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A Little Nudge

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Word spread fast after you managed to draft a Brain in a Jar from the Unabridged Cube last week, and your local game store has been hosting straight Limited events as a result. You’re aware that the Unabridged Cube is a collection that includes one of each card ever printed, but you never actually thought it was this complete.

In the interest of curiosity, you’ve questioned virtually everyone you know as to where the new cards might be coming from. Strangely, no one can remember adding Shadows over Innistrad to the Cube’s contents—much less who owns the Cube itself.

Confused, you decide to calm your thoughts by sitting down for a Draft, and you’re immediately rewarded with yet another Shadows over Innistrad card. Topplegeist is your first play in the first game of your first match, surprising your opponent by matching his turn-one Mtenda Lion.

Unfortunately, the remainder of your game hasn’t turned out so well. You’ve gotten stuck with your deck’s smaller creatures, while Olivier has slowly been ramping up his plays: first a Brood Keeper, then a Soul Swallower (hey, another Shadows card!), and finally a Lesser Gargadon. Your Onyx Mage, however, has been an effective deterrent for him—despite the quality of his creatures, Olivier hasn’t had any good attacks for the last couple of turns.

Olivier eventually draws and plays a Monkey Cage, and it’s at this point that you realize he’s going to try for a critical mass of attackers. Your next draw, however, is a Banewasp Affliction—which does nothing to stem a likely tide of big bruisers, much less give you the impression that it’s playable.

You reach for a couple of your lands, think for a long while, and then suddenly start chuckling.

Olivier looks up at you. “I’m not sure if I like that laugh,” he says.

“Then you’re going to love this,” you tell him.

It is the start of your first main phase. Defeat Olivier before the start of his next combat phase.

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

Onyx Mage

You have the following cards in your hand:

You have the following cards in your graveyard:

You do not know the identity of any of the cards that are currently on top of your library.

Olivier is at 7 life and has no cards in his hand. He has the following cards in play:

Mtenda Lion

Olivier currently has no cards in his graveyard.

If you think you have a great solution in mind, don’t put it in the comments! Instead, send it to puzzles at gatheringmagic dot com with the subject line “Puzzle — A Little Nudge”. 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 Russell Jones, Norman Dean, Dorian Sinclair, Ryou Niji, Aaron Golas, David Jacobs, Andrew Muravskyi, Nate Burgess, George Leung, Bob Wilson, Tim Reinholz, David Solomon, Quadrangolo Tetra, Etienne Brosse, Bohdan Yarema, Andrew McLaren, Sanjay Saith, Will Shankles, Aaron Tesler, Subrata Sircar, Jonathan Kustina, Bill Murphy, Matt Cook, Miko Losantas, Matthew Harvey, and Kriz Lee.

A lot of different solutions were submitted, almost all of which ran on similar principles. The first thing to note is that even if Pinkie is at 17 life, you have a lot of damage sources available: Fling and Brimstone Volley can easily go to the opponent’s face, Piracy Charm can effectively make one of your creatures unblockable, and under the right circumstances, Psychic Transfer is a 5-point swing.

“With a lot of tricks and options and a real creature disparity on the table,” Tim Reinholz says, “the clearest game plan is throwing things at Pinkie's done until she relents. Brimstone Volley and Fling synergize nicely to offer 9 to 11 damage (the latter when used with Piracy Charm), so we just need to recast either or both twice and we should manage the required 17 damage.”

The twist, though, is just that: You have to cast some spells twice. In addition, you have a limited amount of mana on the table (in addition to your Brain in a Jar). Bill Murphy therefore points out: “The two key things for this puzzle are first that you gotta cast Surreal Memoir this turn and second that you don't actually gotta cast anything with Gleemax.”

David Jacobs’ solution is a good place to start:

At the opponent's end step:

  1. Tap a land for Brain in a Jar (1 charge counter). Cast Piracy Charm targeting Retromancer. Your life total goes to 15.
  2. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Brain in a Jar. Tap a land to activate Brain in a Jar (2 charge counters). Cast Hidden Strings, untapping Tidewater Minion and Brain in a Jar. Cipher onto anything; we won't be using the cipher ability.
  3. Tap a land for Brain in a Jar (3 charge counters), casting nothing.
  4. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Brain in a Jar. Tap a land to activate Brain in a Jar (4 charge counters). Cast Surreal Memoir, bringing back Piracy Charm.

During your upkeep:

  1. Tap an Island and cast Piracy Charm to give Retromancer islandwalk. You go to 12 life. Rebound Surreal Memoir and bring back Piracy Charm, although we won't be using it again.
  2. Tap a land for Brain in a Jar (5 counters). Cast Psychic Transfer to switch life totals with opponent, putting her at 12 life.
  3. Attack opponent with Retromancer, putting her at 9 life.
  4. Fling Tidewater Minion at the opponent, putting her to 5 life.
  5. Brimstone Volley the opponent, dealing 5 damage due to the morbid ability.

