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Tactical Magic, Round 3


Last week, I talked a little about card economy, and the week before, I did a detailed walkthrough of a game my friend and I played. Let’s take a look at the second game and see how a greater understanding of card usage and tactical Magic affect his play.

Game 2:

(Mono-Red is on the play.)

Mono-Red OP: Goblin Arsonist, Stormblood Berserker, three Mountains, two Spikeshot Elders

Solar Flare OP: Drowned Catacomb, Isolated Chapel, Ghost Quarter, Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment, Mana Leak, Forbidden Alchemy

The important thing to look at here is Solar Flare’s lands. Obviously, if Solar Flare manages to draw a Swamp in the first two turns, his life is going to be a lot easier, but assuming Solar Flare continues to draw spells, what should his land-drop sequence be? Drowned Catacomb and Isolated Chapel enter the battlefield tapped, so it’s impossible to cast both the Mana Leak and a 3-drop.

There are two important factors here. The first is Solar Flare’s basics count, which is three of each. This means that he is no more likely to draw a basic that allows Drowned Catacomb to come in untapped than he is Isolated Chapel. As a counterexample, consider my Solar Flare list, which runs five Islands and two of each Swamps and Plains. This means that Drowned Catacomb has seven lands that can make it enter untapped, as opposed to Isolated Chapel’s four. This would be incentive to play Isolated Chapel first because he has a far greater likelihood of drawing the basic that makes Drowned Catacomb come in untapped.

The second thing to consider with respect to Solar Flare’s opening hand is its spells. Because the early game’s mana is an issue, Solar Flare is going to have to prioritize its spells in the correct order to be able to win the game. If you don’t cast the right spells (have good card economy), the Solar Flare player is likely to lose.

The correct response is to play lands in the following order: Drowned Catacomb, Isolated Chapel, Ghost Quarter. The reason for this is that the hand contains Forbidden Alchemy. Forgoing Mana Leak in order to cast Alchemy to continue mana development is the best line of play Solar Flare has, especially with Day of Judgment in hand. Oblivion Ring is the fallback plan for turn three if mono-Red has something like Shrine that needs to be dealt with quickly.

Now that we’ve talked about that, let’s get on to the first turn.

MR: Play Mountain and Goblin Arsonist.

SF: Draw Consecrated Sphinx. Play Drowned Catacomb.

MR: Draw Brimstone Volley, play Mountain, attack (SF goes to 19), play Stormblood Berseker.

SF: Draw Snapcaster Mage. Play Isolated Chapel.

Oh, no! My opponent played a Goblin Arsonist and Stormblood Berserker. What do I do? The answer is to calmly play Isolated Chapel and understand that your long-term mana development is more important than your short-term ability to deal with threats.

MR: Draw Stromkirk Noble, play Mountain, attack SF down to 15.

SF: Draw Consecrated Sphinx. Play Ghost Quarter.

Looking at mono-Red’s play here is important. Why would mono-Red not commit a threat against an obvious opening by the Solar Flare player (untapped Drowned Catacomb, tapped Isolated Chapel)? The answer lies in something I talked about last week: the threat of Day of Judgment.

The mono-Red player here has to answer a question: Why did my opponent play turn-two Isolated Chapel when he has the opportunity to interact with my pressure using Doom Blade or Mana Leak?

Here are the reasonable responses:

Note how all of these options revolve around Day of Judgment. The concern for the mono-Red player at this point is that card. Solar Flare is clearly sacrificing tempo in the short term by playing Isolated Chapel and denying himself the ability to use Mana Leak or Doom Blade; for many mono-Red players, this should trigger the Day-of-Judgment-Is-Coming red flag.

Mono-Red has three legitimate options at this point:

  1. Commit Stromkirk Noble.
  2. Commit Stromkirk Noble and both Spikeshot Elders.
  3. Do nothing.

In my opinion, either Option 2 or Option 3 is the best, but I’d not fault you for taking Option 1. Here’s the logic behind each option:

Option 1: You commit Stromkirk Noble here because you expect that your opponent’s mana is awkward. You believe that even if your opponent has Day of Judgment, he will be able to cast it on turn five at the earliest. Thus, you will get in at least two swings with the Noble, dealing 3 damage, which is the bare minimum for the card to be effective. You will also have placed more pressure on the board, thus denying your opponent time to find Day of Judgment if he doesn’t already have it.

Option 2: You believe your opponent does not have Day of Judgment and is unlikely to draw or otherwise find it.

Option 3: This is reasonable under two different conditions—either you believe your opponent has Day of Judgment or you believe the marginal benefit of Option 1 is small enough that there is no reason to risk losing extra resources (the Stromkirk Noble) in exchange for 1 to 3 points of damage.

