Ho hum.

Typical typicals.

It is the finals of a Cube draft; Legacy Cube draft to be exact. (I told you it was typical typicals).

Our hero is battling from a mulligan into a mediocre opening.

Meanwhile the damnable opponent has had everything! Preordain and Ponder to start; Fire // Ice for our hero's two-drop; and even a Dismiss for Chandra, Pyromaster. Dismiss!

Perhaps worst of all, The Enemy has been working a Vedalken Shackles for some turns. This has caused quite a bit of chaos with our hero's small creatures and when Cunning Sparkmage got taken, that was really a disaster for little guys like Mogg Fanatic.

If there is one saving grace, it is that the opponent's multicolored deck doesn't have very many actual Islands on the battlefield, so the top end of Vedalken Shackles targets does seem to be little guys. Or at least little-up-front guys (our hero has held back Prophetic Flamespeaker for just this reason).

But finally the good guys have caught a break!

Stormbreath Dragon is tapped and in The Red Zone, and when the dust settles from combat, the opponent is down to four life.

Goblin Guide helped knock him to that four, and has revealed...

Ponder
Taiga
Polluted Delta
Fact or Fiction
Bloodbraid Elf

As the turn turns, the thinking man's suspicions come to Fruition, and the opponent fires off that previously revealed Fact or Fiction:

It isn't the dreaded "five spell FoF"...but it's still pretty awful.

Island
Bloodbraid Elf (previously revealed)
Devil's Play
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Farseek

...

Think about how you'd split here.

The opponent has this mana at his disposal:

Volcanic Island
Dragonskull Summit
Temple of Mystery
Island
Forest
Swamp
Everflowing Chalice
(so seven total)

He has three other cards in hand, but our hero's Stormbreath Dragon resolved -- and hit -- so we can kind of assume the opponent is kold in terms of other cards in hand.

And of the cards he revealed, only one of them explicitly helps deal with Stormbreath Dragon: Devil's Play.

Bloodbraid Elf might be helpful; but only Devil's Play is definitely an answer right now.

Yes -- there is a little something on Devil's Play that makes this more dangerous than some other splits, but nevertheless, the cards went in these piles:

Devil's Play

v.

Island
Bloodbraid Elf
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Farseek

How would you have split this one?

Think about what you'd want him to do; and what pile you'd want him to pick.

Here's what I was thinking: If he takes the Devil's Play, I'm going to make him pay. I'm going to make him pay with the other four cards that he now doesn't get. Even just taking Devil's Play here is a pseudo two-for-one (thanks to Flashback) but if we're going to keep him off the one card that can pull him out of the present situation, we want to make it easy for him to take the opposite pile. Really easy if we can.

He's got a Vedalken Shackles, meaning our Prophetic Flamespeaker is basically dead. We need to get two points in, but he only has four (and the Dragon can do all four itself).

His taking Devil's Play is actually not that bad for him... But at least we don't have to fight Teferi (which is going to 100% stop our Goblin Guide) or Bloodbraid Elf. That particular FoF is pretty filthy.

As it turns out, he took the four (which is what we actually wanted) but had yet another red dual land in hand.

The hated opponent gleefully paid RRR with X=4, sent the poor Stormbreath Dragon to the graveyard...and the Red Deck did not produce a topdeck burn spell to go with the existing Pillar of Flame.

Villains won. :(

Now regardless of the sorrowful outcome here, the split I actually chose is a great example of one of the classic Fact or Fiction split paradigms: When you have the advantage on the battlefield, you can give the opponent juicy piles (even 4v1) by isolating cards that can potentially deal with the advantage on board. Many opponents will find it hard to pass on a four-card pile with multiple spells, even though he needs what is in the smaller pile.

Less experienced players often try to make "fair" piles of 2v3 and end up giving their opponents the slightly better pile consistently.

Man, Fact or Fiction was super duper!

...but in 2014, unless you are playing Legacy Cube, the ability to split a Fact or Fiction isn't that useful for most competitive Magic players.

R&D gave us an update to Fact or Fiction last year -- Steam Augury -- but prior to Khans of Tarkir, Steam Augury didn't have too many fans. The problem is that Steam Augury is kinda sorta the anti-Fact or Fiction.

