Today's solutions pertain to this week's episode of Make the Play Monday - The Gray.
You can find the details here.
Our weapon of choice:
Newbie play to relatively capable / good play is largely about learning basic rules and shortcuts. It's generally better to play to get an extra card in your exchange; it's generally better to tap most of your mana most turns than leave some untapped; against Red Decks with direct damage it is generally more important to preserve your life total than to emphasize other resources that you might otherwise (life total, mana, etc.).
Good-to-great play on the other hand is about either un-learning these basic rules and shortcuts...or at least knowing when to break the rules.
This week's Scenario One is a good example of when to not follow through on what is usually a general rule:
This scenario draws on two general rules:
1. When you don't have a one-drop to play but you do have a land that enters the battlefield tapped, you should play the land that enters the battlefield tapped.
2. When you have two or more lands that enter the battlefield tapped, you should save your scry Temple for last.
This is a scenario that should follow (1) but not (2).
The reason why is pretty simple.
"General" rules are general only insofar as there are not intervening elements that change the usual and customary way of doing things this is a case where we have a card that changes things:
If we follow general rule (2) we will gain one life and go to 21 with the expectation of playing our Ajani's Pridemate on turn two. Then presumably playing our Temple of Silence and filling our next turn or two with gas.
The problem here is that Ajani's Pridemate has an on-its-face positive interaction with Scoured Barrens. If we start on Temple of Silence, play the Ajani's Pridemate, and then play Scoured Barrens and Underworld Coinsmith on the third turn, we will have a 4/4 creature!
(Unless the opponent Bile Blights or something.)
Mike's Play: Turn one Temple of SilenceI've asked Pro Tour Hawaii Top 8 competitor and former member of Research and Development Zac Hill to play Celebrity Guest this week. As you probably know Zac brings an amazing number of angles to his duties as Celebrity Guest, having not only achieved at Magic's highest levels but also made many of the cards we are actually talking about.
"I'd definitely rock the Temple of Silence here. You want to maximize your mana and you want to leave the life gain land in hand so you can set up turn two Ajani's Pridemate, turn three Underworld Coinsmith + Scoured Barrens if that winds up being your best line.
"Obviously it's hard to optimize the scry without seeing the cards, but I'm looking for spells and specifically things like Mastery of the Unseen or Sorin, Solemn Visitor that will allow me to develop the battlefield without overextending into removal."
Zac Hill's Play: Turn one Temple of SilenceSCENARIO TWO
"I just can't imagine losing by playing the Drain game.
"I'd therefore be tempted to just say 'go.' You can win the game with repeated Underworld Coinsmith activations super soon. They're going to attack and gain some life but Herald of Torment is damaging them, and if they attack you with Sidisi, Undead Vizier you get to crack back for WAY more.
"If they just attack with just the Bloodsoaked Champion, you eat it and you're still winning the race. Like I said I just can't imagine losing if we say "go" with the intention of Coinsmith'ing them three times, forcing them to do something proactive (which they don't have right now).
"The problem is, there is a play that is wildly, wildly better.
"It seems like you just win on the spot by attacking with the team, letting your opponent block, and then just Downfalling the Sidisi before damage so your opponent doesn't gain the life from Whip of Erebos."
Zac's Play: Attack with the team, let the opponent block, Hero's Downfall Sidisi, Undead Vizier before damage.
This is a cool scenario to my mind for a couple of reasons.
It's tricky-cool in the sense that we have at least three lines that are very likely to win (but only one is best).
It's also tricky-cool in the sense that to make the optimal play you actually have to know the rules (and be able to predict the opponent's behavior) in a somewhat next-level manner. But, again, there are several different ways that you can play this sequence that all win at a very high likelihood. Even Zac's tongue-in-cheek "make him do something" which lets the opponent off the hook for the turn, is highly likely to win, even if it is not the best option.
You can attack with everyone, meaning Underworld Coinsmith for two, Ajani's Pridemate for seven, Athreos, God of Passage for five, and Seeker of the Way for two and he has to block as 2+7+5+2 is 16, or way the heck more than he currently has.
If the opponent chooses to block the Ajani's Pridemate (which saves the most damage) that still gets in for 2+5+2, or 9, which is three more than he has. However seven lifelink from Sidisi, Undead Vizier would put him at four; this is theoretically fine as you can activate your Coinsmith three times and let him die to the Herald of Torment on his upkeep. Letting this happen is suboptimal for a couple of reasons (you lose your Ajani's Pridemate to Deathtouch, you let him untap, you actually have to make multiple successive actions correctly)...but it certainly wins. This line is somewhat contingent on the opponent making a particular block, but has the upside of keeping your Hero's Downfall.
