You Make the Play – Deciding on Disappointment

You Make the Play returns with a mirror match dilemma from this past weekend’s Star City Games $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia, PA.

The situation:
You are 4-1 or thereabouts in the Star City Games $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia last week. Your deck in this one is Blightning Beatdown… So is your opponent’s.

That opponent is Zack Hall, who has a Grand Prix Top 4 this year and is probably better than you.

That said, you got Game One at least in part because Zack shipped to Paris on the play; he had a lot of Flame Javelins to your Bitterblossom, but you got there with the card advantage.

So it’s game two. Having read Why Dave Price Goes Second, Zack opted to draw.

This strategy has served him pretty solidly this game and he is currently ahead. It’s Zack’s turn five and this is the situation:

He plays super duper deck namesake Blightning with three or four more cards in hand. Wow that is a lot of cards.

Zack’s board is a 2/2 Figure of Destiny and four lands (no Ghitu Encampment).

Your board is:

Ghitu Encampment,
Reflecting Pool, and
Auntie’s Hovel.

Your hand is (of which you will have to pitch two cards) is: Demigod of Revenge, Flame Javelin, Flame Javelin.

You missed your last land drop. You have sided out three Bitterblossoms for three Lash Outs this game.

Okay geniuses-in-training! Make the play. What do you pitch and why? More importantly (and it’s kind of the same question)… What do you keep?


facebook comments:


#1 DavePetterson on 12.10.08 at 10:24 pm

Do you remember the approximate life totals at this point of the game?

#2 wobblesthegoose on 12.10.08 at 10:46 pm

Pitch a Demigod of Revenge and Flame Javelin. Prior scouting lets me know that Hall is running unwilling recruit, significantly reducing the EV of a resolved demigod.

#3 Gifts Ungiven on 12.10.08 at 11:29 pm

Keep a Javelin.

I think if you re-couch the question explicitly as “do you want a Demigod in hand or a Javelin in hand and a Demigod in the graveyard?” the best overall answer is clear. I want a Javelin in hand so I can burn out that Figure when and if he tries to pump it, or alternately to clear a Demigod that may presently be coming at my face. I can use the Javelin right now to deal with the present-on-the-board problem and the several reasonably likely follow-up problems.

On the other hand, the Demigod is a dead card unless and until I topdeck a land, but if I ditch it, it increases the value of any later Demigods I may draw, effectively increasing the average expected damage yield of any random draw off the top of my deck (fudging the math for my convenience, the average damage-to-the-face-this-turn value of that random draw on the top bumps from about 1.53 to about 1.8 or so — of course, this is the adjusted average, but those bumps are coming from some potentially game-ending 10-point turns off of a Demigod draw).

I was going to add that if Zack were at five life you might bet on the 40% chance of drawing a land off the top and just killing him next turn, but then I realized you only have about a 30% chance of drawing a useful land (recall the Hovels and Encampments are both dead draws for this play), so even if Zack’s at five life, I think that play is pretty poor.

So keep the Javelin, guarantee you can clear a threat, and set up a future ten-point life swing.

#4 JosephM on 12.11.08 at 9:51 am

I keep a javelin.

If he has that many cards in his hand, odds are he has something to deal with my demigod, and even if it takes him two cards, he’s still ahead of me by far. what i need is a spell i can DEFINITELY play, if only to defend myself until i find a way out of this mess.

the final answer being: i’m in a mess. i need a way out, and right here, demigod isn’t it.


#5 Kaibaman11689 on 12.11.08 at 10:24 am

I agree with Gifts Unforgiven….

Magic has taught me one thing so far: Don’t rely on the top deck. With four mana open the only guaranteed play is the javelin. Keep it in hand and pray you don’t get blightninged again.

#6 Soilantgreen on 12.11.08 at 3:37 pm

Well I think solid straighforward strategies have been outlined above, but that doesn’t make for a very interesting column… I don’t take issue with anything anyone has said so far, but it’s pretty vanilla.

So I present a somewhat qualified strategy, toss the Javelins!

Whenever you are forced to discard, especially in this situation, your opponent gains knowledge of what you had in your hand, and from that can make assumptions about what you have left. Your opponent here has a Figure of Destiny out, so your pitching the two javelins will lead him to believe he knows your hand exactly. Why would you throw away two cards that could kill his threat if you didnt have another? Furthermore, if you did have a Demigod in your hand, surely you would put it in the graveyard and keep something else.

