLaren's hand was good, at it looked like he might be able to go the distance with just the Snapcaster Mage. Wilson was able to get rid of it in combat a few turns later, but McLaren and his hand of goods proved too much to handle. Right after Wilson played a top-decked Scavenging Ooze, McLaren stole it with Threads of Disloyalty.
And with one final attack, Wilson's own creature dealt the final points of damage.