"You're very often making a decision between bad and awful."-Brian Weissman
I couldn't very well have an episode on card advantage and choose anyone other than Brian Weissman, could I?
For those of you who haven't been playing since the dawn of tournaments, Brian was the theoretician behind the very concept of card advantage! Back in the early 1990s, Brian was bonking opponents with his Disrupting Scepter to Clear a Path for his two-way offense / defense Serra Angels.
On Monday I opened up our eventual discussion of Steam Augury with a wink back at Steam Augury's historical predecessor, Fact or Fiction:
With us on the offense, albeit originally on the back foot, a pretty-far-ahead opponent flipped over his top five cards...
IslandBloodbraid ElfDevil's PlayTeferi, Mage of ZhalfirFarseek
If you read Monday's article you know how I, sadly, split this. I was wondering how Brian would have dealt with it...
"Because Mike's scenario this week begins with the beloved Fact or Fiction, I'll deal with that first. The situation laid out is something that frequently comes up when the card is played against you. You're very often making a decision between bad and awful. This is not something uncommon to competitive Magic in general. If you play a lot, you'll encounter a fair share of games where you simply cannot win.
"However, because none of us are in the business of losing games of Magic, our primary interest rests in making decisions that result in the highest chance for success. This situation affords plenty opportunity for analysis.
"Looking closer at the game state, one thing Leaps out at me more than anything else. My opponent is at four life. With him at four, the entire outcome of this game coalesces into one objective: I need to keep that Dragon alive and attacking. My decision of how to split the Fact or Fiction comes down to that.
"Obviously, handing him an easy Devil's Play means an end to the dragon, that much is certain. With my weak hand, I have next to no long term prospects of winning this game. Sure, I could eventually draw another burn spell to go with the Shock I'm holding, but it likely won't be enough. Goblin Guide sure isn't going to get the job done in the face of Shackles.
"I could go on about giving him the Devil's Play, splitting it off from Teferi and Bloodbraid Elf, and hoping that he'll let those latter two cards go. That scenario means that the Dragon dies for certain, but maybe I can grind out a longer game where I somehow win. I'm still at 20, after all. However, there are plenty of times when you just have to play for the win *now*. This is one of those times.
"With that in mind, this is an easy split.
"Pile One: Devil's Play
"Pile Two: Island, Bloodbraid Elf, Teferi, Farseek, and a prayer.
"When I split Devil's Play by itself, I'm hoping that my opponent isn't holding another red source, and hoping that he's greedy enough to take the four pile anyway. If he doesn't have a third red source right now, there is a reasonable chance he doesn't draw one. I've seen plenty of games lost through greed. I've lost plenty that way myself. Whenever possible, give your opponent a chance to lose the game by being greedy."
It's nice to know that the expert opinion conformed with mine, even if the result was truly a disaster.
Moving on to Steam Augury...
Just as a reminder, for these scenarios, we are playing an Izzet Control deck inspired by the great Tom Ross:
If you've ever played against Upheaval + Psychatog, that legendary control-combo strategy, this feels very much in-line. You just get to a point with either Pearl Lake Ancient and the opponent's shields off, or a spot starting the turn with nine lands in play and a couple of copies of Master the Way and there isn't much the opponent can do. He's just getting brained for 10 or 20 damage at a burst and that's all she wrote. Meanwhile you've been building advantage after advantage with efficient removal and more efficient card drawing.
Mine might not be the perfect version of Izzet Control (who knows what perfect is?), but I can tell you it is a joy to play if you have any interest in drawing cards or invalidating whatever it is the opponent was trying to do.Scenario One:
The opponent has been clocking us with a pretty hard-to-handle Prognostic Sphinx. We've got a removal-solid hand but no permission.
He drops (or at least is attempting to drop) a Whip of Erebos.
We respond with a Steam Augury revealing:Polluted DeltaPolluted DeltaShivan ReefShivan ReefDissolve
Brian Weissman's take:
"When I first saw Steam Augury in the spoiler, I was pretty excited by it. I've been a fan of Fact or Fiction for almost 15 years and I've used the card to huge success in countless decks. My Vintage deck runs a copy to this day. At face value Steam Augury seems nearly identical, with the small caveat that your opponent picks the pile instead of you. A minor, trifling detail, right?
"Well, as it turns out, small changes make a world of difference. With Fact or Fiction, you always get the card you want, even when it's by itself. With Steam Augury, you never get it. This is especially true in EDH, a format I'm hugely fond of, because you don't even have a chance at getting a 5-pile with duplicates.
"I tinkered around with Steam Augury for a while in my Nin, the Pain Artist EDH deck before finally abandoning it. It just isn't Fact or Fiction. Also, they printed Dack Fayden.
"However, for the reasons Mike outlined in his introduction, I do feel the card has a place now in Standard Blue/Red Control. It is such a powerful enabler of Delve, filling your graveyard with tons of cards at instant speed. Who even cares what you're throwing away when you're following up the Augury with a Treasure Cruise for U?