What you gain with this play is a huge advantage in that now your opponent almost 100% thinks A) you DO have a burn card in your hand, and B) you DO NOT have a Demigod in your hand. Furthermore he will probably nail you down to either an incinerate or a tarfire. Now you can take advantage of the situation, for example, he isn’t going to pump his figure when he “knows” that you can respond with as few as 1R open, potentially less.

Ideally you can convince your opponent of what you want him to think you have in your hand, and stay 1 step ahead of him since he will be protecting against the wrong threat. I think this is the only play here that switches you from being on the defensive to being on the offensive.

I can see situations depending on life totals etc, where you’d simply have to keep a javelin, b/c I think playing mind games with your opponent could only buy you so much time. But I think the key is presenting a situation to give your opponent 100% confidence in false information is very valuable, especially (if not exclusively) against a strong opponent.

#7 cfoxrun on 12.11.08 at 4:49 pm

I would pitch the Javelin and the Demigod. If you don’t get the land, he basically pumps for free next turn if you don’t draw burn. That gets him to an area where that guy is too big to do anything with. If you top deck a Demigod later on, you get in for 10 unless he has burn.

I think you need an answer to the guy on the table and therefore I keep the Javelin.

#8 cfoxrun on 12.11.08 at 9:08 pm

I have a question concerning your sideboarding strategy. Why not keep in a few more BitterBlossoms. I know your taking damage every turn (any extras you can probably pitch to Blightning). It seems they would soak up damage from Demigods and Hell’s Thunders (basically nutering them). One Demigod hit is 5 turns of Bitterblossom.

You said you got there first game. One question is if you went to game 3, would you have boarded them back in again. Maybe take out Fanatic and keep in the Lash Outs

#9 Gifts Ungiven on 12.12.08 at 8:02 pm

I think holding the Demigod is too much of an objectively bad play (that is, bad on the numbers) to make it worth doing in the context of attempting to mislead your opponent, especially when they have three or four cards in hand. Even the threat of, say, an Incinerate is no real cause for Zack to not pump the Figure, unless he’s going to play a second threat, which is even worse for us. After all, there’s no reason for him to keep mana open for burn unless he’s at four or five life, and then if he /is/ keeping mana open for burn, he’s still going to be able to go for the pump EOT (and, of course, if he’s at /four/ life, we just killed him in response to the Blightning with a Javelin, so we know he’s not quite that low).

I think it can be right sometimes to make a poor play, but holding the Demigod is such a disadvantaging play in this situation that it’s better to let our opponent assume the obvious (e.g. “He kept a second Javelin”) and just play technically correct Magic.

NB — The opponent might also judge you to have had double Demigod in hand, pitching one along with a Javelin so you can set up the ten-point swing. This brings up a fun question — in the same situation, if our hand were Demigod-Demigod-Javelin, what would the correct play be?

#10 wrongwaygoback on 12.13.08 at 4:32 am

Say both players are not at four life, but at five. Then it comes down to not what you have, but what you’re most likely to top deck.

The figure is going to swing either for two or four, but either way will swing for the other points the following turn. Which means you have exactly (in this scenario) one turn to bring your opponent’s life total to zero. Your opponent is unlikely to lay down a blocker, so it comes down to what’s going to get you those five points of damage.

If you believe you’re most likely to top deck a burn spell, then keeping the javelin is the right play (four + extra burn > 5).

If you’re most likely to top deck a land spell, then the Demigod is the the right play (hasty swing for five ftw).

If you are both between 6-8 life, then I’d say keeping the javelin is the correct play, and using on their dome at end of turn, hoping to get another (though there are only two left in the deck)

If you are both above 8 life, perhaps keeping the jav, using it on the figure, and praying your opponent gets a couple of land draws while you hit a demigod and a land. Crazy risky.

#11 Alexan on 12.15.08 at 4:47 pm

I found this challenge incredibly interesting and I just had to reply.

