This week's hypotheticals and deck are largely based on new flagship card, Collected Company.
I thought it would be fun to bring back multiple-time Celebrity Guest (and former R&D member) Zac Hill because of that. Huh? Why?
You see, Zac's Pro Tour Top 8 was on the back of Bloodbraid Elf in Alara Block play; Collected Company is like the postmodern Bloodbraid Elf. Like Bloodbraid Elf it is a somewhat-demanding four mana card advantage spell. Bloodbraid Elf gives you a 3/2 body and a card that costs between one and three mana. Collected Company gives you a body somewhere in the same range and another card between one and three mana (usually, at least).
Though Collected Company doesn't have haste, both of the creatures it can potentially reveal have flash. So, you know: Bloodbraid Elf.
Welcome back Zac!
"I would play a Forest and cast Collected Company. There are three main reasons to wait until the opponent's end step to cast a spell: you need more information about what to do; you need to dodge the appropriate removal; or you need to dodge the appropriate countermagic. In this case, the likely things for an opponent to tap their mana for that actually matter to you all cost either three (Ashiok) or five mana (Ojutai, even something like Icefall Regent which isn't that common but can punish you pretty badly if you walk into it). The obvious exception here is Perilous Vault, but those aren't usually played in large numbers main deck at this point.
By contrast, casting Company now allows you to dodge Dissolve, with the only applicable countermagic now being Disdainful Stroke. Because the opponent is unlikely to tap out next turn for the aforementioned reason, Stroke is at play regardless. The 'more information' reason is unlikely to matter because the opponent is unlikely to main phase anything next turn, and all the likely removal is instant-speed. The things that would really punish you for main phasing Company - Crux of Fate and End Hostilities - all cost five, and Hostilities would require two straight white sources. Getting by Dissolve - a four-of in basically every control deck - matters enough to me to main phase the Company."
Zac Hill's Play: Play Forest and cast Collected Company
Collected Company is a very powerful card. In a deck like ours, which has no one-drops, any Collected Company that actually hits will be worth at least par mana; most of our Collected Companies will be worth more than that, and sometimes we will get something crazy like double Deathmist Raptor (worth six mana and building a substantial amount of long-term card advantage above and beyond the two-for-one at hand).
I would have to assume that the opponent knows we can hit the Collected Company on account of knowing our hand, but he doesn't know that we have a second one yet. As such, I am assuming he has an answer to the first Collected Company already based on how he's played so far.
I'd figure that if we land Collected Company here we can get four and twelve damage in before the opponent can play Crux of Fate...and I'd like to take him up on that!
We get a two-for-one; he plays a land; we get in; he plays a fifth land and Wraths us; we play a second Collected Company, etc., etc.
If we wait on our Collected Company here we are giving the opponent the option of Dissolve or Silumgar's Scorn. So unless we are willing to untap and immediately play our next Collected Company (essentially the same play as the one Zac and I are both advocating, but a turn - and a turn's attack - later) we are just turning his cards on for him. No thanks to that!
Mike's Play: Play Forest and cast Collected Company
"The first thing to address, in my opinion, is the worst possible thing they could have RIGHT NOW, which is Stoke the Flames. That's not super-commonly played in this archetype, but it is probably the most powerful card the opponent can cast this combat and so in my opinion is worth thinking about, because if you're basically fine after the worst possible thing can happen to you, you're probably fine if it does not. The question is: what can you do about it? If you sit back and do nothing, avoiding an attack, it kills you on the spot because the Dragon Whisperers can fly. You can't gain life immediately with Mastery though to dodge that issue because you'd a) have to get super lucky, b) don't have Mystic in your deck even if you were that lucky, and c) Raptor costs too much to flip up, so the way you don't die to Stoke involves you attacking for enough that your opponent has to block.
