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Here's a board state I faced today in a casual Constructed game:

enter image description here

In case it's not clear from the picture, I have 1x Mausoleum Guard, 1x Doomed Traveler, and 2x Intangible Virtue, while he has 1x Stormblood Beserker (enchanted with Pacifism) and Chandra the Firebrand.

What's the play? Should I send my guys after Chandra or hit my opponent directly? And why?

What actually happened is this (spoilered for the curious):

1. I reason that, all else being equal, I'll grind him down on the ground before he can ping me to death with Chandra's +1 ability. I attack him, and he goes to 12. 2. He plays a Stormblood Beserker, pings me for one with Chandra's +1 ability, and passes the turn to me. I am now at 8 life. 3. I pass the turn back without attacking, planning on using men to block and upgrade them into flying tokens. 4. On his turn, he uses Chandra's -2 ability to double a spell. He then casts Incinerate targeting me, which gets doubled and hits for 6. Then he casts another Incinerate from his hand, and I lose. Should I have seen this coming? Should I have attacked Chandra to remove the threat of her -2 ability?

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Note: this question could arguably be closed as "too localized", as it's about a specific situation in a specific game. However, I submit that lots of people can learn from questions like this, in much the way that we allow specific chess puzzles, etc. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 14 '11 at 2:13
    
Do both decks have empty hands in this picture? –  Alex P Nov 14 '11 at 3:36
    
@AlexP : No; the hand size is on the fanned-cards icon, just above the graveyard-size icon (which is, itself, just above the graveyard). –  Steven Stadnicki Nov 14 '11 at 4:14
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@JSBᾶngs: Concur; being about a specific game-situation doesn't inherently make a question "localized", unless that game situation can only happen in a certain time or place. Also, in this case, the situation illustrates a general principal. –  Tynam Nov 14 '11 at 15:36
    
Generally when a planeswalker gets played, unless it's not an immediate threat, I do my best to kill it off quick. Their abilities are just too strong to let them be. –  DForck42 Nov 14 '11 at 16:58
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Depends on what's in the rest of your decks, really.

Just generally speaking, a five-turn clock is too slow to justify sacrificing board position.

I thought about ways to explain this in terms of drawing "outs", "control vs. beatdown" theory, &c., but I think it's actually simpler than that... Look at Chandra's -6 ability. 6 damage! If you race and both draw blanks, he will still win. With Chandra on the board, he actually has a faster clock than yours.

Consider also why he played her. What did your opponent do last turn? Looks like he played Blackcleave Cliffs tapped, tapped all his basics for Chandra, then +1ed her up to 4 loyalty counters. He did all that stuff based on the same board state as you're seeing now: two creatures and two Intangible Virtues. He had two other cards in hand; these represent alternative options. So, why'd he choose to make this play? Presumably he played Chandra because the best line of play available to him includes Chandra; therefore, you should kill her to cut it off.

It might be a fake-out to buy time, but...

  • He's clearly not stalling for mana. He's already got six mana available to him: if he had something big hiding in his hand, he could've just played it already. It's safe to assume Chandra is part of his strongest line of play.

  • It's possible that -- and this is highly unlikely with a red deck -- both cards in his hand are dead and he's stalling to try to draw some kind of "out" (a card that'll turn the board state in his favor or win the game outright so he doesn't have to care about board state anymore). However, having access to Chandra's copy effect makes many more of his potential topdecks into legitimate outs (e.g. the exact way he burned you out next turn). In this unlikely scenario, your best line of play is still to cripple his board and grind out a win.

Since I did just end up mentioning "outs" anyway, I might as well throw in "control vs. beatdown" theory. Assuming you're playing Township Tokens and his deck isn't heavy with big stuff like Inferno Titan, you've got a stronger endgame. In this situation, you've also got the ability to claim a stronger board position, by killing Chandra. So, be the control deck! Don't let him keep a planeswalker around just because ignoring her makes your super-slow clock a little bit faster.

