One of the central notions of Make the Play Monday and Flores Rewards Friday is that Magic is a game of decisions-made, and that making more, good, decisions increases our chances to win over time.
A corollary to this principle is that generating more opportunities to make decisions gives us more opportunities to gain value when we play well, but lose value when we play poorly. Drawing extra cards is the most common way we generate additional, meaningful, decision-making opportunities though any time we touch our library can make for a chance to improve or reduce our chances to win the game. Just think about a card like Farseek...
When you play a Farseek (or Rampant Growth, or I guess Into the North or some other equivalent) deck it is awesome to draw that Farseek in your opening hand. It is almost like you are playing a different deck when you have your two-mana mana-finder (versus when you don't) on the second turn. It sure is great to cast, isn't it? You get to have four-on-three instead of three-on-three like some peon.
Have you ever gotten the wrong land?
I think that you'd be surprised at the number of games not-won by drawing a Farseek. It's certainly not on the order of the number of games won by overpowering the opponent with that second turn mana advantage, but the disconnect between "getting exactly the card you wanted" and "throwing away the opportunity" is still there. You lazily get your Stomping Ground only to realize you now can't cast the Vampire Nighthawk in your hand. Or you know you are supposed to get the second black -- and even ensure future red by finding Blood Crypt -- without looking far enough into the future to realize you actually need a third green on turn four. It happens!
So this week I want to focus on how to play when everything is coming up Piznarski.
How much practice do you have in making decisions once you've gotten what you wanted to get?
We think of landing the eight for a Dig Through Time as an end in-and-of itself.
Or we get our Dragonlord Ojutai through The Red Zone, declare the game as being toggled onto "Easy Mode" and assume our 5/4 is going to win the game for us by itself.
...but will it?
Every time we touch our library, we have the opportunity to gain or lose value; or at the very least gain more or less value, depending (if you draw an extra Shock, that's probably better than not drawing an extra Shock, but it probably would have been better to choose the Lightning Bolt, given the option).
I originally intended to write this article running the stock Esper Dragons deck; but earlier this week on the Top Level Podcast Patrick Chapin pointed out Reid Duke's new UW deck. UW seemed way more fun!
Here is Reid's deck:
The stock Esper Dragons deck is essentially a UB Control deck splashing white only for Dragonlord Ojutai; Reid's deck moves to cut out the middleman. It trades in black spot removal for the somewhat less flexible (but still pretty good) white spot removal and Thoughtseize for Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Last Breath was one of the most important removal cards in Standard last year because it could slow down Pack Rat or trade up on Nightveil Specter; it has lost quite a bit of popularity but is still serviceable, especially if you care about speed against a faster opponent more than playing universally embraced cards.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion is perhaps the most important top end card in Standard (again). Elspeth started out near the top, dueled with Doomwake Giant for a while, flitted in and around the top, got thoroughly out-classed by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (and Garruk, Apex Predator), and somehow has come around to being the top of the hop again. The UW deck can play multiple unique end games. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is great at holding the fort and is probably the most powerful card, overall, at any given table. It can even destroy Dragonlord Ojutai while gaining an advantage!
Reid's deck was overall pretty fun to play, but I think it is a little thin on sweepers.
I thought Perilous Vault was one of the most impressive cards in Reid's seventy-five, and went out of my way to dig [you know "Through Time"] for it. And even though this deck has Dragonlord Ojutai (i.e. a card you want to keep around) and Elspeth, Sun's Champion (i.e. a card that can do Wrath duty for you) I often wanted End Hostilities more than it actually came up.
But for our especial purposes today, Reid's deck has lots of opportunities to touch your library to draw cards, search for cards, and gain -- or lose -- value.
A simple Anticipate can be a skill tester. Sometimes, when you set up with Temple of Enlightenment (itself allowing you to touch your library) you learn you aren't supposed to cast the Anticipate at all!
Sometimes your library stares back at you!
