This week's Make the Play Monday scenario en total was lengthy enough that I don't want to go through all of it again here; if you want to go back and read through all of it, Monday has you covered.]
Instead, let's just look at the spot itself:
To begin with, there have been some interesting exchanges in terms of graveyard cards. We've managed to hit an Abzan Charm to draw, but lost a Siege Rhino to maindeck Disdainful Stroke. The opponent landed Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker (and then smashed our face with it) before we were able to trade with a main-phase Hero's Downfall.
The opponent followed up with another copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and now we are at nine life (eight from his twin 4/4 smashings, three we've done to ourselves).
The good news is that we have a lot of options here; with at least three different ways to fight the threat at hand (and more!)...
The bad news is that, well, we're at nine life and the opponent is a red deck with a 4/4 potentially indestructible Dragon / Planeswalker on the battlefield, plus four cards in hand.
How do we approach this potentially critical turn?
Flores Rewards Friday welcomes back the great Brian Weissman for his take:
"Despite the quality of cards in hand, I'm in a really tough spot here. My opponent is playing some variant of Jeskai, though with a few odd card choices. The inclusion of Disdainful Stroke is interesting. It's likely a metagame call against the very deck I'm using. It certainly indicates he's using more counters than what you'd expect from the archetype.
"So, how to proceed from here? There are a ton of different card choice and timing options available, based on the seven mana I have. I can deploy either of my two powerful Planeswalkers. I can opt to blow up the Sarkhan now, or I can wait to do it on my opponent's next turn. Only one thing is absolutely concrete: I cannot afford to take another hit from the dragon.
"When facing potential Counterspells, I generally ask myself one question. What is the spell I most want to resolve? In this case, that spell is the Garruk, Apex Predator. Not only does Garruk answer future Planeswalkers, he also represents a potential life gain engine. My opponent holds four cards, playing Jeskai. It's not unreasonable to conclude that I'm already dead to burn in his hand.
"With that in mind, I need to choose a route that most likely gets Garruk onto the table. I could simply slam him down right now, gambling that my opponent isn't holding another Disdainful Stroke or maybe Negate. Both of those cards are pretty niche after all, not something you'd want to run as a four-of. Playing Garruk now has the added potential benefit of causing my opponent to Panic, flinging his burn at it instead of at me.
"However, thanks to the other removal spells in hand, I'm not backed into that corner. As a rule, you really only need to walk into counters when you have no other options available. There are plenty of other ways out of this mess.
"Here is what I do. I end my turn.
"I do this for a number of different reasons. For starters, I want to pick my battles against counter magic on my opponent's turn. If I force my opponent to cast counters on his turn, committing mana he won't have available on mine, he may elect to just let his Sarkhan die. Additionally, Jeskai plays with haste creatures, so there is a chance that a Mantis Rider is charging in during the next attack step. He can't counter during his upkeep, cast another threat, and still counter the Garruk.
"Ending my turn here does let my opponent draw another card, and another potential Counterspell, but it probably doesn't matter. Unless he's already holding a counter, and both of them are direct answers to three-mana removal spells, it won't affect my game plan. Even if I hit a nightmare scenario, something like Dissolve + Negate, it means that his chances of stopping the Garruk next turn are extremely slim. If he does in fact hold three hard counters after drawing, well, I was going to lose this game anyway.
"On my opponent's turn, before he draws, I cast Hero's Downfall on the Planeswalker. I need to do this before the dragon is active of course, since it becomes indestructible. If my opponent has a counter for Downfall, I will wait until he attacks, and exile the dragon with Abzan Charm. If the Hero's Downfall during upkeep succeeds, I'll use the Abzan Charm to exile an available target if he casts one. I will not be using it to draw two more cards, as that makes me dead to Stoke the Flames + Lightning Strike.
"If Sarkhan dies and no other threats enter the battlefield, it almost certainly means my opponent holds multiple burn spells and likely another card like Disdainful Stroke. I probably have no choice but casting Garruk, hoping to dig myself into another Rhino or a Sorin. Elspeth is a decent, albeit clunky Backup Plan.
"As Mike so astutely pointed out in the first part of this article, the correct play in Magic isn't always the one that results in you winning the game. There are plenty of situations that are just unwinnable, this may be one of them. However, by assessing what answers your opponent may hold, and pacing your spells correctly, you gain the highest chance of turning the game in your favor."
Brian Weissman's Play: End the Turn
From my perspective, there are two macro lines we can take here:
1. Slamming Garruk, Apex Predator now, with the intention of destroying Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker with his [+1] ability (but likely losing to a single relevant permission spell), or
2. Lining up multiple spells to potentially deal with Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in such a way that manages the opponent's mana and relevant answers.