There are multiple variants to this, but the logic remains the same:

Surreal Memoir’s rebound ability can work for you in this case: “We did cast it from hand,” Ryou Niji notes, “even though it's through Brain in a Jar.” Casting the Memoir after Piracy Charm and Brimstone Volley will therefore end up returning both—one after you first cast the Memoir and the other when it rebounds.

Russell Jones notes that after you cast Psychic Transfer, you can also use Tidewater Minion to untap Brain in a Jar, tap it to cast Reality Strobe on itself, and then replay the Brain to cast Piracy Charm, Fling, and Brimstone Volley in quick succession. (You would need to resolve your ciphered Hidden Strings ability for this to work.)

Ryou points out that there’s a second approach that doesn’t use Psychic Transfer, though. Instead, it plays around with Surreal Memoir’s rebound ability—which notably doesn’t target anything when it goes on the stack:

At the opponent's end step:

  1. Spend 1 to activate Brain in a Jar, just to charge it to 1 counter.
  2. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Brain.
  3. Spend 1 to charge Brain to 2 counters, and cast Hidden Strings. Untap Tidewater Minion and Brain, and cipher Hidden Strings on Retromancer.
  4. Spend 1 to charge Brain to 3, and cast Brimstone Volley targeting your opponent. Opponent is down to 14 life.
  5. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Brain.
  6. Spend 1 to charge Brain to 4, and cast Surreal Memoir. Brimstone Volley is the only instant in our graveyard, so we return that.

During your upkeep:

  1. Untap. Surreal Memoir's rebound ability goes on the stack.
  2. In response, spend u to cast Piracy Charm, giving Retromancer +2/-1. We take 3 damage from its trigger. It is now a 5/2.
  3. The rebounded Surreal Memoir resolves, returning Piracy Charm to our hand.
  4. Spend u to cast Piracy Charm, giving Retromancer islandwalk. We take another 3 damage, with a healthy 12 life remaining.
  5. Go to combat. Retromancer walks through the opponent's islands, dropping her to 9 life. The ciphered Hidden Strings does not matter—let's just untap two Islands.
  6. Spend ur to Fling Retromancer upstairs for 5 damage. Opponent is now down to 4 life.
  7. Spend urr to cast Brimstone Volley (with morbid thanks to Fling), shooting our opponent dead.

Notably, this interaction with the rebounded Surreal Memoir produces a solution regardless of what instant you cast in response—whether it’s Piracy Charm, Fling, or Brimstone Volley.

Finally, Bohdan Yarema takes this approach to the next level, via a solution where all the damage (to either you or Pinkie) is dealt on your turn:

At the opponent's end step:

  1. Tap an Island to activate Brain in a Jar’s first ability (1 counter). Don't cast anything.
  2. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Brain in a Jar.
  3. Tap an Island to activate Brain in a Jar’s first ability (2 counters). Cast Hidden Strings, targeting Brain in a Jar and any other permanent. Cipher Hidden Strings on Retromancer.
  4. Tap a Mountain and activate Brain in a Jar’s first ability (3 counters). Don't cast anything.

During your upkeep:

  1. During your precombat main phase, tap all lands for uuuurrr. Tap Tidewater Minion to untap Mountain.
  2. Cast Piracy Charm for u to give islandwalk to Retromancer. Resolve Retromancer’s trigger (but not Piracy Charm), dealing 3 damage to you. uuurrr is left.
  3. Before Piracy Charm resolves, cast Fling for ur, sacrificing Tidewater Minion as part of the cost, targeting Pinkie. uurr is left.
  4. In response to Fling, cast Brimstone Volley for uur, targeting Pinkie. Resolve Brimstone Volley—as a creature died this turn, it deals 5 damage to her. Pinkie is at 12 life. r is left.
  5. Before Fling resolves, use r to activate Brain in a Jar’s first ability (4 counters). Resolve it, casting Surreal Memoir. Return the only instant card in your graveyard—Brimstone Volley—to your hand.
  6. Resolve Fling, dealing 4 damage to Pinkie (8 life).
  7. Resolve Piracy Charm, giving Retromancer islandwalk.
  8. Attack with Retromancer. It can't be blocked due to islandwalk, so it deals 3 damage to Pinkie (5 life). Cast Hidden Strings triggers from cipher—choose to untap any two of your tapped lands.
  9. You now have three untapped lands (including the Mountain you untapped before). Tap these three lands to cast Brimstone Volley to deal a lethal 5 damage to Pinkie.

“We may not have tried to take over the world,” Dorian Sinclair remarks, “but we certainly did a capable job of taking over the game, returning from the brink of defeat through a complicated jigsaw of steps that'd surely do Acme Corp proud.”


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