Flores Rewards Friday - Who’s the Control Deck?

Feature Article from Michael Flores
Michael Flores
4/18/2014 10:01:00 AM
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This week's Make the Play Monday was a wee bit complex (speaking of which, sorry about the initial typos that left a Thoughtseize in our hands; my fault).

We had a tough open to our game two. Only five cards in hand, which were:

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Hero's Downfall
Temple of Deceit

Our opponent, playing Saito Bant Control (“Bant Superfriends”), kept seven.

We led with Temple of Deceit, gave ourselves a Watery Grave, and played Thoughtseize on the second turn, revealing these seven cards (our opponent had a Temple of Enlightenment on the battlefield at this point):

Detention Sphere
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Sphinx's Revelation
Temple of Mystery
Temple of Mystery

[In the hypothetical] we took Detention Sphere and played our Watery Grave tapped.

Our opponent drew and played Island.

The twofold questions posed by this week's Make the Play Monday, then, were:

1) Do you agree with taking the Detention Sphere?
2) How do you play the third turn?

Before going into my solution, I'd like to share the one provided by Flores Rewards Friday's first ever (and now second returning) Celebrity Guest, Alexander Hayne:

1. Yes, I would have taken Detention Sphere. Our plan with our hand is clearly to land Ashiok and pull off an ultimate, and since we are so behind on cards we can't really try to play the attrition game by taking Kiora or Sphinx's Revelation. And because we are on the play we can slip in Ashiok ahead of Dissolve. Detention Sphere is the only real answer that exists on the axis on which we are planning to fight this game, so we take it and hope that the opponent doesn't draw another in time (since they have inevitability).

However, I would have played Mutavault over tapped Watery Grave that turn, since I think my life total is relatively safe in the matchup, and having the potential option of hitting with Mutavault is more significant to me than the two life points from Watery Grave on a later turn.

2. Our opponent played Island, when we knew their hand contained Dissolve and two copies of Temple of Mystery.

I am going to make the assumption that our opponent is a rational human being, so why did they not play a scry land that turn to enable turn three Island with Dissolve up? If they drew a land to play an untapped land this turn and the next for Dissolve, then why would they not want to play the scry land and have Dissolve into Kiora? What could they have drawn to make them want to play the Island this turn?

The two cards that come to mind are Syncopate or Negate (from the sideboard). There is the definite possibility that our opponent is bluffing the Counterspell, but they first of all don't know what the contents of our hand are (though taking Detention Sphere does give the plan away somewhat), and second of all fairly few opponents would consider making such a Level 2 play. Since we drew Swamp, we have the option of just passing the turn to play around Syncopate and being able to have one mana up the following turn and resolve Ashiok. If the card our opponent drew was Negate, we have no such option. Also, if we choose to pass the turn, our opponent could draw an untapped land and keep up Dissolve. Something else to consider is that Ashiok's ultimate is the only really useful thing in the matchup, since the opponent's deck contains only an AEtherling for creatures (which we can't blink), and so the longer we hold off on playing the Ashiok, the more time our opponent has to find an answer before it goes ultimate. So our options are to play around Syncopate + no untapped land next turn for the opponent by passing the turn, or to play our Ashiok now and hope that the Island was an unlikely bluff and that we draw another comparable threat in our one-turn window before Dissolve comes online. I think our chances of winning this game are very slim, but that our best chance comes from hoping that the opponent drew Syncopate rather than Negate and that they do not draw an untapped land the following turn rather than hoping that our next draw step is either another Ashiok or Underworld Connections.

I would play Mutavault and pass, and likely play Swamp + Ashiok the following turn (though if we draw Duress or Thoughtseize I would lead with that).

Alexander Hayne's Solution:
1) Alex would have taken Detention Sphere (but would have played Mutavault).
2) Alex would play Mutavault and pass.

Alex shows us here how much better a Pro Tour Champion thinks than the average Magic player with his turn two play.

There was some dissent among the TCGplayer audience; most folks seemed to agree with Detention Sphere (seeing the implied Ashiok line), though there were votes for Sphinx's Revelation and even Dissolve as well. Alex (I think correctly) agreed with taking the Detention Sphere, but went with Mutavault instead of Watery Grave on turn two.

I in particular hate taking Sphinx's Revelation because it is an implication that us down two cards and spotting the opponent a Dissolve puts us on our best likelihood of winning. If you figure Hero's Downfall trades with Kiora and Detention Sphere trades with Ashiok [some time before Ashiok wins, which might be turn six], that is what you are saying with the Revelation pluck. If he goes Kiora → Explore #1 and we “answer” with Hero's Downfall we are now down three cards. Can't get behind that one.

Longtime readers probably chuckled to themselves over this as he and I came down on different sides of a first turn Mutavault in the very first Flores Rewards Friday.

I think Alex's revision on turn two is almost certainly correct, and it is the kind of play that is somewhat validated by our drawing the Swamp on turn three. The downside of playing Mutavault on turn two is that if you [still] want to jam Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver on turn three you have to take two. Unless you rip, say, a Swamp.

“Play good, get paid.”
- Every high level gamer, ever

That said, I disagree with Alex's analysis of the third turn on a couple of key points.

Thoughtseize tells us the opponent has several live cards, Detention Sphere being slightly less powerful and flexible than Dissolve in the abstract; and Sphinx's Revelation being a true trump card if allowed to realize its full potential. No one at this stage is scared of Kiora, the Crashing Wave; and in fact we have the Hero's Downfall to deal with it.

