You Make the Play: pobody’s nerfect

Previously on Five With Flores:
You Make the Play: That Time MJ Made Me 🙁” was a fun blast from the past, wasn’t it?

I actually wrote most of this follow up before I read any of the responses here on the blog or on Twitter, but I inevitably had to re-write based on the collective wisdom of the overall Five With Flores community of comments.

Speaking of comments, I don’t know what is up with the Facebook Social Plugin. It seems to split in two for every set of posts; I see different sets of comments depending on if I am logged in as myself (i.e. the moderator of the blog) or not. So… No idea why this is splitting at present but I appreciate your comments and hope you bear with me while we figure out how to get it on the optimal track.

Now speaking of ye olde optimal track, how do we approach the problem of the Demigod of Revenge, or to be more proximally useful Demigod[s] plural (maybe):

To recap:

  • We have a Bituminous Blast and a Cryptic Command, and the mana to play either.
  • The opponent (with a Demigod of Revenge in his graveyard) puts Demigod of Revenge on the stack.

What play do we make?

I am going to break down the approach thusly:

  1. Cryptic Command and Demigod of Revenge Basics
  2. Bituminous Blast and pobody’s nerfect
  3. Next Level Cryptic Command
  4. Fortitude and “What’s Next?”

Cryptic Command and Demigod of Revenge Basics

For those of you who either weren’t playing when Demigod of Revenge was legal in Standard (or who didn’t quite understand why you consistently lost with your Blue decks during the same time frame) Demigod of Revenge is a bit of an ock-kay when it comes to playing against Blue. If you are not careful, you are pretty much doomed.

Like this:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.

If you approach it like some responders did, automatic-style, like this…

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Cryptic Command (Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1])
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Demigod of Revenge’ [2]s trigger resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] AND Demigod of Revenge [2] enter the battlefield!

Now presumably you are dead.

If you are going to use the Counterspell and some other modality of Cryptic Command (Dismiss or whatnot), you will want to do it more like this UNLESS you are going to do Next Level Cryptic Command (section three):

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves.
Cryptic Command (Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1])
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Demigod of Revenge [2] enters the battlefield.

In this case you may or may not get attacked by the solo Demigod of Revenge. I think most players in this situation will attack, put you to one life, and pass the turn with fingers crossed. Presumably even if you have an answer to the Demigod of Revenge, such Magicians will have the Ghitu Encampment to lean on.

Now these Demigod players might not even get past the next turn. The hypothetical from the previous You Make the Play indicated that both players had six life. You have a Bloodbraid Elf, and several topdecks that will win the game on the spot. Another Bloodbraid Elf or a Boggart Ram-Gang for a certainty; likely Anathemancer, and so on.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as Sam Stoddard indicated on Twitter, you are likely to win no matter what route you take. But there is nothing that puts a middling Mage on tilt like being “likely” to win… and then not winning (especially if he had the tools to do so).

Case in point, if you went with most variations on the first Cryptic Command “Dismiss” scenarios (as posited by many commenters), you’re dead. Classic “just stole defeat from the jaws of victory” dead.

Seems pretty clear that of the two non-Next Level Cryptic Command possibilities, above, the one that leaves you with one life is better than the one that leaves you dead.

Even if you live, some things to remember:

  • You are now on one. You might kill him next turn, and you still have a Bituminous Blast to defend yourself (Blasting Demigod into a creature can keep the Encampment off you long enough to live, if he hasn’t drawn a burn spell). Volcanic Fallout is not great in any scenario, but cascading into it might lose you the game the next turn.
  • Being on one, unless you draw or Blast into a Cryptic Command, you are pretty much dead to a topdecked burn spell.

Bituminous Blast and pobody’s nerfect

Full disclosure time: I’m not Perfect

I know!

I was shocked to discover that, too!

But no… Not only am I not a perfect player (plenty of beats around that), nor columnist (Inquisition of Kozilek in my Standard-With-Innistrad deck lists this week, COME ON)… But I am not even a perfect blogger!

I really should have laid out what creatures were in our graveyard, and put some time into what lands were in play.

For example, can we answer the question, “can we survive a topdecked Anathemancer”? The assumption is “probably not” but I didn’t explicitly say that we had a certain number of basics in play (or didn’t).

Similarly, what lands does the opponent have in play? It actually changes our math for here in the Bituminous Blast section.

What I was really trying to get at with the two Jund Charms in the graveyard (the Chapin / MJ deck has a sum total of two Jund Charms) was to make life a little easier on you. At the time I brainstormed this hypothetical, I had already decided in my imagination that Cryptic Command was a red herring (turns out it’s not, by the way, on account of nobody being nerfect), and I was really trying to lay out the question of:

  1. Bituminous Blast-into-Cryptic Command, versus
  2. Bituminous Blast-into-Removal

That is, if you look at it like that, there are four Maelstrom Pulses in the deck (plus Bloodbraid Elves that might miss one), and only three Cryptic Commands (because you have one in grip).

