Stage 1, Round 1: Austria vs. Slovakia

Posted in Event Coverage on November 19, 2016

By Chapman Sim

Stepping into Round 1 of Stage 1 was a bittersweet feeling for the teams ranked 17th to 48th. While the Top 16 seeds had already secured their spots in Round 2 of Stage 1, the remaining 32 teams had to endure an elimination match.

Being on the brink of elimination is bad enough, and it certainly did not feel any better to face another equally strong team. Both teams were led by experienced National Champions and each team also consisted of a World Magic Cup Qualifier winner who was a heavyweight. To make matters worse, they were being matched up against good friends who shared a border.

Team Austria

Oliver Polak-Rottmann had a stronger 2015–16 season than Valentin Mackl and thus was crowned the 2016 Austria National Champion. However, Mackl didn't feel good sitting out of a team competition where he could be representing his country, so he won the fourth World Magic Cup Qualifier to be back on the team for the third time. Lukas Mittendorfer and Markus Spoerk (who will be coaching) round out the rest of the team, which has chosen to show up with a popular combination for Team Unified Modern.

With their captain in seat A piloting Infect, that left Mittendorfer in seat B with TitanBreach and Mackl in seat C with Dredge.

Team Slovakia

Up against the Austria National Champion was Slovakia National Champion and Pro Tour Magic 2015 Champion Ivan Floch, who was playing Abzan. It was his hope that his deck laden with removal could be advantageous in this matchup. In seat B, two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and perennial coverage team member Matej Zatlkaj was piloting Dredge, while in seat C, Patrik Surab would need to race Mackl with his Infect deck.

SEAT B: LUKAS MITTENDORFER (TITANSHIFT) VS. MATEJ ZATLKAJ (DREDGE)

In Game 1, Zatlkaj started off in surprising fashion with a smaller-than-usual hand size.

"Yes, I did mulligan to three," he said. "What a great way to start the day. It must make an exciting narrative for coverage, huh?"


Matej Zatlkaj mulled to three cards to start the match, choosing to live dangerously.

However, since Zatlkaj was playing Dredge, it was still entirely possible for him to go land, land, Cathartic Reunion and turn things around. However, it was not to be, and Mittendorfer was able to very quickly arrive at five mana to cast Through the Breach.

Primeval Titan hit the battlefield along with a pair of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles, plus a pair of Mountains when the Titan charged into the red zone. The flurry of Valakut triggers accompanied by 6 damage from Primeval Titan meant that the Slovak player was down one game.

Unfortunately for Zatlkaj, things didn't go very well in Game 2 either. He used Faithless Looting to discard Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam, and followed it up with a turn-two Cathartic Reunion (discarding Stinkweed Imp).

Usually, this sequence of plays is a dream come true for the Dredge player, but it would seem like Zatlkaj was having a bad day. Zatlkaj picked up Stinkweed Imp from Cathartic Reunion's first card draw but failed to chain into another dredge card, which meant that he was forced to actually draw two cards from his library.

This is not what the Dredge player wants to do most of the time, and even with Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam entering the battlefield, it was not a great turn at all.

The slow clock only benefited Mittendorfer, who was able to fire off a turn-four Through the Breach (with the help of Search for Tomorrow) for yet another game-winning Primeval Titan.

With that, Mittendorfer had secured the first match for Team Austria.


Lukas Mittendorfer (left) and Matej Zatlkaj shake hands after a hard-fought match.

"To be honest, it is an okay matchup for us. Our build of TitanBreach is slightly different and we modified it to suit the metagame today," explained Mittendorfer. "We're not an all-in TitanBreach deck and we're actually playing Chalice of the Void and Anger of the Gods because we had anticipated a lot of Affinity, Dredge, and Infect. I think it was an excellent metagaming move. We even have Simian Spirit Guide to power things out!"

