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The Agency Dilemma


"On my upkeep, I'll resolve my Think Tank's ability."

Mari peers at the top card of her library, reveals that it's another Plains, and places it into her graveyard. "You know . . .  I'd hate to be a creature," she says, drawing her card for the turn.

"Say again?" you ask.

"I mean," she says, "imagine living your whole existence based on someone who thinks of you as nothing more than a piece on a game board. Or a square of cardboard on a playmat, as the case may be."

"That's deep."

"It makes you wonder if that would give them any sort of motivation at all. For instance, if I were to order my Advance Scout to attack into your Elvish Aberration - just to bluff a combat trick in my hand - I'm not sure if my Scout would follow orders if he had anything to say about it."

"So . . .  does that mean you're attacking with your Advance Scout?" you ask.

"In your dreams," Mari says. "I'll attack with my Sunblast Angel and Griffin Sentinel. My Curse of the Forsaken triggers, and I'll gain two life."

You sigh. "This would be a lot easier for me if you hadn't gotten rid of my Nessian Asp with that Swords to Plowshares."

"Hey, you gained eight life from that," Mari points out, "so why complain?"

"There's also the fact that you killed three of my creatures with that Sunblast Angel."

"Well, you got one of the Guilds of Ravnica preview cards in your pool, and I didn't get anything."

"That's . . .  not really an advantage," you say.

Mari shrugs. "I can't help it if this deck came together so well."

She's right, of course. Mari managed to draft a classic wu deck for today's Unabridged Cube tournament, which means that she's doing an excellent job stalling your ground forces and hitting you with flyers at the same time. She's also been very good at using her removal, which explains why your board is in shambles right now.

"That's five damage to me," you say, updating the numbers on your scorepad. At 6 life, it won't be too long before you have to shuffle up and move to the next round.

"Good. I'll cast a Cerulean Wyvern now."

"Wait, what? I thought you had a combat trick?"

Mari gives you a look. "I never said I did. That example I gave a while ago was just hypothetical."

"Argh," you grunt, "Right, right."

"I'll graft a +1/+1 counter onto the Wyvern from my Vigean Graftmage," Mari adds.

You start holding your head in your hands. The worst part is the fact that the Wyvern has protection from Green - which means that even if you somehow managed to draw the Watcher in the Web hiding in your deck, you still wouldn't be able to block it. Having to handle one of each card ever printed has put you at a disadvantage more than a few times, and this is one of those occasions.

"That's it, I guess," Mari says. "Are you doing anything in response to me ending my turn?"

You consider using your Elf Replica to remove her Curse of the Forsaken, but that doesn't seem worth putting you down one blocker. "I'll tap five to return Vineweft from my graveyard to my hand," you say, "but that's all."

"Go ahead with your turn, then."

As you untap your permanents, you start thinking that maybe you should just throw in the towel for this one. Mari is simply too far ahead of you; frankly, it'll be a miracle if you can turn this one around.

"I just hope you don't draw your Traitorous Blood," Mari remarks. "That would win this for you right now."

"What?" you ask.

"You have a Traitorous Blood in your deck, right? You had this really nice play last game where you stole my Crackling Triton with it."

As a matter of fact, the Traitorous Blood is exactly what you've just drawn from your library. Suddenly your eyes are on the table once more, trying to figure out whatever Mari sees that you haven't quite seen yet.

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

You are at 6 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 know neither the identities nor the order of the cards remaining in your library.

Mari is at 11 life and has no cards in her hand. She 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 - The Agency Dilemma" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, September 17, 2018. 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 Greg Dreher, Addison Fox, Matt Bocek, Michael Reluzco, Russell Jones, Hyman Rosen, Rob Nadeau, Calvin Erven, Cody Pulvermacher, Sean Patrick Keatley, Ryou Niji, Marco Majoor, Max Bernstein, Thomas Pierre, David Moreno, Richard Lawrence, Jeremy Regan, Susan Moreno, Xaq Rothman, Chris Billard, Frederick Remolana, Bradley Dixon, and David Arnold.

"The doubling effect from Goldknight Castigator is critical to ending this game," Richard Lawrence writes. "Using Cytoshape to buff our Dream Prowler at instant speed will easily be lethal. For example, changing it into a Corpulent Corpse after it attacks and isn't blocked would deal 10 damage by itself. Just for fun, why not sacrifice the Marker Beetles and make it 12? The main obstacle to victory, however, is the Shimian Night Stalker. It needs to be removed before the attack step or it threatens to redirect all of the damage."

With a Barrin's Unmaking in your hand, it's possible to remove the Shimian Night Stalker from the equation. But the Unmaking isn't your only resource in this case: "The Night Stalker can't be activated until there is an attacking creature," Cody Pulvermacher clarifies, "so if you clone it before combat, it's just an extra Furnace of Rath effect. You can do some shenanigans involving Wild Mongrel to try and make Barrin's Unmaking do something, but this is not necessary."

