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The Beginning is the End

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Overgrown Armasaur
"I'll attack with my Overgrown Armasaur," Raffi says.

You glance at your cards. "Are you sure?" you ask.

"Positive," Raffi says.

You stare at the board again. You're pretty sure that your opponent is approaching you from an angle here, but you're not quite sure what it is. The only thing you can do, really, is go over the circumstances once by one.

First of all, Raffi's definitely attacking you because you don't have enough mana available to regenerate your Loxodon Convert. That said, you've still got ample life and some fair defenses at the moment, so there's no great reason for you to hold up 3 mana for Molting Snakeskin just yet.

Second, it seems likely that Raffi has something that can compromise what you throw in front of the Armasaur. If you block with your 2/5 Bloodletter, for instance, a simple Giant Growth would be enough to overcome both its 5 toughness and the ability of the Healer's Headdress attached to it. The same logic applies if you block it with your Slaughterhouse Bouncer: a Giant Growth would also wreck you if you target the Armasaur with the Bouncer's death trigger, and you're not sure if it's worth using the -3/-3 penalty on any of Raffi's other creatures.

Third, blocking Raffi's Armasaur will give him at least one Saproling token regardless of what creature you use. It's not much, but the table's already crowded enough as it is.

"So, are you blocking?" Raffi asks.

You consider the situation one more time. "No," you finally say. "I'll just tap Bloodletter to prevent one damage to myself. I'll take the remaining three damage and go down to eight life."

"Seems good," Raffi says. "Postcombat main, cast Duskdale Wurm?"

"Seven lands, right? Okay."

"You sound disappointed."

You shrug. "I was expecting a combat trick, that's all."

Raffi laughs. "I was expecting you to expect a combat trick," he says.

"That makes sense, I suppose."

"It took me a while to get used to this Unabridged Cube," Raffi says. "One of the things I've seen, though, is that even when you have one of each card ever printed, that doesn't stop some of the common strategies. For the most part, you should still attack before you cast anything. And you can still make people think that you have something in your hand, whether you really have it or not."

"Some things don't really change," you add.

"It was true at the start of the year, and it's still true at the end of the year."

You nod and start untapping your permanents. You wonder if Raffi has any more ammunition in his deck, or if he's starting to play bluffs on you because he doesn't have anything worth considering. That, of course, makes you wonder if Raffi's actually does have something, when he's trying to make you think that he doesn't have anything. It's all very complicated, and for a moment you don't notice that you've added an Unhallowed Pact to your hand.

"So..." Raffi says, "any plays?"

For a moment you're tempted to pass the turn and make him think you've got something worth worrying about, but that feeling passes quickly. After all, you don't really need to deceive Raffi when you have other perfectly serviceable plays at your disposal.

It is the start of your first main phase. Defeat Raffi before the beginning of his 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, but you know neither the identities nor the order of those cards.

Raffi is at 10 life and has no cards in his hand. He 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 Beginning is the End" by 11:59 P.M. EST on Monday, December 30, 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 Sevi Alvarez, Allen Smith, Sean Patrick Keatley, Russell Jones, Greg Dreher, Jacob Butcher, David Arnold, Addison Fox, and Hyman Rosen.

"The main constraint on this puzzle is that we have to win through non-combat damage," Sevi Alvarez explains. "The only card available that can deal immediate non-combat damage is Fling. From there, it just becomes a puzzle on how to get the biggest creature possible. Luckily, Thornscape Familiar is a workhorse in this scenario."

This route has two variants, but the logic remains the same. "This one utilizes almost everything that you have, which is fun," Sean Patrick Keatley writes. "The cost reducer definitely comes in handy:

  1. Play Island.
  2. Tap two Forests to cast Golden Egg, draw a random card.
  3. Tap Forest to cast Seasonal Ritual for u.
  4. Tap Island, Forest, two Plains, and use the floating u to cast Syr Elenora, the Discerning, who enters the battlefield and you draw a random card.
  5. Ditch Bartered Cow to Trained Pronghorn to get a Food token.
  6. Tap Forest and Plains to cast Insatiable Appetite, saccing the Food token and giving Syr Elenora +5/+5.
  7. Tap two Plains to cast On Alert, giving Syr Elenora +2/+2.
  8. Right now, your hand contains two random cards, Brimstone Trebuchet, Crystal Slipper, Reave Soul, Corridor Monitor, Fling, Revenge of Ravens, Shepherd of the Flock, and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell... making Syr Elenora a 17/11 creature.
  9. Tap Viridian Joiner to sac the Golden Egg for r, and use it to Fling Syr Elenora (now 16 power) at our opponent's face for lethal!

