Entries Tagged 'You Make the Play' ↓

You Make the Play – Easy Game is Easy


You probably figured out an possible solution to the conundrum presented in You Make the Play – Phantasmal Image is Hero’s Demise.

Before we continue, Easy Game may be Easy, but michaelj… err… um…

What I wanted people to see — and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t necessarily see it immediate-like — was that you could spend two of your eight mana to play a Phantasmal Image on the Batterskull, have that piece go to the graveyard, set up ye olde Morbid mechanic, and then have at it with Brimstone Volley.

Now it turns out that based on the way I set up the hypothetical that is maybe the third most efficient thing you can do. For example — and many of you beloved readers pointed this out — you can just attack with the Batterskull. If the opponent doesn’t block, he is dead to double Brimstone Volley regardless. If he does, you set up Morbid (and without actually having to spend your Phantasmal Image).

I was very fixated on the notion of using the Living Weapon on the Batterskull to set up a sexy Phantasmal Image play that I didn’t notice that I gave you all an incredibly straightforward (and probably “just better”) way of solving the problem.

Now here comes the interesting part (isn’t it interesting how interesting stuff can come up even when michaelj screws up?)…

For the sake of this “solution” I am going to ignore all the (presumably good-natured) solutions involving Dismember, Gut Shot, and other cards that we don’t actually play in the U/R deck. To be fair, I never put a list on this site, and not every reader has StarCityGames.com Premium ๐Ÿ™‚

Resource Management 101

Line 3 (intended line)

  • Use 2/8 to play Phantasmal Image, copying Living Weapon on Batterskull; Phantasmal Image goes to the graveyard (setting up Morbid).
  • Use 3/6 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 5.
  • Use 3/3 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0

Total resources used: eight mana and three cards

Line 2 (generally accepted line)

Attack with Batterskull.

  • If opponent blocks, some Spirit enables Morbid.
  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 5.
  • Use 3/5 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0.

Total resources used: six mana and two cards.

  • If the opponent DOESN’T block, opponent falls to 6.
  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 3.
  • Use 3/5 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent; opponent on 0.

Total resources used: six mana and two cards.

Line 1 (the line nobody mentioned)

You can do the exact same thing as in Line 2 (with the decision on the opponent as to whether or not he should block)… But instead of “double Brimstone Volley” you can do this:

  • Use 3/8 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent (for 3 or 5).
  • Use 2/5 to play Snapcaster Mage, giving Brimstone Volley flashback.
  • Use 3/3 to play Brimstone Volley targeting the opponent (for lethal).

Total resources used: eight mana and one card.

Obviously any of the three lines will — at least based on the presumed reality of this hypothetical — kill the opponent to death. Sorry about that. I will try to do better next time..

As any of the three lines will end the poor other guy, it is difficult to say which is better between the last two (though I think either of them is better than the one I intended, because we don’t throw away a Phantasmal Image, so we don’t give up that piece of information if we are going into another game, and we don’t use a third card). You really have to ask yourself whether it is better long-run to use two Brimstone Volleys or only one, but giving up the potential flexibility of a later Snapcaster Mage. I would tend to think Line 1 is the best, but, again, all three get us to the same “B” in this case.

Thanks for reading. You guys all warm my heart.


PS Speaking of warmed hearts, check out Gavin Verhey’s final article at Star City today. Gavin alludes to a dinner at US Nationals last year that was incredibly memorable for a bunch of us. So memorable that I included it as the last chapter of my upcoming book, The Official Miser’s Guide; up to, and including the question Gavin credits to me. I am 80% sure this dinner also produced the birth of Flores Rewards (which will come back at some point).


PPS – Dick

a sketch

You Make the Play – Phantasmal Image is Hero’s Demise

OF COURSE I figured out Phantasmal Image by myself.

But I hadn’t figured it out at the point that I sent in my article, which went up on Tuesday on Star City. I in fact figured out Phantasmal Image before New York States, but ultimately decided against it because “I wasn’t a Sun Titan deck” … I was thinking more on the amount of value you get from having a Phantasmal Image in your deck, rather than the fact that you can Hero’s Demise someone with it (TM Brian Kibler)… Phantasmal Image kills Thrun, the Last Troll and Geist of St. Traft dead as doorknobs.

Obviously I would have loved to have a Phantasmal Image while losing to a U/W Humans deck to miss Top 8, in a matchup where almost everything but Geist of St. Traft was dead to my innumerable Shocks!

