wo-for-ones are a simple, somewhat special, and relatively common subset of card advantage opportunities. This article is going to be about how you can find two-for-ones to play... as well as how to play to find two-for-ones! Ergo, we will be highlighting two brands of two-for-ones:
- Self-Contained Two-for-Ones
- Two-for-One Opportunities
So what exactly is a two-for-one?
A two-for-one is just what it sounds like: For our purposes today, a two-for-one is any card advantage activity that trades one card for two cards.
Most of what we say here can be extrapolated to three-for-ones, four-for-ones, and so on... But getting a two-for-one is, as you can probably guess, much more common than getting ten-for-one.
When activating both white and red kickers, Thornscape Battlemage can earn three-for-one or more... but "just" killing a creature two-for-one was its most common role.
As we said in the very first sentence of this article, (self-contained) two-for-ones are relatively common. That is because almost every set release is chock full of them! Such two-for-ones include everything from format-defining sorceries like Hymn to Tourach to sideboard standouts like Lifebane Zombie (to cards that don't blow up the opponent's hand at all). Put simply, these sorts of two-for-ones are single, individual pieces of cardboard that either trade for multiple (i.e., "two") opposing cards, or deal with an opposing card while leaving a little something behind.
Hymn to Tourach was a single card that forced the opponent to discard two cards. The more expensive, less random,
Magic 2014 version is...
Lifebane Zombie is a viable creature—itself "a card"—that can take out an opposing card when it enters the battlefield. Creatures that come prepackaged with interactive "enters the battlefield" abilities are common implementations of self-contained two-for-ones.
Two-for-ones like these can make for very exciting cards to play. Often, they are strictly superior to vanilla versions, and the best of these cards will often boast aggressive casting costs. Layering two-for-one after two-for-one on an opponent can wear that hapless player's resources to powder, making for some truly one-sided and oppressive games.
If a format is slow enough, you will sometimes see players specializing in playing many two-for-ones for just this reason. Shota Yasooka's Æther Vial deck from last year's Players Championship is a great example of a dedicated two-for-one strategy:
2012 Players Championship Top 4, Modern
Shota's deck focused on using Æther Vial to drop cards like Eternal Witness and Snapcaster Mage (for free). Consider...
Once in a while, Remand can even play two-for-one! We'll talk about that in the next section.
Check out how many two-for-ones are just card-advantage mechanisms attached to generally uninspired cards. Depending on the additional effect, the transformation from snoozer to two-for-one can be dramatic. Consider...
Obviously, the ability to cash in on many of these two-for-ones will be contextual. If the opponent doesn't have an artifact, Tin Street Hooligan will really just be a Goblin Bully. If you have the only artifact in play, playing Manic Vandal might be quite depressing! If the opponent doesn't have a creature? You might not be able to play Flametongue Kavu at all.
When the situation plays out the way you planned when you put these cards into your deck?
When you pick the right two-for-ones? Position them with more of the same? You can find yourself with a great deck that will dominate your friends (and enemies!) playing more straightforward cards.
It is a trivial matter to read card text and determine if a card might be a two-for-one... then check out its casting cost to decide if you want to play it regardless.
A key (more difficult and less straightforward) skill that successful players boast is the ability to find two-for-one opportunities in game.
Auras were the least popular kind of card in competitive Magic for years (and maybe still are the least popular) because they are an obvious route to an opposing two-for-one. The trend-breaking Rancor and the adoption of Equipment as creature buff are both reactions to the default unpopularity of Auras.
Successfully killing the Invisible Stalker will take the Unflinching Courage with it. In this example, the Devour Flesh is a two-for-one that trades a removal card for a creature card... and gets the Unflinching Courage Aura as a bonus. Two-for-one!
If a creature wearing Rancor is killed, at least you get back the Rancor. Here, Devour Flesh will trade one-for-one with the Invisible Stalker only because the Rancor will return to its owners hand.
Carefully placed removal can set up two-for-ones in situations other than just when a creature is wearing an extra card. Consider the Urza's Saga mechanic echo... and how it, specifically, could give rise to two-for-one opportunities.
If the opponent taps out for a Cradle Guard on turn three, destroying a Forest can set up a two-for-one. Here, Befoul trades for Forest... but because the opponent can't pay for the Cradle Guard's echo next upkeep, it too goes to the graveyard. Two-for-one!