The other option is to Fling the next largest creature you have on the table, which, as Sevi points out, is the Stocking Tiger itself:

  1. Discard Bartered Cow to the Trained Pronghorn and create a Food token.
  2. Play an Island. Tap all of your lands and Viridian Joiner for mana.
  3. Cast Golden Egg and draw a card.
  4. Cast On Alert on Stocking Tiger at a discount due to the Thornscape Familiar, making the Tiger 8/8.
  5. Cast Silverflame Squire at a discount.
  6. Cast Usher to Safety on the Squire.
  7. Cast On Alert on the Stocking Tiger at a discount, making it a 10/10.
  8. Cast Insatiable Appetite on the Tiger, sacrificing the Food token and making it a 15/15.
  9. Cast Seasonal Ritual for r.
  10. Use g to sacrifice the Golden Egg and make another r.
  11. Cast Crystal Slipper at a discount. Equip it on the Tiger, making it a 16/15.
  12. Cast Fling at a discount with your last r, sacrificing your Stocking Tiger to deal 16 damage to the opponent.

"At this point," Russell Jones writes, "Dread Slaver triggers and brings the Tiger back, tapped, under Danielle's control and with a brand-new booster pack! (Okay, maybe not 'brand new': You happen to have this Fallen Empires pack you've been holding onto for the last 25 years, just for the novelty value, and you'd gladly let it be the stupid pack that accompanies her incarnation of the Tiger.) But then Fling resolves and deals 16 to the dome, ending the game and not letting Danielle unwrap her present. What a snow miser."

Then again, as long as you have fifteen cards in your hand, you might as well use as many of them as possible. Hyman Rosen's solution has the added bonus of using Torbran (not to mention finding a way to actually cast him), and puts you within the 16-damage threshold as well:

  1. Play the Island.
  2. Tap all six Forests to add gggggg.
  3. Activate Trained Pronghorn discarding Bartered Cow. Bartered Cow triggers and we create a Food token.
  4. For 1g, sacrificing the Food token, cast Insatiable Appetite targeting Viridian Joiner. Viridian Joiner gets +5/+5, becoming 6/7. We have gggg.
  5. For 2 cast Golden Egg. Golden Egg triggers, and we draw a card. We have gg.
  6. For g cast Seasonal Ritual to add r. We now have rg.
  7. For r cast Crystal Slipper. We have g.
  8. Activate Viridian Joiner and tap the Island. We now have uggggggg.
  9. For 1u cast Corridor Monitor. Corridor Monitor triggers, untapping Viridian Joiner. We have gggggg.
  10. For 1 sacrifice Golden Egg to add r. We now have rggggg.
  11. For 1r cast Brimstone Trebuchet. We have gggg.
  12. For 2g cast Rosethorn Acolyte from its adventure. We have g.
  13. Activate Viridian Joiner. We now have ggggggg.
  14. For 1 equip Crystal Slipper to Rosethorn Acolyte. Rosethorn Acolyte gains haste. We have gggggg.
  15. Activate Rosethorn Acolyte to add r. We have rgggggg.
  16. Tap four Plains. We now have wwwwrgggggg.
  17. For w cast Usher to Safety targeting Rosethorn Acolyte. Rosethorn Acolyte returns to our hand. We have wwwrgggggg.
  18. For g cast Seasonal Ritual to add r. We now have wwwrrggggg.
  19. For 2g cast Rosethorn Acolyte from its adventure. We have wwwrrgg.
  20. For 1 equip Crystal Slipper to Rosethorn Acolyte. Rosethorn Acolyte gains haste. We have wwwrrg.
  21. Activate Rosethorn Acolyte to add r. We now have wwwrrrg.
  22. For 1w cast On Alert targeting Rosethorn Acolyte. Rosethorn Acolyte untaps and gets +2/+2. We have wrrrg.
  23. Activate Rosethorn Acolyte to add r. We now have wrrrrg.
  24. For rrr cast Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. Our Red sources now deal 2 extra damage. We have wrg.
  25. For 1 equip Crystal Slipper to Brimstone Trebuchet. Brimstone Trebuchet gains haste. We have wr.
  26. Activate Brimstone Trebuchet. Danielle takes 3 damage and goes to 13.
  27. For 1 activate Claws of Gix sacrificing Conclave Cavalier. We have r.
  28. Conclave Cavalier triggers and we create 2 Elf Knight creature tokens.
  29. Brimstone Trebuchet triggers twice.
  30. Brimstone Trebuchet untaps from the first trigger. Activate Brimstone Trebuchet. Danielle takes 3 damage and goes to 10.
  31. Brimstone Trebuchet untaps from the second trigger. Activate Brimstone Trebuchet. Danielle takes 3 damage and goes to 7.
  32. We resolve Claws of Gix's ability, gain 1 life, and go to 8.
  33. For r cast Fling, sacrificing Viridian Joiner targeting Danielle. Danielle takes 8 lethal damage.

"Danielle's not having a great time," Addison Fox observes. "The expected value for 'cards we can cast out of a random booster pack' in a two-color deck is maybe three or four, and most of those cards usually won't win a game. Unfortunately, not only did we crack both relevant pieces of fixing to let us cast some of the off-color cards, we also just 'drew' fifteen cards to turbocharge one of them."

"And of course," David Arnold adds, "It's an open secret that every centaur is actually just two elves in a horsey suit."