Oh hand disruption… loved by some, hated by others, and misunderstood by the masses.

If you’re a Magic player, you have most likely been the target (literally) of some discard spell from your opponents. Today, I will be discussing the importance of discard spells in Modern, and the second part of this article, which will be released next week, will cover their strengths and weaknesses.

To start off, I want to state that I believe the prevalence of discard spells in Modern is absolutely necessary, and while it is oftentimes not the most fun to have games where your hand does nothing because of that turn one Inquisition of Kozilek, discard spells are still very important in this format. Here are the reasons why.

Combo Decks

Lets take a second to list the most popular and successful Combo decks in Modern, in no particular order:

  • Ad Nauseam
  • Dredge
  • Storm
  • Counters Company

Currently, we are used to looking at these decks in the current meta. However, let’s try to look at them in a meta in which spells such as Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek do not exist, and you want to play an Abzan Midrange deck featuring Siege Rhino, Tarmogoyf, and similarly powerful midrange threats.

For starters, Storm can keep any good hand, and has very little to worry about in the format mainboard, aside from Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and something like a rogue Pillow-Fort brew. As a Storm player for many years, I can confidently say that Pyromancer Ascension Storm, which has recently fallen out of favor and been replaced with the more interactive Gifts Ungiven Storm, will reliably go off on turns 3 or 4. Just think about that for a minute. A consistent turn 3 or 4 kill. Where have we heard that before?

However, one might claim that simply sliding 2-3 Rule of Law in your sideboard will fix this pesky storm problem. While this could be true, let’s then switch over to Counters Company. This deck, when allowed to keep a good opening 7, can often combo off on turns 3-4, often through a removal spell. Sound familiar? And of course, because you probably don’t want to be combo’d out on turn 4, you’re going to pack your sideboard with some creature hate cards to win the late game. Let’s go with Night of Souls’ Betrayal as a permanent way of hating out the combo.

Moving on to Dredge, we have a deck that can dump some copies of Stinkweed Imp through a Cathartic Reunion, and turn that into a board consisting of copies of Bloodghast, Narcomoeba, and Prized Amalgam on turn 3 with little to no effort. Because you absolutely detest facing down 13 power on turn 4, you’re going to pack 2 Grafdigger’s Cage and 2 Rest in Peace in your sideboard package. A very reasonable choice, if you ask me.

After the RIPs and Cages have been placed in your deckbox, you find yourself thinking of Ad Nauseam. This deck sadly, cannot claim to have a consistent turn 3 kill. However, it will certainly be able to go off on turn 4 most times. The thought of dying from 8 lands to the face repulses you, so you now have 2 Stony Silence in your sideboard to halt their mana development, slowing them down considerably. This will help you build up a board before they can get to enough mana.

Great! Now that we have shored up all your combo matchups that you are sure to face often, lets take a look at the sideboard of your Abzan Deck. So far, we have:

Woah! That’s 11 cards! Maybe we can cut 2-3 cards to make some room, but in the end, our sideboard will still have 8-10 slots dedicated to beating 4 combo decks. Clearly, that is not a good plan, as we will now get stomped by other matchups that we cannot spare cards for. One such matchup would be Eldrazi Tron, which goes bigger than us and can generate card advantage off of it’s creatures even if they are removed.

The reason I brought about all of these examples is that currently, Abzan decks only devote about 5 slots of their sideboard to these decks. This is all because of discard spells. Against Storm, your matchup straight-up goes from about 70-30 in favor of Storm to the exact opposite. Against Counters Company, your hand disruption gets rid of problematic cards such as Eternal Witness or Collected Company, while your removal takes care of the rest.

Against Dredge, nabbing an early Cathartic Reunion can give you that slight edge you need to establish a very early lead. Against Ad Nauseam, discard spells help significantly, especially on the play, where taking a Lotus Bloom or Pentad Prism can oftentimes give you enough time to kill them, or taking a piece of the combo can set them back permanently.

Hand disruption also helps shore up many other matchups, such as Scapeshift and Eldrazi Tron, which could otherwise overcome your early assault. Overall, discard spells are extremely efficient and versatile, and can solve many of the problems that decks such as Abzan, Jund, and Grixis Death’s Shadow would face, along with control decks such as U/B Faeries and Grixis Control, otherwise knows as “Blue Jund.”

Because different decks require different targeted hate cards to fight, many decks resort to discard spells, which can remove spells that are crucial to the other deck’s strategy. For Storm, this would be Pyromancer Ascension, for Scapeshift this would be Scapeshift, and for a deck such as Eldrazi Tron, the card would be Expedition Map or Thought-Knot Seer.

One thing you may notice is that these three decks are completely different. One is a fast combo deck, one is a slow combo-ramp deck, and the last is a creature deck with a combo element. All of these decks have different strengths and weaknesses, and understanding those strengths and weaknesses is crucial for winning the matchups and giving yourself the best chance to succeed, which you can do with a simple Thoughtseize.

Next week, I’ll be delving into many decks’ strengths and weaknesses, and how each of these can be exploited using discard spells. I’ll also be writing about what decks discard spells are ineffective against and how to play against discard-heavy metas.

As always, thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought! See ya next week,

Riccardo Monico

If you’re looking for an exciting Standard deck that will likely only get better with Hour of Devastation, read this article from our own Roman Fusco who used Bant Delirium to top 8 the Standard Classic at the Invitational.

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