Javier takes his time selecting a land to sacrifice to his Squandered Resources. He places his Gemstone Mine carefully in the graveyard and tells me, with the slightest hint of a smile, that he will add blue mana, and use it to pay for his Stasis. He then proceeds to his draw phase, where he draws a card, reads it, and places it in his hand. He points at his Howling Mine, draws another card, reads it, and places it in his hand. Javier then points at his other Howling Mine and.. well, you get the idea.

There are only 15 minutes left in the round, and I’m down a game because we got deck checked, and I had a deck registration error. Which also means I haven’t had a chance to bring in the threes Pyroblasts in my sideboard. With mana tight under Stasis and Javier’s deck sporting a dozen counterspells… I would really like to have those Pyroblasts.

Before the round, I was feeling good: I was 3-0-1 in my first ever regionals, and looking good for a Top 8 that would qualify me for Nationals. When I was paired against Javier, my friends had warned me immediately to watch him for slow play: he was famous for winning matches 1-0, and Squandered Stasis (it looked a little like this) was the perfect deck to get those wins. I was confident, though: my deck had been designed to beat Stasis, and if he got the lock out game one I could just concede and win the second two games with time to spare.

That was before the deck check, though, and the 61st card I had mistakenly written down in my pre-coffee haze. Actually, I was 19 then, so it was probably a pre-Snapple haze.

Javier was a proper adult. He had had his coffee and registered his deck correctly. He was a polite opponent who was naturally deliberate, and when I called a judge over to watch his pace of play he seemed almost pleased: he was familiar with this, and he knew my judge call was a sign that he had me on the ropes.

Squandered Stasis’s win condition was decking: because the opponent draws first off of Howling Mine. It was a thing of true beauty: the sort of “prison” deck that you just don’t see anymore. Squandered Resources meant each of your lands produced mana twice under Stasis, and Howling Mine meant you always had plenty of lands. A few counterspells to stop the effects your opponent can cast with their one-use lands, and the rest takes care of itself.

Howling Mine, though: it is a dangerous ally. Eventually, I draw the card I am looking for, and with just a single untapped land I stop Javier an his end step, and start attacking his precarious life total (7) with burn spells:

Fireblast gets countered. A second Fireblast gets countered — and Javier is sacking lands to do it… but I’m running out of Mountains fast, and I only have the one untapped land, so he feels no fear. Then I tap my single land and cast Pyroblast targeting his Stasis.

His expression shifts quickly from confidence, to confusion, to annoyance, and then to… respect. “Maindeck Pyroblast?” Yes, I tell him. He looks at the tapped creatures on my board, at his life total, scoops up his cards, and quickly starts sideboarding. I bring in the other three Pyroblasts and some Uktabi Urangutans.

Game three is flurry of collapsed Mines, Pyrotechnics, and gloriously unencumbered untap phases. I qualify for my first nationals a few rounds later.

Singletons in constructed aren’t just for tutor targets. My anti-Stasis deck was from an era when blue was by far the best color in Standard, so the only time the Pyroblast was bad was when my opponent was playing a deck without the best cards in it! This is one of the moments when a singleton is valuable: when the best decks are so predictable that you don’t mind maindecking a sideboard card against them.

A similar circumstance is when you have a deck with a lot of excellent sideboard options, and you really want more than 15 cards to swap in. More than half of your games are sideboarded, so it may make sense to cut a card from your maindeck, and find a sideboard card or two to sneak into the starting 60! A card like Duress is perfect for this job: it’s often helpful even in matchups it isn’t intended for.

Another opportunity to run singletons is when you have cards that do very similar jobs. One school of thought is that you should figure out which card is better and just play four of that one. Despite the confidence with which Magic players speak about cards, it is quite often impossible to predict a metagame accurately enough to determine if Ultimate Price is really “better” than Doom Blade or Bile Blight. Players are sometimes embarrassed to run a mix, feeling that it comes across as indecisive. You know who’s indecisive? An opponent who can’t predict what removal spell to play around, because you have shown them one of each!

There are cards that get worse in multiples, but can be quite good if you draw just one: think Ulcerate or Hall of Triumph. Four might not make sense, but that doesn’t mean the first one doesn’t fit!

Some cards are obvious 4-ofs in deckbuilding. Courser of Kruphix is cheap, powerful, and does something very unique. It’s fine in multiples. If you see a list with one Courser of Kruphix, it’s usually safe to assume the deck’s designer is either very green or didn’t have access to any more Coursers. That doesn’t mean you should run four Bile Blights just to have more ‘4’s on your deck reg sheet. Ulcerate does a very similar job for half the mana, and those first three life points are the three least important ones.

There are lots of good moments for one-ofs. If you have a favorite one-of, or one-of circumstance, let me know in the comments!

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