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By the Skin of Its Teeth

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Ironscale Hydra
So far in this booster draft tournament, Shay is the only one among all your opponents who hasn't taken a second look at your Ironscale Hydra. That, in itself, should have been a warning sign.

The presence of the Hydra in your deck is already interesting, especially considering that it hasn't been officially released yet. However, your local game store's Unabridged Cube tends to come up with preview cards like this: No one's sure who's putting them into the Cube (or how they're getting the new cards at all), but you don't mind taking them out for a spin whenever you have the chance.

Unfortunately, your third-round opponent, Shay, has just revealed the other upside to playing the Unabridged Cube. Although you're aware that the Cube has one of each card ever printed, you haven't really absorbed the implications of that - namely, the possibility that the Cube also has multiple versions of each card ever printed.

And that's why you're staring down the barrel of dual Serra Angels right now - one from Tenth Edition, and one from Dominaria.

"That's bad," you say.

"You're telling me," Shay says. "I almost had three of them, actually."

"How'd that happen?"

"I had a Fourth Edition version show up in the first pack I opened. But I picked an Umezawa's Jitte over that. The first Angel didn't table, of course."

"I don't know what I should be more concerned about - the fact that you have both Serra Angels facing me right now, or the fact that your deck has a Jitte that you haven't drawn yet."

"It happens," Shay shrugs. "You're at six life, right?"

"Yeah, you attacked me with the first Angel before you cast your second one."

"Okay," Shay nods. "I'll just cast an Eidolon of Rhetoric. That's the last card in my hand."

You raise an eyebrow. "What, no counterspell bluff?"

"I'm going to end it with the Angels next turn, and the Eidolon already brings you down to one spell," Shay says. "I would be very surprised if you found a way to stop that."

You beg to differ, of course, but saying something at this point would be premature. "Okay," you say, "point taken. Does this mean that you're ending your turn?"

"Be my guest," Shay says.

You untap, take your draw, and add a Nature's Way to your hand. That gives you a good chance to take down one of your opponent's two flyers, but you still have no way to deal with the other one. And between Shay's Crawlspace and Eidolon of Rhetoric, your options are more than a little limited.

"You don't have any more cards in hand, right?" you ask.

"And nothing I can activate," Shay adds. "Why? Are you planning something?"

"To tell the truth, I don't know," you mumble. "The only thing I can say for sure is that this might be a little close."

It is the start of your first main phase. Defeat Shay before the beginning of her next combat phase.

You are at 6 life, with the following cards in play:

You have the following card in your hand:

You have not yet played a land this turn. You still have a substantial number of cards remaining in your library, but you know neither the identities nor the order of those cards.

You have the following cards in your graveyard:

Shay is at 14 life and has no cards in her hand. She has the following cards in play:

If you think you've got a great solution in mind, don't put it in the comments! Instead, send it to puzzles@gatheringmagic.com with the subject line "Puzzle - By the Skin of its Teeth" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, January 6, 2020. We'll include the best ones in next week's article along with the next puzzle!

Last Week's Puzzle

Correct solutions to last week's puzzle were received from Sean Patrick Keatley, Addison Fox, Russell Jones, Hyman Rosen, Michael Feldman, Jacob Butcher, and Sevi Alvarez.

"The solution is mostly to use Bloodletter's ridiculously-triggered ability twice via Unhallowed Pact," Jacob Butcher writes. "The subtle part, however, is ensuring that neither a Thopter token nor a Saproling token is left behind as blocker."

"The first key to this puzzle," Sevi Alvarez continues, "is realizing that for creature tokens which aren't given specific names, their creature type is their name. Once you figure that out, the puzzle becomes a sticky maze of stack manipulation."

