I posted a scenario from a draft match on Magic Online a few days ago, and it’s a tough one. There were a lot of responses, many of which led to instant death, and seeing the discussion the scenario sparked was awesome.
First, the scenario:
This was the scenario I’ve enjoyed breaking down the most, and my initial answer wasn’t even the best one.
Here are some facts that can help us navigate through this:
1) We don’t have a guaranteed kill.
Not every puzzle I present is going to, which is because we are playing Magic and things don’t always work out that way. I find it much more useful to analyze real games where you don’t always get to wrap them up with a bow at the end, and sometimes that means you don’t just get to win. Some puzzles will have a win guaranteed, but this is not one of them.
2) You have to cast Flatten to survive.
Not too hard to figure this out.
3) If you cast Flatten on the Salt Road Quartermasters at any point, you die.
If you Flatten in response, the opponent makes Shorecrasher a 4/2, bolsters on to it, and you die. If you block in any combination and Flatten the SRQ, the Shorecrasher becomes a 7/3 and you die. Once you have ruled out SRQ as a target, the number of possibilities go down dramatically.
Where do we go from here?
• The first question is whether you should cast Flatten on the Shorecrasher Elemental in response to Sunbringer’s Touch. The answer to that question is “no”, because doing that is effectively the same as casting Flatten on the Elemental when it attacks but gives the opponent more information. They are likely sending in the SRQ anyway, but there’s no reason to give them the option.
• Once you let Sunbringer’s Touch resolve, the only logical assumption is that the opponent attacks with both creatures. My initial answer was to block the SRQ with the Aven, block the Shorecrasher with the Hand, and cast Flatten on the Elemental. The opponent either trades with the Hand or exiles the Elemental, and you don’t take lethal. You then get to Pyrotechnics the Elemental if they exiled it, and if you draw a removal spell or Qarsi Sadist, you win.
• After talking with EFro, he presented a strictly better line: don’t block the Shorecrasher. If you don’t block it, you can still Flatten to not die, but you no longer offer the Hand trade. If your opponent doesn’t exile the Elemental, you attack them for 6 and Pyrotechnics them into oblivion, winning the game. If they do exile it, you get to Pyrotechnics and hit with Loremaster, leaving the Hand back to trade with the SRQ, and you still have the same outs as before to win (removal or Sadist).
My (Efro’s) Final Play: Let Sunbringer’s Touch resolve. When the opponent attacks with both creatures, cast Flatten on Shorecrasher Elemental (with the followup of winning the game if the opponent doesn’t exile, and casting Pyrotechnics to kill the face-down Elemental if they do).
EFro explained his play in depth here:
He’s #1 in the world for a reason, and his logic here is sound.
I also want to announce that I’m now offering $25 in Channelfireball store credit to anyone whose play I use (and yes, I did make it retroactive to the awesome people who sent in plays like this one), so please send me screenshots from interesting play decisions at LSV@channelfireball.com.
I’ve been really enjoying breaking down these plays, and hope that showing you the decision trees that I (and players like EFro) use in making tough decisions is useful. Finding the correct answer is less important than building the fundamental tools that get you there, and I feel that the active discussion that comes from situations like this one is invaluable in doing so.
I’ll be back in a few days with a new play!