Because the opponent ultimately gets to pick piles, you have less room to maneuver with Steam Augury than with its spiritual predecessor. Even making "fair" piles has its limitations with Steam Augury. If you make a 2v3 where one of the piles is two lands and a Disdainful Stroke versus one land and a Dissolve, say. You're just going to end up with the crappier pile most of the time (and most of the time that will be the two-card pile).

It is similarly tough to use Steam Augury for bulk card advantage. With Fact or Fiction you could always guarantee three (or more) cards provided you didn't care what the cards actually were. Steam Augury...not so much. If you make "fair" piles, you're just going to end up with two every time.

BUT!

With the invigorated Delve mechanic in Khans of Tarkir, Steam Augury has found if not new life, a great role as setup spell. Imagine you "only" get the two-card pile on a Steam Augury. That means you put three cards in the graveyard in addition to the Steam Augury itself. That's four cards! Or, in the case of Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time, four free mana on a future Delve.

Though Steam Augury puts the opponent in the driver's seat, it is still possible to extract leverage from great Steam Augury timing and splitting. This week's Make the Play Monday will focus on this underappreciated instant.

For purposes of today's two scenarios, we will be playing this Izzet Control deck:

DECKID=1223506

I was inspired by multiple-time Celebrity Guest Tom Ross's Izzet Control deck, but made my own, focusing on tons of Steam Augury-into-Delve action and fast removal. Obviously there are some unusual choices here (especially in the mana base) but those mismatched fetch lands and solo Evolving Wilds are there in service to Delve while ensuring we can hit burn spells on turn two (if not turn one with Magma Spray).

The super cool thing about this deck is that you can use the "return three lands" function on Pearl Lake Ancient to make a really big Master the Way. Ka-blammo! The rest of the cards are highly playable -- and you can certainly win a lot of games fair and square -- but circa nine mana you often feel like you are going Upheaval / Psychatog, a kind of combo kill when you have multiple copies of Master the Way and a Pearl Lake Ancient already on the battlefield.


Scenario One

The opponent is playing a Sultai Reanimator variation.

We've done a pretty good job trading with him. He's got a Prognostic Sphinx (interesting / cool graveyard enabler if you think about it) and now he wants to add a Whip of Erebos to the battlefield:

We of course respond with Steam Augury:

Revealing...

Polluted Delta
Polluted Delta
Shivan Reef
Shivan Reef
Dissolve

Split this Steam Augury


Scenario Two:

Different match. Different Sultai Reanimator deck.

The opponent's once-stocked graveyard was chewed up by a previous Treasure Cruise attempt. We answered it, so he has a fairly weak battlefield of only three power fairly deep into the turn.

But alas, here comes his signature card: Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (on the stack).

We actually have a Dissolve and Disdainful Stroke for Sidisi, but feel like we can extract some incremental value by responding with a Steam Augury.

We reveal...

Island
Evolving Wilds
Dissolve
Dig Through Time
Lightning Strike

Split this Steam Augury!


Things to keep in mind splitting the Steam Augury in Scenario Two:

1. The opponent has been broadcasting a Disdainful Stroke thanks to Courser of Kruphix.
2. We already have a pretty jazzed hand. We have multiple cards that can answer Sidisi directly this turn; and even tapping four mana, we have two open to Disdainful Stroke if we want.
3. What do you actually want?

Get to it!

Comments below!

As with every Monday, this is Make the Play Monday!

We believe that Magic is a game where players stack decisions on top of more decisions. Over time, better decisions will help you win more often, and worse decisions will have you hemorrhaging resources.

The bet is that if we make better decisions we'll all win more games.

But how will we make better decisions?

Every Friday we revisit positions like the ones outlined in this article; me + a Celebrity Guest. We walk through what we did or might have done.

Plus...prizes!

If you submit a solution that is the same as mine, you could win a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate; or if you submit a solution that is the same as the Celebrity Guest's...ditto! Every week we thank the TCGplayer.com community for their participation with at least $50 in prizes.

So...better choices (and a chance for a sweet prize)...

How would you have split those Steam Augury piles? Submit your splits in the comments below.

LOVE
MIKE