Hi there and welcome to another Flores Rewards Friday!
Recently, Reid Duke put up a great second-place finish with the resurgent Monoblue Devotion deck:
Inspired by the best hair (and currently the top seeded professional) in the game bringing back the one-time boogeyman, we posited a question on Make the Play Monday featuring these blue pips and basic Islands.
Cyclonic Rift Master of Waves Master of Waves Tidebinder Mage Tidebinder Mage Island Island
We open on: Island.
Obviously there is no follow-up as we have no one mana spell.
The opponent goes to 18 by playing an Overgrown Tomb up, then drops to 16 by casting Thoughtseize.
He tanks for a noticeable period of time before taking... Master of Waves!
Let's assume the opponent is rational. He has not spent four life on turn one for a one-for-one.
We rip: Cloudfin Raptor
Which leaves us:
Cloudfin Raptor Cyclonic RiftMaster of Waves Tidebinder Mage Tidebinder Mage Island
So it's turn two.
How do we play it?
Reid Duke: What do you think?
"First off, I'd keep the hand.
"Step one with a question like this is to look at my own cards. If I never got to draw a card for the rest of the game, I'd want to play Cloudfin Raptor first to ensure two evolve triggers. On the other hand, if I cast Tidebinder Mage and then draw a third Island, I can cast both Raptor and my second Tidebinder on turn 3 and have all of my creatures in play ahead of schedule. Also, if at any point I cast Master of Waves, Raptor automatically becomes a 2/3 anyway. Against a goldfish, casting Tidebinder unloads damage faster in all but the most extreme sets of circumstances.
"Step two is to consider what my opponent might do. The fact that he Thoughtseized one of my two Master of Waves from a land-light hand suggests that he has one or zero ways to deal with Master (either Thoughtseize or removal). I'd predict that his hand features some combination of Abrupt Decay, Devour Flesh, and creatures. A point in favor of casting Raptor first is that you're nearly guaranteed to have a 2/3 flying blocker against a potential Nightveil Specter. A strike against playing Raptor is that if your opponent is going to Abrupt Decay it anyway, then why bother playing off-curve?
"All things considered, I'd just go ahead with the plan of casting Tidebinder Mage. The number one factor is using my mana most efficiently. In a perfect world, I'll draw an Island on turn three and be able to play both Raptor and Tidebinder. If I draw another one-drop creature, I'm also happy to play two one-drops on turn three. The other thought at the back of my mind is that the black deck is adept at disrupting any kind of Long-Term Plans that I might make. My opponent is overwhelmingly likely to kill my Raptor, play a flying blocker, or Thoughtseize away my creatures. With so much long-term uncertainty, I like to err on the side of simply making the best play for the given turn."
Reid Duke's play: Tidebinder Mage
For my part, when I approached this situation, I tried to plot out the tight v. romantic plays I could make, and think about the predicted outcomes of any plays I made.
Play Tidebinder Mage. In this world we maximize our mana taps. We have already missed a mana tap by playing no card on turn one; so if we play Cloudfin Raptor here, we are just going to be down two mana going into turn three, which could make an already weak situation worse.
(By the way, in most situations where you are better than your opponent, and / or you have access to better resources than your opponent tight play leads to predictably better overall results.)
Let's for a moment shift to the world of rainbow unicorns and talking flower pots, shall we? What can we imagine out of this scenario?
The opponent, who is showing us black and green, elected to take our Master of Waves from a hand that can't cast it, and is not mathematically favored to be able to cast it on-curve. That should tell us something about his situation.
One way of thinking about this is that he has cards like Abrupt Decay and Devour Flesh, which are ineffective against four mana creatures that produce extra token creatures (i.e. Reid Duke's thinking in his Make the Play). Another is that the opponent is not the obvious Monoblack Devotion variant, and that our cards might have some text.
What if he is Jund Monsters? What if he is in fact Jund Monsters that plays Polis Crusher? Maybe he doesn't actually want a Protection from Red creature on the battlefield. For my part I decided to entertain this line.
What if he plays creatures like Lotleth Troll? The last thing we want to do is take an actually-has-text Tidebinder Mage, play that onto a conjectural Friendship is Magic romantic battlefield... Only to be met by a Lotleth Troll. For one thing that Tidebinder Mage could have locked down the Lotleth Troll but instead they are both on the battlefield waving at each other, 2/2 against 2/1... And on the other hand, Lotleth Troll beats the bejeezus out of our poor Tidebinder Mage (who in this scenario is a net-plus pip producing Grizzy Bears instead of an awesome tempo card).
