Home > Marginal Missteps > Marginal Missteps – I Know You Know I Know

Marginal Missteps – I Know You Know I Know

This is different from my usual Spreading Cheese articles in that I don’t talk about decks or being rogue or anything. Here I will talk about plays and/or events that happen at high-level competitive play. Welcome to the first-ever Marginal Missteps.

Let me get straight to the subject here. Imagine the following scenario. You’re playing Drew Levin’s UR Faeries deck. Your opponent mulligans once, and then goes first, fetching a Volcanic Island with a Polluted Delta, and then he Ponders, keeping 3 up top and drawing a card. You draw, and your hand consists of:

Force of Will
Sower of Temptation
Ancestral Visions
Volcanic Island
Flooded Strand
Lightning Bolt

What do you do here? Lay down an Island, and then suspend Visions, right? Well, no. That play cost me the game. How come? If I had used my brain a little bit before acting, it still wouldn’t be obvious. Let me explain.

What deck plays Polluted Delta, Volcanic Island and Ponder? Hive Mind. Now, he currently has 4 cards in hand, right? What can they be in the worst case? Ancient Tomb, Show and Tell, Hive Mind, Pact of Negation, and his top card is Pact of the Titan. In this scenario, you lose no matter what. You Force the Show and Tell removing Sower, and he Pacts your Force, then lays down Hive Mind and casts red Pact. Him laying down Volcanic instead of regular Island means that he probably can pay for the pact if he wants to drag the game out and go off on subsequent turns, but that’s just speculation.

Anyway, if we lose no matter what, what does it matter? Well, imagine his hand is like this: Ancient Tomb, Show and Tell, Emrakul, Force of Will, and his top card is blue. This is probably the second worst case. He Show and Tells, you Force removing Sower, he Forces removing the blue card, he plops down Emrakul, you’re left with nothing. You auto-lose, right?

Well, not if you play differently. See, if you don’t suspend the Visions, he casts Show and Tell, you Force removing Visions (you still have to force it, you don’t know if Emrakul’s coming so you have to keep it away no matter what), he Forces back (oh well), and then he drops Emrakul, you drop Sower, steal his Emrakul, and win the game.

Of course, the second was the scenario that happened to me. I would have won the game had I not suspended Visions without giving it some thought. It’s true that I lose no matter what if he has the Hive Mind plan, but I would have won if I hadn’t suspended Visions since he was on the Emrakul plan. Obviously, he might not have had either bomb hand, but I have to assume that he does. This seems like a hyper-speculative situation and I would be sacrificing a lot of advantage (3 cards in 4 turns) for a very small chance, but if this were a real tournament, this small margin would mean the difference between success and failure.

Point is, you can’t auto-assume anything, especially in legacy. There aren’t plays that are 100% correct all the time. You have to consider each and every tiny option, especially when you’re playing against a very dangerous deck like Hive Mind. Considering tight margins like this is the reason I’m always extremely jittery during tournaments. I can’t always find every option, obviously. Moral of the story: I’m not saying it’s incorrect to cast Visions here. I’m just saying don’t windmill-slam even the most basic of cards.

Here’s another example. I’m playing the UR faeries deck again, and my opponent is Zoo. I have 3 Volcanic Islands in play and am at 5 life. I draw Jace, The Mind Sculptor, missing yet another land drop. My opponent has the Goblin Guide that he used to put me to 5, and lays down a Sylvan Library. He attacks with the guide, revealing Vendilion Clique and putting me at 3. I draw the Clique and pass. He uses the Library, and I decide to Clique him at-end-of-draw. He reveals his hand containing a Tarmogoyf. Do I make him put it at the bottom of his library and draw another card?

The answer to this question is: How much credit do you give your opponent? If he’s good, let him keep it. If he’s bad, well, maybe let him switch. Why? Remember that he knows you had a Clique, from his Goblin Guide reveal. He got to use Library, which means he got to optimally arrange his options (if he’s good). What’s on top of his library? If it was instant speed burn, he would snap-keep it in his hand (he knows my hand consists of JTMS, because the Guide revealed that too, so he knows I can’t counter his burn) and then cast it in response to Clique, killing me. If he had instant speed removal, he’d keep it in his hand, killing Clique and then swinging with the Guide for the win. So, if he’s good, the card currently on the top of his library is something better than Tarmogoyf, either a creature with haste (Goblin Guide?) or sorcery-speed removal or burn (Chain Lightning?). This means switching the goyf probably makes you lose. Thus you make him keep it. If he’s bad, he probably doesn’t remember you Clique or JTMS, thus kept his Tarmogoyf he drew from the Library excitedly. You can also judge his line of thinking from his shock (or lack thereof) when you cast the Clique.

You’re probably saying, how does giving him the goyf not make you lose? Well, he’s most likely going to attack with his Guide, which I block with my Clique, killing both, and then lay down goyf and kill me next turn. But if I draw a land, I can play Jace and bounce the goyf. Or maybe I get another blocker, something to keep me alive. I still die in most cases, but I have a small chance of survival. For example, if his top card was sorcery speed removal (not burn), he’s cold, and I still have one more turn to live. Best case scenario: He attacks with Guide, revealing a land, then Guide dies. Now, I draw Mental Misstep, and I can play Jace, bounce goyf, and counter his Chain lightning or Goblin guide that he hid on top of his library. As you can see, it’s still an insanely small margin, but as several professional players have said, many people can win difficult games, but the distinguishing quality of true masters is the ability to win impossible games.

Before I close, let me give you one last thing to think of. What if your opponent is really good, and his 3 cards from Library were Fetchland, Fetchland, Goyf? If he’s insanely good and has a read on how good/paranoid you are, he can leave the two lands on top and keep the goyf, knowing you’d go through the above thought process and let him keep the goyf whereas he would otherwise have stone cold nothing (Worst case he shuffles with the fetch and has a fresh Sylvan Library next turn)! This is the worst nightmare of a smart/sneaky player, having an opponent who is smarter/sneakier than you, who knows exactly how smart/sneaky you are. This is a really dangerous situation. Have you ever seen The Princess Bride?


Think of the poison scene there, or the tennis scene in Death Note between Light and L. There is no obvious answer. You have to have a read on your opponent and understand how he thinks. Of course, just like in The Princess Bride, he might have the ultimate answer and win anyway, but you have to consider every option. Obviously this is super hard, but skills like these are what put you over the top.


Co-host of Horde of Notions (www.hordeofnotions.com)
Author on Heavy Blog is Heavy (www.heavyblogisheavy.com)
@nayon7 on twitter
Obligatory metal plug: Fleshgod Apocalypse – The Violation

P.S: The article title is a reference from the excellent TvTropes

  1. Mike
    August 8, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Excellent writup on these two complex scenarios. Rarely see such well stripped-down analyses in words.

  2. August 11, 2011 at 8:38 am

    In the first example it is a good point that holding back the Visions could win you the game, but Hive Mind isn’t the only deck that plays Delta, Volcanic Island and Ponder, just the most popular. It could also be U/R Painter Servant, TES, Sneak and Show, and a few others. Granted it’s a safer bet to assume Hive Mind, and Sneak and Show it’s also be correct to hold back for Sower, against TES and U/R Painter I doubt it’s that important.

    Overall great article, but as you said, in Legacy you can’t 100% assume anything.

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