Today I have three “How to win?” puzzles for you. In all three cases, it’s your opponent’s main phase and there is a deadly spell on the stack. Yet there is still a chance for survival. Can you find it?

Scenario #1

You’re playing a game of Standard, and both players are at 2 life. You just attacked with The Scarab God and passed the turn with three Drowned Catacomb, four Island, and Evolving Wilds in play. There are no creatures in any graveyard, and you hold Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Disallow. Your opponent started their turn with eight Mountains on the battlefield and no cards in hand. They draw for the turn, smirk, and cast Earthshaker Khenra. How can you still win this game?

Solution

In response to Earthshaker Khenra, sacrifice Evolving Wilds. With that ability on the stack, respond by Disallowing the Earthshaker Khenra. After it is countered but with the Evolving Wilds activation still on the stack, activate The Scarab God to exile their Earthshaker Khenra. This way, they never get a chance to eternalize.

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Scenario #2

You’re playing a game of Modern. You’re at 20 life while your opponent is at 2. Your opponent has just resolved seven Rituals and cast Past in Flames from their hand with 10 red mana remaining—enough to flash back Past in Flames and do it all over again if need be. Their graveyard contains four Desperate Ritual, four Manamorphose, four Pyretic Ritual, and three Grapeshot. You have Scavenging Ooze, two Forest, and two Island in play, along with Mana Leak and Negate in hand. With Past in Flames on the stack, how can you still win the game?

Solution

In response to Past in Flames, activate Scavenging Ooze on any card in the graveyard. With that ability on the stack, respond by Negating the Past in Flames. After it is countered but with the Ooze activation still on the stack, activate Scavenging Ooze again to exile their Past in Flames. This way, they never get a chance to flash it back.

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Scenario #3

You’re playing a game of Modern. You’re at 20 life while your opponent is at 3. Your TitanShift opponent controls two Forest, two Mountain, three Stomping Ground, and one Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and they started their turn with no cards in hand. You’re holding Vendilion Clique and Remand, and control two Hallowed Fountain and three Island. Since you didn’t want to risk your lethal Vendilion Clique dying to a topdecked Mountain, you passed in their draw step but that backfired—your opponent moves to their main phase, taps 4 mana, and puts their freshly drawn Scapeshift on the stack. You know that they have at least seven Mountains remaining in their deck. Assuming that you just scryed two planeswalkers to the top of your deck, how can you still win the game?

Solution

In response to Scapeshift, cast Vendilion Clique. When it enters the battlefield, target your opponent. With that trigger on the stack, Remand their Scapeshift, then take it with Vendilion Clique. Now cross your fingers and hope that there’s not another Scapeshift on top of their deck. (You can also Remand in response to casting the Clique—the outcome is the same.)

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The Takeaway

These scenarios have three things in common:

  • Your opponent is trying to resolve a game-winning spell in their main phase, and it can be recast at sorcery speed.
  • You have a single counter along with an instant-speed way to remove their game-winning card from their hand or graveyard.
  • You can put something on the stack (which could be anything, even a fetchland) to prevent your opponent from regaining priority with an empty stack after their spell is countered.

In situations like these, you can stop them from winning by adding cards to the stack in the right order, as the three examples illustrate. The key is to prevent them from regaining priority on an empty stack. It doesn’t happen often, but recognizing these patterns can be the difference between winning and losing.