One of my favorite ways to attack a matchup or a metagame is to find a way to turn my opponents’ best cards into liabilities. For example, a built-in advantage of combo and control decks is that removal spells like Cut Down do almost nothing against them.
You can’t always play a totally creatureless deck. Still, it’s worth giving some thought to cards that are commonly played, and which you can strategically weaken or blank. You can utilize this technique during deckbuilding, sideboarding, gameplay, and even mulligan decisions.
Let’s look at some examples in Standard.
A major breakthrough for the Mono-Blue Delver archetype was actually cutting Delver of Secrets! Since most decks in the format main-deck Cut Down, by showing up with a creature suite of Tolarian Terror and Haughty Djinn, you make some of your opponents’ cards dead in game one. Now you can use your permission spells on a smaller subset of cards which actually matter. Note that you can still have Delver of Secrets in your sideboard if you like.
People usually only have one or two copies of Disdainful Stroke. Still, if you think your opponent is bringing it in against you, you can trim or cut all of your valid targets and play a leaner game.
These are all highly-played cards, and they all perform very poorly against you if your deck is mostly creatures.
If you think your opponent has multiple Duresses, you can also use that knowledge to guide your mulligan decisions. For example, if you’ve mulliganed once, you can put your only noncreature, nonland card on the bottom of your library and laugh as their turn one Duress totally whiffs!
Conversely, these cards punish you for having lots of creatures, but look silly when you don’t.
It’s not always practical to play with zero creatures, but especially with Grixis on the rise, it’s worth paying extra attention to patterns involving Corpse Appraiser. The Grixis player really wants you to play a two-drop creature so they can kill it and eat it with Appraiser. Make life harder for them by refusing to play into that pattern when you can. Maybe even construct a deck or sideboard plan that helps you avoid it.
You can cut your artifacts and enchantments to reduce your exposure to Disenchant effects.
I’ve also blanked Unleash the Inferno by sideboarding out (or refusing to cast) my creature targets. Note, however, that they can still target their own creature if they’re desperate enough.
Have a plan against creature sweepers. Diversify your assets with cards like Reckoner Bankbuster.
Invoke Despair is always a beating, but it’s particularly strong against single planeswalkers and enchantments that need to sit on the battlefield for a long time. I’d normally be the world’s biggest fan of Sorin the Mirthless and Jaya, Fiery Negotiator, but I’ve actually found them to stink in Standard right now. Invoke Despair is a big reason.
Weaken Liliana by having creatures you don’t mind sacrificing or cards you don’t mind discarding. Ideally both!
You might not be able to make Pithing Needle and Anointed Peacekeeper into dead cards, but what you can do is reduce the risk that they’ll tag multiple of your cards at once. By going from four copies down to three, you greatly reduce the chance of drawing multiple copies of a given card early in the game. There’s not much that’s worse than having the opponent name Reckoner Bankbuster with their Peacekeeper when you have multiples in your hand and nothing else that you can play instead.
When should you use these techniques? You certainly won’t be able to employ them all at the same time unless you want to register a deck with 60 basic Plains. However, you can consider one or two that you think won’t cost you much, and might hit the metagame particularly well.
One place that I’ve been using these techniques is Standard is for the sideboarded game when I’m on the draw. When I’m on the play, I’m happy enough to play a normal game and hope I steamroll the opponent with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Wedding Announcement or Raffine, Scheming Seer. But on the draw, I need plenty of removal spells, I need a defensive game plan and I need that little bit of extra edge to help me break serve. This is where I might get cute by sideboarding out all of my targets for a narrow reactive card like Cut Down or Disdainful Stroke.
Keep these techniques in mind, and look for opportunities to put them into use. May your opponents’ cards always look silly!