Anyway — You Make the Play!

… something fun with Phantasmal Image.

Phantasmal Image kills Legendary Creatures, dead.

  • Opponent’s Life Total: 10
  • Opponent’s Board: Two Honor the Pure, two 1/1 Spirits from Moorland Haunt (now 3/3)… six untapped mana including two Moorland Haunts and the ability to activate them.
  • Opponent’s Hand: Nil
  • Opponent’s Graveyard: Enough.

  • Your Life Total: 26
  • Your Board: Eight lands that can produce whatever you want, Druidic Satchel, Batterskull (with Living Weapon).
  • Your Hand: Brimstone Volley, Brimstone Volley, Snapcaster Mage, Phantasmal Image.
  • Your Graveyard: All of it; you can go crazy with that Snapcaster Mage for what you wish. Funny thing about this game, you have milled, Satchel’d, and drawn your way to your last card. You have this card Phantasmal Image to kill his Geists but one never showed up.

Can you win before he does?

Comments below, etc.


P.S. Still looks like a diaper…


You Make the Play: pobody’s nerfect

Previously on Five With Flores:
You Make the Play: That Time MJ Made Me ๐Ÿ™” 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.



Running on Seaside Citadel

At long last, the post-Zendikar mana base for the Mono-Cascade deck… Will Seaside Citadel be the answer to our post-Reflecting Pool / post-Vivd Crag mana base woes?

[Also a bonus You Make the Play!]

Okay, let’s start at the end. This is the current version of the Mono-Cascade deck (at least how I have been tuning it):

Black Baneslayer version 2.2

4 Bituminous Blast
4 Blightning
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Captured Sunlight
4 Deny Reality
4 Esper Charm
4 Enlisted Wurm

4 Baneslayer Angel

3 Arcane Sanctum
2 Arid Mesa
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Exotic Orchard
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Jungle Shrine
2 Mountain
2 Plains
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Savage Lands
2 Seaside Citadel
1 Swamp

2 Obelisk of Alara
2 Duress
3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Lightning Bolt

So that’s the new mana base.

Without boring you with too many details I have found the deck to win essentially every matchup as long as its mana comes out.

That is not idle smack talk… It’s just a fact, and a dual-edged vulnerability. I have been trying to figure out what is “wrong” with this deck. In the best terms, the strategy has one of the deepest Stage Ones of any competitive deck, ever. The deck almost can’t make a play before turn four, and I have lost games where I hit my first six land drops and never played a spell!

This is very clearly a Stage One problem.

It has only gotten worse with the transition from Vivid lands and Reflecting Pool to the current mana base.

Because I recognized the Stage One issue, I pulled Enigma Sphinx in favor of more Seaside Citadels (previously the aforementioned Sphinx and one Sunpetal Grove). I am still not 100% happy with the mana base. Not at all, but it has certainly gotten better (that said, Rootbound Crag should probably be packing up his desk if you know what I mean).

I played many matches last night in the Tournament Practice Room (not playing tournaments until I can get my own side of the street relatively garbage-free), and lost matches that I found inexplicable.

I lost to one of those new-fangled [almost?] permission-free four- or five-color control decks, which I think Cascade should be a heavy favorite. I hit turn three Blightning and turn four Captured Sunlight into Blightning… and then stalled on four for the next four turns while he went from crippled to dominating position by topdecking Esper Charm and Jace. Any land drop would have been game, I think (I had three copies of Deny Reality in hand, and he had already discarded one of his Cruel Ultimatums). After I recoverd somewhat and put myself once again in a decent position he pulled Cruel Ultimatum; I held back Enlisted Wurm over Deny Reality… and flipped into Bituminous Blast with no targets on board.

One thing I will give him… His strategic game was admirable. I stalled on three in the last game, and he drew three copies of Thought Hemorrhage. He immediately went for Esper Charm… and unfortunately I had two copies in hand. He saw I had two Obelisks of Alara in hand, too, and made his second Thought Hemorrhage a six-point Blightning, and when I started to recover, he just named Blightning itself.

The Obelisk of Alara naming made YT a victim of opportunity, but the other two plays were superb because they cut off the bottom of my Cascade chain. So once I got finished being manascrewed, I had the privilege of playing with a buffoonish Talruum Minotaur and about 1/3 the value of a Loxodon Hierarch for the same mana cost. Even in-matchup breakers like Deny Reality get really unexciting with the threes cut (though you can flip Ajani Vengeant and that is pretty awesome). Anyway, didn’t win.

