Pro Tour–Berlin Semifinal: A Solemn Pact

Posted in Event Coverage on November 2, 2008

By Bill Stark

Sebastian Thaler vs. Matej Zatlkaj

Germany is home not only to the Pro Tour this weekend, but also to some of the greatest players to have ever played the game. As Sunday action heats up, only one German is left to defend his homeland for the title of Pro Tour champion. That man is former Rookie of the Year Sebastian Thaler. Looking to rain on his parade is Slovak player Matej Zatalkaj. He's had a meteoric rise this weekend and would be all too happy to keep the title of Pro Tour–Berlin champion for himself.

Game 1

Sebastian Thaler looks on in horror as Matej Zatlkaj combos out.

After winning the die roll, Sebastian Thaler opened on a Nettle Sentinel. His opponent led with Llanowar Elves, and was no doubt a little happy to see Thaler miss a second land drop, instead dropping another copy of Nettle Sentinel. Zatlkaj played twin Elves of his own with two Essence Wardens, but also missed a second land drop, stuck on just one Forest.

But if we have learned anything this weekend, it is that Elves! can do unbelievable things from very surprising places. Sebastian untapped to take his third turn, dropping a Heritage Druid that immediately set him up to go off. He used Summoner's Pact to find a third Nettle Sentinel, then played not one but two Glimpse of Nature. That meant when he actually played his third Nettle Sentinel, he got to draw two cards and untap the twin Sentinels already in play. Things were definitely about to get interesting.

Thaler went through the motions of comboing off, playing Elves, drawing cards, and generating Insect tokens with Wirewood Hivemaster. The only problem was that his opponent was gaining 2 life each time a creature came into play for the former Rookie of the Year. That meant he'd have to get creative to kill with a Predator Dragon, as Zatlkaj was no doubt going to be at a reasonably high life total come the combat step. Sebastian Thaler was very fluent in the Elves! mirror match, however, having played it numerous times on the weekend. He went about Chord of Calling up all of his Hivemasters to create a critical mass of creatures to devour with Predator Dragon.

Finally the big moment came. Thaler generated three red mana by way of Birchlore Rangers to play the Dragon he had drawn. Sacrificing the majority of his team, he got into the red zone with a 116/116 Dragon. That left the Slovak player at 27, and one thing was sure: the new Extended is a veritable algebra class worth of math lessons.

"I was hoping I wouldn't draw this card," Zatlkaj said, as he took his turn and revealed he had drawn a Glimpse of Nature from the top of his deck. "Now I have to try to go off."

The process of doing so was a daunting one. The opponents agreed it was Thaler's turn to keep track of the number of Essence Warden and Wirewood Hivemaster triggers that would go off, as Matej had played the role for Sebastian's big turn. Summoner's Pact, Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel, Birchlore Rangers; all hopped onto the board for Zatlkaj just as they had done for his opponent a turn earlier. When things were said and done the players were each at hundreds of life, and Matej had a Dragon larger than his opponent's and a one card lead in library totals, 4-3.

Zatlkaj had crafted a master plan. By going off second, he managed to eclipse Sebastian's life total and play a Dragon slightly larger than his opponent's. He had also searched up an Elvish Champion which would allow his Elves to survive blocking Thaler's army of Insects, and Matej had virtually guaranteed a victory. When he explained the situation to his opponent, Sebastian considered his options, but they weren't many. He could choose to concede to move on to the second game (the first had already gone over an hour), or play through the turns hoping his opponent would forget to pay for his Pacts after not putting a reminder on top of his library as Thaler himself had done. Looking at the clock, Sebastian put faith in Zatlkaj's ability to not make as big a mistake as forgetting a Pact, and conceded.

Zatlkaj 1, Thaler 0

"It's good for coverage," Matej Zatlkaj teased in between games, jabbing at the sometimes tedious nature of the Elves! mirror match. "You just wait for SOMETHING to happen..."

Game 2

Thaler is unflappable as always.

While the first game of the Predator Elves! mirror is all about who gets to go off second, the sideboarded games are a lot more interesting. Both players bring in hate in creature-based form, which means it's difficult to go off. By doing so, they run the risk of their opponent playing Chord of Calling and wiping their entire board with something like Orzhov Pontiff.

The second game started off with Wirewood Hivemasters for both players, though Matej had an Essence Warden to go with his while Thaler played a second Hivemaster and Heritage Druid.

The first "hate" to hit the table was an Elvish Champion for Thaler. His Elves would need the bonus to push through all the additional life his opponent had gained from Essence Warden and survive an opposing Orzhov Pontiff, but the play left him tapped too low to disrupt his opponent if he should try to go off. As Zatlkaj untapped and played a Glimpse of Nature, he revealed that was exactly what he intended to do.

A Summoner's Pact searched up Nettle Sentinel for the Slovak player and, combined with his Heritage Druid and Wirewood Hivemaster, appeared to give him all the juice he would need to go off. The only thing standing in his way were Thaler's Wirewood Hivemasters, or more importantly the untapped Insect tokens they would generate for each Elf Zatlkaj played. The unassuming 1/1s lead to one of the most fascinating elements of the Predator Elves! mirror in that Thaler would be effectively gaining Chord of Calling mana as his opponent went off. That meant that while he couldn't Chord at the beginning of Zatlkaj's turn, he could do it midway through the process, nabbing his hate and potentially stealing his opponent's thunder.

