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Feature Article – Duress or Inquisition?

Hello everyone, this is Shuhei Nakamura. I am Japanese, and my lifestyle is not so different from that of other professional players. I visit famous places while working to maintain my pro level by traveling around the world to Grands Prix.

Starting today, I will be writing a column for ChannelFireball every other week, either tournament reports or strategy discussions using concrete examples of play decisions. I only understand a small amount of English, and since writing an article in that way is not an option, the article will be translated for me so that I can report back to all of you. Even if today’s topic is Standard, a bit odd when it is currently Extended season, I would greatly appreciate your reading this article.

Today’s subject is the cards Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek, and their use in Blue/Black Control.

These cards are both turn one discard spells which can cripple your opponent’s game plan, and because resolving them helps the game develop in your favor, they are extremely effective cards to have in your opening hand. Although this is not directly relevant since it has moved to Extended, Thoughtseize is one of the most consistent discard spells in Magic history. This is not to say, however, that Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress are weak cards; if you are playing black in Standard, they are among the first cards you should consider. Rather, when there are two powerful cards like this in the format, control decks can include five or more copies between the two in the main deck and sideboard.

Having said this, there are circumstances when you have both Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress at the beginning of a game. Which is really the correct choice to use against your opponent?

I intuitively thought Inquisition of Kozilek would be best at times like this, and after a small amount of consideration, I still think this is correct.

A first turn Inquisition of Kozilek can discard immediate creature threats with converted mana cost three or less. In other words, in most cases you can change the turn one play your opponent expected into just a draw-go. Inquisition can do this, and Duress cannot.

However, Inquisition itself has its own specific problems. Cards costing three mana or less are played quickly at the start of the game. In short, Inquisition’s problems come from its extremely short window of usefulness. If you play it quickly within the limited time frame the faster the better, since as a rule in a Magic game it is not likely that someone would keep a hand without any one to three mana cost spells. Furthermore if you are on the play, because you are still unfamiliar with your opponent’s deck you should take into account the possibility that they are playing beatdown. These things are strong evidence of the necessity of playing Inquisition of Kozilek early on.

But hold on for a moment, certainly in most games Inquisition is the right choice, but there are also circumstances where the alternative, Duress, is correct.

For example, in the second game of the finals of last year’s World Championship, the well-loved characters Guillame Matignon and control deck and foil card lover Guillame Wafo-Tapa were competing when on the sixth turn, Wafo-Tapa played the Inquisition of Kozilek he had just drawn instead of his first plan of Duress. Immediately after playing Inquisition he found he was in a position where it was absolutely necessary to name Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Memoricide. In short, this ended up being related to Matignon’s next topdeck: Grave Titan.

Strictly speaking, this was a misplay. If he had used Duress to discard [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], he could remove Grave Titan from his opponent’s deck with [card]Memoricide[/card]. This is because topdecks would no longer be such a threat. If you take this route, it seems that even if there was a dramatic topdeck there would still be a chance of winning.

In today’s article, I will cover the following: my own findings on when it is correct to use Duress or Inquisition when you still don’t know your opponent’s hand and which game plan to pursue in what situation when playing Blue/Black control. I will also discuss my findings about the game plan in games two and three and what must be removed when sideboarding.

So, before giving a concrete example for consideration from every archetype, I will present the Blue/Black Control deck I am currently playing on Magic Online. This deck was designed by Yuuya Watanabe, but I followed his build closely since I had almost no issues with it and think it is a very well-constructed deck.

Furthermore, in today’s investigation into the question of Inquisition of Kozilek or Duress, I will assume we are using this deck. I would like if you viewed it in light of the Inquisition vs. Duress discussion.

UB Control

Versus Mono-White Beatdown, White-Green Beatdown, Boros, Mono- Red, and Elves:
Against these decks, Inquisition of Kozilek is absolutely superior.

This is because with the aforementioned decks, by turn two or three they will develop their board by playing creatures that are immediate threats. And even if there are desirable non-creature choices to remove in the early game, because of cards like Quest for the Holy Relic and Sword of Body and Mind there is no reason you have to play Duress. As far as surviving the first turns by playing Inquisition, it might be good to keep my other theory in mind as well.

Even so, if we think about the situations in which Duress is guaranteed to discard something, these may be times when you already have a large amount of discard spells in your hand on turn one on the play. Generally speaking because Duress is boarded out and the remaining Inquisition of Kozilek is put in when you are playing against beatdown, it is very likely that there will be no such choice.

