Thursday, 12 October 2017

Top 19 Black Targetted Discard

CoercionI always complain about how little black targetted discard there is. Turns out their is loads, quite a lot of it is good too. The issue is that there is not enough of the generally playable one mana options for one person, let alone two people in the colour, not that there are not enough total to have black fully covered for its potential needs in the discard department! I have done one of these before but it was a bit of a mess. It had all sorts of cards with all sorts of different kinds of discards ranging from Liliana of the Veil to Wheel of Fortune! As I have done more of these top X lists it has felt ever more pertinent to compare stricter categories as it is much more useful for cube design, deck construction and understanding the things that make those kinds of cards good. Trying to argue if a Hymn to Tourach is better or worse than a Vendillion Clique is hard to do and relatively pointless. Discussing the merits of Despise against Harsh Scrutiny however is more pertinent!

Discard is blacks main form of disruption. It is most akin to countermagic in that it can deal with anything, it is one of the few things than can stop instants and sorceries from happening and it suffers the drawback of being time critical. While black uses some generic discard effects to gain card advantage or punish certain strategies it is all about the targetted discard for disruption. It is one of the biggest pulls to black. It is also why black is the most common colour alongside blue in legacy and vintage where you need to have some interaction with spells and their potential to be cast so as to not get run over by broken things! Most modern or legacy black decks are over 10% one mana targetted discard cards. A turn one play of such a card will give you complete information and generally keep you safe to obnoxious things your opponent might do to you. In cube you can't really have 10% of your deck as one mana discard cards as their are not enough, the options become too weak too quickly and the good ones get hoovered up very quickly.

Inquisition of Kozilek
Discard is pretty simple to assess in terms of potency. You are really only looking at cost and range of targets. One mana cards can have a much lower range of hits than a two mana discard spell and still be a better card. The three mana plus discard spells have to come covered in bells and whistles to even get a look in. Another strong comparison to countermagic! The one big difference between the two is scaling. Countermagic stays good, it arguably gets better if it is the hard kind. Targetted discard gets worse. As such you get loads more value from discard cards with alternate uses than you do with countermagic. The cycling on Miscalculation does not make it better than Mana Leak on average. Just having your card do what you want it to do better is the most important thing. Consider Inquisition of Kozilek and a card that was basically the same but had cycling and could only take cards that had CMC two or less. Such a hypothetical card would probably be better in cube than the mighty Inquisition as it wouldn't have any scaling issues.

Mire's Toll19. Mire's Toll

This is bad. It is bad because it scales the wrong way. It gets better as targetted discard gets worse. In the late game this will be better than a one mana Coercion (as you can hit lands) but that isn't going to be much help against a lot of decks. This would be an OK sideboard tool against counterspell decks if it was not for the fact there are already enough of those for this to have never been needed even in singleton cube. I still strongly suspect I would play this over actual Coercion however. One mana is not a significant tempo cost which is important when investing in something that has no effect on the board. On turn one this is useless and that is really when you want to hit targetted discard against most lists. You might as well play Raven's Crime over this if you want a turn one play.

Blackmail18. Blackmail

This is the locked version of Mire's Toll. It is better upto the point where you would have three swamps in play and worse past four. Turns out that is a huge improvement. Lots of decks don't get much past three swamps, nor all that quickly. Lots of other decks rapidly empty their hands. This will typically hit most of players hand in the midgame. If you were on the draw against a player who made three one drops you would have full range on your turn two. The range on Blackmail is surprisingly good. It often has more targets than a turn one Duress or Despise, sometimes even Inquisition. The issue is not so much with the range when used as a turn one play but the fact that you don't get complete information. That and you get the worse half of the cards to discard. I would rather chose from two random cards than three chosen cards on turn one. Odds are you are going to get something more damaging from the randoms even with less information. Sneaky opponents can mislead you with what they show in a Blackmail. While this is a good card design attribute it doesn't help the power level. Blackmail does scale well with other discard more so than most and as such I have played it in Rack themed black decks before which want a heavy number of discard cards.

Despise17. Despise

I felt this should have performed better than it did. Most decks have targets for it and the range is fairly wide. It wasn't terrible but it just didn't do what you wanted it to. Creatures don't get held as much as spells. If they already have a dork in play taking away another is fine but it isn't good. You would be better off with spot removal. While planeswalkers are a nice addition on top of the original Ostracize it turns out not to be too much of a help. The average planeswalkers per deck is not much higher than one, if even that. On turn one you are rarely wanting to take away the walker either, you want to take away the curve play. The adding of planeswalkers to the target range helps a little against creature decks but it doesn't help enough against the creature light decks. Ostracize was always either OK or terrible and Despise has a slightly improved all round range but not enough to make it generally playable. Fundamentally you are still just better off in terms of tempo and consistency if you run spot removal instead.

Distress16. Distress

Two is the fair price for this effect, three is just bad and one is super strong. This card would be a whole lot more interesting at 1B, as it stands it is just a bit too fair for a card as narrow as the cost makes it. Only a heavy black deck can really run this and a heavy black deck has more appealing alternatives on offer like Hymn to Tourach.

