Pro Tour–Berlin Quarterfinals: Not a Good Sign

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Denis Sinner vs. Matej Zatlkaj

The letter T!his Quarterfinal matched home-country hopeful Sinner, with Faeries, against Zatlkaj's Elves! deck.

Game 1

Germany's Denis Sinner and Slovakia's Matej Zatlkaj locked in combat.

For the opener it was Birchlore Rangers against Ancestral Visions, showing the plan each deck would hope to follow. Zatlkaj still only had one land after his second turn, but he had three creatures in play and was already threatening to go off on the next turn by getting out his explosive combination of mana generation and card drawing.

Staying on his own plan, Sinner had Bitterblossom and settled in to try and hold the fort against the Slovac player's onslaught. On the end of Zatlkaj's third turn he was up to triple Essence Warden, Wirewood Symbiote, Heritage Druid, and a Birchlore Rangers. Not bad for one land!

Sinner made a free Faerie and passed the turn with 1 ManaBlue ManaBlack Mana up. Zatlkaj let out two different sighs, seemed to do a lot of math, and then passed the turn back. That move made sense on Sinner's turn when Zatlkaj responded to a fetch land by using Chord of Calling for 2, but a Mana Leak put an end to that. The turn came back and Zatlkaj let out another sigh, this time concentrating very hard and clearly feeling the weight of the Top 8 behind each of his decisions.

Now that his opponent was tapped out Zatlkaj went for Nettle Sentinel and a Chord of Calling for Elvish Visionary to power up his empty hand. A quick flurry followed, and by the end the life totals were 54-14 in favor of Zatlkaj, who was up to 10 Elves, out of cards for now, but ready to continue replaying Visionary off Symbiote next turn if he got the chance.

Fortunately for Sinner, Umezawa's Jitte came down, allowing him to swing in from the air and start putting down some badly needed crowd control. It was still looking bad, though, as next turn seven Elves crashed in, followed by a second Symbiote to keep the Visionary card-drawing shenanigans going another turn. With the help of Jitte though, Sinner was hanging in there. A turn later it was an absurd looking 68-5, but Bitterblossom was continuing to put out badly needed blockers while Jitte mowed down the elvish armada. Next was an upkeep Mistbind Clique, putting some meat in the air and getting rid of the Bitterblossom to stabilize Sinner's life total.

From here Sinner got to switch into offense mode, swinging in and peeling off the remaining Elves with his Jitte. Spellstutter Sprite came down to counter an Elf that tried to join the fray, and that play threatened all kinds of Faerie mayhem in combination with sleeper hit Riptide Labrotory. Despite his massive 62-4 life advantage and once impressive board, Zatlkaj was suddenly out of Elves and out of options, facing Jitte and a recurring Spellstutter Sprite. A game that had seemed all his just a few turns ago was now over as he conceded the unwinnable board.

"You won the first one," said Zatlkaj. "That's not a good sign."

"Yeah, usually I lose the first one and then win the others."

Sinner said it with a smile, but with a confident delivery that said he wasn't entirely joking.

Sinner 1, Zatlkaj 0

Game 2

Sinner wonders how to pronounce his opponent's name.

After sideboarding and well into shuffling up for the second game, Zatlkaj's mind was clearly still on the previous one that had just gotten away. "I could have played that differently but I think it didn't matter. I could have gotten you down to 2 but looking back, either way Jitte would have torn me up." Turning his thoughts to the next game, he was clearly concerned. "Pretty good sideboard. This part is not good for me I think."

Sinner agreed. "Yeah, I'm happy to get the first one that way."

After a second round of shuffling because of a Sinner mulligan, Zatlkaj chuckled at himself. "Best of five? Whose idea was that? Can't we do best of three, just for this Pro Tour?" His fear seemed genuine, even with Sinner on a second mulligan. "Don't worry, my hand is really not that good. You can beat me pretty easy with five cards now that we're past Game 1."

As the early turns played out it looked like he might well be right. Despite Zatlkaj getting to do a lot of what his deck was designed to do, Sinner was able to completely shut down his early game, wiping out creatures with Smother or outright stealing them with Threads of Disloyalty and Sower of Temptation. On his fifth turn, down to just a Visionary, Zatlkaj went for it against his tapped out opponent, playing Wirewood Symbiote and then Chord of Calling for Goblin Sharpshooter. Unfortunately for Zatlkaj that went down to a Smother as well, and now he was getting beaten down by his own team.

So he tried again. Glimpse of Nature was followed by a second Visionary, Chord for Heritage Druid, and a second Glimpse. Out poured the Elves, each drawing two cards in the process. Nettle Sentinel came out at the very end to help kick the mana engine into its highest gear, but Zatlkaj was exactly one creature short of being able to use his Heritage Druid again. He had to pass the turn, now with seven Wlves in play and a full grip of cards.

Sinner answered with another Sower of Temptation, this one for Wirewood Symbiote to keep the engine in check.

This brought a big sigh from Zatlkaj. "Another Sower... The only other Sower, since I know you have only two."

On offense now, Sinner swung in to drop Zatlkaj down to 12.

Getting a third try at going off, Zatlkaj took a deep breath before drawing his card for the turn. "OK, let's see what my deck can do." This time it was Glimpse of Nature followed by two Wirewood Hivemasters and enough of the mana engine now in place to start continually spilling out Elves. He was fully up to speed at last.

"I can just make a bunch of tokens. You don't have any mass removal, so that should be it right?"

Sinner thought about it briefly and then nodded, conceding the game. This time it was Sinner that had to face the comeback. He'd managed to keep the crowd under control, but the Elves deck is incredibly resilient, and the third time at trying to go off this game proved to be the charm for Zatlkaj.