The solution here involves moving around the Healer's Headdress for its ability and toughness bonus, then allowing your Loxodon Convert to attack unimpeded. "After all," Addison Fox writes, "it wouldn't be Christmas if we didn't have a puzzle involving an exchange of gifts, a white elephant, and someone getting punched in the mouth:

  1. Cast Unhallowed Pact on Bloodletter for bbb.
  2. Tap Bloodletter using the Healer's Headdress to prevent one damage to Loxodon Convert.
  3. Pay 1 to move Headdress to Festering Goblin, making it a 1/3.
  4. Now attack with Haazda Marshal, Ticking Gnomes, and Loxodon Convert.
  5. Haazda Marshal triggers, making a 1/1 Soldier. In response to the trigger, sacrifice Ticking Gnomes to ping Overgrown Armasaur, graciously giving Raffi a Saproling token.
  6. Three permanents (Saproling token, Soldier token, and Slaughterhouse Bouncer) now begin with the same letter. Bloodletter dies, dealing 2 damage to everything and everyone and triggering Unhallowed Pact to return Bloodletter to play.

    • We can stack things however we want, since we have the luxury of emptying the stack before the next step.
    • We drop to 6, Raffi drops to 8, and the following things die: Haazda Marshal, Soldier token, Filligree Crawler (which has a "dies" trigger to make a Thopter token), Saproling token.
    • Festering Goblin and Loxodon Convert both survive, burning the damage prevention shield on the Convert.
    • Bloodletter returns to the battlefield.
  7. Still before blocks, tap Festering Goblin to prevent one damage to Overgrown Armasaur.
  8. Use our last ww to move Healer's Headdress to Slaughterhouse Bouncer.

  9. Two Treasure tokens and a Thopter token triggers Bloodletter again.

  10. At the end of the carnage, all of Raffi's creatures are dead, and we managed to avoid regenerating Loxodon Convert (which would have removed it from combat). Our 6-power white elephant - the sole untapped member of this formerly-crowded board state - is able to connect for lethal.

"What I initially took for a fun puzzle of mediocre difficulty," Michael Feldman notes, "I gained new respect for as I neared what I thought was a solution. At first I thought we had more than enough mana to bounce around the Healer's Headdress and protect Loxodon Convert. Then I realized that Overgrown Armasaur also needed late-sequence protecting, lest a final Saproling token spoil the party after we otherwise cleared the board. That really narrows down who can wear the Headdress and when. It also makes essential both Healer's Headdress's instant-attachment ability as well as the actual use of the Treasures we get."

Bloodletter's interaction with Unhallowed Pact allows for an alternate solution, though. Sean Keatley's summary answers the question of what happens if we resolve Unhallowed Pact's triggered ability before Bloodletter's damage ability:

  1. Pay bbb to put Unhallowed Pact on Bloodletter.
  2. Tap Bloodletter to prevent the next 1 damage to Loxodon Convert.
  3. Pay w to put Healer's Headdress on Loxodon Convert (now a 6/4 with 1 damage prevented).
  4. Attack with Haazda Marshal, Loxodon Convert, and one other creature (it doesn't matter which one).
  5. Haazda Marshal's ability triggers and resolves, creating a Soldier token.
  6. Sacrifice Ticking Gnomes to ping the Overgrown Armasaur, creating a Saproling token for the opponent.
  7. There are now three "S" permanents, so Bloodletter sacrifices itself with the damage ability on the stack. Bloodletter's return from Unhallowed Pact is now also put on the stack.
  8. Let Bloodletter's return resolve. Bloodletter enters the battlefield and is sacrificed again due to its ability, with another damage trigger put on the stack.
  9. The second damage trigger resolves, dealing 2 damage to everything (opponent at 8).

  10. The first damage trigger resolves, dealing 2 damage to everything (opponent at 6).

  11. Our Loxodon Convert's 6 damage gets through for lethal.

"Despite the extra alliteration provided by the Treasure and Thopter tokens," Jacob writes, "you can ignore them and trigger the Bloodletter's ability by the same initial card triplet twice in quick succession. This allows Festering Goblin's ability to kill off the Armasaur and avoid a final inconvenient Saproling."

"'Un-' cards make for uniquely entertaining puzzles," Michael adds. "Why else would we be keeping track of something so seemingly arbitrary as the first letter of each permanent name?"