Thoughtseize is one of the most important cards in Standard, and one of the toughest to master. Choose wrong with your turn-2 discard spell and you might just lose the game as a result. I’m going to take a single example of a Thoughtseize situation and break it down, point by point.
Here’s what we’re playing:
Game one, you’re playing the Abzan Control deck listed above against Esper Dragons. You’re on the play and play turn-one Sandsteppe Citadel. Your opponent plays Temple of Deceit and scrys a card to the bottom, you draw another Sandsteppe Citadel in your draw step, which leaves you with the following:
You cast Thoughtseize and your opponent reveals the following:
So, you have four options: Dig Through Time, Silumgar’s Scorn, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Ultimate Price. You’re in pretty bad shape in this game. You don’t have a big threat until turn six, and your best chance to get ahead is Courser of Kruphix. Unfortunately, your opponent has two 2-mana answers to it in Ultimate Price and Silumgar’s Scorn. Dig Through Time and Dragonlord Ojutai are arguably the two most powerful cards in your opponent’s deck, so taking either one of those cards is also tempting.
The question is: What is your best approach to winning this game? Clearly you are going to have to draw into something good in order to have a fighting chance. The good news is, you have an Abzan Charm that will get you deeper into your deck. Having Elspeth in your hand is also very relevant because if you hit all of your land drops, you will be able to play it on your sixth turn if your opponent slams Dragonlord Ojutai into play on their fifth turn.
Because you don’t have a lot of cheap interaction, and your opponent has decent early plays against the cards you do have in Silumgar’s Scorn and Ultimate Price, I think those two cards are the front-runners for consideration. If you can get a Courser to stay in play for a few turns, it will help increase the quality of your draws, especially in combination with Abzan Charm. This also helps ensure that you can hit 6 lands by turn 6 in order to play your Elspeth.
There are two lines of play your opponent can realistically take on their turn: play a second scry land, or play a second untapped land to leave up Silumgar’s Scorn and/or Ultimate Price, depending on what you decide to take. If your opponent plays a second untapped land, and they intend to use whatever means possible to kill your Courser, it doesn’t actually matter which card you take, in theory.
In reality, it matters slightly more due to the fact that Silumgar’s Scorn is a more powerful card overall against your deck. That being said, if your opponent decides to play a scry land because there aren’t a lot of 3-mana cards to fear from an Abzan Control deck, you are doing a better job of enabling Courser to stay in play for more turns if you take Ultimate Price. Because I feel the texture of your hand matches up poorly against the textur of our opponent’s hand, keeping Courser in play is going to prove to be the most important aspect of this game. It’s somewhat clear the game is going to go long, and you are going to need to gain an incremental advantage somehow.
Also, if your opponent feels like they are falling behind, they are more likely to play their Ojutai on turn 5, and if you get to achieve the dream scenario that I’ve mentioned already and play Elspeth and minus it, you are going to get way ahead.
Dig Through Time is troublesome, but I think it’s too far into the future for you to worry about at the moment. This game will go long, and you will not want to have to deal with Dig Through Time, but I think your opponent’s hand is too powerful for you to worry about it right now. You’re going to have to get a little lucky to win the game anyway, and mostly I think you need to hope that you can deplete their cheap answers and draw into powerful threats like Siege Rhino, or more copies of Thoughtseize.
I’m not really considering taking Ojutai, largely due to the Elspeth in your hand. It does sound interesting to take Ojutai and then play around Silumgar’s Scorn, especially because currently your opponent only has one white mana, a Haven of the Spirit Dragon—so if they used the Haven to return the Ojutai, they would still need an additional white mana to even cast it.
I would take Ultimate Price.
I hate to take what is effectively the worst card in my opponent’s hand, but it matches up very well against what you have. Because of the lack of fear of turn-3 plays from Abzan, I think it’s not too unlikely that your opponent plays a scry land on their second turn. If that happens, I’m happy to get my Courser into play and hope to fade a few draws. If your opponent does happen to play an untapped land, I’m probably going to play the Abzan Charm, see what I draw, really hoping one of the other cards is a Thoughtseize, but if not, play Courser on turn four, which will be very tempting to draw a counter if your opponent hasn’t drawn a removal spell.
One issue with taking Silumgar’s Scorn is that your best line becomes casting Abzan Charm and hoping to draw Siege Rhino. With this line, if you play Siege Rhino and then your opponent plays Ojutai, you lose the ability to make the devastating minus play on Ojutai, because you’d also lose your Rhino. If you play Elspeth and make 3 Soldiers, she can be attacked by Ojutai—even though you’ll have a good board presence, you become vulnerable to removal for your Rhino, or Silumgar, the Drifting Death.
I think this was a very difficult decision, and I could see arguments for taking any of the cards in the opponent’s hand. What would you take? Am I overlooking something in particular? Let me know in the comments. Also, please let me know what you think of this type of article in general—a discussion of a Thoughtseize, specifically. Thanks, see you next time!