On Monday, we were trying to play our fourth turn:

We were armed with this Tomoharu Saito deck:

DECKID=1200308

... Originally proposed by this Tomoharu Saito Tweet:

【Standard】Deck12:Naya Aura #mtg #mtgjp #SaitoWayfinder pic.twitter.com/oqY3OmcwZg

— TomoharuSaito/トモハル (@TomoharuSaito) May 2, 2014

You know how they say to watch how often you speak the name of Cthulhu, lest he wake up?

Well...

Cthulhu,

CTHULHU...

CTHULHU!

After all these weeks of talking about his decks, none other than Japanese phenom Tomoharu Saito joins us as Celebrity Guest!

"I would attach Ethereal Armor to Witchstalker and cast Voice of Resurgence, then attack for seven damage.

"To explain...

"My hand and position are strong; I want to have a care for 'any removal spell' + an Edict (e.g. Devour Flesh)...

"I could lose to this pattern.

"The opponent has not shown us Thoughtseize or Pack Rat. What could he be holding? 'Any removal spell + an Edict' is a possibility.

"If he has Gray Merchant of Asphodel, I must draw any red mana source for the win next turn. That is the risk of my plan.

"The reason that the 'Voice of Resurgence + Ethereal Armor' plan is better than Fiendslayer Paladin is that even if he plays Gray Merchant of Asphodel, there is a possibility to win next turn.

"For these reasons, I chose a plan that has good balance and winning percentage."

Tomoharu Saito's play:
Cast Ethereal Armor on Witchstalker, play Voice of Resurgence, then attack.

From my perspective there are a couple of things going on here...

1. Whatever we do, I think we want to do something pre-combat. The broad buckets we can pluck from are "buff spells or creatures"...and they both give us some payoff; but we want to do something pre-combat to get that payoff.
2. If we go with buff spells, we can play both Ethereal Armor and Madcap Skills (thanks to Mana Confluence) which will bring our current power from five to ten. At ten power we can take off more than half of the opponent's life total this turn.
3. Playing a creature also gives us a buff if utilized pre-combat. That is because any creature increases the size of our Elemental Token. Casting some creature (it doesn't matter which) will increase our active attacking power from five to six. This might not seem like a ton, but taking six off of the opponent's life total will bring him to 11. Depending on which creature we play, twelve might be exactly where we want the opponent.
4. Because we can bring the opponent to exactly 11 life, there are two reasons Witchstalker seems like a better play than Fiendslayer Paladin if we want to use all of our mana on a creature. Even if we don't topdeck a land, 11 life is achievable with the Witchstalkers, even if the opponent can kill one of our [non-hexproof] creatures. 3 + 3 = 6; add Madcap Skills and that is nine life; add Ethereal Armor and that is exactly 11. Make no mistake, Fiendslayer Paladin is a great creature! But if we play Fiendslayer Paladin in the same spot, we can't out and out win through removal (short one point).
5. [I had a failure of imagination] ← more on that later.

We can inoculate ourselves from clean opposing play by accounting for some basic considerations.

We don't have a wild advantage or anything right here, but we are ahead on the board right now. We have more cards in hand and more life points. Our greatest asset contextually is the implied resilience of our threats. It's tough to imagine a scenario where the opponent isn't getting hit by at least our Witchstalker next turn, but there is one obvious one:

[Any point removal (Bile Blight, Doom Blade, what have you)] + [Devour Flesh]

If the opponent kills our Elemental, he can kill our Witchstalker with Devour Flesh. That doesn't 100% obviate the "play buff enchantments" line, but if we invest in Ethereal Armor + Madcap Skills this turn, we can be in a spot where the opponent only plays two cards and deals with the second half of our Voice of Resurgence, Witchstalker, and two Auras as well.

It's not just the card advantage that worries me with that line, but that this is a pretty obvious potential future for the opponent, and we would be left with no threat on the battlefield. Our best follow up play would be Witchstalker (or maybe Fiendslayer Paladin), which, in isolation, would be trumped by not only Desecration Demon but possibly Gray Merchant of Asphodel and even contained by Nightveil Specter. Remember: on this line we've already lost both our Ethereal Armor and our Madcap Skills, so there is no using buff auras to out-class creatures on the battlefield. Very likely we are going to miss a full turn's attack...which is bad for a deck that deals the vast majority of its damage in The Red Zone.

As such, I would avoid the "play buffs" line this turn.

I separately said there were two reasons Witchstalker might be better than Fiendslayer Paladin this turn; the potential lethality of the next Turn Aside, I would also like to avoid a nasty Drown in Sorrow. Drown in Sorrow isn't a huge volume staple in black devotion-type decks, but it is also not unheard of. If the opponent has access to Drown in Sorrow it is probably in his deck right now, as most of his removal spells will be compromised.

Drown in Sorrow would of course trade straight up for the Fiendslayer Paladin...but the Elemental Token would go with it because of being downgraded to 2/2 with the death of the Fiendslayer Paladin.

It probably doesn't surprise you that I went with the Witchstalker option.

We are somewhat inoculated from "point removal + Devour Flesh" with the Witchstalker, and I really like the fact that we have a clear route to lethal damage the following turn.

For me the play paid off.

IRL the opponent went with a land into Vraska the Unseen; and assassinated my Elemental Token. This left me with double Witchstalkers, leaving me with exactly the right amount of life to go with an eleven-point swing the following turn.

Ta da!

All's well that ends well, no?

Mike Flores's play:
Play Witchstalker prior to attacking with both Witchstalker and Elemental Token.

Now a moment ago I said I had a failure of imagination.

This is because when I initially looked at the board position, I locked myself into either "play buffs" or "play a creature" (which would in turn buff one of my existing creatures)...and didn't really think about mixing the two. I never for a moment considered doing both at once, which might have locked me out of a better option.

Our Celebrity Guest this week had no such failure of imagination.

Saito's plan would allow us to knock the opponent to ten life.

Obviously that play would give us two 3/3 creatures and one 2/2 creature...well within setup range of a buff or Boros Charm kill unopposed.

If the opponent played Gray Merchant of Asphodel, he would go up to 14 life thanks to Underworld Connections.

If we applied Madcap Skills to Witchstalker, we could swing with all three, get in for at least eight (presuming he blocks our 3/3 instead of eating Voice of Resurgence) and, red mana willing, would be able to win on the spot with Boros Charm's double strike the same turn.

Saito's play does one more point of damage than mine, but still gives us some removal resilience. Even if the opponent has Drown in Sorrow (the Fiendslayer Paladin trump), we are left in more-or-less the same spot we are now, with two bodies, one of which has hexproof, and quite a few remaining offensive options.

Congrats to Ryan James Ramage...you agreed with a Pro Tour Champion!

Andrew Skrzyniarz, you did okay too...though you only agreed with me. :)

$25 gift certificate to Ryan James Ramage; $25 gift certificate to Andrew Skrzyniarz. Spend them well, beloved readers! Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes! Thanks to everyone who played.

LOVE
MIKE

Tomoharu Saito is a multiple time Grand Prix Champion, Pro Tour Champion, and the 2007 Magic Pro Tour Player of the Year. By now you should know to follow him on twitter at @tomoharusaito if you want the leg up on all the tech! Saito (along with some Mike Flores guy) is considered one of the Ten Best Deck Builders of All Time.