Michael Reluzco notes that the easiest solution to this puzzle, in fact, involves only three steps:

  1. Pay gg and sacrifice Marker Beetles to draw a card.
  2. Pay uug to cast Cytoshape targeting Shimian Night Stalker and choosing Goldnight Castigator. Shimian Night Stalker becomes a copy of Goldnight Castigator for the turn.
  3. Go to combat and attack only with Dream Prowler. Because it's attacking alone, it is unblockable, and Shimian Night Stalker isn't a Shimian Night Stalker anymore, so the damage goes through.

If you want to use Barrin's Unmaking on the Shimian Night Stalker, this is also possible. "This just requires altering the board until Black is tied for most common color," Richard continues. "Sacrificing Verdant Eidolon for mana and changing Wild Mongrel's color to Black will do the trick (as does sacrificing Marker Beetles to its own ability)."

This results in a variant of the above solution, as Hyman Rosen writes:

  1. Tap one Island and one Forest to add ug.
  2. For g activate and sacrifice Verdant Eidolon to add ggg.
  3. For gg activate and sacrifice Marker Beetles. Marker Beetles triggers, targeting Dream Prowler and giving it +1/+1. We draw a card. Black is now tied for most common color.
  4. For gu cast Barrin's Unmaking targeting Shimian Night Stalker. Shimian Night Stalker returns to Nox's hand.
  5. Attack with Dream Prowler.

At this point, Nox still has only a single Goldnight Castigator, but you can then cast Cytoshape on your unblocked Dream Prowler and change it to anything with power 4 or greater for the win. For style points, copying Phytotitan will make your Prowler into an 8/3 creature (base 7/2 with a +1/+1 bonus) for 16 damage.

It's worth noting, of course, that you don't have to sacrifice the Verdant Eidolon. Sacrificing Marker Beetles to its ability gives you an additional card as well as the +1/+1 bonus. You can then discard this card to Wild Mongrel, turning it Black and causing Armor of Thorns to fall off . . .  and more importantly, raising the number of Black permanents in time for your Barrin's Unmaking.

Thomas Pierre notes another variant that works, which leans on Green's advantage in numbers and doesn't require you to increase the number of Black permanents in play:

  1. Cast Barrin's Unmaking on Lignify. It returns to your hand.
  2. Cast Lignify on Shimian Night Stalker, which removes its abilities.
  3. Attack with Dream Prowler.
  4. Sacrifice Verdant Eidolon for 3 mana.
  5. Once Dream Prowler is unblocked, cast Cytoshape on Dream Prowler, making it copy Phytotitan. Dream Prowler is now 7/2 and Nox takes 14.

"You know what would be more fun than a Goldnight Castigator, though?" Richard continues. "Three Goldnight Castigators! We can use Cytoshape to make a second Goldnight Castigator, and we can use Barrin's Unmaking to return the Metamorphic Alteration to our hand and recast it to create a third Goldnight Castigator. The single point of damage from Dream Prowler, doubled three times, is exactly the 8 needed to win.

"This three-Castigator method is a quite bit trickier since it requires both being able to target the Metamorphic Alteration with Barrin's Unmaking, and recast it.

Thankfully, we do have one extra mana hiding in plain sight - the Boreal Druid! Once the Metamorphic Alteration is removed, we can tap it for the one additional mana needed to complete the procedure.

"To make Blue tie for most common color, we need to activate Wild Mongrel twice, once to remove the Armor of Thorns, and again to create the third Blue permanent. This means discarding both the Verdant Eidolon and the card drawn by the Marker Beetles. Furthermore, we need to reduce the number of Back permanents . . . but the Shimian Night Stalker is a convenient target, since, as before, it does need to be removed before combat:

  1. Sacrifice the Verdant Eidolon for uuu. Tap all lands. Save u for Barrin's Unmaking, and {U} for Metamorphic Alteration.
  2. Cast Cytoshape targeting the Shimian Night Stalker. Return the Verdant Eidolon to our hand. The Night Stalker becomes a Goldnight Castigator.
  3. Sacrifice the Marker Beetles to draw a card. Target the Tar Pit Warrior with the +1/+1 ability, which destroys it.
  4. Discard the Verdant Eidolon to change the Wild Mongrel into a Black creature. This puts the Armor of Thorns into our graveyard. Discard the card drawn from the Marker Beetles to change the Wild Mongrel into a Blue creature.
    • Red, Black, Green, and Blue are now all tied for most common color among permanents, at three permanents each!

  5. Cast Barrin's Unmaking, targeting the Metamorphic Alteration.

  6. Tap the Boreal Druid for 1 mana.
  7. Cast Metamorphic Alteration targeting the Culling Drone. It becomes a Goldnight Castigator.
  8. Attack with the Dream Prowler for 1. The Castigators' abilities apply three times, so Nox takes 1 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 damage, and loses.

It turns out there's not really a wrong way to make your opponent take quadruple or octuple damage!