It's All in the Timing

Posted in Limited Information on March 17, 2009

By Steve Sadin

You lost a close Game 1 to your opponent's Jund deck when, after the board was stabilized, he made a bunch of tokens with Necrogenesis that pummeled you and sent you reaching for your sideboard to bring in Relic of Progenitus.

You won the second game on the back of a turn-three Sedraxis Specter followed by Sedraxis Alchemist. Your opponent didn't draw any removal for Sedraxis Specter and quickly died to it.

After sideboarding, your deck now looks like this:

Bonus Exercise Draft Deck (Sideboarded)

Download Arena Decklist

Your opponent opened the game on a Forest, you started with Swamp, Relic of Progenitus. Your opponent then played a Mountain and passed the turn. You know that your opponent has two Jungle Weavers and a Ridge Rannet in his deck (that can help power up his Necrogenesis).

It is your turn two. You have Swamp and Relic of Progenitus in play. You draw for your turn, and your hand consists of:

Wretched Banquet
Sedraxis Alchemist
Sedraxis Specter
Kederekt Creeper
Viscera Dragger

What do you do on your turn?

Viscera Dragger

Far and away the most common answer in last week's forums was to pass the turn and cycle Viscera Dragger at the end of your opponent's turn.

And why not?

Viscera Dragger costs to cycle as opposed to the that it costs to sacrifice Relic of Progenitus, so we won't be wasting any mana. To top it off, Relic of Progenitus can severely limit the effectiveness of the otherwise dangerous Necrogenesis that we already know is in our opponent's deck.

But there's a lot more going on than that.

We need to draw a blue source soon in order to turn on our hand. We can get by without a blue source for a while, but it's definitely in our best interests to dig as much as possible as quickly as possible, and that means we are going to have to pop our Relic of Progenitus by next turn if we don't draw a blue source.

If we cycle our Viscera Dragger first, that means that we are likely going to have to remove it next turn (if we don't draw a blue source) when we sacrifice the Relic of Progenitus.

Assuming we are placed in that scenario, yes, we can unearth the Viscera Dragger first, but that would prevent us from being able to cast the Wretched Banquet in our hand or use one of our Esper Panoramas or Rupture Spires, or even our Crumbling Sanctuary if we draw it. Unearthing in that spot simply isn't worth it given the contents of our deck.

Many posters in the forum were too concerned about Necrogenesis. Yes, it's a good card, but the presence of a Necrogenesis in your opponent's deck shouldn't dictate your entire course of play. You should also keep in mind that even if you have a Relic of Progenitus against an active Necrogenesis, if your opponent has enough mana he or she will still be able to make tokens by activating Necrogenesis a second time after you respond to the initial activation with your Relic of Progenitus.

Relic of Progenitus

The big argument for cycling Viscera Dragger first is not that it protects your from Necrogenesis (which it does to some extent) but rather, because we have two Rupture Spires and two Esper Panoramas in our deck we would want to be able to leave ourselves the ability to sacrifice our Relic of Progenitus on our next turn and still have the mana available to power up our blue source.

By sacrificing the Relic of Progenitus now, you can feel free to cycle your Viscera Dragger next turn (or whenever you want, for that matter). If you cycle the Viscera Dragger first, it can make your subsequent plays pretty awkward as you decide if you need to pop your Relic of Progenitus and remove your unearthable 3/3.

If the deck had an additional Island-fetching panorama or Rupture Spire then I would definitely cycle the Viscera Dragger first, but as it is I think it's more important to maximize our chances to draw a blue source for our next turn.

Similarly, it would be better to cycle the Viscera Dragger first if we did not have a Crumbling Necropolis in our deck. The presence of a "comes into play tapped" Crumbling Necropolis in our deck means that we want to sacrifice our Relic of Progenitus before we play a land instead of at the end of our opponent's turn.

Crumbling Necropolis

Yes, cycling the Viscera Dragger first has a lot of upside, but the likelihood of throwing away our Viscera Dragger for good isn't worth missing out on the chance to draw a Crumbling Necropolis and immediately hop into fourth gear along with being likely to throw away our Viscera Dragger for good ultimately isn't worth it.

Not only do we run the risk of removing our un-unearthed Viscera Dragger, but depending on what we draw we might want even want to pay the full for a permanent 3/3.

Playing Around Cards When it Doesn't Cost You

Your opponent has a Swamp, a Mountain, and a Forest untapped. You have a bunch of Akrasan Squires, Sighted-Caste Sorcerers and Sigiled Paladins. If you connect with a creature that is attacking alone, it will be lethal. Your opponent has some chump-blockers, but she's otherwise in trouble.

Your hand contains an Aven Squire. Do you play it before combat?