At the beginning of the game, your goal should be to create an environment where you are able to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Your game depends on whether or not you stick Jace and can continue to use Brainstorm. If this is not immediately reasonable, you must not only hold off the offensive but also be sure to have access for Grave Titan to quickly cut away your opponent’s life total. As a rule it is advisable to have only these two plans.

Sideboarding

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

Versus Vampires:
As with the other beatdown decks, the choice here is absolutely Inquisition of Kozilek.
This deck type is distinct from the ones discussed above only by a difference in your sideboarding plan. In this matchup, Blue/Black leaves in Spreading Seas. Additionally, you cut down on the number of Grave Titans slightly and put in Precursor Golem. Against beatdown decks that do not play Lightning Bolt, this is a regular practice, but because post-board Vampires frequently casts Memoricide, I think it is wise to prepare for this by siding in Precursor Golem.

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

Versus RUG:
If on turn one you can remove Lotus Cobra, do so with Inquisition of Kozilek. If you see Jace, the Mind Sculptor in their hand, discard Lotus Cobra, Spell Pierce, or possibly Mana Leak and follow up by answering the threat of Jace with Duress.

In short, the matchup between Blue/Black and RUG hinges on which player can make Jace, the Mind Sculptor stick. Put more precisely, it depends on whether or not RUG can resolve Jace. This is because using the incredible card advantage generated by Jace, the Mind Sculptor you can stop your opponent’s every move with counterspells and win.

Aside from Jace, RUG relies on fragile creatures to gain an advantage, and Blue/Black is in a good position to deal with them with its numerous creature removal spells. When RUG wins its pattern of play and power relationship with Blue/Black is as follows: early on, because of its mana acceleration RUG either plays counterspells or casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor by anticipating Mana Leak and leaving three mana up. Looking at the reverse side, if Blue/Black is to prevent these circumstances from occurring, naturally it needs to gain the advantage and in order to do so its plays must be correct. This matchup’s hard and fast rule doesn’t change after sideboarding, and is the reason to increase the amount of pinpoint creature removal.

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

Versus Eldrazi Green and Valakut:
I also believe that Inquisition of Kozilek is correct here.

This is because of early game mana acceleration, in particular mana accelerating creatures. Though it is somewhat paradoxical, a number of these cards can also be taken with Duress. If your Blue/Black includes four copies of Duress, I think this discussion might change. However if you have only two copies of Duress, as long as your opponent’s hand is unknown to you and sometimes simply after Inquisition reveals it, you cannot counter creature spells while there is the risk of Summoning Trap.

There is no issue if the creatures in question are Lotus Cobra and Joraga Treespeaker and Disfigure or similar sideboard cards are in your hand, but if this is not the case it may be more of a problem than expected. Doom Blade acts as insurance against times when serious threats resolve, and it is always desirable to have at the ready. But after a counterspell, Summoning Trap might still bring out a huge creature. This is a lingering dilemma for this deck.

The easiest way for a Blue/Black player to win is simply through amassing a greater amount of resources. I go with the somewhat risky method of increasing my card draw with Jace to cope with these issues. In short, I continue to counter early game mana acceleration and try to establish Jace quickly. The key to this game plan is to have two counterspells or a Duress by the time the sixth mana source is played to discard Summoning Trap or counter Primeval Titan.

With this idea, as long as circumstances permit Duress should be held onto in order to discard Summoning Trap, and for this reason Inquisition of Kozilek is used first to gather information. Generally, after sideboarding you rely only on four copies of Doom Blade, and because Gaea’s Revenge clearly sets a time limit, the tendency to cope by drawing more cards with Jace becomes stronger. I don’t feel that adding another Inquisition of Kozilek is necessary here since it cannot remove their win conditions.

However, I think that this sideboard plan won’t be able to deal with your opponent’s threats, in particular the answer to the time bomb Gaea’s Revenge is Grave Titan and it seems that just three copies are insufficient. When on the draw I have tried replacing either Jace with Precursor Golem in order to cope, but I think that more consideration is necessary. I had previously removed Memoricide from the sideboard because of its narrow application, but it is a basic way of solving this problem. I am tempted to put it back in and am considering the ideal number of copies.

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

Versus Blue/White Control:
Duress is clearly superior in this classic control matchup.