When you look at it like this, it is really a question of whether you let the Demigod of Revenge [1] resolve or not. Let’s say you are some em effer who should play the lottery and (with your Cryptic Command in grip), you make the following play:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves; Demigod of Revenge [2] now in.
Bituminous Blast Demigod of Revenge [2].
Cascade on the stack.
Cascade into Cryptic Command!
Cryptic Command / Counterspell Demigod of Revenge [1]
Cryptic Command resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] goes to the graveyard.
Bitumuinous Blast resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [2] goes to the graveyard.

The opponent is almost certainly kold. We still have Cryptic Command! We can Counterspell Anathemancer, even! If he rips Demigod of Revenge, we can let him have three 5/4 bad guys and just tap them all down.

Well it’s pretty gosh darn spectacular if you run that good.

However if you flip, say, a Maelstrom Pulse (which you have a greater chance of doing than flipping a Cryptic Command both because of Bloodbraid Elf and because you already have a Cryptic Command), then you are in the “getting knocked down to one” scenario.

Lots of players will just shrug their shoulders at this point and be like “I didn’t run good” when, in fact, the math says otherwise.

That said, all other things held equal, I would probably rather have a Cryptic Command in my hand has my only card than a Bituminous Blast, if I am stuck on one life. For instance, one Cryptic Command can tap a Demigod and bounce the Ghitu Encampment if he doesn’t activate it pre combats; and if he does something like leading off on a Blightning or Anathemancer, you can Counterspell that and tap or bounce his potential attackers; whereas you need to actually draw a Cryptic Command or win the lottery (as the immediately above) on your Bituminous Blast in order to survive against an appropriate spell with reach.

Interesting thing is that what I was trying to steer the readership towards was to letting Demigod of Revenge [1] resolve, so that we can have more things we can do. We have already established that you have a greater chance of hitting Maelstrom Pulse than Cryptic Command, so trying to get a Counterspell out of Bituminous Blast errs on the wrong side of greedy (probably). Consider this slightly different Bituminous Blast scenario:

Demigod of Revenge [1] (the spell goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge [2] (the trigger) goes on the stack.
Demigod of Revenge’s trigger resolves; Demigod of Revenge [2] now in.
Demigod of Revenge [1] resolves; Demigod of Revenge [1] now in.

Bituminous Blast Demigod of Revenge [1].
Cascade on the stack.
Cascade into Maelstrom Pulse.
Maelstrom Pulse Demigod of Revenge [2].
Maelstrom Pulse resolves.
Demigod of Revenge [1] and Demigod of Revenge [2] go to the graveyard. Bitumuinous Blast is countered.

Now note that even if you Cascade into Cryptic Command in this scenario you can do something interesting, like tapping or bouncing the other Demigod of Revenge and / or bouncing Ghitu Encampment.

Note that in either of the lottery-winning scenarios described here, you are at six life still with a Cryptic Command in hand; ergo it is very likely you can get in for wins.

I think that the Maelstrom Pulse argument alone makes allowing the spell-Demigod resolve, but we have a different question… Now that we are no longer in the “playing around with the stack” mode, when exactly is the right time to play Bituminous Blast?

I would argue that combat is the best time, but an interesting question is whether we allow the Demigod(s) to attack or not. I would presume, with lethal represented, that most players will attempt to attack with both Demigods (if we let them).

Knowing we are 100% likely to kill at least one Demigod of Revenge (leaving us with one life) will leave the opponent with no blockers. If we Bituminous Blast before he declares one or more attackers, he may change his strategy; for instance, if we flip a Putrid Leech, we don’t have the life necessary to pump the Leech for lethal, which might encourage him to play the “cross my fingers” game and attack with the other. In that case, we are presumably dead to a Lightning Bolt even if we have the Cryptic Command in hand (play Lightning Bolt; we Counterspell + tap Demigod of Revenge; he animates Ghitu Encampment and kills us). However if we flip an Anathemancer, Boggart Ram-Gang, or for goodness sakes Bloodbraid Elf (which in turn would lead to some lottery winning), he has no choice but to leave back at least one Demigod of Revenge… We’ll still win, by the way, but he still has to make that play.

If we wait for him to attack, we are in largely the same situation, but with one life. Consider:

  • Anathemancer: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Bloodbraid Elf: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Boggart Ram-Gang: Lethal whether or not he attacks.
  • Putrid Leech: Non-lethal if he attacks; lethal if we have six life instead of one… therefore better pre-attacks if only because he can make a mistake.
  • Sygg, River Cutthroat: Non-lethal by itself.
  • Cryptic Command: Not necessarily lethal but very likely so (as discussed above).
  • Maelstrom Pulse: Non-lethal but quite good (as discussed above).
  • Volcanic Fallout: Generally bad

The situation would change if we didn’t have a Cryptic Command to force Anathemancer, Bloodbraid Elf, or Boggart Ram-Gang in… But we do. I think we get slightly better results by using Bituminous Blast pre-attacks.