I had some frustrating losses like the above early in the evening, but after adding another Seaside Citadel and cutting the Enigma Sphinx, results improved over the course of many, many matches.

One of the excuses I have for not updating this blog as much in the past couple of weeks is that I have been playing almost nothing but Black Baneslayer / Mono-Cascade. In more than 15 years of Magic I have never had this experience before… As you probably know I have deck ADD. Even during the term when I was designing decks like Critical Mass and Jushi Blue I could not stay loyal and focused. I was always branching to Wild Gifts, then URzaTron, and even G/W and R/W creature decks. I just love to design decks and I just can’t help myself… Or at least that’s how it was.

There is a true joy that comes with playing this deck that I have never experienced before… Not even with a Napster or a Masques Block White deck.

It’s really rewarding to be able to plot out how the next X turns are going to go; as long as you have a spell to cast, some amount of the next turn is predictable. Yeah, he starts to beat on you with his Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax, but you can confidently empty his hand before moving to the Baneslayer Angel phase of the game, or you just keep chaining him with Cascade spells, generating incremental advantages that lace and loop together until the opponent falls further and further behind that victory becomes unimaginable.

One deck that Black Baneslayer absolutely, positively, always beats is Pyromancer’s Ascension. I played against that deck half a dozen matches last night, including mulligans to five and I think even four, faced off against multiple Mind Springs for six or thereabouts, and failed to drop a match. I wasn’t keeping great attention but I don’t think I dropped a game. Basically their deck doesn’t do anything disruptive, nor does it ever pose a remote chance of killing you before Pyromancer’s Ascension comes online, so you have all the time in the world to get your mana straight. Blightning is great, per usual, and even though I don’t recommend actually pointing Esper Charm at Pyromancer’s Ascension, you can if you have to, and it’s fine. Usually through the middle turns you Deny Reality their only X, and / or Pyromancer’s Ascension (which will force counters resets) and eventually you can kill them with Enlisted Wurm or Bloodbraid Elf or whatever.

So there is the new mana base.

Plus there is some griping about not hitting land drops.

And here is a minor You Make the Play…

So this was an epic battle, at least so far as preliminary mana testing in the Tournament Practice Room goes.

Game One he played a turn two Lotus Cobra and utterly demolished me with it. Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel… I kind of lost track but it was brutal.

I sided in Lightning Bolts for Game Two but his opener was Knight of the Reliquary, and it was immediately in 4/4-ville. I could see where the game was going but I hit my lands and played super tight.

… And by super tight I mean I played the cards I was given.

The only play that mattered whatsoever was when I had some “exact mana” multiple spell turn laid out, but I forgoed (forwent?) it in favor of a potentially loose life gain move.

Then I realized he could topdeck Bloodbraid Elf and I could very well be dead. So I played Captured Sunlight (the only one I had in my deck that game) instead (which pained me), because I accomplished half of what I intended to do.

Of course he flipped Bloodbraid Elf and I realized what I genius I am ๐Ÿ™‚

It was a nailbiter but I managed to win Game Two on one life.

So here’s the shot for Game Three:

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He openend on Knight of the Reliquary again.

I had the hot draw with the ability to actually play my spells, heavy on the threes.

I hit turn three Blightning and already have turn four Blightning mana queued up.

The only question is, given my hand of:

Blightning (about to be put on the stack)
Esper Charm
Baneslayer Angel
Exotic Orchard
Savage Lands

Which land should I play?

Look at the game state; how many cards does he have in hand? How big is his Knight? How big is it likely to become soon?

Think hard about this one.


Currently Reading: The Book of Lies

You Make the Play: How Else Are You Going to Cast Your Esper Charm?

A simple solution.

Finkel’s second Law.

… And Esper Charm.

When last we rocked and rolled I presented the following situation…

[Y]ou run out the Vivid Creek.

Your remainding cards are:

Bloodbraid Elf
Bloodbraid Elf
Enlisted Wurm
Reflecting Pool

Who knows what your next card is going to be?

But there is an interesting mental exercise…

What land do you play?

… So, why is this interesting again?

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicAs you could probably tell from the screen shot, this actually came up for me last week, playing with my Mono-Cascade deck*. I was going to just run out Mountain…

Why would I run out Mountain?

