Welcome to the conclusion of What’s the Play?
In part 1, I laid out a scenario, and today I’m going to look at what I would do in that scenario. To recap, here’s where you are:
What do you take?
To answer that, you need to look at what your lines of play are with each card. Clearly, it isn’t as easy as picking the best card, as you need to figure out what your next couple turns are going to look like. I am also disregarding your draw step, even though you will have access to more cards over some of the turns I describe, because you don’t know what those cards will be when you have to make the Anticipate decision. Sometimes you can bank on certain cards during draw steps, like Anticipating into Drown in Sorrow against Mono-Red’s best draw and hoping to draw land three, but you aren’t anywhere close to that desperate in this case.
The first thing I’d do is eliminate Crux of Fate from consideration. Looking at responses, most people came to the same conclusion. There’s just no reason to take a 5-mana spell that can’t even necessarily kill either of your opponent’s creatures, and with Ojutai in hand you already have a good turn-five play. Your opponent is missing land drops, and it is very unlikely that you end up in a spot where you need Crux to survive given that you will take a removal spell if you pass on the Crux.
Once Crux is eliminated, it gets harder. Let’s go through each card and what each selection leads to, then compare those lines to see which looks best.
When compared to Foul-Tongue, Bile Blight is a little less powerful here. Blight gives you a choice of what to kill, but both creatures are close enough that it’s not a big deal to give the opponent the choice instead, and the extra 4 life from Foul-Tongue is relevant. What Bile Blight does let you do is play a tapland on turn three, likely Temple, at which point you are guaranteed to get to 5 mana on turn five. That ensures that Ojutai comes down as early as possible, letting you try and put the game away before the opponent recovers from mana screw.
If you take Bile Blight, you are planning on casting it on turn three after playing Temple of Enlightenment, and you should be killing the Lion. Rakshasa Deathdealer isn’t very impressive in the hands of an opponent short on mana, and you will have a chance to Hero’s Downfall the Deathdealer at some point, so you should just kill the creature that hits for more. After a turn-three Blight, you can cast Downfall or Dissolve on turn four while playing your other tapped land, and cast Ojutai on turn five.
This line of play was the most popular answer.
By taking Foul-Tongue Invocation, you are basically locked in to playing Island on your turn three. You can’t take a 3-drop and follow that up by not playing one of your three 3-mana spells, so you run the risk of not having 5 mana on turn five, though you get to look at a lot of cards before you get to that point.
Once you’ve taken Foul-Tongue, there are still many more options.
Assuming you play the Island, you can cast a main phase removal spell or you can leave mana up for Dissolve. Casting a removal spell on your main phase likely means using Hero’s Downfall, as getting rid of the Lion is better than killing the Deathdealer. That saves you the most damage and plays around Valorous Stance, and there’s a decent chance your opponent can’t cast a spell on their fourth turn. Even if they did draw a land, many of their lands enter the battlefield tapped, and their hand could easily be a combination of removal spells and cards that cost 3 or more.
That brings us to the play I would make: take Foul-Tongue Invocation, then play Island and pass the turn. If your opponent attacks and doesn’t pump Deathdealer, just take 5 down to 12. Keep Dissolve up to counter any post-combat creature, and if your opponent doesn’t cast anything, cast Hero’s Downfall on the Lion at end of turn. If your opponent does pump Deathdealer, cast Downfall on the Lion in combat. You probably end up taking the same from either creature, but there’s a chance that your opponent pumps Deathdealer the following turn as well, in which case you take 4 + 0 instead of the 3 + 3 the Lion would deal.
Next turn, again keep up Dissolve and be ready to cast it, or start casting removal spells if you did have an opportunity to Dissolve a play the previous turn.
I like this line of play because it makes it the least likely you fall behind on the board, even if you take a little more damage while doing so. The 4 life from the Invocation compensates for that, and I’m not too worried about getting stuck with too many tapped lands. Even if you don’t draw an untapped land to play turn-five Ojutai, you should be in a decent position. Presumably you are drawing a mix of spells and tapped lands, so unless your draw steps are literally all Temples and Backwaters, you have plenty to do.
This scenario is interesting because of how close the decisions are. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, and I think taking Bile Blight is very defensible, though I have ultimately come to the conclusion that it’s worse. Once you’ve taken Foul-Tongue, leaving up Dissolve seems best, because you can’t lose if they don’t cast a spell on turn four anyway, so you might as well plan for them casting one.
EFro pointed out to me that you are a massive favorite no matter what you do (unless you take Crux, in which case you are still a favorite, just less so), but that doesn’t make it unimportant to make the correct decision. If this were to happen in a game, you could easily win the game despite making the wrong choice, which certainly doesn’t help you learn from your mistakes.
It may seem exhausting to look at all the possibilities that stem from a simple Anticipate on turn two, but that’s the game we are playing. Part of the skill in Magic is being able to figure all this out in a reasonable time frame, and if you want to excel you do need to examine your decisions with this level of detail. Not every turn is nearly this complicated, and once you’ve figured out a line of play you usually don’t have to reevaluate all that much for a few turns (though you are getting new info every turn). Hopefully looking at plays like this will help you when you encounter similar situations, as well as giving you a framework to make decisions, even those that don’t resemble this in the slightest.
Let me know what you think of the play I chose, and what you think of this new series. I’ll be back with a new situation in just a few days!