After already surviving his all-Steam Vents Quarterfinal match, Shaun McLaren is going to have his work cut out for him battling through yet another Izzet Mage.
Patrick Dickmann is playing what might be the most successful twist on the Splinter Twin archetype to date, adding a very realistic beatdown plan with Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze to the already dangerous Splinter Twin combo.
But McLaren is no stranger to battling through copies of commons like Lightning Bolt. He downed Tim Rivera's W/U/R Twin deck in three exciting games, running away in the decider when his Threads of Disloyalty made a traitor out of a Wall of Omens and the Splinter Twin it was fastened with. Armed with his own Howling Mine, it was only a matter of turns before McLaren stamped his passport to the semifinals.
Dickmann, though, is a Twin master, having played some version of the archetype for basically ever. The Tarmogoyf version is an idea he said has been bouncing around in his head for over a year. In fact, he considered debuting it last month at a Grand Prix, but chose to keep it under wraps to maintain the surprise factor for the Pro Tour.
But he wasn't catching McLaren and his deck full of answers off guard. Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Path to Exile, and Electrolyze were all potential ways to deal with Dickmann's attackers and his combo, and four Tectonic Edges and a pair of Ajani Vengeant are aces at attacking mana bases.
Something has to give, however. The Twin Slayer or the Tarmo-Twin Wonder. Only would make the finals to face Jacob Wilson and, oddly enough, not a single Steam Vents.
As often happens when both players are on some kind of Islands, the first few turns were spent playing lands and preparing their hands. I tend to think of it as the calm before the counter war.
In this instance, the first spell was a Snapcaster Mage out of Dickmann, and, naturally, it set off a flurry of responses from both players. When the stack cleared, Snapcaster Mage was back in Dickmann's hand and McLaren was down a Spell Snare.
That little scuffle, it turned out, was a bit of a ruse on McLaren's part, as he used the opportunity to resolve Ajani Vengeant and lock down Dickmann's one red source.
Though it didn't last long. Lightning Bolt on Ajani Vengeant and a Snapcaster Mage set off a scuffle to keep Ajani alive. Ajani lived at two counters, with Dickmann tapping out once more after losing the battle.
Sensing an opening, McLaren went for the throat, animating a Celestial Colonnade and dropping Dickmann to 12 before sacrificing Ajani to deal an additional three. He clearly wanted to end the game sooner rather than later, attempting to get value out of Ajani rather than having it eat a Lightning Bolt.
But he was unable to capitalize on the push. With Ajani gone and both players careful to leave up mana, the match settled into yet another familiar threat/answer pattern. Snapcaster Mage died to Flame Slash. Tarmogoyf left the game on a Path to Exile. Vendilion Clique was met with a five minute pause to consider options. You know how it goes.
That Vendilion Clique did, however, give McLaren a view into Dickmann's hand, revealing two Remand, two Snapcaster Mage and one Pestermite, offering a wild variety of choices and decision trees down which either player could slide. It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, where you go to page 87 if you want to take Remand, 19 if you want to take Snapcaster Mage, and 27 if you want to leave the hand as it is.
McLaren chose page 2, take Pestermite, cast Snapcaster Mage, and decline to play into Remand. From there and noting Dickmann's lack of defensive weapons that could tangle with Celestial Colonnade, McLaren went on the offensive once more with his 4/4 land. A few Scavenging Ooze triggers, a Lightning Bolt on Vendilion Clique and one cry of "Okay, do your worst," and Dickmann found himself at 6 life.
Now flush with mana, Dickmann went about doing his worst, using Serum Visions and Snapcaster Mage on Serum Visions and a Gitaxian Probe to dig wildly through his deck to find a way to race or deal with Celestial Colonnade. Tarmogoyf offered just that option.
McLaren, without many other choices and his adventure was clearly coming to a head, pushed Dickmann to 2 life with yet another Colonnade attack.
But it wasn't enough. Dickmann killed McLaren's Snapcaster Mage and crashed in for 13 damage, dropping the control player to 1 life. Then, when McLaren went to attack on the next turn, a timely Pestermite backed up by Remand ensured Dickman survived just long enough to win on the attack back.
Interestingly, McLaren could have cast Lightning Helix that turn instead of attacking. But he already knew about the two Remands in Dickmann's hand and only had two red sources in play. Without a third, he could never have fought through the two counters.
That, of course, ended the first phase of this little adventure. Phase two was only for the strong. Phase two was only for those with the stamina and the patience to endure a brutal trial by the opposite of fire.
Phase two was a sideboarded match between blue decks with even more counterspells in the sideboard. Go to page 179.
Both players kept land light hands to kick things off. McLaren missed his second land drop with only a Relic of Progenitus and Porphyry Nodes to show for it. Nodes ate a Scavenging Ooze and McLaren, on his fourth turn, finally found a second land. But he was still rapidly falling behind.
