This week's Make the Play Monday concerned itself with hawt gnu tek Monoblack Aggro: a solid if under-sung archetype that recently scored a Blue Envelope for Gabe Carleton-Barnes.
Our hypothetical went a little something like this:
You are playing Monoblack Aggro against an unknown opponent in game one. You keep this hand on the draw:
Lifebane Zombie Herald of Torment Thrill-Kill Assassin Ultimate Price Swamp Swamp Mutavault
Your opponent plays Mutavault and passes.
You draw – Ultimate Price.
So your hand is now:Lifebane Zombie Herald of Torment Thrill-Kill Assassin Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Swamp Swamp Mutavault
You play Mutavault right back as you have zero cards that cost BB on turn two and you can play any necessary BB1 cards on turn three with your land you already have.
Your opponent draws for his turn, plays a Swamp, and lays down a Pack Rat.
You draw -- your one Pack Rat.
Your hand is now:
Lifebane Zombie Herald of Torment Thrill-Kill Assassin Ultimate Price Ultimate Price Pack Rat Swamp Swamp
Play your second turn.
Our Celebrity Guest this week is none other than Gabe Carleton-Barnes himself! How would the Monoblack Aggro PTQ winner approach this second turn?
"This is a tough hand to keep: part of the strength of the deck is the collection of great turn one plays in a format where everyone's lands come in tapped. If I think my opponent is on a Revelation deck, I would mulligan: the Ultimate Price is dead, and Thrill-Kill is a slow first threat. The hand does have nice balance, though: perfect mana, our two best creatures (Lifebane Zombie and Herald of Torment), and we have action whether we draw spells or lands. Mike tells me my opponent likely isn't on control, so we'll keep.
"There are so many chances to get cute here. I've actually come to like it when an opponent plays a turn two Pack Rat against me, as I get to decide if I think I can win a Pack Rat game first: and often you can. You know what you're opponent is going to do for the next X turns, so formulate a winning plan against that sequence.
"The 'cute' play here is Thrill-Kill Assassin as a 1/2. The Pack Rat plan hates trading its Rats, and they also hate playing a removal spell instead of a rat. This sets them up to pass into your third turn without attacking, and you can play Lifebane Zombie. They again can't attack with their rats without trading, so they pass back, and you hope to draw another land so you can double-price them this turn, setting their Rat plan back and gaining the edge. But that's not actually going to work: You haven't been doing any damage, and your creatures aren't big enough to race a Rat plan, especially one with a Mutavault. Since you leave your opponent with a Rat here and under little pressure, they just get back on the Rat train!
"The second cute plan is to cast your own Rat, hoping to get ahead on the Rat race on turn five when you can cast Ultimate Price AND make a Rat. This plan is worse, as being behind a turn on Rats means you can't block, and there's no guarantee you'll draw the lands to execute this plan. Even if we do, our opponent could have a similar hand. Since they are probably traditional Monoblack Devotion, they are more likely to have the lands to execute it.
"So, we're back to the obvious play: kill the Rat. This leaves us heading into turn three with no pressure in a matchup where we are the beatdown... But it's better than losing. And let's not discount the possibility that our opponent kept a greedy Rat hand, and is relying on the Rat to tie it together. Next turn we'll look at their hand with a Lifebane Zombie and formulate the best plan of attack we can. I'm not thrilled with the situation, but it's the best plan we have here."
Gabe's play: Ultimate Price the Pack Rat.
There are some interesting points to think about here (which I tossed around with our Celebrity Guest, actually). The first one is if our opening hand is good at all. I thought it would be worth a short discussion, at least:
Lifebane ZombieHerald of TormentThrill-Kill AssassinUltimate PriceSwampSwampMutavault
The main thing "wrong" with this hand is that it doesn't have a one-drop of any kind. Monoblack Aggro has a nice eight-pack of Rakdos Cacklers and Tormented Heroes at the one, as well as Thoughtseize as a setup sorcery. This hand doesn't have any of those.
But realistically, against an unknown opponent, I can't imagine myself shipping this one to Paris. It has both spells and lands and -- with Mutavault -- utility lands. It has both removal and threats (including three creatures that are all potentially hard to block). And in the case of Lifebane Zombie, a card that can steal card advantage to help make up for going second with no one-drop.