If Thaler had it, he didn't play it, watching instead as Matej could only combo into hardcasting a Goblin Sharpshooter before passing the turn. He had a horde of Elves and Insects and a lead on life, plus the 1/1 Goblin threatened to wipe out Thaler's army. Sebastian drew his card for the turn, but didn't find the necessary tools to win and the players were on to the third game.

Zatlkaj 2, Thaler 0

Sebastian Thaler either had a great deal of respect for Matej Zatlkaj, or just hadn't considered playing his games out to force his opponent to pay for Summoner's Pacts. For the second game in a row Thaler had conceded rather than wait until his opponent's upkeep to verify that Matej could remember the spells he had played on the previous turn. That action wasn't a foregone conclusion as the Top 8 newcomer wasn't using a reminder on the top of his library to prevent him from forgetting.

Game 3

"You'll play first, I suppose?" Matej Zatlkaj inquired of his opponent as the two shuffled up for the third game of their epic battle. In his first Top 8 at the Pro Tour level, Matej had demonstrated himself to be one of the most gregarious, easygoing members of a Top 8 since Mike Turian won a team championship as a member of Potato Nation. The German Thaler, who had played under the bright Sunday lights previously, was no manners slouch himself, but in a two game hole, he kept quiet and focused on the match. He opened on a Llanowar Elves.

Zatlkaj had copied the Llanowar play on his turn, but was dismayed to see Thaler use his second turn to play Birchlore Rangers, then tap both of his Elves to play Thoughtseize. Matej revealed a hand of Heritage Druid, double Wirewood Symbiote, Goblin Sharpshooter, Ethersworn Canonist, and Forest, with the Goblin going to the graveyard. It was some unfortunate luck for Zatlkaj, drawing the singleton copy of his sideboard hate just as his opponent had managed a discard spell.

Zatlkaj's brain melts just a little.

As sad as he might have been, however, things immediately turned around for him just two turns later. Thaler had failed to develop his board presence after the Thoughtseize, instead drawing a card with a sacrificed Horizon Canopy. Zatlkaj, meanwhile, had ripped a Glimpse of Nature to go alongside his Heritage Druid and other assorted Elves. Sebastian gave a sigh of disbelief at the turn of events.

Matej went about going off playing a series of Elves and Symbiotes until he could find Nettle Sentinel to power his mana engine. Once that was online, it seemed all but over. Elf after Elf flew from the top of his deck as Thaler watched in horror. Running out of steam, Zatlkaj used Summoner's Pact to find Birchlore Rangers, made a white mana, and played Ethersworn Canonist. That would prevent him from playing anymore spells, but would lock his opponent out of the game with Matej holding a sizable board advantage.

Thaler paused the game when Matej tried to pass the turn. Doing some quick calculations, he used his two Elves to make a blue mana thanks to Birchlore Rangers, then played a Brain Freeze. The storm spell allowed him to use his opponent's spells to mill all of Zatlkaj's library in one swoop. After doing a quick check of his library, Matej scooped 'em up; somehow Thaler had turned a dominating loss into a shocking turnaround win!

Zatlkaj 2, Thaler 1

"Just the one Brain Freeze?" Zatlkaj asked his opponent as they shuffled for Game 4.

Thaler nodded with a grin.

"Good card to just have in your hand then..."

Game 4

Matej Zatlkaj opened on Llanowar Elves but exploded on his second turn. A Nettle Sentinel and Birchlore Ranger allowed him to play Wirewood Symbiote with a Horizon Canopy up before passing. Thaler had played a Heritage Druid and untapped for his turn, looking to get some action going to keep pace with the other side of the table. His play wasn't as exciting, however, as he made two Wirewood Symbiotes and gave the turn back to his opponent.

Deep into the tank went Matej Zatlkaj for his next turn before deciding to play an Orzhov Pontiff targeting Thaler. That merited a bounce of Heritage Druid by way of Wirewood Symbiote for the German, but he still lost his two copies of the Insect. Zatlkaj attacked with Nettle Sentinel, but forgot to get in with his Wirewood Symbiote, something he recognized and immediately chastised himself for before passing the turn.

Thaler found an Elvish Champion to protect him from Pontiff hits but it used up all his mana, and he had to watch as Zatlkaj set himself up to beat down by playing Ethersworn Canonist. The 2/2 would force Thaler to kill it before trying to combo himself, and with Wirewood Symbiote on the board for Zatlkaj he'd always be able to return a creature in play to untap his 2/2 Nettle Sentinel, keeping him on the offensive indefinitely. Plus, Thaler's own Elvish Champion provided Matej's Elves with Forestwalk.

Unfazed, Zatlkaj sent his Sentinel, Llanowar Elves, and Birchlore Rangers into the red zone. Thaler made a surprise Chord of Calling to find Wirewood Symbiote, untapping his Llanowar Elves by bouncing Elvish Champion. He decided not to block, however, taking 4 and falling to 7 life. He added a Heritage Druid to his defenses, then passed back to Zatlkaj.

Matej had a response to Thaler's end of turn, using a Summoner's Pact to find a second copy of Wirewood Hivemaster. He spent his own turn figuring out how best to utilize his mana, then opted to not even play the 1/1, simply bashing with his team.

That left just 2 life for Thaler, who exclaimed, "I have to rip the Viridian Shaman to win...."

Failing to do so, he conceded the match.

Matej Zatlkaj defeats Sebastian Thaler 3-1 and advances to the Finals!

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