Pro Tour–Berlin Quarterfinals: The Biggest Dragon that Ever Was

Posted in Event Coverage on November 2, 2008

By Dave Guskin

Martin Juza vs. Sebastian Thaler

Martin Juza and Sebastian Thaler in the throes of a grueling Elves! mirror match.

Here's a riddle for you: What's better than a hugemongous Predator Dragon? Two such Dragons, flying over a field of Elves, smashing into each other and faces like universes colliding! Or at least, that's the image that was running through quarterfinalists Martin Juza and Sebastian Thaler's heads as they shuffled up to duel in this PT–Berlin Top 8 match. Not only that, but these friendly foes tested together before the tournament, coming in with nearly the same Dragon Elves maindeck. Thaler had the slight edge with an extra Summoner's Pact.

Juza is a 21-year-old from the Czech Republic. He is a semi-regular on the tour, with about a dozen entries on the circuit. He's doing extremely well this year, with 25 Pro points after a 19th-place finish in Hollywood, and a 10th-place in Kuala Lumpur. Thaler keeps pace with him on those accomplishments as 2006 Rookie of the Year. Since then he has made it to nearly every PT he could, with more than a dozen appearances and two PT Top 8s.

Game 1

Thaler kept, but Juza mulliganed to six, shaking his head all the while and knowing that on the draw he needed all the help he could get. Thaler began with a Llanowar Elves, the first part of the puzzle falling into place: mana. Juza replied with an untapped Temple Garden into Birchlore Rangers. Not to be outdone, Thaler took his own 2 points to lay down an untapped Overgrown Tomb, playing out a Wirewood Hivemaster and a Wirewood Symbiote, poised to generate a massive advantage on the next turn.

Juza pondered his next play as he untapped. He quickly laid down a Hivemaster of his own and an Essence Warden, and the swarming on both sides of the table begun. The game stood at Juza 20 – Thaler 18, and as Thaler played a second Hivemaster, things started getting out of hand. Thaler brought out a duplicate of Essence Warden for his own side. After some careful calcution, it stood at 30-24 with a slight edge to Juza.

Juza untapped and cashed in his Horizon Canopy for a card, laying down another to replace it. He sat and thought for a moment about how to overcome Thaler's Wirewood Hivemaster advantage, especially with Essence Wardens on both sides of the field. He played a Llanowar Elves and passed it back to Thaler, who used Wirewood Symbiote to bounce Essence Warden and immediately replay it on his turn. Thaler then brought in a Nettle Sentinel, a Llanowar Elves, and the same Nettle Sentinel a second time via Symbiote, taking the life totals up to 49-43. Juza's nine Insects were dwarfed by Thaler's count of 17.

Complicated? You could say that.

Martin was content to sacrifice his second Horizon Canopy for another card, laying a Forest and passing the turn. Sebastian took a chance to play Chord of Calling with X = 2 on his turn, fetching out an Elvish Visionary—a friendly face for Wirewood Symbiote—and then playing and sacrificing his own Canopy for a little card draw of his own. He fiddled with playing and replaying Elves for a minute, jacking the life totals up to 57-51, still down 6 life from Juza.

"Anything else?" Juza asked. Sebastian thought for a moment, then shook his head and passed the turn.

"Come on, Glimpse!" cried Juza before he drew for the turn, but his wish remained unanswered. However, he was soon forced to recall the old saying "Be careful what you wish for," as Thaler played a Glimpse of Nature of his own. Thaler still lacked any Birchlore Rangers or Heritage Druid for mana production, so he could only play a few Elves, jacking his Insect token count up to 27. With his 21 untapped Insects, he smashed in for the first damage of the game, leaving it at Juza 48-63 Thaler.

Juza found a second Essence Warden on top of his library. "You have the second Glimpse?" Juza asked, smiling. "I'm guessing you do." When Thaler indeed played a second copy of the now-iconic Elf drawing spell, Juza just shrugged. Life totals stood at 63-71. Thaler drew a pair of cards with Elvish Visionary and found himself both a Birchlore Rangers and a Heritage Druid, the two final pieces to the puzzle.

Thaler was then able to ignite the deck's powerful Elf engine, using Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid to generate mana and then playing any other Elf spell to draw a card and untap the Sentinel. Once he found a second Nettle Sentinel, he was able to untap both of them on each new Elf spell, and those plus whatever Elf he played meant every new Elf would essentially be free.

"Just kill me already!" Juza cried.

"I win this turn," Thaler replied.

"No, not this turn. It's about how big your Dragon is, and how big my Dragon is."

"Yeah, but... I get another Hivemaster...." Thaler replied. And just so, he fetched a third Wirewood Hivemaster with Summoner's Pact. After the Hivemaster hit, Insects were at 24-45 (plus three Wirewood Symbiotes) and life stood at 123-101. Thaler had 13 Elves, but showed no signs of slowing down his Glimpse of Nature-fueled rampage. Thaler fetched all the remaining Hivemasters and Essence Wardens out with Pacts and ballooned his token count into the high 80s.