Your opponent can't block your Brimaz and 1/1 token, Stoke you, flip Phoenix, and attack back for lethal because he'd die in that case to his own flipped Phoenix. That also applies when they block your 2/2 with Whisperer, because they still take nine and can't unmorph Phoenix. So then the question becomes, "If you attack and they Stoke a creature, how screwed are you?" They can't Stoke your Lion unless you cast Raptor first, so that means, "How bad is it for you if they Stoke your Brimaz?" You lose Anafenza to Phoenix and the token to a Whisperer, and they either take five or lose a Whisperer, unable to kill you on the crack back. You follow up with face-down Raptor (to Threaten Mastery trigger next turn, which throws off the Phoenix math) leaving your board as Lion, Raptor, 2/2 against face-down Ashcloud Phoenix, Flamewake, and double Whisperer meaning you kill them on the next attack.
Ultimately, this seems even-to-favorable to me (since the face-down Raptor messes with the Phoenix-in-the-air math, and they have to have untapped land to activate Whisperer to make a Dragon, which prevents Phoenix from turning face up) and is the worse-case scenario. So that would lead me to attacking with everyone and seeing what happens, with the intent of playing Raptor face down.
"So is that what we do?
"The card they can also cast immediately, Wild Slash, is in all ways better for us than Stoke the Flames, so we don't have to worry about it and the pattern of reasoning is still the same.
"The card they CAN'T cast immediately that's extremely dangerous for us is Fanatic of Mogis. All of the arguments about Stoke killing us next turn apply to Fanatic, which makes it even more imperative that we attack to get some permanents off the board. Fanatic plus activating two Whisperers is possible with six mana, but that's only going to do thirteen if they kill Brimaz (two red from the Flamewake Phoenix, four red from Dragon Whisperers, one red from Fanatic, and six in the air from attacks) so they have less profitable blocks even if they are eventually able to kill you regardless. Anyway the point of walking through all this is that you're never going to know exactly what they have, so by exploring what happens in the worst-for-you scenarios you automatically get a sense of how you fare in the less-good-but-not-quite-as-bad ones that might actually follow. I attack with the team, see what happens, activate Fleecemane if there are crazy double-blocks or something, and intend to follow up with Raptor."
Zac Hill's Play: Attack with the team
So what's interesting here?
We're on 14.
He's got 10 power on the battlefield, six of which is unblockable for us. If he has Fanatic of Mogis he can land an additional eight with the current board position: more than enough to kill us. Wild Slash doesn't kill us and Stoke the Flames (which, as Zac noted is not likely to be present in this archetype) only kills us if everything 1) stays pat, and 2) he can actually hit us with everything. Depending on if he has Stoke the Flames in hand now or if he rips it next turn will have huge implications. If he has it now he can win the game by nugging us for four damage so long as he lives through the turn with all his material in play but if he has it next turn he will need to have exactly an untapped land in order to give both of his Dragon Whisperers flying, too.
There is not much we can do about Fanatic of Mogis besides getting cardboard off the battlefield. If we can get both Dragon Whisperers off the table, Fanatic of Mogis doesn't even kill us anymore.
He's on 11.
If we attack with everything that is 12, with potential additional damage coming from Fleecemane Lion and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit both. TLDR: We have lethal if we attack with a sufficient number of creatures; ergo he has to block with something.
I think we need to make a medium-to-heavy attack for a couple of reasons. If we attack with too few creatures (ergo just the Brimaz, King of Oreskos) we leave him a lot of options. He can actually just block Brimaz profitably if he wants to (though the token is actually kind of annoying).
Even if we're not attacking to kill we need to attack with enough material to foul his profitable options.
Imagine we attacked just with Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Fleecemane Lion. He would have no real profitable blocks (other than trying to chomp the incoming 1/1 cat, but again, that is surprisingly annoying) but could make us spend all our mana on Fleecemane Lion, which is potentially annoying for us.
The same is true if we attack just with Fleecemane Lion.
There is no real way to win the game this turn without the opponent making a catastrophic mistake, so I don't think it's worth risking Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. I do think it is worth attacking with everything else in the hopes that the opponent gives up more material than he necessarily has to.
I made this attack, which is slightly less aggressive than the one Zac made:
I think given this attack the right play on the opponent's part would have just been to take it. We are presenting nine damage and have multiple different routes to ten damage, but not enough mana to actually kill him.