It is important here to know your opponent’s tendencies. My friend is naturally a reasonably conservative player, so I chose to assume that the Isolated Chapel meant his mana was awkward but that he had the Day of Judgment, and thus wanted to maximize his chances of casting it on turn four. In the event he can cast Day of Judgment on turn four, committing Stromkirk Noble is absolutely a mistake. Even if he doesn’t, he will have it on turn five, and the Noble will only deal 3 damage. Getting a virtual Lightning Bolt was not a good enough marginal benefit to risk the loss of the Noble for only 1 damage. Thus, not knowing what his third and fourth lands were, and knowing his play style, I chose not to commit the Stromkirk Noble because I believed I would be able to apply sufficient pressure post-Wrath, especially in the face of an awkward mana base.

MR: Draw and play Mountain (attack SF down to 11), Alchemy at end of turn (keeping Island and binning Darkslick Shores, Doom Blade, and Seachrome Coast).

SF: Draw Liliana of the Veil. Play Island and Snapcaster Mage, flash back Doom Blade on Stormblood Berserker. MR plays Brimstone Volley (SF goes to 6).

Once again, looking at mono-Red’s play is important here. Now Solar Flare has shown Ghost Quarter as the third land, which confirms that Solar Flare’s mana is awkward. However, there is no reason to commit Stromkirk Noble here, as the threat of Day of Judgment remains.

The kicker to the situation is Brimstone Volley. One of mono-Red’s creatures is going to die soon, and that will almost certainly provide mono-Red with a window of opportunity to deal 5 damage with Brimstone Volley, dropping Solar Flare to 6 and putting the mono-Red player in a wonderful position. Sure enough, Solar Flare gives mono-Red the opening and drops to 6 from the Volley.

MR: Draw Arc Trail. Attack with Arsonist, SF blocks with Snapcaster Mage. Trigger at SF (SF goes to 5). Play Spikeshot Elder and Noble.

SF: Draw Think Twice. Play Seachrome Coast and Liliana of the Veil, use her −2, MR sacs Stromkirk Noble.

Mono-Red’s line of play here is consistent with the assumption that Solar Flare has Day of Judgment (although apparently not the mana to cast it). The problem here lies in the fact that Solar Flare has a Ghost Quarter to find a Plains, allowing him to cast Day of Judgment. If mono-Red commits too many resources this can, in fact, become the right line of play, as Solar Flare will find additional land drops but mono-Red will have trouble finding additional threats. Holding back a Spikeshot Elder allows for a little bit of wiggle room in the face of Day of Judgment.

Solar Flare’s play of Liliana is correct here to try to draw fire away from the player. Mono-Red sacs Stromkirk Noble because, with 3 mana available, Spikeshot Elder is basically the same clock and is harder to stop.

MR: Draw Goblin Arsonist, attack with Spikeshot Elder (SF goes to 4), play Goblin Arsonist.

SF: Draw Consecrated Sphinx. +1 Liliana of the Veil, discard Sphinx and MR discards Spikeshot Elder. Oblivion Ring on Goblin Arsonist and Doom Blade Elder. MR pings SF to 3.

Mono-Red is now throwing resources at Solar Flare and ignoring the Liliana—mono-Red smells blood. Solar Flare, though, has removal for both of mono-Red’s creatures, which puts mono-Red in an awkward position. Solar Flare’s line of play is fairly obvious—it’s in survival mode. The Oblivion Ring plus Doom Blade combination is forced because of Goblin Arsonist. Solar Flare cannot afford to tap out and go to 2, as that vastly increases the chances of losing. Arc Trail and Chandra's Phoenix now become immediate losses, as do Incinerate, Brimstone Volley, and Koth of the Hammer. Shrine of Burning Rage also becomes stronger. At this point, Solar Flare is trading a card for 1 point of life.

MR: Draw and play Chandra's Phoenix. Attack Liliana of the Veil.

SF: Draw and play Swamp. Play Consecrated Sphinx.

Chandra's Phoenix here is an awkward draw, as it puts mono-Red in the position of having to decide whether to attack Liliana or the player. If mono-Red attacks Solar Flare, Solar Flare will go to 1, but both Spikeshot Elders are already dead, so 3 and 1 are functionally very similar. Arc Trail and Grim Lavamancer care, and the Shrine sort of cares, but that’s just about it. At this point, though, the ability to keep Chandra's Phoenix on the table is what pushes the decision over the edge. Attacking Liliana it is. This is likely a mistake though—mono-Red is holding Arc Trail and is at 4 mana, and will thus very soon will be able to pay for a Mana Leak.

