What’s the play? – Fear the Reaper

Hello friends! Today I am going to give you one of the tried and true articles that date back to the beginning of people writing about games – what’s the play? I have a very interesting scenario to discuss today, and it comes from an actual game that I played.. I have given my answers to the questions below, but the scenario itself is complex despite the limited range of possible actions, and it is not designed to have a clear definitive answer. If you find a differnt line than I do, be sure to share it in the comments section or on the Reddit thread. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Fear the Reaper

We are playing a typical Combrei midrange deck, while our opponent is playing a fairly typical Stonescar midrange deck. It is currently our turn.

The current game state (both of the enemies units are readied)


The following sequence of plays occurs: We take no action and pass the turn. Our opponent draws for their turn and attacks with the Impending Doom alone. We do nothing, and take 5 damage from the Impending Doom. Our opponent then casts Vara’s Favour targeting their own Umbren Reaper and we die to its Entomb effect.

Question 1: Should you have been able to figure out that Vara’s Favor was in their hand from the attack? Why?

Question 2: If you somehow knew the top card of their deck was Vara’s Favor, what was the optimal play? What is the “psychic” play (the optimal play with perfect information)?

Question 3: Assuming you had no idea what their top card was, what would be the optimal play?

Answer 1

Given the scenario, attacking with only Impending Doom seems really fishy. It seems like they would usually want to attack with both flyers in hopes that you had nothing and attempt to sneak out a win, or hang back with both of their units hoping to top deck some action next turn. The only reason to attack with the Impeding Doom but not the Umbren Reaper must be to try to dissuade us from using a Desert Marshal. If they had Fast Speed removal (like Annihilate or Deathstrike) they would attack with both units and kill their own Reaper in response to the Desert Marshall effect (if you had one) to guarantee the win. Therefore, it is likely that they have a non-fast removal spell like Vara’s Favor or Combust, although Combust is rarely included in Stonescar Midrange decks.

Answer 2

I think there are two valid answers here. You can either ambush the Umbren Reaper during combat, or just play the Desert Marshal on your turn. If you do nothing on your turn, I think the only two lines of play that are valid given their position are to either attack with both units, or just the Impending Doom. The Impending Doom is putting them under a very serious clock, and there are a ton of draws that shut the door on the game in your favor. They need to try and end the game. With that logic in mind, they need to attack you in order to win the game.

If they were to attack you with only Impending Doom, you would be able to silence the Umbren Reaper during combat. This leaves you at 3 health and them at 2 health (after casting Vara’s Favor at your face and losing one health to Impending Doom) with only one blocker to our three attackers. They then die to our alpha strike.

If they attack with both the Umbren Reaper and the Impending Doom, we can ambush the Reaper in combat as before, but now we can also block (it doesn’t really matter what we block with). Once again, this line leaves you alive, with a lethal alpha strike next turn.

Another possibility is that you just use the Desert Marshal on your turn. At this point, they have no lines of play that lead to victory and the game is over when you alpha strike next turn.

Answer 3

I have thought about this senario at length, and I am fairly certain that I have the correct answer, though I would be interested to be proven otherwise.

I believe that you are supposed to cast Desert Marshal on your turn, silence the Reaper, and pass the turn. Here’s why:

First, we have no good attacks this turn no matter what we do with the Desert Marshal. Our best scenario would be silencing the Reaper and attacking with only Marshal Ironthorn, which trades off with the silenced Reaper. This doesn’t really leave us any further ahead. Attacking with Healer obviously does nothing (it gets blocked by Impending Doom).

Since we have no good attacks no matter what, we are going to have to pass the turn. Let’s spend some time thinking about the possible draws our opponent has to get out of this situation. Although we don’t know the exact list our opponent is on, we can still consider the most common cards  the could be playing and assess what might happen under each scenario. The following table summarizes how good or bad each scenario is for us, and is color coded to illustrate approximately how good or bad the situation is. I have included a detailed explanation of each possibility below the diagram.

If they draw power, they are dead to an alpha strike on our next turn even if we draw nothing. They go to 1 health from Impending Doom and we have three lethal attackers to their two blockers.

Burn (Torch or Obliterate): We are dead, and no line we can take will stop this. One of the two flyers will hit us and then the burn spell will finish us off.

