To really appreciate the position we were all put in by this week's Make the Play Monday...
...you have to appreciate the context of this week's Celebrity Guest at the tables, at least normally.
It's not just that he's good -- that good -- (and always has been) but that over the course of his unparalleled career he was always thought of as fast. Fast and decisive (and always was).
But given this?
He kind of stared at the image and mumbled to himself for...a minute? Two minutes? Took a long hard breath, and shook his head, before ultimately declaring:
"All our plays suck."
So what is so sucky about this position?
In fact, it is a pretty common one. Aggro deck hasn't made a play; opponent has deployed a mana accelerator of some kind; aggro deck has the opportunity to 1) get rid of the accelerator, or 2) make an actual proactive play...but not both.
We just don't have the mana here. It's threat -- Seeker of the Way or Raise the Alarm, either of which costs two mana -- or Elvish Mystic-killing Lightning Strike...which also costs two mana. We've only got one land in play, so in either case (any of the three cases?) we'd be committing our land drop and all our mana for the turn.
Which shall it be, huh?
Let's see what Pro Tour Hall of Famer Jon Finkel has to say beyond "all our plays suck"...
"Part of me wants to roll the dice on Raise the Alarm. I figure there is only a one-in-four chance he attacks with the Elvish Mystic...but if we can catch the Elvish Mystic with Raise the Alarm that would be insane!
"...but like I said there is only about a one-in-four chance that happens; and then what do we have? The Raise the Alarm is mediocre otherwise.
"The thing we're scared of if we play the Seeker of the Way is that he immediately plays turn two Courser of Kruphix. The problem is that we can spend our turn with a Lightning Strike on his Elvish Mystic and then he can still follow up our Seeker of the Way with a Courser of Kruphix just by playing a land.
"Lightning Strike doesn't get us anywhere.
"All our plays suck, but if I have to make one it's probably Seeker of the Way."
I chatted with Jon a bit about whether an opponent was even certain to block a Seeker of the Way on the third turn if he had Courser of Krupix; my thinking was that many players would take two damage rather than risk a Courser to random spell-buffs...
"At three mana?
"What is your ONE mana card?"
[Jon kind of scoffed at players on Gods Willing or Titan's Strength.]
"I mean with this hand you have Raise the Alarm; but using a Lightning Strike directly on a Courser of Kruphix + combining with an attack isn't even that profitable.
"I don't think it matters much which land you play but I would play Plains."
Jon Finkel's Play: Plains, Seeker of the Way
First thing's first --
Jeskai Ascendancy / Tokens is not a normal deck.
This is an uncommonly good deck if you have Jeskai Ascendancy in play (though my Top Level Podcast-mate Patrick Chapin assures me it is "aggressively mediocre" if you don't). It is consistently able to "come back" to win games that seem decidedly in the hands of the opponent...and can win really, really big in terms of single turns of damage or lifelink.
On the other hand, our actual situation from Make the Play Monday is all-too-common.
Like Jon said, nothing looks too good for us.
Starting with the context of whatever play we're going to make the opponent kept his opening hand and played a first turn accelerator. I'm not sure 100% what we can read into this but none of it is good. That he played Elvish Mystic on turn one is probably actually his best possible play, but for taking one point.
The opponent taking one would normally be cool beans for an aggressive deck like us but it's how he took that one damage that matters: with a Llanowar Wastes!
The read-implication is that he either has no other land or that he has no other green producing land; that is a not-atrocious signal to using creature removal here (as we might be able to manascrew him). The bigger problem? He showed us the Llanowar Wastes to begin with.
A few months ago Llanowar Wastes into Elvish Mystic might have signaled something else (BG Devotion maybe?) but right now I think it has to do with some kind of Whip of Erebos deck. Regardless of whether we are facing down Genesis Hydras or recurring Hornet Queens, the problem card is the same: Doomwake Giant.
Llanowar Wastes is essentially a telegraph. We have no long game. That means Seeker of the Way.
If we play Seeker of the Way we maximize our chances of maximizing damage; it's just that simple. Jon is right and we can potentially win the lottery with Raise the Alarm...but we're probably not going to. On the other hand, we have a really good game if the opponent plays, say, Sylvan Caryatid next turn (can't really block) and we still have options even if he has the Courser.
For those of you who have never played with your backs against the wall, tokens v. Doomwake Giant, Raise the Alarm can actually be a pretty good stockpile card. Often you will get into a situation where the opponent is absolutely crushing you; main phase he is keeping all your tokens off the battlefield with his Doomwake Giant triggers and life looks awful. Then he attacks the bejeezus out of you, probably with everything.
If you have Jeskai Ascendancy on the battlefield you sometimes have a shot at playing one or more Raise the Alarms while his potential blockers are making the not-able-to-block shape and can start your next turn with two or more 1/1 creatures on the battlefield. If that doesn't sound impressive you, you need to familiarize yourself with Jeskai Tokens a little bit more. You can easily transform two 1/1 creatures into fourteen or so unopposed, especially when you get into things like tapping your guys to cast Stoke the Flames, deal four, buff your guys, and immediately get to untap them because of Jeskai Ascendancy.
This is just all the more reason to hold Raise the Alarm.
Seeker of the Way becomes the preferred play almost by default. Raise the Alarm is aces maybe 25% of the time (according to the greatest player of all time) but sub-par the other 75% of the time. Lightning Strike just Time Walks us both, but we commit double mana and he is already up two cards due to our mulligan. Not the time you want to trade evenly...but at a mana disadvantage.
I didn't have a great reason for what land I played but I happened to agree with Jon's choice of Plains.
Mike's Play: Plains, Seeker of the WayFeels pretty good to be agreeing on plays with Jon Finkel
Plains into Seeker of the Way? Not too arcane a sequence, I think you will agree. Who else did?
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Jon Finkel, Adam Moldover pockets a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate, just in time for the holidays! Congratulations Adam Moldover!
For agreeing with Yours Truly Matthew Kean earns a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate as well! Happy Holidays Matthew Kean!
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
In case you were wondering, no I didn't win that game. Doomwake Giant. :(
Jon Finkel is a fourteen-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and nine-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor. He is a US National Champion, World Champion, and Duelist Invitational Champion (immortalized as Shadowmage Infiltrator). Considered by many to be the greatest Magic: The Gathering player of all time, Jon was an inaugural inductee to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. But you already knew all of that. Follow Jon on Twitter at @jonnymagic00 or check out his sometimes-stream.