Below is the “Four Simple Steps to Thoughtseizing that Pro’s Don’t Want You to Know,” Edited and reformatted in honor of my favorite black spells departure.
The True Purpose of Thoughtseize
The merit of the design of thoughtseize is widely debated. You’ll often see people complain that thoughtseize is the least ‘fun’ magic card in standard, and when it got followed by a Pack Rat in last years standard it was difficult to disagree!
Many experienced players may shake off the fact that Thoughtseize is “unfun” to play against, but from a design perspective, Wizards takes that sort of response very seriously. I’m here to convince you why Thoughtseize is incredible design and healthy for a standard environment.
From a Design Perspective
It’s hard to argue against thoughtseize being true to its name: when you lay down that turn one ‘Seize, your opponent has some sequence of plays in mind, and you can seize that thought. It’s frustrating to be on the other side of the table, and be on a mull to 6, only to have the card you’re leaning on taken before you can do anything.
But most people ‘in the know’ will tell you that thoughtseize provides an important function in the color pie, it gives black a card that deals with problem permanents, namely artifacts and enchantments.
Black cannot deal with these things on its own, and that’s not great for gameplay. This makes Thoughtseize effects especially vital in formats with many difficult to answer noncreature permanents.
Remember when we didn’t have Dromoka’s Command to deal with that guy?
And that leads me to the header, the true purpose of thoughtseize: to deal with things that your deck or hand has difficulty answering otherwise.
The Thoughtseize Process: Four Steps
I’m gonna try to narrow down my thought process when seizing into a couple of steps.
The first step when you thoughtseize someone is to look at their hand.
Take a second to write it down on your pad. Use short hand and do it quickly so that you maximize your time to think. Take the time that you’re writing it down to move on to step two.
The most important part of this step is that you use the knowledge you gained to plot out your gameplan. Refer to your list and cross out things as they get played, you’ll be kicking yourself if you play into something you could’ve played around with a little consideration.
The second step is to consider your own deck.
Is there a card amongst those on the table that you have a small number of answers to (or even more importantly, none at all) inside your deck? It’s for this reason that most decks will Thoughtseize away permanents like Outpost Siege or Jeskai Ascendancy. Even decks that have answers, only have a small number, likely the majority of your “answer” slots are filled with creature removal spells.
So once you’ve considered your deck, you should probably have your answer.
As I said, permanents like Outpost Siege and Ascendancy get picked primary as Seize targets just in virtue of this second step, you might not even need the third. There are some things you can just take because there’s no other way of dealing with it, that should be your primary consideration.
Let’s call this the Thoughtseize Motto: “first, take what you can’t deal with otherwise.”
Consider your hand.
Look at your hand. Shuffle it a bit. Never mind what answers you have in the deck, you already thought about that. This is the time to make some crucial decisions.
First things first, knowing your hand and theirs, you ask yourself, “am I the beat down?” If you are, think about to what to degree, is it close? You don’t want to seize removal and then leave them enough tools to shift into a faster clock… But if you’ve got real pressure, as in multiple threats, you can definitely take a crucial removal spell (likely the one that kills your earliest threat, most efficiently).
If youre not the beatdown, take a look at your removal. Which threats can you deal with most efficiently? Obviously we come back to the second step, and I’ll keep repeating this cause it’s important: first take what you can’t deal with.I’ll call this: the thoughtseize motto. Now we’re talking about that maxim with the context of your hand as well.
Maybe there’s an early threat that will gain value if you don’t remove it the turn it comes down.
So far it’s all been pretty self explanatory for most experienced Seizers, here’s where it gets a little murky. Thinking about which threats you can deal with efficiently leads me into the fourth and final step that I think about when I’m Thoughtseizing.
“Oh no,” I hear you saying. “This guy doesn’t understand Thoughtseize at all.” Who knows, maybe I’m wrong, but i think it’s an oversimplification when people speak of thoughtseize as a non-tempo card, and I’m gonna tell you why.
Temposeize: Misconceptions About the Spell
(The following represents my former theory of tempo, we’ll explore the complications brought up here in the next two sections)
Tempo in magic is a difficult concept. At its clearest form, it is a synthesis of card advantage (2 for 1s and beyond), mana advantage (simply spending more mana overall than your opponent), and mana efficiency (using that mana spent to greater effect).
