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Surge Protector

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Worthy Cause
"So why are you at 0-2, Lucy?"

"I'm not sure," she admits. "It's probably because I have a bunch of playable cards, rather than a deck."

"That's one way to put it," you say as she considers her hand.

"What about you?" she asks. "Why are you at 0-2?"

"More or less the same reasons," you say. "I got some good removal in pack one and ended up going Black-Red. By the time I realized that the good cards weren't coming, it was too late to change."

"I think your removal's good. That Incremental Blight almost destroyed me."

"Yeah, but some of my cards really don't work well with each other," you say. "I mean, who plays with Goblin Smuggler and Flowstone Surge in the same deck?"

The answer to that question, of course, is you. But considering that Lucy has a Dampening Pulse on her side of the table, you probably have some justification for doing so. It's at least made sure that your Smuggler's ability hasn't been completely useless.

That said, you're fighting a losing battle here. You know that Lucy has a Worthy Cause in her hand, and it's allowed her to trade creatures for life points - easily allowing her to outrace two damage each turn. Fortunately, you've been able to hold her off thanks to blockers like Cinderbones, and you opponent has had to step back and figure out how to approach her situation.

Lucy fiddles with one of her Forests. "This is a tough call," she says.

"What do you mean?"

"I can't decide if I should go all-out on this spell, or if I should leave mana up for any of my creatures' abilities."

"Or Worthy Cause," you point out.

"Or Worthy Cause. Is the Unabridged Cube always like this?"

"Yeah. Having one of each card ever printed does that for you. Boris keeps some headache medication behind the counter."

Lucy thinks for another minute or so. "I'm at eight life, right?" she asks.

"Yes."

She finally reaches a decision, tapping all of her lands and laying a Gnarlid Pack on the table. "Multikicker for five," she says. "That makes it a 7/7."

You fish out a few counters from your bag. "That's certainly one way to go all-out," you say.

"I have exactly twelve lands," Lucy says, "so if I wanted to save mana for Grappling Sundew or Selesnya Eulogist or anything like that, I'd have to leave an extra land untapped. Things would have been a lot easier if I had one more land."

"I take it that you're not attacking, then?"

"I'll think about it. But I'm not attacking you now; you can take your turn."

You briefly consider casting the Fiery Impulse in your hand, but then decide to hold back for a little longer. You untap your permanents and find out that your draw is a Midnight Recovery - not too good, considering that Lucy has drained the best creatures from your graveyard with her Eulogist.

"Okay," you say. "So at the moment, you're at eight life and have no cards in your hand."

"I've got one card in my hand," Lucy says, holding it up. "Worthy Cause?"

"Okay, you're at eight life and have one card in your hand."

"Right."

"So now the question is, can I take you out this turn? This might be the only chance I have where you can't do anything."

"I hope not," Lucy says dubiously. "You can try, though."

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

You are at 9 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:

Lucy is at 8 life. She has the following cards in play:

Lucy has exactly one card in her hand:

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 - Surge Protector" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, November 11, 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 Addison Fox, Sean Patrick Keatley, Mike Dartt, Max Bernstein, David Arnold, Russell Jones, Hyman Rosen, and Jacob Butcher.

Despite the ominous Scarecrow presence, solving this puzzle is more of a lifegain issue: Path of Bravery gives your creatures an additional bonus if you're at 20 life or greater, and more life means more activations of Unspeakable Symbol - both of which can help take your opponent down from double digits. But you still need to find a way past multiple blockers, and that's no mean feat.

What makes this board state work, though, is that you have the makings of a nice combo if you can get Path of Bravery's bonus online. To do this, however, you have to manipulate those cards that you have in play: "While the graveyard is full of scarecrows with useful abilities to reanimate," Max Bernstein notes, "we somehow we don't need any of them!"

