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Probing For Fun And Profit

There’s more to Standard’s most popular Peek than meets the eye—Jonathan’s here to educate you on how to Gitaxian Probe your opponents just in time for SCG Open Series: Des Moines!

 “Pay two life, Gitaxian Probe you?”

“Let’s see how that mulligan was.”

“I’m paying two life to Peek.”

Or, if you’re me: “What’s in your wallet?” (in my best All-State Insurance guy’s voice, of course)

No matter how you do it, many Magic players across the world are casting Gitaxian Probe at various points in their match. However, choosing when to play and how to play Gitaxian Probe can be a harder task than it would appear. There are always three decisions to make when you have a Gitaxian Probe in your hand:

  1. Do I save my Gitaxian Probe for a later turn?
  2. Do I pay two life for my Gitaxian Probe?
  3. Do I use a blue mana to pay for my Gitaxian Probe?

Those last two are pretty much the same since you can’t answer yes to both, but never mind that. Gitaxian Probe is so much more than a Peek/Manamorphose/Street Wraith. The information you gain allows you to sculpt your whole game, and I hope to share my opinion on certain situations. While my analysis may be controversial and disagree with yours, the whole point of this is to just make people think a little bit more about playing this cantrip in various situations. 

Let’s start in the context of one of the most popular decks in Standard and arguably the best: the various Delver of Secrets decks.

Suppose that your opening hand is Seachrome Coast, Moorland Haunt, Glacial Fortress, Geist of Saint Traft, Mana Leak, Sword of War and Peace, and Gitaxian Probe. There are only a few plays you can make on the first turn.

You can lay down your Seachrome Coast and pay a blue mana to Gitaxian Probe your opponent. This allows you to conserve life, still get the information of Gitaxian Probe, and then you can decide if you can play Glacial Fortress on turn 2 or 3. However, as many of you guys know, this is probably just the worst play you can make with this deck.

The next subpar option would be to play Glacial Fortress and then pay two life to Gitaxian Probe them. This has to be the right play though right? All of the pros always seem to pay two life for Gitaxian Probe until they have about six lands in play. What could go wrong here? Well, what if you draw a one-drop—more importantly, a Delver of Secrets? That leads us to the “correct” play.

In my opinion, the right thing to do is to pay two life to Gitaxian Probe your opponent and then, if you draw a Delver of Secrets, you can play the Seachrome Coast. If you draw an Island, I think you should still play the Glacial Fortress to fake mana screw because if you were on the draw and your opponent has a Mana Leak, they may play it on future Ponders and Gitaxian Probes (something I have seen done multiple times). If you draw Vapor Snag, Glacial Fortress is probably still correct because you are not very likely to play Vapor Snag but very likely to Mana Leak on turn 2 and play a haymaker on turn 3, so you want to ensure that those mana sources come into play untapped. I hope this example and explanation was able to clear up some little things with Gitaxian Probe

How about we continue with more words on Aaron Petronico of Team Sukeniko’s favorite card? As far as I can tell, there are two roles that you want your Gitaxian Probe to play. The first would be to gather information. Here is another example:

You are on the play and it is turn 2. You have a Seachrome Coast in play and your seven-card hand is Seachrome Coast, Moorland Haunt, Snapcaster Mage, Gitaxian Probe, Invisible Stalker, Mana Leak, and Sword of War and Peace. What would you do here (I suppose the matchup matters if they play a Drowned Catacombs but let’s ignore that factor for now)?

First, you can play Seachrome Coast and lay down Invisible Stalker. This is good on the play because they won’t be able to counter it and if they tap out on their second turn, you can lay down the Sword of War and Peace in your hand to go to town.

An alternative would be to play Seachrome Coast and pass the turn to leave up Mana Leak for something like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Thalia is very good against this hand, and you would much rather counter her than play Invisible Stalker.

This is where Gitaxian Probe comes into play! You just pay two life before playing your land for the turn because you know you’ll need your mana in order to play Invisible Stalker or Mana Leak. Gitaxian Probe gives you enough information to make the correct play at the low cost of two life, and it even replaces itself.

