Let us begin with a story (or at least part of a story) (it's a good one):
"Game two we played haymakers. I was at 12 after having played Cruel Ultimatum. He was on 10. He had two Raging Ravines (one being 5/5), three Sprouting Thrinax tokens, and multiple Sedraxis Specters in his sideboard (West Coast "I have Islands" sideboard plan). He topdecked Bloodbraid Elf, flipping Sedraxis Specter, unearthed one Sedraxis Specter, and was in for nine.
"Now remember I am at 12 and he has no cards. I know I am going to take the Specter so I can discard my Specter, setting up a haste attack. I am LITERALLY THINKING 'Terminate the untapped Sedraxis Specter, Terminate the untapped Sedraxis Specter, Terminate the untapped Sedraxis Specter...' but what I SAID was 'Terminate the Bloodbraid Elf.'
"So I took 6 and was still dead on board next turn.
"If I kill his untapped (Bloodbraid bonus) Sedraxis Specter, I can Unearth two Specters, attack for six, and finish him with double Blightning. As I played it, I had six different combinations of cards that could do NINE damage...but he was at 10."
There are some problems where you can't pick particular Celebrity Guests. Not that they're not great players...but they just have no context for the problems so they will yell at you for "being awful" instead of reasoning through them.
I realized this about the great Jon Finkel after making that mistake.
Half the story was that I went home with a Blue Envelope anyway but the other half was about knowing I was supposed to take out his potential blocker...but that years and years of damage-aversion conditioning had kept his stupid 3/2 off me for the turn.
Jon shook his head...but not for the reason you might think.
I mean I manascrewed my opponent to death in game three and promptly qualified for the US National Championships; but that game -- that game -- was lost on the kind of mistake that I bet many of you have made, kicked yourselves for making... But Jon had (has actually) no context for. It's just not part of his experience.
"I just don't comprehend," he told me, "reasoning out the right play, knowing the right play to make...and then not making it."
But I bet you do!
I had this crystal moment of simpatico with my onetime PT teammate (himself a Grand Prix Top 8 competitor) Tim McKenna over this.
"You know... you know how you know what the right play is...and then you just don't make it?"
"I wish I didn't do that!"
"Jon doesn't do that. He doesn't even understand it."
You see where I'm going with this yet? This one, this Make the Play Monday, is for everyone who has ever seen the right play, known the right play to make...and then just not made it.
Some readers have commented that this is the closest Make the Play Monday scenario yet. I actually disagree. Despite buying Into the Core idea that there are often many reasonable plays but only one gives you the optimal return, long-run, I don't think this one is close at all.
There are essentially two options: Plains or Mountain.
Neither play enables anything -- or cuts off anything -- that the other does or doesn't, this turn.
Temple of Triumph + Plains casts Lightning Strike (if you have occasion to Lightning Strike). So does Temple of Triumph + Mountain.
We have a Brimaz, King of Oreskos in hand. We have access to the first W due to Temple of Triumph. But what about the second W? Playing Plains now ensures we can cast Brimaz next turn (provided we play any untapped land)...but Mountain doesn't.
That's why Plains is better.
Mike's Play: PlainsBut wait!
Can't we just play Plains next turn, even if we play Mountain now? Doesn't that still basically enable Brimaz?
Sure it does.
Provided we don't accidentally play another Mountain, that is.
Why would we do that?
We wouldn't do it on purpose! But we might just do it...for the same reason I Terminated the Bloodbraid Elf instead of the untapped Sedraxis Specter back in that Regionals match. Which was for a Blue Envelope. Jeez.
"I would never screw up this way," you might say. "I would for sure play my Plains on turn three, even if I played my Mountain on turn two."
I'm sure you think you would. But I am equally sure that not all of you would. Here's how come I think that:
I read an article in the New York Times by Pulitzer-prize winning author Jared Diamond last year that completely transformed how I think about, well, things...but Magic in particular.
Diamond, getting on in years, was writing about minimizing household injuries for older men. He was talking about slipping and falling in the shower.
Why be worried about slipping in the shower? What's the chances of that? One in a thousand?
