Round 13: (9) Shaun McLaren (Abzan Rally) vs. Matthew Sperling (Abzan Control)

Posted in PRO TOUR MAGIC ORIGINS on August 1, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

These two players are no strangers to the second day of a Pro Tour. Both the Bay Area's Matthew Sperling and Alberta native, ninth-ranked Shaun McLaren have made Pro Tour Top 8s before, and McLaren was Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion.

This match-up would be a slow burner. Abzan Control can make for some very grindy games. It aims to control everything from the hand to the board before it slowly squeezes the life out of the opponent, like an anaconda made of 1/1 soldiers, rhinoceroses, and spirit dragons.

McLaren's Abzan Rally would often plays out slowly as well, depending on the match-up, waiting for the perfect turn to craft a giant Rally the Ancestors, drawing tons of cards and attacking for huge amounts of damage, thanks to cards like Nantuko Husk. McLaren learned about the deck last weekend, but really tweaked the numbers to streamline things a bit. When I asked what changes he liked the most, he just pointed his finger at the Elvish Visionary and tapped the card emphatically.

While both players were representing Abzan, both Shaun McLaren and Matthew Sperling had very different game-plans.

McLaren likes his match-up here, and he's hoping to escape the control deck's grasp.

The Games

In the first game, McLaren cast a third-turn, main-phase Collected Company and tried to go on the assault. Though in previous matches we've seen the Canadian play the more controlling role (like against the Red Aggro menace, for example), with Sperling's Big Abzan deck, he needed to get the beats in where he could, before the rhinoceroses buried him.

Sperling's deck was slithering along just fine. Two Siege Rhinos undid all of McLaren's early beats, and a follow-up Thoughtseize (seeing: Rally the Ancestors, Rally the Ancestors, Liliana, Heretical Healer, Satyr Wayfinder, Elvish Visionary) tried to control the opponent's hand in addition to the board.

To the untrained observer, Sperling looked to be in the lead. He was getting McLaren's creatures in the bin, but for the Rally the Ancestors deck, that wasn't always a good thing. McLaren had been putting his creatures there himself, thanks to Nantuko Husk and two Merciless Executioner, and he was building to something big.

McLaren rallies back from behind.

Though Sperling seemed to be doing everything right, he actually falling behind.

That was when the McLaren's big turn came. Rally the Ancestors returned Mogis's Marauder, Merciless Executioner, two Elvish Visionary, and Satyr Wayfinder (for a turn). And thanks to the Nantuko Husk already in play, his attack step was fruitful.

All the biggest creatures got haste from the Marauder, and the ones left behind were eaten by the insect skeleton (Nantuko Husk is technically a "zombie" but it's the exoskeletal husk of a Nantuko, so it's a skeleton). McLaren swung in.

"I take 18?" Sperling inquired. He crossed out "19" on his lifepad and wrote a big ol' "1."

After that, the game was done. McLaren had wiggled right from under the control deck.

In the second game, McLaren went to six and kept a one-land hand. Among the two scry effects (his land and the Vancouver Mulligan) and the Elvish Visionary, he was confident he could get there.

Sperling's first-turn Thoughtseize said otherwise. McLaren showed: Grim Haruspex, Grim Haruspex, Temple of Malady, Nantuko Husk, Elvish Visionary, and Rally the Ancestors.

"I'll take your Rally." The next turn Sperling followed, "I'll do it one more time," and cast another Thoughtseize. This time he took the Elvish Visionary. Not only had McLaren not found a second land, but now his card-drawing follow-up was gone too.

Four turns later, McLaren had just found his second land. Though all Sperling was doing was dropping lands and drawing cards of Abzan Charm, the full grip would certainly bury McLaren. He was paying life with reckless abandon, from Abzan Charms and Thoughtseizes, as he saw McLaren was basically paralyzed.

Sperling clamps down with Abzan Control's grindy game-plan.

There wasn't much to this game after Sperling flipped into Nissa, Sage Animist on his seventh turn and created an Ashaya, the Awoken World. Especially considering that McLaren was still stuck on two lands.

At this point McLaren's stoic face had turned into a very small smirk. This game was so silly that there was nothing else to do. It was turn eleven and McLaren literally couldn't cast a spell.

Sperling just slowly attacked with a 4/4 every turn until McLaren died.

After he scooped up his cards, McLaren chuckled and said, "That was slow and painful."

"Abzan's specialty," was the reply.

In the last match, McLaren used his post-mulligan scry to put land number three at the bottom of his library. He was already able to get a second-turn Sylvan Caryatid, and a forth-turn Collected Company—so he'd rather have more gas. Though he had went down to five cards, Elvish Visionary and Grim Haruspex helped him refuel and draw deeper into his deck.

Sperling was keeping tabs on his opponent's goings on, and cast just enough spells to remain out of danger. Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang all made appearances, but it was McLaren who was doing most of the heavy lifting in this game. Three Visionaries were getting in as best they could—not only helping smooth out McLaren's draw, but also on attack. By themselves, McLaren's 1/1 elves took his opponent down to 11. These indeed were good changes to the deck.

But soon McLaren found a Thoughtseize and Sperling showed him the goods in his hand—Llanowar Wastes, End Hostilities, Elspeth, Sun's Champion and a second Elspeth. Once the sixth land came down, the 1/1 elves met some 1/1 soldiers.

Though the Elspeth soon hit the bin thanks to a Hero's Downfall, an untouched Nissa, Sage Animist and Tasigur, the Golden Fang started giving Sperling a ton of cards. McLaren's hand was empty while Sperling was drawing three or four cards a turn while the little soldiers held off any aggression.

This was the anaconda curling around his prey.

Once the coast was clear, and McLaren's board had been sufficiently wiped, Sperling starting attacking with his 4/5. The death grip tightened. McLaren fought amazingly considering his mulligans, but he couldn't get there before the Abzan advantage machine took hold.

Shaun McLaren 1 – Matthew Sperling 2

(9) Shaun McLaren's Abzan Rally—Pro Tour Magic Origins

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Matthew Sperling's Abzan Control—Pro Tour Magic Origins

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