When you play this kind of a deck enough–even now that we’ve layered it with four main deck Baneslayer Angels–you try to play around Anathemancer. I know it’s only turn two… But really, you start to train yourself to play Mountain in these kinds of spots as a default.

Anyway, I thought to myself, if I pull Blightning, I can play it on turn three anyway.

It was at that point that I realized my error.

There is only one right play: Reflecting Pool.


Because you have an equal chance of drawing Blightning or Esper Charm!

Your path is clear starting on turn four. If you only want to consider four mana spells, you have no issue. Any order of your next three lands will allow you to play a pair of Bloodbraid Elves. In this deck, that two-turn sequence is automatically devastating. The opponent will be under pressure and will be down four cards… That’s just how the deck is designed.

But if you draw an actual three mana spell, you can put yourself so far ahead come turn four or five that the opponent will be in topdeck mode whereas you will be playing Ultimatum Magic (that is actually part of the reason I like the Mono-Cascade deck the best… It is just ferociously more powerful than basically everything else that people seem to be playing… but more on that later).

So in this case, you can see that playing Reflecting Pool is the best turn two play. The next best play is Plains.

If you play Plains and then draw Blightning, you can play Reflecting Pool or Mountain and cast the Blightning; it is inferior to Reflecting Pool on turn two because in this case you will have to take a counter off of your Vivid Creek in order to play the Blightning. This may or may not be relevant in the particular game at hand, but this kind of haphazard play can and will have a negative effect on your long term victory prospects if you are not aware of it.


… For the exact same reason that playing Reflecting Pool is better than playing Mountain on turn two.

We sometimes talk about the general rules in Magic.

Zvi calls this one “Finkel’s Law” (it was made popular by myself and Justin Polin during our short term at Brainburst Premium): Focus Only On What Matters.

Some people who listen to the Top 8 Magic Podcast know that Finkel actually has more than one law. This is a second one: Magic is a game of options. Generally the better play is the one that preserves the most options.

So in this case, playing a Reflecting Pool on the second turn is better than a Mountain because it helps leave open your options… You will be able to play Esper Charm or Blightning on turn three, regardless of which (if either) you draw.

By the same token, playing Plains is better than playing Mountain on turn two, but worse than playing Reflecting Pool because it shines a similar light (or lack thereof) on your options. You will theoretically be able to play either three mana spell, but if you draw Blightning, you will have to spend a counter on your Vivid Creek that you would not have to spend if you instead played Reflecting Pool first. That Vivid counter might end up mattering.

So what really happened?

I actually just pulled another land (either Plains or Exotic Orchard, I don’t remember). He was playing a U/W deck of some sort and got annihilated by discard into more discard into sixth turn Enlisted Ultimatum… Just like they all do! ๐Ÿ™‚


Currently Reading: The Italian

* Yes, yes, yes dear readers, I know this whole hypothetical is based on an imaginary, now-outdated mana base. And yes, I made a new one. Check back tomorrow-ish ๐Ÿ™‚

You Make the Play – Making Your Lands Fall

The first land drop was simple. The second one, less so.

Opening grip was nothing to write home about, but solid enough. I actually have this hand as better than 60% against the field:

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicBloodbraid Elf
Bloodbraid Elf
Enlisted Wurm
Reflecting Pool
Vivid Creek

The first land drop is simple… Of course you run out the Vivid Creek.

The opponent makes life somewhat easy (that is, he doesn’t play some kind of Isamaru, Hound of Konda) by playing a Terramorphic Expanse into an Island.

So you haven’t drawn card number eight yet (that is part of the surprise).

The play should be simple… But it might not be as easy as it seems.

What land do you play next?


PS Obviously the deck in question is Black Baneslayer Cascade Control. Part of the reason I haven’t posted much recently is that I just play this deck over and over and I can’t stop. I really think it may be my favorite deck of all time (at least to play). If you need the deck list to make your decision, here is a re-paste from last post:

Black Baneslayer Cascade Control

4 Bituminous Blast
4 Blightning
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Captured Sunlight
4 Deny Reality
1 Enigma Sphinx
4 Enlisted Wurm
4 Esper Charm

4 Baneslayer Angel

4 Exotic Orchard
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp
4 Vivid Crag
2 Vivid Creek
1 Vivid Grove
2 Vivid Marsh
4 Vivid Meadow

3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Hallowed Burial
4 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Primal Command

Currently Reading: Dune, 40th Anniversary Edition (Dune Chronicles, Book 1)

You Make the Play – Getting Out of Harm’s Way

I fear that the installment of You Make the Play (starring Elite Vanguard) may have been too easy.

