Welcome back to What’s the Play!
Our opponent is attacking for 1 short of lethal and knows that we have a haste creature in hand, giving us one more creature than is lethal. That leads to some very interesting decision trees. Let’s start chopping them down.
Our opponent has nothing.
In this case, we win if we don’t block, or if we only block with one creature. This isn’t that interesting to examine, because the opponent isn’t likely to make an attack without having something, and because we win most of the time from here. Let’s assume they have something.
Our opponent has a non-Ornamental Courage pump spell.
If we don’t block with anything, Built to Last or Blossoming Defense kills us. Blocking with one creature prevents that and still gives us lethal on the crackback. Blocking the Ovalchase Dragster with Aviary Mechanic seems best as it removes the highest-power creature from their side, and is a trade rather than a chump. The biggest downside of this plan is that the opponent can just trade off Dragster, then play a post-combat blocker and we no longer have lethal.
Our opponent has Ornamental Courage.
This is the same as the above scenario, except that Courage counts as a blocker. If we block Dragster, they still likely let it die, then use Courage to untap Harrier and eat an attacker, letting them survive.
Our opponent has a post-combat creature or Impeccable Courage.
If we don’t block, we win. If we trade off for Dragster, them having a creature lets them live.
What Should You Do?
With the information you have about the opponent’s deck, they are slightly more likely to have a pump spell than Impeccable Timing. They are more likely to have a random creature than a pump spell, and because of the natural block on Dragster, this attack can make a lot of sense.
This is a classic case of the opponent being able to take advantage of your natural incentive to block. Because blocking plays around pump spells, and this attack looks like it’s ill-advised without a pump spell, it’s plausible that a tricky opponent could make this attack.
Block Ovalchase Dragster with Aviary Mechanic. Despite the potential for getting leveled by a cunning opponent, I believe it’s more likely that they have a pump spell than nothing. If they have Blossoming Defense or Built to Last, I win. If they don’t have a post-combat creature, Ornamental Courage, or Impeccable Timing, I win. If they have a creature, I don’t win but get to continue playing, thanks to Tidy Conclusion. If they have one of the instants, I likely lose.
One caveat: The better your opponent is, the more likely it is that you should not block. I believe that the average opponent will not make an attack that puts themselves dead without having anything, but if this were a Pro Tour and I was playing against one of the top players, I’d be willing to go a level deeper. There, the odds they have a post-combat creature and no pump spell go up because I would be so incentivized to block due to fear of a trick. On Magic Online, against a random opponent, I wouldn’t make that assumption, so this is a case of different opponents informing our play. Interesting stuff, and a great scenario.
Have a sweet scenario of your own? If you think you can stump the readers (and me) then send it to [email protected]*, or via Twitter—just send a screenshot @LSV and I’ll be happy to take a look!
*Please keep your answers in the comments below, and not in my email inbox—I love reading through these responses, but I wouldn’t want to lose any good submissions amid the answers. Thanks!