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Pearls Before Swine

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Curse of the Swine
You tap a Plains. “I’ll activate my Martyred Rusalka and sacrifice a creature to stop your Wanted Scoundrels from attacking this turn.”

Portia waits patiently as you look over your side of the table. You’re tempted to sacrifice your Su-Chi, seeing as it’s useless with a Clinging Darkness attached… but something tells you that you’re better off saving the mana boost for later. Your face-down Vesuvan Shapeshifter is another option, but its morph ability might turn out to be useful, and it’s a source of uncertainty for your opponent, which is always good.

You eventually note that sacrificing your Exultant Cultist might be your best choice. Portia has both Aether Flash and Repercussion, which means that you’re getting hit for two damage every time you get a creature into play. With most of the creatures in your deck being of low toughness, that means that you’re trapped in a soft lock; you need to root into your library and find a way to draw yourself out of this hairy situation.

Unfortunately your draw from the Cultist is a Gallant Cavalry, which doesn’t make your situation any better. Despite the presence of your defensive line, Portia has ground you down to 3 life with her Exuberant Firestoker. You’d rather not kill yourself by playing your own Cavalry just yet.

You’re still having an interesting time, though: It’s nice to return to your local game store’s Unabridged Cube after a while. With one of each card ever printed, the limited environments are more taxing than usual… but at least you’re not getting the same headaches as the combined Guilds of Ravnica / Ravnica Allegiance drafts from the past few weeks.

Portia considers the situation and waves one hand. “I’ll skip my combat phase,” she says. “I’m sure the Firestoker can take this one home.”

You shake your head, wallowing in your own misery here. You can only hope that your next draw isn’t something completely useless.

“I’ll cast my Sengir Nosferatu,” Portia says, dropping the last card in her hand.

Your expression brightens. “Take two damage from Aether Flash and Repercussion?” you ask.

Portia looks confused for a moment, and then laughs. “I forgot about that,” she admits. “Okay, that brings me to eight life, and I’ll end my turn. Take two damage from Exuberant Firestoker?”

You lose the smile. “That puts me at one life,” you whine.

“You still have one last turn,” Portia adds.

You untap your lands, cross your fingers, and pray for something that isn’t a land or a two-toughness creature. You draw… a Curse of the Swine!

You’re still apparently doing a poor job of keeping your expression neutral, because Portia immediately picks up on your change in reaction. “That must be something good,” she says. “Does that mean I’m about to lose?”

“Maybe in ten minutes,” you say. “I’m still thinking about it.”

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

You are at 1 life, with the following cards in play:

You have the following cards 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.

Portia is at 8 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 - Pearls Before Swine” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, February 18, 2019. 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 Addison Fox, Ryou Niji, Kirk Maijala, Matt Bocek, Brian Weinreich, Sean Patrick Keatley, James Reuterskiold, Sergey Sirotin, Kevin Strzalka, Daniel Moncada Tabares, Max Bernstein, Russell Jones, James Wilson, David Arnold, Hyman Rosen, Michael Feldman, Ryan Grundmeier, Chris Billard, and Kevin Bocek (whose solution was submitted as a work of short fiction, excerpts of which are included below).

(Our legends say that the Okapi were blessed with the ability to sense danger centuries ago by Mat'selesnya after our grazing ground at the world tree was colonized. Most think this simply makes us scarce, as we flee with the herd far before danger comes near. But this is typical humanoid arrogance and hopelessly ignorance of our true blessing.)

“With the Sky Tether tying down the only flier on the battlefield,” Ryou Niji writes, “there is no way at all to punch through for combat damage, which means that the only source of damage available is the combo of Truefire Captain and Titanic Brawl. If Truefire Captain could fight itself then things would be easy, but Titanic Brawl doesn't allow us to target two of our own creatures at all. Fortunately, we have just enough ways to buff one of the opponent's creatures to 8 power, and finish things up before the opponent draws his next card.”

