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Vial Smasher the Fierce
Hongjie thinks for a while. “This isn’t as easy as it looks,” he says.

“Nope,” you say. “It’s the Unabridged Cube, what do you expect?”

“One of each card ever printed? How you do keep from getting headaches during your games?”

“There’s a first-aid kit behind the counter.”

To be fair, though, you’re the one who’s been having a hard time this game. Between you and Hongjie, you’ve gummed up the board fairly quickly, and you’ve largely neutralized each other’s evasive creatures. The problem is that Hongjie has an additional source of direct damage — Vial Smasher the Fierce — and even if her ability only hits random opponents, you’re the only person sitting across the table at the moment!

“So that’s three flyers on my side,” Hongjie muses. “Wait, no . . .  that’s really only two because my Vampire Nighthawk has zero power. And you’ve got that Phantasmal Mount to give one of your creatures flying, and your Demon’s a . . .  2/2, is it?”

“Yeah,” you say. You managed to get Demon of Death's Gate into playoff a bunch of sacrificed creatures and a fair investment in life, but Hongjie’s Quag Sickness quickly neutered it. You’d bounce it yourself, but you neither have the creatures nor the life to spare right now.

“I think that’s too much of a risk to attack with my flyers,” Hongjie concludes. “Maybe I should attack with my Nearheath Stalker, though? If you kill it, it becomes a 5/2 . . .  ah, wait, you’ve got a Cytoplast Manipulator, so that’s not going to work either.”

Finally, your opponent shrugs. “I’m not even going to try and figure it out,” he says. “I’ll just cast a Sengir Nosferatu and pass the turn over to you. Take five damage from Vial Smasher?”

“I’m down to two life, then,” you say, adjusting your life counter. “Are you sure about passing?”

“I’m not in the mood for a headache just yet,” Hongjie says, smiling. “Besides, my flyers will probably bring it home next turn.”

You untap and are about to draw a card when you realize that you haven’t resolved your Skull Collector’s ability yet. It’s just as well: You’re looking over your creatures when the notion hits you, and you start seriously considering your board state.

Hongjie notices your shift in expression. “What, are you going to topdeck something and pull a win out of nowhere?” he asks.

You tap your fingers on the table. “No,” you eventually admit. “But that’s only because I don’t think I need my next draw at all.”

It is the beginning of your upkeep phase. You’ve just put Skull Collector’s ability on the stack, and you may still cast spells or activate abilities in response.Defeat Hongjie before the beginning of his next combat phase.

You are at 2 life, with the following cards in play:

You currently have no cards in your hand. You do not know the identities of the next cards on top of your library.

Hongjie is at 6 life and has no cards in his hand. He has the following cards in play:

You do not know the identities of the next cards on top of Hongjie’s library.

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 — Counterpunch” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, November20, 2016. 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 Russell Jones, Aaron Golas, Ryou Niji, Hyman Rosen, Subrata Sircar, Dominic Chan, Alex van der Bie, Allen Smith, David Windrich, Will Clendenning, Greg Dreher, and Michael Feldman.

“So, we're in a situation here,” Alex van der Bie writes.“We're at 3 life and we can't really prevent our Charging Cinderhorn from dealing damage to us.We have Deathgreeter to gain life, but we'll have to gain a lot of life to somehow survive this turn, let alone actually win the game.

“We have three different sources of damage, adding up to exactly 12:

  1. Charging Cinderhorn (assuming that it damages us for 4 at the end of our turn, it can deal 5 damage to our opponent at the end of their turn)
  2. Bloodfire Colossus (deals 6 damage to each player)
  3. Soul Bleed (deals 1 damage to our opponent at the beginning of their next upkeep)

“This would, however, also deal damage to yourself (11 damage, to be exact). This means we'll have to gain at least 9 life this turn, using just the Deathgreeter. We'll also have to take care not to die during our opponent's next combat phase.”

The trick is to realize that you don’t have to gain the 9 life all at once. Assuming that you can survive reanimating and activating Bloodfire Colossus, it should take care of the rest of the Deathgreeter triggers for you. David Windrich writes:

  1. Activate Skirk Ridge Exhumer's ability. For its cost, we discard Bloodfire Colossus.
    • We get a 1/1 Festering Goblin token (that enters the battlefield tapped).
    • We’ve used 1 out of 10 mana. We're at 3 life, Cam's at 12.