If you haven’t read that entry, go back and check in on Elite Vanguard and friends (and foes!), read the entry, and then back button over this way. Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

La la la.


Tight as hell, dawg.

The answer — as my old Team Red Bull and Underground compatriot Brian Kibler put it — “Savage Lands, go.”

Is the answer that easy?

To be honest, I was planning to run Lightning Bolt on Elite Vanguard on my own main phase. My theory being that my hand is pretty good and that I just want to get rid of some potential damage. It’s pretty clear he has something in his hand; I am choosing to put a Harm’s Way read on him.

Basics… Let’s imagine he does have Harm’s Way. It’s clearly better to send Lightning Bolt at Elite Vanguard rather than Goldmeadow Stalwart because one of those creatures can live through a Lightning Bolt and the other one can’t (and they have the same amount of power). All things held equal, it’s better to leave the Elite Vanguard on the Battlefield rather than the Goldmeadow Stalwart because, even though they have the same power, the one toughness on the Vanguard is an exploitable liability on the part of our deck; not only can you stick a Lightning Bolt through a single Harm’s Way, you can block and kill it with Borderland Ranger even though Honor of the Pure or Ajani Goldmane (the same is not true of the somewhat tougher Goldmeadow Stalwart).

My initial guy on the play reflects the fact that even though it is better to be able to block and kill creatures, if our plan is Hallowed Burial, this is no requirement for winning.

I have since revised my position to go in-line with Kibler’s. He actually had a good explanation. You can wait until the opponent does something, gives you more information, before making your own decision. For example, what if he hasn’t got another land, and he taps for Honor of the Pure? Clearly the better play is to stick the Goldmeadow Stalwart to death, take three, and leave yourself with a mutual block on the Elite Vanguard.

Some other ideas and issues…

  1. If you don’t shoot the Elite Vanguard on your own turn, I am not convinced you are so much better off waiting for upkeep. It may sound horribly stupid but you are open to say a double Harm’s Way. This is also 2/3 of a Time Walk and a bit of a one-for-two (even if it buys you five to seven free damage, maybe even more)… You’re probably going to win if he runs that because he will not have mana for a cream dream draw involving Spectral Procession. Generally speaking, I am willing to make a slightly sub-optimal play in order to control certain variables. You lose some measure of that control by making a pre-additional information move with your Lightning Bolt, but moving that move to upkeep.
  2. I am not scared of Path to Exile in response to Lightning Bolt. That is tantamount to playing around Rampant Growth.
  3. At least we all agree that we are not going to play the Exotic Orchard.
  4. Here is one that didn’t get as much attention as I might have guessed… Just taking a beating and leaving your Lightning Bolt for Ajani Goldmane. Losing this game will probably be associated with an unchecked Spectral Procession, and the deadliest combo Kithkin can generally muster is Spectral Procession + Ajani Goldmane, so there you go.
Anyway, sorry for a too-easy You Make the Play this time. Sadly, I got it wrong myself, and I was the motherlover writing it!
How’s this for a Firestarter…
What elements influence your playing Captured Sunlight versus Borderland Ranger on turn four?
If I don’t say it enough, I am glad to have all of you here; thanks for visiting this blog and commenting and participating as much as you do.
Currently Reading: Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 2) (Paperback)

You Make the Play… Starring Elite Vanguard!

It’s the return of You Make the Play! this episode pits M10 uncommon Elite Vanguard against longtime Kithkin one drop Goldmeadow Stalwart in a thought provoking turn two scenario.

You are playing the Rhox Meditant Deck in a post-M10 tournament (nice choice); so now you have Lightning Bolt in your sideboard (huzzah). Your opponent is White Weenie / Kithkin, and you are up a game playing for Top 8. You were able to tempo him in a triumphant Game One. He didn’t hit the dream curve of Honor of the Pure, Spectral Procession, and Ajani Goldmane, so you had time to slow him down with Naya Charm. You just littered the floor with your threes to block and chump block with Kitchen Finks and Borderland Ranger, Time Walked him turn five with Primal Command on his Windbrisk Heights, and then showed him Enlisted Ultimatum. That card gave you a 5/5, a dead Knight of the Meadowgrain, four life and a re-buy on your Bituminous Blast. Wanting to preserve time against your sluggish and methodical deck, your opponent shrugged into Game Two.

