Zendikar Rising Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Three Strikes


Runehorn Hellkite
Your opponent, Trey, is wearing what he calls 'the trifecta': Goggles, a face mask, and a nice-looking hat. It's oddly appropriate right now, considering that it's the third game of your third Unabridged Cube match today.

Trey adds a Fiery Emancipation to the three cards that are already in his hand. Thanks to a combination of Orcish Librarian and Frontline Sage, he's been able to stack his draws quite well: The only catch is that your Sen Triplets have thrown a spanner in the works, so he now has to consider his plays very carefully.

"I think this is an easy one," he says after three seconds' thought. "The first thing I should really cast is Amnesia, or otherwise you'll throw it at me next turn."

"That's fair."

Trey taps six lands and drops the Amnesia into his graveyard. You discard the two cards in your hand - not that they were of any use to begin with.

In the meantime, Trey counts his lands. "It looks like I can cast one more," he says.

"So, what's the lucky spell?"

Trey thinks for a bit, and then lays his Runehorn Hellkite down on the table.

"That makes sense."

"Big flyers are always nice," Trey says.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like Trey wants to throw anything into the red zone: He's lacking in good-sized attackers right now, and that means you have at least one turn to find a solution. Seeing that you're at a paltry four life to his thirteen, that's a good thing.

"I guess it's your turn now," Trey says. "You've probably got three guesses as to what I'll do next turn, and the first two don't count."

You untap your permanents, wondering what you could possibly draw that can get the advantage back. Your local game store's Unabridged Cube has one of each card ever printed, so there are more than a few possibilities for the top card of your deck... but sometimes the universe ends up three bricks shy of a full load and gives you a land.

"At the beginning of my upkeep, I'll target you with Sen Triplets," you formally declare.

"You know what's in my hand," Trey says, laying it down on the table. A Pyroclasm and a Fiery Emancipation aren't exactly filling you with confidence at the moment, but maybe your draw will change your tune.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. While a Void Snare isn't a land, it's not permanent removal either - and you want something that'll keep you from a match loss right now.

"Not a good draw?" Trey asks. With 'the trifecta' in place, it's really hard to read his expression.

"It's better than I expected, and yet it's worse than I wanted."

"There's probably a third option in there somewhere."

You sigh. Trey's probably right in that there's a way to win this, but the board state is definitely going to make you work for it.

"So," Trey asks, "are you going to do something?"

You wave him off. "Just give me three minutes," you say.

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

You are at 4 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.

Trey is at 13 life. He has the following cards in play:

Trey has the following cards in his hand:

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 - Three Strikes" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, August 10, 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, Jacob Butcher, Russell Jones, Sean Patrick Keatley, Evan Hill, Hyman Rosen, and Michael Feldman.

"Aside from managing the timing," Hyman Rosen writes, "the only tricky rules issue is knowing that making a copy of a permanent that is a creature due to an ability does not duplicate the animating ability, so the copy likely enters the battlefield as a non-creature."

This bit turns out to be particularly important, because you don't have a lot of good targets available for Heat Shimmer. As Russell Jones points out, though, your best move is to simply create one:

  1. Exert Fervent Paincaster to deal 1 damage to Goblin Arsonist, killing it.

  2. Play Escape Velocity by getting rid of both of the other cards. Put it on Brood Keeper, which triggers to give you a Dragon token.

    • Flame-Kin War Scout triggers on this and sacrifices itself to snuff out the new token immediately. Those Red creatures sure have a tendency to turn to in-fighting at great cost to their own lives, huh?
  3. Sacrifice Kami of Ancient Law to destroy Escape Velocity. This brings you back to three cards in the graveyard: Kami, War Scout, and the Aura.
  4. Replay Escape Velocity, again on Brood Keeper which triggers again.