If I were a bad magic player I’d probably do something like this:
“Ditch the Demigod and hold onto the javelin for another turn because I should get a land next turn and if I get a demigod the turn after that, that’s like /10 damage/” or perhaps with more fanciful terms like “The potential card disadvantage from Blightning is minimized most by discarding the Demigod thanks to its late game recurssion, therefore I maximize my resources by holding onto a javelin.”
Despite this the correct answer is to ditch the flames.

Here are some short answers:
A: You’re down card advantage but up in terms of speed (and hopefully life), you want the game to end faster. You are the one that must race, he can react how he chooses and you must win before he can use his extra cards. The Javelin’s only advantage over the Demigod is that it can be used to kill a creature at instant speed, and you know you can be cast right now. The Demigod is just better in all other ways.
B: The information game favors you if you discard the two Javelins. Discarding a Jave and a Demigod tells him basically what is in your hand (another Demigod or Flame Javelin), but discarding the two javelin could mean you could have anything.
C: The psychological game favors holding the creature. He is a better player so you have to win through alternative means and the apparently ‘riskier’ plays. Ditching the demigod is, on surface, the technically correct play (for the above reason), but Zack is good enough to recognize what you did, and why you did it, and easily play around it, and since he is the better player that seems kind bad for you. Taking chances might throw him off his expectation game and riskier plays may be more rewarding. ‘Why would you toss two javelin? That’s the ‘wrong’ play. But you’re a good player? It must be…’ He might spend so much time trying to figure that mystery out, he starts making mistakes. Maybe he forgets to attack or end of turn pump or something. Or plays against some imagined phantom card that you have.
D: Luck favors the bold! Sometimes you need to take chances. Heart of the cards and all that.

The longer answers
The math actually favors the Demigod and a detailed analysis of all likely future game states lends itself towards the demigod play.
Your probabilities go like this:
18.75 chance you get a dead card (tap land or another demigod)
Basically a little under one in five chance you will lose the game, but if you held onto the Javelin and top decked an auntie’s hovel here… how do you win the game? The only way I can see is that you topdeck another demigod(about 7% a turn). I’d be surprised if the Javelin is the superior move in even 5% of all games played out from this point, and in some number of them it would be because of another blightning on Zack’s part.

~30% you get a non-tap land (and can play demigod)
Let’s say you kept the Flame Javelin here. Are you really better off? At best you cost Zack a creature and some mana. You can’t even swing with the man-land until you get another land or use instant!

Playing the demigod next turn is probably the strongest play you can make. Especially when you consider that Zack cannot answer it for at least another turn, since he only has four mana (maybe five if he plays it after blightning). Three of those were used to cast blightning. He has no way of killing the Demigod next turn. This makes the Demigod play next turn at least as good as a lava axe, putting it slightly above the Flame Javeline.

It is a faster clock against Zack then Zack’s figure can be against you in the relevant time line (the next 2-3 turns). If Zack pumps next turn, then he probably can’t kill the Demigod, and you swing for 10, possibly 12, plus whatever card you get after this land. Even pumping twice he can at best tie the damage race, but I would hope that you’d win before then. If, for some reason, you can’t you can try blocking with the demigod to buy a turn.

Zack has to use his next turn to kill the demigod. For Zack to destroy the demigod he must use at least half his mana.
The chances that he gets a 6th land next turn are small. He’d have to play a land post blightning and play a non-comes into play tapped land next turn (and he has played none of his yet).
In addition he’d need to have flame javelin in his hand.
Only under these two circumstances would he be able to stop the Demigod attack and pump his figure to become a 4/4 while you are tapped out, with the possibility of it becoming an 8/8 first striker on turn 7. This doesn’t seem to be entirely too likely… and even if you had had your flame javelin here, he would have been up a flame javelin against you. I don’t see how you win this.

More likely, he’d have to use at least one card to stop the Demigod of Revenge, and not get to pump to a 4/4. He’d probably have to use a Flame Javelin or his own Demigod of Revenge to block.
In this case, the Demigod buys you at least a few points of life, possibly two cards, and gives you another turn to deal with the figure of destiny. The only time this is worse would be some ridiculous luck like him winning two clashes using Lashout x 2.
And if he can’t answer the demigod, then you just swung for 10 damage and have likely won the game.