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Is "Township Tokens" what they're calling this archetype? I'm running Gavony Township, Intangible Virtue, Parallel Lives, and a whole bunch of token cards. This was a homebrew deck, not based on any listing I've seen online, but I clearly wasn't the only person to have the idea. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 14 '11 at 13:12
    
@JSBᾶngs Yeah. Elspeth Tirel is usually the main finisher/control card. Her one-sided sweeper is a massive blowout. IIRC, the original tournament versions ran Mikaeus but now have replaced him with Mirran Crusader (blocks Dungrove Elder all day; double benefit from counters) and Hero of Bladehold (effectively swings for 10 the turn after you summon it, if you activate Township on your attack step). –  Alex P Nov 14 '11 at 18:43
    
I'm running w/o any Planeswalkers, mostly because I'm a cheapskate. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 14 '11 at 19:53
    
@JSBᾶngs Always a good reason! Although, I must say, the two Lilianas in my Flare deck have proven so entertaining as to be worth the price of admission. –  Alex P Nov 14 '11 at 20:33
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I would absolutely have attacked Chandra. Here's the reasoning: You're correct that you will kill your opponent on the ground before he can ping you to death with Chandra, but Chandra's ping isn't the true threat you face here (otherwise, it wouldn't be any better than Curse of the Pierced Heart). Chandra is an enabler in the deck - in the board state you specify she can already double up on any spell your opponent might have in hand (and he has two cards in hand to your none), and the ping itself is an enabler for creatures like Stormblood Berserker (which you've already seen out of your opponent's deck at this point).

Most importantly, though, you're a long way from killing your opponent and you're in eminent danger yourself. Five turns (your current clock, at three damage per turn) might as well be forever, and that's assuming that your opponent draws no relevant spells. The short version is that despite having the seemingly-better board presence, you're actually behind in the board state as it stands (and arguably far behind) and Chandra is the most tangible threat you face at the moment; eliminating her is both much easier and more pressing than eliminating your opponent (which admittedly has to happen soon). As things stand, I suspect it's irrelevant, because I suspect you would have lost regardless (your opponent could still have pinged you with Chandra next turn, doubled-up on an Incinerate the turn after and just killed you with multiple burn spells), but I absolutely would have swung at Chandra and it's not very close.

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I disagree about the board state. They've both got a bunch of mana and their deck's big enabler permanents out, but the red/black deck's planeswalker is easily removed by creatures. Being at 9 life to 15 (or 7 life to 14-15, by the time Chandra is killed, assuming no new draws) is troublesome against a red deck, but it's not the end of the world as far as board state. You're 100% right about Chandra being the big threat on the board, though. –  Alex P Nov 14 '11 at 6:12
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Perhaps 'board state' is the wrong word for it - 'game state' is probably better. But I would argue that the red deck's two cards in hand to go with Chandra puts it well ahead in the current game; the two Intangible Virtues are certainly relevant in that they 'blank' some of the red deck's cards and mean that it can't really try to directly remove the creatures (barring some sort of followup sweeper, of course), but they don't make up for being multiple cards down and facing a planeswalker. –  Steven Stadnicki Nov 14 '11 at 6:15
    
On second thought, actually, I think you're right. The Tokens deck has the ability to grab control by killing Chandara, but the board states right now aren't decisively in his favor like I made it sound. –  Alex P Nov 14 '11 at 14:57
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I don't think it's even as complicated as the other two (perfectly correct) answers have suggested. You have no cards in hand and a mediocre board position. A five turn clock is a far, far cry from a one or two turn clock. Your opponent's burn deck has two cards in hand and a card that can potentially double up those cards - and with you on a tenuous 9 life no less! You are in real imminent danger of death at the hands of the planeswalker and there is no possibility that you should leave it unanswered, on the very slim chance that your opponent has nothing in hand and won't draw anything for five turns straight.

Seriously, this isn't even a close one. You are way behind in this game position and your only chance of regaining parity is to eliminate Chandra. Planeswalkers are generally must-answer cards and you need a really good reason not to worry about answering them. You have no such reason in the situation given.

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