Welcome back!

It’s time to figure out what to do in the board state I presented last time. This scenario was sent in by Sam Pardee, who is now the proud owner of $25 in store credit at ChannelFireball.com. Send me a sweet screenshot at LSV@channelfireball.com and you too could be bathing in riches! I would say don’t spend it all in one place, but that’s kind of the idea.

Anyways, here’s the board state:

Whats the play

Of note is that you haven’t played a land yet.

This is a tricky spot because you are choosing between three powerful 5-cost cards. No matter what you take, your opponent’s hand is going to be pretty good.

As usual, I like to start by taking stock of what our options are, and ruling some out. In this case, without even knowing what we are taking (since all three cards in the opponent’s hand are close), I’d look at what we can do.

What You Can Play

1) Play a tapped land. This lets us scry, and guarantees 5 mana on the following turn to monstrosity Lion. I don’t love this, as we essentially end up spending 3 mana by playing the tapped land, because our other option is to play a 3-cost spell. This line sounds too mana inefficient to me, so I would rule it out.

2) Leave up Hero’s Downfall. This makes Whisperwood Elemental not particularly threatening, and lets us Thoughtseize one of the other two options. The biggest problem with this line, and the reason I think it’s a very bad idea, is that the opponent can just play either Ojutai or Den Protector, whichever we don’t take, and our Downfall becomes awful. We either waste 3 mana or end up having to Downfall a Den Protector. Either of those cases is a disaster. Note that if the opponent’s hand were just Whisperwood plus one of the other two cards, leaving the Whisperwood would sound pretty good.

3) Play a face-down Den Protector. I’m pretty sure this is the best option. It lets you use your mana, puts a threat on the board, and gives you a good path to using Downfall or Thoughtseize twice.

Given that we are casting Den Protector, the question now becomes what to take. There are again three options.

What You Can Take

1) Take Den Protector. I believe this is the worst of the three options. Den Protector can get back whatever you take, but it costs five mana, and giving the opponent an extra 3/2 is worth making them waste a turn. Your Lion can go monstrous and attack into the Den Protector, so it isn’t stopping your current route to victory. I think the opponent has too much action for you to stop, and by taking Protector, you are giving them a guaranteed manifest off Whisperwood Elemental. I would not take Den Protector here.

2) Take Ojutai. If you take Ojutai, I am again assuming that the opponent plays a Whisperwood and manifests. I still don’t like that, but in talking to Matt Nass, he did point out that if you Downfall the Elemental and can flip Den Protector, you do get to hit for 6 here. That’s pretty aggressive, and the opponent’s follow-up Den Protector doesn’t stop you. This line sounds decent as a result.

3) Take Whisperwood Elemental. This denies the opponent a manifest, and presumably leads to them playing Ojutai. If you draw an untapped land, you get to attack with Lion and threaten monstrous, though you will pass with untapped mana when they don’t block. Then, either they attack and get Downfalled or they don’t attack, and just play Den Protector and pass. It is annoying if you both don’t draw the untapped land and they don’t attack into Downfall (a good player isn’t very likely to attack there), as you won’t be able to monstrous Lion and there’s no good Downfall target.

Lines 2 and 3 are very close. If I knew there was an untapped land on top, I’d be pretty happy just taking the Whisperwood. If you miss on land, the opponent is going to play Ojutai, and you are going to waste a fair amount of mana if they don’t end up attacking.

Still, I think that giving the opponent a free manifest is worse than the prospect of wasting a few mana, and I’d lean toward taking the Whisperwood as a result. If you take Ojutai, you get better guaranteed attacks, but you still want the 5th land to really get there, and you will often end up getting a couple points of damage in but being down a card compared to the other line. You don’t have enough pressure to justify going down that path.

My Play

Take Whisperwood Elemental with Thoughtseize. Play Llanowar Wastes and morph Den Protector. Plan on leaving mana up the next turn if the opponent plays Ojutai.

One thing to note about this scenario is how close all the options are. When discussing it with Wrapter, he noted that Constructed is often like this. It’s difficult to decide what the right play is, and often good players will disagree, but that’s partially because the margins on each play are so close. Regardless of what you take here, it’s very close to the other answers, so the odds that you are drastically wrong are very low, even if the “right” answer isn’t clear.

I’ll be back on Sunday with a new scenario, and I may even run into some interesting spots in Grand Prix Charlotte, where I’ll be battling Modern (hopefully) all weekend!