As a refresher, this article is the follow-up to Monday's "Make the Play Monday - Mini-Tournament Report" which recounted my adventures leading into a Top 4 finish at a recent StarCityGames Super Invitational Qualifier.
For reference, I played a flexible Boros deck with a fairly aggressive Game One but the Brad Nelson-inspired ability to transform into Planeswalker Control:
The play we examined on Monday was my actual back-against-the-wall Game One against a Sidisi Whip in the Top 4.
Heroes kept this:
...and unsurprisingly led on Mountain on turn one.
When the opponent presented Thoughtseize on his turn one, he was left with these six cards to choose from:
The question this week is simple: What should he have taken?
Of all the wonderful friends and contacts I've made in this great game we love, there is one mage I turn to first and most favorite when it comes to playing red decks. I do think that the Boros deck described in this week's articles falls under a macro umbrella of "red decks" even though it tops up to cards like Elspeth, Sun's Champion (potentially) because of the threat of an early Monastery Swiftspear and the nigh-inevitability of a flurry of Magma Jets, Lightning Strikes, and Stoke the Flames (four of each) that can de-stabilize opponents with middling life totals.
That mage is of course Patrick Sullivan!
Patrick is not only a great red deck expert but as a full-time coverage commentator for the StarCityGames Open Series, has probably pored over more games of competitive Standard than almost any other option, and more intensely.
Let's see how Patrick went to solve this one...
"In spite of being a one-for-one with several downsides (cost of life, poor draw late in the game, etc.) Thoughtseize is among the most powerful Magic cards ever printed. Information is a valuable thing, but the real source of its power is that games of Magic are high-variance affairs, and even solid opening hands can turn sour with the one threat or key removal spell stripped out of it. Playing with Thoughtseize well means opening up angles of attack against an opposing hand, and establishing a logic process for evaluation opposing hands can make your Thoughtseizes much more effective.
"It is very difficult to evaluate this play with certainty from the other side of the table, as we do not know Mike's opponent's hand, but we can examine the texture of Mike's hand to establish our thought process. What is going on here?
1. A hand that lacks white mana, and is at risk of failing outright if white mana isn't drawn fairly quickly.2. A hand loaded with removal.3. A hand that is light on pressure, even assuming white mana is drawn immediately.
"(For the record, I think this hand is at the absolute bottom range of keepable hands, and might actually be worse than that, but that's neither here nor there.)
"Because the hand is so redundant with removal, I think taking any of the pure removal pieces is off the table, and I think it's fair to lump Heliod's Pilgrim in with that list. That narrows it down to Magma Jet or Seeker of the Way. From there, we go to the next step.
"What is the best-case scenario for Mike?
"Best case is he has access to white mana by turn two and starts casting stuff. In this case, you'd probably rather he not have Seeker of the Way, as it is a nice bit of pressure, especially backed with all the removal Mike can now access.
What is the worst-case scenario for Mike?
"Mike fails to draw a white source of mana inside the first two turns, and is forced to use Magma Jet to dig for help. In this scenario, you'd be happiest taking the Magma Jet, as the remainder of Mike's hand is a disaster in this hypothetical.
"A quick run of the numbers tells us that Mike is an underdog to have untapped white mana by turn number two, as he's 14/53 (roughly 25%) on the first turn and way worse than that on turn two (as his Temples, Crags, and Evolving Wilds no longer count). Our opponent isn't armed with this information most likely, but even a rough guess should lead us to conclude that we should take Magma Jet, as more often than not Mike is playing in the Worst Case Scenario.
"I believe this is a mistake, as it isn't just about what's more likely to happen, but what is more likely to matter. Even if Mike misses white mana in the first two turns, the Magma Jet still might not enable Mike to win very often. Mike might fail to Scry into white mana anyway, and even if he does his hand might be too slow. On the other hand, the times when he quickly draws white mana, his hand is very powerful, and I believe it is worth insuring against that scenario, even if it is less likely.
"While acknowledging that I'm not working with all the information, based on what I do know, I select Seeker of the Way. I believe Mike is so unlikely to win if he fails to draw white mana within the allotted window that I'm not interested in protecting myself from it, even if it is more likely than not. Rather, I'm trying to have my best shot of winning in the games Mike quickly draws white mana, and in that scenario Seeker of the Way is his most dangerous card."
Patrick Sullivan's Thoughtseize Pick: Seeker of the Way
I have to say that I am surprised by Patrick's conclusion of Seeker of the Way.
Incidentally, my Top 4 opponent -- a Sultai Reanimator mage -- did in fact take Seeker of the Way after some consideration.