The remaining half of the cards in your library card are at least as good as Javelin at this point for except for Mogg Fanatic and maybe blightning. The difference is that you can play those cards and still threaten with the man-land, which you can’t do if you are holding Javelin mana up to kill the figure when he goes to pump it. I believe top-decking one of your lashouts and scrying into your next land seems like a very strong play, stronger then using the flame javelin to deal 4 to the player or the figure. Yes, you can’t kill his figure after he pumps it to a 4/4 two turns from now (unless you’re willing to risk losing the land with a clever block), but most of the cards you top deck you can both play that turn and still have mana up to fake another spell or to activate the man-land if you want to risk it.

So there you have it. As long as you do not top deck one of your remaining mogg fanatics, one of your six tap lands or three Demigods, and maybe one of your blightnings, every possible card you top deck here is better to have with Demigod in hand then with Flame Jav. Even if you did draw one of those cards, I still don’t see how you win the game if you are holding open Flame Javelin mana to smack his creature. And if you drew anything else (lashout for instance), wouldn’t you just play that on the figure instead and send the Javelin at his face? How is that better? You still only have 4 mana, unless you top deck a Tarfire you’re not casting both next turn.

The main reason, in my opinion on the more abstract level, is that the Demigod is the much better card for the next two or three turns of the game, and is your most likely route to victory in this game. There is probably 4 or 5 more turns left to this game. The longer the game goes on, the better Zack’s chances to win are. Zack, as the better player, knows this. He needs to play around your cards and drag this to turn 8 to 10 so he can squeeze out the advantage from his extra cards and discount your speed bonus, but not get to the point that the your deck has a chance to just get lucky and top deck the win. He knows what the expected plays are and he likely has a plan to play around them. He almost certainly knows what ditching a Demigod and a Jave signals about your hand and how he must adjust his play. He probably does not know what tossing two flame javelins even means. I certainly wouldn’t! He may try to go for an overly safe route and play around cards you don’t have, or he may become reckless and walk into a trap.

#12 bk on 12.16.08 at 10:12 pm

Lets be honest. You’re most likely losing this game. What do we do when we know we are going to lose the game? We figure out the circumstances that will make ourselves actually win and play as if they are happening.

How do we win this game. The only way I see us pulling it off is if he doesn’t have an answer to that Demigod and we savagely rip the land to play it. People who say we get to put him in a zone of uncertainty by keeping the demigod are just wrong. Zach is playing for attrition. He is surely going to ship that Figure right into our Ghitu Encampment and let us trade our spell for it. It’s very easy to call bluffs when you have your opponent’s chips covered. He probably has spot removal for Encampment anyway. So keeping a removal spell for his dork is probably what he wants us to do over putting a real threat out there.

There really are no bad draws for us right now with Demigod in hand. Maybe an extra Demigod, but I think we have a good chance to win the game if we peel a second one. Then we can actually overcome our card disadvantage as he has to kill even more Demigods. I guess those crappy dudes that most red decks play are a bit subpar. Like Gouger seems especially bad here. Can’t really remember Mike’s exact decklist.

I don’t think I would have boarded out Bitterblossom either. I guess we probably thought we were on the draw which might make it a bit worse. Isn’t the card insane in aggro vs. aggro?

#13 hammy on 12.18.08 at 12:16 am

BK has is right.

You’re out-carded 5 to 1 (four in his hand, one in play).

Playing it safe and keeping flame javelin is not going to win you this game.

There are definitely certain life totals that should mandate keeping the javelin— Say, if he’s at 8 or less. Or if you’re at 4 or less.

But, if the life totals are both fairly large— 15+ each— you need to land a threat and start beating ASAP.

The only topdecks that don’t help you are the CIPT lands, basically. Everything else either will burnhis FOD or attack through it, or let you cast the Demi.

“Lets be honest. You’re most likely losing this game”

How are you going to win? Topdeck mountain, trade your Demi for two burn spells and then topdecking another Demi seems good. Anything else? Prolly not based on his card advantage.

The castable flame javelin sure is a safe bet, but the one thing it cant do is win the game against bad odds.

#14 KZipple on 12.18.08 at 4:23 pm

I think this could most succinctly be answered by: Who’s the Beatdown? You are in no position to adopt a control stance. He’s ahead on cards in hand, threats in play, [life?], etc. We aren’t in much of a beatdown position either, but its better both theoretically and with actual numbers. So keep Demigod and hope to get there.

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