This makes for an interesting solution in that you need to steal one of your opponent’s creatures, make it bigger, and then give it back. The Smelt-Ward Ignus on your side makes this easy, but it still raises the choice of which creature to steal. Out of all the things you can grab, though, James Reuterskiold explains that only the vigilant antelope works in this case:

  1. Tap a Mountain and two Plains for Smelt-Ward Ignus's ability, targeting Wary Okapi. (As I run I realize I hear the ignus screech out in pain and watch as it’s suddenly consumed by its own flame. The smell sickens me and the sound penetrates my battle-hardened mind and shakes my soul to the core. But as I shake off the fog, I see her. Riding atop her trusty horse who, even now, eyes me with suspicion and perhaps jealousy.)
  2. Tap three Plains to equip Wojek Bodyguard with Glaive of the Guildpact (making it a 5/3 creature with vigilance and menace).
  3. Attack with everything except Knight of Sorrows.
  4. Tap a Forest and Selesnya Guildgate to cast Root Snare. (As we prepare to fight strange roots explode out of the ground making battle today impossible. What is this? Some trick from the dryads I abandoned? A warning from my forgotten Okapi brethren? I do not care. I cannot care. The one thing that has ever made me forget the perpetual danger in this world and here and I will fight for her. Despite the lack of a formal battle, my captain and the bodyguard teach me what they can.)
  5. Tap three Mountains to equip Wary Okapi with Glaive of the Guildpact. Okapi is now a 7/4 creature.
  6. Tap Tenth District Veteran, Wojek Bodyguard, Truefire Captain, Knight of Sorrows, and Wary Okapi to convoke Venerated Loxodon, putting a +1/+1 counter on all of them. Okapi is now an 8/5 creature. (A veteran soldier asks us to bow down for the approaching of our priest. Though my head was down I caught a glimpse of her windy snout swaying in front of her vestments and stole. I bow my head even further down and blush with honor. A loxodon I had seen before, but one of such status was truly a sight to behold.)
  7. Pass the turn with a Gruul Guildgate untapped. Control of Okapi returns to Sun.
  8. During our opponent's upkeep, tap Gruul Guildgate to pay the (reduced) cost for Titanic Brawl, targeting Truefire Captain and Wary Okapi.
    • Truefire Captain takes eight damage. Target Sun with the Captain's trigger, dealing eight damage to him. (I shall not run from this fight. I gallop towards her, feeling a rage building up in me. She knew this was the plan. She could have left at any time but no, she chose this. Did our final night mean nothing to her? Do all the bonds of nature that I have broken to forge one with her mean nothing?)

“The interesting part about this,” Brian Weinreich writes, “was making sure you could keep all of your creatures untapped through combat to convoke the Venerated Loxodon afterwards. Thankfully, one of Sun's creatures with 3 power has vigilance, and your own Tenth District Veteran is able to untap the Truefire Captain… so you have exactly enough mana and untapped creatures to make it all work.”

“The requirement in finding this line is understanding that equipment doesn't immediately fall off a creature if you lose control of that creature,” James Wilson explains.“I really liked how using the Fog was probably the most important piece of this puzzle: If Sun blocks in such a manner that our Truefire Captain dies, or Sun gains life from the Thirsting Shade (regardless of whether he activates its ability), then we do not have the exact amount of damage required on the Captain later to kill Sun. However we still must attack as the Okapi cannot grow large enough to kill Sun later during his upkeep without resolving the Mentor triggers.

“Another subtle piece of the line is understanding that you must not attack with the Knight of Sorrows.This is because we are required to have five untapped creatures to cast the Venerated Loxodon. This is important because we don't have enough mana to cast the Titanic Brawl if we are forced to use even a single mana for the Loxodon.

“Lastly, for this line to work, we have to stop on Sun's upkeep to cast the Brawl. Our opponent is in blue, which means that in addition to the Lotleth Giant that could kill us, they could also top-deck a counterspell of some sort to invalidate the Brawl and avoid losing the game.”

“For what it’s worth,” Kirk Maijala adds, “the opponent doesn't need to control two or more Gates for this to work. The Glaive is still controlled by you even though it is equipped to the opponent's creature, so it still counts your Gates when you give the Okapi back.”

(I know that my story is almost at an end. But for once I feel not manipulated by danger, or by even by love, but that I am simply myself. Wary of nothing. I accept the world as it is with all the danger and beauty I have soaked in.)

“This one was pretty,” Michael Feldman muses.“How often do we steal an opponent's creature just to pump it up and give it back?”

Even if he does lose to these plays, though, Sun still comes off with a small victory regardless. “Unfortunately,” Chris Billard sadly notes,“we still don't know what card is on top of Sun's library.”

(Kevin Bocek’s complete work, The Battles I Picked, may be found here.)