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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A Magic the Gathering Puzzle

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Mari slides into the seat next to you. "That's a lot of spiders," she says.

"It's not my fault," your opponent says, shaking her head. "We had a lot of them tabling during the draft. I also have a Gloomwidow and an Ember Weaver in my deck."

"You can imagine how my wu deck's dealing with them," you muse.

"It could be worse," Mari says, scratching her head. "You could be facing the more aggressive ones."

"I suppose."

"Although... for a wu deck, you don't look like any flyers. All I see is a Ticking Gnomes with a Gryff's Boon."

"I sided most of the small ones out. They're not going to be able to get past things like Hitchclaw Recluse anyway. I still have some big ones in the deck somewhere."

"You had that Drifting Djinn," your opponent points out.

"I had a Drifting Djinn that ran into her Red Sun's Zenith," you explain. "That's the Unabridged Cube for you: One of each card ever printed. More like one of each answer ever produced."

"At least you've got a Consulate Dreadnought," Mari says.

"I don't exactly have the creatures to spare for it," you say, sadly. "And now that Sylvia's cast that Moldgraf Monstrosity of hers, I might need to hold back the Dreadnought to block."

"I haven't been able to off your Zephyr Scribe, though," Sylvia says. "So, if you think about it, you're still able to loot for solutions."

You're not quite sure what kind of solution you're supposed to be digging for, though, especially as none of your other big flyers are anything to write home about. Sylvia's also displayed a knack for aiming her direct damage spells at your most critical cards, so taking down her life total has been an absolute chore for you.

"Okay," Mari says. "So... you've got no tapped lands, right? No tapped creatures?"

"Just Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw. It's got Roots on it."

"Aside from Syr Alin, I mean."

"Nothing tapped, no."

"You could have just told me that you've only started your turn," Mari says flatly.

"Yeah, but you looked so invested in trying to figure that out."

"So, you've drawn your card?"

You show her the Ray of Command in your hand. Sylvia shrugs - she doesn't have anything in her hand herself, but it's not like she hasn't been drawing well.

Mari thinks for a little while. "That's interesting," she says.

"That's an even more interesting tone of voice," you say, looking at her sideways.

"What tone of voice?"

"That tone you use whenever you see a good play coming."

"You mean you can tell?" Mari asks.

You shake your head. "I can tell you that it's definitely there."

"Look," Sylvia says, "are you going to make a play? Because it feels like something big's about to happen. And if something big's about to happen, then you might as well do it sooner rather than later."

You sigh. "Okay, I'll make a play. It might not be the good one Mari sees, though."

"Seriously," Mari says, "you can tell?"

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

You are at 8 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, although you know neither the identities nor the order of those cards.

You have the following cards in your graveyard:

Sylvia is at 10 life and has no cards in her hand. She has the following cards in play:

Sylvia has the following cards in her graveyard:

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 - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, October 26, 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 Etienne Brosse, Hyman Rosen, Sean Patrick Keatley, Greg Dreher, David Arnold, and Michael Feldman.

Solving this puzzle involves some observation of its many moving parts. Experiment Kraj is by far the dominant card, but while this gives you a lot of opportunity for interaction, Kraj doesn't immediately show you how to win this game.

In his submission, Hyman Rosen points out the following:

  • We note that if we create a token creature, Renata, Called to the Hunt will cause it to enter the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter.
  • We note that Saproling Migration is a sorcery and that Black Carriage can only be activated during upkeep.
  • We note that Vern can activate Vial of Poison to give deathtouch to Mirran Crusader, which can then block an attacker with trample and kill it in first strike damage dealing, thereby preventing any trample damage from being dealt in the normal damage round.
  • We note sadly that Mirran Crusader has protection from Green, and that Yasova Dragonclaw is Green.
  • We note that this puzzle has more Red herrings than usual.
  • We brighten when we note that Black Carriage also has trample, and remind ourselves to always read the cards thoroughly.

As it turns out, both of Black Carriage's abilities are relevant here. In fact, to allow for its activated ability, Greg Dreher shows that most of your moves need to take place during your upkeep:

  1. Tap Experiment Kraj to put a +1/+1 counter on Black Carriage.
  2. Sacrifice Keiga, the Tide Star to untap Experiment Kraj with Black Carriage's ability.
  3. Tap Experiment Kraj to put a +1/+1 counter on Wall of Reverence.
  4. Sacrifice Wall of Reverence to untap Experiment Kraj with Black Carriage's ability. Put Binding Grasp into your graveyard.
  5. Tap Experiment Kraj to put a +1/+1 counter on Yasova Dragonclaw.
  6. Sacrifice the Knight token to untap Experiment Kraj with Black Carriage's ability.
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 until Yasova Dragonclaw is arbitrarily large, say 1002/1000.
  8. Tap Experiment Kraj to put a +1/+1 counter on Black Carriage.
  9. Sacrifice the Knight token to untap Experiment Kraj with Black Carriage's ability.
  10. Repeat steps 8-9 until Black Carriage is less arbitrarily large, say 900/900.
  11. Choose not to pay the upkeep cost on Binding Grasp.
  12. Move to your draw step. Draw a card for the turn.
  13. Skip your first main phase and move to combat. Target Black Carriage with Yasova Dragonclaw's triggered ability. Pay guu to gain control of it.
  14. Attack with Yasova Dragonclaw and Black Carriage. Pay a total of GG for Baird, Steward of Argive's static ability.
  15. Vern can block one of your creatures with Mirran Crusader, and give it deathtouch with Vial of Poison, killing that creature in the first strike combat step. The other creature, however, will deal enough trample damage to win you the game.

The question of "Should I pay the upkeep cost of Binding Grasp?" therefore has a non-obvious answer: It doesn't matter, as long as you can stack your abilities correctly!

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