Sensing this, and facing a Relic of Progenitus, Dickmann went into attack mode. Relic of Progenitus gave Dickmann incentive to simply run out Snapcaster Mage as an Ambush Viper, drawing a Mana Leak from McClaren at the end of his own turn.
That left McLaren tapped down, meaning there was little he could do about a Lightning Bolt followed by a Snapcaster on Lightning Bolt again during Dickmann's turn. Dickmann wanted to get value out of his cards while he could while also ending the game before McLaren could draw out of his mana screw. McLaren fell to 9 life after the exchange, but managed to off Snapcaster Mage on the following turn.
The game then entered into an odd lull. Sword of Feast and Famine came out for Dickmann, but with nothing to equip it to, it just sat there looking all shiny and menacing.
Slowly, and with the time Dickmann's purely reactive draws were granting, McLaren drew out of his mana issues. With no pressure to speak of and McLaren finally sporting a healthy mana base, the match began to resemble a real game for the first time.
The first real scuffle of this new new game was over Dickmann's first creature in what seemed like an eternity. Scavenging Ooze, even with no food to snack on, was dangerous just by being something to attach a Sword of Feast and Famine to. That merited a Snapcaster Mage targeting Lightning Helix for McLaren, which met a Remand, which met a Mana Leak, which met a Remand.
Follow all that?
The end result was that Dickmann was tapped out, Scavenging Ooze was fully equipped, and McLaren had an uninterrupted turn to maneuver, something he hadn't had the entire game. He used that turn to steal Scavenging Ooze with Threads of Disloyalty, all while getting in a 2 two damage with Snapcaster Mage.
The theft left Dickmann scrambling. Without a second creature, Sword of Feast and Famine would stay attached to the Ooze, spelling virtual disaster if it struck even once. Instead of letting that happen, Dickmann started his counteroffensive with a Deceiver Exarch in McLaren's attack phase and a Cryptic Command to try to get his Ooze back.
McClaren fought back with a Remand followed by a Path to Exile on the Exarch. Another counter war ensured, which Dickmann lost handily. Tapped down and now out of blockers, McLaren showed him Lightning Helix for the final points of damage, pushing the match to what seemed like an improbable third game a million turns ago when McLaren was struggling for lands.
Then, as McLaren said, "The true tech comes out."
"I'll choose to draw," Dickmann proclaimed.
Given the length of the games, the choice made some sense. Given Dickmann's mulligan, it was even more prophetic. Given his double mulligan, it might even end up being the most important decision he made all match.
Given that he kept a no-land hand and drew two with Gitaxian Probe on his first turn, it might have been the best decision ever made by anyone in any game of Magic.
He missed his next two land drops while Mclaren missed just one. Neither player was accomplishing much, but Dickmann was so far behind he was forced to simply run out a Snapcaster Mage as fodder for Electrolyze instead of discarding.
To add insult to injury, McLaren started using Cryptic Command to stymie any development Dickmann might sneak in, bouncing a land and drawing a card to keep him at bay. Dickmann, still struggling to keep up, played Scavenging Ooze only to lose it to Snapcaster Mage on Electrolyze.
Suffice to say, things were not going Dickmann's way. Insult led to grievous injury when, trying to keep his head above water, McLaren fired off a Dismember to take out an attacking Celestial Colonnade. Mana Leak stopped it from happening, but the life loss was very real.
Now that Dickmann hit four lands, McLaren was more cautious about his attacks, choosing not to activate Colonnade in the face of so much open mana. Instead, he fired off a Lightning Helix in the middle of a sequence of "draw, go" style turns for both players.
Like the second game, with one player drawing out of mana screw, we suddenly had something of a new game on our hands, albeit one where Dickmann was starting out at 7 life facing a Celestial Colonnade and a Lightning Helix on the stack aimed at his dome. But still, whole new ball game and all that.
Now at just 4 life, Dickmann had to be ever mindful of Celestial Colonnade and any number of other threats that might happen at instant speed. In fact, it all came down to a complex set of threats at the end of his turn.
Snapcaster Mage/Lightning Helix started things off. Remand seemed to provide reprieve, and a Cryptic Command met Dickmann's own Cryptic Command. Dickmann got the better of the exchange and, though virtually tapped out, Dickmann had managed to stop the damage and bounce Cryptic Command.
But it was a temporary reprieve. Tapped out and left defenseless, there was nothing Dickmann could do to stop McLaren from stealing Snapcaster Mage or sending him to just 1 life. He had zero margin for error now, and anything ranging from a stiff Electrolyze to a full on Lightning Bolt was likely to knock him to the floor.
Instead, it was Counterflux that did him in. Attempting to stay alive in the face of two Snapcasters, Deceiver Exarch was his only hope. When Counterflux said no, resolutely, McLarent, after a marathon three-game set, was on to the finals.
It was a position that, early in the second game, he couldn't imagine being in.
"No, I couldn't picture myself winning when I had one land," he said.
When could he picture it?
"I felt like I was in it when I drew my second land."
Shaun McLaren defeats Patrick Dickmann 2-1 and advances to the Final!