Solar Flare is now in a position in which it has to defend against burn and Chandra's Phoenix, and thus must tap out for Consecrated Sphinx and get lucky for a couple turns.

MR: Draw Mountain and play it. SF draws Darkslick Shores and Island.

SF: Draw Snapcaster Mage. Play Darkslick Shores, attack with Consecrated Sphinx (MR goes to 16) and pass.

MR: Draw Mountain, SF draws Forbidden Alchemy and Plains. MR plays Mountain and attacks with Phoenix, SF plays Snapcaster into Doom Blade. MR plays Arc Trail to bring back Phoenix. MR doesn't play Phoenix because of Mana Leak.

SF: Draw Snapcaster Mage. Play Island and Forbidden Alchemy (binning Chapel, Chapel, Coast and keeping Consecrated Sphinx. Play Think Twice, draw Glacial Fortress.

MR: Draw Grim Lavamancer, SF draws Dissipate and Darkslick Shores. MR plays Chandra's Phoenix (SF plays Dissipate). MR plays Grim Lavamancer.

SF: Draw Day of Judgment. SF plays Glacial Fortress. Attack with Consecrated Sphinx (MR goes to 12) and play Day of Judgment.

The Day of Judgment is forced here to remove the Lavamancer.

MR: Draw and play Stormblood Berserkers, SF responds with Snapcaster, flashing back Dissipate.

SF: Draw and play Plains. Attack with Snapcaster (MR goes to 10), play Consecrated Sphinx.

MR: Draw Chandra's Phoenix, SF draws Sun Titan and Swamp. MR plays Chandra's Phoenix.

SF: Draw and play Island. Play Sun Titan and recur Liliana of the Veil, attack with Snapcaster Mage (MR goes to 8).

MR: Top-deck Mountain and scoop.

Toward the end of the game, Solar Flare is strictly in survival mode and successfully finds answers to all of mono-Red’s threats while managing to sneak in damage with Consecrated Sphinx and Snapcaster Mage, eventually tabling a Sun Titan to finish the job. Solar Flare remains at 1 for much of the later part of the game, but 1 is not 0, and thus Solar Flare is able to take the game.


Solar Flare’s card management and sequencing was far superior in this game than in the first, and that is what allowed Solar Flare to pull out of what appeared to be a rather severe hole on turn four. By prioritizing his long-term development, the Solar Flare player was able to transition smoothly from playing defensive spells to taking an offensive stance while maintaining the ability to defend himself. The smoothness of this transition is what enabled Solar Flare to deal with mono-Red’s midgame threats rather than outright losing to them.

If you look at this game, you can see the impact that the threat of Day of Judgment has on this game—specifically on mono-Red’s decision-making. If you look at the middle turns of the game, you can see the pressure that Day of Judgment puts on mono-Red even though it has yet to be cast. This is exactly the sort of control over lines of play that I was talking about last week in my article on card economy.

Card economy is not about two-for-ones; it is about controlling lines of play and maximizing your concealed information. Solar Flare’s application of the threat of Day of Judgment allowed the player to maximize his other spells—Snapcaster Mage, Oblivion Ring, and Doom Blade in particular. This ability to maximize the other defensive spells is crucial to understanding the effectiveness of card management and card economy.

The absolutely critical aspect of controlling lines of play in this game was Day of Judgment, which showcases the importance of threatening a card as part of card management.

Chingsung Chang

Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO

Khan32k5 at gmail dot com


Bonus Solar Flare Tech

This is my current Solar Flare list, and it’s one that I’ve been very happy with overall. If you do want to play Solar Flare, I would recommend this list.



2 Grave Titan

3 Snapcaster Mage

1 Wurmcoil Engine

2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite



2 Liliana of the Veil



1 Dismember

1 Doom Blade

1 Go for the Throat

2 Dissipate

4 Forbidden Alchemy

4 Mana Leak

2 Unburial Rites

3 Day of Judgment

4 Ponder

2 Oblivion Ring



2 Plains

2 Swamp

5 Island

2 Darkslick Shores

2 Ghost Quarter

2 Seachrome Coast

4 Drowned Catacomb

4 Glacial Fortress

4 Isolated Chapel



4 Mirran Crusader

3 Timely Reinforcements

1 Go for the Throat

1 Dismember

1 Day of Judgment

2 Negate

1 Dissipate



The last two cards in the sideboard are up to personal preference—either two Nihil Spellbombs or one Snapcaster Mage and one Oblivion Ring.

That is all.

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