Today I’m going to go through one of my most interesting games at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch—my game 3 against Martin Muller in round 10. You can find the video of the game here . This is an interesting game to analyze because a ton of people talked to me about it, and I also think there are a lot of hidden decisions there—spots where it looks like you only have one play to make but you actually have several options.
It’s the second round of the second draft, and we both have pretty good decks—I have a solid UR build with Jori En and Fall of the Titans, and he has a solid GW build with Linvala and Nissa. I keep a great opening hand and I’m soon faced with the most important decision of the match:
Decision #1: Play Immobilizer Eldrazi or hold up Negate
Click to enlarge.
In the actual match, I chose to play the Immobilizer Eldrazi, which is normally the play you should make (it’s usually bad to not advance your board in the hopes of countering something, and it’s especially bad when your counterspell is Negate because it’s very unlikely you’ll counter something turn 3 and they are just going to advance their board). In this particular spot, however, that was a very big mistake for two reasons. The first is that I know my opponent has Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in his deck, and Nissa is going to be very hard to beat when he’s on the play and already has a 2-drop. The second reason is that I have Jori En, Ruin Diver in my hand, as well as a couple of surge cards in my deck, so holding on to my 2-drop could end up drawing me an extra card in the future.
I think holding up Negate is 100% the correct play. Many people told me that they thought I was only saying that because my opponent ended up having Nissa, but that’s not true—holding it was the right play no matter what. I thought about it and was going to do it, and then when it came time, I played my 2-drop for no reason. If I hold up Negate, I basically win the game.
After he untaps and plays Nissa, I have another decision to make:
Decision #2: Attack with my Immobilizer Eldrazi?
Here I can choose whether or not to trade (I assume he is blocking with his 2/2). If I wait, then I can use the Immobilizer’s ability in the future to push through Plant tokens (and other potential blockers he plays). The cost for this is that his Invoker is going to stay alive, and it’s likely that he will use his Nissa sometime soon, which will turn it into a 3/3 that can then block all of my creatures, including Embodiment of Fury. I chose to attack because I felt like reducing his board was more important. I think this decision was correct.
Eventually, we get to this attack from him:
Decision #3: Block or take it
Here I have two realistic options: I can double-block or I can take the damage. If I take the damage, I’ll still not have enough power to attack him the following turn, and I’ll just end up with the same decision again. I decide I have to double-block it—it’s never good to trade your guy for Seed Guardian like this, but it’s what I must do. The question now is which creature I would rather lose: Embodiment or Jori En. Jori En seems a lot more important to me at this point since she’s likely my only way to win the game, so I decide to double-block with Embodiment and Maw of Kozilek. Martin chooses to kill Embodiment.
A turn later, we get to this spot and I have another choice to make:
Decision #4: Should I play Fall of the Titans on his upkeep or on his draw step?
It’s clear to me that I need to cast Fall of the Titans now, since I can’t allow Nissa to pump even more things. It’s also clear to me that doing it on his turn is better, since I make him use his mana if he wants to save his Kor and I can potentially Negate something to draw a card. The only question is whether I want to do that on his upkeep or on his draw step.
Normally, you never wait until the draw step to cast it here, but I have a Negate, so I don’t actually fear a topdecked pump spell. In fact, I want him to cast a pump spell if he has one, because that makes me draw a card with Jori En (whereas this will likely not happen at any other point with Negate). From this point of view, it is better to do it on his draw step, because I want him to draw a pump spell and cast it.
In the end, I decided to do it on his upkeep. Why did I do that? Two reasons: First, I thought doing it on his draw step would have perhaps tipped him off that something was amiss—assuming he didn’t have a pump spell, he might have played around Negate in future turns, because why would I ever wait if I didn’t have a way to deal with a pump spell? I would have to sell the act of “pass,” let him draw, and then “change my mind” and kill it before his main phase—it can’t be premeditated. I didn’t know if I could do that. The second reason was that, if he drew a pump spell, it’s conceivable that he would attack with some of his creatures, and I could then use Negate to blow him out.
We get to a point where he plays another Retreat and a sixth land, threatening to start supporting on his guys. I draw an Eldrazi Skyspawner and I have another decision to make:
Decision #5: Play the Skyspawner or hold it to draw a card?