Sinner 1, Zatlkaj 1

Game 3

'Zatlkaj' actually rhymes with 'bottle tray.' In case you were wondering.

Zatlkaj gazed longingly into his opening hand, then shipped it back. "OK, that was an awesome hand but it needed one land. Seriously, I could have traded any card in that hand for just one land." For the next one he said the same thing and sent it back yet again. Five was a keeper and the game was on.

Zatlkaj had two Llanowar Elves, but a Heritage Druid was wiped out by Spellstutter Sprite. Wirewood Symbiote ran into a Mana Leak next, but Sinner was stuck on two Islands. Switching to beatdown mode, Zatlkaj went for Viridian Shaman with no targets, trying to get the damage in while his opponent was low on mana. An Elf and the Faerie traded but then Sinner found a fetch land, eliciting a real groan from Zatlkaj.

Vendillion Clique revealed a hand of Nettle Sentinel, Viridian Shaman and Tar Fiend, and things were looking good for Sinner when he chose to send nothing from that hand back to the library. Next was Threads of Disloyalty. The Clique traded with another Elf, and that allowed another Clique into play, plus Sinner was up to four lands now. The second Clique took out a Birchlore Rangers, but Zatlkaj drew one off the top anyway, playing it down happily. Zatlkaj was out of gas, though, and Sinner's hand full of spells started hammering away. From here Sinner continued using a combination of hand disruption and creature answers to keep the crippled Zatlkaj under control, and this time a Clique plus a Bitterblossom put the game away before Zatlkaj could get back into it.

Sinner 2, Zatlkaj 1

Game 4

Zatlkaj took one mulligan to start this one off, but Sinner took one and then another. As he was shuffling up for his five-card hand, Zatlkaj chuckled again. "Don't worry, my hand is awful. I just didn't want to go down to five."

It was Sinner's turn to chuckle, a bit ruefully, sending his hand back and going down to four.

"Seriously, I'm still worried. What, two land and a Bitterblossom? What can I do about that?" Zatlkaj sounded completely sincere.

'Sinner' isn't pronounced like the English word spelled like it; in German, the S makes a Z sound. And now you know!

Sinner smiled. "Actually, I'd settle for just the two land part at this point."

An opening Thoughtsieze revealed that it was indeed an awful hand: Sharpshooter, Pontiff, and two lands, with just a Heritage Druid in play.

"It's basically another mulligan, so many dead cards in my hand, but what can you do? I figured I'd keep this hand just for the hope that you'd have a Thoughtsieze to show this." Zatlkaj laughed as the Goblin Sharpshooter got binned, knowing things were bad despite facing a triple mulligan.

Sinner was stuck on two land again, but was taking damage from a Birchlore Rangers and Heritage Druid with the help of Pendelhaven. Smother took out a threatening Elvish Champion as Sinner found a third land, but then his Vendilion Clique revealed trouble: Pontiff, Llanowar Elves, Tar Fiend. Thinking hard on this one, he decided the Pontiff was the most dangerous since he was falling so far behind in the critical life race. Sinner got another trade in but his life total was dwindling fast, down to just 3 on the next turn, and Zatlkaj now had three Elves in play. He passed the turn back but had no answer when the Elves came in, sending it to the deciding final game.

Sinner 2, Zatlkaj 2

A clearly relieved Zatlkaj could only smile. "Wow, I kept an atrocious hand there. You saw it. All my off-color targets. And I still had to work against a four-card opening hand."

Game 5

As they shuffled for the final game, Zatlkaj was visibly surprised when he saw that LSV had managed to win a difficult match against Kenny Öberg's "Tezzerator" deck.

Zatlkaj commented, "So it's down to Game 5 for us. If you make it you'll be the only non-elf player left!"

"Wow, really? Tezzeret lost? OK, I'll play first."

"I was worried you'd say that"

This time it was one mulligan for Sinner, playing Secluded Glen showing Bitterblossom to get it untapped, and then playing Thoughtsieze.

"Nice hand!" was the response from Zatlkaj. It wasn't clear which hand he meant, as his own hand had a good mix of Elves. Sinner sent Wirewood Hivemaster to the graveyard, but Zatlkaj had another in hand to back it up. Facing two land, Zatlkaj played a Glimpse of Nature. That resolved, but the Nettle Sentinel was taken out by Spellstutter Sprite. Sinner had Bitterblossom for the follow-up, but was again stuck on two lands. Zatlkaj went up to double Wirewood Hivemaster in play, despite the one sent away by Thoughtsieze, and got ready to try and race the Bitterblossom.

Heritage Druid was next, making two Insects in the process and threatening very bad things in combination with those Hivemasters. He tapped the creatures for his final card in hand: Chord of Calling for 2, leaving enough mana behind to cover a potential Mana Leak from his opponent. It resolved, bringing out an Elvish Visionary. He drew into a Wirewood Symbiote, which did hit a Mana Leak, but now Zatlkaj had enough tokens to cover the cost. With 13 creatures in play, he passed the turn back to his opponent, who passed it immediately back with still just the two land up, plus a few 1/1 Faeries to try to hold the line somehow.

Two more Elves meant four more Insects. The original batch of tokens went in, and that was it for Sinner, as tokens swarmed the table. Sinner played it out until an Elvish Champion smashed down to officially lock the game away, and a triumphant Zatlkaj leaped to his feet to pump the fist at his unlikely win.

Matej Zatlkaj defeats Denis Sinner 3-2 and advances to the Semifinals!

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