On Monday we looked at a couple of scenarios that purported to be Cube games. You've probably already figured out that they weren't really Cube games. Like the titles say, these scenarios were based on "true stories"…that hopefully we can make into instructive general rules.
Let's look at the first one:
Here the opponent is on four life...and so are we.
He has no cards in hand (which makes our decisions easier) to our two -- Lightning Bolt and Lightning Strike.
We've got six power across three creatures, so if he doesn't block with his Baneslayer Angel we can not only deal the requisite four but put him to negative-two!
...well, he's probably going to block with the Baneslayer Angel.
There are some tricky nuances to this spot.
One of them is that of our three creatures, two of them are Jackal Pup and Firedrinker Satyr; that means that if we attack, and all he does is block (with his creature that has First Strike) we're going to die before we actually deal any damage. In the abstract, our best case scenario is that he blocks our 2/2 instead of one of the self-hating 2/1 creatures, which would put him at more life than he actually has right now!
Sometimes as a Red Deck player you can run a wait-and-see.
Unfortunately that is not the case here; if we give him an untap, he is just going to attack us to death (as he has five power in Baneslayer Angel, which has flying, and we have only four life).
Before I give my ultimate read on this one, I'll let Celebrity Guest Brian David-Marshall post his solution:
"This is such a trick question, Mike. There is no person on Earth who likes foiling lifelink as much as you do. Attack with everyone and whichever creature your opponent blocks eats a Lightning Bolt and there is nothing there for Baneslayer Angel to Deal Damage to and no life to link.
"Two of your other creatures scamper by and flick an ember for their fallen friend but your opponent falls to the unblocked creatures. You are probably taking three since the opponent is blocking either the Jackal Pup or the Firedrinker Satyr but one is not zero and that is where you find yourself as you shuffle up for the next game with a win in the books. The spell you use has to be Lightning Bolt so you have the operating mana to activate the Shusher and make sure the spell resolves. You could gamble that there is not a two on top but that would be way worse than just taking the win as it is laid out on the table."
Brian David-Marshall's Play: Attack with everything, Lightning Bolt whatever creature he blocks, using Vexing Shusher to foil Counterbalance.The inspiration for this play was from a win-and-in at a New Jersey Standard Open. A friend-of-a-friend was playing in his win-and-in...and didn't win.
Patrick Sullivan was looking on and walked off in a huff.
"He just doesn't have enough experience playing Red Decks," PSulli said.
And to tell you the truth, I didn't see the way to win myself. There was no way to get damage in and through the first strike such that the friend-of-a-friend's burn spell would finish the game. But of course that's the key here.
The point of this exercise is to look at our burn spells as tools not just to kill the opponent, not just kill the opponent's creatures, but to kill our own if it serves a purpose. Like BDM said, I am pretty in love with foiling lifelink...but not just foiling lifelink, and not just because it looks so cool.
Life gain in general gets a bad rap as a Magic mechanic, but it is essentially card advantage when up against a Red Deck. A hit from a Baneslayer Angel (five life) is like gluing a Searing Spear to a Pillar of Flame...two cards and more with every successful trigger.
In this case, even if we weren't going to lose on the spot to the wrong side of Jackal Pup or Firedrinker Satyr, killing our own creature would be reasonable, if not attractive, math.
Originally, I thought there was only one possible solution to this scenario but that's not the case. The variation lies in the use of Lightning Bolt or Lightning Strike. You can conceivably win killing your own creature with Lightning Strike, but will be gambling that the top card of the opponent's deck is not a two mana card. If our third creature were not a Vexing Shusher it would definitely be correct to use Lightning Strike...but because we have exactly the mana to cast Lightning Bolt + activate Vexing Shusher, we should.
Ergo, I agree 100% with BDM's read.
(PSulli, in case you were wondering, won the inspiring Open himself. With a Red Deck.)
Mike's Play: Attack with everything, Lightning Bolt whatever creature he blocks, using Vexing Shusher to foil Counterbalance.Let's move on to the second scenario:
We're up against the classic "Mountain into Jackal Pup."
We've got:PlainsPlainsPlainsCursed ScrollLightning BoltSoltari PriestSwords to PlowsharesHonorable Passage
The question on this one wasn't about making a specific play, but about how we are going to plan out our turn.
What does BDM think?
"Hmmm... This seems familiar to me!