But doesn't our second Tidebinder Mage lock down the Lotleth Troll in this scenario?
Well yes... Only the opponent knows about the second Tidebinder Mage so presumably he can just kill it and return us to the original "our 2/2 against his 2/1" scenario where his 2/1 is so much more than a 2/1. All of a sudden his one removal card has de facto dealt with both of our Tidebinder Mages due to the superiority of his Lotleth Troll.
All of this looks more and more and more atrocious when we consider 1) we've probably hit him for about two to four damage at the point that he stabilizes with his Lotleth Troll, 2) given our current mana situation we still haven't played Cloudfin Raptor, and 3) our Cloudfin Raptor is going to come down as a 0/1 and we will have already used its first two Evolve big brothers on a series of well-meaning but misguided plays that have bought us very little position on the battlefield.
Really makes you want to think about maximizing that Cloudfin Raptor, doesn't it?
So what do I mean by "tight" versus "romantic" play?
In this context I am not even invoking the Finkel adage of their being only one best play [with every other play being "wrong" by comparison]. I am just thinking about the potential outcomes of two different plays and the motivations behind making each.
Tight Play - This comes to us from poker. Tight players in poker tend to fold weak / marginal hands, play fewer hands overall, and tend not to chase speculative pots. They tend to be more conservative with their resources at table. Like "bluffing" tight play doesn't translate to Magic perfectly because there is no folding in Magic; but tight play in our game tends to go along the same lines: conserving resources, focusing on predictable -- if less flashy -- results.
Romantic Play - You ever hear someone wince over your shoulder when you make a greedy play in a side draft? You know, SOOOOO GREEDY? Our notion of romantic play in the present context is largely in the same camp as such "greedy" play. Instead of we are mostly talking about trying to get the biggest possible pile of stuff out of our situation.
Imagine a situation against a Caw-Blade player where the opponent plays a Squadron Hawk and we have a free mana; we can just throw a Burst Lightning at the Squadron Hawk at the end of the opponent's turn and go about our business. The opponent is tapped out on turn two so we know exactly what we are going to get -- a one-for-one even if we are down relative to the Squadron Hawk's extra card drawing.
Or, we can greedily travel to Friendship is Magic land and try to play a romantic line. If we instead let the opponent tutor up or play Sword of Feast and Famine, and commit to tapping to equip the Squadron Hawk, we can steal some extra mana as well and Undo the opponent's big attack in exchange for taking one or two points in minor attacks (with that same Burst Lightning). The payoff is bigger in this scenario, but there are additional variables. What if the opponent just keeps playing Squadron Hawks and never gives us a big open to steal mana with a Sword of Feast and Famine (over) commitment? We never get the big payoff; instead just take some damage we didn't have to while wasting mana we could have tapped. The opponent has to cooperate with us (even if cooperating with us is just making his predictably big plays) in order to get the maximum payoff.
In the moment, the tight play is not always the play that maximizes our chances of winning a game. If you are behind, tight play can just ensure that we continue to stay behind; maybe it is only by sticking our neck out that we can get the open to turn a game around.
So back to Tidebinder Mage versus Cloudfin Raptor...
It came down to that last point for me.
Let's say he plays as vanilla as I can imagine (i.e. he plays turn two Pack Rat) or just has a bunch of removal cards into Gray Merchant of Asphodel...I just don't see myself winning with Tidebinder Mage here. If he is playing the vanilla line, I want to turn Cloudfin Raptor into a threat, maybe get some evasion damage out of it. Sorry Grizzly Bears.
And as you know from my romantic side, I think we can maximize our returns by playing Cloudfin Raptor here; this is especially true if the opponent isn't a vanilla Black Devotion deck. He's already shown us green mana...maybe some of it is attached to creatures that can be locked down by Tidebinder Mage.
I'm not saying I'm happy about it! But?
Mike's Play: Cloudfin RaptorGiven how close this situation can be seen, I was not super happy to be on the wrong side of Reid Duke, BTW :(
On the bright side: Prizes!
For agreeing with the world's number one player, Jacob Bauer wins a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate. Congratulations, Jacob Bauer!
For agreeing with yours truly, Benjamin Adam Eldridge wins a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate; congratulations and condolences, Benjamin Adam Eldridge. :/
Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
Reid Duke is the number one ranked professional Magic player in the world. Reid is a Magic Online Champion, Grand Prix Champion, Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, member of The Team Pantheon juggernaut, and one-third of the Peach Garden Oath along with former Flores Rewards Friday participants William "Baby Huey" Jensen and Owen Turtenwald. Follow Reid on Twitter at @ReidDuke