I learned one of the most valuable -- and profitable -- lessons a Magic player can pick up on the way to (quite fortunately) the first time I ever made money on the Pro Tour.

It was a team Pro Tour in New York City and we were playing for Day Two. John Shuler and I had split; we were relying on Brian Kowal to lock up his match to get us into that coveted second day.

Kowal had his UW opponent on the ropes, down below three life.

But the opponent -- as UW opponents will do, even in Team Limited -- began to crawl back. While Kowal had beaten him up for several turns, the pendulum of the game started to swing in the wrong direction.

But! Thank the gods!

Kowal ripped a Magma Burst!

I could barely contain my enthusiasm. We were going to make Day Two!

He didn't cast it.

And he didn't cast it.

And he didn't cast it again.

Turn after turn Kowal neglected not to cast the Magma Burst; and turn after turn the board started to get worse and worse for Righteous Babe. Kowal did nothing. He did nothing after Nothing after NOTHING. Kowal did nothing until he had something like seven lands in play.

He tried to play...I dunno...some kind of Kavu probably.


"In response, Magma Burst you."

Kowal had correctly read the opponent for Absorb. He not only didn't throw the Magma Burst we needed to win, for him to win, and for all of us to make Day Two, into the Absorb. He waited to cast anything until he could play two cards -- killing the opponent with the Magma Burst -- in response to the hated Absorb.

Kowal won a game I certainly would not have at the time. And at this point in my life I had qualified for at least half a dozen Pro Tours and National Championships, and even missed a Top 8 on breakers.

I'd like to think I've played a little bit better than I would have (that day) since.

Before we get into the solution of this week's hypothetical, I'd like to just touch on something that a lot of you probably talk about (or hear about) but might not have a solid grasp of...

Leveled Thinking.

We don't often talk about Magic decisions this way, but to say that different techniques are effective against different players depending on how good they are probably isn't a controversial statement. Consider David Sklansky's concept of Leveled Thinkng from No Limit Hold 'em: Theory and Practice:

Level 0: What do I have?
Level 1: What could my opponent have?
Level 2: What does my opponent think I have?
Level 3: What does my opponent think I think he has?
Level 4: What does my opponent think that I think that he thinks that I have?

"Level 0" play is essentially goldfishing. Players who play at this level rarely play around anything (and in my experience at least) are the ones most frequently salty when their opponents have something that could stop their plans. If you didn't think there was a difference between Misty Rainforest and Wooded Foothills in this week's hypothetical you might be operating at Level 0.

Most players who aspire to competitive play operate at Level 1 only, including most PTQ winners. Sad to say, when I was jumping out of my shoes over that Magma Burst, I myself wasn't even at Level 1. Remember -- I was busy winning money on the Pro Tour at that moment.

Getting the maximum wins out of Leveled Thinking, by the way, isn't about playing at the highest possible level (according to Sklansky there are actually infinite levels), but rather about correctly identifying what level your opponent is on, and adjusting your play for that.

I'd like you to keep the concept of Leveled Thinking in mind as we examine the solutions to Teams Teams Teams.

We left Make the Play Monday - Teams Teams Teams at an uncharacteristically straightforward first turn.

Playing a more-or-less stock RUG Delver of...


We asked how you would play a first turn hand of...

Misty Rainforest
Wooded Foothills

With Tarmogoyf [#2] as your eighth card, facing a first-turn Misty Rainforest.

Now we said that this is a "more-or-less" stock RUG Delver, but careful students of the Legacy game will know that there is one thing that is a little bit different (if, for practical purposes, identical) to most RUG Delver lists...and that is the presence of Wooded Foothills in the mana mix.

Some of Chris Pikula's RUG Delver decks play four Flooded Strand and four Polluted Delta; sometimes you will see somewhat trickier setups of 2/2/2/2 in the "find an Island" fetch land category. But the most common RUG Delver setups tend to be dominated by Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest.

Longtime readers of mine know that I don't think "why" is a very useful question in general. People ask "why" when they actually want to know something else (and probably something much more satisfying). In this case it doesn't actually matter why Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn are more commonly played that Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand, for instance.

I would guess that one reason is that Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn are from Zendikar (and therefore more economically accessible than their Onslaught Block cousins). This might be the real answer but it is neither very satisfying nor particularly strategic. Worse is if you ask at least some players why they run these particular fetches they will tell you that Scalding Tarn gets Mountains or Islands, therefore gets either the Island side of Tropical Island or the Mountain side of Volcanic Island; and that Misty Rainforest gets Forests and Islands and therefore gets the Forest side of Tropical Island and the Island side of Volcanic Island...

...but that's just silly! There is an unmistakable aesthetic to the choices but there is literally no strategic advantage to running them. Because Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand can each get the Island half of either Tropical Island or Volcanic Island there is no game-play reason why Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest are better.

Does it matter "why" then?

No -- there is no good (that is, strategic) reason. Rather, it matters that people play some lands more commonly than others (which can give us potentially exploitable information around reads).

Do you know which fetch land is actually interesting to talk about?

Wooded Foothills.

It was Grand Prix Champion Owen Turtenwald that first introduced to me the idea that Wooded Foothills gives RUG Delver players a possible route to additional expectation. Wooded Foothills actually does something a little bit different than all those Island-finders.

Wooded Foothills actually grabs the Forest side of Tropical Island and actually accesses the Mountain side of Volcanic Island in a more meaningful (or at least different) way than any of those Island-finders.