"I have the [Elvish] Champion, but I don't know which ones can attack this turn!" bemoaned Thaler.

'Just kill me already!'

Thaler surpassed his double Essence Warden–wielding opponent in life at 273-279. With 98 insect tokens and 27 Elves, Juza told Thaler he was about 30 points short of a lethal Predator Dragon. He found his own would be about 88/88, not nearly monstrous enough to take on Thaler's. So just in case, Thaler made about five more Elves and 10 more tokens (up to 106).

When Thaler finally played his Predator Dragon at 359 life and three cards left in his library, Juza was just over an even 300, at 313. His Dragon was 278/278 monster, which he represented using a d6 for the hundreds place, a d20 for the tens, and a d30 for the ones.

"Yeah, I don't block." Juza took 278 and went down to 35. Juza thought for a moment as he drew, but without a Glimpse of his own, he passed back. "Maybe you'll forget," he said with a laugh, hoping for a Summoner's Pact blowout. Unfortunately for him, Thaler had remembered to put a few dice on his library as a reminder, and paid for the Pacts before swinging for the win.

Thaler 1, Juza 0

"I kept Canopy, Hivemaster, Essence Warden." Juza remarked. "Seemed better than going to five."

"Yeah, in this matchup, seems right," Thaler agreed.

Juza sat shuffling after sideboarding, still contemplating. "Nah, maybe I should have gone down to five. You had the Glimpse before me, or at least, Visionary and Symbiote."

Before the next game, they both looked over to the Faeries matchup.

"Against Faeries, Pendelhaven is so important," Juza claimed.

"Yeah, you draw Pendelhaven, you keep it. Simple," Thaler agreed.

Game 2

Juza started on the play, with a Birchlore Rangers. Thaler wasted no time paying 4 life for an Overgrown Tomb and a Thoughtseize, revealing Heritage Druid, Essence Warden, Elvish Visionary, Wirewood Hivemaster and Forest, taking the Visionary. Wirewood Hivemaster plopped down next on Juza's side, while Rangers ran in for a single point, bringing it to 20-15 in Juza's favor.

Thaler had no second land and played a lonely Wirewood Symbiote. Juza took the opportunity to attack in again, and then played out Essence Warden and Heritage Druid times two, giving him 5 life and three insects. Still missing land, Thaler played a Nettle Sentinel and passed it back, the life totals at 28-14.

Juza saw his chance to do what tiny Elves do best and got in there with the team minus Wirewood Hivemaster. Sentinel blocked the Birchlore Rangers, but the unblocked remaining 1/1s brought Thaler down to 7. Juza finished up with a Nettle Sentinel of his own and the corresponding token courtesy of Wirewood Hivemaster.

Unable to stem the bleeding, Thaler shrugged and scooped it up.

Juza 1, Thaler 1

"That's the fastest game I've played in the mirror," remarked Juza.

Game 3

Thaler goes to the top.

Juza looked pensive for a moment before deciding to keep. Thaler started with Gilt-Leaf Palace showing Elvish Visionary, then playing down a Wirewood Symbiote, the tag team of card-drawing if the game goes long. Juza replied with a Nettle Sentinel off of Temple Garden. Thaler went with Overgrown Tomb and then played out his Visionary.

Juza smashed in with Nettle Sentinel, taking the life totals to 18-16, then brought out an Essence Warden, still off of one land.

"Am I dead?" he asked as Thaler untapped. Thaler's reply was a Glimpse of Nature, which garnered an audible sigh from Juza. The Czech was forced to look on as Thaler then played a Nettle Sentinel and a Heritage Druid, closing in on the combo. Thaler tapped all of his creatures to convoke a Chord of Calling with X = 1, fetching out another Nettle Sentinel and completing the Elfumvirate.

Now with two Nettle Sentinels, Thaler played his second Chord, again with X = 1, this time grabbing a second copy of Wirewood Symbiote. He used the Symbiotes to provide an extra three mana each (courtesy of the untap, the Sentinels' untap via the next Elf, and Heritage Druid's ability) replaying Visionary twice, going up to a whopping eight cards with no end in sight.

Thaler unveiled his third Chord for 1 of the turn, getting a third Symbiote. He cast a second Glimpse of Nature, and after a flurry of Elves hit the table, he tapped two for via a recently played Birchlore Rangers, Thoughtseizeing Juza to clear the path.

"Should I just show you my hand?" Thaler asked, motioning to tap two more Elves for , signaling Brain Freeze to deck his opponent.

Juza nodded, and when he saw the storm card, he conceded.

Thaler 2, Juza 1

"If I drew the land, it would have helped," Juza said. "I was winning next turn."

"Really?" Thaler asked.

