With Grand Prix Hartford on the horizon, I’m going to take you step-by-step through a game I played during the Team Modern Super League last week. The matchup in question is myself on B/R Hollow One squaring off against Patrick Dickmann on a U/R Through the Breach/Blue Moon strategy.
Hollow One is typically good against these Blue Moon decks as it can come out fast, all of its creatures line up well against Lightning Bolt, and it’s nearly mono-red so it is exceptionally resilient to Blood Moon. The Through the Breach package plays a huge role in this matchup as it can provide a much quicker clock than a typical control strategy, and makes the resiliency of Hollow One’s creatures a little less relevant. If Blue Moon is able to attack with Emrakul on a stable board, they should win. If Hollow One can come out fast, they’re usually a huge favorite.
For the purpose of seeing things from only my perspective, I’ve kept Patrick’s hand out of the screenshots. If you’re interested in watching a replay of the whole game, match, or even whole week of Team Modern Super League, watch it here.
B/R Hollow One
Patrick leads off with a Serum Visions for his turn, and my turn is simple. I’m just going to cast Burning Inquiry, hope to discard the two Flamewake Phoenix in my hand and lead on a Hollow One. The only real decision is if I should get a basic Mountain or Blood Crypt, and since I’m going to randomly be discarding cards, it’s certainly best for me to have access to both colors of mana in play. But the Burning Inquiry is lackluster and forces me to discard a pair of lands and my Hollow One. Of course this isn’t ideal, but I’m still left with a Goblin Lore to run it back the following turn.
This turn is more interesting. Patrick played a land and passed leaving two mana up. Knowing his deck list, I know there are two cards to disrupt me here: three Izzet Charms and four Remands. I have two real decisions:
- I can lead on Goblin Lore and go for explosiveness and try to power through a potential Remand.
- I can cast Collective Brutality safely to pick off a counterspell to follow up the next turn with a Goblin Lore.
I think casting Goblin Lore here is slightly better for a couple of reasons. First, if Patrick has a Remand, it doesn’t matter what I play. He gets to send it back to my hand regardless, so whatever decision I make is a wash. So the question really is, should I play around exactly Izzet Charm by casting Collective Brutality?
The problem with casting the Brutality is that whether it resolves or gets Charmed, I have no way to interact with Patrick’s combo later. If I’m able to push through a Goblin Lore here, I can potentially find a Hollow One or Gurmag Angler, and start bringing back Flamewake Phoenix if I’m able to put any into the graveyard. If I come out too slow, the combo is just going to end the game.
So I decide to remain aggressive and cast a Goblin Lore, which resolves, and allows me to pitch a single Phoenix and get a Gurmag Angler into my hand. I do lose yet another Hollow One which is unfortunate, but I still have some action for next turn.
I draw a land for the turn, and have a few decisions to make this turn. Here are my two best options:
- I can cast Faithless Looting, discard my Flamewake Phoenix, and cast Gurmag Angler to bring back one of the two Phoenixes.
- Cast Collective Brutality, and follow up with Gurmag Angler.
There are a few factors that go into this decision. First of all, what is Patrick’s next turn likely to look like? From his deck list, I know he’s got access to a pair of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and a full playset of Cryptic Command.
He hasn’t interacted with me yet, so he’s very unlikely to have a Remand, though it’s still possible that he has an Izzet Charm he didn’t use to counter my Goblin Lore, but I think I’m going to counter that Goblin Lore if I have it in his spot, so that’s also unlikely. To me this indicates that he’s sitting on some combination of combo pieces, Jaces, Snapcaster Mages, Bolts, and Cryptic Commands, and his other cards—likely lands and whatever his draw step was.
So I can opt to go fast, or I can cast Collective Brutality ahead of when he can cast a Cryptic Command, to either break up the combo if he has it rolled up, or to get a Cryptic Command out of his hand. He currently has a copy of Command in his graveyard from my Burning Inquiry so he’s even less likely to have two.
I can’t bring back both Phoenixes this turn either way, so I decide that it’s better to just leave myself the option to push this Gurmag Angler through a devastating Remand, and leave myself the option of disrupting the combo or getting a Cryptic Command out of his hand.
At this point I’m counting my graveyard, both to see how many cards I’ll exile when I cast it, and how many cards I can have in my graveyard the following turn. I currently have nine cards in my graveyard, one of which is a Phoenix. So eight cards I don’t mind exiling to cast my Gurmag Angler, leaving me with two left after that. If Brutality resolves or gets hard countered, there’s a third leftover. Casting Faithless Looting the following turn will also put three total cards into the graveyard, leaving me with six, but one of those will likely be another Phoenix or perhaps a drawn Bloodghast. With the four lands I’ll have I’ll be able to cast Looting, cast a 1- or 2-mana Angler depending on whether I want to keep a card in the graveyard or use a mana for something else, and bring back a Phoenix to poke the Jace, the Mind Sculptor if he uses it to bounce Gurmag Angler.
If his turn is Cryptic Command, it gets a whole lot worse for me, as he can likely bounce my Angler at instant speed, preventing me from bringing back a Phoenix. I have to simply move to combat and figured out what to do after he chooses modes with it. Since Cryptic, the combo, and lands would be so tough to beat, I decide to put my Brutality out there ahead of when he could Cryptic my Angler. It turns out that Patrick had an Izzet Charm, and counters my Brutality, leaving me with no information but a window to cast Gurmag Angler. Since I determined that casting Gurmag Angler into Jace would actually not be too bad for me, and I can’t really play around Cryptic Command, I cast my Gurmag Angler.