This process of thinking can work the other way around; you can use Gitaxian Probe the turn you want to cast a haymaker. This allows you to have the maximum amount of information, since you waited on your Gitaxian Probe instead of digging with it. This is the justification for Reid Duke playing Gitaxian Probe in his U/B Control deck; in the blue matchups, he wanted to know whether or not the coast would be clear for cards like Consecrated Sphinx. While David Shiels calls this “a set of training wheels,” sometimes certainty is better than uncertainty. Passing up perfect information is hard sometimes, no matter how comfortable you are with a deck.

Anyhow, the other role that Gitaxian Probe could play would be one that it played in my very first example. Sometimes, you want to Gitaxian Probe to give yourself a better play on the first turn. Do you not have a one-drop? Try to Gitaxian Probe into that Delver of Secrets. Do you not have a play on the second turn? Just Gitaxian Probe before playing you land and no matter what, if you pass the turn, they will have to respect Mana Leak. Sometimes, you can use Gitaxian Probe to make your already good hand better; you just need to be conscious of the cards in your deck.

Let’s assume that your opening hand on the play is the following: Island, Glacial Fortress, Delver of Secrets, Ponder, Ponder, Runechanter’s Pike, and Gitaxian Probe. You already have the best first turn that you can possibly have in your deck. You can either Ponder on turn 1 and set it up so that way your Delver of Secrets will flip on turn 3, or you can play Delver of Secrets on turn 1 to try to flip it on turn 2. If that fails, you can just play a Runechanter’s Pike or a Ponder. “I don’t understand what this has to do with Gitaxian Probe,” you may be saying to yourself. Well, I don’t either… Just kidding!

Here, casting Gitaxian Probe really depends on your deck, or how much you are willing to fake certain cards in your deck. Obviously, you are able to Gitaxian Probe for free and cast your Delver of Secrets off of the Island in your hand. What could you possibly be looking for? It can’t be a card that necessarily costs mana, so that means it is either Memnite (lol?) or a Phyrexian mana card. I’ll tell you that latter is the case we are considering here. What possible Phyrexian mana cards could you want? Marrow Shards? Nah. Gut Shot? Eh, you are fine with drawing that on the second turn (your Delver of Secrets will flip and you were on the play, so you can shoot his Delver of Secrets anyway if he has one). Oh! Now, I got it! You could be playing Mental Misstep. This can help protect your Delver of Secrets from his Gut Shot (since you will play Gitaxian Probe at the cost of two life and before you play your land for the turn), Galvanic Blast, Tragic Slip, and a Mental Misstep of his own. Now, we are getting somewhere. Are there any other Phyrexian mana cards you could possibly want? How about the most awesome trick known to man, Mutagenic Growth? This also stops the same removal spells that Mental Misstep stops. It is very important to consider all of these possibilities when playing with Gitaxian Probe.

After playing Faeries when it was in Standard, Block, Extended, and Modern (yes, Modern!), I can give you a little bit of advice with regards to the contents on your opponents hand. Sometimes, resolving Gitaxian Probe is a lot like playing a Thoughtseize, except you draw a card instead of taking a card. What I mean is that sometimes, the cards you can draw could be potentially better than the cards you would take. Also, sometimes a late game Thoughtseize is terrible, while a Gitaxian Probe is just as good as it was on turn 1.

The card that Gitaxian Probe also brings to mind is Vendilion Clique. Many times, a devastating play would be to Vendilion Clique them and let them keep their hand. With this perfect information, you would know exactly what your Mistbind Cliques and Cryptic Commands should be doing.

Similar logic comes into play when we consider Gitaxian Probe in combo decks. From Splinter Twin in Modern to U/R Storm in Pauper, Gitaxian Probe exists and allows you to play around hate cards with ease. In fact, to an extent, it is more or less unfair. They barely have to dedicate anything in order to have perfect information. You sometimes lose two life, and you don’t even lose a card! Gitaxian Probe in every deck for life! Just kidding again…

So, that brings the conclusion to my Gitaxian Probe analysis. I just want you guys to think a little bit more before laying down this New Phyrexia common.

Until next time, may your Snapcaster Mages be Silvergill Adepts courtesy of Gitaxian Probe.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathan “Watchwolf92” Sukenik