Two Gameplay Puzzles

The weekend before last, Standard with Shadows over Innistrad had its debut at the SCG Open in Baltimore. I watched several rounds live and saw 2 interesting game situations. They essentially came down to a giant puzzle that is fun to solve.

What’s the Play? With Pyromancer’s Goggles

In this game, you’re taking the seat of Todd Anderson, playing a blue/red deck with Thing in the Ice and Pyromancer’s Goggles.

At the point where you come in, you’re at the beginning of your opponent Mike’s combat step. On the last turn, Mike attacked you down to 13 life with Reality Smasher. On the current turn, he added Thopter Engineer, a Thopter token, and a 2/2 Hangarback Walker to his board—he’s ready to attack.

Game with Goggles

On your side of the battlefield, you have 5 lands (including Wandering Fumarole) and Pyromancer’s Goggles. In hand, you hold Lightning Axe, Fiery Temper, and Fall of the Titans. There’s also a Drownyard Temple in the graveyard.

Between madness, surge, and copies, what’s the bet way to use your resources and stave off Mike’s attack?


Allow Mike to attack and take the damage, falling to 4 life. Then, at the end of Mike’s turn, take him down to 10 life by copying Fiery Temper with Pyromancer’s Goggles. Also, bring back Drownyard Temple from the graveyard.

Subsequently, on your turn, cast Lightning Axe (on an arbitrary target, discarding the card you drew for your turn) to achieve surge. Then, play Fall of the Titans for X=5, copy it with Pyromancer’s Goggles, and point both copies at our opponent to deal exactly lethal.

This line of play yields a guaranteed kill, but it’s tough to find if you are in a defensive mindset. In an actual game of Magic, there is no alarm bell on the table that rings when a certain sequence yields a guaranteed win. For that reason, I didn’t phrase the question as “how do you win the game on the next turn?” but rather as “what’s the best play?”

To use a famous historical example, Hall-of-Famer Gary Wise once cast Shock on an opposing creature rather than on his opponent who was at 2 life. Because he was so focused on staying alive, he mentally shortcut to ignore his opponent’s life total for the time being, but that worked out poorly for him.

A lesson to take from this is that if you are playing a deck with direct damage spells, you should always subconsciously check whether you can assemble lethal somehow. 


What’s the Play? with Ormendahl, Profane Prince

In this game, you’re taking the seat of Jadine Klomparens, playing Naya Midrange with Nahiri, the Harbinger and Den Protector.

After a long, grindy game during which your opponent Harlan transformed Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl, Profane Prince and resolved Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you’re now in a situation where you have 2 cards left in your deck and the next attack from Ulamog will be lethal. You know that the last 2 cards in your deck are a land and Dromoka’s Command because you put them there with Oath of Nissa.

Game with Den Protectors

It’s currently the end of Harlan’s turn.

Your Battlefield

Harlan’s Potential Blockers

Your Hand

Your opponent Harlan is at 14 life. He has 1 card in hand, which is probably nothing relevant, but for sake of the puzzle let’s suppose it’s an Ultimate Price. Can you still somehow win the game?

My Solution

This is a complex situation with tons of creatures on both sides of the table. Considering the entire tree of possible attacks and blocks is way too complex, so you need to simplify it. A good starting point is to focus on evasive creatures only. In this particular situation, that works out perfectly because Harlan has more than enough chump blockers for everything except Den Protector—he even has 2 Thopters to chump both sides of Avacyn. By disregarding all the irrelevant creatures, the battlefield essentially comes down to 4 Den Protector on your side and Ormendahl as a potential blocker on your opponent’s side.

Now that you can focus on what matters, things suddenly become much easier.

The next thing to consider is how to get around the lifelink on Ormendahl. A trick that you can use is that Ormendahl will not provide any life if the creature it is blocking dies before combat damage is assigned. Since you have Dromoka’s Command in hand, you can force the Den Protector that would be blocked by Ormendahl to fight Ulamog.

All right, so far so good: You are planning to attack with all your Den Protectors and will use Dromoka’s Command to kill your own blocked Den Protector. If you indeed lose a Den Protector to an Ultimate Price, then you would put Harlan down to 7 life (6 damage from 2 unblocked Den Protectors—1 from Llanowar Wastes).

Then what? Your dead Den Protector would trigger Archangel Avacyn, which would deal 3 damage on Harlan’s next upkeep. So you need 4 more damage.

Remember that you’re still thinking at the end of Harlan’s turn. You have Avacyn’s Judgment in hand, which is not enough without a madness outlet, but fortunately, you have an unmorphed Den Protector on the battlefield. This yields several options, but the most stylish one is to get back Nahiri from the graveyard at the end of Harlan’s turn, cast it on your turn, use the plus activation to discard Avacyn’s Judgment, and deal enough damage to win the game.

One lesson to take away from this is that Ormendahl, which you may face frequently over the course of next year and a half, can be defeated by killing your own creatures. You saw that lifelink could be denied with Dromoka’s Command in this setting, but you can also do it with cards like Pia and Kiran Nalaar or other instant-speed removal spells. This option should always immediately be on your mind when you face Ormendahl. 



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