But most importantly -- and for our purposes -- Wooded Foothills is a weak signal to Stifle.

Think about it for a moment.

All these RUG Delver lists play predominantly Scalding Tarns and Misty Rainforests; some play Flooded Strands or Polluted Deltas. But what read does Wooded Foothills give you exactly? [More on that later.]

I bought into Owen's logic whole-hog and, generally speaking, am a huge fan of Wooded Foothills in RUG Delver.

Per usual, I write both the hypotheticals and the solutions prior to reading any of the user comments, but I am guessing that at least some respondents said there is little or no difference between Misty Rainforest and Wooded Foothills; I think that might be true functionally... But it would be foolish to say that we can't influence the behavior of at least some opponents by which land we play. Likely, there will be some extra games we win over the course of a day -- and surely over the course of a lifetime -- because we play Wooded Foothills, but few (if any) games we lose [that we otherwise wouldn't].

Put differently, playing Wooded Foothills doesn't change what we can do, but might change what our opponent does.

Here Wooded Foothills is a weak signal to Stifle. And we even have a Wasteland for follow-up!

Mike's play: Lay Wooded Foothills and pass.

The goal here is to respond to the opponent breaking his Misty Rainforest by finding Tropical Island and preventing his successful Misty Rainforest break with Stifle. The opponent doesn't have to give us the opportunity, but I would play to take advantage of that possibility that he does.

What I would do next / next turn is not clear at this point; but given the bounds of this hypothetical first turn, Wooded Foothills is my land drop.

Celebrity Guest Owen Turtenwald concurs (though it would be more accurate to say I concur with him):

"Personally here I would lead with turn one Wooded Foothills, pass. I believe that since your opponent led with a fetch land and passed that there's a very real possibility that I can use Stifle on it effectively destroying his only land, making Daze better. I also have the option of Brainstorming it away later if somehow this plan doesn't work. I would play Wooded Foothills over Misty Rainforest here for deception; not many opponents would expect the opponent to be playing blue cards after this opening."

Owen's play: Lay Wooded Foothills and pass.

Dissenting View:

I was actually hanging out with Tom Martell during one of his semi-regular revisits to New York City when Owen's email came in, and though Tom initially agreed with our collective analysis, he made an interesting observation.

Yes, Wooded Foothills is a weak signal to Stifle...but maybe there is a reason for that.

Or, as Tom put it, "What deck exactly do you think they put you on if you play a Wooded Foothills?"

I can't speak for Owen but I think in my imagination, I am thinking of some kind of Zoo (that probably doesn't exist in the metagame), a Jund deck (that does), or maybe RDW (that kind of does). Few players outside Patrick Sullivan have done a lot of damage with Legacy RDW, but Jund is a reasonable argument even if Zoo might not be.

Tom actually argued that while Wooded Foothills doesn't scream " Stifle!" neither does Misty Rainforest.

Imagine you are playing Legacy and your opponent runs a first-turn Misty Rainforest. What deck do you put him on?

First turn Misty Rainforest can be anything from a tempo deck like RUG Delver to a Counter-StOmPy deck like Merfolk, a burn deck like UR Delver, a one-two combo deck like Sneak and Show, to a Storm combo deck like High Tide.

It's an interesting conundrum.

Personally I am hesitant to break an early fetch land into a Misty Rainforest because I always get that whiff of a Stifle. But it is also a potential signal to lots of decks in Legacy.

So while Tom snap-agreed with me and Owen he actually argued that maybe there might actually be a good reason not to play it.

Wooded Foothills might be a weak signal to Stifle, but Misty Rainforest is also a fairly confusing first-turn play; had there not been a Stifle in this opening hand we might all have voted for something else. This doesn't change my answer to this week's hypothetical or Owen's... But it might say something about the non-presence of Wooded Foothills in competent RUG Delver mages' lists.

All that said, if the opponent is playing at Level 0 there is literally no difference between Wooded Foothills and Misty Rainforest because he will act indiscriminately -- i.e. walking into your Stifle -- regardless of which land you play.

For one play to be more effective than another, the opponent actually has to be good enough to pick up on your signal, but maybe not too good.

Level 0: What do I have?
Level 1: What could my opponent have?
Level 2: What does my opponent think I have?
Level 3: What does my opponent think I think he has?
Level 4: What does my opponent think that I think that he thinks that I have?

At Level 0 there is no difference, but if he is playing Level 1, the answer probably isn't "I bet he has Stifle." However if he is Level 3 to our Level 2 -- in answer to Tom's observation -- we might see some unwanted caution.

This week's winners:

● $25 to David Gracia for agreeing with Mike.
● $25 to Mike Wickenden for agreeing with Owen.

Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!


If there is a player who knows how to break (or not break!) a first-turn fetch land in Legacy, Owen Turtenwald is probably that player. Owen paces the Magic universe with three Legacy Grand Prix Top 8s, including a win last November [he then ran it back for a Standard GP win one week later]. One-third of the legendary Peach Garden Oath, Owen is among the most decorated players in the world. He most recently added the first ever Super Sunday Series Championship to a resume including a PT Top 8 and Player of the Year title. [Note: Apparently since writing this but prior to it being published Owen and the Peach Garden Oath cracked Top 4 at Grand Prix Barcelona. LOL.] You can follow Owen on Twitter at @owentweetenwald