The Last Gasp

Posted in Feature on August 31, 2005

By Zvi Mowshowitz

Before we get to this week's article I need to issue a quick correction and an apology. A lot of readers were confused by last week's article because they did not understand why your opponent would not tap a Kami of Ancient Law to destroy your Manriki-Gusari with one of his before you could even equip a creature. The reason is that the diagram that was posted was incorrect; both copies of Kami of Ancient Law were supposed to be tapped. I accidentally omitted that information and (as those of you who read the message boards for that article already know) Scott was out and therefore unable to catch and correct my error in time. Hopefully the article now makes a lot more sense. I have improved the procedure for catching such errors and I will do everything I can to make sure similar errors do not occur in the future.

Click to enlarge

I still intend to use multiple examples when I think it will help, but the more complex a scenario is the more there is to be gained from going into greater depth. With that in mind, today's problem is the most complex one so far. Your position is strong but depending on what your opponent has in his hand it could be precarious. The background given by the reader who submitted this is that your opponent is the best player at your local store. Rather than win as often as he can by using standardized decks, he instead chooses to play strange builds in order to keep himself challenged and keep it fair. You're both playing monoblue decks, and the end is near. He only has four cards left in his library, and you've got him down to three lands in play and four life points, but you're at only one life. The format is Legacy, so your opponent could be running almost anything. What you do know is that he is playing a deck heavy on counters including Force of Will and Thwart. He also has an unknown amount of bounce in his deck.

We don't know where all the other lands went, but for now assume that Upheaval is responsible but that your deck doesn't contain any more copies.

It is currently your precombat main phase.

YOU (1 life): in play - Isochron Scepter (imprinted with Counterspell), Island x9 (three with Annex enchanting them); in hand - Counterspell, Phantom Warrior, Evacuation, Echoing Truth, Reins of Power; in library - 20 cards
OPP (4 life): in play - Island x3, Vedalken Shackles (tapped, stealing Fatespinner), Ophidian (tapped); in hand - 7 cards; in library - 4 cards
--Benjamin Visger

The question is what to do. How do you go about figuring this out?

What are you looking for?

All right. Skipping what you learn from his graveyard for a moment, what are your options?

First, consider the scenarios where he untaps and then you cast Evacuation.

What happens once Evacuation resolves?

We have our first option. What about option two?

What would it take for your opponent to win against this plan?

What is wrong with this plan?

What about option three, casting only Echoing Truth?

Which option is best?

There is more you can consider here, going into the way the other turns might play out, but this is about as deep as you want to go. There is one more thing to consider: If your opponent is going to play a relevant spell on your turn either way, you most certainly do not want to cast Phantom Warrior. That is another reason to pass the turn. By passing the turn, you potentially deny him the use of his mana and you also deny him information. He doesn't know how you plan to stop him and if he casts any spells during your turn he has to do so blind. Once you see what he has, you can once again consider both of your choices and go from there.

This game must be planned out from this point, if it has not been planned out already. At any point in which you have multiple plans that make sense, you need to weigh all the plusses and minuses of each plan. What cards is each plan strong against? Under what conditions is each better than the other? Sometimes the trade-off is the ability to play around a card, in this case Force Spike. In other cases you are taking more general risks right now to avoid giving your opponent time. The other important thing to remember is that you care most about the point at which it is easiest for you to lose. If your opponent has the chance to kill you with three spells now, it doesn't matter that much whether he needs four or needs five to win on his next turn. If he didn't have three spells, what's the chance he is going to have four next turn? Often you can take a huge hit later on to get even a slight edge during the crucial turn.

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