"It's always a wonderful time in puzzle land when you need to do a significant amount of work in the Declare Attackers step of combat in order to win," Addison Fox muses. "We have the ability to add a lot of power to the board in exchange for a lot of life, but we are only at 8. Thanks to CJ, however, we also have a lot of life we can gain in hand:

  1. Cast Ordeal of Heliod (thirteen mana remaining) targeting Farmstead Gleaner, using Scoured Barrens and a Swamp.
  2. Remove a -1/-1 counter from Grim Poppet to put a -1/-1 counter on Lava Runner. It triggers, making us sacrifice a land. Sacrifice Scoured Barrens.
  3. Attack with everything. Path of Bravery, Scaretiller, and Ordeal of Heliod all trigger, and the order doesn't really matter.
  4. In response to all of them, however, pay 2 (eleven mana remaining) to put a +1/+1 counter on Farmstead Gleaner with its untap ability. Then pay 3 life (down to 5) to put a second +1/+1 counter on the Gleaner.
  5. Resolve Path of Bravery. It sees us attacking with six creatures, so we gain 6 life (back up to 11).
  6. Resolve Ordeal of Heliod, which adds a third +1/+1 counter to the Gleaner. It then sacrifices itself to gain us an additional 10 life (up to 21 life), which turns on Path of Bravery's anthem effect.
  7. Resolve Scaretiller, which returns Scoured Barrens from our graveyard to play, gaining us 1 life (up to 22 life).

"Now that we've resolved all our attack triggers, we need to do some stuff before blockers are declared:

  1. Remove the last two -1/-1 counters from Grim Poppet to kill Bladetusk Boar.
  2. Pay 1 (10 mana remaining) and sacrifice Painter's Servant to Scarecrone and draw a card we don't care about. Let's say it's Diligent Farmhand.
  3. Pay 4 (6 mana remaining) and tap the Scarecrone to return Painter's Servant to play, this time making all spells and permanents White.
  4. Pay 2 (4 mana remaining) to give Grim Poppet persist with Antler Skulkin, and then pay 1 to sacrifice it to Scarecrone and draw another Farmhand (3 mana remaining).
  5. Grim Poppet returns thanks to Persist, this time with four -1/-1 counters. But it doesn't die because Path of Bravery makes it a 5/5.
  6. Remove all four -1/-1 counters from Grim Poppet to kill two Storm Crows.
  7. Repeat Steps 11 to 13 with our last 3 mana, killing the other two Storm Crows (and drawing a third Farmhand).
  8. Now, move to blocks. Only Lava Runner is still alive on our opponent's side, so it blocks our largest attacker, the 6/6 Farmstead Gleaner.
  9. Painter's Servant and Grim Poppet both died and re-entered play, so only Scarecrone, Antler Skulkin, and Scaretiller are getting in. We have 22 life, so we can pay to put a total of seven +1/+1 counters on them. This drops their power down to their printed values thanks to Path of Bravery no longer applying... but it leaves Scarecrone at 3 power, Skulkin at 3 power, and Tiller at 1 power. When combined with seven +1/+1 counters, this makes a lethal 14 damage.

It's also possible that your opponent blocks an attacker other than the Farmstead Gleaner (or even chooses not to block at all), but all this does is give them some overkill damage.

It's worth noting that there's an interesting timing consideration with Farmstead Gleaner as well. The Gleaner will become tapped during your Declare Attackers step, but the attack triggers from Scaretiller, Path of Bravery and Ordeal of Heliod are only placed on the stack after the Declare Attackers step is over. This puts you in a position where you can activate the Gleaner's untap ability in response to these triggers.

"I knew I had to persist the Grim Poppet here," Sean Patrick Keatley observes, "but it took me a little bit to remember that he would survive if I was at 20 or more life, so I had to do that after combat started. I also knew I would need as much life as possible, so I would have to return Scoured Barrens."

With all the Skulkins in the deck, one wonders what the rest of the Scarecrow deck is like. "Mari was right," Max remarks. "With all the color-dependencies these scarecrows have, the more Scarecrones the better!"