To open the second, your opponent led with Goldmeadow Stalwart and showed you a second Goldmeadow Stalwart.

You played your Jungle Shrine, then passed.

He got in for two, screwed up his face a little bit, played his second land… and instead of running out the Stalwart, ran out complimentary one drop Elite Vanguard. Now there are lots of different reasons he might do this, from not having another Kithkin for this second Stalwart to some kind of shenanigans running on the back end. But the fact is, this is the board you are looking at when you untap for turn two:

You untap your Jungle Shrine, pull a card and assess these eight cards for your second turn:

Jungle Shrine.

Eight-card hand:
Savage Lands, Exotic Orchard, Lightning Bolt, Borderland Ranger, Borderland Ranger, Captured Sunlight, Hallowed Burial, Enlisted Wurm.

So… Play your second turn ๐Ÿ™‚


Currently Reading: 100 Bullets Vol. 13: Wilt

What You Should Be Reading: My Files at Top 8 Magic

You Make the Play: Statistics for Dummies

So a couple of weeks ago, I presented the following You Make the Play:

This is a seven card hand. You lost the flip so there are 53 cards in your deck and you are playing second. The deck list is the one we have been bandying about the past week or two รขโ‚ฌโ€ Jund Mana Ramp.

Soรขโ‚ฌยฆ Keep or no?

The responses were interesting and varied. I was using this You Make the Play as a lead-in for some basic statistics (which we will get to) but my intrepid readership took typically galvanized positions as well as the opportunity to stand on soap boxes.

When the dust cleared (out of nineteen responses), we had a little under 2:1 ratio in favor of keeping the hand… and a handful of people who just don’t like Gift of the Gargantuan ๐Ÿ™‚

* Zvi, by the way, said that he didn’t have to look at the hand, and if I were asking, I should mulligan it.

However, like I said, I wanted to use this as a lead-in for some basic statistics rather than a critique of the deck.

When we make plays we often do things on “gut” or fear that end up being terrible decisions. One of the worst mistakes in my entire career was in a Feature Match at US Nationals 2000.

I was playing trusty Napster in its best tournament, and riding a 2-0 open on the day, I found myself in the Feature Match area in a semi-mirror against Donnie Gallitz.

I opened on Swamp, Dark Ritual, Phyrexian Negator and Donnie started with a Duress for my Vicious Hunger. I Duressed Donnie back; his hand was all garbage – Unmask, Stupor, Masticore, and Skittering Skirge. Skittering Skirge was the best card in the hand but I couldn’t take it; Masticore was borderline unplayble in the matchup but happened to be good against my Phyrexian Negator (again I couldn’t take it), so I decided to take the Unmask.

Donnie dropped the Skirge to defend, then mized into Ritual + Persecute. I responded with Vampiric Tutor for Vicious Hunger and got in more and more.

Donnie played his unplayable Masticore (which nevertheless prompted me to sacrifice my Phyrexian Negator). Then I Eradicated the Masticore via Vampiric Tutor, then Tutored again to set up Yawgmoth’s Will.

Ritual + Vicious Hunger to start, smashing Donnie’s fresh Skitting Skirge, then I set up a Phyrexian Negator. Donnie mized into a Yawgmoth’s Will of his own, but if you go back and read the cards they were pretty pointless so all he did was make a dude.

Okay here’s my mistake.

I topdecked a Skittering Horror.

Now of course I played it pre-combat.

My plan was to smash Donnie with my Negator and sacrifice down to just the Negator, and then just kill him the next turn. But the Horror gave me another permanent and another option. So because I drew the Horror and correctly played it, I smashed in and sacrificed down to the Horror and one land instead. I figured if Donnie drew a Vicious Hunger he could make me sacrifice down to nothing, but the same wouldn’t be true of a Horror.

Instead Donnie — no cards in hand — picked up a Skittering Skirge that held me (down to essentially no permanents) off until he came back to win the game… From about three life.

In the same spot I would have just trampled him to death.

I had what Dan Paskins calls The Fear, and made a terrible decision.

I should probably have sacrificed down to double guys; next best would have been Negator and land (which was my original plan).