Just to Reiterate Patrick's initial comments on Thoughtseize, I was quite happy when he took Seeker of the Way.
If you look at the hand I kept...
MountainMountainLightning StrikeMagma JetChained to the RocksHeliod's PilgrimSeeker of the Way
...it isn't very good.
One thing I did ask Patrick to comment on was the keep-ability of such a hand, as I was quite aware of its shakiness to begin with.
My psychology on keeping this hand was simple:
This hand isn't very good (due primarily to the absence of white mana); but if you move to mulligan [presumably into white mana] that is a six-card hand. If you instead consider Magma Jet just a card that will dig you into white mana, you either have a six card hand that makes your opponent start on 18, or a seven-card hand that does the same (assuming you can trade with one of the opponent's cards).
Assume you mulligan'd into this hand:
MountainPlainsLightning StrikeChained to the RocksHeliod's PilgrimSeeker of the Way
Personally, I'd be pretty happy with this as a six-card start.
Few players would think that hand was shaky. The only difference is a Plains versus a Mountain, and no Magma Jet. Our real Magma Jet can essentially give us some downriver turn-three descendant of this hand with a high degree of likelihood (or some facsimile of it with one of the white dual land options); and because our original hand actually had a second Mountain, even the Heliod's Pilgrim will be live. Though no; given our actual original hand, there is a very low likelihood of hitting turn two Seeker of the Way.
This is why I am surprised, and ultimately disagree with, Patrick's call on Seeker of the Way.
Imagine our hand is instead this:
MountainMountainLightning StrikeChained to the RocksHeliod's PilgrimSeeker of the Way
...this is not even a keep-able hand!
Not only is it a depressing six cards, but we have only one cast-able card. Even though that card happens to be relevant against Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, it gets kind of depressing when you consider Sidisi might just come back.
The opponent, with his Thoughtseize, can give us an un-keepable hand. It seems to me that Magma Jet is a slam dunk from that perspective.
If you consider our actual mana base:
4 Battlefield Forge1 Evolving Wilds10 Mountain1 Plains4 Temple of Triumph4 Wind-Scarred Crag
There are only five lands that would let us play Seeker of the Way on a lucky topdeck (four Battlefield Forges and one Plains). Though there are a total of fourteen potential white sources in our deck, we have a less than 10% likelihood of being able to deploy Seeker of the Way on curve; put another way, our second turn mana has already been set aside, mentally, for Magma Jet.
In my mind, taking the Magma Jet makes our keep hella embarrassing; Seeker being quite a bit more romantic a thought.
Mike's Thoughtseize Pick: Magma JetPretty interesting conclusions this week; I know I am going to chat with Patrick about his thought process more after this.
For agreeing with red deck master Patrick Sullivan, Kyle Neal Taylor receives a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. #TeamSeekeroftheWay
For agreeing with Yours Truly, Nicholas VanSchaick earns a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate of his own. Thanks for having my back! #TeamMagmaJet
And finally, here are some changes to the Boros deck.
I know this isn't super relevant as Fate Reforged is going to give us some new tools like Soulfire Grand Master, Wild Slash, and others, but there has been a lot of interest in the strategy coming my way, especially as it is very good against Abzan Aggro (one of the most popular decks to play among top mages).
These changes are driven by one card: Monastery Swiftspear.
While Monastery Swiftspear is one of the strongest creatures in Legacy and Modern, it just doesn't get enough buff out of this deck to justify a slot. In Modern there are 20+ zero or one mana spells, many of which draw into more zero and one mana spells. But in Standard RW, the spells are both more expensive and don't draw extra cards.
Seeker of the Way is another story due to a deeper spot on the curve + its racing implications due to lifelink.
So basically by cutting Monastery Swiftspear we could get the one Dragon Mantle back in, move one copy of Elspeth, Sun's Champion into the main, and round out the fours on our favorite three drops. This made room for Anger of the Gods as another sweeper (enriching our sideboard into a mix of Anger of the Gods, Arc Lightning, and End Hostilities, and of course Elspeth herself).
So if you have a Standard tournament you want to win prior to Fate Reforged, I think RW could be a good option; at least, it was great for me!
Thanks for reading; more Monday!
The first time I played Patrick Sullivan he had two 2/1 White Weenie creatures and a Phyrexian Negator in play while I had a Masticore... that I forgot to pay upkeep on. The beatdown specialist has not been one whit kinder to opponents in the ensuing fourteen years.
A Red Deck specialist with numerous Open, Invitational, and Grand Prix Top 8s, Patrick is a full time Magic commentator for StarCity Games, covering their Open Series and Invitationals. You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @basicmountain.