Favor for a Favor

Windreader Sphinx
With the Magic 2014 Core Set available as a flashback draft on Magic Online, your local game store has decided to break out some of its back stock once more. You haven’t played a Core Set draft since Magic Origins, so you were all over this one.

Unfortunately, the tournament ended somewhat anticlimactically for you. Your R/G draft deck had two Shocks and three copies of Chandra’s Outrage, as well as two Advocate of the Beast, three Beast creatures, and several other components that made for an easy 4-0 walkover. You finished your last match in record time, and after a short wait, you headed over to CJ’s table.

CJ looks glad to see you. “I’m about to go zero for four,” he proudly announces.

“You haven’t even finished your game yet,” you laugh.

“It’s not my fault my pile turned out to be a . . .  pile. You should see what’s on Hannah’s side of the table.”

You look up at CJ’s opponent, and Hannah gives you a wave.

Windreader Sphinx and Guardian of the Ages in the same deck?” you ask.

“And Staff of the Sun Magus, and Staff of the Mind Magus,” Hannah adds. “And an Elixir of Immortality, and a couple of Divine Favors.”

“Yeah,” CJ says, “I’ve had a bit of trouble killing her before she kills me.”

“I see.”

“I’m down to 1 life,” CJ says. “She got me for six last turn when she attacked with her Phantom Warrior and her Windreader Sphinx. Then she played a land and dropped the Guardian onto her side of the table, and I’m pretty sure my Accursed Spirit isn’t going to be able to get past that.”

“What’s her life total?” you ask.

“Eight,” CJ says, and draws his card for the turn. “That’s a Dark Favor,” he says, looking defeated. “Not a lot of good it does me at 1 life.”

“So what’s your play, then?” Hannah asks.

CJ takes a deep breath, and then sighs. “Match slip,” he finally says.

You grab the match slip from the other end of the table, and hesitate for a moment. Part of you wants to see this over with, but the other part of you really wants to show CJ what he’s missing.

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

You are at 1 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 do not know the identities of the next cards on top of your library. You currently have no relevant cards in your graveyard.

Hannah is at 8life and has no cards in her hand. She 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 — Favor for a Favor” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, January 8, 2017. We’ll include the best ones in next week’s article along with the next puzzle!

Last Week’s Puzzle

Blood Funnel
Correct solutions to last week’s puzzle were received from Dominic Chan, Hyman Rosen, Matthew Harvey, Ryou Niji, Lane Engelberg, Russell Jones, Ben Garrett, Addison Fox, Subrata Sircar, Greg Dreher, Sidney Parham, Aaron Golas, Zzo38, Bill Murphy, Brian Grigg, Luke Paulsen, John Hoffman, and Michael Feldman. (Taylor Newman gets a shout-out as well, since his solution comes close.)

“Even if we had a creature (or a group of them) that’s strong enough to finish Don in combat,” Matthew Harvey writes, “he just has too many blockers. And with Blood Funnel, any removal spells we use will each cost us a creature. So we have to look for another way outside of combat, which leaves us with Spiraling Embers. But it deals damage equal to the cards we have in hand, of which we currently don't have enough to finish Don.”

“However,” Subrata Sircar continues, “spells like Spiraling Embers don’t lock in the amount of damage they deal until they resolve. Thus, if we can get seven cards in our hand with Spiraling Embers on the stack, the Embers will deal 7 damage, which is the amount of life Don happens to have.”

“The Lich’s Mirror's ability to ‘reset’ my hand size can combine with the Spiraling Embers to deal exactly 7 points of damage to Don,” Ben Garrett notes.“But this would only happen if I die while Spiraling Embers is on the stack below it. The trick then, is to figure out how to die on purpose and at instant speed.”

