Joel Larsson's having a good week. Fresh off a Top 8 at Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth, the Swedish player has started well at 6-1. He stared at Alberta native and ninth-ranked Shaun McLaren across the table, smiled and said, "Are you ready?"
"Oh, I'm ready," McLaren responded. He's pretty good at this game; he's usually ready.
"'Born ready, you mean?"
"You know, I was thinking about saying that, but I realized I wasn't." McLaren was right; he had to prepare a lot for this weekend, although that preparation had been working so far. Like his opponent, the Canadian was also sitting at 6-1.
"Did the Lone Wolf test with anybody this time?" Larsson asked. McLaren is well known for his solo work—eschewing a big testing crew and just wrecking people out of nowhere.
"I'm Lone-Wolfin'. You know, wolfing along." He added, "I mean, my brother always helps me test…so I have a small pack." The two smiled at each other, finished shuffled and presented their decks.
Larsson was on the hyper-aggressive Red Aggro deck. It punished any durdling or imprecision from the opponent with small efficient creatures, and small efficient burn spells. McLaren was on the Abzan Rally deck, which was pretty darn durdly. Based around Rally the Ancestors, the deck aimed to abuse enter-the-battlefield triggers to overwhelm the opponent in value and advantage. Packing cards like Nantuko Husk, Elvish Visionary, and Grim Haruspex, it might not have looked like much, but as it proved last weekend and the StarCityGames.com Open Series event, and it's potent.
Joel Larsson faces off against the lone wolf Shaun McLaren to see who will advance into Day Two with an even better record.
If McLaren could set up a wall, often involving an untouchable Sylvan Caryatid, the Abzan deck could get its game set up. Both players agreed that the first game was in Larsson's favor, especially if he was on the play, but it evened out well after sideboarding.
Joel Larsson set the tone with Monastery Swiftspear, Abbot of Keral Keep, Firedrinker Satyr, and then a second Swiftspear. McLaren had a slight defensive grid set up with Sylvan Caryatid, but Larsson was still screaming across the board.
On the Swede's fourth turn, he attacked in with his opponent at 12, and McLaren responded with a Collected Company. The green instant found Liliana, Heretical Healer and Elvish Visionary, but before blockers, Larsson burned out the Liliana to stop from any potential Planeswalker flipping. McLaren sunk to 5.
If he's going to do something, he'll have to do it quickly.
McLaren fights to keep his head above the rising water in his match-up against Red Aggro.
On his next turn Larsson cast a second Abbot of Keral Keep and found a Lightning Strike with two lands perfectly untapped. McLaren cast Collected Company during his opponent's attack step, but this time he only found a Nantuko Husk. Because there was an Abbot and two Swiftspear attacking, and McLaren had just two blockers. That wasn't enough. The "free" Lighting Strike plus one guy sneaking through got the last points away from McLaren, and the little red men took the first game.
In the second game, both players started off with a mulligan, and Larsson kept a hand with zero creatures. It was odd to see Mountain after Mountain come down and no mountain men following suit. Larsson was hoping he could manage the board long enough to start sneaking in damage.
However, Larsson did have three burn spells that he used to kill the first three creatures McLaren played. Nantuko Husk, Grim Haruspex, and two Liliana, Heretical Healer hit the graveyard upon entering. And McLaren was able to kill Larsson's first creature, Eidolon of the Great Revel with a Reclamation Sage. After turns of this, neither player could keep a credible threat on the board, but this benefited McLaren, as he was building to a big Rally the Ancestors.
When the deck's namesake hit, everything came back to the board and the game looked dire for Larsson. To distill some of the mountain of triggers, the first Liliana dying to the legend rule triggered the second Liliana to turn into a Planeswalker. This meant that the Zombie would stick around past the Rally expiration. Also, thanks to both the Grim Haruspex and the Nantuko Husk, McLaren was able to draw cards off the creatures that were about to die anyway to the Rally. It was an advantage machine really. Basically, McLaren returned everything from the graveyard to the battlefield, and if it was going to leave again, there was some sort of advantage gained by it.
Larsson's plan? Put enough pressure on the opponent before they get to do their thing.
When McLaren's shenanigans were finished, and he was ready to bring the pain, the Albertan had Elvish Visionary, Nantuko Husk, Reclamation Sage, a Zombie Token, and a Liliana, Defiant Necromancer with two counters on it getting it there to rumble. This made Larsson's board of two Monastery Swiftspear look downright paltry. This was Abzan Rally doing its thing.
Two turns later, McLaren wiped out Larsson's blockers with a Drown in Sorrow, saving his Nantuko Husk by sacrificing everything that would've died to the Drown. This made the insect just big enough to take the last life points from Larsson, who no longer had creatures to block for him.
Joel Larsson 1—1 Shaun McLaren
McLaren had taken a game off the red deck, but now Larsson was back on the play, and it would be a bit harder to pull out a win in the rubber game.
Larsson kept a fairly risky one-lander, but it paid off as he ripped the second and third lands he needed casting his guys right on time.
His flurry of prowess creatures and low-costed burn brought McLaren down to 9 life before he had untapped for his third turn.
When McLaren laid his second enters-the-battlefield tapped land, and cast a 1/1 Satyr Wayfinder, it seemed like the game was already over. The next turn Larsson used Arc Lightning to keep the prowess train flowing, and with a follow-up Stoke the Flames soon after, Larsson had taken the match.
Larsson ends his day at 7-1; while McLaren sinks to a still-impressive 6-2.
Joel Larsson 2 – Shaun McLaren 1