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Back Alley Surgery: A Magic the Gathering Puzzle


"Are you sure I should attack?" Meredith asks. "I don't know if I should attack."

"Girl, there's nothing bigger than 4 toughness on the other side of that table," Cris says, "and that Kami of the Tended Garden is a liability. I think you'd better throw it in."

You sigh. You're obviously dealing with Meredith as your opponent in this match, but given the opinion-spouting rubberneckers at her side, you're starting to wonder if she's all there. You ought to call a judge on this, but Boris is unfortunately off taking a bathroom break.

"I don't think I should. What do you think, Derek?"

Derek doesn't look up from his phone. "I absolutely think you should," he says.

"I don't know," Meredith says. "What if it ends up being relevant?"

"Oh honey, it's just a 4/4 creature with an upkeep cost," Cris says. "And you really need to move on this board, or otherwise you're just going to keep playing cards until they spill off the edge of the table."

To tell the truth, she's not too far off the mark: Despite having gone through over half your decks, you and Meredith are still sitting at double-digit life totals. This would normally put you at a disadvantage, seeing as you're the one who has fewer creatures. But between your average creature size and Meredith's indecision, you've managed to hold the line.

"Okay," Meredith says, putting both hands on the table, "I'm making a decision."

"Fire away," Cris says.

"I'm not going to attack, and I'm just going to cast this thing."

That 'thing', of course, turns out to be a 9/9 Kalonian Behemoth - something that you wouldn't be able to target even if you had the removal for it. For the first time in a long time, you curse your luck with the Unabridged Cube: You know perfectly well that it has one of each card ever printed, but you'd be absolutely shamed if you lost a match to these opponents because of that.

"That's respectable," Derek says, stealing a glance at the Behemoth.

"I'm surprised you're still paying attention," Cris says.

"There's nothing stopping me from playing this game and watching this game at the same time. Besides, Meredith can handle it."

You turn to your opponent. Something tells you that Meredith most certainly can't handle it, but you keep that thought to yourself.

"So, you're not attacking, and you're almost tapped out... does that mean it's my turn?" you ask.

"Uh-huh," Meredith mumbles. "Wait, what did I say? Yes, go ahead."

You shake your head and start moving to untap your permanents, all while Meredith's friends chatter in the background. At least their attention's diverted, so you can take your draw in relative peace.

Unfortunately, the card on top of your deck is less than optimal: It's a Profane Transfusion, and although you definitely have enough mana to cast it, you're not exactly in a position where it's going to make a lot of impact on the board.

"So, what is it?" Meredith asks.

"Bet you it's something good," Cris whispers.

"Whatever it is," Derek says, dismissively.

You survey the cards on your side of the table. Boris doesn't seem to be coming back anytime soon, so you might be on your own here. Rather than deal with what amounts to three opponents in this match, you start wondering how to save a life and get away from this insanity.

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

You are at 14 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 currently have no cards in your graveyard, courtesy of Meredith's Apostle of Purifying Light.

Meredith is at 18 life and has no cards in her hand. She has the following cards in play:

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 - Back Alley Surgery" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, December 7, 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 Jacob Butcher, Sean Patrick Keatley, Michael Feldman, and Hyman Rosen.

"The key to this puzzle is the alternate victory condition offered by Atemsis, All-Seeing," Jacob Butcher writes, "enabled by the power-up and trample provided by Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma as copied by Stunt Double. The rest is 'just' carefully moving cards between battlefield, graveyard, library, and hand."

In fact, because you're moving so many things between zones, this puzzle concentrates on what you should move, and when. The ability to draw unknown cards from your library gives you a little flexibility, but unfortunately those unknown cards won't count for their mana costs.

Hyman Rosen's solution, however, points out that you can work with what you do know:

In Argus' end step:

  1. Tap all our lands and Ur-Golem's Eye to add 2uuuuuuubb.
  2. For 3u cast Stunt Double as a copy of Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma.
  3. For 1u use King Crab to put Goreclaw on top of Argus' library.
  4. For b use Haunted Crossroads to put Spark Reaper on top of our library.
  5. For b use Haunted Crossroads to put Eidolon of Philosophy on top of our library.
  6. Activate Dark Privilege sacrificing God-Eternal Bontu.

  7. For 2u activate Atemsis.

  8. In our upkeep:

  9. Activate Dark Privilege sacrificing Ringskipper.

  10. In our draw step, we draw God-Eternal Bontu.
  11. In our main phase:

  12. Tap an Island to add u.
  13. For u cast Eidolon of Philosophy.
  14. In our combat phase:

  15. Attack with Stunt Double and Atemsis. Stunt Double (copying Goreclaw) triggers.

    • Atemsis gains trample and gets +1/+1, becoming 6/7.
    • Stunt Double gains trample and gets +1/+1, becoming 5/4.
  16. Tap and sacrifice Svyelunite Temple to add uu.
  17. For 1u use King Crab to put Stunt Double on top of our library.
  18. Argus can block Atemsis only with Flight of Equenauts (4/5) and will take at least 1 trample damage. Atemsis triggers.

  19. Resolve Atemsis' ability. We reveal:
  20. Argus loses the game.

To be fair, you don't even have to return Stunt Double to your hand: One variant of this solution involves putting only one creature from your graveyard on top of your library during Argus' turn. You can then activate Atemsis to draw that card and an unknown card from your library, discard the unknown card, and keep Tendrils of Corruption to act as your 4-mana win condition. This gives you some uncertainty (what if the mystery card is an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn?), but otherwise works.

Michael Feldman, however, submits an alternative solution that doesn't involve activating Eidolon of Philosophy. Instead, this solution relies on Bontu's enters-the-battlefield ability:

  1. Tap for 1u and tap King Crab to have it put Kavu Climber on top of Argus' library.
  2. Sacrifice King Crab to have Dark Privilege give Atemsis, All-Seeing a regeneration shield.
  3. Tap for bb to have Haunted Crossroads put either Spark Reaper or Eidolon of Philosophy, then King Crab on top of your library (this leaves King Crab on top, and either Reaper or Eidolon second).
  4. Sacrifice Ringskipper to have Dark Privilege give Atemsis a regeneration shield.

  5. Tap for 3u to cast and enter Stunt Double as a copy of God-Eternal Bontu.

  6. Tap for 3u to cast and enter Stunt Double as a copy of Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma.
  7. Allow Argus to end his turn.
  8. Begin your turn.
  9. During your upkeep, tap for b to put your remaining graveyard creature (Spark Reaper or Eidolon of Philosophy) on top of your library.
  10. During your draw step, draw Spark Reaper or Eidolon of Philosophy (whichever you put on top of your library, which is not already in your hand).
  11. Attack with Atemsis and the Goreclaw copy.
    • Goreclaw's attack gives +1/+1 and trample for the turn to itself and Atemsis (now 6/7).
    • Flight of Equenauts is the only flying creature and therefore flying Atemsis' only potential blocker. Atemsis either deals 6 damage to Argus if unblocked, or 5 fatal damage to Flight of Equenauts and 1 damage to Argus.

  12. Dealing damage to Argus allows Atemsis to trigger and reveal your hand. You reveal:
  13. Argus loses the game.

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