Junkyard Blues

Tainted Aether
“I’ll tap two forests and two swamps,” Maciek says, “and I’ll cast this Insatiable Harpy I just drew.”

Tainted Aether triggers,” you point out.

“So it does. I’ll sacrifice an Insect token.”

For you, it’s just another weekend with an unpredictable Sealed pool. You and Maciek are in the third game of your match, and coming dangerously close to the time limit for the round. Your life totals are low enough that you don’t expect the game to last much longer, but your board is well and truly overcrowded.

“It’s funny how you ended up with so many artifacts,” Maciek says.

“That’s just how the Unabridged Cube rolls. I mean, it’s got one of each card ever printed.”

“No attacks, then,” Maciek concludes after a moments’ thought. “My Skirge will just get blocked by your Archangel, your Replica and Golem will probably take care of my Crawler and Treefolk, and the three Insect tokens can’t get past your other creatures.”

You nod. “Maybe you should have kept that Symbiotic Beast instead of sacrificing it.”

“I figured it would be good to have some fodder for the Tainted Aether,” Maciek explains. “I’ve got bigger creatures in any case. Besides, the Harpy gives me two flyers now, and you’re at one life. Unless you draw a blocker next turn, you won’t be able to stop both my flyers on my next attack.”

“Not that I’d be able to cast a creature anyway. I’m regretting putting that Steel Golem into my deck.”

“Okay,” Maciek says, “I’ll end my turn.”

You’re in the middle of untapping your cards when you realize that you forgot to consider your Neurok Replica’s ability; it would have been good to activate it in response to Maciek’s end-of-turn declaration. Then again, as you go over your cards, you realize that maybe the day isn’t lost just yet.

“Aren’t you going to take your draw?” Maciek asks after a few minutes.

You glance at him. “No, I’ve got something for my upkeep. Here’s what I’ll do . . . ”

It is the beginning of your upkeep phase. Defeat Maciek before the start of his next combat phase.

You are at 1 life, with the following cards in play:

You currently have no cards in your hand. Once your upkeep phase ends, you can proceed to your draw step as normal. You do not know the identities of the next cards on top of your library.

You currently have no relevant cards in your graveyard.

Maciek is at 6 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 — Junkyard Blues” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, December4, 2016. We’ll include the best ones in next week’s article along with the next puzzle!

Last Week’s Puzzle

Glint Hawk
Correct solutions to last week’s puzzle were received from Allen Smith, Ryou Niji, Aaron Golas, Russell Jones, Hyman Rosen, Michael Feldman, Dominic Chan, Tom Renshaw, Justin Croom, Luke Paulsen, and David Arnold.

“Combat is the only means of damage,” Michael Feldman writes.“But an all-out assault isn't much of an option, as you have a maximum of four attackers to a minimum of three potential blockers (if you neutralize Mogg Toady and Phantasmal Abomination) — meaning you can only guarantee that one creature gets through.

“The creature with the highest power that you can guarantee to get through is the Glint Hawk that starts the puzzle with protection from Blue. But the highest you can pump it is to 10 power, with the help of every Spike Soldier counter, Moldervine Cloak, and either Yeva’s Forcemage or Murderer’s Axe (you don't have enough cards for both, and the only path to casting Monstrify requires Glint Hawk to be bounced and recast, giving it summoning sickness). Another frustration is that Quest for the Gemblades can only activate after combat damage and only then if a creature is blocked.

Mosquito Guard’s first strike ability can potentially cause combat damage in time for another creature to take advantage of Quest for the Gemblades. However, you can't guarantee that the Guard will get blocked . . . but if it doesn't, that's at least one more point of damage you get through. Still, only 11 damage total is even more frustrating!

“Another key is to use a slightly diminished Blue-warded Spike Soldier to get past the Cyclops Tyrant, then using its more instantly powerful ability for itself. But with only two counters left on it, it can only increase in size to a 4/4, not even close to enough.”

