(...and by Flores Rewards "Friday" we of course mean Flores Rewards Thursday.)

Back on Monday we examined a trio of game state positions using Tom Ross's "Boss Sligh" deck. A few weeks ago Tom took down the Star City Invitational with the innovative red aggro deck:

DECKID=1204228

Scenario One

It's our third turn on the draw. The opponent has a Nyx Weaver on the battlefield, but is tapped out.

He has seventeen life and five cards in hand.

We have:

● 20 life
● Six cards:

Akroan Crusader
Rakdos Cackler
Lightning Strike
Madcap Skills
○ Mountain
○ Mountain

We have two Mountains on the battlefield, as well as an Akroan Crusader and an Ash Zealot.

How do we play our third turn?

It probably doesn't surprise you that this week's Celebrity Guest is none other than Tom Ross! How did Tom approach this one?


"When playing against the black/green graveyard deck I try not to use burn spells on their creatures whenever possible as it enables Nemesis of Mortals, Nighthowler, Whip of Erebos etc. In this case the opponent will be getting value on their upkeep and would likely have a turn four Nemesis of Mortals anyway.

Abrupt Decay is a concern and you don't want to cast Madcap Skills into it. See what he does next turn as he may be forced to use Abrupt Decay to stem the bleeding anyway.

I'd Lightning Strike the Nyx Weaver, attack for three, and cast Rakdos Cackler unleashed."

Tom's Play: Lightning Strike Nyx Weaver; attack for three; Mountain into Rakdos Cackler unleashed.


Presumably we want to play a Mountain here. I don't think that it particularly matters when we play it because the opponent is tapped out. Of our six cards in hand we have two two-mana cards and two one-mana cards; so we can play a one and a two if we want to.

I think the big question is whether we play Madcap Skills or Lightning Strike here. Either of our creatures is attractive as a Madcap Skills target, with a first striking Ash Zealot really hard to handle in The Red Zone. Madcap Skills on Akroan Crusader gives us an in-theme buff but I think the free creature is less desirable than the combat dominance of a buffed Ash Zealot; were I to play Madcap Skills it would be on the two.

All that said, I'd just point a Lightning Strike at the Nyx Weaver and send my two weenies. As good as Madcap Skills might be, I like the fact that the opponent is tapped out, so we have a window here that we might not be able to Recoup, offensively, on a future turn.

Post combat I would play Mountain into Rakdos Cackler unleashed. Rakdos Cackler is just bigger than Akroan Crusader, and we don't have enough buff cards to warrant the alternative one-drop.

Mike's Play: Lightning Strike Nyx Weaver; attack for three; Mountain into Rakdos Cackler unleashed.


Scenario Two

It's our fourth turn and our opponent is down to nine life.

Last turn he tried to kill our Ash Zealot with Bile Blight but we introduced him to double Titan's Strength.

This turn we only have one card in hand (yet another Titan's Strength) and the opponent is making another go of Bile Blight on our poor Ash Zealot; it's probably going to die.

We have:

● A buffed Foundry Street Denizen (from Legion Loyalist this turn)
● The soon-to-be-deceased Ash Zealot
Rakdos Cackler
● A fresh Legion Loyalist
● The aforementioned Titan's Strength in hand

How do we play this turn?


Tom?

"It's always a tough call whether to use Titan's Strength or Rubblebelt Maaka as a one-mana burn spell or as a trick that makes their removal weaker and their blocking tougher. The decision to use a Titan's Strength as a burn spell goes up the lower your opponent's life is and how much you need to scry, which in this case is very important as you have no gas.

What I don't like about the situation is that the opponent never had a clear chance to cast Drown in Sorrow as his third land came into the battlefield tapped meaning that he may not have an untapped land to cast it. Temple of Silence and Temple of Malady lead me to believe that he's simply Monoblack Devotion with no splash and a mix of Temples to throw people off. This is worse because B/g usually leans on Golgari Charm and we beat Golgari Charm on this board. Still, you pretty much have to go for it and play to your outs when scrying in the case he does have the Drown in Sorrow.

Cast Titan's Strength and bottom anything except burn, Legion Loyalist, Ash Zealot, and Eidolon of the Great Revel."