SEAT A: OLIVER POLAK-ROTTMANN (INFECT) VS. IVAN FLOCH (ABZAN)

In Game 1, Thoughtseize and a pair of Inquisition of Kozileks stripped Polak-Rottmann's hand bare, leaving him with nothing but a single Noble Hierarch. This gave Floch ample time to resolve Tireless Tracker and crack a couple of Clues.

Despite the dominating lead, Floch had to tread carefully—and he encountered a major crossroad when he resolved Liliana of the Veil. With Polak-Rottmann down to two cards in hand and only a single creature in play, Floch agonized whether he should force Polak-Rottmann to discard a card or sacrifice a creature.


Ivan Floch (right) had to decide what his Liliana of the Veil would do against Oliver Polak-Rottmann (left).

He took the second route and was left vulnerable to a topdecked Blighted Agent. Floch was out of removal spells and with Liliana sitting at 1 loyalty, he couldn't kill or block Blighted Agent.

Beckoning for Becoming Immense, Polak-Rottmann tapped the top of his deck and flipped it over. It was not the card he wanted and he was down one game just like that.

In Game 2, Floch led with Thoughtseize, which Polak-Rottmann countered with the first of three Spell Pierces that would be played this game.

Polak-Rottmann spent his third turn trying to attack for 2 poison with the help of Inkmoth Nexus and Pendelhaven, but Floch sent it on a Path to Exile.

A second Thoughtseize from Floch plucked away Blighted Agent, leaving Polak-Rottmann stranded with Become Immense, a second copy of Pendelhaven, as well as Flooded Strand. Flock was holding Zealous Persecution, Path to Exile, and Abrupt Decay, so things did not appear to be going well for the Austrians at all.

A couple of turns later, Floch drew into a copy of Liliana but declined to cast it. However, when a second copy arrived Floch was happy to cast it (without dropping his fifth land) and it was met with Spell Pierce. The benefit of this play was two-fold. Firstly, since Floch had two copies of Liliana of the Veil, it was acceptable for the first copy to be countered. Also, since Polak-Rottmann was the "combo player," it was in Floch's interest to reduce Polak-Rottmann's hand size such that the second resolved Liliana of the Veil could pressure his hand even more.

Regardless, Polak-Rottmann trudged on and summoned Ichorclaw Myr the next turn. Floch used this window to play his fifth land and resolve Liliana of the Veil to kill Ichorclaw Myr, while holding up two mana such that he could cast either Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, or Zealous Persecution.

This is where things got really interesting. Using that window of opportunity, Polak-Rottmann topdecked Gitaxian Probe and had full view of Floch's hand. Once that blue sorcery resolved, there were seven cards in his graveyard.

He could play around Zealous Persecution and ignore Abrupt Decay, which meant that the only card he needed to worry about was Floch's Path to Exile. To circumvent that, he could have tapped Pendelhaven for mana to activate Inkmoth Nexus, and then played another Pendelhaven to put an eighth card into his graveyard. With four untapped lands, he could have cast both Become Immense (the first one for one mana and the second one for two mana) and still have had one mana open for Spell Pierce to counter Floch's Path to Exile and play around both Zealous Persecution and Abrupt Decay!

Long story short, Polak-Rottmann did miss lethal damage and went ahead to kill Liliana of the Veil instead. Thankfully, this oversight didn't punish him during the next turn, because with both Liliana and Path to Exile were out of the picture, Polak-Rottmann animated Inkmoth Nexus and pumped it with Pendelhaven. Floch responded with Zealous Persecution, to which Polak-Rottmann then responded with Become Immense. Tapping his final mana to cast the Disfigure he just drew left Floch vulnerable to a second copy of Become Immense.

Polak-Rottmann equalized the score of this match. However, their Game 3 ultimately wouldn't matter!

Seat C: Valentin Mackl (Dredge) vs. Patrik Surab (Infect)

When Mackl cracked Bloodstained Mire and picked up his deck, Surab asked if it was going to be 1 damage or 3 damage.

"It's going to be a basic land. I don't know what you're playing so I'm going to play around Blood Moon for now," Mackl giggled.