I can play the Skyspawner and add something mediocre to my board, or I can wait until I draw another spell and play both in the game turn. I decided that his board was getting too threatening and I had to get something in play, especially since I wanted to keep Brutal Expulsion mana up for his next turn. If we get to a spot where I pass and he passes (or makes an attack that doesn’t get wrecked by Brutal Expulsion), and I do draw another creature, I now have to tap out to play both and can’t Brutal Expulsion anymore, so I feel like I can’t afford to hold it.
The following turn I draw Benthic Infiltrator, and I’m basically in the same spot.
Decision #6: Play Benthic Infiltrator or hold it to draw a card?
Here I decided to hold it, because this is the turn where his creatures are big enough that Martin will likely attack (whereas the previous turn maybe he wouldn’t). This will probably prompt me to play Expulsion, and then I can cast two spells next turn without fear of having to tap out.
The game plays out in a way that actually works super well for me—I end up killing most of his big guys, drawing a couple of cards with Jori En, and I’m left with the better board.
I then have the choice to cast Containment Membrane on an untapped creature to draw a card or not:
Decision #7: Cast Containment Membrane on an untapped guy to draw a card?
It felt unlikely to me that I would have a target for Membrane anytime soon, and I had two tappers in my deck, so I decided to cast it.
Decision #8: Play Gravity Negator or wait to draw a card?
I decide to wait, as I think the possibility of an extra card is more important than threatening to attack right now.
After that, I play two spells and draw two extra cards (one is a cantrip).
Decision #9: Play Blinding Drone or wait to draw a card?
Playing it would also lead to not attacking for a turn, since I made a mistake with my mana and would have to tap a creature for Holdout Settlement. I could still attack and tap something else, but it didn’t feel like I would be able to safely do that. At this point, we’re running out of time and the board was very complicated, so I decided I would be unable to calculate whether attacking was viable or not and 2 points of damage was not worth the extra minute or so it would take me to figure that out. I had to go on instinct and instinct told me that attacking was not safe.
I chose to play Blinding Drone, which surprised the commentators. I think it’s the right decision, though, as it stopped a lot of damage in future turns and if I ever have a window, I can tap the guy that is not untapping.
Now we get to this extremely chaotic board state:
Decision #10: What do I attack with? Do I jump anything?
As I see it, I have three options: The first is to attack with Gravity Negator and jump Maw of Kozilek for a potential 10 damage (but likely 8 since I have to keep colorless up for Blinding Drone). This seems sub-optimal because I still don’t kill him in 2 turns, and I want to block with Maw. The second option is jumping Jori En, who is likely not blocking. That was the option I chose. The third option would have been to jump no one, leaving up Maw and 3 colorless lands. Then, ideally, I could tap the 3/4 supporter (which was not going to untap) and block the Stalking Drone with my Maw, pumping it twice. The problem with this play is that, if Martin sees this sequence, he can support on his Drone at the end of the turn, then support on it again (turning it into a 5/5) and pump it to turn it into a 6/7, which is bigger than my Maw and will lead to me chump blocking. Regardless, I think I should have chosen to do this, since it was my biggest chance of winning—taking care of an attacker permanently was likely better than two extra damage.
After that, he kills my Gravity Negator and eventually draws a land to kill me. I miscounted the board and blocked in a way that left me dead when I could have avoided it, but that would have resulted in all of my creatures dying instead, so I would not have won anyway.
By the end of it, I was feeling super exhausted. This was an extremely complicated game to play, with a gigantic board on both sides and cards like Jori En prompting me to think at all points, whereas normally I would just play whatever I drew. I think I made a horrible mistake on turn 2 that cost me the game, but played reasonably well after that to almost get back in it. In multiple spots, there were other decisions I could have made differently (particularly regarding my attacks). I am sure I did not make the optimal ones, but at most points, it was simply too hard for me to figure out what the correct play was, so I had to go with my gut. If I had 10 extra minutes to play this game, I most likely would have ended up with some different attacks, but I’d probably have lost anyway.
That said, I hope this was an interesting analysis! If you have any questions on things I did not cover, please ask in the comments. See you soon!