If you didn’t check out the questions last week, I highly recommend viewing them first here. This style of article can be extremely helpful and useful to players, as well as fun, but you have to play along with the format to get the maximum value. So before continuing, go make the plays yourself!
Seriously, do it.
Ok, so we were presented with three problems in three different formats with three different lessons to be learned. Let’s get into it.
1. Dromoka’s Command vs UR Fliers
The natural play is to kill the Fevered Visions and put a counter on the pacifist, getting in for 4 damage. This is what most people who sounded off in the comments or on twitter said they would do, as well as what every one of my opponents in Costa Rica did in this position.
And I think that is a massive blunder.
The first mode is a gimme, as killing Fevered Visions is an absolute must. It is the one-card gameplan that the deck is built around, and is nigh-unbeatable when online. Thus, one of the modes of Command has to be sacrifice an enchantment. The second mode is where the decision has to be made. The solution to this problem comes from recognition of roles and identification of gameplans.
The UR Fliers deck is designed to capitalize on tempo and short-term mana advantage, and it does so by being excellent at racing, having cheap, evasive threats and a wall of permission and removal to stay on top, then reach to close it out. In short, the deck is great at racing. It is literally a race deck, full stop.
Our brains are very good at pattern recognition, and the heuristics we use for racing are generally #1: who attacks first, and #2: how much damage are both sides doing. When you consider this objectively (which is exactly what our subconcsious is doing when we’re deciding what play to make), it becomes obvious why the natural play is so normal: you’re attacking first and trading 4 damage for 2. This is a massively favorable race in a vacuum.
But Magic isn’t played in a vacuum. (the players find it difficult to breathe)
There needs to be another consideration for racing, one that is much more dynamic and subjective rather than mathematical. #3: Who is better at racing? If your opponent has all of the race-turners while you have more card advantage and late-game elements, then of course you wouldn’t want to race! While it is weird that the GW creature deck is in the latter position while the UR spell deck is in the former, this is in fact the situation at hand.
I posed the position to multiple people on-site, and my explanation for why I think pumping the Pacifist is wrong was, “All my deck can do is race. If you race me, I will find a way to win. If you just refuse to race, then I’m in trouble.”
Killing the flier puts you in a spot where you are ahead on board, ahead on cards, and at a higher life total. Removing the threat also proactively protects future planeswalkers, and honestly represents some amount of damage down the road when that flier might chump block in order to allow the UR deck another turn of reach.
So now that we’ve decided to kill the flier and Fevered Visions, we’re met with another option regarding timing. If you are putting a counter on Lambholt Pacifist to attack, then you have no choice but to mainphase the Dromoka’s Command, but once we take the combat aspect out of the consideration, we have a decision to make: we can mainphase it, play it on our own end step, or upkeep it.
Upkeeping it I think would be a massive blunder, as killing the Fevered Visions is absolutely necessary to winning this game, and by letting the UR Fliers deck untap, you allow it an opportunity to have one of up to eight cards to counter the Command and stay in complete control of the game. The benefit to this would be flipping your Lambholt Pacifist, but this is a non-issue in my opinion, as the UR deck is not very good at keeping werewolves from flipping anyway.
So now the consideration is mainphase or end step, which is simply a question of whether or not to let the Fevered Visions trigger go off. This is slightly contextual, as it is simply a question of whether a card is worth 2 life to the GW player. I would argue that the card is almost always worth it, but I can imagine there is a scenario where your hand is so good that you don’t need a bonus card and would rather preserve the life.
2. Gifts Pile vs. Storm
Gifts Ungiven is one of the most skill-testing cards of all time, and this is a good example of why. There are plenty of spots where the default Gifts piles are correct or negligibly close to it, but there are always scenarios where you have to adjust on the fly and make up piles based on weird gamestates that you’ve never seen before (and will likely never see again).
The key to figuring out these spots is to break down the position into the unique factors at play. For example, the unique things about this situation are that we have the Unburial Rites in hand, and no fifth land. We have an Academy Ruins. We have very little health and are facing a Past in Flames that is lethal, but their hand is likely to be poor. And of course, we have Serum Visions and Detention Sphere in hand.
From all of this information, the things we should look towards are Iona being game over and Tormod’s Crypt being the key to not dying to Past in Flames. When you isolate these factors, the correct pile becomes much more clear [says the guy who couldn’t find the pile in the moment]. There are still two hitches that obfuscate the answer, though: #1: Gifts piles are 4 cards. When it’s not “Iona and Unburial Rites” people look for Gifts configurations in fours, making it much harder to see the two-card piles in non-standard spots. And #2: the Serum Visions in hand with Academy Ruins and 3 other mana means that we don’t have to commit to getting back Tormod’s Crypt in our upkeep.
If you didn’t have the pile before, you certainly should now.
When I first proposed the problem in my video set, nobody got it right for days until one twitter comment nailed it (sorry I didn’t save the tweet!). This time around, I don’t think anyone got it. The Gifts Ungiven should get Iona, Shield of Emeria, Tormod’s Crypt, and nothing else. This lets you freeroll drawing a land to cast Unburial Rites and all but win the game on the spot, and if you miss, you can Academy Ruins back the Tormod’s Crypt and Serum Visions into it to ostensibly prevent yourself from dying and scry 2 towards a land to get back Iona the following turn.
3. Looter Problem Variation
This problem is beautiful in its simplicity, and wonderfully illustrates the difference between our human, emotional reactions, and math. Just about everyone who I have seen answer this question (myself included) initially said not to loot, the rationale being you gain nothing from looting but could dump the only card you have to win. Of course it would feel terrible to do that, so we don’t want to. But in that library, the card we need to hit has just as much of a chance of being the top card as it does being the extra card reached by looting.
So the answer to loot or not is simply that it doesn’t matter. It is absolutely equal both ways.
When you think about it, it makes total sense, but our gut wants to protect us from a potential feel-bad moment. Recognizing this is important because it gives us the perspective necessary to improve as a player; to extrapolate and find non-hypothetical situations where this might be happening and patch up those leaks in our game.
Thanks for playing along.
P.S. My stream is back with a new schedule: Tuesdays and Fridays! You can follow at twitch.tv/ajsacher. I also tweet at twitter.com/ajsacher whenever I go live or publish anything, so follow there and don’t miss a thing!