This week, we’re doing something slightly different than usual. Similarly to last month, I played in the Magic Online Legacy Challenge and did not do well. This will be a short tournament of sorts, although this time around, the bigger picture things are not nearly as interesting as some of the smaller decisions I had to make during the tournament.
First off, what went wrong? I picked the right deck, had a good list, played really well but I still went 2-4. You can’t win them all and sometimes you can’t win any of them. Or something like that. My matchups were Shardless Sultai, Grixis Delver, Team America, Storm, Aluren and 4C Delver (the Deathrite/Decay/Snapcaster list). Two things are interesting here. The first is that I went 2-4 in matches but 8-8 in games. The second is that I played against blue Deathrite decks in five out of six rounds (2-3 in matches but 7-6 in games).
I said we were doing something different today, so here’s the deal. I didn’t really learn anything from the tournament except that I maybe have to shift my list’s priorities (I’m still the overall concept of the deck makes sense). Therefore, I can’t fall back on my usual blueprint of going over 5-10 lessons from a week of playing. Instead, I want to go over situations from the tournament that I found interesting. Today, there’s only one lesson:
#115 — Playing Canadian Threshold vs. Deathrite Shaman.
Let’s start with my first turn of the tournament. In this situation, I have three options. I can use Wasteland, cast Nimble Mongoose or just play Flooded Strand.
First, I have to try and figure out my opponent’s deck. I think it’s most likely that they’re on Shardless after such an opening. It could also be Grixis, but Grixis Delver rarely has hands that don’t cast spells turn one on the play. Of course, they could be keeping up Stifle, but that’s not incredibly common.
Casting Nimble Mongoose here is clearly the worst option. I would open myself up to Wasteland without really accomplishing anything. Yes, there are games that you lose because you’re one damage short, but playing Mongoose here is just reckless. My opponent is very unlikely to Daze here, but I do not want to open myself up to Tarmogoyf, Baleful Strix or Wasteland.
Using my own Wasteland is somewhat reasonable, but it’s very bad if they’re indeed Grixis holding up Stifle.
“Flooded Strand, go” also plays into Stifle, but it gives me more flexibility. If they are indeed on Grixis with Stifle, I can at least garner more information and potentially navigate my fetch around a Stifle, given that I also have Wasteland. This also allows me keep up Stifle on my own, a card that my opponent was indeed worried about on their turn, otherwise they would not have cracked their Delta. This line also allows me to keep up Brainstorm, just in case.
Here’s what happened next:
My opponent cast Brainstorm on my end step and then revealed they were indeed on Shardless by playing basic Forest into Tarmogoyf. Luckily I kept up Brainstorm and drew into three free counters (#skillgame). What to do here?
In the short term, the card I am least likely to use is Counterspell. I am also unlikely to cast either creature because I want to be able to keep up Stifle. The rest of the cards I probably want to keep in hand to have options. So the question here is: Which counter do I want to use on Tarmogoyf?
I can Daze or I can Force, with four different cards to pitch.
The most intuitive line here is probably Daze, then keep up Stifle on my next turn. I think that’s pretty bad if my opponent has Shardless Agent into anything relevant on their next turn. If I do this, I will put myself significantly behind on board.
So what about Force? There’s no way I’m pitching Brainstorm or Stifle, so do I want to keep both copies of Daze or one Daze and the Counterspell? As I mentioned before, I think it’s very unlikely I’m using Counterspell anytime soon, and given the presence of both Stifle and Wasteland, I like keeping double Daze.
I think the correct play is to put back both creatures, Force pitching Counterspell, untap, Wasteland and keep up Stifle. (For those interested, this is indeed the line I took and it won me the game.)
Same opponent, game two. I’m on the draw again and my opponent took a mulligan. I think there are two plays here.
Number one is Delver with Daze backup, hoping to get to Winter Orb mana as quickly as possible and then win from there. My issue with this line is that Delver is my only creature and I don’t want to expose it to Abrupt Decay (or any removal, really) so readily.
The second option is Wasteland. Many players say that you should use Wasteland when you’re ahead to get the maximum value, and I really do like value. But if an opponent mulligans and then plays into Wasteland without doing anything, I consider that an open invitation. This can of course be a bluff, but I think the downside is minimal in this matchup, while the upside is huge — they might just not get to play Magic. (For those keeping track, this did not work out, but I drew into another Wasteland and two copies of Stifle and won a long game off Nimble Mongoose.)
This time, I actually am up against Grixis Delver (I won the first game in unexciting fashion — my opponent did not do anything).
Once more, there are three options: Ponder, Mongoose or Pyroblast. If my opponent has Stifle here and I fetch, that’s as close to losing as I can get on turn one. If I can make my opponent keep up Stifle though, I get to play another land and then start defending my lands with my Pyroblast.
This one is very basic, but basics are important.
