I'll be honest with you.
A lot of the time in this column the play I make is the same play that the Celebrity Guest makes. In cases like that, I usually nod to myself. Probably how a lot of you nod to yourselves when you "get it right." If I'm on the same page as this guy, I'm getting pretty good at this, you might think, win or don't win; even give yourself a wink, maybe.
Other times my play differs from the Celebrity Guest's play. Sometimes by a little, sometimes by a twenty-mile Bruce Banner Leap in purple pants. A fair amount of the time the range of hypothetical answers is relatively narrow. In these cases the available plays are close to one another, so even when I don't give the same answer, I can see where the other player is coming from. In a lot of these cases I just enjoy reading what my Celebrity Guests contribute, because I love talking through plays and getting a greater (or at least understandably different) perspective on the game.
In a fair number of these cases I feel like my play (when it differs) is the better one. Of course most of our hypotheticals come from real games I've played, so especially when I end up right I can hold my head up high as I feel this way. Reasonable people can disagree after all.
In just a couple of cases I've been floored by the Celebrity Guest deviations. The example that sticks out in my mind most memorably is Flores Rewards Friday - Fanaticism. I take a lot of cues as a red deck player from Patrick Sullivan. I'll just do whatever he says when it comes to red decks, even when I disagree to begin with. Fanaticism he had not just a better answer / play than I had, but a better strategy driving it. Patrick is so articulate and good at communicating with players at different levels I feel like the average reader and the average PT player can both learn from his thought process.
I felt a similar, grateful, reaction this week.
I actually teed up the play a certain way because -- knowing what I know about the Celebrity Guest's background -- I figured he would make a particular play (not surprisingly the play I made myself). After all, he is kind of synonymous with card advantage!
Not only did he not accommodate me… He made a truly humbling play that seems almost obvious in hindsight; it is not the play I made, nor a play that was very popular among readers this week. This is one of my favorite Flores Rewards Fridays in part because of this, and I hope that at least some of you see how good his subtly different strategy is. All our Celebrity Guests are awesome (how about calling Tom Ross last week? Jeez!), but this week's is a legend.
Our hypothetical from Make the Play...Tuesday - Parity:
It's our third turn.
We just Syncopate'd his Frostburn Weird; he's tapped out.
He's got 20 life...we've got 20 life.
He's got six cards in hand...we've got six cards in hand.
He's got two tapped Islands (i.e. two lands) and we've got at Temple of Epiphany and a Mutavault (at least pre-land drop for the turn). You know...two lands.
The question this week was how to play this third turn.
Most answers that the community gave this week clustered around one of two lines:
1. Azorius Guildgate, go, or2. Plains + Divination
I chose the latter.
Mike's play: Plains + Divination.This was a challenge around parity, ostensibly. What better way to break parity than to nab a free two-for-one?
Monoblue Devotion (which is what our opponent looks to be) is one of the all-time powerhouse aggressive decks, with some wrinkles and angles in addition to its brutal offense. In this spot that offense has sputtered in that 1) the opponent didn't play a one-drop, and 2) we kept him off his two-drop.
In this spot we have an open to get ahead, even a little ahead...I took it with the belief that we would get there in terms of a blue source for our Dissolve. Even if the Divination didn't bring that, we have five-sixths of the way to our Planar Cleansing. I figured it would be okay to let the Monoblue Devotion deck get a little ahead because that Planar Cleansing can mop up all of his permanents.
The main permanent we don't want to see is Thassa, God of the Sea (indestructible) but we can't stop it this turn due to the inability to cast Dissolve with the resources at hand / in our hand. I just figured Divination would let us develop with little downside [here], while getting all our mana tapped.
This week's Celebrity Guest, Brian Weissman, took a different route, despite the availability of that Divination line...
"At face value, the play for this turn seems obvious. I have six cards in hand, so I play a plains and cast Divination. This takes me back up to six cards in hand, with a reasonable chance of drawing a blue source that won't come into play tapped on the following turn. Simple, right?
"But with control decks, things are rarely that straightforward. For starters, my opponent cast a Frostburn Weird last turn, which I was able to counter with Syncopate. Seeing a creature like that in a monoblue deck indicates my opponent is likely playing Blue Devotion. Because that deck wants to deploy a steady stream of threats, my opponent will be tapping out next turn, and likely the turn after that.
"When playing a control deck, I tend to always play with 'worst case scenario' in mind, and make decisions accordingly. In this case, the worst case scenario I can envision is me tapping out this turn to cast Divination, and failing to draw an Island or a Hallowed Fountain. This leaves me without UU up on my fourth turn to stop my opponent's 2UU Planeswalker or his Master of Waves when he casts it. That's an avoidable disaster.
"Whenever I'm thinking about casting card draw in a control deck, I ask myself an important question: Is it worth it to surrender temporary control for long term gain? Additionally, I always ask: Do I need the extra cards right now? Based on what I have in hand currently, the answer to this latter question is a resounding no. Because I have plenty of lands, and because I need to Fortify my board position against future threats, the correct play this turn becomes quite easy.
"I play my Azorius Guildgate. There is an argument for playing the Temple of Enlightenment instead, but at the moment, I don't actually know what kind of threats are coming. I have plenty of lands already, so I don't need to dig for more with Scry. At this stage in the game, I would much rather hold my Temple, and wait for at least some information from the board state about what I should be Scrying for.
"After playing my Guildgate, I activate Mutavault and attack for two damage. I could leave 1U up to bluff something, but I'm not a fan of doing this when my opponent is likely to ignore the untapped mana anyway. He showed me last turn that he's not afraid to cast something when I could counter it.
"Games with control decks are often won and lost from innocuous decisions like the one presented in this scenario. Always remember that you shouldn't take chances with control when you're not under immediate threat. Correct, successful play comes through a careful balance of risk and reward."
Brian Weissman's play: Azorius Guildgate + attack with Mutavault.Consider the differentiating point on Brian's play. Attack with the Mutavault.
I think that most folks would agree that the opponent is going to try to move for a threat next turn whether or not we leave up 1U. In fact, the Floch deck only plays two copies of Syncopate main; we have 51 cards left in our deck. We are severely unfavored to have the second Syncopate in hand. The opponent is going to make whatever play he is going to make against 1U up; besides which, we simply can't stop him.
Ergo there is no point in not getting two in. Attacking is essentially free! Love this play so much. It's better than mine, I think.
For agreeing with me (Brian's ostensibly "obvious" play), Marshall Candelaria takes home a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.
For agreeing with Celebrity Guest Brian Weissman, Chris Wilkins wins a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate. Great answer Chris Wilkins.
Finally, Ben Hitz picks up the bonus $25 TCGPlayer.com gift certificate this week for correctly guessing our Celebrity Guest. You are a postmodern Cassandra, Ben Hitz. Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes! Thanks to everyone who played and thanks for reading.
Thanks for reading, all.
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 U/W 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.