The same attack can give us a similar result if the opponent blocks Athreos, God of Passage instead. From the opponent's perspective he would get to keep his Sidisi, Undead Vizier (but it is not at all clear this is better as Athreos would live, and there is quite a bit of value to getting Sidisi into the graveyard due to Whip of Erebos -- see below). Again, this is contingent on opposing player behavior but leave the opponent (still) in Underworld Coinsmith range.
In the context of learning to play optimally over time, and building the best habits, the best mental muscle-building exercise in my opinion has to be 1) attacking with everything, and 2) using Hero's Downfall post-blockers to prevent life gain at all while getting in for a ton.
We get some bonuses here. One of them is two positive triggers on Seeker of the Way. Another is we never have to worry about losing a creature to Deathtouch. Weird stuff happens. We can mis-click or brain fart at a future juncture. We all do that kind of stuff. But the most good stuff occurs on this line, while expending the minimum mental energy (one action as opposed to two to four successive actions).
For that reason I think it's best but there are certainly three different routes I can see that should all win, and even more that will probably win.
My play does have the down side of actually using / revealing the Hero's Downfall, but as the game is about to conclude either way, I don't see a lot of problems with this. We have to assume the opponent assumes we play Hero's Downfall.
Mike's Play: Attack with the team, let the opponent block, Hero's Downfall Sidisi, Undead Vizier before damage.While there are many lines that can win, I am less sunny on any line that lets the opponent untap; in particular if that somehow involves Sidisi, Undead Vizier going to the graveyard.
Purely as a mental exercise note that the opponent has seven swamps and five black mana symbols in play outside of Sidisi, Undead Vizier (BB from Whip of Erebos, BB from Herald of Torment, and B from Bloodsoaked Champion). If we let Sidisi, Undead Vizier go to the graveyard what happens if the opponent rips Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx?
He can tap BB from Swamps to activate Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for BBBBB and have BBBBB left (10 total). That is more than enough to Whip back Sidisi, Undead Vizier; Exploit somebody (probably not Sidisi itself considering the Whip in play) and get Crux of Fate.
Now this involves the opponent having Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in his deck but that doesn't seem like a stretch at all given he is playing a Monoblack Devotion deck. Crux of Fate is "only" a Sunder here instead of a Damnation thanks to our Athreos, God of Passage but it puts the opponent in a hell of a lot better position than he is now.
Like I said -- There are at tons of lines likely to win this game. In terms of habit formation, I recommend you make choices that take away the opponent's choices (and hopefully next turn).SCENARIO THREE
"I'd play Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and jam Lightform.
"The opponent is pretty straightforwardly telegraphing Abzan Charm, so I don't want to allow it to give him tempo parity if I cast Brimaz, King of Oreskos. I want to advance the board, though, so I don't want to play a tap-land, and if opponent Abzan Charms to draw cards that clears the way for Brimaz on the next turn. If the answer they have is Hero's Downfall, it's going to kill whatever I cast anyway and I'd rather that thing kill a Lightform than a Brimaz."
Zac Hill's Play: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth → Lightform<
From my perspective, the opponent's hand is screaming Abzan Charm.
If we play Brimaz, King of Oreskos here he is definitely pointing that Abzan Charm at it.
I'm not super enthusiastic about doing nothing (i.e. playing a land that enters the battlefield tapped) because if we go in that direction he is going to Abzan Charm and draw two cards. I'm fine with him drawing two cards if we keep a 2/2 flying creature with lifelink; and I'm even happier if he has to use his three mana on, say, a Hero's Downfall.
Lightform is actually deceptively good if it sticks around; it blunts his best card (Siege Rhino) and keeps pace with Siege Rhino offensively based on a combination of evasion and lifelink.
Lightform also conveniently doesn't get hit by Abzan Charm; the opponent couldn't trade with it even if he wanted to.
Mike's Play: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth → LightformAnd our weekly winners...
For finding the same solutions as Yours Truly, Shawn Evans takes home a $25 gift certificate from our lords / masters / benefactors here at TCGplayer.com
And for agreeing with Celebrity Guest Zac Hill, Mike Kingsley takes home a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate as well.
Congrats Shawn and Mike! Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prize!
Directly before joining the Magic: The Gathering Development team at Wizards of the Coast, Zac Hill achieved every player's dream, adding a Pro Tour Top 8 to his standout Grand Prix Top 8 resume. Today, Zac is the COO of The Future Project in NYC and a writer for The Huffington Post. Follow Zac on Twitter at @zdch