Messing with your opponents’ hands is a big part of Magic. Over the years, a ton of different effects that get rid of problematic or annoying cards have been printed, some of them so powerful as to be format-defining in competitive circles. Today, we’re going to look at some of the strongest and most famous hand disruption cards in Magic’s history – and without spoiling too much, not all of them are just black. Let’s go!
First printed in Alpha, Mind Twist has been around since the beginning and was always absolutely brutal with anything that ramped your mana early – things like, for example, Dark Ritual or Black Lotus. Being able to Twist away an opponent’s hand earlier than they could cast it was brutal, and even if you did it for X=3 you were usually still snagging their three most expensive – and therefore usually most powerful – cards. Mind Twist is no joke, and it’s still banned in Legacy as a result.
Duress is a classic “safety valve” card. It has been reprinted a billion times and you’d be hard-pressed to find long periods in Standard where it wasn’t legal, as it’s a card that helps to curb the worst excesses of a potentially degenerate format. Along with cards like Negate, Duress is an evergreen sideboard option against slower and more controlling decks, along with being close to a silver bullet against combo decks that rely on noncreature spells to go off. Duress is terrific, and almost always makes formats better when it’s available.
You might think it’s weird to include Karn Liberated as a hand disruption spell, but that’s what it can be, when needed – if a Tron player doesn’t need to deal with anything on the board, Karn can come down on turn three and start shredding the opponent’s hand instead. Ticking up to an absurd 10 loyalty makes it very difficult to remove a resolved Karn with damage, and between eviscerating cards in hand and going after anything played to the board, Karn is an extremely nasty way to mess with your opponents’ plans.
Cabal Therapy is best paired with something that lets you look at the opponent’s hand, so you know exactly what to name before casting it. It used to be played alongside Gitaxian Probe in Legacy, before Probe was banned – these days, you’ve just got to know what your opponent is likely to be playing and which cards you need to beat. Or, alternatively, you just make up for whiffing the first time by sacrificing a creature to flash it back, and this time just name a card you saw the first time around. Easy!
Mind Rot isn’t a great card for many reasons – three mana is a lot to pay for a sorcery-speed two-for-one that doesn’t impact the board. Hymn to Tourach, however, flips the script on Mind Rot, giving us a very enticing package. Not only does it cost just two mana to snag those two cards, your opponent doesn’t choose which ones they lose. This is so crucial! Mind Rot makes them discard their worst two cards, while Hymn doesn’t play favorites and is consequently terrifying – particularly on turn two on the play, when it can hit all your unplayed lands!
Another non-black card makes it onto the list – it’s very difficult to disrupt an opponent’s hand when not playing black, but Clique makes it possible. Sure, they get a draw to replace what you took, but that’s often worth getting rid of the best card in their hand. Besides, you’re left with a 3/1 beater that can put in some work on the battlefield. Vendilion Clique, believe it or not, used to be one of the most powerful and expensive cards in Modern, at around $80. Now it’s barely a tenth of that. How the mighty have fallen!
An early Liliana of the Veil can be absolutely backbreaking, especially in the days when Deathrite Shaman used to power it out on turn two. Still a mainstay of Boomer Jund, Liliana is a bit like a pseudo-Karn in that she can go after the hand or the board as early as turn three. Against slower decks, her discard effect is brutal, particularly when paired with Dark Confidant to keep Jund at parity. Liliana was, for a long time, the second-most powerful planeswalker ever printed after Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and even today it’s difficult to put her lower than top five.
Most hand disruption comes at sorcery speed. There’s a good reason for this, although it isn’t immediately obvious – it’s so you can’t get sniped in your draw step, and will have a chance to play the card you drew for the turn. Kolaghan’s Command runs against the grain as an instant-speed discard spell, and in a top-deck war, it is a disgustingly powerful card to have. You cast it in their draw step, forcing them to discard the card they drew for the turn without playing it (unless it’s an instant), while also returning a creature from the bin to your hand. Two-for-ones don’t come much more succulent than that.
Inquisition of Kozilek is one of the most uncompromisingly efficient discard spells ever printed. Pay one mana, remove an early threat. Simple. In low-to-the-ground formats like Modern, its “three or less” restriction is hardly relevant, given most of the format’s key cards can be sniped with Inquisition, and even if the format isn’t all that fast, it’s still a great turn-one play as it’s sure to hit something relevant in the early game. Inquisition is particularly useful in aggressive matchups, as many will know, as it offers no penalty in going after a deck such as Burn, unlike…
Thoughtseize is the best hand disruption spell ever printed, and while cards like Inquisition and Duress offer bonuses against fast and slow decks respectively, you can’t beat Thoughtseize for pure flexibility and power. Two life is a trivial amount to pay in most cases, and ripping apart an opponent’s hand – particularly against synergy-heavy decks – is unbelievably powerful.
It’s a card you have to play with and against to understand its true power – when it was reprinted in Theros, I didn’t understand all the fuss, having never been exposed to it. Then I learnt to ask myself “is this hand keepable against a Thoughtseize?” and quickly discovered just how amazing the card can be. I don’t think it can be reasonably disputed – Thoughtseize is, quite simply, the best discard spell of all time.