Combat gives players opportunities turn after turn after turn to set up two-for-ones. This is especially the case when pump spells and removal get thrown into the mix.
At face value, the double Squires should survive combat.
In this case, a 4/5 Squire (thanks to Giant Growth) will be big enough to smash both of the 1/2 Squires. Here, Giant Growth looks like it will trade with two cards. Two-for-one!
If the double-Squire player responds to Giant Growth by blowing up the Squire, a Lightning Bolt will trade for both that body and the intended buff. Two-for-one!
Your two-for-one opportunities will in no way be limited to just what you read here. But hopefully these examples can give you context that will inspire you to find two-for-ones in upcoming games. Of course, areas where the opponent invests additional buffs will be the most obvious and common routes, but there will be almost as many avenues for two-for-ones as there are games of Magic played.
Have you spent much time thinking about countering your own spells?
We said in the previous section that sometimes Remand can be a two-for-one. How might that work?
Say you have two cards in hand: a Tarmogoyf and a Remand.
And your opponent has one card in hand: a Cryptic Command.
You both have four mana.
You tap two of yours to summon the Tarmogoyf.
Your opponent doesn't want this to happen. He or she taps out for the Cryptic Command on your Tarmogoyf, with the intent to draw an extra card (your opponent, too, has read about two-for-ones).
You think for a moment and realize that while you could force your Tarmogoyf through with the Remand... you might not want your opponent to have a Cryptic Command still.
Instead, you Remand your own Tarmogoyf.
In this case, you will get your Tarmogoyf back (as Remand returns the spell it counters to its owner's hand) and you will draw a replacement card for the Remand. Your opponent's Cryptic Command will miss. At the end of the exchange, you will have a Tarmogoyf and a mystery card; whereas the opponent will have spent—really, misspent—the Cryptic Command, leaving him or her with no cards in hand. All thanks to a well-placed Remand.
Like anything else we discuss, playing with or for two-for-ones is just a tool. Whether it is the right tool for you, in a deck you build or in a game, is largely going to be a function of what is useful for you at the time. Two-for-ones really shine when your opponents are "playing fair" and they are giving you sufficient time to build your resources.
If your opponent comes in with a couple of Grizzly Bears and you answer...
Wall of Blossoms
...you are going to be zooming through your deck while keeping your opponent's forces at bay, while he or she is struggling to get any damage in at all.
Two-for-ones of both families tend to be pillars of Limited play. Choosing to play with self-contained two-for-ones will give you the chance to gain an advantage over your opponent every time you draw one; and because Limited play is almost always won on the back of creature combat, finding the opportunities to trade one creature, removal spell, or well-placed buff for more than one creature will pay off dividends.
Two-for-ones also tend to excel in formats like Standard and smaller formats like Block.
Two-for-ones will not always retain their (inherent) value!
When Not Two-for-Ones?
Two-for-ones are great when the cards that make up their bonuses are relevant to the game at hand... and not so great when they are not relevant. When you can't play your Flametongue Kavu because it is the only creature and will just kill itself... not so great. When your Tin Street Hooligan is smaller than every other creature on the battlefield (so it can't really accomplish much but one doomed turn's chump block)... not so great. When your opponent has a single card that is so powerful it wipes out all your two-for-one card advantage... that is not so great—at least not for you.
One Olivia Voldaren took out Shota Yasooka's entire 2/1 army in the finals of last year's Players Championship. When half your two-for-one card economy is wrapped up in a 2/1 body... One "ping" from Oliva can reduce any Eternal Witness or Snapcaster Mage to a memory, rather than a card.
Two-for-ones are only good at all because they are supposed to be generating card advantage for you. If the opponent can mop up all the little bodies... your two-for-ones aren't doing that; or, at least, the opponent has had a chance to catch up!
We said that two-for-ones are at their best when you have time to set up and realize their card advantage. But what about when you don't? Some decks are so fast, or so non-interactive, that your expensive two-for-ones are still stuck in your hand, having done nothing, at the point that a game ends.
We will examine some notions of speed next week, as we focus on that keystone of Magic strategy called mana curve!
Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo.