Elie’s Strategic Game Review

August 29, 2019


25 Years old from France,
Top 8 Pro Tour Nagoya 2011
Top 8 GP Amsterdam 2011

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Hi Everyone!

Welcome back to MTG Madness and to Elie’s monthly strategic game review!
I’ll skip my regular introduction and go straight to the Magic stuff, since this month’s game will be a bit longer than previous month’s.

Today our deck will be my standard preference: Mono-Blue Devotion!
Our list is not out of the box and in fact is pretty similar to Jeremy’s one in GP Vienna:


4 Cloudfin Raptor
4 Judge’s Familiar
4 Tidebender Mage
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Master of Waves


2 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Bident of Thassa
2 Cyclonic Rift
2 Rapid Hybridization


3 Mutavault
1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
20 Islands


4 Gainsay
2 Dispel
1 Negate
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Bident of Thassa
1 Mutavault
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Pithing Needle
2 Domestication



Our story takes place in an 8-player standard event on MTGO. I can’t remember which round it was but it doesn’t really matter: it’s game 3 and we know that we’re playing against a White-splashing Red devotion deck,
We’ve sided like this:
– 1 Judge’s Familiar
– 2 Bident of Thassa
– 1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
+ 2 Domestication
+ 1 Mutavault
+ 1 Negate

And we open this hand:
Situation 1

Our opponent chose to play first and mulliganed to 6 (even if you can’t see it in the screenshot).
Keep or mulligan?

Answer 1

Easy mulligan. Not being able to cast anything relevant even if we draw an Island is self-explanatory here.

Situation 2

Our opponent goes down to 5 cards!
This 6-card hand is definitely not what we dreamed of but is it good enough to keep or should we follow our opponent and go down to 5?

Answer 2
This is clearly a keep for me. Going to 5 is far too damaging to shuffle back a playable hand. Sure we need to draw an Island but once we do there will definitely be a real game. Being on the draw with those 6 and 19 islands left in the deck looks better than drawing 5 random cards.

Situation 3

Our opponent keeps his 5 cards and plays a Mountain.
Now it’s our turn, and we draw the Island we needed like the lucksacks we are!
We obviously play it and say,”go” (we actually don’t say it because it’s an MTGO game and we’d look retarded saying “go” out loud, but yeah, you got it!).

Our opponent misses his turn-2 land drop and we draw a well-timed Judge’s Familiar
What should we play?

Answer 3
If you answered “the non-foil Frostburn Weird” you’re sooo wrong! It’s time to push some shiny ¼ on the Battlefield to impress our opponent with our powerful foil card and hope he will scoop when he misses his land drop next turn!

“But Elie, what are you doing? Is this the only game you could find in your MTGO history that you won, or what? Crushing a mana-screwed guy may be fun when you’re playing but it seems that I’m missing the strategic point to this article”.

Don’t worry, strategic lessons are coming! Sit back!

Well, more seriously, our opponent is playing Red Devotion so there’s a huge probability that the Tidebinder Mage will be of huge value later, and the 1-power difference doesn’t justify playing the 2/2 right now. Not to mention that Tidebinder Mage is sensitive to Shock or Lighting Strike while Forstburn Weird isn’t (there shouldn’t be Shocks in his deck post-side, but yeah).Playing Judge’s Familiar makes no sense either, because there’s no Cloudfin Raptor to pump here. We should just apply as much pressure as we can while optimizing our mana use.

Situation 4

Our opponent misses another land drop but didn’t scoop despite our shiny Frostburn Weird.We draw a blue god.
What should we play?

Answer 4

Yup, nothing special here: nothing changed so what applied to the previous turn applies here too. We play a second Frostburn Weird and attack with the first.

Situation 5

Our opponent finally draws a Mountain and uses it to play Mizzium Mortars on one of our Frostburn Weird
We draw a Nightveil Specter and now we have a choice.
What’s our move?

Answer 5

Here I still prefer to keep Tidebinder Mage. A Boros Reckoner next turn could be something we would like to tap.
Playing Judge’s Familiar and attacking for 2 with Frostburn Weird is the right move here, not to mention that Judge’s Familiar is far better at protecting his buddies against a short-on-mana player.

Situation 6
On his turn, the Mono-Red draws and plays a Temple of Triumph electing to keep his card on top and pass the turn.

We draw an Island which gives us more options. What’s our move?

Answer 6
For the first time in this game there is some information to gain. Our opponent is mana screwed so we know that his hand is full of spells, but he didn’t play anything and left 2 mana untapped. Since keeping mana up for Lightning Strike doesn’t make sense here, we can guess that he doesn’t have any 2-mana creatures, which basically means 3+ mana creatures (Boros Reckoner, Fanatic of Mogis or Stormbreath Dragon) and more removals (Mizzium Mortars, Chained to the Rock). Playing Tidebinder Mage makes less sense than ever. Playing Nightveil Specter could be the right move.It puts pressure on the board and provides maximum devotion if we want to play Master of Waves on our next turn. I believe that playing Thassa, God of the Sea is the right move. We get to scry on our next turn and dig for a fourth mana faster, as well as putting more pressure on the board because we will be able to activate it’s devotion with a Nightveil Specter on the next turn. Generally, playing Thassa as soon as possible when the board is empty is the right choice. Also, we suspect our opponent is holding more removal in hand and we prefer losing a 2-mana creature over a 3-mana one.

