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Nine Tenths of the Law


"You done?" CJ asks.

You sigh. "No, this is going to take a while longer."

"We're going to be late for the movie," CJ says, looking at his watch. "Mari's going to kill us."

"If she knew what this game was like," you say, "she'd probably kill me if I conceded right now."

Your opponent slides her Merfolk Raiders toward the center of the table. "That phased in this turn, and I'm giving it the bonus from the Eidolon of Inspiration, so it's attacking as a 5/4 with islandwalk," Bonnie says.

"You're not throwing in your Kami of the Painted Road?" you ask. "I seem to recall you gave it protection from Blue when you re-cast your Blinking Spirit."

"Not since you cast that Mobile Garrison," Bonnie says. "Nice try, though."

"Okay, that puts me at eight life."

"She's not going to wait for us," CJ points out.

"Argh," you grunt. "Just a few more turns."

"The phasing's going to draw it out even more," CJ whines. "I really wanted to see those trailers, too."

You shake your head. This game is going a little too long for your liking, but you're on the verge of placing for one of the smaller prizes. Bonnie, on the other hand, isn't giving you any quarter: Despite her motley collection of cards, she's slowly taking chunks off your life total with her Merfolk Raiders. All in all, it's just another day with your local game store's Unabridged Cube.

"Okay, then," you say, "rubbernecking aside, are you done, Bonnie?"

"I can at least help with speeding this up," she says, and drops a Sphinx of the Guildpact on the table."

You and CJ are silent for a while. Then CJ pipes up: "Okay, that'll do it. So, do you want popcorn or what?"

"Thanks for the encouragement, CJ."

"That's my turn," Bonnie says. "You might need to play a little faster - your friend's probably going to explode if you keep him waiting any longer."

"What, CJ? He can wait a couple more turns. I'll do the thing with the Imagecrafter and the Wormfang Behemoth in response, by the way, so that's two damage to you."

"I'm at twelve," Bonnie sniffs. "Honestly, I don't think this is going to end in just a couple more turns. And I'm even assuming that you draw something good."

"You're both playing a Cube that has one of each card ever printed," CJ notes. "One of each card ever printed! You could draw practically anything!"

You finish untapping your permanents and draw a Legerdemain. Unfortunately the timing isn't quite right: Stealing Bonnie's Merfolk Raiders won't do you a whole lot of good at the moment, and you won't be able to use it to steal Bonnie's Sphinx. Otherwise this game would probably end a whole lot faster.

CJ's phone buzzes. "That's Mari," he says. "I think the lady wants some words with us."

"Okay, okay," you complain. "I'll start packing up."

"Uh... you might have left out a word there," CJ points out. "I didn't exactly hear you say you were packing up now."

"I just need a few more minutes," you say.

"We're going to be late for the movie!"

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

You are at 8 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.

Bonnie is at 12 life and has no cards in her hand. She has the following cards in play:

If you've got a solution in mind, don't put it in the comments! Help keep this puzzle a mystery to other readers!

Instead, if you think you've got a great solution, you can send your solution to puzzles@gatheringmagic.com with the subject line "Puzzle - Nine-Tenths of the Law" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, March 16, 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 Max Bernstein, Sean Patrick Keatley, Jonah Comstock, Russell Jones, Hyman Rosen, David Arnold, Jacob Butcher, Greg Dreher, "Bubbles", and Wei Lin. Michael Feldman also provided a very close solution.

"Your biggest problem in this puzzle is that you're close to losing," Greg Dreher writes. "You don't have a single life point to give away, nor can you gain life. But fortunately, you have nine poison counters to give. So why not give them all?"

"It appears the key to this puzzle is to come really close to suicide by poison," Max Bernstein explains. "Really, the key is realizing that Infect damage replaces normal damage - thus letting you get hit without dying, but I digress."

"There's no possible way to reduce James's life total by 17," Jacob Butcher continues, "but it may be possible to give James ten poison counters:

"It's difficult to make Thorn Lieutenant create creatures, so Phyrexian Swarmlord must create many creatures. And that means giving ourselves many poison counters. Suddenly the drawbacks of Hasran Ogress and Orcish Artillery seem like advantages!"

This means that a good amount of the puzzle involves dealing damage to yourself... without technically dealing damage to yourself. That said, the sequencing is still tight because you only have a limited number of effects at your disposal, and you need to match each effect to its appropriate use. David Arnold writes:

  1. Move to combat, attack with Hasran Ogress. Don't pay for its trigger and take 3 damage poison counters.
  2. James may or may not block. If he doesn't, go to "A" below. If he does, any of his blockers will kill the Ogress, but Ogress will not kill either Thorn Lieutenant or Phyrexian Swarmlord.
  3. When Hasran Ogress dies, Glistening Oil returns to your hand.
  4. bb to cast Glistening Oil on Rampaging Ferocidon.
  5. rrr to cast Orcish Artillery. When it enters the battlefield, the Ferocidon gives you another poison counter (up to 4). Soulbond the Artillery with Lightning Mauler to give both haste.
  6. rr to equip Sword of Feast and Famine to the Ferocidon. Glistening Oil falls off (because of Protection from Black) and goes to your hand.
  7. bb to cast Glistening Oil on Orcish Artillery.
  8. Tap Orcish Artillery targeting yourself. You end up with 5 more poison counters because of its ability (up to 9).
  9. Tap Priest of Forgotten Gods and sacrifice Orcish Artillery and Lightning Mauler, choosing no targets for its ability. You get bb and draw a card. Glistening Oil falls off and returns to your hand.
  10. r and sacrifice Goblin Cratermaker to destroy Sword of Feast and Famine.
  11. Use the floating bb to cast Glistening Oil on Rampaging Ferocidon.
  12. Tap Viashino Fangtail to deal 1 damage to Thorn Lieutenant (if James blocked with it earlier, it now dies). This creates an Elf token under James' control, and the Ferocidon gives him a poison counter.
  13. Pass the turn. On James' upkeep, the Swarmlord creates nine insect tokens, and the Ferocidon gives James 9 more poison counters, giving you the win.

If James doesn't block the Hasran Ogress:

  1. Hasran Ogress has attacked and not been blocked. James takes 2 poison counters.
  2. Tap Viashino Fangtail to deal 1 damage to Hasran Ogress. It dies and Glistening Oil returns to your hand.
  3. Do steps 4-11 above, skip step 12, and then do step 13. James actually ends up with 11 poison counters in this alternate.

"Hoisted by your own petard, darlin'," David adds.

"We had a bunch of steps to follow in this puzzle," Jonah Comstock writes, "and depending on whether James blocks our Ogress or not, we may have to do them in a slightly different order. But the general plan remains the same: Kill James with 10 poison counters, most of which come from Phyrexian Swarmlord's ability paired with Rampaging Ferocidon's trigger. It's James's Spirit of the Hearth that's forcing us into this roundabout plan, since Rampaging Ferocidon's ability is the only non-targeting option we have for damaging James.

"I got pretty stuck on this, thinking I had to find a way to get to 17 damage and coming up 6 short. Then when it finally dawned on me to end the turn with Glistening Oil on the dinosaur, it took some further fiddling to play the right game of musical auras with the Glistening Oil without running out of mana.

"On top of that, puzzles where I have to actually account for an opponent's choices always leave me with an extra layer of headache. But all this just made it a more rewarding solve in the end."

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