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Black White Grey

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Several hours into your local game store’s Core Set 2020 prerelease tournament, you find yourself sitting at one of the corner tables with a 0-3 record, hoping to hang on long enough for a single booster pack. You can’t help but feel that this day went south somewhere.

“Buck up,” Zeb says, tapping his lands. “It’s Game 3 and we have, like, fifteen minutes left. At least we know that one of us is going to win this match.”

You really, really want to make sure that you’re that winner, of course. You have a slight advantage at the moment, mostly because you have the biggest flyer in play. Zeb, however, has more than a few draw spells in his deck, and you’re keeping a Soul Salvage in hand, in case he tries anything funny.

Unfortunately, Zeb’s play isn’t one of those draw effects. “I’ll cast Scholar of the Ages,” he says.

You glance at his graveyard. “You only have one sorcery card in there,” you point out.

“I just need the one,” Zeb says. “I’ll use the Scholar’s ability to return my Eternal Isolation to my hand.”

You pause, and then frown. “I don’t like where this is going,” you say.

“I’ll then use my last two mana to cast Eternal Isolation on your Bloodthirsty Aerialist.”

“Ugh,” you say. “That doesn’t kill it, right?”

“It puts it on the bottom of your library,” Zeb says, eyeing your Salvager of Ruin. “So no Salvager for you.”

And no Soul Salvage either, you think, frowning again.

“I’ll attack with my Griffin Protector and my Griffin Sentinel,” Zeb says. “Don't forget that the Protector’s a 3/4 from the Scholar coming into play.”

“You’re not attacking with your Cloudkin Seer?”

“You’ll just block it with your Dawning Angel, and then your Angel will come back as a 4/3 from the Unholy Indenture and give you another four life. At least this way, I’ve got a good chance of having three flyers to rush you next turn.”

With only the Soul Salvage and a Bone Splinters in your hand, you don’t exactly have anything good to cast in response. Maybe you can tough things out for a little bit longer, though.

“I’ll take them both. That’s, what, five damage?”

“Five damage,” Zeb says. “That’ll put you at three life.”

You instantly feel a little regret, thinking that you may have just missed a better play. But it’s too late now - Zeb gestures to end his turn, and you untap your permanents.

Your draw for the turn is a fortuitous Gods Willing, a card that’s served you well even through three match losses. It might still serve you well right now, if only to help preserve one of your blockers against the inevitable rush next turn.

Then again, there’s also the possibility that you don’t have to wait till next turn. You’ve got a bit of removal, after all, and Zeb’s down a single blocker. But is there a way to take down your opponent before he does the same to you?

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

You are at 3 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.

You have the following cards in your graveyard:

Zeb is at 8 life and has no cards in his hand. He 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 - Black White Gray” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, July 15, 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 Gerwin Ruiterkamp, Russell Jones, Addison Fox, and Hyman Rosen.

“This is an interesting puzzle,” Addison Fox writes. “The easiest way to find the solution is to work backward. We obviously can't attack for the win - we don't have 7 power in play, and we barely have that much in our hand and graveyard. However, we do have two sources of non-combat damage, one obvious and one less: In our graveyard, Lava Dart (good for one damage to any target), and on their battlefield, Phyrexian Delver, a Reanimate on a stick. Since the biggest thing we could force them to reanimate is five CMC, that leaves a seventh point of damage to be determined. This is where the Pyromancer's Goggles come in.”

The problem, of course, is that Lava Dart is the only Red instant or sorcery spell you can use with the Pyromancer's Goggles... and its flashback cost doesn’t even involve using any mana. In order to get this working, you’ll need to give Lava Dart an additional cost you can pay - as Russell Jones writes:

  1. Go straight to combat and swing with Dire Fleet Daredevil. If Tally wants to leave it unblocked, fine, but more likely something will stand in the way.
  2. Tap Heavy Ballista to deal 2 damage to Dire Fleet Daredevil, killing it (in the case of an unblocked Daredevil, it's okay for this to wait until after combat damage). Brink of Disaster triggers and destroys Heavy Ballista as well.
    • This serves a couple of purposes: the Daredevil is better off dead right now, and if Tally blocked with Spellkeeper Weird or Gavony Unhallowed, or the combination of Black Cat + Wall of Mist, then you could have sat back and let it be killed off by combat damage alone, without taking any of Tally's creatures (especially not the Black Cat with that random discard) off to the graveyard with it.
    • Thanks to later considerations, you need Brink of Disaster to die as well, and that means forcing the Ballista to tap now, where there's still a legal target.

  3. Activate Pulsemage Advocate, returning Screeching Buzzard, Mulldrifter, and Brink of Disaster to Tally's hand (no other combination of cards is safe), and reanimating Dire Fleet Daredevil, which triggers. Target Undying Evil to put in your “extra hand”, like the hand crawling out from the floorboards.
  4. Play Undying Evil targeting Phyrexian Delver.
  5. Go to the end step, where Voltaic Servant triggers. Choose Pyromancer's Goggles as the target. It's currently untapped, but why is that a problem? Just tap it in response, then after the trigger untaps it, tap it again for a total ofrr, each of which comes with a separate embedded trigger.
  6. Tap the four remaining lands to play a kicked Orim's Thunder. Since the Goggles are so useless, smash them to deal 5 damage to Phyrexian Delver, killing it.
  7. Gavony Unhallowed triggers for a useless +1/+1 counter, and Phyrexian Delver triggers from the undying ability you helpfully gave it, comes right back, and triggers again. The only legal target for a creature card in the graveyard is Boreal Elemental (you already gave back Mulldrifter and Screeching Buzzard, and avoided killing anything else), so Tally has to return that and lose 5 life (to 2 life).
  8. Flashback Lava Dart targeting Boreal Elemental. In addition to the Mountain sacrifice, you have to pay 2 to cover the extra cost, and you have rr from Pyromancer's Goggles ready to spend.
    • Each of the two delayed triggers from the mana abilities go off here, giving you two extra copies of Lava Dart that are free to go to the dome for the last 2 damage. See, goggles don't kill people, darts do.

“The main line of play was clear to me quite quickly,” Gerwin Ruiterkamp writes, “but every time my opponent had an answer:

“Once I realized that Brink of Disaster also goes to their graveyard after you tap the Heavy Ballista, you have three do-nothing cards to target with Pulsemage Advocate, and all the pieces fell into place.”

“It's been a while since the puzzle has been this tricky,” Hyman Rosen muses. “Such a clever false trail - Heavy Ballista and Pulsemage Advocate are both Human in their Oracle wordings but not on their cards, we could kill the Black Cat to discard Angel of Glory's Rise and return it with Pulsemage Advocate, and Tally has so many Zombies to exile. But none of that matters: The puzzle should have been named ‘The Angel Does Nothing’.”