"Yeah, I had the combo in hand," Juza nodded.

Game 4

Juza led with a turn-one Heritage Druid, as Thaler responded with a Nettle Sentinel. Juza revealed his next land drop as Pendelhaven, allowing his lowly Druid to attack into the burly Sentinel. Thaler opted to take the damage, dropping to 19. Juza made a Wirewood Hivemaster and passed it back to Thaler.

[qf_juza.jpg, align=left, cap="Juza is good-natured about the marathon match."]Sebastian played a Birchlore Rangers, tapping both for the needed to Thoughtseize. Martin revealed Warden, Visionary, Chord, and Glimpse, and Sebastian quickly decided to take Glimpse. He finished with a Wirewood Symbiote off of a freshly played Horizon Canopy, going down to 16.

Juza untapped and attacked with his Insect, taking Thaler down to 15, before playing Elvish Visionary. He then tapped his three Elves for , playing Essence Warden and Birchlore Rangers in quick succession, but without a Glimpse of Nature, he was forced to end it there, burning down to 22 after the life gain of the Warden.

When Thaler tapped Birchlore Rangers and Nettle Sentinel to cast an Elvish Visionary, Juza made him hold. Juza responded to the untap trigger of the Sentinel with Chord of Calling with X = 3, threatening any number of bullets from his deck. Thaler pondered for a moment and decided to play it safe against the remarkable Orzhov Pontiff by bouncing his Birchlore Rangers. Juza nodded and then fetched out an Ethersworn Canonist, forcing Thaler to end his turn without further plays, the life at 25-15.

Again the aggressor, Juza bashed in with his whole team of Insect tokens (now five strong) and four 1/1 Elves. Thaler sacrificed one of his two Horizon Canopys using mana from the other, meaning he was down to 14, before he decided to take all 9 points down to 5.

Thaler untapped and shook his head, clearly missing key pieces to the combo puzzle he so desperately needed to build, and conceded.

Juza 2, Thaler 2

"You know, that's four games where I didn't cast a single Glimpse." Juza remarked.

"Yeah, but you won two, so...." Thaler replied and smiled.

"Heh, that's true." Juza agreed.

Both returned to their sideboards before the fifth and final game of this epic match, searching for some secret technology that might have escaped their thoughts.

"Sooo... I start?" Juza asked jokingly.

Thaler laughed. "No, I start."

"Let's do it." Juza said, bracing himself for the upcoming game. They wished each other good luck.

Game 5

Juza started off the fifth game the same as the first: with a mulligan.

"One land? Or no Glimpse?" Thaler asked him.

"Pretty much all of it, yeah," Juza said as he finished shuffling.

Juza chuckled to himself grimly as Thaler asked about the new six. "Same hand?"

"I wish!" Juza began to mulligan again, asking Thaler, "Is your hand good?"

"It's okay."

He finally decided to keep his five and watched as his opponent played out the Wirewood team, Symbiote and Hivemaster.

Juza found a Wirewood Hivemaster and played it, going down to 17 from the Symbiote's attacks. He passed it back to Thaler, who made Juza's bad dream into a nightmare: Glimpse of Nature.

Thaler went through a few Elves, until he noted that Juza had four Insects and the Wirewood Hivemaster. "Do you have Chord of Calling?" he probed, realizing his opponent's Hivemaster was an important combo-breaker in post-sideboard games, since it allowed a Chord of Calling to easily go fetch one-sided "Wrath of God of Elves," Orzhov Pontiff. Thaler stopped there rather than give Juza a chance to go active with Chord, burning for one and evening it up at 17 life a piece.

'I think I have it.'

Juza untapped and stated, "If you have Chord of Calling, you just win. Why wouldn't you play it?"

Juza made his decision and played his own Chord with X = 3, going down to 16 life from his painful land. In response, Thaler picked up his Heritage Druid with Wirewood Symbiote, but then the remainder of his team died a horrible, Pontificating death. Juza finished up with a hard-cast Ethersworn Canonist to try and seal off Thaler's ability to Glimpse his way back into the game.

Thaler merely untapped and played his singleton Viridian Shaman from his hand, earning a weary smile from Juza as he binned his Canonist. Juza now had a total of 5 Insect tokens able to attack, and did see along with his Pontiff, earning a block of a 1/1 token from the Shaman. The life totals hovered at 12 life each.

Thaler drew and played his second Glimpse of Nature of the turn, then his third, generating insane card advantage as he replayed his Heritage Druid and then a bonanza of other Elves. Juza sat back and waited for the inevitable. As he laid down his tenth Insect token in reply to the third Nettle Sentinel, the two players looked each other in the eye.

"I think I have it," Thaler said, revealing his hand. Juza studied it for a moment, and then extended his hand, sending Thaler on to the Semifinals.

Sebastian Thaler defeats Martin Juza 3-2 and advances to the Semifinals!

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