BUT… I played Nightveil Specter. I have no real explanation for this since I can find only arguments in Thassa’s favor, but I may just have forgotten to switch on my brain.

It may seem irrelevant because the board is still 3 creatures to 0 but we’ll continue to follow the game and look at the differences between these choices and try to guess where playing Thassa may have led us.

Situation 7

My misplayresulted, as expected, in a Mizzium Mortar on the Specter with an extra mana up.

And we’re punished again when Chained to the Rocks targets our Frostburn Weird

And really punished on the draw step with a topdecked “Empty sleeve” that could have been scryed out to the bottom of the deck if we already had a Thassa.
Note that our opponent played a tapped Sacred Foundry after his 1-mana enchantment. Sadly, there’s not that much choice here…

Answer 7

Yup, finally play Thassa.
If we already had a Thassa, our opponent would probably not have played his Chained to the Rock on our Familiar and we would probably have been able to attack with our Thassa after playing a Nightveil Specter. Not to mention the extra card drawn with the scry.

Situation 8

Our opponent played his fifth land and dropped a big Stormbreath Dragon, attacking with it.We took 4 damages and Thassa shows us an Island on top of the library.
Bottom or top?

Answer 8
On top, we want this 4th land to be able to play Master of Waves and Jace, Architect of Thought

Situation 9
Then what’s the play? Master, Jace or Tidebinder Mage?

Answer 9
There are arguments for playing either Master of Waves and Tidebinder Mage this turn. There is a chance that our opponent’s hand still contains at least one removal, and Tidebinder Mage is a target far more than Master is. Also, there is no way to make Thassa a creature this turn.

He can still have 3 Chained to the Rocks in his deck (most of the Red Devotion lists play 4) but those are the only ones that can deal with Master of Waves, while there are for sure more Mizzium Mortars in there to get rid of Tidebinder Mage.On the other hand, even if our opponent gets rid of Tidebinder Mage, we can play Master the turn after and the situation is basically the same since we don’t take any extra damage. If we play Master and it gets killed, then we’re back to the same choice but we will have taken 4 damages in the process.

I made my choice for Master of Waves here, because it’s basically a lethal creature that can be answered only by 3 cards in our opponent’s deck, but also because tapping 4 mana or 2 is the same this turn but may not be the following turn: if we draw another Tidebinder Mage or Frostburn Weird, then we can play both on the same turn and attack with Thassa.
I can summarize this with 4 options:
– If opp has a Chained to the Rock and no other removal, then it’s better to play Tidebinder.
– If opp has a Red removal and no Chained to the Rocks, then it’s better to play Master of Waves
– If opp has nothing, then it’s better to win the game faster with Master.
– If opp has both Chained to the Rocks and another removal, the situation is the same and the order doesn’t matter, EXCEPT if we draw a 2-mana creature next turn. Then it’s better to play Master.
Even if we take into account that the probability of these scenarios is not necessarily the same, Master of Waves is the best move in 3 out of 4 cases,which makes him a safe winner in this spot.

Situation 10

On his turn, our opponent plays his ever-boring W-costed removal on our Master, and there’s nothing we can do about it!

He then plays a Fanatic of Mogisand attacks us with his Stormbreath Dragon, dropping us to 9!

On our turn, Thassa’s ability reveals an Island on top. Should we keep it?

Answer 10
In this position, I really want to find a 2-mana creature, and even a Cloudfin Raptor or a Judge’s Familiar would be good enough to activate Thassa and to block. A fifth mana doesn’t do anything right now.Bottom.

Situation 11

Haha, there was a second Island just behind the first one.
What’s the move?

Answer 11
The choice is only between Jace and Tidebinder here, and Jace’s the clear winner.
Now we’re behind in this game and we shouldn’t try to play around everything because it’s the surest way to lose. We can win the game but our hand is not enough. We need relevant stuff and we need it fast. Jace’s -2 ability could help us a lot, while probably taking on itself 4 damage. Sure, we will lose if he plays any direct damage but Tidebinder Mage doesn’t help us to go ahead here and I don’t think we should try to play around those things now. Also, finding any 1-mana drop would be huge since it makes the fifth devotion mana for Thassa and offers a 4-life chump block.

Situation 12

Which pile do you take, and do you attack with the Familiar?

Answer 12

Frostburn Weird!
Casting 2 creatures next turn and animating Thassa is exactly what we need to do to take the driver seat in this game.
Islands are no help to us.
Since we shouldn’t need him for Thassa’s devotion on next turn, I want to keep Judge’s Familiar untapped to be able to block the Fanatic. It forces our opponent to attack Jace with 2 creatures if he wants to get rid of it, which he’s unlikely to do. This means we’re OK about devotion for the next turn.