Your opponent could have a Branching Bolt or a Jund Charm or any other sort of cards that could ruin your day. And you don't actually gain anything by playing your flier—your creatures are all lethal anyway.

As a rule of thumb, if you don't gain anything by playing a card, don't play it. If you don't gain anything by playing a card now instead of later, wait to play it.

When Not to Wait

It's the end of your opponent's turn. You're on 20 life; he's on 11.

You control a Forest, two Swamps, a Mountain, Shambling Remains, and Pestilent Kathari. Your lands are all untapped. In your hand are three cards: Soul's Fire, Jund Charm, and Cavern Thoctar.

Your opponent's board consists of two Islands, two Swamps, a Mountain, and Dreg Reaver. His lands are all tapped, and he has four cards in hand.

What do you do?

Well, the correct play is to cast Jund Charm at the end of your opponent's turn and give your Shambling Remains two +1/+1 counters. On your turn you attack with your two creatures and either your opponent chump-blocks your 6/5 Shambling Remains with his Dreg Reavers, or he takes 7 and dies to your Soul's Fire.

Soul's Fire
Jund Charm

If you don't cast the Jund Charm to pump up your 4/3 at the end of his turn, you're going to have to use it on your turn when the Dreg Reavers blocks your Shambling Remains and you won't have the mana to do much else.

This example is a result of a mistake that I made that cost me a match. I'm normally very aware of this type of play, but for some reason I completely blanked on it this time.

The very moment I untapped for my turn I realized the opportunity that I had missed. Unfortunately, it was too late for me to do anything about it. I drew a Nyxathid, attacked with both of my creatures, pumped Shambling Remains when he blocked with Dreg Reaver, and passed the turn because I didn't have the mana to cast my freshly drawn guy. I was way ahead at this point, but I wound up losing the game to two Cruel Ultimatums that my opponent never should have had the time to cast.

If I had had more mana then it almost certainly would have been right to wait to cast the Jund Charm. But as it was I had a very limited amount of mana to maneuver with. Because I was almost certainly going to cast the Jund Charm on my turn, and because there was no way that casting the Jund Charm on my opponent's end of turn step could lead to anything bad ....

I could go on for a long time about how bad this mistake was, but ultimately it happened because I went on autopilot. I had a trick that could make combat awesome for me, so I wanted to cast it after damage was already on the stack.

If I had thought critically about the situation I would have seen what I had to do. I didn't think critically, and I didn't see it.

Don't Let Your Mistakes Cause You Further Harm


Pretty much everyone has accidentally played an exalted creature after they attacked with one creature. This type of mistake happens. We become conditioned to making certain plays at certain times (we play our creatures after combat, our instants at the end of our opponent's turn, etc.).

Going on autopilot has also led me to play an exalted creature precombat, then realize that I had to attack with multiple creatures. Yes, it can be embarrassing to attack with multiple creatures after you play a Court Archers, but if it's the right play you have to do it.

Realizing that you made a mistake and then playing correctly after that means that you are playing well, but you did something wrong. Sure, that mistake can be costly, but it won't be anywhere near as costly as it would be if you had continued down a road of incorrect play.

It's impossible not to slip up from time to time and miss out on opportunities to play things at unintuitive times. But if you keep your eyes open and think about your cards in terms of what they are doing for you this game, instead of what does this card normally does, then you're going to find yourself on your way to some very well-played games of Magic.

The End of Your Opponent's Turn ...

... isn't always the right time to do things.

When you are actively digging for a card (that you can play that turn if you draw it), then it will often be right to play your cyclers/card drawers on your own turn instead of your opponent's turn.

Interestingly enough, the reason why we try to dig for cards on our own turn stems from the same reason that it is generally correct to cast your spells at the end of your opponent's turn. You always want to wait until the last possible moment that you can do something and still get the desired effect or the maximum impact from it.

When mana isn't an issue, you don't have to use your removal spell at the end of your opponent's turn, even if you are 95% sure that you will end up killing that creature when you untap. If you're worried about a counterspell or a pump spell, that can also change when you want to play your spells.

Giant Growth

If you are worried that your opponent might have a counterspell, you will often play your most powerful instant spells on their upkeep. If she does have the counterspell, then she will have to use it before getting any additional information from her draw step. If she doesn't have the counterspell (yet), then you don't give her the chance to draw one that turn.

If you have a burn spell that you are going to use on a creature, and you are worried that your opponent might have a pump spell to save it, then you might want to cast your burn spell on your turn so they can't deal you additional damage with the pump spell.

There's a lot more going on here than just the little that I've touched on here, so I'll definitely come back to this idea soon.

No Bonus Exercise This Week...

But join us next week for the return of the draft walkthrough!

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