The opponent had two Temples and an Island, meaning that on turn two he could, on time script, lay a Temple of Mystery; and then play an untapped Island on turn three to have Dissolve (or Detention Sphere) mana online.

He knows we know this, as we have just seen his hand.

But we took Detention Sphere.

Detention Sphere is better than Dissolve in only one case: When we can resolve a threat under Dissolve that the opponent cannot easily remove. In my opinion, by taking Detention Sphere, we are signaling the opponent that we might have such a card on our turn three.

So the opponent answers our bold Thoughtseize with a basic Island.

What could they be representing?

Alex is right that the opponent is signaling either a Syncopate or a Negate.

He has a maximum of five Syncopates and Negates in his deck. We don't necessarily know much about how our opponent is playing, but here are some things to consider:

1) Players on the draw will often side out some or all of their Syncopates (which are like Mana Leaks but worse).
2) He probably has all his Negates in.

As the opponent has fifty-two cards left in his deck, his likelihood of drawing a Negate is only 3.8%. If he has all five in his deck -- which I would put on generally unlikely -- he is still only 9.6% to have drawn one of them.

I like those odds.

Which begs an interesting question...

Let's linger a moment on the difference between Duress and Syncopate here.

With Syncopate he might be keeping us off of our play for a turn, but at some point all those Temples are going to catch up with him. We can plan and play around that card.

We can't really play around Negate, though. Again, he has less than a 4% chance of having drawn a Negate, which is really encouraging. The only way we can “play around” a Negate is by first drawing a Duress or Thoughtseize, or picking up a redundant awesome threat like Underworld Connections or a second Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

The problem is that time is not on our side.

We are already dramatically behind in this game. Dramatically. We started off two down and the opponent has got a Sphinx's Revelation in hand. The opponent has plenty of lands and his lands in fact have the superpower of drawing him into more lands (if he wants them). We know he has a hard Counterspell and our deck is completely bereft of fast threats that can dodge around a Dissolve.

Though we might have a pass THIS. TURN. ONLY.

Now here's the question:

If the opponent is, as Alex noted, a rational human being, what could he have drawn, other than a terrible Syncopate and even worse Negate?

If he drew a generic non-Negate spell, playing the Island puts him in a severe pickle. He is going to be stuck playing a Temple on turn three, and won't be able to cast his Dissolve. If he drew a Syncopate we can play a fourth untapped land (which we already have) and can play Ashiok through a Syncopate (as Alex potentially suggested).

What could our “rational human being” have drawn?

It's actually kind of simple, and it doesn't require him to know what potential big spell we have.

Though he has less than a 10% chance of having ripped a Negate or Syncopate, there are an awful lots of potentially untapped lands he could have pulled.

There are fourteen Breeding Pools, Hallowed Fountains, Mutavaults, Islands, and Plains that the opponent could have drawn that could justify his play. It is about three times as likely he just drew an untapped land than a two mana permission spell!

If he drew, say, Island, it would be trivial for the opponent to try to represent Negate with Island, and then just play another Island to turn on Dissolve for his turn three.

How would we categorize our chances of winning this game, variously?

● Bid time and trade cards - Less than 1%. We can't effectively trade cards because he has Sphinx's Revelation and we didn't take it.
Mutavault offense - Alex is right and we leaked value by not playing Mutavault on turn two. However I put ten unchecked Mutavault attacks (plus whatever buffer he gets from Sphinx's Revelation) at roughly 0% likelihood to win. Obviously we delta some value by hitting with Mutavaults to make other stuff a little more lethal but I severely dislike this line.
● Out-land him: We will not out-land him. He can guarantee land drops with Temples and his mana advantage combined with Dissolve and Sphinx's Revelation put us in a severe hole.
● Stick Ashiok [early] - I put us on a substantial favorite to win (over 50%) if we stick Ashiok. He is already down a Detention Sphere, meaning he only has maybe three Detention Sphere left to answer the card in his deck. It will take some time to get AEtherling or such online, and we might even have an open to steal it. That said, I don't think we would veer off to steal a dude when we can just ultimate him. Sticking Ashiok now might allow us to de facto win the game before he even draws a relevant card. The beauty of Ashiok in particular is that if it flips cards like Mutavault or Detention Sphere it actually protects itself while slowly killing our opponent.

Our plan, especially by taking that Detention Sphere, must be to stick Ashiok.

The question is whether we have a better shot this turn or next turn.

● He drew Negate - We cannot easily stick it either turn. (4%)
● He drew Syncopate - We are kold this turn but likely not next turn. (6%)
● He drew land - We are good this turn and kold next turn. (25%)

That's the math I used when I played my Mutavault and jammed Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.

If we try this turn we are 90% to be successful but if we try next turn we are at best 70% likely...while giving him another pluck to either draw an untapped land (for Dissolve) or another [2-5]/51 to a two mana Counterspell.

Mike's Solution:
1) Taking Detention Sphere was correct; Mike concede's Alex's Mutavault was better.
2) Mike played Mutavault and went for Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver with the objective of [+2]

So how did you guys do?

- For agreeing with Alexander Hayne, Joe Meckel receives $25 in TCGPlayer.com store credit!
- For agreeing with YT, Christopher Griswold receives $25 in TCGPlayer.com store credit!

Congratulations to Joe Meckel and Christopher Griswold. Make sure you send a message to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes! Thanks to everyone who played; I hope you all are enjoying this series.


Alexander Hayne is a Pro Tour and Grand Prix winning machine. He was the 2011-2012 Magic Pro Tour Rookie of the Year. Surely you'll want to follow him on Twitter at @insaynehayne.

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