Another week, another article. As a quick update with this Hand Disruption in Modern series, I have decided to actually extend the series to four or more parts, depending on how much info I can jam into the fourth article. Part 1 focused on why hand disruption is important, Part 2 and Part 3 will focus on how to play with hand disruption, and Part 4 will focus on how to play against hand disruption.

Throughout most of this article, I will be focusing on decks such as Grixis Shadow and Abzan Traverse (or similar midrange decks), as opposed to dedicated discard decks such as 8-Rack, as I feel those decks have a much more combo-like function than the use of targeted hand disruption in these more midrange-control decks.

For reference, here are sample lists for Grixis Shadow and Abzan Traverse:

Grixis Death’s Shadow by Sandydogmtg on MtGO

Creatures (16)
4 Death’s Shadow
2 Gurmag Angler
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Street Wraith
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Non-Creature Spells (25)
4 Fatal Push
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Kolaghan’s Command
1 Lightning Bolt
4 Serum Visions
2 Stubborn Denial
2 Terminate
4 Thought Scour
4 Thoughtseize

Lands (19)
2 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Island
4 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Swamp
2 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
2 Anger of the Gods
3 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Collective Brutality
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Stubborn Denial
1 Surgical Extraction

Abzan Traverse by Jadine Klomparens, Modern Classic

Creatures (11)
4 Grim Flayer
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Non-Creature Spells (29)
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
4 Mishra’s Bauble
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Fatal Push
2 Path to Exile
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Lingering Souls
3 Thoughtseize
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald

Lands (20)
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Blooming Marsh
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard (15)
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Fulminator Mage
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Shriekmaw
1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
3 Collective Brutality
1 Damnation
2 Flaying Tendrils
1 Lingering Souls

Both of these decks run 6 dedicated hand disruption spells, with Death’s Shadow understandably going for the 4 Thoughtseize instead of the 3-3 split between it and Inquisition of Kozilek that is used in the Abzan Traverse deck.

Let’s quickly run through the primary uses of these cards, so we can get to the more complex uses in a bit.

  • Take an opponent’s crucial combo piece
  • Attack the opponent’s mana production
  • Slow down the opposing deck’s game plan
  • Take a hate card post-board
  • Get rid of a hard to answer threat

These are all fairly common and well-known uses of hand disruption spells in these decks. Now, lets dig into the more interesting and rare applications.

1. Taking a Draw Spell

Decks this comes up against:

Grixis Death’s Shadow, Control, Storm, Ad Nauseam, various rogue combo decks.

When this is relevant:

Choosing a draw spell as your pick with Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek can sometimes be tricky. Most often, I find myself checking my opponent’s hand to see if me taking their draw spell will slow them down enough that I can capitalize on their stumble, or if they will quickly be able to recover. Some general rules to remember are: 1. If the opponent has 2+ draw spells, it is usually better to pick a business card. 2. If the opponent is going to spend their turn on something other than their draw spell anyways, it is usually better to take what they would rather be doing.

Example:

Let’s say you are playing the Grixis Shadow list above against an unknown opponent game 1. Your hand is 2 Polluted Delta, a Steam Vents, a Thoughtseize, a Thought Scour, and a Tasigur, the Golden Fang. You deal yourself 3 damage through a fetchland into a shockland, and then cast a Thoughtseize, which reveals this hand from your opponent: 3 Scalding Tarn, a Serum Visions, a Fatal Push, a Lightning Bolt, and an Ancestral Vision.

In this situation, my pick is the Serum Visions. While the Ancestral Vision is a tempting pick, I believe that our hand is well equipped to handle theirs. Our Tasigur will hit the board next turn, and they have no answer to it currently. Taking the Ancestral here seems like it is advantageous for us in the late game, but it does weaken our early game significantly. By taking the Serum Visions, we are denying our opponent from looking at 3 cards turn 1, even though we allow them to see 3 more turn 5. If even one of the top 3 cards is a blank, our play has gained us a very significant advantage.

2. Taking Hand Disruption

Decks this comes up against:

Grixis Death’s Shadow, Grixis Control, Abzan/Jund, 8-Rack, Lantern Control.

When this is relevant:

Choosing when to take a discard spell from your opponent’s hand is very relevant in these matchups, and can shift the balance of the match as early as turn 1. Things to remember are: If your opponent’s deck is going to kill you before you kill them, you need to take the defensive role and delay your own plan. This means taking a relevant creature or spell before you take their discard spell. This is because it doesn’t matter if they delay your plan, because if they are able to execute theirs, you will be dead before yours is ever relevant. If your hand is not going to be able to function without a specific card, it is almost always correct to take the opposing discard spell.