I think it’s best understood, however, as Justice Potter understood hard core pornography in Jacobellis vs Ohio: even if perhaps we can never succeed in intelligibly denoting all the kinds of material embraced in the shorthand description of “tempo,” we may know it when we see it.
So as a helpful reminder device I think a good way to think about it in a more simple, intuitive way is this, the player who is gaining tempo feels as if they’re “behind the wheel of the game.” The player who is losing tempo feels “on the back foot.”
When I remove to your three mana spell with a two mana spell, I am generating tempo advantage, maximizing my mana.
This is why Disdainful stroking an Ugin is the best example of a mana efficiency tempo play in standard, you neutralize a threat that requires a huge investment for a small mana cost, which frees up the rest of your mana to be spent on other spells, like threats of your own.
It’s for this reason, that Thoughtseize is referred to as a non tempo spell, no matter what you take, even an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, it requires no mana investment on their part. We’re not removing something and effectively eating their turn, we are stopping them from ever playing it. That frees them up to play other things.
The most succinct way to describe how thoughtseize can often not generate tempo is this: you can seize someone, strip something, and they still curve out
When this happens, were not generating card advantage, it’s just a one for one. We’re not generating a mana advantage, cause they’re still freed up to cast something. And we’re not generating mana efficiency because we’re spending one mana to answer something that they didn’t invest in. But that’s not to say that thoughtseize is incapable of generating tempo. I knew this intuitively but it hadnt really clicked until a debate I had with a friend about this very topic. I was telling him exactly what I said above, and he replies, “what about games where you interrupt their curve and they can’t play anything for a turn?”
It was like an “a-ha!” moment for me. That IS tempo. And I’ve done that many a time. Let me give a basic example.
Turn 1: I play a temple of silence on the play, they play a temple of malady.
Turn 2: I seize. Let’s run thru the steps.
Step 1: their hand.
It’s Fleecemane Lion, Anafenza the Foremost, Wingmate Roc, Siege Rhino, Windswept Heath, Caves of Koilos. Oh no it’s abzan Aggro!
Step 2: let’s review our deck. We’re playing my awesome and unconventional CatSeize deck. Yes it’s weird. We’re not here to talk about my deck, it’s just that I play it a lot and I like to think about my seize decisions in relation to my own deck best, as it’s what I’m familiar with. I know it’s not officially tier one, but I assure you that I built it with only the most competitive intentions. Enough preamble.
(We’re losing some cool cats)
4x Brimaz, King of Oreskos
4x Mardu Strike leader
4x Pitiless Horde
3x Sorin, Solemn Visitor
3x Hidden Dragonslayer
3x Wingmate Roc
3x Bile Blight
1x Ultimate Price
4x Hero’s Downfall
2x Valorous stance
Ok so there’s nothing in his hand that were incapable of dealing with, at least not our deck as a whole. Let’s move on.
Step three: let’s check our hand.
We have: a Temple of Silence, a Caves of Kolios, a Valorous Stance, a Hidden Dragonslayer, a Hero’s Downfall, and a Sorin, Solemn Visitor.
Ok so we both have pretty sweet hands. There’s nothing that I can’t deal with in his 7.
But I think I can make this Thoughtseize get me a pretty significant advantage. I’m gonna do it with tempo!
Fourth step: gaining tempo
I’m going to take the Fleecemane Lion, and here’s why.
If he plays the Fleecemane Lion turn 2, I can totally remove with with downfall, but then I’m “on the back foot.” If I seize that lion, then I can play my scry land and see what I get. I’m not really sure what I’m digging for exactly, probably another removal spell, but just getting rid of that lion puts me in a pretty good position.
As long as he doesn’t draw another two drop (cross your fingers) then he just drops a land and passes.
Next turn I just play a morphed Hidden Dragonslayer, which is gonna let me generate card advantage when I unmorph it turn 4 to kill the anafenza he plays turn 3. And then I still have a downfall/Val stance for his turn 4 rhino, and the removal spell I don’t use left for Roc, which is pretty far off anyway. So I feel good about my chances to win this game, and a lot of that is due to tempo advantage. Obviously if I just blank and he hits fire, it’s not great. But it’s a good start.
So yea, it makes sense how taking the Fleecemane could help us towards winning, but that controversial definition of tempo is just a little too out there to leave alone…