Make the Play Monday - Splitting Hairs asked us to evaluate this board position on turn six:
Temple of Plenty (untapped)Temple of Abandon (tapped)Temple Garden (tapped)Temple Garden (tapped)
Fiendslayer Paladin (untapped) wearing a freshly-cast Unflinching Courage
Life: 18Cards in Hand: 3Exiled: Gladecover Scout
MountainMountain Mountain Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx Sacred Foundry(all untapped)
Stormbreath DragonPurphoros, God of the Forge
Cards in Hand:Iroas, God of VictoryStormbreath DragonBoros CharmMountain
Graveyard: Anger of the Gods
Our weapon of choice: RW Devotion
So the question is...how do we play our sixth turn?
Celebrity Guest (and Red Deck genius extraordinaire) Patrick Sullivan offered this solution...
"In situations like this, where we have a commanding advantage, it is important to ask 'How can we lose the game?'
"The obvious answer is that a flurry of pump spells or additional enchantments allow for the Fiendslayer Paladin to swing the damage race substantially. Therefore, we should err on the side of caution, and prevent the Fiendslayer for hitting us for a meaningful amount next turn. Fortunately, we are equipped with two copies of Stormbreath Dragon, and eight points of Pro-White toughness should be enough to prevent the Fiendslayer from doing any trample damage. Even if our opponent is able to generate enough pump to do some amount of trample damage, we can almost certainly kill them on the way back.
"When erring on the side of this amount of caution, it is important to ask 'What are we giving up?', and in my opinion we're giving up very little. We can't win the game this turn even if we attack with everything, and we're a huge favorite to win the game the following turn, with access to lots of mana, the ability to go Monstrous with Stormbreath Dragon, pump into Purphoros, or use Boros Charm. The Iroas in our hand even gives us insurance against Bassara Tower Archer, and Selesnya Charm on our Purphoros next turn doesn't matter given how many resources and angles of attack we have afforded to us.
"Therefore, my play is to play Stormbreath Dragon, trigger Purphoros, and attack with only Purphoros. Our opponent probably doesn't block (and if they do, awesome), falling to 10, and almost no sequence of actions can prevent them from dying the following turn. The additional damage we deal by attacking with any of the Stormbreath Dragons is more than outweighed by protecting ourselves from the Fiendslayer Paladin, given how likely we are to win next turn even with a more conservative approach."
Patrick Sullivan's Solution:Play Stormbreath Dragon, attack with Purphoros, God of the Forge only.
I puzzled through this board state for a long time before making my play [in the real game that inspired this hypothetical]. The opponent is at 18 life, so if we somehow got our second Stormbreath Dragon onto the battlefield we would deal two points of damage (putting him to 16 thanks to the triggered ability on Purphoros, God of the Forge). Then we could attack with both Stormbreath Dragons and the aforementioned God of the Forge (now a creature) for 14... Putting him in Boros Charm range assuming he didn't block Purphoros.
Would he block Purphoros? Probably not. Purphoros is indestructible and would squish the usually red-hating Fiendslayer Paladin like a bug despite its Unflinching Courage. It is super unlikely the opponent would block Purphoros for any reason but that he was certain of dying this turn, because he has no other threat; ergo losing the Fiendslayer Paladin would leave him with little if any chance of winning the game given that if we in fact had enough offense to get him to block we could likely just win the next turn due to the combination of insane threats, tons of mana to go monstrous, pump through Purphoros, and set up double strike, despite lifelink.
The problem of course is that there is no way to get the seven mana required to play both Stormbreath Dragon and Boros Charm off this turn with our mana, even considering the potential ups of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I don't see any way to kill the opponent this turn, so it is a question of what we want to do non-lethally with the turn to 1) hopefully set him up for next turn, and 2) make sure we don't die so that we can maximize the chances of cashing in next turn.
That doesn't change the fact that the opponent is unlikely to block Purphoros, or that doing so would leave him substantially behind.