Tom's Play: Titan's Strength on somebody; swing for eight.


Our Foundry Street Denizen is currently 2/1, our Rakdos Cackler 2/2, and our Legion Loyalist 1/1 (but ready to attack this turn). That is five life and our opponent has nine life.

Titan's Strength can offer up to three more damage, or eight total.

The only question here, really, is whether we want to proactively spend our Titan's Strength or not. There are arguments for either side. On one hand players like to use "Giant Growth"-type cards defensively, to counter removal cards. The problem is that Bile Blight is one of the only removal cards in a Black Devotion deck that gives us this angle and -3/-3 beats +3/+1 in most scenarios.

When I look at a situation like this, the most important thing I see is that the opponent is tapped out. If he were at eight life this would be an easy game...we should go for it! But when we can't go for lethal we have to think about what we can accomplish even going a mite short.

A deck like Black Devotion makes getting a buff off a Giant Growth tough. They can just remove your guy in response ("just dies to Doom Blade," et al.)

So in a spot where the opponent is fully tapped out I'd try it out. We can't kill him, but putting him on one life should cut down some possibilities. He'll be at least a mana off of Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and we'll have presumably three attackers. One life is going to be hard to defend; he loses even if he has both a creature (or two creatures) and a removal card.

Titan's Strength gives us the ability to scry. For me I'd really be looking for a direct damage spell and push most other cards.

Mike's Play: Titan's Strength on somebody; swing for eight.


Scenario Three

We had a first turn Foundry Street Denizen. The opponent played two lands the first two turns, but didn't make another plays.

We have a variety of creatures and buffs (and creatures who are buffs, based on the creature we already have):

Titan's Strength
Titan's Strength
Titan's Strength
Ash Zealot
Akroan Crusader
● Mountain

So what do we do?


Tom?

"Casting spells into open mana always makes for a tough decision. If I had to guess I'd believe the opponent to be playing a R/b devotion deck. Even though that's the likeliest it's best to keep possible removal spells in mind, from the instant speed ones of Lightning Strike, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade, Magma Jet, and Devour Flesh.

If we assume that the opponent is on Red Devotion with a splash of black for Rakdos's Return then I think we're in good shape. My thinking is make the best play assuming a Boros Reckoner next turn. Ash Zealot is often a hindrance against Boros Reckoner when it gets blocked and the Boros Reckoner can shoot another creature before its combat damage happens. With Legion Loyalist all of your creatures have first strike disabling Boros Reckoner from naturally trading in combat easily. Make no mistake: Boros Reckoner will be a two-for-one and you need to still apply the most pressure without letting it completely brick-wall you.

Cast Akroan Crusader (triggering Denizen) and cast a Titan's Strength on it, Akroan Crusader creating a token and triggering Foundry-Street Denizen to a 3/1. I'd like to scry here while diversifying threats and find another piece of the puzzle like a Madcap Skills or Legion Loyalist. Keep any spell with scry since drawing a fourth land is really bad for you. On a turn that you cast two Titan's Strengths you can be more lenient with the first scry since you have a second. Attack for four."

Tom's Play: Cast Akroan Crusader, cast Titan's Strength on Akroan Crusader, attack for 4.


I think that we definitely want to play a creature pre-combat; it's going to be a loss of damage if we don't take advantage of any "play a creature get a freebie" freebies.

I played the Akroan Crusader for the buff on Foundry Street Denizen, but leaving a Mountain open for Titan's Strength if need be. I don't know what Titan's Strength can save us from, but it's there just in case.

Mike's play: Play Akroan Crusader, attack.


It brings me great joy to finish out this episode by announcing this week's winners!

For agreeing with YT, Jim Collins gets a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.

Tom hand-picked his own call for agreeing with this week's Celebrity Guest. For the thoughtful detail of his response, Milo Russell gets a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.

Congrats to Jim Collins and congrats to Milo Russell. Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!

LOVE
MIKE

Tom Ross is a Pro Tour Top 8 competitor but also the Boss. He is one of the most impressive deck designers of the modern era, responsible for Luis Scott-Vargas's 17-match streak with Boss Naya, and more recently winning the StarCity Invitational with Boss Sligh. Learn how to beat down, build, and play better by following Tom at @Boss_MTG.