On Monday we looked at a couple of in-game scenarios involving an Abzan Midrange deck featuring a number of new Fate Reforged semi-soft locks.

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Did I say Abzan "Midrange"? ... This week's Celebrity Guest (and all around Siege Rhino expert) Matt Sperling actually has a bit to say about that:

"Hi Mike, Thanks for inviting me back, love doing this. I notice this deck is called Abzan Midrange, but if this is Midrange, what does control look like? Is there an Abzan deck out there with Perilous Vaults or something? Naming nitpicks aside, the deck look powerful."



Scenario One

In Scenario One we have been essentially on-curve starting from turn two:

Satyr Wayfinder

Courser of Kruphix

Sorin, Solemn Visitor (with the +1)

The poor opponent has only a Fleecemane Lion...which he is now attacking with.

The question for Scenario One is how we should block, if at all.

Matt?

"We are at a major advantage here, and part of that advantage is the Courser of Kruphix we have in play. We'd be more advantaged if we had made a vampire last turn, but mine is not to question the premise of how we got here (maybe we are tired, it happens, but the play is really poor by hurting your board, your life total on the future couple turns, your pressure, everything except the likely irrelevant loyalty total on your redundant Sorin. Like I said, I'm not going to question it...).

"I'm not inclined to block with Courser because a) the cards in our hand combo with it in that Read the Bones and Satyr Wayfinder both interact with the top of our library, and b) with a Sorin on board and one in hand, the three life we gain by blocking will probably be available to us later if we need it. On the other hand, if we make the opponent monstrous now, we might be forcing them into the correct play vs. a deck with Wraths and instant speed removal, but we might be forcing the wrong play in the sense that it "time walks" the opponent who cannot play spells that turn. Again though, I'm inclined to protect our Courser because of the cards in our hand and the knowledge it will give us.

"Should we block with Satyr Wayfinder? What's more valuable, the Satyr Wayfinder on the table, or two life and three or four loyalty on our Sorin? Sorin's ability to pump out Vampires at -2, and the fact that Vampires are twice as large as Wayfinders and also fly, makes the block pretty darn tempting. Since our next turn will involve a Reading of the Bones, it's not like the second Sorin in our hand makes us that excited to toss away loyalty on the Sorin in play. I would chump block the Lion with Wayfinder, gain my two life, and hope that on my next turn I don't forget to make a Vampire Token for a second time this game."

Matt Sperling's Play: Chump block the Fleecemane Lion with Satyr Wayfinder


To answer Matt's question about Vampire production, I felt like I had an open path to Sorin's Ultimate. That's it.

The opponent only has one guy, and I felt like between the two creatures I had in play plus the additional Satyr Wayfinder in grip I could keep Sorin, Solemn Visitor alive for the requisite ONE additional turn before I could click his ultimate.

With my line of leveling up Sorin instead of making Vampire Tokens, I'm definitely blocking here. It's just a question of which of my two creatures I'm blocking with (if not both).

The possibilities:

1. Courser of Kruphix - I feel like if the opponent had a removal for Courser of Kruphix we wouldn't be discussing this right now. In addition most Courser of Kruphixes can contain most Fleecemane Lions pretty well, 2/4 versus 3/3. However the opponent has five mana and can go Monstrous to eat our valuable Courser for free. Not a possibility IMO.
2. Satyr Wayfinder - Unlike Courser of Kruphix, Satyr Wayfinder isn't an ongoing source of card advantage; what card advantage this card was going to give us has been given. If it's a question of keeping a Satyr Wayfinder (no matter how buffed it is getting from Sorin, Solemn Visitor) or Sorin himself...I'm choosing Sorin. That said, blocking with just the Satyr Wayfinder is only one of three, not one of two, blocking options.
3. Both! - While blocking with multiple creatures can always cost you in Magic, I feel like it is still underutilized as a tactic due to situations like this one. I mean if we just get the option to block, we are veryl ikely to not end up on the wrong side of a Hero's Downfall. If we block with both, that is a 1/1 that is now a 2/1 and a 2/4 that is now a 3 /4... That is four total power and five total toughness. If we block this way, the opponent is more than likely going to go Monstrous... Otherwise he will lose his Fleecemane Lion. The indestructible nature of a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion will me that it will live through combat but take only one of my blockers out (which will likely be the Courser of Kruphix). Then we have the other Satyr Wayfinder to help with blocking for the next turn or two. The potential problem with this strategy is that if the opponent has Bile Blight or Hero's Downfall, all of what we are trying to set up will collapse. I'm okay with losing Courser of Kruphix here because I have six mana already, and the Satyr Wayfinder and Read the Bones in my hand are likely going to be able to get me seven and eight for Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, at which point it won't matter that the 'Lion is indestructible; Ugin exiles. Interestingly, if the opponent doesn't Monstrous, it is likely because he has a Wingmate Roc which we currently have no defense for other than Vampire Tokens. But if that is the case, we're in better shape here than we are in either of the single-block examples.