Example:

You are playing the Abzan Traverse deck above against Lantern Control. Your opening hand is 1 Overgrown Tomb, 2 Marsh Flats, a Tarmogoyf, a Thoughtseize, a Lingering Souls, and an Abrupt Decay. Your Thoughtseize sees 2 Blooming Marsh, an Inquisition of Kozilek, an Ensnaring Bridge, a Ghoulcaller’s Bell, a Mox Opal, and an Ancient Stirrings. In this position, there are a few things to weigh.

  1. Does their Inquisition of Kozilek stop our gameplan?
  2. Can they shut us down without it?
  3. Can we build up enough pressure and make it so the Inquisition doesn’t matter?

My pick here is Inqusition of Kozilek, and here is why: While their Inquisition does not outright stop our game plan, it gets rid of our Abrupt Decay, which is our way to fight the Ensnaring Bridge in their hand. If we take the Bridge, they then Inquisition our Tarmogoyf, which gives us exactly 0 things to do on turn 2, and essentially eliminates our early pressure. By taking Inquisition, we set up our turn two Tarmogoyf into turn 3 Lingering Souls, and then a few hits before we need to Abrupt Decay their Bridge, which puts us firmly in the driver’s seat for the rest of the match.

3. Disrupting the Opponent’s Game Plan

Decks this comes up against:

Almost everything.

When this is relevant:

The most important thing to understand when deciding whether to take a threat or not is your role in the matchup. If you are playing the Grixis Shadow deck against a control deck, it is very easy to understand that you are the beatdown deck, but it isn’t so easy to determine which role to take against a deck such as Counters Company. The beautiful thing about Magic is that your game plan doesn’t necessarily have to be set in stone before the match. While one deck is oftentimes considered “the beatdown,” it can all change based on your opponent’s hand, which I’ll show in the below example.

Example:

You are playing Grixis Death’s Shadow against your friend on Counters Company. You are used to being the control deck in this matchup, and you keep an opening 7 of: 2 Watery Grave, a Scalding Tarn, an Inquisition of Kozilek, a Death’s Shadow, a Terminate, and a Street Wraith. Your Street Wraith hits another, and that one finds a Tasigur, the Golden Fang. You go down to 13 and your Inquisition sees this hand: 2 Horizon Canopy, a Windswept Heath, a Noble Hierarch, a Collected Company, a Devoted Druid, and an Eternal Witness. I have personally had very similar hand to this as a Company player, and many times have seen Shadow players snap off the Eternal Witness pick. However, I think that is actually a trap here, and I think the correct pick is Noble Hierarch. In this situation, you have the following options:

  1. Take the Witness and settle into your control role
  2. Take the Hierarch, and flip the script into the beatdown

I am very much in favor of the second option, and here is why: First off, there is a good chance that your opponent is just as good at being the beatdown as you are at being the control deck, and settling into your respective roles will play to their strengths. Taking Hierarch here allows you to play a Death’s Shadow next turn, and a Tasigur, the Golden Fang the next, all before they can Eternal Witness back something.

Leaving your opponent with Witness pushed them into the more controlling role, simply because of what the card does. They want to wait until after casting their Collected Company to resolve this Witness, which they cannot do until turn 4 because of your Terminate on their Devoted Druid. In this time, you get in 3 hits with Death’s Shadow and 1 hit with Tasigur. This puts you in a position where all you have to do is hit them for a few more points, which your deck is adept at doing. Also, your opponent is most likely not prepared to play the control role with his deck, as they have been playing the matchup the same way as it usually goes, with their deck as the aggressor.

General Tip and Conclusion

Something important to remember is that when you cast Thoughtseize, you have to look at the card you pick from both players’ perspectives. Just because a pick may look strange from your opponent’s side doesn’t mean it is the wrong pick, as long as it makes sense for your strategy to capitalize on. The last example was a perfect showcase of this.

As always, thank you so much for reading, and I hope you learned something new from this article! Make sure to come back next week where I will be delving into even more possible picks and some more examples. If you have an example that you think is interesting, make sure to let me know, and it could be featured next week.

See you later,

Riccardo Monico

Looking for a new and unique Standard deck to take advantage of some new and powerful Hour of Devastation cards? Read this article from Jonah Gaynor, where he discusses his process in building Mono-White Midrange.

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