15. Distended Mindbender

Super powerful but sadly super inconsistent. For those few times this comes out on the cheap saccing off something that has served its purpose like a Wood Elves and then going on to hit two things in their hand then it is pretty game ending. Mostly however this clogs up your hand in the early game and is too hard to cast before the cast trigger ceases to get good value. That isn't even the floor of this demanding card!

Lay Bare the HeartDistended Mindbender

14. Lay Bare the Heart

This was set to be the best two drop Distress for cube until they changed up the planeswalker legend rules. Now this misses far too many things. My cube has 43 legendary cards prior to the changes which is an impressively high 8%. I have 28 planesalkers which will take the number of things this misses up to 13% or so. That is a little too much for a targetted discard card at two mana. With just the 8% miss rate it would have been OK. Not too many of those cards were critical things to deal with, only really Jitte is super savage that you can't take it. A number of the bigger legends are puerly cheat in cards and putting them in the bin is helpful rather than disruptive! At 13% and with a lot of potent game ending cards in that group this is just too poor now.

Mardu Charm13. Mardu Charm

While a three mana Duress looks pretty bad when you put it on an instant that has other potent modes of use ensuring it is never dead then you have a surprisingly strong card. This card is a lovely disruption tool that is good in every matchup. A three mana one for one targetted discard spell does need alternate modes to carry it but it turns out that you have a pretty good card when that is the case. It is the colour requirement that really holds this back in cube. Not only is it narrow and hard to cast it is also in colours that are not commonly seen together.


12. Addle

Not far off Distress at 1B but enough that it isn't quite potent enough for cube use. It is pretty hard to miss with this, you know what you want to hit and what colours they are, often even what is the main colour and which the splash. Despite these things it is still lame when you see something you didn't expect to see and want to take it but can't. Or even more gutting, simply not being able to take than Ugin... So while Addle rarely misses it still doesn't hit the most relevant target as often as you need for a two mana card of this nature to be a big deal.

Transgress the Mind11. Transgress the Mind

Now this Distress attempt comes with a perk and a downside making it that little trickier to evaluate. The perk is the exile and the downside is that it doesn't hit cheap things. Cheap things make up most of the cube. This card cannot hit 65% of the things in my cube. While many of those are not so important late game they are still things you want to take on curve. If you are on the play you cannot take away a two drop with this and that is a problem. Also, most of the reactive cards are cheap, removal and countermagic are common targets for these kinds of cards and this misses far too many of those. While exile is lovely and very scary to play against this card is too ineffective at doing what you mainly want it to do. A potentially terrifying sideboard card but not something I ever want to run maindeck blind.

Mesmeric Fiend10. Mesmeric Fiend / Brain Maggot

These are the kind of Oblivion Rings of hand disruption. At their best they a Coercions at a 1 mana discount plus a free 1/1. At their worst they eat a ping and cost you tempo and often value too. The reason to play these cards is creature synergy. If creatures are that much more valuable than spells in your list then these are pretty good options. Maggot even has the enchantment tag for even broader synergy support. Even decks with removal struggle against these cards. They will force certain bad plays. Lets say I see your hand of Arc Trail and Vindicate, I will obviously take the Arc Trail and you will then be forced into Vindicating the 1/1 at a tempo loss if you want your Arc Trail. You might need the Vindicate for something else and so you will simply have to wait and hope to get it back some other way. Many cards are time critical in magic and so taking a card away for a few turns over its window of premium utility is nearly as good as getting rid of it. Ramp cards and other discard effects are prime examples of things that scale down and lose loads of value when sat under a Maggot or Fiend.

9.   Unmask

A fantastic card that was a staple back in the day in both cube and other formats. Before we had Thoughtsieze or Inquisition and back when heavy black decks were still tier one. Back when combo was a far bigger deal and back when Necropotence was a big name. When we had all those things this was kind of the black Force of Will. Deal with a thing for no mana but two cards. These days most decks don't have enough black cards to be able to comfortably pitch to this nor do they have enough reliable card draw to easily stomach the two for one. In constructed decks this is still a great and useful option but in the drafting cube I found it has become to narrow.

Cabal Therapy

8.   Cabal Therapy

One of my favourite cards of all time and something I have happily run in singleton drafting cubes where it is about as weak as it can be. There is little more satisfying than hitting with Therapy in the early turns of game one as good as blind. Getting a two or three for one blind in constructed with it perhaps! Therapy has great synergy with other discard as they give up the required information. It also works great with things like Gitaxian Probe. Most of where you see it getting used in cube these days is in combo decks where a sacrifice outlet is required or there are loads of graveyard synergies going on. A doubly great card in that it is good at doing what it was designed to do while also doing a load of other useful things.

