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Worth 1,000 Words


A picture is worth 1,000* words.

So... This was a thing that happened over the weekend:

Limited Skills

My friend, usual apprentice, and frequent content collaborator Roman Fusco had ground himself to Mythic in Limited. As you know, I made Mythic in Constructed myself last week, but unfortunately didn't have the time to further grind myself into Top 1,200.

Roman started out in Top 1,200 Limited and encouraged me to try the forty-card direction rather than sixty eighty this month, under the assumption of an easier long-term ladder. The Quick Draft format currently is Theros Beyond Death; which, though a couple of sets out of current, is one I am very familiar with due to its being the Limited format for Players Tour Phoenix way back before the apocalypse smacked us all in the face.

I opened a Setessan Champion and forced aggro Auras from there.

Not surprisingly, this was [eventually] a seven-win deck; but the really interesting thing is what's happening just in the above screen cap. What's going on here?

For most, the most interesting element has to be that Pheres-Band Brawler. Normally a top incentive pick for its 4/4 body and Flametonge Kavu-like fight ability, my Pheres-Band Brawler has to be contending for one of the most impressive of all time. 262,144 power, eh?

Yes, over two hundred thousand power!

Wait a second, beloved MichaelJ, you are probably saying. How in the Theros Underworld have you not won the game already?

I'm glad you asked, beloved reader. There are three notable permanents on the other side of the table.

Moss Viper
Moss Viper
Klothys, God of Destiny

Actually there are two other really notable ones, but let's start with these three.

Klothys came out relatively early, which explains my opponent's super high life total of 47. Believe me, I was beating the bejeezus out of them from early on, but a four point life swing per turn is really going to blunt that beatdown. What you don't see here is that I had to fight through the same Nyxborn Colossus - with ggg in its upper-right hand corner - twice, which meant that Klothys wasn't just draining me every turn, it was actually online as an indestructible blocker.

I suppressed Kothys a few times with expensive alpha strikes. Between my Pious Wayfarers, a couple of Indomitable Wills, and the one Karametra's Blessing, I was able to clear Devotion to Green (and several of the opponent's creatures). Heroic units were lost, but I was banking most of my likelihood to win on the Hydra's Growth on my onetime 4/4 anyway.

Then the first Moss Viper appeared.

At that point I had to hope 1) they weren't going to be able to kill my Centaur Warrior, and 2) I could find my Captivating Unicorn before Kothys just killed me.


Found the Captivating Unicorn! (obviously)


Another Moss Viper?

The situation was starting to look dire. My only consolation was that there weren't an overabundance of permanents that were actually going to the graveyard for Klothys to eat; which would give me time.

Some other stuff happened. With my Destiny Spinner. She allowed me to get some good attacks in as well... But by the time the screen cap happened she, too, had fallen to the care of Athreos. Not the card "Athreos" or anything... You get what I mean. Flavor here. Flavor-wise.

I said there were two other cards that kind of mattered on the other side of the battlefield. This is a big one:

While Nylea, Keen-Eyed is technically the bigger bomb, power and toughness wise, the more salient one is Enemy of Enlightenment.

I was able to keep Enemy of Enlightenment from just flying into my life total three or four times by enchanting it with Dreadful Apathy. Nevertheless there were two insanely relevant corollaries falling from its presence on the battlefield.

  1. I could not plan or sandbag for a big, tricky, attack. I basically had to play what I drew every turn or I would risk having to discard [whatever that was].
  2. More importantly, any non-land cards that I drew (that might have to be discarded) would go to the graveyard to potentially power up Klothys. I was already in single digits and only still breathing due to the medical heroics of Nexus Wardens.

It's arguable that my opponent should have just been sending forces at me to get Klothys that much closer to winning, but staring down - call it merely - fifty thousand power was probably daunting, even with a usually robust 40+ life.

So, for a long stretch moving into the end game, this was more-or-less how the table was set. I had to try to figure out how to get my one deceptively fragile threat through two deathtouch creatures and an indestructible god. I really Really REALLY did not want to be the first moron to lose a Limited game with 200,000 or so power in play.

Do you see the mistake - or at least possible mistake - yet?

It has to do with my first pick:

As you probably realized looking at the deck list, this forty is a banger. It's got tempo and momentum on the O between Pious Wayfarer and Favored of Iroas; with a sick triple team on three of Heliod's Pilgrim**; Siona, Captain of the Pyleas; and first pick Setessan Champion. The deck not only has great enchantments density in general, but those three cards really up the synergy and selection.

More than half of my deck's business spells are enchantments... Yet that Setessan Champion has only one paltry +1/+1 counter.