Fast removal (Annihilate or Deathstrike): In this case, if we let them go to their turn before casting Desert Marshall we are 100% dead, assuming they play correctly. They will attack with both of their unitsunits. If we silence neither unit we will die to combat damage. If we silence the Umbren Reaper, they kill it in response and we die to the Entomb plus Impending Doom. If we silence the Impending Doom and block it, they hit us for 5 with Reaper and we die to the removal spell on the Reaper post combat. We need to silence Reaper on our turn to survive.

If we silence on our turn, they are in a tough spot. Removal doesn’t help their attacks, so they would either kill a unit and pass the turn or just pass (doesn’t really matter in this scenario so lets say they pass). Now we alpha strike, and their best line leaves them using removal on Ironthorn, trading 5/1 with 2/5 and eating 2/2 with Impending Doom. In this case they are dead to a lot of things we can draw, as well as needing to draw burn to close out the game before the Impending Doom kills them. It is also possible for them to trade away everything, leaving them at 1 life and us at 8, which is also a very bad position for them.

Slow removal (Vara’s Favor or Combust): See the answer to question 1.2.

Generic unit (Statuary Maiden, Steward of the Past): If we were to silence on our turn, they know they are dead if they attack with Impending Doom, in which case they must play their unit and pass, hoping to draw something on their next turn (and for us to miss). If we were to wait until their turn, we might encourage an alpha strike so we can ambush the Umbren Reaper, thereby ending the game. They may also decide to play it safe and aim for an alpha strike next turn, in which case we would silence the Reaper at the end of turn, leaving us in roughly the same position as if we had played Desert Marshal on our turn.

Overall, by playing out our Desert Marshal on our turn we end up in a slightly worse position than if we had played it on their turn since we do not encourage them to attack. We are still in very strong position.

Evasive unit (Umbren Reaper, Champion of Chaos): This senario is the primary reason not to play out Desert Marshal on our turn. If we do play Desert Marshal on our turn, they will play their unit and pass hoping to set up an alpha strike on the following turn, in which case we must draw a great card of our own in order to win. If we wait until their combat to play the Desert Marshall, they may be bold and attack us with both of their flyers, setting us up for a lethal counter attack. That being said, most Stonescar lists do not play many evasive units. Impending Doom is not an out here, since it would kill them, and most lists do not play the full 4 Umbren Reapers.

Multi-unit card (Assembly line, Scraptank): This draw would be a difficult card to beat as it puts too many blockers in play and buys them too much time. We would need to draw something in order to win.

Infernal Tyrant: Most of the senarios where they draw Infernal Tyrant are very good for our opponent. If they play the Infernal Tyrant precombat and then attack with the Impending Doom, we will be unable to respond to the Umbren Reaper dying and be forced to silence, then block the Impending Doom. They will go back up to a comfortable 5 or 6 life (depending on whether the Impending Doom survives. If they attack with both units, we will silence the Umbren Reaper and take 5 damage, then the postcombat Infernal Tyrant will set them to 3 life with a large lifesteal blocker and a lethal flyer in play. Attacking with just the Impending Doom is not a line to consider if they are planning to play Infernal Tyrant as it is strictly worse than either previously mentioned line of play. Regardless of what they do, neither player wins on the spot but our opponent is comfortably stable and we will need to draw something. Silencing the Infernal Tyrant is never a real option as it leaves us dead to the flyers.

Treachery: Although not every Stonescar list plays this card, if they happen to draw it we will win if we have played Desert Marshal during our turn. If we have not and they play Treachery before attacking, we will lose because we will be unable to play Desert Marshal in response.

Sabotage: The card does nothing here. Same effect as if they drew Power. We will win.


  1. Hi Neon,
    Firstly, I am excited for more of these “what’s the plays”! I love them.
    For the next one, would you please consider laying out the situation and then asking what the play is, then recounting the events that occurred and then asking if we should have been able to foresee the result? When I read what had happened, I found it very hard to honestly imagine what I would have done, as I was biased by knowing the situation we were trying to play around.

  2. What I meant is that the choice becomes arbitrary when you realise the top card of their deck is irrelevant. During your turn you have perfect information about the state of the game.

