Puppet Master

Vorel of the Hull Clade
Deep in the second week of your local game store’s Return to Ravnicablock drafts, you find yourself playing one of those rare synergistic decks you’ve heard about. It’s got an even distribution of Green, Blue and Black cards, uses abilities like evolve and scavenge to toughen up its creatures with +1/+1 counters, and presses the issue further with cards like Vorel of the Hull Clade and Mutant’s Prey.

Unfortunately, however, Nox is your opponent for the current round. You’ve defeated him twice before in fairly similar circumstances, and he’s definitely not happy to see you sitting across the table. The feeling is mutual.

What’s worse is that Nox seems to have won big with his draft pool . . .  if you could call a collection of bulk rares “winning big”. It’s been enough to stymie any attempts to predict the contents of his deck, though: When you’re dealing with combat tricks like Wrecking Ogre and Dragonshift, you’re not quite sure what Nox is likely to play next.

Hellhole Flailer
You’ve had the advantage for the last few turns of this game, though. Your Nimbus Swimmer has been harassing Nox quite well, especially with your Vorel to back it up. So when Nox tapped 6 mana and cast Blast of Genius on it last turn, it was a simple matter to double its counters and make it an 8/8 flyer in response. But you weren’t expecting Nox to discard an Utvara Hellkite for enough damage to kill your Leviathan!

You lean back, shocked by this sudden turn of events. Nox quickly follows up by emptying his hand: first a land, then an unleashed Hellhole Flailer, then a Hellraiser Goblin. If it weren’t for the fact that Nox declined to attack earlier this turn — thus performing all of his plays during his postcombat main phase — his creatures would have already stomped you into the pavement.

You untap and draw a card, hoping for something that can save you. Your draw, however, is a Spire Tracer, which looks puny against the Desecration Demon on Nox’s side of the table.

Nox catches a glimpse of your reaction, and immediately slips into that smarmy expression you love to hate. “So, should I sign that match slip now, or do you want to sit there and think a little longer?”

You don’t respond, mostly because you’re putting all your attention into finding a way out of this mess. There’s got to be a way to get this game back on track!

It is the start of your first main phase. Defeat Nox before the start of his next combat phase.

You are at 6 life, with the following cards in play:

You have the following cards in your hand:

You do not know the identities of the next cards on top of your library.

Nox is at 5 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 — Puppet Master” by 11:59 P.M. EST on Sunday, December18, 2016. 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 Hyman Rosen, Dominic Chan, Norman Dean, Russell Jones, Alfred Hsie, Aaron Golas, Greg Dreher, Subrata Sircar, Volnei Jr., Ryou Niji, Will and Eli Clendenning, Paul Seitz, Michael Feldman, Matthew Harvey, and Bill Murphy.

“The key to victory,” Alfred Hsie writes, “lies in 4 elements:

After all, as Ryou Niji muses: “Every player who played RTR block enough should know that there are two ways to use Agoraphobia: as a removal spell, or as a pump spell.”

  1. Tap all our lands for {G}{G}{G}{U}{U}{U}{U}{R}{R}{R}.
  2. Pay {R}{U} to play Agoraphobia on *our* Battering Krasis.
  3. Pay {G} to cast Wasteland Viper, which evolves our -3/1 Battering Krasis into a -2/2.
  4. Pay {U} to cast Faerie Impostor and bounce Wasteland Viper. This again evolves our -2/2 Battering Krasis into a -1/3.
  5. Pay {G} to cast Wasteland Viper, which evolves our -1/3 [card]Battering
  6. Krasis[/card] into a 0/4.
  7. Pay {R}{R}{U} to bounce Agoraphobia to our hand. Now our Battering Krasis is a 5/4.

  8. Attack with the 1/2 Bomber Corps, the 5/4 Battering Krasis, and the 2/2 Millennial Gargoyle.
  9. With the battalion ability of Bomber Corps, ping the opponent. She is at 5.
  10. Since Zhur-Taa Druid represents 1 damage, the opponent cannot afford to lose 4 life. Therefore she must block the 5/4 trampling Battering Krasis with at least 2 toughness’ worth of creatures. Her available blockers are the 1/1 Grim Roustabout, the 2/1 Battering Krasis, and the 5/5 Deathpact Angel. Her options are:
  11. Tap Zhur-Taa Druid for {G} and to ping the opponent for 1 damage. She is at 4 life.
  12. Pay {G} to cast Bioshift, moving three +1/+1 counters from Battering Krasis to an unblocked attacker. Since all our attackers have at least 1 power naturally, this will be lethal.

One minor variant to the above solution is to not recast Wasteland Viper as in step 5 above. This leaves your Battering Krasis as a 4/3 trampler, but that’s all you need: If your opponent blocks each of your attacking creatures and assigns Deathpact Angel to the Krasis, making it a 5/5 deathtouch trampler means that you can kill the Angel with 1 damage and trample over for the other 4.
Michael Feldman notes that there’s an alternative solution as well, which requires the following:

  • Figuring out the interaction between Battalion and Bloodrush, 1 non-combat damage and Deathtouch.
  • Figuring out that Korozda Monitor is an irredeemable red herring. Only the above interaction can send it to the graveyard, and even then its expensive Scavenge ability will not be enough to overcome Deathpact Angel blocking your Battering Krasis or Millennial Gargoyle.
  • Figuring out how to manipulate both Battering Krasis' Evolve abilities to maximize your Battering Krasis and minimize the strength and number of Tiffany's blockers.

With this in mind, Aaron Golas’ solution goes:

  1. Tap Gruul Guildgate and Island to cast Agoraphobia targeting your Battering Krasis, making it a -3/1.
  2. Tap Zhur-Taa Druid to cast Wasteland Viper. Zhur-Taa Druid deals 1 damage to Tiffany, putting her to 5. When Wasteland Viper enters the battlefield, your Battering Krasis evolves into a -2/2.
  3. Tap an Island to cast Faerie Impostor. When it enters the battlefield, return Wasteland Viper to your hand. Battering Krasis evolves into a -1/3.
  4. Tap two Mountains and an Island to return Agoraphobia to your hand, leaving your Battering Krasis as a 4/3. Tap a Forest and an Island to recast Agoraphobia targeting Tiffany's Battering Krasis, reducing it to a -3/1.
  5. Attack with Bomber Corps, Battering Krasis, and Millennial Gargoyle. Put Bomber Corps' triggered battalion ability on the stack targeting Deathpact Angel. In response, tap a Forest and discard Wasteland Viper to use its bloodrush ability to give Bomber Corps +1/+2 and deathtouch. Bomber Corps' ability resolves; Deathpact Angel takes 1 point of deathtouch damage and dies. When Deathpact Angel dies, Tiffany creates a 1/1 Cleric token, triggering her Battering Krasis to evolve.
  6. Before blocks, tap a Forest to cast Bioshift, moving the fresh +1/+1 counter from Tiffany's Battering Krasis to her Grim Roustabout. Thanks to unleash, Grim Roustabout can no longer block.
  7. Tiffany now only has two available blockers—Battering Krasis and the Cleric token—each of which has 1 toughness. Since neither of her creatures can block your flying Gargoyle, her best option is to throw one creature in front of Bomber Corps and the other in front of Battering Krasis, but that isn't enough to save her. Tiffany takes 2 damage from Millennial Gargoyle and another 3 from your trampling Battering Krasis, leaving her at exactly dead.

“All it takes to win,” Matthew Harvey muses, “is for our fish beast to become scared of open spaces, go into group therapy with some big(ger) therapists, and then get back to partying with its old friends!”

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