"If I'm to achieve my statistical quota of 15 more years of life, that means about 15 times 365, or 5,475, more showers. But if I were so careless that my risk of slipping in the shower each time were as high as 1 in 1,000, I'd die or become crippled about five times before reaching my life expectancy."
While Jon lacks the context of knowing the right play but not making it, one of the things that he has done a great job of teaching me, personally, is to disconnect the concept of individual events, of direct causality, to results. It is not necessarily the case that one slip or blunder costs you a game...but habitual small errors, even seemingly imperceptible ones like playing a Mountain over a Plains, can catch up to you.
But don't just take my word for it!
Jon doesn't have great context for this kind of problem, but there are other Celebrity Guests who know exactly what I'm talking about! Brian David-Marshall (our third, actually, when I teamed with the aforementioned Tim McKenna) has seen more tournament play that basically anyone, and is mortal enough to get what I was getting at with this.
"Mike actually initially ran this scenario by me to ask if it was a good Make the Play Monday at all, not just to see what my answer would be.
"I did think there was a 'gotcha' element that might turn off some readers, but we talked through the possible plays (there are only two) and I am now completely convinced that he is right about the Plains play.
"Originally I was thinking that there might be some way to mask our archetype with Mountain over Plains (maybe we are a red beatdown deck that is touching Temple of Triumph just for the scry) but what kind of draw did we keep if we pass on turn two? It's just not realistic.
"This is what convinced me:
"Back before it was commonly accepted that there is only one right play, Bob Maher used to ask naysayers what the likelihood was that he, Kai [Budde], Dirk [Baberowski], and Jon (Finkel, of course) would make the same play, given the same circumstances. Even players who did not accept that there is one right play would guess that these players would make the same play with a high degree of consistency (75% or more of the time).
"What if, instead, we put 1,000 random players of various skill levels in this RW turn two scenario; half play Mountain on turn two, and half play Plains? What percent of the Mountain players screw up and accidentally play a second Mountain on turn three? It's definitely not zero, right?
"I put the number on maybe 3%.
"Of these 1,000 players, that means a whopping 15 don't have Brimaz in play on turn three!
"If for no other reason, it has to be Plains."
Brian David-Marshall's Play: PlainsAs I've gotten older, I've tried to become more aware of my physical limitations. I've written about playing well but losing my win-and-in a zillion times at this point so I won't belabor that. But one of the specific areas that I've tried to address for the past few years is maintaining my focus specifically in win-and-in scenarios. If we can consciously play Plains here, we can avoid unconsciously not playing it on turn three.
As with Diamond's "falling in the shower" hypothetical, even good players will screw that up some percentage of the time (well, maybe not Jon Finkel)... So since it costs us essentially nothing (relative to playing Mountain), we can and should make the Plains play that minimizes the likelihood of future error.
I do want to address the archetype-deception angle, which I would guess a lot of you thought this was about. I don't think you can realistically mask archetype with either play. I went back to all the decks that did well at the Pro Tour and started with every deck that played Temple of Triumph.
Almost every Temple of Triumph deck at the Pro Tour played both Mountain and Plains. Only Jamie Parke and Craig Wescoe (Jeskai Wins) and Nathan Herkimer (Mardu) didn't play both. Everybody else (or at least every other reported deck) with Temple of Triumph ran both basics. The reality is that the no-Mountains of Jamie's and Craig's decks don't obviate Jeskai on a Plains play (plenty of contrary Jeskai decks); though yes, playing a Plains might give a weak signal to not-being-Mardu, it is not conclusive.
If there is a Deception or information edge on playing one basic or other, I don't think it is a huge consideration in this case.
Well, there you have it. Plains.
This week's lucky Plains-namers are:
Bradley UtterbeckYale Crow Liebowitz
Congratulations Bradley Utterbeck and Yale Crow Liebowitz!
Enjoy $25 TCGplayer gift certificates, both of you! Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!
(And ideally a Brimaz in play on turn three.)
Brian David-Marshall is a sometimes Pro player, sometimes tournament organizer, but always the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Historian. He has been a regular contributor to the various Wizards of the Coast official web properties as a columnist and coverage reporter for over a decade. Brian has been the co-host of the Top 8 Magic podcast with YT since 2005. If you aren't already following him on Twitter at @top8games you should really take a moment to evaluate these horrible choices you call a life.