    2 main ways of victory:
    – Impending Doom bleeds him to death or
    – he doesn’t draw an additional blocker and you alpha strike for the win

    Once you realise those paths you then figure out the ways to lose:
    – Shenanigans with reaper
    – Double 5-power flyers hitting you for 10 damage
    – Topdeck (Torch for example)

    In all those situations you want the Marshal + silence when you still have perfect information (opponent with 0 cards in hand) because it wins you the game by enabling one of your paths to victory and it prevents an unfortunate death. Worst case scenario (Torch on top) it doesn’t matter what you do so you might as well play it. The path to victory doesn’t become more difficult by playing it in your turn it actually becomes easier. The opponent is still bleeding to death, still at risk of an alpha strike but he has no option of responding to your Marshal.

    As you described, you can run through all the possible cards that are on top of the opponents deck but none of them change your play:
    – Power: Reaper silenced, he dies
    – Torch: nothing matters, you die
    – Spell that doesn’t kill you: Reaper silenced else you die
    – Spell that makes you discard a card: you want Marshal in play
    – Lightning Storm: you want that Reaper silenced, else you die
    – Creature that doesn’t kill you: Silence Reaper else you die by , plus you need the creature for a potential alpha strike
    – Creature that does kill you (some big flying creature with charge): you die
    – 99/99 Flying, Endurance, Quickdraw, Warcry 10 Ultimate Critter of Doom: you silence the Reaper else you die.

    But you can make it much easier for yourself which is also an unofficial TL;DR for my rambling:
    – He’s dying, he has to act
    – Can I win if I don’t silence the reaper? No
    – I lose if my silence is countered so best time to play it is when he can’t react (0 cards in hand)
    – If he draws a Torch I die regardless
    – If he draws anything else he can’t attack because it leaves him open to a counter attack which means he will probably bleed out.

    What makes this scenario tricky is, as you correctly described, the temptation of going for the fancy play instead of the boring calculated play. It feels way better to dramatically slam the Marshal when he attacks with his Reaper and steal the victory right then and there. Even though the percentage-play is just sitting there waiting for him to bleed out 🙂

  3. Yeah, I agree. I basically choose the worst line possible in that game. It was a very interesting learning experience tho 😀

  4. In the combat face when your opponent attacked with the doom by itself there is in effect only 2 reasons – either he is bad and doesn’t understand that the reaper will not give him life before he dies on block or he is going to kill it/sacrifice it to end the game. Technically, he played the only line to win that game that would work which is to trick you. By silencing on your turn you turn off any removal spell he draws (which that color combination has a multitude).

  5. I think this is a good summary of the situation, and after a very detailed analysis I concluded that just playing Marshall on your turn is the best line so I agree. The issue for me is that I have an instinctual response that I want to try and ambush the Reaper in combat. The first level thinking is “If they dont draw a great card, and they attempt to alpha strike, I can ambush +silence and win”. This is very tempting.

    Also, at first glance, it may seem like you are giving up some value by silencing on your turn, and that the path to victory may be more difficult if I silence now. For example, how does it actually play out if they have a random blocker? Only by running through every possible scenario was I able to conclude that my path to victory is almost as easy, AND I am more protected from various top decks.

    Clearly the path that I actually took in the situation was very bad. Had I figured out what my opp had I could have won easily. Their line of trying to confuse me into not silencing the Reaper worked, and I lost as a result.

  6. While it’s an interesting board aren’t you overthinking the scenarios? You are in a commanding position as you have the initiative, a trump card in hand versus a player with 0 cards in hand who is on a 2 turn clock. The only question you have to ask yourself to reach the correct play (which is playing the Desert Marshal in your turn) is “how do i lose?”.
    The most obvious way to lose is the reaper hitting the void while getting hit by either of them or by a topdeck. Since the opponent has no cards in hand he can’t respond to the silence which means no life gain while the clock is ticking. Additionally you put another body on the board forcing the issue.

    Playing the marshal gives your opponent 3 options:
    – Draw one of your few outs that immediately win you the game (Torch)
    – Draw and play a creature and say go, being at the mercy of your own draw AND having to spin the topdeck wheel again next turn
    – Anything else, lose.

    Playing to your outs while giving the opponent as few outs as possible means silencing the reaper on your turn and either bleeding him to death or alpha striking for the win. Sure he can draw a good card and squeek out a win but it’s your job to make the best play possible in a vacuum. Not casting the marshal as all was perhaps the worst play since you give all the initiative you had to the opponent and were at the mercy of what they drew.

Leave a Reply