Here’s my board position when I end the turn:
Patrick plays his fourth land, a Desolate Lighthouse, and casts a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He chooses to use the Brainstorm mode. Playing the Lighthouse could mean that it’s his last land in hand, it could also mean that he has a fetch if he wants to save to shuffle away a Brainstorm card, or could just mean nothing. It likely means one of the first two options, but doesn’t really strongly indicate anything to me.
But Patrick using Brainstorm on Jace does indicate that he’s looking for something.
If Patrick had the combo in his hand already with the land to cast it, he’d likely use the Jace to bounce my Gurmag Angler, to stunt my damage output, and leave me with fewer permanents on board. Having to recast an Angler and bring back creatures the following turn to attack Jace will leave him at a much higher life total and me with fewer permanents, making it more likely he clears my board.
So as I move to my turn, I draw and immediately cast Faithless Looting to get my second Phoenix into the graveyard. You should, of course, cast Faithless Looting before making a land drop because you could discard a Bloodghast and get it in play for free. As you can see, I draw Street Wraith as one of the cards. I’ve already determined that Patrick is looking for something to combo off, and I don’t know what but I can try and play my best to make sure that I don’t lose to the combo if possible. Cycling Street Wraith at 17 life is normally safe, but not when their combo finish deals you exactly 15. For this reason I simply play it safe and discard the Wraith to the Faithless Looting, because I can get over the hump of six permanents by bringing back both Phoenixes, leaving me with four lands, two Phoenix, and a Gurmag Angler. This means that if Patrick does attack me with a surprise Emrakul next turn, I’ll still be left with a Gurmag Angler.
I also have a Burning Inquiry in my hand I could cast this turn to try and get lucky and disrupt Patrick’s combo, making him discard part of it. The problem is, I don’t know if he got there and don’t want to dig him any closer to what he was missing if he doesn’t have it, unless I can’t win otherwise or unless it costs me nothing. In this case it would cost me leaving open a mana for Lightning Bolt.
Looking at his life total, he’s at 16 to start the turn, and I have 9 power to work with. This leaves me a couple of options.
- Lightning Bolt the Jace, attack for 9 and put him to 7.
- Attack Jace with the two Phoenixes, hold up Bolt.
This is actually a pretty complex situation, and I thought it through for awhile before landing on a play I’m not entirely sure is correct.
If I Bolt the Jace and attack for 9 this leaves Patrick at 7. 7 is an extremely convenient number for me because if I can leave the Angler in play, and play a land, I can bring the Phoenix and put him to exactly 0 while tapped out.
Not killing the Jace isn’t really an option because I don’t want to let him get deeper into his deck or worse—bounce something and sweep the entire board with Emrakul.
By holding Bolt I lose that potential line, but still have lethal in the event his fifth land is a shockland or fetchland, but also leaves me open to killing a flashed Snapcaster Mage that can block my Angler, which would save him life overall. Patrick discarded a Lightning Bolt earlier to my turn-1 Burning Inquiry, which he could target with the Snapcaster and use to kill my Angler, so I decided to take this option off the table because I didn’t have a fifth land in my hand. Had I already had the fifth land, I’d definitely go with simply Bolting Jace and leaving him dead if he does in fact Through the Breach me.
Patrick has failed to combo me, and it’s pretty clear at this point that he was looking for a land to Through the Breach me. He’s likely going to Cryptic Command me now so the best thing to do is just move to combat.
Once I move to combat, Patrick Cryptics to tap my creatures and draw a card, but he’s again tapped out and I have to make a few small decisions. Should I Burning Inquiry? Should I flashback Faithless Looting?
Inquiry could potentially find Patrick the land he needs, while also not leaving me with anything in hand. I’m relatively safe from the combo at this point, but the worst case scenario for me right now is Through the Breach and I’m better off making sure that I can beat that.
Faithless Looting could allow me to discard my freshly drawn Bloodghast while also casting Gurmag Angler if I hit a land. This leaves me with four lands and five creatures in play, which is well more than I need to survive an attack.
I choose to simply exile my entire graveyard and cast Gurmag Angler and hardcast Bloodghast, leaving myself with 16 power on board. If Emrakul comes down and attacks, I’ll go to 2 life and sacrifice three lands, the Bloodghast, and both Phoenixes to be able to recur a Phoenix with the land and attack with all to deal 12.
I was definitely lucky to win this game. I went back through and watched the match and Patrick did in fact have Through the Breach and Emrakul, and needed to find a fifth land off of his Jace to untap and combo me. From there he would need to stop my Gurmag Angler, but if he did, then I’d likely lose to basically anything at 2 life.
That said, I played this game to my outs, and put myself in a position to win through an Emrakul attack. I think I played this game relatively well, and the decision I made that I’m not sure is fully correct is whether to Lightning Bolt the Jace or hold it for the reasons I stated. I hope you were able to learn something from the lines of play I made, and what went through my head as the turns developed. Let me know if you would have played differently in the comments!