Instead the opponent blocked my two Cat Tokens with his Dragon Whisperers, I'd assume with the expectation of losing one and keeping one (2/2 over 1/1 and all that), but missed the on-table.
If he kept one Dragon Whisperer he'd have basically exactly enough to kill us with Fanatic of Mogis, but it turns out he'd lose both Dragon Whisperers!
I got to "pull off something cool" by activating Mastery of the Unseen to put a 2/2 into play, but also trigger my Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit! The once-1/1 cat became a 2/2 and I got two highly profitable trades in while scoring six damage (and pulling myself into a safer range relative to the opponent's likely ability to present lethal). All good!
Mike's Play: Attack with everything but Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
"I just take it here. The opponent has to go through some shenanigans just to kill Elspeth and I have another one in my hand. Meanwhile, if the opponent casts Secure the Wastes and untaps the tokens, that gives them eight blockers, so I'd prefer to have nine attackers to force something bolder and more dramatic; obviously, we have a Den Protector to get past those tokens, but if we lose our blockers to get around that line then the spells our opponent has could just be something like Wild Slash for the Den Protector plus a Secure for one less. The point is that we don't really care if Elspeth dies and we want to maximize our Board presence; even something crazy like End Hostilities or Anger of the Gods or Ugin (none of which are all that likely) let us keep the face-down or activate Fleecemane or activate Den Protector to keep us out ahead."
Zac Hill's Play: No blocks
We are at an overwhelming advantage here.
Even though the opponent has a two-for-one-on-a-stick in the far corner, Outpost Siege is doing the solid of telling us what extra card he is drawing, so we can even make the optimal not-play!
We are very likely to win no matter what, but the opponent has two cards in hand and the possibility of a third (even if he has to Negate his own spell) meaning he can easily kill Elspeth if he wants to here and end up with tokens on defense.
He obviously valued our Elspeth substantially here, so I want to punish him for it and, if possible, put him into a spot where I automatically win. Getting him to tap all his mana is a route where we can almost certainly win next turn (say he taps 5/6 for End Hostilities). We can flip our Den Protector and get back our Collected Company with the mana to cast it. Surely we can eke out one damage in that spot!
Well, while we're on that line, we might as well make it count!
I actually flipped Den Protector for Collected Company pre-blocks, which put Deathmist Raptor onto the battlefield. I then blocked one token with Den Protector, one token with Deathmist Raptor, and the last token with all three untapped Elspeth soliders.
If the opponent moved to actually win the fights on these blocks he'd need to cast three spells; anything that left him with less than 1U at the end of it all would mean a very-likely-lethal Collected Company for me (but we never got that far).
It's important to wait on Collected Company unless he taps low (as we know he has a Negate).
Overall I assumed that as long as I kept Elspeth I would eventually win, due to the hugely disproportionate life totals.
Mike's Play: Flip Den Protector for Collected Company; block with Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, and three Elspeth soldiers respectively (maybe Collected Company, depending)
This week Zac and I diverged on two-thirds of the plays. I think we were pretty close on the second one, and even had pretty similar reasoning; it's possible that I was just devoted to fancypants on the third (though my play does put us at an overwhelming advantage with the opponent on very low life). I hope you found the discussion around the plays useful, regardless.
How about finding these plays, at all?
Unfortunately no one managed to come to the same conclusions that Yours Truly did this week. For that reason we'll be awarding TCGplayer.com gift certificates to two players who sided with Zac this week.
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Zac Hill, Gregory Romine and Lauphiette Kincey each win themselves a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. Don't spend it all in one place, guys! (You know, because TCGplayer works with so many great vendors!) (I kid, I kid!)
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
That's it for Attacking and Blocking. Take care until Monday!
Directly before joining the Magic: The Gathering Development team at Wizards of the Coast, Zac Hill achieved every player's dream, adding a Pro Tour Top 8 to his standout Grand Prix Top 8 resume. Today, Zac is the COO of The Future Project in NYC and a writer for The Huffington Post. Follow Zac on Twitter at @zdch