Welcome to Standard everyone! If you are unfamiliar with the land, might I inform you that our mayor's name is S. Revelation and he tends to be a giving sort of guy. It is pretty nice to get on his good side! The sheriff, on the other hand, he is kind of a tough nut to crack. He always seems to be stopping all the kids from having any fun at all costs, so I'd steer clear of him. T. Sieze is the name. Otherwise, enjoy your stay and might I recommend that you go to Jarad.
Standard is slowly turning into a bit of a crazy ride right now. For the past four or five months, the same decks have been dominating and only small glimpses into the circle of success have been had by fringe contenders. However, as more and more time has gone into the brews of the world, they have begun to get better and better. Last month, if you were to battle on Magic Online, you would have likely seen a field of:
Monoblack DevotionMonoblue DevotionEsper ControlGruul Midrange
That was basically the sum of what was seeing play. However, if you were to log into those same constructed rooms tomorrow, you might see the following additions to that list:BG DredgeJund MidrangeRUG WalkersBant ControlMonored AggroBoros BurnBR DevotionEsper MidrangeMonoblack AggroUW Control
That is a bit of an addition, eh? This opening up of the metagame is pretty awesome to watch as the format was not very exciting before. As I wrote about last week, I think there is still even more room for innovation as my five color control list has been performing very well thus far. A broadening of the metagame comes with some responsibilities as a player though. Knowledge of a small and stable metagame is relatively easy to have. You read an article or watch a match with the deck and you are good to go. But what happens when you run into something you have never seen before?
In this case, you have no guide or foreknowledge to just walk you through the steps. Now, you have to be smart and think on your feet. Sometimes, this won't matter. Maybe you are on a burn deck and the only thing you need to fear is life gain so you work on your Skullcrack timing, but in general, the number of unique situations you find yourself in will be smaller.
But instead, let's say you came into town and decided to make friends with our sheriff. You pick up a deck packing Thoughtseize and cast it on turn one, revealing the following:Ashiok, Nightmare WeaverYoung PyromancerIzzet CharmThoughtseizeSteam VentsSwampTemple of Deceit
What do you take?
Of course the answer to that is going to be influenced by whatever deck you are playing and whatever cards are in your opening hand, but even with all of that information, do we know what our opponent is doing? There is a Young Pyromancer, so we assume is deck revolves around that, but what is this Ashiok doing here? Is that the most important card? Do we take our opponent's Thoughtseize to protect our own hand? What the heck is our opponent playing?
Thoughtseize is one of the most skill intensive cards in the format and it is also one of the most powerful. However, people tend to take for granted just how tough the card is to cast because they do not always get obvious feedback as to the results of their choice. Making a wrong choice on turn one or two of the game is not necessarily going to show itself on turn 10 when it comes back to lose you the game unless you are truly looking for it. When you mistap your mana or attack into an obvious trick, you know exactly what mistake you made immediately. Thoughtseize is not that type of card.
I bring this up because Thoughtseize is probably the most misused card in Standard. I cannot tell you how many times an opponent has gone out of their way to cast a Thoughtseize at the wrong time or had deduced the wrong card to take with the information all in front of them. So, today I wanted to talk a little about casting Thoughtseize. When should you do it? What should you take? When should it be in your deck? Let's just jump into it shall we?Taking Your Time
Thoughtseize has only been around in Standard for a few months but many people have experience with it in older formats or in the previous Standard it was featured in that had such decks as Faeries ruling the skies. I think that partially because of this influence, people tend to feel the need to fire off their Thoughtseize as soon as possible. I have seen opponents take two damage from a Shockland just to secure a first turn Thoughtseize on me before I had even played a land. While there are times this will be correct, most of the time Thoughtseizes can be better spent than into blind waters on turn one.
You decide to play Esper and open up your hand in round one of the tournament against an unknown opponent.
Watery Grave, Plains, Temple of Deceit, Thoughtseize, Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, Elspeth, Sun's Champion
What do your first two turns look like assuming you are on the play?
Many would say to play the Watery Grave and then Thoughtseize your opponent on turn one to figure out a game plan. This line costs you four points of life though which could be costly if your opponent turns over a hand with a bunch of redundant burn spells.
The most common line you will hear most say is to play the Temple on turn one and then play the Thoughtseize on turn two off of it before figuring everything else from there. While this line is reasonable due to it dealing two less damage to you, it does not maximize what Thoughtseize offers you, which is information!
The best line in the dark is probably to play the Watery Grave tapped on turn one. On turn two, you lead with Thoughtseize, granting you an extra card of information from the opponent and then transitioning you into making an informed decision with your scry for the turn, considering you have no other possible plays anyway!
The point about the extra card here is important. In those older formats where Thoughtseize is so important, the mana cost of the powerful cards is very low. This makes playing Thoughtseize early a priority both to disrupt your opponent's early powerful plays and to be able to make your own, such as a turn two Tarmogoyf. In Standard, the cost of those kinds of cards is much higher.
You might set something back like access to Azorius Charm, but that is rarely going to matter that early in the game anyway. Meanwhile, while you bide your time, your opponent is drawing more and more cards. When you decide to finally Thoughtseize them, their hand is very likely to have something in it that truly matters.
Of course, this goes with a limit to it. As your opponent begins to empty their hand, Thoughtseize tends to get worse as you have less options to choose from, so you need to get familiar with peak timing.