...which makes a really strong case for getting Purphoros online this turn so we can get in there!
For that reason I wouldn't entertain any of the possible lines that involve playing Iroas, God of Victory. Iroas costs enough mana that we can't get any other red pips onto the battlefield this turn; so we don't get a Purphoros ping, and we can't attack with Purphoros, or anything. Subtly, despite using only four of our six lands, Iroas would demand our Sacred Foundry, so we would lose access to Boros Charm; I don't know whether that matters a whole lot, but if we are evaluating lines of similar value it might be a tiebreaker. We didn't attack last turn and we don't have any more creatures if we play Iroas; we would have five pips, but since only four of them would be red, Purphoros would not come online. So we would basically be where we were a turn previous in terms of offense.
Which isn't that bad!
He didn't attack last turn so he probably wouldn't attack this turn if we had one Stormbreath Dragon on defense.
But on the other hand we also don't move forward at all; whereas there are other plays we can make that can actually move us forward.
If he can apply any amount of toughness boost on his Fiendslayer Paladin (say another Unflinching Courage) he is probably coming in. That would guarantee some amount of lifelink (at least four life, probably on the order of six or more), which could complicate our winning next turn. For instance, if he attacks for six he can go to 24. There are some combinations of cards that we can't ever stop, but the goal should be to get to the next turn with resources enough to win the game; that means our own life total and hopefully enough of a gap in his life total that we can finish him off... So we really want to do some damage to mitigate potential life gain.
I would want to make a play that -- even if I were leaving back a Stormbreath Dragon (or even two) on defense -- I could meaningfully cut into his life.
That means playing Stormbreath Dragon over Iroas for sure.
So we put him to 16 with the god trigger...
How many creatures do we attack with?
I chose to attack with both one Stormbreath Dragon and Purphoros, God of the Forge because I didn't think he would block Purprhoros (for all the above reasons), meaning that he would be very unlikely to put himself at a life total that I couldn't blow through with two Dragons and the online God (which could potentially go double strike).
The main difference between Stormbreath Dragon and Iroas is that you get a substantial amount of damage in while still being able to leave at least one Dragon on defense.
Why do we need Need NEED defense?
The opposing Fiendslayer Paladin is currently 4/4.
If the opponent has both a Ghor-Clan Rampager and a Boros Charm (and plays a second red-producing land this turn) he can deal exactly 16 life...which would kill us outright.
That is why I would leave back one Stormbreath Dragon instead of attacking with all three big red threats. This is actually something the opponent asked me about (why leave one back instead of attacking with everything). And the answer was that I had access to at least one protection from white creature against a white creature and I wanted the ability to absorb some damage given the fact that I couldn't kill him this turn.
The opponent could conceivably play around anything we have if equipped with the right tools. For example if he has Brave the Elements / Gods Willing and a red-producing land and Ghor-Clan Rampager and Boros Charm there is nothing we can do, even if we leave back two Stormbreath Dragons. However he only has three cards so having those four cards would have to be exactsies.
I will admit, though, I didn't think about playing around Madcap Skills at all, as if he had it, I assumed he would have played it last turn and gotten in for four lifelink against our previous turn solo blocker.
Mike Flores's Solution:Play Stormbreath Dragon, attack with Purphoros, God of the Forge + one Stormbreath Dragon.
Similar to the last time Patrick participated in a Make the Play Monday / Flores Rewards Friday I am persuaded his line is the better one.
I think the plays of attacking with zero or one Stormbreath Dragon are close in this case; but Patrick's additional defense is a mite more consistent with the conservative approach of not attacking with everything (something neither of us seriously considered given the inability to finish it).
For agreeing with YT, Kevin Levi Pitsch receives a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate!
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Thanks everyone for reading.
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 currently a designer at StoneBlade Entertainment working on their flagship, Solforge; he is also a full time Magic commentator for StarCity Games, covering their Open Series and Invitationals. You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @basicmountain.