Last week we looked at the Top Ten Casual Counters of all time! And that led me to think about an underappreciated mechanic at a lot of kitchen tables. Discarding!
Is discard mean? I know effects like land destruction, countermagic, and discard sometimes get a bad rap in Casual Land. But all are worth playing. We’ve all seen (or been) players who play amazing and powerful lands, safe in the knowledge that Land Destruction is so looked down upon that no one runs anything like Avalanche Riders or Wasteland to take them down. You need answers to people getting crazy. Just like you can lean on LD when someone is abusing Academy Ruins with Mindslaver, or counters to keep dopey cards like Ad Nauseam decks from winning on turn three in Commander, discard plays a vital role against hand-hungry metagames and kitchen tables.
Discard is good. You need it.
And like counters, there are some discard effects that just rule the tournament lifestyle that mean very little at the kitchen table. Take a typical Commander game with four players. Even leading with Swamp, Thoughtseize on someone is annoying. You are paying two life and a card to make just one player discard? Really? Cards like Duress and such just don’t have the long-term value at a multiplayer table like others do. Even Blightning was never commonly played in its Standard-dominating heyday.
Now given that, there are still discard effects that work in both areas, and you might see a few hit the charts here!
10. Mind Peel
I think cockroach effects are under appreciated in the modern game. Cockroach cards and mechanics are those that can be used again and again over several turns. Compare a one-time effect like Harmonize or Concentrate to Honden of Seeing Winds or even Phyrexian Arena to Damnable Pact or something. Which is better? If I gave you a 4 mana artifact that either tapped for 3 mana to draw a card or required 5 mana without taping at all for a card, which is better? In Standard, there’d be no question; but, outside of that, at the casual table (which often has multiple opponents and slower games) there’s also no question the opposite way. Repeatable effects, especially powerful ones, tend to trump cheaper, one-time ones almost every time. That’s why I don’t think Mind Peel, and other buyback spells, often get their full due. They do strong, yeoman’s work, they aren’t splashy, and yet they are quite repeatable. With so many of Modern decks rocking mana rocks, land ramping and more, Mind Peel is arguably better now than at any previous time in its printing, and yet is not seen as much as it should be. Repeatable effects are a powerful key to winning in casual land, generally, and multiplayer specifically.
Warped Devotion is awesome! It’s almost (but not quite) like a more limited Tainted Aether. Tainted Aether ends a lot of problems at the kitchen table (tokens, blink, self-bounce, reanimation woes, ramp problems, etc). It’s ideally suited to deal with crap. That’s where Warped Devotion sits. It deals with a lot of that self-bouncing nonsense (which, to be fair, I do a lot of myself, especially with one of my iconic decks, Equinaut). Shoot, it works on any permanent, not just creatures, so lands like Dimir Aqueduct are problems. It turns any bounce effect into a Recoil and turns card-disadvantage effects into neutral ones (or into removal if they don’t have a hand). It’s awesome! It’s lower on our list only because it can be turned against you as well, so watch out.
Ah yes, the crazy Pit. This Pit has a lot of problems. When you play it, you become an immediate target of aggression. It pushes people past the point of no return, and paints a huge target on your back. Folks drop cards as quickly as they can, and they won’t be subtle about it, targeting you with burn, attacking you with early drops and so forth. But there are some strong reasons to play it. First, it comes down so soon it’s hard to fight for a lot of players. If you are playing it on turn three, is that player with the Acidic Slime in their hand even going to be able to use it after two turns of random discard? You can easily get it down under a counter-shield. Plus, in just a couple of rounds of Pit Action, no one has a hand left anymore, and you’ve forced everyone into top decking mode a lot earlier than normal. It’s strong, powerful, but so nasty that folks will hate you for it that game, and you just need to know that no amount of political maneuvering is going to save you that game. It’ll almost turn the game into a game of Archenemy! But it’s so good, you can still win. (See also: Cunning Lethemancer) For a faster version, check out Sire of Insanity.
