One Play: Miracles

At the Legacy Grand Prix in Columbus, I played Miracles. Throughout the tournament I had some interesting decisions to make, and I could have turned some of my losses into wins by taking alternate lines.

I want to look at one play I was faced with early in the tournament. The decision I made cost me the game, but was it wrong? I spent a lot of time thinking about this play and going over it with a number of friends, and not everyone agreed on what to do. Now that I have spent a while thinking it over, I think the right play is clear. Did I make the right play and get punished anyway, or did I mess up and get what I deserved?

The Situation: Round 5 vs. Eldrazi

It’s game 2 vs. Eldrazi and I’m down a game. Here’s the board:

Opponent: 14 life. No cards in hand. 5 lands in play: Eye of Ugin, Eldrazi Temple, Ancient Tomb, Cavern of Souls (Eldrazi), and Cavern of Souls (Shapeshifter).

The board is Chalice of the Void on 1 counter, 2 Eldrazi Mimics, and a Phyrexian Metamorph that is a copy of Snapcaster Mage (flashing back Dismember on Monastery Mentor earlier this turn).

No graveyard. 2 Endless Ones and a Dismember in exile.

Me: 1 life. No cards in hand. 4 lands in play: Tundra, Tundra, Volcanic Island, Plains.

The board is Sensei’s Divining Top, 4 Monastery Mentor tokens, and 2 Snapcaster Mages.

No relevant graveyard. I’m currently tapped out at the end of my opponent’s turn, looking at the top 3 cards of my library.

Those cards are Blood Moon, Council’s Judgment, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In other words, I have the option between the 3 most interesting and impactful cards left in my deck.

How do you order the top 3 cards and how do you play the next turn? I’m going to jump right into analysis, so don’t read on immediately if you want to think about it some first.

These were my considerations.

Option #1

Draw and cast Blood Moon, then attack the opponent with 2 creatures for 4 damage, leaving back 4 blockers in case he draws Dismember.

The logic behind this play is that I am currently ahead on board, Blood Moon locks my opponent out of casting 90-95% of his deck, and I will have lethal damage in a few turns, giving my opponent a small window to find one of those few relevant draws.

It’s likely that my opponent boarded out Umezawa’s Jitte since it is fairly ineffective against Miracles. My opponent has 2 more Endless Ones left as remaining outs, unless he has something specific like Ratchet Bomb. Cards like Thorn of Amethyst or Chalice of the Void are castable under Blood Moon but have no relevant effect on the game.

I am simply dead to Reality Smasher if my opponent draws it at any point. The major upside of casting Blood Moon is that I lock my opponent out of casting Reality Smasher entirely, unless he finds a Wastes.

The drawback to this line of play is that I only have 1 basic in play, a Plains. If my opponent does happen to draw one of his outs, then I am locked out of playing Jace or Council’s Judgment unless I find more basics and I’m basically drawing thin to find a card like Terminus to survive and reestablish control.

This is the mutually-assured destruction line. Neither of us are playing many cards the rest of the game, but I have the board advantage.

Option #2

Draw and cast Council’s Judgment, exiling an Eldrazi Mimic. Then attack for 6 points of damage with 3 creatures (again leaving an extra one back in case of Dismember) to put the opponent to 8. Next turn, I can draw Blood Moon by using Sensei’s Divining Top in my upkeep, then draw Sensei’s Divining Top for turn. Cast Sensei’s Divining Top, (which will get countered by Chalice of the Void) for the prowess trigger, then cast Blood Moon for another prowess trigger and attack my opponent for lethal damage with four 3/3 Monks and two 2/1 Snapcaster Mages. Instead of drawing Blood Moon, I could also rearrange with Top and draw Jace the following turn if I need to.

The drawback to this line of play is that I am completely at the mercy of the top of my opponent’s deck. If my opponent draws Reality Smasher, I lose on the spot. If they draw Ratchet Bomb or All is Dust, then I lose. This line all but guarantees I will win the next turn, but leaves me vulnerable to a number of draws.

I am 1 point of damage short of forcing my opponent to throw away all of their creatures. That play involves drawing Council’s Judgment with Sensei’s Divining Top in my upkeep, casting Top (countered by Chalice) for the prowess trigger, then casting Judgment to remove a blocker. I would attack my opponent for 16 damage with four 3/3 Monks and two Snapcasters. The reason this line doesn’t work is because the opponent could chump-block one 3/3 Monk token, take 13 damage down to 1 life, and then kill me on the crack back with his last remaining creature. Because this play left me dead on board, I immediately ruled it out.

