Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth: Combo and Controversy

The Players:


Dakra Mystic


Spirit of the Labyrinth


Dakra Mystic was a preview card given to Yours Truly on DailyMTG. When they get set aside for YT, even the cards that don’t seem so busto on first blush (e.g. Heartbeat of Spring, a Swimming With Sharks preview) have a surprising tendency to define tournament formats. And it’s not just Top Decks! Long before Top Decks I was lucky enough to ahem top deck preview opportunities for Fledgling Dragon and Ravenous Baloth; and most recently (aka just yesterday) for the greatest tournament card drawing spell of all time, Necropotence; again not a Top Decks preview, going the other way in time.

Tipping our collective hats to Rakdos Pit-Dragon (which nevertheless found a home in Legacy), let’s assume for the moment that Dakra Mystic might be a legitimate spell to play in Constructed Magic. How about Spirit of the Labyrinth?

This was a card that commanded some initial hubbub but hasn’t set the Standard metagame on fire just yet. For sake of argument lets look at what some of Magic’s reviewing luminaries have had to say so far…

“3

“This is one heck of a hate bear. I actually don’t think the disruption ability is that absurd as it does not protect itself in the way that Gaddock Teeg might, for example. That said, it has a definite purpose and there are decks that will not be able to function with this in play. The most important aspect of this, however, is its size. This guy puts a ton of pressure on the opponent’s life total while they are struggling to find card advantage. That increases his chances of play by quite a bit. Remember that cards like Think Twice do get around this when used on an opponent’s turn.”
Conley Woods

“3.5

This is a Vintage/Legacy staple more than anything else, and it’s a beating in those formats. Not only does it horribly embarrass Brainstorm, it turns off a ton of cards in Delver decks, and Aether Vial means it’s ready to ambush card draw at any point. Death and Taxes finally became one of the best decks in the format a few months ago, and this amazing card will only help solidify that.”
Luis Scott-Vargas

[LSV also rated Spirit of the Labyrinth as his #2 BotG card in white]

Brian David-Marshall and I liked it quite a bit on our Top 8 Magic podcast, too, if I recall.

Pretty decent first blushes, and on a decently combat efficient body, to boot.

Remember at this point I am less trying to convince you of ANYTHING and just want to establish a baseline that these might be some playable creatures.

The Basic Combo —


The basic combo is to just get the two creatures in play and start exploiting their text boxes. You use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s turn and it’s half a Howling Mine (the good half!) and the opponent will not get an extra draw.

But…

Beast Mode!


What happens when you use Dakra Mystic in the opponent’s upkeep? The formula here is to choose “we both draw” and pass out of the opponent’s upkeep.

Sure, there will be some times you want to “Millstone” both cards (the opponent will draw a card to break up your combo) but you generally want to choose Howling Mine mode; why? That’s how YOU [alone] get the card advantage. You draw one card on both turns whereas on his turn he still has the Spirit of the Labyrinth limitation to contend with.

But…

Judge!


Unlike a lot of my friends who have already departed their various and far flung homes to start gathering in anticipation of the upcoming PT, I haven’t played a single game of Theros Block Constructed. However — assuming these two drops are reasonable cards to play in the format — there is a little something extra to this combo that would have me giving it a second look.

Untap — Upkeep — Draw…

The early part of the turn sequence is tattooed on most competitive players’ spines. We do these things automatically!

That means if you force both players to draw on the opponents’ upkeep…

… The vast majority will draw on their draw steps, too.

This could be a problem.

The ruling that went around the PTQ I played I last weekend was this.

  1. You are under no obligation to stop the opponent from drawing.
  2. Game loss (drawing extra cards).

Again, I don’t know if there is a whiz-bang better option in Block, but I do know that if I have two choices of comparable “MTGO” EV but one of them gets me X number of free wins in IRL Magic, that might very well put it over the edge at deck selection time.

Mystery Friend: This sounds very Mike Flores angle-shooty, yes.
Me: Can you remove either “Mike Flores” or “angle-shooty”? They’re redundant here 🙂

Objection!

So you get “one free win a round” … Is that good enough? Once anyone hears about this, your combo is over!

I don’t buy it.

We all have a limited amount of willpower. Each decision we make over the course of a day taps into that limited pool. When we’re out… We start making poor decisions, missing things, turning green and tearing up helicarriers. In the round I picked up my second loss in the aforementioned PTQ to go 4-2 (I finished 6-2 and therefore out of Top 8) I missed two Ephara, God of the Polis triggers + one Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger in the deciding Game Three. The match was excruciating, with my opponent getting an early Heroic flyer and pansting it up DI for ~10 lifelink per turn with Anjani, Mentor of Heroes distributing defense to keep me off of fighting back. Even if I had figured a way to stabilize the board with his forces getting bigger and more plentiful every turn… I might have had to deal 200 damage, which would have been a feat.

So on the turn I missed my Nyx-Fleece Ram trigger, got flustered with myself for a second and tore up a basic Forest to mark the top of my library… Which distracted me from drawing a card from Ephara, God of the Polis [that I might have, otherwise]. The other Ephara trigger was a little tricky. I used a Triton Tactics on my Tethmos High Priest to re-buy a creature I desperately needed mid-combat, ran all kinds of Heroics, enchantment bouncing, and Retraction Helixes mid-combat to gum up The Red Zone while trying to trade in combat… And just forgot to draw with everything else going on given a difficult blocking decision.

BDM said I held on really admirably… And pleaded with the top of my deck that the two extra cards I missed wouldn’t have gotten me there (they were thankfully a pair of Plains). My point being I had been playing with these cards all day and did a pretty good job of staying focused most of the rest of the rounds. I was generally unfamiliar with Journey into Nyx Limited but pulled off a 6-2 in my first PTQ in something like five years. And yet, with Top 8 in sight… I missed three separate triggers, any of which might have made or broke me in other circumstances.

Do you REALLY think that you get only ONE win out of this combo?

Our willpower runs thin over the course of a day.

If you, as the conditioned combo player, force this combo, over and over, opponent’s upkeep after opponent’s upkeep… You are simply going to catch players. If a fully informed player is only 1% likely to brain fart and accidentally draw on his turn, a team of say ten players playing Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth combo over the course of multiple upkeeps each on an eight-round day will rack up an embarassing number of free wins from players who actually know better (above and beyond players who have already received “ignorance” game losses), just from sheer volume of repetitions grating up against ingrained untap-upkeep-draw routines. It’s like hitting ctrl+x on a Mac, or frustratedly jamming alt+z staccato on the MTGO Wide Beta. We’re just used to what we’re used to… And here that is poison. Poison that will in all likelihood get worse in the later rounds, when folks are jet lagged and tired.

Those three Ephara and sheep triggers I talked about missing? Those are just the ones I caught in the loss I actually played spells (I’m sure you can guess how the other one went). In matches I won I missed several other sheep triggers, and I gave two different opponents in complete lock down free turns with one life (one when I was in extra turns). But hey! Complete lock down.

People make countless mistakes they don’t know about or see… And forcing them to play differently than the way they are conditioned to play “automatically” is a surefire route to mental chafing… And in this case, potential game losses.

I once took down a PTQ where no fewer than four of my opponents received game losses for mechanical errors (shuffling their graveyards into their libraries by picking up the wrong pile on Natural Order, over- or under-drawing with Urza’s Bauble in Pox or Yawgmoth’s Will) or lost to on-table mind tricks by YT (priority passing, tapping the wrong mana, or using the wrong ability on a multiple-mode spell like Funeral Charm). Why? Because when you are playing your 36th game of Magic in a day — with a Blue Envelope on the line in another state if not country — even a two-time GP champion can brain fart. It happens. We are playing the game “in the real world” and not in an ideal place where no one misses anything, or MTGO simply doesn’t let you.

Plausible Deniability

Nobody wants to be “that guy”.

The question is, 1) if Dakra Mystic + Spirit of the Labyrinth is a thing in Block Constructed (bet to begin with), 2) is there any other way to play THAN the “use Dakra Mystic on the opponent’s upkeep” strategy? You can let him draw per normal and then activate later on… But, assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge?

So… What do you all think?

Because I think this is actually an interesting line of discussion, I wanted to tap into my Flores Rewards budget to incentivize folks to chime in.

(If you don’t know what Flores Rewards is, there used to be a site called http://FloresRewards.com sponsored by TCGPlayer that has been resurrected as a twice-weekly feature… This week’s is here.)

The Game:

Respond to this question in the comments below!

I.

Assuming you don’t need your U for something else, aren’t you just giving away value by NOT playing with edge (i.e. activating Dakra Mystic on upkeep [with the possibility of the opponent receiving a Game Loss for drawing extra cards])? <-- Whatever you want to say about this. One lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando).

II.

Who was my Mystery Friend? <-- A name, pls tks. Yet another lucky responder will get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (you have to guess right for this one, but otherwise rando). In the off chance that we get 100 Likes and / or Google Plusses on this entry, a third responder will also get a $25 TCGPlayer Gift Certificate (rando again)! Get to it beloved readers! Big thanks to TCGPlayer.com for the free prizes 🙂 LOVE MIKE P.S. Deadline for responses / guesses / tallies is Thursday midnight EST!

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