What do you do when you open on double Flooded Strand with Haven of the Spirit Dragon as your third land? Your opponent drops a Goblin Rabblemaster. Do you a) break both Flooded Strands for Islands to Force Spike the Goblin Rabblemaster with Silumgar's Scorn, b) get one Island and one Plains to Last Breath it, or c) something else?
It might be a bit early to call the game on turn two, but believe you me, only one of the three or more possible options is going to maximize your chances of winning the game.
This week we're going to focus on the bigger, flashier, ways that Reid's strategy can let you touch your library: Dig Through Time and Dragonlord Ojutai.
Scenario One: Dig Through Time
It's the opponent's fifth turn.
We traded Silumgar's Scorn for Seeker of the Way early, but lost Perilous Vault to Thoughtseize.
He landed Brimaz, King of Oreskos; now it's time for us to go with our big spell.
● 15 life● Three cards in hand● Three cards in graveyard - Bloodstained Mire, Seeker of the Way, Thoughtseize● Notable permanents: four lands (Battlefield Forge, Nomad Outpost, Mountain, and tapped Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth); Brimaz, King of Oreskos, 1/1 cat soldier
● 17 life● Three cards in hand - Silumgar's Scorn; Silumgar's Scorn; Elspeth, Sun's Champion● One card in graveyard - Silumgar's Scorn● Three cards removed from game - Flooded Strand, Flooded Strand, Perilous Vault● Notable permanents: five lands (all tapped)
Our Dig Through Time is on the stack.
It is showing us:
1. Dig Through Time2. Dig Through Time3. Dissolve4. Silumgar's Scorn5. Radiant Fountain6. Temple of Enlightenment7. Tranquil Cove
Scenario One asks: Which two cards do you take, and why?
Scenario Two: Dragonlord Ojutai
We are super deep in Game Three with GW Devotion.
We split the first two; the first game went to Dragonlord Ojutai and the second to Mastery of the Unseen.
In this one, our opponent had the fast Mastery of the Unseen with a little help, but we were able to answer with Perilous Vault.
Now we're both in topdeck mode, but one of us has Dragonlord Ojutai going!
● 15 life● Zero cards in hand● 11 cards in graveyard - a bunch of lands and creatures, a little removal● Four cards removed from game - Voyaging Satyr, Mastery of the Unseen, Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix● Notable Permanents: nine lands including Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; Banishing Light (covering our Elspeth, Sun's Champion) Sylvan Caryatid
● Six life● Zero cards in hand● 10 cards in graveyard - three Dissolve, Anticipate, Dig Through Time, Divination, Valorous Stance, Dragonlord Ojutai, Flooded Strand, End Hostilities● Eight cards removed from game - two Anticipate, two Flooded Strand, Last Breath, Dig Through Time, Perilous Vault, Elspeth, Sun's Champion● Notable Permanents: 14 lands including Haven of the Spirit Dragon, three Soldier Tokens, Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Ojutai's Anticipate-like ability is on the stack:
1. Dig Through Time2. Silumgar's Scorn3. Valorous Stance
Scenario Two asks: Which spell do you take, and why?
This is Make the Play Monday!
Like we said up top (and quite often in this column) we believe that Magic is a game of decisions; better decisions make for better long-term prospects in terms of winning; and examining common (or at least replicable) scenarios can help players make these kinds of decisions with greater skill and confidence come actual tournament time.
And let's think about it -- You're going to have to pick two cards for Dig Through Time and one-in-three from Dragonlord Ojutai every single time you play a deck like this (or Esper Dragons)... Tightening up which cards you'd take when at least some things are going your way can go a long way in beefing up your win percentage!
So submit your answers to Scenario One and Scenario Two in the comments below.
In addition to exercising a little gray matter, you will be eligible for exciting prizes!
As with every week, I will come back on Flores Rewards Friday to discuss each play, and what I think the right play is. I will be joined by a surprise Celebrity Guest who will add his skill / experience / genius to the discussion as well.
One lucky reader who agrees with my take will earn a $25 TCGplayer.com gift certificate, and the same will be true for one who agrees with our Celebrity Guest.
Comments below: What would you take (and why)?