Dave Price described this as bad because of probability. Donnie had what? Forty cards or more in his deck? What were the chances of his drawing a Vicious Hunger (bad for two permanents if one is a Negator) versus any creature that could stop a Skittering Horror?

It gets worse.

Donnie played his unplayable Masticore (which nevertheless prompted me to sacrifice my Phyrexian Negator). Then I Eradicated the Masticore via Vampiric Tutor, then Tutored again to set up Yawgmoth’s Will.

Eradicate allows you to look through the opponent’s entire deck.

… Where I could have seen that he played no Vicious Hungers at all main deck!

I won Game Two in dramatic fashion, but just had no resources in Game Three whereas Donnie got the fast Persecute. But the fact is: It shouldn’t have gone three games.

So how does this come back to our discussion of whether or not to mulligan this hand on the draw?

The deck plays 23 lands and four Rampant Growths. I was operating under the idea “If I have three lands untapped on my third turn, I can basically make my land drops all the way to six without interruption” (six land being Broodmate range). I understand some of you think this hand is not strong v. Tokens, but you probably haven’t played the matchup as much as I have. Tokens is often a Batman / Vs. System battle where you just play something better than what they play, top up on your six, and then play sixes every turn while they are still piddling around with three 1/1 creatures (which actually get soundly stomped by some of your sixes).


How do we get to three untapped lands on turn three?

1) We can draw any land on turn one or turn two.
2) We can draw Rampant Growth on turn one or turn two.
3) We can topdeck one of 13 comes into play untapped lands on turn three.

So here are our probabilities.

Turn One – 25/53

Turn Two – 25/52

Turn Three – 13/51

You have twenty-five options on turn one – any of the twenty-one remaining lands, plus any of the Rampant Growths.

You have twenty-five options on turn two (assuming you did not already fulfill your minimal requirement on the first turn) – the same twenty-one lands and the same Rampant Growths. Note that this only works because you have two lands that come into play untapped in your opening hand; the math changes dramatically if you have a different land configuration… For example if both lands came into play tapped, you could not count Rampant Growth without an intervening untapped land pull (which itself would have fulfilled what we need fulfilled).

Turn three you still have options but they decline sharply. You lose eight of your lands (Treetop Village and Savage Lands come into play tapped, so drawing them on turn three is useless in the short term; ditto on Rampant Growth).

Most players can evaluate a situation like this one and look at the first turn. You are under 50% likely to pull a relevant piece of mana on turn one.

You are similarly less than 50% likely to pull a relevant land on turn two. But what about the fact that you get turn one and turn two both?

Turn three is much less likely than turn one or two, but you still have a nice lift… That is an “advantage” of going second in this hypothetical.

So how likely are you to pull the right land?

  • You start with 25/53, or about 47%… That’s yours, that slight dog / coin flip.
  • Of the remaining 53%, you get 25/52 (or about 48%), an addition 25%.
  • So here is the super tricky part. Of the 75% of that lost 53%, you get there another 13/51 (~25%) of the time… about 7%.
  • Ultimately you’re in at about 79-80% likely to have three untapped lands on turn three.

A faster and arguably easier way to come to the same conclusion is to figure it out in the negative. How unlikely are you to have the land you need on turn three? Your likelyhood of actually having the goods is whatever is left.

Relative likelihoods of drawing non-relevant cards:

  1. 28/53
  2. 27/52
  3. 38/51

Multiply all those together and you’re a hair over 20% not likely to get there… Or 79-80% to have the mana you need (just like we said).

So what happened?

80% is a pretty good bet, so I kept.

It turned out that my opponent was Reflecting Pool Control, one of the deck’s best matchups, and of all the matchups in Standard, the most vulnerable to this type of hand (incremental card advantage via small threats).

So of course I missed my third three times, discarded, and lost one of my best matchups ๐Ÿ™‚

But at least I kept when I should have.


You Make the Play – Keep or No?

At long last, another edition of You Make the Play!

This time it’s an easy one… Do you keep this hand or not? Why or why not?

This is a seven card hand. You lost the flip so there are 53 cards in your deck and you are playing second. The deck list is the one we have been bandying about the past week or two — Jund Mana Ramp.ร‚ย 

So… Keep or no?


Currently Reading: The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists (obviously a re-read), Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (actually I just lent it to @jonnymagic00)

PS Did you cats see that the great Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV) and long-lost RidiculousHat posted on Mis-assignment of Strategy = Options Amputation? Might want to check out the forums from the previous post!