"On to Scenario One.
"Though Mike discusses it only in passing as an 'interesting, cool graveyard enabler,' I think the Prognostic Sphinx here is a pretty big deal. I'm already down to 10, with nothing in hand that permanently handles a 3/5 Hexproof flyer. The Whip on the stack only adds to the concern. The life gain will make racing almost impossible, even if I'm able to Time Ebb the Sphinx for a turn.
"My only likely way out of this situation involves getting my Pearl Lake Ancient into play as quickly as possible, and then riding the prowess ability + multiple burn spells to a narrow victory. Even if everything goes exactly as planned, it's going to be close.
"And seriously, how bad is this Steam Augury? Really Flores, you couldn't do better than four lands and a spell?
"It's funny actually, because the way this Augury turned out demonstrates perfectly why the card is so bad compared to Fact or Fiction. With FoF, I know that no matter what happens, I'm stopping the Whip from resolving. All this Augury guarantees are some lands. Painful ones, at that.
"Since I know I'm not getting Dissolve here, I have to go with Plan B. Plan B is this: topdeck Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time, and cast it for cheap using the cards I'm about to toss into the Graveyard. If I split the Augury into the obvious 4-1, I wind up with a handful of painful nothing, and a lot less delve food.
"With this in mind, this is how I split the cards:
"Pile 1: Dissolve + two Polluted Delta
"Pile 2: two Shivan Reef
"Those Polluted Deltas are especially terrible now, since they effectively deal three damage, not one. I cannot afford even one activation.
"My opponent will of course hand me two lands, all the while wondering why I'm so dumb. The Whip will come down and when he activates it next turn, I'll bounce back all of his attacking guys with AEtherspouts. This might buy me enough time to draw into another Counterspell to stop the Sphinx when it comes back. It's going to be rough seas either way.
"If I can stop the Sphinx, then it's quite possible I can ride a Pearl Lake Ancient to victory, especially with all that burn to clear the way. Drawing into a nearly free Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time en route will greatly increase my odds.
"This is a really neat, counter-intuitive example of when a choice involving less card advantage is the right one. I'm quite curious to know how the game turned out."
Brian Weissman's Steam Augury Split #1: Dissolve, Polluted Delta, Polluted Delta against Shivan Reef, Shivan Reef
I had much the same thought process around specifically the Dissolve as Brian despite settling, as he intimated, on four lands against the Dissolve.
It's unlikely we get the Dissolve no matter what split we make here; and I guess the composition of our hand is unusually important here. If we already had something on the order of a Dissolve or Disdainful Stroke (i.e. we already had a live answer for Whip of Erebos) that could change our thinking and how we try to bias our piles.
One thing I would note about this board position is that we aren't particularly frightened of the Whip.
Though Whip of Erebos is probably the opponent's best card in general (excepting Prognostic Sphinx, which as Brian points out, is a tough threat to handle), it isn't that bad here.
We're not too frightened of a lone Courser of Kruphix or Elvish Mystic attack, and even though the opponent has got access to Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, the fact that we are packing not only two Lightning Strikes but an Anger of the Gods, the Whip is not immediately game ending.
In fact (at least if need be) we can just zing the Prognostic Sphinx with a Lightning Strike and see if the opponent activates Hexproof... And then just finish it off with Anger of the Gods.
Because Brian asked, the game turned out more than okay!
I set him up with AEtherspouts, and immediately drew Disdainful Stroke (which I intended for his Prognostic Sphinx, but ended up having to go up against a Treasure Cruise).
Oh well, ripped Pearl Lake Ancient!
Given I already had Anger of the Gods + other burn cards in my hand when I ripped Pearl Lake Ancient, a couple of Whip lifelink points just weren't going to save the opponent.
Mike's Steam Augury Split #1: Dissolve against Polluted Delta, Polluted Delta, Shivan Reef, Shivan ReefScenario Two:
Our second scenario is like the opposite side of the coin from the first one, though also against Sultai Reanimator. The opponent has a bunch of guys in play -- Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid (aka the most domin-8-ing enchantment and creature in Magic: The Gathering history, respectively) + Satyr Wayfinder -- but it's not like those guys are going to beat us.
He plays a card that might actually have a shot to beat us ( Sidisi, Brood Tyrant), but we've already got more than the requisite tools to beat just a Sidisi.
Our hand is:Magma JetMaster the WayDig Through TimeDissolveDisdainful Stroke(and Steam Augury)
We could throw either Disdainful Stroke or Dissolve at the Sidisi now, but given that a potentially "must-answer" threat is on the stack, we can actually (at least potentially) gain some extra value by playing the mental game with the opponent.
It is important to note that Steam Augury here leaves open the door to Disdainful Stroke no matter what. We can flip five lands and still answer the Sidisi.
It turns out much better than five lands; three awesome cards and two lands, in fact.
