To my knowledge, there is only one card in the history of Magic that has consistently competed with the incredible Thoughtseize for space in our decklists and come out on top. Though it’s often relegated to playing second fiddle to the most ubiquitous discard spell in contemporary Magic, Inquisition of Kozilek has proven to be an asset in Modern metagames where Burn or Zoo are heavily played decks. In fact, many Jund players over the course of Modern’s history have elected to split their traditional six main deck discard spell slots 4-2 in favor of Inquisition, as saving two life is a game-altering change against the hyper-aggressive decks that set the pace in Modern.
I remember recently, against all odds, Inquisition of Kozilek was actually more expensive than Thoughtseize because it was seeing more play in Modern, despite it being an uncommon and Thoughtseize being a rare. The combination of being printed in a small set, being underrated at first (which led people, I’m sure, to leave Inquisition of Kozilek on their draft tables as then-worthless garbage) and Modern’s explosion in popularity created a perfect storm that spawned a $20 uncommon. There was a reprint in a Modern Event Deck that dampened the price a good bit, but only DJ Khaled knows that the best way to follow up on your reprint of a Modern staple is to do . . .
So let’s get right to it! I know I don’t need to do an in-depth analysis for you all about why these discard spells are so good, but a brief recap might be in order. The simple fact is, discard spells are tempo-negative. What that means is you are spending mana to answer a card your opponent has not yet spent mana on. The only way to recoup that tempo loss is to “punch a hole” in your opponent’s curve by taking the spell that they would have cast on a given turn, forcing them to waste the mana they otherwise might have gotten to spend. For example, taking your opponent’s turn-2 play of Tarmogoyf and leaving them with a few removal spells in hand is a great way to turn this tempo-negative spell into a tempo-positive one.
Thus, the best way to fit an Inquisition of Kozilek (or a Thoughtseize) into your gameplan is to minimally impact your own tempo while maximally impacting your opponent’s curve or creating a gap in their set of removal or counterspells that you can then exploit.
Of course, it’s also important to know how to cast defensive Inquisitions, where you are simply trying to ensure that you don’t get hit with a combo like Temur Battle Rage + Become Immense (thanks Death's Shadow!) or a flurry of Infect’s pump spells, or an Ad Nauseam + Angel's Grace. Usually, you want to cast your discard the turn before they would try to combo kill you. That means turn three against Ad Nauseam, but turn one if you’re playing against Legacy combo decks like Storm or Show and Tell.
The vast majority of the time, though, you’ll be casting Inquisition in Modern midrange decks, and you need to know what you should be looking to do with both the information you gain and the choice of what you want your opponent to discard. Different decks necessitate different choices on the matter, but I generally default to taking whatever my opponent has less of. If they have a million Birds of Paradise and a single Kitchen Finks, that Melira Company player is going to lose their threat. If they’ve got a bunch of discard spells and a single Tarmogoyf, bye-bye Mr. Goyf. There are obviously trickier situations that come up from time to time, but a good rule of thumb is to leave them high and dry on a single type of card (threat or answer).
Especially against Infect, you want to look at your removal suite and your opponent’s threat suite and determine if your goal is going to be to keep your opponent from ever sticking a creature, or try to pick out a pump spell or protection spell and keep your opponent from being able to confidently jam their combo to kill you.
Look. By default, you should generally be casting your discard spell on turn one (provided you aren’t using your mana to Lightning Bolt a Wild Nacatl or some other threat) simply because if you draw a 2-drop, you might end up not being able to fit your Inquisition into your curve. That’s part of the beauty of Inquisition of Kozilek. Let’s say you’re on the play against an unknown opponent with three shocklands, a Raging Ravine, and a curve of Thoughtseize—Tarmogoyf—Liliana of the Veil. As much as it hurts to play a shockland and Thoughtseize them, you will most likely suck it up and make that play. If your opponent reveals a hand with two Goblin Guides and three Lava Spikes, you might as well call up DJ Khaled, because . . .
WIth Inquisition of Kozilek, that kind of play hurts a little less. The card’s restriction also naturally incentivizes you to cast it earlier, because if you wait, your opponent might have played all of his or her cheap spells and you’ll look silly with a swing and a miss. Just like Ponder and Brainstorm, the younger sibling is actually way easier to play than the older, more powerful one. This hidden characteristic can actually benefit you, because it allows you to make the “obvious” play more often, and conserve your mental energy for later turns.
For extreme detail on the best ways to leverage your pinpoint discard for maximum effectiveness, I would highly suggest reading or re-reading Reid Duke’s seminal article on the subject, titled “Thoughtseize You”.
Now, we’ve been talking up Inquisition of Kozilek a decent amount, but there are certainly reasons to play Thoughtseize over Inquisition of Kozilek. You need only to look at the restrictions printed on the card! If you’re playing a format where Sneak Attack and Batterskull and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Force of Will and Natural Order and their high-casting-cost ilk are seeing more play than good old fashioned Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear, you might want to play Thoughtseize over Inquisition. There is a natural tension between these two that we don’t see in Legacy between Brainstorm and Ponder (Max out on both, duh!) but I would tend to default to Thoughtseize in Legacy and Inquisition in Modern. Burn is less of a factor in Legacy, decks with Thoughtseize often play some lifegain in Deathrite Shaman to offset the life loss, and there are a lot of powerful payoff cards that cost more than 3 mana that you want to be able to take. In Modern, aggressive decks like Zoo, Death's Shadow, Burn, Affinity, and the like are more common, and B/G/x midrange decks often have less incidental lifegain. For that reason alone, Inquisition has been called up from the minors to play in the big leagues, and this reprint speaks to that change.
Look. The simple truth is, this reprint will save people money if they are looking to get into Modern (and these days, who isn’t?) and if it means that Wizards can make a much-needed reprint without overly impacting Standard, that’s a good enough reason for me. That said, I think Standard might have actually benefitted from a card that could pre-emptively take out opposing Sylvan Advocates, Reflector Mages, Duskwatch Recruiters, and assorted Temurge enablers, but that’s all hypothetical.
In the end, a penny saved is a penny earned, and a life point saved is a life point earned, according to acclaimed American Founding Father and noted Jund/Abzan player Benjamin Franklin. Thanks to Wizards, we’ll all be able to save a few pennies and a few life points with the reprint of this Modern and Legacy staple!