Low casting-cost creatures are not generally played in this sort of counter-control deck, and when they are played they are in most cases passive cards like Wall of Omens or Sea Gate Oracle. Cards you want to discard with hand disruption spells are counterspells, or cards like planeswalkers that have a huge effect on the battlefield if they go uncountered. Naturally, with the exception of Jace Beleren, planeswalkers cannot be hit with Inquisition of Kozilek, which makes it unsatisfactory in this matchup.

If you have the option to choose in game one against Blue/White, play discard spells on turn one, as they are very nearly uncounterable, or if you can leave three extra mana up, and cast Duress on the fourth turn. I think that this is correct play. Through this process, you will reliably be able to discard your opponent’s planeswalkers. And, because this course of action is not overly difficult to pull off, the trick to winning is discarding your opponent’s countermagic with Inquisition of Kozilek and revealing their planeswalkers in the process.

The interesting thing, however, is that after sideboarding, this matchup changes completely. It is easy to become defenseless against Luminarch Ascension if it gets through, which is why you want to preemptively discard it before turn two. As far as this is concerned, it is unnecessary to use the stronger discard card Duress, as Inquisition of Kozilek will suffice.

If they do not have Luminarch Ascension, there is still nothing wrong with discarding a counterspell, but the idea that the possibility of missing with Inquisition increases as the game progresses is important. If you know their hand it is good to use Duress in more crucial situations.

Depending on the circumstances, there might be cases where holding an additional Inquisition of Kozilek as a last resort discard spell is good. This is because after sideboarding, players interact less and it becomes a game where the goal is to get the chance to resolve a planeswalker while holding counterspell back up.

Naturally if you have discard spells play as many as you can, but do not overestimate them as it is a good idea to be cautious of a turn zero Leyline of Sanctity which could lead to unfortunate consequences.

Additionally, some Spreading Seas should be sided out because of the use of Ratchet Bomb. Playing too many Spreading Seas and not being able to set off Ratchet Bomb at two is unacceptable. And, as far as siding in Precursor Golem is concerned, the deciding factor was that Grave Titan could be dealt with by Day of Judgment, and I concluded that it might not be problematic to reduce the number slightly and replace it with the one mana less expensive Precursor Golem for an effective surprise attack. If Condemn is played, Creeping Tar Pit increases Precursor Golem’s chance of survival because it is a better target for Condemn, leaving only Journey to Nowhere for the Golem.

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

Versus the Blue/Black Mirror:
In the matchup, Duress is absolutely superior, more so even than against Blue/White.

There aren’t any cards in this matchup like Luminarch Ascension that should be discarded at the earliest possible juncture, nor exceptional cards like Leyline of Sanctity that come in after sideboarding. There is a grand exchange of discard spells between the players, and often circumstances are such that neither player has anything in their hand. If this is the case and there is a possibility that Jace, the Mind Sculptor could be played, it is wise to use Duress quickly.

The advice I would like to give you is regarding situations where the game was different from that described above, where turn after turn both players play only lands repeating up to five mana and then six. Your opponent’s deck is the same and relies on Jace, the Mind Sculptor as its means of getting card advantage, and furthermore in order to destroy your opponent’s Jace it often becomes the case that there is no choice but to play your own. In this mirror match, simply playing Jace first might determine the outcome of the game.

If you have no other coping method but to destroy your opponent’s Jace with your own, they have the advantage of activating their planeswalker once but on the next turn there is a moment where they are defenseless again. If not this, you end up taking an excessive amount of time thereby giving them the opportunity to activate Jace repeatedly.

Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek are there to let your Jace resolve. The sideboard plan is to add breakthrough creatures which are a reflection of the need to cope with Jace as well as other threats, and to side out Sea Gate Oracle which has too small of an influence in terms of Jace. In the mirror match, these are probably the points to pay attention to.

Side out:

 

Side in:

 

I think these are the main decks in the format.

Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek? If you are playing Blue/Black control, casting Inquisition of Kozilek is generally a good idea. Although I said that this is a theory, I feel it is sound. However, I would like you to think about this a little more. When you are successful, consider what type of game plan you used to win, and when you have failed consider again what circumstances your opponent succeeds in.

I have been thinking more and more about the idea that it is essential to consider turn one. Magic is a game where it is crucial to consider your options, and if you consider them in a moderate amount of time judges will not object. Always keep in mind the possibility that in the future the opposite or unexpected plan might make things go more smoothly; although this may be a minor thing, it is linked to better play.

Until next time, thanks for reading!
Shuhei Nakamura

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