But as it turns out, dying is a difficult thing to do. “It turns out that although we can certainly kill ourselves,” Ryou Niji observes, “and we do have some instant-speed ways of hurting ourselves(Tavern Swindler and Tomb of Urami), we cannot quite kill ourselves at instant speed without jumping through a few hoops. Tavern Swindler demands a payment of 3 life, and it is all or nothing — we cannot activate it at all when we are at 2 life. And since Tomb of Urami only deals 1 damage to us, we can kill ourselves at instant speed only if we can first drop to 1, 3, or 4 life.

“At this point, we run into what I call ‘the curse of 3’. We are at 5 life now, and we cannot get to 1, 3, or 4 life just by taking damage or gaining life in multiples of 3:

  1. Aftershock deals 3 damage to us.
  2. Hasran Ogress deals 3 damage to us.
  3. Sever Soul only targets Non-Black creatures, and gains us life equal to the creature's toughness. Our options are:

To pump the Descendant of Kiyomaro to an acceptable toughness, you’ll need to 1) get some cards into your opponent’s hand, and 2) make sure he can’t play any of them to mess up your plans. So the sequencing is quite important here, as Sidney Parham writes:

  1. Tap two Mountains and cast Aftershock (with the Blood Funnel discount), targeting Mirri, Cat Warrior. Sacrifice your Ogre Resister to Blood Funnel's trigger.
  2. Aftershock resolves, destroying Mirri and dealing 3 damage to you. Your life total becomes 2, and Rancor is returned to Don's hand. He now has one card in hand.
  3. Tap your Swamp and Bog Witch, discarding Flaring Pain, to add {B}{B}{B} to your mana pool.
  4. Cast Sever Soul for {B}{B}{B} (with the Blood Funnel discount), targeting your opponent's Descendant of Kiyomaro. Sacrifice your Mesmeric Fiend to Blood Funnel's trigger.
    • This returns Reprisal to Don's hand; he now has two cards in hand. (Don is unable to cast Reprisal, as at this point there are no creatures with power 4 or greater on the battlefield.)
  5. Sever Soul resolves and destroys Descendant of Kiyomaro. Since you only have one card — Spiraling Embers — in your hand at this point, Descendant of Kiyomaro is a 3/5 creature. You gain 5 life, setting your life total to 7.
  6. Begin combat. Declare Hasran Ogress as an attacker, declining to pay {2}. Hasran Ogress deals 3 damage to you, setting your life total to 4. Depending on whether or not Don blocks, his life total is either 7 or 4.
  7. Tap a Mountain and your Tomb of Urami to cast Spiraling Embers, targeting Don, with the Blood Funnel discount. Tomb of Urami deals 1 damage to you, as your Ogres are all dead at this point; your life total is now 3. Sacrifice Bog Witch to the Blood Funnel trigger.
  8. In response, activate Tavern Swindler's ability, paying your remaining 3 life. As a state-based action, you lose the game — or you would, if you didn't control Lich’s Mirror. Instead, Lich’s Mirror triggers, and you shuffle your hand, graveyard, and all permanents you control into your library, you draw seven cards, and your life total becomes 20.
  9. Resolve Tavern Swindler's ability. You gain either 0 or 6 life — not that you care at this point.
  10. Resolve Spiraling Embers. Thanks to the Lich’s Mirror, you have seven cards in your hand, so it deals 7 damage to Don. Even if he blocked your Hasran Ogress earlier, this is sufficient to end the game.

There is one minor variation for the above solution: After combat, if the Hasran Ogress is still alive, you can tap two Mountains to cast Spiraling Embers, sacrifice Hasran Ogress for the Blood Funnel trigger, then tap Tomb of Urami for an unused {B} as well as 1 damage.

The Lich’s Mirror makes for a strange presence on the board, and inspired no end of speculation. Ultimately, however, Greg Dreher would quote Anton Chekhov here (were he a designer of Magic puzzles instead of a playwright): “Remove everything that has no relevance to the puzzle. If you say in the setup that there is a Lich’s Mirror sitting on the battlefield, in the second main phase it absolutely must go off.”

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