There was no real harm in being cautious, but it turned out that Surab was playing Infect. No matter, tapping the Mountain to cast Insolent Neonate (discarding Golgari Grave-Troll) allowed Mackl to receive Narcomoeba and (after later playing a land) two Bloodghasts.

Then, on the next turn, Mackl pulled the trigger on Cathartic Reunion, discarding Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp. That dumped almost 20 cards into the graveyard, finding the Austrian player a second Narcomoeba and two Prized Amalgams.

There was nothing Surab could do at this point, staring down five creatures against his empty board.

In Game 2, Surab tried to tie things up by leading with Glistener Elf on the play. This made it very

scary for Mackl to tap out for Faithless Looting. It could very well be his last turn if Surab did something broken such as Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth, and Become Immense.

Discarding Conflagrate, Mackl passed the turn and hoped for the best. Surab summoned Noble Hierarch and used his second mana to cast Distortion Strike, enabling Glistener Elf to give Mackl three poison counters.

Despite the Slovaks being in full knowledge of the Conflagrate in the yard, this line of play was a ploy to force Mackl to use it. Their intended follow up would be Blighted Agent, which they could then attack with unhindered for lethal damage the turn after.

Naturally, Mackl flashed back Conflagrate by discarding another Conflagrate and another irrelevant card and attempted to deal 1 damage each to Noble Hierarch and Glistener Elf. Surab saved Glistener Elf with Mutagenic Growth. Rebounding Distortion Strike, that was another two poison counters for a total of five counters on Mackl. The final card in Surab's hand, Vines of Vastwood, wasn't lethal. He passed the turn.

Mackl tried to force Surab to discard Vines of Vastwood with Thoughtseize, but Surab instead aimed it at Blighted Agent to protect the creature from Conflagrate.

This left Mackl with no other play except to pass. That provided the Slovak player another window to draw a four-point pump spell to win on the spot, but Blossoming Defense was his topdeck.

Well, Blighted Agent went in for another peck and Mackl was over halfway poisoned. Conflagrate tried to kill Blighted Agent, which was then protected by Blossoming Defense.

Here was Surab's chance to topdeck yet another pump spell for the win, but Mutagenic Growth from the top of the deck was sheer mockery. Oh well, Blighted Agent goes in for another hit, bringing Mackl to seven poison counters.


Team Slovakia surrounds Patrik Surab (second from the right) to offer their support.

Despite Mackl having Cathartic Reunion, he wasn't able to find a card that could interact with Blighted Agent. On the next turn, Blighted Agent hit for the final time and was boosted by Mutagenic Growth for the win.

In the deciding Game 3, Mackl used Faithless Looting to pitch Stinkweed Imp, which he dredged back immediately during his next draw step. This netted him Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam against Surab's empty board.

Consecutive Spell Pierces dealt with a second hard-casted Faithless Looting and a flashbacked Faithless Looting, but Surab had no action whatsoever.

Mackl took his time and dredged a second Stinkweed Imp, then on his next turn a Golgari Grave-Troll, all while swinging with his 4-power army. Soon, Surab was down to just 10 life.

Eventually he found Conflagrate but was one card short. Mackl made the decision to discard his entire hand of five cards to Conflagrate, dealing 4 damage to Surab and 1 damage to Noble Hierarch.

Down to just 2 life, Surab tried to chump block Prized Amalgam to stay alive, but Mackl simply flashed back Ancient Grudge from the graveyard.

Valentin Mackl defeated Patrik Surab 2-1.

Once Surab extended his hand in defeat, the Austrians celebrated their advancement while the Slovaks had to painfully take their exit.

Austria defeated Slovakia 2-0 to advance to Round 2 of Stage 1!


Team Austria celebrates their advancement to Stage 1, Round 2.

 

Oliver Polak-Rottmann's Infect

Lukas Mittendorfer's TitanBreach

Valentin Mackl's Dredge

Ivan Floch's Abzan

Patrik Surab's Infect

Milan Niznansky's Dredge

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