I don't necessarily, consider the second Sorin, Solemn Visitor redundant. I'm planning for my first one to die!

Mike's Play: Block with both creatures.


Don't worry Matt, even though I gave my team lifelink in this spot, I have been making lots and lots of these IRL:




Scenario Two

Scenario Two presented a near-end game spot where both Abzan decks have developed with powerful creatures. We have cast a Read the Bones to find Sorin, Solemn Visitor (thanks to some intelligence from Courser of Kruphix) which can help us set up a huge attack.

Though we can make a powerful play here, the path is fraught with both temptation and potential disaster.

"Our opponent showed discipline in not attacking with that Bird Token. With a full grip, the odds that Rhino gets removed from the blocking equation are pretty high, and at nine life you've gotta have a plan for a scenario that likely. So the opponent is representing a double block on our Rhino or Tasigur if we kill Rhino and Swing in. We'll be trading our 4/5 for the opponent's bird, and the opponent will untap with just a Deathdealer in play. With our land drop still available, we can actually play both the Sorin and the Murderous Cut. This almost has to be right. The alternatives are removing a creature without playing Sorin or playing Sorin without removing a creature. Why not both? So we're using Murderous Cut. When?

"Here's the key realization on timing – if we attack first, our opponent is presented with a very enticing double-block. If we attack with only the two 5/5s (5/5 thanks to Sorin's ability), we induce the double-block even more. Facing down two 5/5s, wouldn't you put Bird and Rhino on Rhino and regenerating Deathdealer on Tasigur? Alternative blocks, if our opponent makes us for the Cut, aren't exactly thrilling. There's no way to prevent getting crushed by the Cut here. So my play is: play Plains and Sorin. +1 Sorin. Attack with Rhino and Tasigur, Murderous Cut as needed (probably on something that is blocking Rhino unless Tassy gets double-blocked)."

Matt Sperling's Play: Play Plains and Sorin, Solemn Visitor; +1 Sorin; attack with Siege Rhino and Tasigur the Golden Fang; Murderous Cut either whatever blocks Siege Rhino unless Tasigur is double blocked.


I largely agree with Matt's logic here.

He is absolutely right that the opponent exerted some discipline; he definitely wanted to attack with something.

But didn't.

What I wanted to focus on here is the Plains in hand versus the Windswept Heath on top of our library. Like Matt said, playing Sorin, Solemn Visitor to set up Murderous Cut at the discount down to B is almost certainly right.

But!

It is entirely possible to screw it up.

More than a few readers said they would play the Windswept Heath from the top of the deck to set up the turn. Gotta do it, right? That's what Courser of Kruphix is for, right?

Not this time!

This is a deck with only four total Forests and Plains. While we have Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to lean back on, it isn't in play; meaning that if we play Windswept Heath, we aren't getting anything at all. Ergo, we can probably make the Sorin, Solemn Visitor but not be able to follow up with an appropriate Murderous Cut.

One of the easiest ways to lose from a dominating position is to screw up your mana on something like a fetch land. Being aware on this will help you win a ton of games.

Like Matt, my assumption from playing the right land is to buff my team with Sorin and swing. I think Matt is right about only swinging with the big Erhnam Djinns. We can't close him out here unless he makes a catastrophic blocking error and it is just better to leave back some Sorin defense.

Mike's Play: Play Plains and Sorin, Solemn Visitor; +1 Sorin; attack with Siege Rhino and Tasigur the Golden Fang; Murderous Cut either whatever blocks Siege Rhino unless Tasigur is double blocked.


So this week Matt and I split on the first one but landed about the same place on the second scenario.

I think that main difference in the first one is that my first instinct with Sorin is usually to try to figure out if I can sandbag into an Ultimate (which looks like it puzzled Matt from the scenario opening), versus his Abzan Aggro roots going for the Vampire pressure as a default.

How did the TCGplayer community end up on this one?

For agreeing with Matt on the first play but both of us on the second, Brian Hunt nabs himself $25 in cool kids credit.

For agreeing with me on the first play but both of us on the second, Kit Kozloskidoes the same. $25 in TCGplayer.com store credit to you Kit!

Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!

This can't be repeated enough: Even when the land looks free, if you haven't got the right basics in your deck, it ain't doin' nothin' to help the cause.

LOVE
MIKE

Matt Sperling is a Gold Pro, Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, and Grand Prix Top 8 competitor many times over; he won Grand Prix San Jose with teammates Dave Williams and Paul Rietzl and most recently showed off his Abzan chops in Denver just last month. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @mtg_law_etc or check out his many-faceted humor, commentary, and Magic Blog The Sperling Grove.