Posted in GRAND PRIX DENVER 2015 - WELCOME on January 3, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

No. 3 Shaun McLaren sauntered up to the feature match area. Well, he might not have actually "sauntered," but when a player has such glorious hair, that player just tends to saunters everywhere—whether they try to or not.

Perhaps that swagger also comes from his stellar finishes last seasons. The man won Pro Tour Born of the Gods, then finished in the finals of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Those type of finishes deserve some of what the kids call "swag" or something like that. Wait, is it "bling bling"? Or "bae"? I don't know, I'm old.

Anyway, McLaren shuffled up across from Two-time Grand Prix Top 8 finisher AJ Sacher. Sacher has a little something to prove this weekend, as one of his finishes came at Grand Prix Denver back in 2008. He'd recently taken a little hiatus from Magic (as we all do from time to time), but is back in business.

After shuffling up, AJ took out a couple cards from his deckbox and displayed them to McLaren. "Do you accept the conditions?" Sacher asked. The cards were three sleeved Unglued cards: Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, and Scissors Lizard.

AJ Sacher

McLaren smiled and said, "Yup." The cards were shuffled, and McLaren's Scissors Lizard beat AJ's Paper Tiger. McLaren won the right to go first.

These two decks showcase what this format has been about—incremental advantage and finding a way to go over the top, before you're cut out from underneath. The Abzan Constellation build doesn't have as big of an impact at first, and its cards can be a little more situational. But it has the ability to trump other midrange decks, with cards like Whip of Erebos and Pharika, God of Affliction.

However, AJ felt the more traditional Abzan Midrange was more favored in the match-up. As the games tend to get down to Constellation controlling the board, and as AJ said, "he can just go 'Siege Rhino plus anything' and all the cards I've been sandbagging are now too slow."

McLaren didn't really seem to agree. He was too aware of the games where that type of aggression just isn't possible from his deck, and the flurry of Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant walk all over him. McLaren also knew that he wasn't playing Wingmate Roc, which was a big part of Abzan Midrange aggro-ing people out.

The Games

Shaun McLaren started severely behind on five cards, but tried to smooth things with a Temple of Malady, and hid behind a Sylvan Caryatid. During this, AJ Sacher started sculpting his graveyard with two Satyr Wayfinders. Though he only had two power on the board, two Siege Rhinos in the bin warned of a potential Whip of Erebos.

But AJ never needed the Whip. Despite two Rhinos in his yard, he raw-dogged the other two and commenced the beatdown. At that point, McLaren still hadn't fully recovered. So AJ and his Rhinos simple ensured that he wouldn't.

AJ Sacher 1 – 0 Shaun McLaren

This early loss bode poorly for McLaren, as AJ's sideboard was tuned to shore up his weak points against this commonly played deck.

No. 3 Ranked Player Shaun McLaren

The second game was much slower and much closer to what we're used to from a matchup with these decks. McLaren's Thoughtseize took a Thoughtseize, and then on turn five he wiped two Satyr Wayfinders and an Eidolon of Blossoms with an End Hostilities. McLaren had kept a land-heavy hand, but with three scry lands (the Temple cycle), he was hoping to draw into some more gas. There were a couple scrys where he found what he called "mediocre" cards that he had kept, instead of shipping them in the hopes of finding card draw.

So McLaren continued to be the control deck, killing two Courser of Kruphix and Thoughtseizing a Doomwake Giant, trying to clear the way for some of this monsters and card advantage machines that were yet to arrive. But when Pharika, God of Affliction came down for AJ—right after McLaren had used his Erase—gave a seemingly endless supply of snake tokens for AJ to threaten with. It was 20-12, and AJ had four 1/1 tokens.

McLaren top-decked the second Erase to limit AJ's Night Soils to four, but now he had to deal with these snakes. As the turns clicked away, McLaren went to 8, then to 4. These Pharika spawn were quite deadly.

McLaren sunk himself to 2 with another Thoughtseize and tried to stabilize with a Siege Rhino of his own. But AJ had a Glare of Heresy, that he'd been holding since the beginning of the game, for just such an occasion.

With no more blockers, the four snakes, with a Satyr leading them, sucked the last bit of life from Shaun McLaren.

AJ Sacher 2 – 0 Shaun McLaren