  2. Activate the Goblin Chirurgeon's ability targeting Charging Cinderhorn by sacrificing the Festering Goblin token.
  3. Activate the Chirurgeon's ability again, this time sacrificing itself, targeting the *drumroll* Stampeding Wildebeests!(Why do we do that? Bear with me, you'll see.)
    • Deathgreeter's ability gives us another 1 life.
    • We’ve used 1 out of 10 mana. We're now at 6 life, Cam's still at 12 (we'll get to that soon). Cinderhorn and Wildebeests both have regeneration shields.

  4. Cast Diabolic Servitude to get Bloodfire Colossus onto the battlefield after all. (It's tapped due to Kismet, but that doesn't matter.)
    • We’ve used 5 out of 10 mana. We're at 6 life, Cam's still at 12 life. Cinderhorn and Wildebeests both have regeneration shields.

  5. Activate Bloodfire Colossus's ability.
    • Since Bloodfire Colossus is sacrificed to pay its own activation cost, we get another (crucial) 1 life through the Deathgreeter before the Colossus's ability resolves. This lets us survive the deal-6-damage-to-everything ability.
    • Bloodfire Colossus gets exiled (after dying) because of Servitude. Servitude itself gets returned to our hand again.
    • Sylvan Ranger, Blinding Angel, WeatherseedTreefolk, Chittering Rats and Deathgreeter all die to the 6 damage. The Treefolk gets returned to our opponent's hand thanks to its trigger.
    • Deathgreeter sees four other creatures die, and we gain 4 more life.
    • We’ve used 6 out of 10 mana. We're at 5 life, Cam's at 6 life. Cinderhorn and Wildebeest have survived the 6 damage ordeal tapped due to their regeneration shields.

  6. To make sure we don’t die to some surprise Haste creature or other nasty stuff, we recast Diabolic Servitude with our last mana, targeting ourChittering Rats.
    • Due to the Rats’ ETB trigger, Cam has to put the Treefolk in her hand on top of her library, effectively crippling her one chance at saving herself.
    • We’ve now used all our mana. We’re at 5 life, Cam’s at 6 life.

  7. We end our turn. Charging Cinderhorn triggers.
    • We couldn't attack this turn due to the Blinding Angel, and thus we put a fourth fury counter on the Cinderhorn and take four damage from it.
    • We're at 1 life, Cam's at 6 life.

  8. At the beginning of Cam's upkeep, both our Soul Bleed and Cam's Wildebeests trigger.
    • Cam loses 1 life and has to return the Wildebeests to her hand since she has no other Green creature on the battlefield.
    • Soul Bleed gets put into our graveyard since it's an aura that isn't attached to anything.
    • Cam takes her draw and now has two cards in hand, Wildebeests and Treefolk — both of which won't help her delay the inevitable. She may or may not recast them; it doesn't matter at this point.
    • We're at 1 life, Cam's at 5 life.

  9. At the end of Cam’s turn, Cinderhorn triggers.
    • Cinderhorn gets a fifth fury counter because Cam couldn't attack on her turn. Cam takes 5 damage, and that’s VICTORY!

You could, of course, regenerate the Wildebeests first and then your Cinderhorn — this order doesn’t matter as long as both of these creatures survive. Note that even if Stampeding Wildebeests bounces itself on Cam’s upkeep (putting Soul Bleed into your graveyard), the Bleed’s ability will still trigger and resolve separately.

“The sequencing here is pretty hard,” Alex clarifies.“We have to wait for our opponent's upkeep for the Soul Bleed, but in order to survive the Cinderhorn damage, we have to sacrifice the Colossus first. We can gain enough life by sacrificing the Colossus during our own turn, but we might end up removing the Soul Bleed in the process.”

The final use of Diabolic Servitude is also necessary because Cam still has an extra draw phase with which to kill you (or at least draw an obstacle to your line of play). If you can topdeck your way out of a situation, then there’s also the possibility that she can do that, too!

“Cam could potentially draw a Path to Exile or any removal spell,” Dominic Chan adds,“or she could even draw a Hornet Sting to take us out! So we need to secure our win with Chittering Rats.”

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