As it turns out, the key to the solution lies in a combination of those two observations. If you can trigger Quest for the Gemblades for four more +1/+1 counters on Spike Soldier, that should give you the 12 damage you need. But you’d have to force your opponent to block your Mosquito Guard, so in Michael’s words: “You need to make sure that Mosquito Guard is dangerous enough to put Steph between a first-striking rock and a spiky, gem-encrusted hard place.”

Tom Renshaw brings up the following sequence:

  1. While it’s the end of Steph’s turn:
  2. During my Draw step, I choose to draw a card.
  3. During my Pre-combat Main phase:
  4. Move to my Combat Phase. Declare Mosquito Guard and Spike Soldier as attackers.
  5. Spike Soldier cannot be blocked by Steph’s Blue creatures as it has protection from Blue (from Flickering Ward), Mogg Toady cannot block at all because Steph and I have an equal number of creatures, and Cyclops Tyrant cannot block Spike Soldier because its current power is 2.
  6. If Steph chooses to block Mosquito Guard:
    • Mosquito Guard’s first strike damage puts Quest for the Gemblades’ triggered ability on the stack. I allow this to resolve, which puts a quest counter on it.
    • Remove the quest counter from Quest for the Gemblades and sacrifice it to put four +1/+1 counters on Spike Soldier. There are now six +1/+1 counters on Spike Soldier.
    • Using Spike Soldier’s second activated ability, remove a +1/+1 counter from it to give it +2/+2 (making sure to let this resolve once before repeating the process). Repeat this process for the other five +1/+1 counters. Once these abilities have resolved, Spike Soldier is 12/12 until end of turn.
    • When regular combat damage is dealt, Spike Soldier deals 12 (lethal) damage to Steph.
  7. If Steph chooses not to block Mosquito Guard:
    • There are two +1/+1 counters on Spike Soldier. Using Spike Soldier’s second activated ability, remove a +1/+1 counter from it to give it +2/+2 (making sure to let this resolve once before repeating the process). Repeat this process for the other +1/+1 counter. Once these abilities have resolved, Spike Soldier is 4/4 until end of turn.
    • Mosquito Guard deals 8 points of first strike damage to Steph, leaving her at 4 life.
    • When regular combat damage is dealt, Spike Soldier deals 4 (lethal) damage to Steph.

Spike Soldier
“Make sure to let at least one Spike Soldier activation resolve before pulling off the rest of its counters,” Aaron Golas adds, “lest you be left with a dead 0/0 and a bunch of fizzling abilities!”
You have some slight variations available to you as well. You could discard a card to re-equip your Murderer’s Axe anytime during your pre-combat main phase, for example . . . or dredge Moldervine Cloak instead of drawing a card. The sequencing might be important, though — depending on what’s in your deck, you might end up discarding an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or milling a Gaea’s Blessing, both of which will shuffle away the Monstrify in your graveyard!
“This puzzle is a really interesting instance of a ‘Morton's Fork’,” Ryou Niji remarks.“The opponent either blocks or doesn't block, and dies in different ways. Usually in problems that offer the opponent a blocking ‘choice’, we simply pile instant-speed pumps on an unblocked creature for lethal damage. This time, most of the pumps available to us are sorcery-speed, so instead we use them to create a ‘must-block threat’, then use the block to our advantage to win anyway.”

Interestingly enough, Steph would have had a way out of her fix if circumstances had been different. “We’re fortunate that Steph does not have an ability that can target her own creatures,” Hyman Rosen notes. “Otherwise she could block Mosquito Guard with Phantasmal Abomination and target it with the ability — preventing Mosquito Guard from dealing damage, and preventing Quest for the Gemblades from activating.”
“Just don't forget to be thankful for things like murderer's axes and monstrous frogs,” Russell Jones adds, “for allowing a tiny little Kithkin to become threatening enough to make the difference that puts the opponent in that bind either way. It's Thanksgiving, after all.”

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