After winning Pro Tour Born of the Gods with a White-Blue-Red Control deck earlier this year, Shaun McLaren came to Honolulu armed with a similar deck, however it now had a name: Jeskai Wins.
But could it actually win? McLaren would have to beat Ari Lax's Abzan Midrange deck first. Lax has been considered one of the better players without a Pro Tour Top 8 for some time now, with seven Grand Prix Top 8s to his name already, and he was now only one match win away from the coveted Pro Tour title himself.
"I have to be on the draw? That seems like some shenanigans!" Lax joked as they shuffled.
"Well, you don't have to be on the draw," replied McLaren.
"Ooh! Would you like to draw?" Lax offered.
"Okay, you have to draw." McLaren decided.
Only one more match remained before an owner of the Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir trophy was determined.
McLaren had the first play of the match, deploying a Goblin Rabblemaster on turn three and sending in the recruit, but Lax simply shot back with a Hero's Downfall on the Rabblemaster during his turn. With the Rabblemaster now gone, the Goblin token was no long obligated to attack, but it chose to attack anyway, knocking Lax to 18.
Then Lax untapped and dropped a Siege Rhino, undoing all of McLaren's hard work.
At the end of Lax's turn, McLaren fired up the afterburners and moved his game-plan into to phase 2, burning Lax with a Stoke the Flames. However, having not accomplished much in game-plan phase 1, McLaren still had a long way to go.
Then Lax untapped and dropped a second Siege Rhino. McLaren could only smirk and pick up his cards.
Lax 1 – McLaren 0
"One Disdainful Stroke, eh? Okay!" Lax remarked as he studied McLaren's decklist during sideboarding. In stark contrast, McLaren was intently focused on his own cards and had little to say.
Lax sideboarded the following cards:
While McLaren sideboarded like this:
"I'll mulligan," McLaren announced as they prepared for Game 2.
"I'll join you," agreed Lax.
"Mulligantown, population two," McLaren joked.
"I like to keep it fair."
Both players kept their six, and McLaren was again the first on the scoreboard with a turn three Mantis Rider sailing over Lax's Sylvan Caryatid. Lax missed his third land, but the Caryatid allowed him to summon a Courser of Kruphix to see if he could find a land on top of his library. I'm sure the Elvish Mystic he revealed was only a minor consolation.
McLaren added a Goblin Rabblemaster to the table, which created a token stupid enough to follow the Mantis Rider into battle. Sure enough, the Courser stepped on it, but the Mantis Rider knocked Lax down to 14.
Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion Shaun McLaren is looking to earn a second title this year.
Lax finally found another land and summoned a second Courser. McLaren attacked again, but this time corralled the Goblin token to convoke a Stoke the Flames at Lax before it could get into any Courser-related trouble. Lax played another Sylvan Caryatid, and at the end of the turn, McLaren burnt Lax down to 5 with a Magma Jet, and chose to leave one of the cards on top of his library.
"I don't like that," Lax stated, frowning at McLaren's library.
Lax 1 – McLaren 1
Lax declined to make any sideboarding changes before Game 3, but evidently McLaren had planned to move to a much more controlling strategy when he was on the draw:
On McLaren's fifth turn, he tapped out for Keranos, God of Storms, which earned a perplexed frown from Lax. With McLaren tapped low, Lax moved in with a Thoughtseize, taking a Jeskai Charm and leaving Stoke the Flames and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Lax then played Sorin, Solemn Visitor and attacked McLaren down to 5 life.
McLaren drew his card and again reached for his sideboard.
Lax 2 – McLaren 1
As suspected, McLaren switched back to the sideboard plan he used in Game 2 when he was on the play, and played a Phyrexian Revoker on turn two naming "Sylvan Caryatid". Lax drew, sighed, played a Mana Confluence, and passed back the turn.
The Revoker attacked, but Lax had a Bile Blight for it. McLaren passed back the turn, and after Lax played a Plains, dropped him to 16 with a Lightning Strike at the end of his turn. Lax played a fourth land and summoned an Elvish Mystic.
"End of turn Magma Jet you," McLaren announced.
"Me?!" Lax exclaimed with a laugh, "Oh boy!"
Each player played a land, and Lax held back his Mystic in case any overexcited goblin tokens reared their heads again.
Ari Lax very cautiously trying to win the title himself.
"End of turn, Stoke you," McLaren announced, dropping Lax to 10 life. McLaren played an Island and passed.
Lax played Sorin, Solemn Visitor.
"Thinking," McLaren replied, fanning out his graveyard.
"Dig Through Time in response?" Lax asked.
McLaren Dissolved the Planeswalker, scrying a card to the bottom of his deck. McLaren then delved away his graveyard to cast an end-of-turn Dig Through Time. He then untapped, and passed the turn back.
Lax played a Siege Rhino, putting himself up to 13 and McLaren down to 17. McLaren played end-of-turn Stoke the Flames and Lightning Strike to put Lax on 6. He then drew for the turn and passed it back again.
Lax attacked with his Rhino to put McLaren to 13 to Lax's 6. Lax fell to 5 to play a Wingmate Roc with Raid.
"Am I dying?" Lax asked as he passed the turn, "I'd like not to, that'd be grand."
McLaren considered his options. He shot Lax to 1 with yet another end-of-turn burn spell.
"You gonna slam it?" Lax asked as McLaren moved into his draw step.
"I'm gonna peel it reeaal slow," McLaren answered with a grin.
"You know I can hear them from here, I'm going to know," Law prompted as McLaren peeked at his card, and sure enough, a cheer erupted from the audience in the other room.
"Am I dead? Is that what that means? I want to know!" Lax was beside himself, as McLaren just sat there silently considering his options.
McLaren had drawn a Mantis Rider.
Lax had 11 power worth of untapped creatures including a Wingmate Roc and a Roc token. McLaren was at 13, so he could probably withstand an alpha strike from Lax, and if the top card of McLaren's library was a burn spell, holding back the Mantis Rider meant he might be able to steal a win, despite the lifegain from the Wingmate Roc.
"This is potentially the best slow-roll in the world," Lax laughed.
McLaren eventually decided to play the Mantis Rider instead of sandbagging it, just in case Lax had some kind of trick.
Unfortunately, he had two. The first Abzan charm exiled the Mantis Rider, and the second gave him just enough power to attack McLaren for exactly 13.
McLaren smiled and offered the handshake in congratulations. Lax looked stunned, as if he couldn't quite comprehend that this was the last match he had needed to win to the tournament.
But it was.
Congratulations to Ari Lax, Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Champion!"