The obvious implication is that I drew Setessan Champion late: Notably, after the opponent already had Enemy of Enlightenment on the battlefield.

I'll be honest with you. I didn't really think about it. I just drew my first pick; finally drew my best card; and played it.

When to Quit

I think the second event I ever did professional coverage for was Pro Tour New York 1999, which was Urza's Block Constructed. I was qualified for that PT; won every Game 1 on Day One; finished 2-5 or so, and found myself writing about the Top 8 instead of playing anywhere near it.

In the semifinals, card sharp Shawn Keller murdered future Hall of Famer Dave Humpherys 3-1 in what looked like a completely lopsided match on the numbers. But I remember watching; and scribbling into my notebook; and getting almost every game prediction wrong. I was sure - sure - Dave was going to win Game 1. Keller was stuck on two lands in an artifact-based mirror while Dave had used his matchup-defining Citanul Flute to find a main-deck bullet Viashino Heretic. How could Dave not win?

But Keller - stuck on two lands remember - somehow cast Wildfire... Which killed Dave's relatively small Heretic but only cost Keller two lands (you know, on account of being manascrewed). Shawn built back up over a now-manascrewed Hump and ended up winning the first handily.

In an eerie echo, I again thought Dave was going to win Game 3. Shawn started on a mulligan... Down a card... And then Dave drove the nails deeper with every play. Rack and Ruin two-for-one. Avalanche Riders two-for-one (on Keller's now-banned Tolarian Academy no less). Citanul Flute for the long game Demonic Tutor every damn turn. Opponent down a card; check. Opponent down three cards. Check! End game engine online: Time to shuffle up? Not quite. No one told Keller it was over. Shawn made a desperate Phyrexian Processor for 10... And it just kind of got there. A well-placed Rack and Ruin later, and victory was stolen from the jaws of truly oppressive card advantage.

Surprising twists and turns - or just being wrong about who was ahead in a matchup - haven't ceased to bedevil my ability to predict the future any time in the last twenty-one years. At some point, it's about what matters. Does card advantage matter? Do particular key permanents matter? How is a game of Magic: The Gathering ever really won or lost? It's like that scene at the end of Searching for Bobby Fischer where Evil Chess Genius (TM) is ahead on all the materiel, refuses Our Hero's proffered draw... Simply misses the backdoor queen kill.

This game of mine was one that could have gone a completely different way. Who doesn't quit when they're up against... I dunno? Twenty-five thousand power? Gotta say, the opponent knew their outs. Moss Viper and Moss Viper and just staying in it with a splashed Red God.

I almost quit in frustration a bunch of times. It's not like I had my deck list handy. I had a vague idea there was some way to give trample left in my deck. I tried going semi-wide with middle-large attackers and combat tricks with my Destiny Spinner... But like I said before, she bit the farm in one of the advantageous-but-not-lethal Alphas. And after Klothys took a broom to the settled dust? They were up at higher life total than ever.

Did you find the mistake (or possible mistake) yet?

In my head, I was doing mental math (once I figured out I had to draw Setessan Training). It just can't be the last card in my deck is what I was thinking.

Only that's not true, is it?

Setessan Training

Setessan Champion

I'm wondering now if it might have been right to just discard the Setessan Champion. I mean I would have felt pretty stupid discarding my best card - especially deep in a game that could go either way - given that card is also a card advantage engine for a half-enchantments deck.

Such a discard would have given the opponent two more life and made it that much more difficult for my poor, hard-working Nexus Wardens to keep me alive.

But here's the thing:

Assume I can only win if my Centaur Warrior lives, and lives long enough to find Setessan Training to wear into The Red Zone.

Given the text on Setessan Training, I can win:

  1. If Setessan Training is my second-to-last card, or
  2. My third-to-last card

But not if it's my last card.

Given the text on Setessan Champion AND Setessan Training... I lose the ability to win if that vital Aura is my second-to-last card. Giving the opponent one more Drain-for-two doesn't double their likelihood of winning; but playing Setessan Champion there is dangerously close to that.

You can also argue that it could dig me further into my enchantment-laden deck faster; hopefully winning before they could find an answer to the gigantic Pheres-Band Brawler. While I did have that as part of my thought process, it never occurred to me that I might be damning myself even if I got the card I needed, in a context where it would have otherwise been good enough.

As it was, I had exactly two basic lands left in my deck at the end of the game, which gave me exactly enough margin for the W; and the prompt to take a screencap I hope you'll agree was worth sharing.

Funny how many twists, turns, and possible mistakes went into a 200,000-point victory, though, huh?



* I guess make that 1,891.

** I'll have you know I once made Top 4 of a Constructed Super IQ with Heliod's Pilgrim

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