Situation 13

As expected, our opponent attacks us with both his creatures. We already decided to block the Fanatic in this situation by keeping the owl untapped and as there’s nothing updating the board state, the owl blocks and that’s not a real decision.

Our opponent plays a Burning-Tree Emissary but doesn’t follow up with anything.

A third Thassa on top!
Ok, I will not make an answer for this.It’s obviously snap-bottom.

We draw another Island! Now we have 6 mana, a Jace with 2 loyalty counters, Tidebinder Mage, Frostburn Weird and a second Thassa in hand.
There are a lot of things to do. Where to start?

Answer 13

This turn is actually not so complicated. Tidebinder Mage and Frostburn Weird are both great, so the choice is really about Jace: do we want to sacrifice it to draw cards or do we prefer to +1 him?
– If we +1 we’re safe on devotion so no instant removal’s gonna make Thassa go back to not being a creature, and we’ll survive a double removal in ritual speed during our opponent’s turn, or eventually land + overloaded Mizzium Mortars
– If we chose -2 things are a bit more complicated. We should activate it’s ability after combat so our attack with Thassa is safe thanks to Jace’s double U, but without the information about what we’re gonna draw our attack step is gonna be more complicated. And, obviously, we will lose Jace on the next turn.
This is why we choose not to use -2 before attacking: we’re taking the driver’s seat with a couple of creatures and we’re also safer for the next turn. Keeping Jace alive, or at least making his head’s cost high, it is important because missing Thassa’s devotion one more turn is going to cost us the game. We don’t have to use it right now, but we play both creatures and attack with Thassa so if something unexpected happens we can still change our mind.

We attack with Thassa without making it unblockable because we need the mana to be able to trade the Frostburn against the Fanatic.But our opp doesn’t chump-block with Burning-Tree Emissary and takes 5.
We use Jace’s +1 after the attack.

Situation 14

End of turn, our opponent uses his last card in hand: one of the most interesting cards in standard right now, Last Breath. He exiles our Tidebinder Mage and will soon be able to untap his dragon, but gives us 4 useful life points.

He then topdecks a Mizzium Mortars that he snap-plays on our lonely Frostburn Weird
We take a 7-damage attack step, everything is on us!

On our turn we scry another Judge’s familiar.
Do we keep it?

Answer 14
No way. Now there are only a few cards that save us (basically Tidebinder Mage, Tidebinder Mage and TidebinderMage). We can’t afford to keep any non-land cards. We need the best!

Situation 15

Once again, we draw the card we just put on the bottom (I doubled-checked MTGO history to be sure).
Hopefully we still have Jace to give us some outs. I won’t ask you what we should do right now since -2 Jace is obviously our only hope!

Which one do you prefer?

Answer 15
TidebinderMage for God’s sake!

Situation 16
And now, what’s the move?

Answer 16

First things first: lock this stupid dragon with the Tidebinder.
Then play the Owl.
Then attack for 5 with Thassa.

Then play another Thassa to have her untapped and ready to block, while getting rid of a card that could hurt us if our opponent draws a Seething Song to monstrous his dragon (pretty unlikely).

Now we’re in a spot where we win if our opponent draws:
– A creature without haste (Burning-Tree Emissary, Boros Reckoner).
– A land (plenty left).
We lose if he draws:
– Direct damage (Fanatic of Mogis, 3 left).
– Stormbreath Dragon (3 left).
– A removal (not that much left since he already played a boatload: 1x Mizzium 2x Chained to the Rocks maximum).
And we’re in a “draw anything with UU in its cost” spot if he draws:
– 2/2 haste.
– Last breath

Situation 17
Our opponent draws a land and concedes!

What was supposed to be an easy game against an opponent who started with 5 cards in hand, appears to have turned into a tough game that both players could have won, until the last turn.
How did we get there?
I chose this game because it would have been an interesting lesson if I had lost. I had everything needed to win but made a terrible misplay that could have cost me the game (playing Nightveil Specter instead of Thassa in situation 6).

Hopefully, this will serve to remind us to be careful and never take a win for granted. Losing focus is the best way to lose at Magic. No matter how many times your opponent topdecks, you have no excuses if you had a way to win and missed it! (Well, there’s actually never any excuse but that’s another topic.)

I hope you enjoyed this strategic game review and that it helped you to improve your game. In fact, doing this helps me too! I’m interested to know if you prefer this kind of turn by turn analysis article on constructed or on limited, but I guess I’m just going to play whatever is hot at the moment.

Please feel free to comment on any of the decisions I suggested (with relevant arguments if possible) or send me insults for not playing the Thassa on comments on Twitter:

@EliePichon on Twitter
EliePichon on MTGO

See you guys in live tournaments.
Kisses to all my MTG Madness fellows!

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