Option Number 3

Draw Jace, the Mind Sculptor and use the +2 targeting my opponent. Only bottom cards that kill me next turn (Smasher, Ratchet Bomb, All is Dust). Leave everything else on top. After seeing my opponent’s top card, attack for 6 damage with 3 creatures unless I see a Dismember, which I would leave on top and instead attack for 4 damage with 2 creatures.

The downside to playing Jace is that if my opponent has 2 good cards in a row on top of his deck (like 2 Reality Smashers, or a Smasher and an All is Dust), then I lose.

Jace also creates an interesting situation in the case where my opponent draws a mid-sized sedan. If my opponent trades creatures with my 3 attackers, and then draws something like Endbringer, Thought-Knot, or Endless One, I’m left again in a situation where I need to deal with that creature but also take care of the top of my opponent’s deck to prevent losing to Reality Smasher. I would need to likely use Council’s Judgment to handle the new threat, and Jace’s +2 to again try to control their draw step.

If my opponent takes the damage from my attackers, then they are left in a situation where Jace’s -1 and Council’s Judgment could produce lethal the following turn, depending on what they draw.

Those are the 3 options.

What’s the Play?

My Analysis

I think option #2: Council’s Judgment is easily the worst option. It plays around the least number of cards and it also wastes Council’s Judgment when my opponent could draw some weird card I’m not even thinking about. I’m dead to a Ratchet Bomb, All is Dust, or Reality Smasher off the top with this line of play, and the upside isn’t really there because playing Jace can actually put the opponent on the same clock, anyway.

I ruled out option #2 immediately. That left me deciding between option #1: Blood Moon and option #3: Jace +2.

Blood Moon is not a bad line of play, but it’s inflexible. I reduce my opponent to having to draw a specific card, but I can’t really beat it if they do. Personally, I don’t think flexibility actually matters. A play is correct if it gives you the highest chance of winning the game, regardless of whether you have control over that outcome. Players tend to gravitate toward playing the kinds of decks and making the kinds of plays that give them the most ability to maneuver, but that can be flawed. Sometimes going all in and forcing your opponent to have it, even if you have nothing left in the tank afterward, is completely correct, rather than making a worse play just because it involves more options.

I don’t believe this is one of those times. I think that the winning play is to order my library Jace, then Council’s Judgment, then Blood Moon. Play Jace and use the +2 ability on the opponent. The opponent has a guaranteed 4 relevant cards left in their deck, the 4 Reality Smashers, and potentially an extra 2-4 relevant cards. Those are things like All is Dust or Ratchet Bomb. For my opponent to win, he would need to have 2 copies of these cards back-to-back on top of his library. Although I have not personally done the math, I believe the likelihood of this happening is lower than the likelihood of my opponent drawing one of his few remaining outs under Blood Moon over the course of 3 turns.

Unless there is a removal spell on top, I can attack for 6 points of damage with 3 attackers, putting the opponent to 8. If my opponent doesn’t block, then he is dead next turn. Let’s say he doesn’t block and then draws Endbringer. He can play it and attack with the two 5/5 Eldrazi Mimics, which I would chump-block with a token each. Then my opponent has 2 blockers and I have 4 attackers. I can use Jace’s -1 to bounce one, Council’s Judgment to exile another, and swing for lethal. Even if he leaves the Mimics back, I can still bounce a creature, Council’s Judgment another creature, and attack with six 2-power creatures, which guarantees the remaining 8 damage would punch through two blockers.

Jace forces my opponent to have runner-runner Smashers, and presents a kill the following turn unless my opponent specifically blocks all 3 attacking creatures. In that scenario, I’m still ahead, but would need to fade another series of runner-runner Smashers.

What I Did

I cast Blood Moon. At the time, I felt like it reduced my opponent’s outs the most of any of my options, leaving him in a situation where he needed to draw 1 of the remaining 2 Endless Ones immediately to win. In hindsight, this was the wrong play and gave my opponent a better chance to win than necessary.

I got punished. My opponent drew Endless One immediately, and I lost. Had I cast Jace and fatesealed, I could have left Endless One on top and almost certainly won.

This situation was interesting because I am likely to win this game no matter which line of play I take, and the decision was simply to find the line that gave me the single best chance of winning. I chose the second-best line instead of the best line, slightly reducing my odds, and my opponent drew the specific card to beat me. Those tiny details are sometimes the only things that separate the best from the almost best, or the professional from the not-quite-there-yet players.

I blundered this time. Next time? Don’t count on it.

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