Harsh Scrutiny
7.   Harsh Scrutiny

Unlike Despise this card wildly out performed expectation. It turns out that a look at their hand and a scry is all really good, especially on turn one. It is not the end of the world when you miss and it is still great when you hit a low value card. Just getting that much information and setup that early on a card neutral spell is fantastic. It is like Peek and Opt rolled into one. This card is much more about being quite consistently card neutral while yielding info and choices, it is not about disruption in the way most other targetted discard is. Sure, it will sometimes disrupt synergies or curving or value but that is not why you are playing it. It happens now and again and is a big perk but you don't need it for the card to be good. This is certainly more Opt than it is Force Spike and should be played in a less disruptive capacity. Great filler, great one drop, so so disruption.

Doomfall6.   Doomfall

This was another surprise performer. It has some major things helping it along. It is an edict or a Coercion for starters. Much like Mardu Charm this carries it a long way. The edict aspect is certainly worse than the other two modes on the Charm combined, often just worse than four damage alone, and it is sorcery. On the other hand the discard effect has a wider range and critically both halves exile. That exile aspect is really what pushes this from OK to good. Unlike Transgress the Mind this will hit any card it needs to making this far scarier to play against as anyone with key cards in their deck and far better against answer decks in a longer game. The exile also hurts a lot on the edict, it makes that Kitchen Finks no longer the obvious choice. While this is far too slow all round to be much good against quick decks on its own it still complements other cards very nicely. Deluge their weenies away and then edict the big threat they follow up with for example. While only OK against aggro decks the card has proven incredibly good against midrange, control and combo decks too.

Kitesail Freebooter5.   Kitesail Freebooter

This new addition has not had too much testing yet but early indications suggest it is a big winner. The lower range than Fiend or Maggot doesn't stop it being good disruption and info while the flying and 2 toughness make it a far more relevant body. This is just a nice rounded little card that does a lot of work at all stages of the game. The 1/1 bodies need creature synergies to make them playable, this has enough gas to be worth playing as a stand alone. It does most of what a Fiend/Maggot does with their EtB effects and then it is better at staying in play, far better at blocking, enables raid, controls planeswalkers and is generally a pain in the arse!

Duress4.   Duress

This card has gotten better and better over the last decade or so. Removal is more important for most decks as is threat diversity. Both of these things lead to far more non-creature cards being played in most archetypes. Green ramp decks now have Karn, Ugin, Sky Sovereign, Garruks and Nissas as well as card quality non-creatures at the low end. Against the creature heavy decks you typically want to be hitting the non-creature cards. While they may be fewer in number there are still usually enough to mean Duress rarely misses. They are more commonly held back or top end cards further helping Duress hit them. Duress has always been a premium anti control and anti combo card. Now it is also a fine tool against aggro and midrange decks so much that you are pretty happy running it main in most cases.

Collective Brutality3.   Collective Brutality

One card that has hurt Duress a little in recent years is this gem. They have a bit of an overlap in range and as such running both maindeck against a blind meta is can be a little too much. This is the card Doomfall wishes it was! Despite this being generally weaker removal and categorically weaker discard Brutality more than makes up for this with its own perks. You have the extra drain mode to increase the utility, you can do multiple modes at once, you can enable your own graveyard synergies, and most importantly Brutality is only two mana. This card gets it done. It is pseudo card quality, it is good in every matchup and it is comparably good in the early game to the late game. For actual discard this card is one of the weaker effects on the list but the combined package is so potent and versatile you just don't care. This is one of those cards I find I am happy running in any black deck, it feels more playable than Fire / Ice!

Thoughtseize2.   Inquisition of Kozilek

No real shock as to the top two on this list. Inquisition is actually closer in power to Thoughtsieze in cube than it is in modern or legacy. In cube life totals are more generally relevant (as in most matchups do make two life a cost, even if small) while in constructed there are far more matchups where it simply doesn't matter at all. Indeed Death's Shadow makes it a perk to nug yourself for 2 in those constructed formats! Also there are many more cards like Force of Will and Gurmag Angler and the like in the constructed formats which further empowers Thoughtsieze. Inquisition hits 3/4 of the non-land cards in my cube. More importantly it hits basically every relevant card you could play in the first two turns. If you take their only two drop play for one mana, one card and no life cost you have actually gained tempo! Inquisition hits basically all the spot removal spells and most of the counterspells. It might miss Force of Will but it is super hard, even impossible, to Force of Will something after being Inquisitioned. Inquisition is a cheap, clean and reliable disruption tool. It is the best discard tool against the aggressive decks and top three against all others.

1.   Thoughtseize

Still the big number one. It is just the reliability you desire. This will disrupt all strategies and it will do so from turn one. Opening with this card makes you feel super safe. You take away the scary thing, the thing you ultimately can't beat or their only early game. It is super hard to miss with this and most of the hits are brutal. Assuming you don't misplay this will take their best spell. You can win games basically with just this card if your opponent has a shaky keep. Arguably blacks best card ever and certainly the most widely played.


  1. We had a blast putting together our first cube. Now we're refining it, and I have been inspired by your spot on analysis. Just wanted to say thank you for all the time and dedication you have put in here!

    1. Thanks Nate. Comments like this fuel my desire to continue <3