The ability to pull out all of the cards of one color in a player’s hand can devastate most players early. It gets genuinely harder to deal with folks that are smashing your Green or Blue away! It’s a virtual Wit's End against mono-colored players who might keep a land or colorless card. Against anyone else, the three or four for one is palpable. And don’t forget that Crosis can do it again and again if you keep hitting someone’s face with your Dragon.
As a pure discard spell, it’s weaker than Unnerve. As a pure card drawing spell, it’s a little worse and less reliable than Harmonize. As both? Well, that’s where it gets interesting. If you force 3 and draw 3, that’s a 6:1 card swing for just 4 mana. That’s where things get powerful, when you combine them together like that. Plus it was printed as a common and printed many times since. So it’s mega-cheap. Cheap card, strong effect, good at both discarding and card drawing – Syphon Mind is the real deal.
5. Liliana Vess and many others
There’s something to be said for the slower route. You play a permanent, and then force one card a turn, from one target. I’m using Liliana Vess here, but there are many others in this spot. Hey look, we all know that Liliana Vess is a great source of discard as she gets one tick per card discarded, so she’s very reliable and strong over the course of a game. There are a number of one per turn effects out there like Disrupting Scepter (Scepter of Fugue, Wall of Distortion, etc), Nezumi Shortfang, Gwendlyn di Corci, or Honden of Night's Reach that also give you this slow and steady discarding, without pushing people into antagonistic stances against you (like #8 Bottomless Pit will do every time you drop it.).
Smash and discard. It’s all right there. Smash and discard. Ever since the first set introduced people to the dreaded Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter, it’s been one of the most feared and disruptive early drops. Smash and discard. And it’s not even a discard by choice, but it’s random. And still, today, the Specter plays a similar role, coming down, hitting people in the air, and forcing them to either drop stuff quickly to avoid the discarding, or to risk losing their big guns. Smash and discard.
I run Larceny here and there to great effect, but I think it’s largely been a forgotten card. So remember it! Because it works with all of your creatures, it’s stronger than the Smash and Discard solo act of Hypnotic Specter and all of its Specter buddies. Larceny drops, and suddenly, the math changes very powerfully for you. People become so desperate for stopping discard that they make bad blocks, and lose creatures already in play and make bad decisions. They will hold back blockers that could have swung for damage in order to protect themselves against any potential line of attack. Small dump-y creatures like Looter il-Kor become “kill-on-sight” threats until a Larceny-answer is found. People badly overreact to Larceny, which is great fun for you. Larceny is the discard version of Coastal Piracy or Bident of Thassa. And you already know how strong those can be, right? Get your Larceny on!
Liliana's Specter remains one of the best discard effects for casual land of all time. Why? Well, in any multiplayer game, you are getting this 3-mana engine for an Eternal Witness level of mana and body, with flying to boot. And your Enters-the-Battlefield trigger is to pull a card for each player’s hand. It’s feasible as a commitment to the red zone, and you can abuse the absolutely crap out of it with reanimation, blinking, bouncing, and lots more. It’s a very cheap 3-mana investment! Plus as a mega-cheap common, all of the things true of Syphon Mind are true here as well. (See also: Cackling Fiend).
1. Mind Twist / Mind Shatter
Even Vintage was so worried about Mind Twist, it was banned for a long time. But it’s still a strong card. Just invest one more mana than someone has cards in hand, and they are denuded of that hand. Done. It’s still powerful, even in formats with a lot of players like Commander. I know that folks might look at Mind Twist as poor manners, but it’s legal in Commander, and it’s certainly more quickly recoverable than Armageddon or other cards out there. It’s an awesome tool to bring someone back down to earth.
Card that involve discarding as part of an effect, like Wheel of Fortune or Memory Jar, are not here, sorry. Neither are Merfolk Looter and similar “discard to draw” mechanics. Also, discarding as a punishment, like Balance or Pox were considered and dropped. I wanted cards that had discard as their primary role.
And there you are!
What did you think? And what discard cards are you running?