"And since I have read Who's the Beatdown (the most cited Magic strategy in the history of...well...Magic) I know that Al Tran should have just used the damned Swords to Plowshares on the stupid Pup and not let anything stupider happen. Play the Plains and Swords, start turn two with six perfectly fine cards and win the stupid game already."
Brian David-Marshall's Play: Six cards (Plains, Plains, Cursed Scroll, Lightning Bolt, Soltari Priest, Honorable Passage)Brian is of course right that this play is inspired by the inspiration behind Who's the Beatdown. Brian of course is in a great position to cite this, being the publisher of Deckade, which anthologizes Who's the Beatdown among other great* articles. (Thanks Brian!)
The scenario here is a little bit more stilted than the one in Who's the Beatdown. The hand we have with Soltari Priest and Honorable Passage is exceedingly attractive for fighting a Red Deck. Soltari Priest can't block but is tough for them to race. And Honorable Passage is about the best thing you can draw against one-shot bombs like Ball Lightning and Fireblast.
The sheer awesomeness of those cards is part of the danger, of course.
When Al Tran was in this spot he saw Jackal Pup as a liability for the opponent. He really wanted to Lightning Bolt it (costing the opponent life) instead of answering it with Swords to Plowshares (i.e. giving the opponent life). Giving the opponent life, of course, being at odds with the idea of braining a Ball Lightning with Honorable Passage.
Of course, if the opponent doesn't have anything, our cards are too good.
Our Cursed Scroll, given sufficient time, will take over the game; it is a source of damage, creature suppression, and card advantage that can ultimately win the game. It's a question of sequencing at this point.
We're winning a long game. We even have insurance for his most powerful spell ( Fireblast).
We don't need to be overly picky about two points of damage right now. We should be planning and playing for the longer haul!
So the question here is really whether to cast the Cursed Scroll or leave up a Plains.
If we play the Cursed Scroll, what is our line?
Do we leave up mana on turn two then (having already taking two from the Jackal Pup)? We're very likely wasting at least a mana on such a line.
Or we can tap out for Soltari Priest...and leave ourselves wide open.
I think the greatest tragedy would be to untap for our third turn at 10 life with a Cursed Scroll that has never been activated and a Swords to Plowshares still in grip. What a terrible destiny that would be!
First turn Cursed Scroll fans: You might want to ask yourselves what turn you actually plan to first tap the Cursed Scroll. It's not going to be before turn three (and might be further in the future than that). There isn't necessarily a clock on dropping the Cursed Scroll now.
Luckily we don't have to make turn two plays yet. But if we don't have a framework for what we plan to do -- starting now -- we could easily end up in a terrible situation life- and position-wise.
I would likely play Plains and pass the turn here.
It isn't really fair to say what I would do with that Plains but I don't plan to have a Swords to Plowshares in my hand when I start my second turn. It is possible the opponent will play a juicier card than Jackal Pup on the second turn, which is why I want to leave it open (and why I structured the original question slightly differently than usual), but there is no way I am taking two points during his attack.
Basically, if he does nothing before attacking, I'm killing the Pup.
If he plays something, I'll decide if I care more about it or the Pup, in which case I might kill something other than the Pup. If the opponent is super careful and has something awesome he wants to keep, he should make his play post-combat, because, like I said, I have no intention of taking two.
So again, I agree with BDM.
Mike's Play: Six cards (Plains, Plains, Cursed Scroll, Lightning Bolt, Soltari Priest, Honorable Passage)How did you all do?
I know there will be at least two Magicians who are happy with their responses!
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Brian David-Marshall, David Ernenwein earns himself $25 from the TCGplayer store credit coffers. Nice one David Ernenwein!
And for hitching his wagon to the Michael J train, Wyatt Bowman also makes off with $25 in TCGplayer store credit. Well played, Wyatt Bowman!
Congrats to David Ernenwein and Wyatt Bowman, and thanks to everyone, per usual, for making this column so popular! Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
Brian David-Marshall is a sometimes Pro Player, sometimes tournament organizer, but always the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Historian. He has been a regular contributor to the various Wizards of the Coast official web properties as a columnist and coverage reporter for over a decade. Brian has been the co-host of the Top 8 Magic podcast with YT since 2005. If you aren't already following him on Twitter at @top8games you should really take a moment to evaluate these horrible choices you call a life.
* And some not-so-great, probably.