(I won this game numerous turns later largely due to conserving my lands to cast True-Name Nemesis in the late game. My opponent did have Stifle.)
This is game one against what could either be Team America or Shardless. This is not necessarily a decision, but a sweet play that you have to see. Given that my opponent wants to protect their Tarmogoyf, I think it’s fairly likely that they are otherwise low on answers to my Nimble Mongoose, so I can use my Wasteland to force them to fetch and then Daze their Force with the fetchland activation on the stack — this way I trade 2-for-2 with the Force while getting rid of their Goyf.
(They kept drawing Tarmogoyfs, I kept drawing Mongooses, I lost.)
Game two of my match against Team America.
I could easily let Clique resolve, kill one creature and then try to block the other — if I do let Clique resolve, it is most likely that my opponent takes my Bolt here. I could then Dismember Clique, play my own Delver and hope to win from there. I don’t like this line all that much; I think you are supposed to play towards the board in Delver mirrors and this would put me too far behind.
I think the correct play is using Force pitching Daze. Then I can Bolt my opponent’s Delver and cast my own, trying to redirect a potential Daze away from my True-Name Nemesis. This is also the line I took in the tournament; my opponent did not Daze, but followed up with a Liliana:
I think this Ponder is very interesting. The card that’s least likely to be useful here is Spell Pierce. Snare is great because it can counter a Tarmogoyf or Hymn and Volcanic is great in case my opponent had Daze in either their last or their next draw step — after all, I want to cast True-Name next turn. Apart from my opponent’s potential follow-ups, there is already a Liliana on the board that I will likely have to discard to.
Therefore, I want to draw Spell Pierce this turn (with the intention of throwing it into Liliana), Volcanic next turn to be Daze-proof with my True-Name and Spell Snare last because it’s the card I’m least likely to actually need.
(This play worked out even better than expected; my opponent cast Jace on their next turn and did not activate Liliana at all, so I just ran away with the game.)
On their last turn, my opponent cast Ponder, electing to keep their cards. Then they played Misty Rainforest, which they used to fetch Tropical Island during my end step, after I played Wasteland. I think fetching Tropical here is really clever if they don’t want to draw their top card — if they get either Sea or Volcanic, I can completely cut them off from one colour, but Tropical is either a good attempt at misdirection or it gives them great options no matter what I do.
Another thing to note is that I activated my Wasteland on my opponent’s upkeep. If you are not casting any spells on your turn or they are tapped out, you should always activate Wasteland on your opponent’s upkeep. If they have Stifle, that still puts them down one mana for the turn with no downside for you.
Now why do I aim my Wasteland at the Underground Sea? My opponent could be on one of the Grixis lists or the full-on four colour Delver deck. If they’re on Grixis, they might have Pyromancer, but I have a Snare for that. I don’t really care about Lightning Bolt here either because I have Nimble Mongoose. Given that neither of the red cards these decks usually play are threatening me here, that rules out Volcanic Island as a target.
If they’re on burg, they might have Tarmogoyf, but I also have that covered with Spell Snare (and Dismember, if it comes to that). Deathrite can be cast off either Sea or Tropical, but Gurmag Angler, which is the card I am least prepared to handle here, can be cast off Underground Sea only, which makes this decision easy for me.
As it turns out, my opponent just proceeds doing nothing:
This might not seem like a scenario that warrants any decisions, but it most certainly is.
I think it is very important to play a land and cast Tarmogoyf before attacking. If they counter Tarmogoyf, that puts me at four cards in my graveyard (five with the Delta). Then, if they try to ambush my Mongoose with a Snapcaster Mage, I either get to Spell Snare that or, if they try to force it through, get Threshold for my Mongoose, ensuring that it doesn’t die to Snapcaster Mage.
(This is exactly what transpired; my opponent used Force on Tarmogoyf, then cast Snapcaster into my attack, I cast Snare, they tried to protect it with Pierce, I cast my own Pierce, winning the exchange and getting two extra damage through.)
Do you kill Deathrite Shaman here? You usually want to hold on to Dismember for the bigger creatures (Gurmag Angler and Tarmogoyf). However, Deathrite Shaman severely slows down my clock and with double Daze, five mana is an important benchmark — it allows my opponent to resolve True-Name Nemesis.
Considering that Gurmag Angler is an eventuality (especially considering my opponent has only two more turns before my Mongoose kills them) whereas the threat of Deathrite Shaman has already manifested, I like killing Deathrite Shaman, even though it feels bad using one of only two copies of Dismember for that and leaving myself with a very weak hand.
(I did kill Deathrite, my opponent did attempt to cast True-Name on their next turn and my Nimble Mongoose won the game.)
I hope you enjoyed this deviation from my usual structure for these articles. If you have any plays of your own that you’d like my opinion on, please feel free to share them.
Thanks for reading!