Of course, I don't want you to believe that casting a Thoughtseize on turn one is necessarily incorrect all of the time either, I just want you to have a reason for casting it then. Perhaps you curve out perfectly and the only window you can fit the sorcery into is on turn one. Perhaps you have a powerful two-drop that you want to protect. A common reason to lead with a turn one Thoughtseize in the dark would be if your hand cannot afford to have a Thoughtseize played against it. Thoughtseize is a very popular card so if you look at your opening hand and know that getting Thoughtseized on turn one will destroy your keep, go ahead and protect yourself and just hope they don't have a second one looming.
The other time you need to manage your Thoughtseizes are when there is a specific card you are looking to protect. This can be tricky because if their disruption is a Thoughtseize, holding your own will not protect you. If they are playing with countermagic however, aiming a Thoughtseize on the same turn, or the turn before, you cast an important spell can help to make sure it resolves.Where's it Go?
This is a question that few people ask these days because Thoughtseize is such a universally powerful card that it makes sense to just jam it into every deck that can cast it. That is lazy deck building in my opinion though, as plenty of decks want fewer than four copies of the card or maybe want it in their sideboard for example, making it less of a "no-brainer" than you might think.
The reason Thoughtseize is so common in maindecks right now is because of how versatile the card is. Against a control strategy, you can remove a key spell that they are relying on while against an aggro deck you can pick apart a curve that slows the tempo of the game down. However, some decks will choose to avoid Thoughtseize in the maindeck due to synergy constraints while others do not want to muddy up their maindeck efficiency for match ups where Thoughtseize is not the greatest.
BG Dredge is an example of the first while Esper Midrange is an example of the second. Both decks do run the card in the sideboard due to its power against control and specifically Supreme Verdict. But both of these decks have some things in common that highlight why Thoughtseize is in the board:
-Both have mana issues with a heavy reliance on a nonblack color in the early game-Both decks have a high number of other one and two-drops-Both decks have synergies that do not fit the parameters of Thoughtseize
That is a lot of reasons to have the card tucked away in the board. Most Standard decks that play black are not going to reach that number or have even a valid second reason. Because Thoughtseize is such a powerful card, you really should consider it if you currently are not and could fit it in somewhere. I would say the card is near essential for any control or combo strategy playing black.
If you are playing an aggressive deck, you need to have a game plan against things like Supreme Verdict. Esper Midrange has cards like Xathrid Necromancer to defeat the sweeper while Dredge has bestow and Jarad to add resilience. Because of this, Thoughtseize does not have to be our A-plan against Supreme Verdict or other troublesome cards.
However, you also need to be honest with yourself and admit what cards are actually the troublesome cards. If your deck cannot beat a resolved Sphinx's Revelation for example, and you do not have access to blue, Thoughtseize is probably your best answer. Cards like Detention Sphere that cannot be answered by black once they hit play are another reason to include discard spells in your main.
If you truly don't know whether the card is right for your deck or not, it is likely better to just include it, maybe as a three-of or whatever, but the upsides of having it are undeniable.Staring at 15
Because Thoughtseize is such a versatile card, it can often be weird to thumb through your sideboard and see three or four copies there. If this card is so good, why should I not bring it in here? Thoughtseize in the sideboard is generally more of a scalpel than it is in the maindeck. In the main, you get to use it to scout for information and take relevant cards to the game state, but when you bring it in, it is with a more defined purpose.
You should have an idea of what cards give your strategy the most trouble and have those in mind when casting the card. This does not mean you always have to take the card you're thinking of, but it will influence things like the timing of the spell. If you are specifically only looking to stop Sphinx's Revelation, you probably should not be casting your Thoughtseizes before turn four or five at the earliest.
An aggro deck is usually looking to stop sweepers or big lifelink creatures that swing the game around. This explains why they more often have Thoughtseize in the board, because not every deck has those two things. When you bring it in though, you should be looking to snag Blood Baron and Supreme Verdict, so time it appropriately. And in games where you do not draw the Thoughtseize, make sure you dial your play accordingly and do not take unnecessary risks until you draw your information gatherer.
I would avoid bringing in the card if you have no idea of its purpose in the match up. For example, I tend to like Thoughtseize against a deck like Boros Burn despite the self-damage. This is because even though you take two, you often take a card that deals four. That said, I don't think that is necessarily strong enough to come out of the board for. As long as you have a target in mind for your disruption, feel free to board it in.Better Doesn't Always Mean Better
If you do decide you want to be casting Thoughtseize, take some time with your decisions. I have seen too many mages default to just picking the best card out of my hand when they have no idea what to do. Context is everything. Just because one card is a 30 dollar mythic and the other is a two dollar uncommon does not mean the mythic is the de facto Thoughtseize target. Figure out what the game is going to look like based on the information available to you and strip whatever is worst for you in those scenarios. The Little Things
When you are casting Thoughtseize, you are being gifted valuable information and you need to take advantage of that. Do not be so proud as to think you are above writing down the contents of the hand you are peaking at, because you are not. Note any obscure things like foils or full art cards too, just to match up with the cards your opponents play to see if they give off any information about their draw steps as well! Use any information you write down to help dictate when future Thoughtseizes should be cast.Wrap Up
Currently, both decks I am considering for Grand Prix Phoenix have Thoughtseize in the board, but I do not think I would be playing black without access to the card somewhere in my 75. As long as you maneuver the card right, it will be one of the most powerful cards you have access to as it nullifies so many things for so little of a cost. Be smart with the card and preserve your life total, but otherwise, enjoy their thoughts!