The second question is about -- assuming we would keep the hand -- which land we'd drop. If you've read the first Make the Play Monday / Flores Rewards Friday you probably aren't surprised I would have dropped the Mutavault. For one thing, it gives away very little information relative to the Swamp... Though given our hand it is unlikely we would attack with it on the second turn.
That brings us to what we should actually do once faced with an opposing Pack Rat on that second turn, given...
Lifebane ZombieHerald of TormentThrill-Kill AssassinUltimate PriceUltimate PricePack RatSwampSwamp
It probably goes without saying that I would play a Swamp; which leaves us essentially the decision of nothing, removal, or guy (and then which guy) (and in fact which mode!), or...
1. Do nothing2. Thrill-Kill Assassin 3. Thrill-Kill Assassin unleashed4. Pack Rat 5. Ultimate Price
This is actually the range of what I would consider doing on the second turn, in order.
Doing nothing seems kind of despicable. Are we trying to be super cute, and popping Ultimate Price on the opponent's turn? Block with our Mutavault? Incidentally, how awful is blocking with Mutavault? Doesn't he just drop another Pack Rat to put his first one at 2/2, trade with our land, and leave us with the same question (but down a land drop) the next turn? Ew. Gross.
How about Thrill-Kill Assassin as a 1/2?
If the opponent runs his [currently] 1/1 Pack Rat into a potentially 1/2 not-unleashed Thrill-Kill Assassin, that is card advantage for us. We would lose nothing and he would lose the Pack Rat. Blocking would look great!
But there is a reason no one ever blocks.
More than one reason, actually.
No competent opponent would ever actually run a 1/1 Pack Rat into a 1/2 Thrill-Kill Assassin. More likely he would play a third land and tempt us with a swing. If we blocked he would discard a card to make his Pack Rat 2/2 and send us into the same turn as previous. With him in control of a Pack Rat and us with nothing. While we might have just answered his Pack Rat; there would now be the matter of his Pack Rat Token.
...which presumes the opponent would, with us tapped out, give us the opportunity of trading our Thrill-Kill Assassin in this way. He would basically be in charge of everything. He might just play a land, somehow kill our Thrill-Kill Assassin, swing, and activate Mutavault mid-combat for that little extra oomph.
Separately, unleashing a Thrill-Kill Assassin would obviate the ability to block, but at least set us up for a planned lifetime of kicking butt. There are a fair number of things that make this a dicey decision, tapping out into an opposing Pack Rat. But it is better than the theoretically defensive dream of the previous option.
Our own Pack Rat is in some ways worse than a Thrill-Kill Assassin; we're basically always going to be behind his Pack Rat); but at least he can't Bile Blight.
Overall, I don't like any of the potential drop plays that put us into a spot that is just worse than the Pack Rat he already has while ceding the initiative to him. He has the option to use removal, and in many cases, once he untaps he can make a second Rat to increase the size of the one already out there, allowing him to dictate the terms of a fight.
Mike's Play: Ultimate Price the Pack Rat
I hate this play because we have no pressure; but I feel like playing a creature here is asking to lose.
Gabe and I agree on the line here. We must kill the Pack Rat the opponent just played. It does in fact seem super stinky...but it is the best play available to us after having no one drop on the draw.
● For agreeing with me, William Doernberger earns a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate.● For agreeing with Gabe, Ben Nassau earns a $25 TCGplayer gift certificate.
Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!
Congratulations to William Doernberger and Ben Nassau for their wins here, and big congrats to Gabe for his Blue Envelope. Thanks to Gabe for sharing his wisdom around this new deck, and thanks to all of you for supporting this column.
Gabe Carleton-Barnes is a Pro Tour regular and a grinding terror of the Northwest United States. He has won countless PTQs including just two weeks ago with this week's featured deck. You can follow Gabe at @uncle_gcb on Twitter and read the best tournament report since Paul Rietzl's Amsterdam at "Grinding is a Young Man's Game." He is also the co-host of "Card Talk: The World's Greatest Magic: The Gathering Podcast."