  5. Play Heat Shimmer to make a copy of Haunted Plate Mail. This one is more well-behaved and less... animated.
  6. Again Escape Velocity finds itself with just two cards in the graveyard: Lawbringer and Heat Shimmer (not Brood Keeper, which got exiled). That graveyard sure has been restless, and it's going to keep up the churn as you use Escape Velocity a third time, exiling both other cards and now attaching to the Dragon token, making it 3/2 flying haste (and firebreathing, too, but you're out of red mana).
  7. Play Ephemerate on the animated Haunted Plate Mail to settle it down into being a noncreature, as equipping an animated equipment doesn't go over so well.
  8. Equip both sets of Haunted Plate Mail to the Dragon token, now 11/10.
  9. Go to combat and swing with your Dragon token. Cathedral of War triggers (from the oft-forgotten lands row!) for an exalted bonus, pumping your attacker to 12/11. There's no blocking that, and it takes the whole remaining complement of life in one swoop. That's... kind of like burning someone to death? A dragon that would be plenty capable of breathing fire, but never had the chance owing to your skewed land ratio?

Curiously, a number of solutions point out that you don't actually need Heat Shimmer to win this game. "If you had given us more Red mana," Sean Patrick Keatley writes, "this would have been trivial, but as it is, we have what we need. The trickiest part was figuring out the last point of damage, but then I remembered I could Ephemerate the Goblin Arsonist."

"The lack of mountains made this a bit tricky," Max Bernstein adds, "but luckily each one counts for two red! Thanks, Mana Flare(!):

  1. Cast Ephemerate on your Goblin Arsonists. You'll have w floating. When they come back to play, Flame-Kin War Scout will sacrifice itself to kill them. Goblin Arsonist deals one damage to Quinn (11).
  2. Tap your Fervent Paincaster to ping Quinn for another one damage (10).
  3. Sacrifice Lawbringer to exile your Fervent Paincaster. Escape Velocity goes to your graveyard.
  4. Use the floating w to cast Escape Velocity on your Brood Keeper, exiling Goblin Arsonist and Flame-Kin War Scout. You have r floating now, and a 2/2 Dragon token. Both are very important.
  5. Sacrifice your Kami of Ancient Law to destroy the Escape Velocity.
  6. Use the floating r and tap any land other than a Mountain to cast Escape Velocity on your new Dragon token, exiling Lawbringer and Kami of Ancient Law. You'll have one floating mana that's non-Red.
  7. Equip Haunted Plate Mail on your Dragon token, making it a 7/6. Don't use any Red mana for the equip cost.
  8. Attack with the Dragon token. Since it's attacking alone, it gets +1/+1 from your Cathedral of War (8/7).
  9. Tap your one remaining mountain for rr to give your Dragon token +2/+0 (10/7).
  10. Quinn has nothing that can block a flying creature, so she takes 10 lethal damage.

Finally, Evan Hill notes that this solution opens an alternative method of putting Goblin Arsonist into your graveyard. As it turns out, sending the Arsonist into combat works just as well... provided that you force your opponent into an untenable situation:

  1. Tap Fervent Paincaster to deal one damage to my opponent.
  2. Cast Ephemerate targeting my Fervent Paincaster. Flame-Kin War Scout's ability triggers, killing them both.
  3. Cast Escape Velocity from my graveyard for its Escape cost (exiling Fervent Paincaster and Flame-Kin War Scout), targeting Brood Keeper, creating a dragon token.
  4. Sacrifice my Lawbringer to exile my opponent's Wall of Earth.
  5. Sacrifice my Kami of Ancient Law to destroy my Escape Velocity, then cast it a second time from my graveyard (exiling Lawbringer and Kami of Ancient Law), this time targeting the dragon token.
  6. Cast Heat Shimmer targeting the dragon token.
  7. Equip Haunted Plate Mail to either dragon token, and declare an attack with both dragons and my Goblin Arsonist.

"At this point," Evan explains, "my opponent cannot block my dragons because they have flying. They can block my Goblin Arsonist, but with the zero-power Wall exiled, Goblin Arsonist will deal them one damage either way. Furthermore, I can pump one dragon's power by 1. That's a total of 12 damage: 10 damage from the dragons, 1 from the Goblin Arsonist, and 1 from the Fervent Paincaster."

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