Anatomy of a Game: M21 Edition

Ethan Saks • July 13, 2020

With the first few weeks of Core Set 2021 behind us, the community seems split on the quality of this set as a draft format. Some are really enjoying it, others are...well...

Personally, Core Sets are always a bit of a struggle for me. Aggro is often king in these summer drafts and that is only exacerbated by playing in Best-of-1 on MTG Arena because the hand smoother makes it much more likely for aggro players to hit their lands and curve out. Nevertheless, I'm interested in finding new and exciting ways to explore this format in the content that I create which has led me to a piece I've wanted to do for a while: Anatomy of a Game. In this article, we'll go through an entire game I played ranking up on the ladder in BO1 on MTGA and talk through the interesting decision points I faced. One note: since I can only grab screenshots of my games via my stream, you'll have to contend with a couple things obstructing the battlefield. Mainly, my big, dumb face. Alright, let's get to it!

The Deck: UR Aggro

Unlike a lot of color pairs, Izzet has many different flavors in this format. You can be on the more controlling side of things with recursion or Teferi's Tutelage, or you can be the "get ahead, stay ahead" style of deck. I believe this deck here is firmly in the latter camp. Triple Jeskai Elder, Riddleform, double Spellgorger Weird, double Goblin Wizardry, all backed up by a suite of cheap removal and cantrips is a recipe for great success in this format. I think it's important to understand which version of the deck you have while you're drafting and make picks appropriately. This deck would have loved a Burn Bright for the Crash Through + Wizardry combo, but other than that I think it's super strong.

Opening Hand

We begin the game on the play (which feels like a huge advantage in this format) with a pretty stellar hand. With three lands, four spells, a perfect curve out and interaction, this is, as we in the business would say, a SNEEP. I'll shortcut the next few turns until we get to some interesting decisions.

Turn 1

  • I play a Mountain and pass.
  • Opponent plays a Forest and Short Sword.

Turn 2

  • I play an Island and Jeskai Elder.
  • Opponent plays a Plains and Drowsing Tyrannodon.

Turn 3

  • I cast Scorching Dragonfire on Drowsing Tyrannodon to avoid any Feat of Resistance or Ranger's Guile shenanigans when they untap. This also enables an attack with my Elder. Off the damage trigger, I draw a Mountain, pitch a Mountain, and play a Mountain.
  • Opponent plays a Plains, casts a second Tyrannodon and equips the Short Sword to it.

Turn 4

  • I play a Mountain and cast Spellgorger Weird and pass.
  • Opponent plays a Plains, casts Basri’s Lieutenant, puts the counter on the Dino and attacks me for 5
  • End of turn I Shock opponent's face

  • There are a couple of reasons why I think this is correct. There’s no guarantee I’ll have the mana or a good target for it in future turns based on what is in my hand. It uses my mana efficiently for this specific turn and, most importantly, it grows the Spellgorger Weird.

Turn 5

  • I have a choice between Experimental Overload and Frantic Inventory here. Overload doesn't do a lot and I don't have anything great to get back (neither Shock nor Dragonfire kills a creature.) I get lucky and draw Sure Strike off of the Frantic Inventory.

  • Opponent doesn't block and I elect to fire off Sure Strike anyway. Similar to our decision with Shock on the previous turn, this pushes damage and grows our Spellgorger Weird. It's effectively a two-mana Lava Axe, which is pretty darn good.
  • The loot trigger from Jeskai Elder draws us into Goblin Wizardry which I elect to keep and pitch an Island. I also have the choice to discard Wizardry with the plan to cast Overload on the following turn and get back Shock to push more damage, but I figured that Wizardry providing two chump blockers on future turns was more important.
  • Opponent plays a Plains, attacks for 5 with the Dino and casts a Wildwood Scourge for X=3, leaving a single Forest untapped. Either they're a bluffing genius, or they're representing Ranger's Guile pretty hard. I'll tuck that away for later.

Turn 6

  • I draw another copy of Frantic Inventory and don't have any good attacks, so I pass the turn.

  • Opponent attacks with the Tyrannodon. Still reading them for Ranger's Guile, I choose to cast Wizardry and chump with a token rather than try to eat the Dino in combat with my Weird. Even though Guile would be a trade at that point, I think my only way to survive this game is to keep my Spellgorger Weird alive.
  • After combat, my opponent casts a Thrashing Brontodon and equips the sword to the Hydra.

Turn 7

  • I draw Unsubstantiate for the turn and still have no attacks, so I pass.
  • Opponent casts Pridemalkin, puts the +1/+1 counter on Basri's Lieutenant, which triggers the Hydra as well. They attack with Hydra, Dino, and Lieutenant.

  • With Ranger's Guile still on my mind, I line up blocks as such:

  • With these blocks, a prowess trigger from one of my spells means that my double block on Tyrannodon will only kill my Jeskai Elder. I attempt to bounce the unblocked Hydra with Unsubstantiate and, sure enough, they protect it with Ranger's Guile.

  • When the dust settles, I'm left with a Goblin token and a Spellgorger Weird, and my opponent's board is still huge with a couple of 2/2 Knights in addition to the rest of their creatures.

Turn 8

  • I draw Frost Breath for the turn, which is an incredible top deck.

  • This leads me to attack with Spellgorger Weird this turn. Attacking does the same as leaving it behind on blocks as it removes a creature on their side with the potential upside of our opponent lining up a number of blockers for a blow out. They elect to just chump with Pridemalkin, and we've got our plan for their turn.

  • Before combat, I use Frost Breath to tap down their two biggest threats. This triggers prowess on my Goblin token which allows it to trade with one of the Knights. I take two and go to two. They move the Sword to the remaining Knight token and pass.

Turn 9

  • Not that I think I needed it (though it certainly helped close the door immediately), Scorching Dragonfire is the draw for turn. I fire it off on the Knight which clears the way for my lethal Spellgorger Weird. Victory!

Recap

I know there's a lot to unpack here and hopefully it was easy to follow along with the format of this article. I think there are a few key points to highlight from this game. Once Basri's Lieutenant hit the battlefield, I think a lot of players would have pumped the breaks and assumed they couldn't attack or push damage anymore. Our deck in particular has the ability to explode on certain turns. Firing off the Shock at the end of Turn 4 and electing to roll the dice with Frantic Inventory on Turn 5 worked out very well in our favor. Though it was clearly telegraphed, we held on to the information that our opponent had Ranger's Guile and leveraged that knowledge to our advantage. Lastly, we chose to play to win on the last few turns rather than to not lose. Some folks may have been tempted to fire off the second Frantic Inventory to find an island to cast Frost Breath which sounds great, except the fail rate on that draw is a game loss. The attack with Weird to force a chump block and then use Frost Breath on their turn set us up to win the game. A risky line for sure, but at that point we're so far behind that I think it's our only viable route.

This format will certainly not go down as an all-timer for me, but I'm still finding interesting and intense games like the one seen here. What have been some of your biggest nail-biters? Let me know on twitter! And, as always, happy drafting!