Both relatively relaxed players, Hugo Demers and organ McLaughlin's pregame conversation would never leave you guessing they were squaring off the semifinals of a Grand Prix. McLaughlin joked with both Demers and his friend Robert Lombardi, playing in his own match one table over.
But no matter how relaxed the atmosphere, there was plenty on the line for both players. The winner would advance to the finals and earn the opportunity to hoist a trophy, while the loser would still qualify for the next Pro Tour. Not such a bad consolation prize. Still, both players entered the Top 8 determined to walk away the winner, and this match was the next step in doing that.
It was an aggressive mirror, with Demers' black-red deck matched in ferocity from McLaughlin's white-red deck. Both could flood the board quickly with a host of creatures, and use combat tricks and burn spells to push through the last remaining points of damage. The strategy had served them well in the quarterfinals, and now they would clash.
Those aggressive creatures traded in the early game, and a flurry of combat left the board with McLaughlin sitting on a Howlpack Wolf and Village Messenger — both with +1/+1 counters thanks to a Collective Effort —to just a Thraben Foulbloods on Demers' side. The Collective Effort seemed to put McLaughlin ahead, but little did he know Demers was just setting him up.
It began with Borrowed Hostility pumping the Foulbloods. Next came Uncaged Fury, triggering Delirium and boosting the Foulbloods to eight power and, crucially, double strike. With Menace to beat, Demers was able to swing in for 16 damage and end the game in one wildly unexpected shot.
Morgan McLaughlin made his way to the semifinals with an aggressive white-red deck, while opponent Hugo Demers featured a fast black-red deck of his own.
No one but Demers had seen the lightning-fast ending to the first game coming, and all McLaughlin could do was chuckle softly as he gathered himself after the game.
“Nothing I can do about that one!” he said as the pair shuffled.
Now aware of the danger in not having blockers, McLaughlin wasn't likely to be taken by surprise again. Not wanting to take extra damage, he traded his early creatures off and followed up with Gatstaf Arsonists to take control of the board. Once it flipped he had the biggest creature on the board, and Demers needed an answer. He found it in Vildin-Pack Outcast, which was able to trade with the Arsonists and leave both players without a major presence.
Hugo Demers' black-red deck had the power to end games out of nowhere, an attribute he proudly showed off in the first game.
Fortunately for Demers, Hanweir Garrison brings a presence along with it, and the ensuing attack dropped McLaughlin to 2 life as the human tokens came crashing in. That was within range of a lethal Incendiary Flow, and Demers had it to finish off the match in shocking fashion and earn his spot in the finals of Grand Prix Montreal.