You'll note that I didn't include a potential line of playing Hero's Downfall on my own turn (like I did last turn). Against the first copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker I feel like it was 100% right to blow it up while the opponent's mana was tapped, but taking that line put us into a situation (based on our own colored mana position) where we got hit by the second copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Had we waited and tried to kill the Planeswalker during the opponent's turn, multiple things could have gone wrong. We could have responded to Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker's [+1] ability and found ourselves in the exact same spot... Or tried to use Abzan Charm during combat and found ourselves in a wildly different position. Either he defended successfully and we still got whacked (albeit by the first Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker), or we'd be in the spot at hand (albeit with four more life). That last [previous] potential line has much greater upside (especially since we couldn't have known at the time that the opponent had a second copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker), but also much less certainty. That's why I liked the "Hero's Downfall while he's tapped" first time around: I was pretty sure Sarkhan #1 would be dead.
But how about now?
If we use Hero's Downfall on our own turn this time, we have two really big strategic problems.
If he has a relevant permission spell (the unlikely event that he has main-deck Negate), we are pretty boned. He still has Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker (though we will have another shot at him during combat next turn), but will have a full turn's mana to go with it. Right now I am worried not just about getting whacked by this copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, but either a third copy or a redundant 4/4 haste creature, like a Strormbreath Dragon. Given his relatively slow roll out (just a Disdainful Stroke and the first copy of Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in his graveyard), I think it is entirely possible he is a midrange-control version of Jeskai with something like six 4/4s at RR3 and 6+ main deck permission spells.
I don't know with any certainty what the opponent has in hand. He could be gripping more permission spells, another RR3, or -- as Weissman noted -- burn spells that can potentially win the game.
The line I took was to try to play around the maximum number of potential problems. Which is why I ultimately made the same play Brian advocated.
Mike's Play: End the TurnWe give up very little down shifting into a "Hero's Downfall on his turn" plan relative to trying on our turn. We don't have a lot of room against multiple permission spells (when at least one is Negate) in either case, but passing now is better against RR3s.
Let's talk about RR3s for a second.
If he has yet another Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, passing the turn is only problematic if he has a Negate (again, unlikely). He activates Sarkhan [+1], we Hero's Downfall in response, he plays Sarkan #3, we go for it during combat with Abzan Charm.
What about Stormbreath Dragon? We're in a lot of danger if he has Stormbreath Dragon and times his plays correctly. Most players don't see much difference in activating Sarkhan [+1] and then playing Stormbreath Dragon or playing Stormbreath Dragon and then activating Sarkhan [+1]. In fact, I think that most players will play creatures prior to ticking up a combat Planeswalker.
That's what we're banking on, actually.
If the opponent activates Sarkhan first, and we respond with Hero's Downfall (like we very likely would), we have no immediate answer to Stormbreath Dragon, and we're taking four. We're going to untap and answer with Elspeth, Sun's Champion or (more likely) Garruk, Apex Predator but either line is going to leave us with a very small Planeswalker. AND! Depending on how it flows, we are still in trouble against a Disdainful Stroke.
If the opponent runs out Stormbreath Dragon and then ticks up Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker we can Hero's Downfall the Dragon and can use Abzan Charm on Sarkhan.
All of that is if he has a Stormbreath Dragon. Which we don't know he has.
The guideline to all of this is that we are on a meager nine life and we really, really don't want to go down to five life. His four card hand is almost taunting us with Lightning Strikes; and given the density of our own threats, it's much better for us if he uses one of them on a Planeswalker than on us.
The temping play here is to tap out for Garruk, Apex Predator and go for the big big [+1]. The problem there, of course, is that if he has another Disdainful Stroke we're definitely going to be on five next turn, and that is quite bad against three (really four) remaining cards and a 4/4 still hanging around.
In the real world, I passed here; got rid of his Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker; he didn't have a Stormbreath Dragon or anything; and I test spelled with Elspeth, Sun's Champion (which he dealt with).
Garruk got there.
But it all hinged on passing, and living through, that eighth turn.
So Brian passed the turn; YT passed the turn. Who else passed the turn?
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Brian Weissman, Kerry Justice wins a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. Your patience paid off Kerry Justice!
For agreeing with yours truly John Eldis wins a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate as well. Smooth [non-]moves John Eldis.
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes! Thanks everyone for reading and participating.
Brian Weissman is one of the legendary figures of Magic: The Gathering. In addition to his status as a two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, Weissman is a master deck designer, Type I (Vintage) expert, and the godfather of both the UW Control archetype and the very concept of card advantage. Today Brian is an award winning designer at Grinding Gear Games (2013 Gamespot Game of the Year); but continues to play Magic, presently focusing on online Commander. Do yourself a favor and check out Brian's Magic YouTube channel.