IslandEvolving WildsDissolveDig Through TimeLightning Strike
"Okay, forget everything I said about Mike's inability to draw good cards. I take it all back.
I've already got a stacked hand here, this Augury just makes it better. It's a rare thing having to agonize about taking a hard counter among your split cards, with two more already in hand. Talk about First World problems!
"It's actually quite interesting that Mike chose to respond to Sidisi with Steam Augury in the first place. In a situation like this one, I'm reluctant to even cast a card advantage spell, especially one that could potentially Overload my hand by several cards. After all, I have nothing cheap and proactive to play out next turn.
"Additionally, the decision to cast the Augury now means that I'm losing a counter war over Sidisi to Negate . If my opponent is holding a Negate, I won't have Dissolve as a possible follow up. I just don't like casting Augury in response to something when it shuts down my reactive options, especially when I already have sufficient counters in hand.
"I guess there is some value in responding with Augury, since it does telegraph desperation, and might cause my opponent to underestimate the rest of my hand. I still don't think it's right, however.
"But I've made the play, so I have to live with it!
"My hand here actually illustrates an issue that can arise when you put too much card advantage into a deck. I know, I know, coming from me, that statement probably sounds hilarious. Allow me to explain.
"If you go overboard on card drawing, you often wind up doing nothing but spending mana and turns to draw more mana and more card drawing spells. Yes, eventually you will build an overwhelming board state, but you may be dead before the extra cards even matter. Quite simply, you don't have enough stuff that does stuff. Card advantage is super powerful, yes, but card advantage for card advantage's sake is a trap.
"With that in mind, all I'm really aiming to do with this Steam Augury is Fortify my board position. I already have the cards in hand to take this game over, I just need more resources to fuel them. This means that I really just want the Island and the Evolving Wilds.
"So the only remaining question is: can I be sneaky and slip one spell in there too? I believe the answer is yes.
"My split this time:
"Pile 1: Island, Evolving Wilds, Dissolve
"Pile 2: Lightning Strike, Dig Through Time
"Originally, I put Lightning Strike with the two lands. The card is definitely weaker than the Counterspell, especially this late in the game. In a vacuum, it's weak enough to entice my opponent to choose the pile of three for me, which is exactly what I want. Unfortunately, there is the little issue of a three-toughness creature sitting on the stack.
"Because he doesn't know that I hold multiple answers to Sidisi already, my opponent is quite likely to overvalue that Lightning Strike. This means that it belongs with the Dig Through Time, which is by far the strongest card in the pile. The fact that I only have two untapped lands further devalues the Dissolve, making him even more likely to hand it to me.
"Whatever pile I wind up with here, I'm happy with it. I was winning this game before I cast Steam Augury, I'm definitely winning it when the spell resolves."
Brian Weissman's Steam Augury Split #2: Island, Evolving Wilds, Dissolve against Lightning Strike, Dig Through Time
One of the things that I really like about working on this column is when I get to learn things, too.
I guess I kind of had the blinders on here; I saw the prospect of more card advantage without considering that I might lose a Counterspell war.
Like Brian said, this is the spot we're in, so we might as well split a Steam Augury.
For my part, I'm resolving a Steam Augury and I have another Dig Through Time and a Master the Way in hand. While I agree that Dig Through Time is, in the abstract, the strongest card in the Steam Augury split, I don't particularly need it.
The card I really want is Dissolve. Like Brian said, I'm already winning, but if I get that Dissolve I would feel invincible. How do I get the Dissolve?
Let's assume the opponent is a rational actor and knows that Dig Through Time is in the abstract stronger than Lightning Strike or Dissolve; or certainly Evolving Wilds.
Let's further assume the opponent knows how his own cards work, and that Lightning Strike is the bane of Sidisi, Brood Tyrant's existence. If you Lightning Strike Sidisi with its ability on the stack, the opponent will not net a 2/2 Zombie creature. Presumably he doesn't want to give us Lightning Strike.
I made the same split as Brian.
I'd be just fine getting the Lightning Strike + Dig Through Time pile, but like I said I really just want the Dissolve.
Which I got.
Mike's Steam Augury Split #2: Island, Evolving Wilds, Dissolve against Lightning Strike, Dig Through TimeFor agreeing with my Steam Augury splits, Daniel O'Grady gets a $25 TCGPlayer.com gift certificate. Happy Holidays Daniel O'Grady!
I'm actually curious if anyone made Brian's first Steam Augury split. It was certainly non-intuitive from my perspective, and in particular because I don't know a soul who loves drawing cards more than he does!
As one of the few / only people to split a Steam Augury like the guy who invented card advantage, Erik Luchsinger wins a hard-earned $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate.
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
Just a self-serving plug before I sign off this week... Patrick Chapin (as in Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx Champion / two-time World Championship Finalist Patrick Chapin) and I are bootstrapping a Magic strategy podcast. I'd love it if you check us out at www.toplevelpodcast.com ... Tell me what you think!
That's, um, until Monday I guess.
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 UW 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.