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Darker than Black

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It’s the final game of your match against Skye’s creature-heavy Kolaghan deck, and you’re down to 2 life. A brutal series of exchanges left you with few creatures on the table compared to Skye—and she doesn’t seem to be running out of creatures anytime soon.

Treasure Cruise
Last turn, you exiled everything in your graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise, hoping to find another creature that could play defense. That didn’t quite work, but with the sheer number of cards in your hand, you figured that the best thing to do was to try to bluff Skye out. So you passed the turn and waited for her to make the first move.

Skye thought for a moment and then played a Reckless Imp for its dash cost—which was when you pointed out that your Illusory Gains would attach to it. She frowned, took back her Sultai Scavenger, and started giving you suspicious looks.

Eventually, Skye played a Pitiless Horde for its mana cost, attaching your Illusory Gains to the Horde and taking back her Reckless Imp. You don’t know why she attacked with only the Imp—maybe your bluff worked and she was expecting a trick of some sort. But she did, you wiped it out with Douse in Gloom, and Skye called you something that isn’t fit to print on a family website.

Once the Pitiless Horde knocked you back down to 2 life during your upkeep and you drew your card for the turn (Rite of Undoing), you started wondering if there was any way you could survive Skye’s wrath next turn. Or perhaps you’re not reaching far enough—maybe there’s a way you can salvage this lost cause and win the game.

It is the beginning of your first main phase. Defeat Skye before she defeats you.

You are at 2 life with the following cards in play:

Illusory Gains

You have the following cards in your hand:

You have not yet played a land for this turn. You do not know the identity of any of the cards that are currently on top of your library. You have four more basic Islands and five more basic Swamps somewhere in your deck.

You have the following cards in your graveyard:

Douse in Gloom

Skye is at 6 life and has the following cards in play:

Skye has only one card in her hand, which you know because she’s played it for its dash cost before:

You do not know the identity of any of the other cards in Skye’s library. In fact, you’re worried that she might top-deck a Wild Slash on you.

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 — Darker than Black”. 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 main puzzle were received from Nathaniel Soule, Jamie Ganner, Jonathan Kustina, Stefano Romito, Andrew Montoya, and Scott Stoops.

Correct solutions to both the main and bonus puzzles last week were received from Russell Jones, Jeffrey Clinard, Vincent Chan, Matthew Wilson, Norman Dean, Aaron Golas, Andrew Muravskyi, Daniele Civelli, Matthew Harvey, Eric Williams, Zach Moroni, Hyman Rosen, Stefan Richter, Ian Jones, Joseph Megill, Evelyn Kokemoor, Mark Eggert, and Miko Losantas.

A lot of the submitted solutions contained excellent insights. The first major one was the fact that you need to perform at least one action before Rajiv declares attackers. Vincent writes:

Rajiv can burn us for up to 3 this turn, so we can’t take 3 or more damage. The Strider is no problem since we can block that on the ground with no losses. His flyers are the issue, specifically the equipped Mulldrifter, which can do 4 damage to us this turn, in which case we can’t stop him burning us to death.

Therefore, our first move must be to use our Tumble Magnet to tap down his Mulldrifter, prior to his declare-attackers step.

With Rajiv’s big flyer disabled, there is now the question of how Rajiv attacks. This brings up a second major insight. Daniele writes:

Now, it doesn't matter if the Elemental attacks or not since I can take 2 damage and it won't be a problem in my next attack step since it can't block.

As a result, the situation boils down to two scenarios: Either Rajiv attacks with his Karplusan Strider or he doesn’t. Nathaniel breaks these down in his analysis:

PATH 1: Rajiv attacks with both the Elemental and the Strider.

  • Rajiv has no instants to cast, so any way we block will be set. We cannot block the Elemental, so we take 2 damage from that. We block his Strider with both our Strider and our Phalanx. Rajiv's Strider will die, boosting our Gharial to be a 2/2.
  • In his second main phase, Rajiv can either cast a creature or cast Banefire on whatever creature was damaged from combat. Either way, we cast Sundering Vitae on our Oblivion Ring at end of turn—he gets a 0/0 Skyreach Manta back, which immediately dies, triggering Algae to be a 3/3.
  • We untap. If Rajiv played a creature, we tap it with Tumble Magnet.
  • We attack with everything, dealing a minimum of 6 damage (Thallid is 1, Gharial is 3, Phalanx is 2), leaving him at 2. We then cast Vengeful Rebirth for Sundering Vitae to deal 3 damage to him and win.

PATH 2: Rajiv attacks with only the Elemental.

  • We take the 2 damage, and Rajiv is left with a 3/4 blocker. If Rajiv does not cast a creature in the second main phase, we follow the same plan as before.
  • Assuming that Rajiv does cast a creature, we still cast Sundering Vitae on Oblivion Ring, which gets Skyreach Manta to die (making Algae Gharial a 2/2).
  • We untap. We then use Tumble Magnet to tap one blocker.
  • We attack with everything. With all our creatures, we have 8 power, so he must block one creature. The biggest he can block is the 3 damage from Strider, leaving him at 3 life. We then cast Vengeful Rebirth for Oblivion Ring to deal 3 damage to him and win.

But what if Rajiv’s Alloy Myr were under the Oblivion Ring instead of his Skyreach Manta? Surprisingly, the solution to the bonus puzzle follows a similar line of thought, with one exception. Eric writes:

I settled on using Sundering Vitae on the Oblivion Ring and started writing my solution that way, but then I realized I had overlooked Arrest. Now why would I want to be attacked and an 8/8, you might ask? Annihilator, that's why.

The problem with unleashing Rajiv’s Crusher is that you need to sacrifice a blocker to keep yourself from dying, which reduces your available attackers next turn. But as Mark Eggert notes, your Vengeful Rebirth makes up the difference:

Despite your opponent’s board position, he only has a limited number of moves available. “Rajiv can play any spell from hand,” Russell says, “but only one. If that spell is Banefire, the maximum X value available is 3, which you can survive. Algae Gharial has shroud, so Banefire can't target it. If Rajiv attacked with his own Strider and let them bounce off each other, he could kill your Strider . . . but at the cost of letting Algae Gharial trigger again, and not having enough mana to put up any other defense.

Alternative solutions exist as well. One variant, for example, involves sacrificing Tukatongue Thallid and a land to the annihilator trigger and then blocking Ulamog's Crusher with Conclave Phalanx. Interestingly enough, Jeffrey notes that the Phalanx doesn’t have to die for you to win:

Matthew Wilson points out that destroying the Arrest gives another solution for the main puzzle: “You can sacrifice Conclave Phalanx and Oblivion Ring to the annihilator 2 trigger. This gives Algae Gharial a +1/+1 counter (now 2/2). Skyreach Manta will enter with no +1/+1 counters and immediately die, giving Algae Gharial another +1/+1 counter (now 3/3).” The rest of the solution works as above.

Ultimately, Rajiv has several options available to him. However, Jeffrey points out that this is a case of Morton’s Fork: “Rajiv loses to combat next turn if he attacks with Karplusan Strider. However, Rajiv also loses if he doesn’t attack.”


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