An interesting quandary comes up if the opponent chooses to attack with only one Demigod of Revenge… What do we do now? Do we shoot at the incoming Demigod (as we have Cryptic Command to deal with the other, if luck is with us), or the potential blocker?

Fancy option you might not have seen:
As we have eight life we can actually tap a defensive Demigod of Revenge on our own turn plus our own Bloodbraid Elf in order to try to win the lottery on a Boggart Ram-Gang or potentially Anathemancer. Additionally, because Sygg has three toughness, we can actually flip Volcanic Fallout (which will resolve before Bloodbraid Elf does) in order to deal exactly six damage (1 from Sygg, 2 from Volcanic Fallout, and 3 from Bloodbraid Elf). You probably don’t want to try this; but again, you might not have seen it at all.

Next Level Cryptic Command

I was pretty sure that Bituminous Blast was the best route… But again, pobody’s nerfect and the way I had the hypothetical set up, we don’t know mathematically what the tightest play is…

But it might not matter.

A couple of people including Pro Tour semifinalist Chris McDaniel and podcaster extraordinaire Sam Stoddard suggested what I am calling “Next Level Cryptic Command” … I didn’t see this possibility and it is kind of awesome.

If you Counterspell the incoming Demigod of Revenge (after the re-buy trigger is no longer a threat, of course) and bounce the other Demigod of Revenge, you have a 100% chance of staying on six life for the turn. You get in for three and the opponent has to basically take the same turn over again… and you still have the Bituminous Blast to defend yourself (whatever we discussed about using Bituminous Blast this turn stays more-or-less the same, but the opponent is now on three life instead of six).

I originally rejected any option that involved bouncing a Demigod of Revenge because of the re-buy on the other, but this is actually pretty good.

He almost has to draw a Lightning Bolt (or some proxy thereof) to kill your Bloodbraid Elf now (he doesn’t even get to cast his Demigods), and if he moves to attack you with his Ghitu Encampment (which most Mages will), you can spike the Bituminous Blast and maybe kill him anyway.

Alternately he can play Demigod of Revenge and leave both back (if he only leaves one back you get in with the Bituminous Blast) and hope that you don’t flip into one of the lethal creatures or Maelstrom Pulse / Cryptic Command.

Fortitude and “What’s Next?”

As you can see, a good part of the outcome has to do with what the Demigod player is going to do. Will he have the fortitude to leave back two 5/4 flyers? That is a lot to ask of most aggressive Red Mages (I pointed out to Sam on Twitter that I made semi-defensive plays like this on more than one occasion the year I played DI Demigods). And even if he has the willpower… He might still just die to your Bituminous Blast and the top of your deck.

I don’t know that we can figure on what is 100% the best play with the guidelines as I laid hem out, but there are certainly some clearly better and worse options.

  1. Lazy Cryptic Command players: Y’all are dead.
  2. Bituminous Blast with Demigod of Revenge on the stack: You might mise, you might not, you will end the turn with either 1 or 6 life, but still have the Cryptic Command. You might win next turn.
  3. Bituminous Blast during combat, after attackers have been declared: You will have slightly better results than the previous group because there are more Maelstrom Pulses in your deck than Cryptic Commands. Again, you are possible to end the turn with either 1 or 6 life depending on what the opponent does. You probably don’t want to take it, but you also have the “Cryptic Command my own Bloodbraid Elf” option on your next turn.
  4. Bituminous Blast prior to attackers being declared: You will have slightly better results than the post-attackers group because you get Putrid Leech as an additional lethal attacker if you don’t take a Demigod hit (you can tap the remaining blocker on your turn).
  5. Next Level Cryptic Command: Big incentive here is that you are 100% likely to have 6 life instead of 1, with no luck component from that standpoint. It is inferior insofar that you don’t have a Cryptic Command the next turn so you can’t capitalize on an opponent mistake if he gets lucky [most scenarios where the opponent gets another turn will end badly if he both draws Anathemancer and plays correctly, provided you don’t topdeck another Cryptic Command. If he plays Anathemancer pre-combat, allowing you to Counterspell it and tap his Demigod(s) that is another story entirely (thanks, b)]. That said, any of the Bituminous Blast options are potentially better than Next Level Cryptic Command because if you have six life you can withstand a post-combat Anathemancer and you have 0% chance of winning on the spot.

As such, I think a Bituminous Blast line that allows both Demigods into play but gets fired off before the opponent attacks has the best combination of lucksack potential maximization and Cryptic Command preservation.



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#1 MTGBattlefield on 09.28.11 at 2:26 pm

You Make the Play: pobody’s nerfect…

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