Thoughtseize in Retrospect

Thoughtseize in Retrospect


Announcer: Scry land from Mihara and now here’s turn 1 from Rietzl and it’s straight into action with one of the all-stars, it’s Thoughtseize. Let’s take a look at that hand! Sam: Turn 1 Thoughtseize. A notorious and integral aspect of tournament Magic. For some, it’s the opener of dreams. The first gear humming in a well-tuned attrition machine. For others, Thoughtseize is the stuff of nightmares. It is a card that everybody knows. For better or for worse. But before it could find a home in the Eternal limelight and see a much-needed reprint for Pro Tour Theros, It had to be printed for the first time. Let’s turn the clocks back nearly a decade to October 2007. Magic’s 43rd expansion, Lorwyn, brought quite a few memorable features to the game. A block built entirely around tribes, R&D explored a world of Kithkin, Treefolk, Giants, Goblins, Merfolk, and Faeries. It was also the first time that Planeswalkers made their way into Magic. A New card type that came with its fair share of critics. Sneaking just beneath the flashy tribal cards and polarizing planeswalkers, was this gem. For the cost of one black mana and two life, Thoughtseize gave you both perfect information of your opponent’s hand and unconditional removal of whatever was in it. Faeries decks and control shells quickly learned the power of this card. At 2008 Worlds, Antti Malin took first with faeries. The deck included Sowers of Temptaion, Cryptic Commands, Mutavaults, Vendallion Cliques, Bitterblossoms, Glen Elendras, Ponders, Jace Belerens, and of course, a playset of Thoughtseize. Much of this shell would become the core of Modern Faeries before bitterblossom’s initial banning from the format. Now, it’s not often that a card will crash into eternal formats and remain there, but Thoughtseize has all the right ingredients for success. So, what makes it so good? First, its cost. Announcer: So, we are away! And Yamamoto begins with… an old school Thoughtseize. Sam: It’s cheap at one mana and the life loss is often times negligible. Many Thoughtseize decks in Modern, for example, start at 15 life after fetching, shocking, and seizing on turn one. Often, however, a turn two Seize is perfect to put your opponent off of their footing. In Magic, your life total is an expendable resource that can be regained later in the game. The tempo advantage, however, is far more valuable than two life. Thoughtseize also answers… anything! Magic is built upon the color pie philosophy giving each color strengths and weaknesses to certain permanents. Black, for example, has difficulty with artifacts and enchantments. Thoughtseize ignores this drawback, giving black well-more rounded edge against these card types. But maybe most importantly, it provides information—an invaluable resource to the experts of the game. Thoughtseize is a highly skill-intensive card for this reason. In the hands of an amateur player, the card can be next-to-useless. But in the hands of the game’s greatest, like Owen Turtenwald or, even, Finkel, the information gained can be lethal. Consider Ari Lax’s article “Do You Know Thoughtseize?” written in 2010. In 1800 words, Lax reflects on his Pro Tour experience. Claiming his entire strategy hinged on the power of Thoughtseizes and Tidehollow Scullers. He goes on to call Thoughtseize the most important card in Extended, during that era, ending the article by saying “regardless of what you play, be aware that a large amount of your hands will essentially be forcibly mulliganed by your opponent’s one and two cost black spells. So, it’s been great for a while. Now, let’s get back to 2013. Thoughtseize debuts at Pro Tour Theros in the form of a much-needed reprint with new art. Months prior, the first Modern Masters was released. And many players speculated that Thoughtseize would be reprinted in that set. They were wrong. As R&D had other plans for the card. However, because of this, the price of Lorwyn Thoughtseizes skyrocketed during that summer. At its peak, the card was worth $60 for the non-foil version. As MTG Goldfish noted, “The explosion in price came just after it was confirmed to not be included in Modern Masters.” Once it was spoiled for Theros, the reactions were completely divided. Announcer: Speaking of “money rares,” you’ve seen Thoughtseize coming back, right? “Yuuuuuuuuuup” because the best card in Lorwyn—Yes, the best one! Shut up, you know it’s true. And most likely, the best card in Theros.” Sam: On the one hand, the card desperately needed a price reduction due to its infalted demand. On the other, many players of Standard past remember just how format-warping Thoughtsieze was. As such, anticipating another two years of its presence was… nauseating. I think Nickerton’s three-word reaction says it best. It’s like rekindling an old flame with your ex. You have someone to take to the movies, sure, but baggage, man. The reprint got new art, too, as tradition would have it, an overwhelming majority of Magic players disliked the new imagery. Some thought it resembled too much a “kill spell” or a “drain life” effect. Others enjoyed the original color palette more, calling this one “gray and lifeless.” After a few years, though, more folks have come around to the new depiction. A surprising amount of my Twitter followers prefer the new art and some people enjoy Ashiok’s name referenced in the flavor text. Personally, I appreciate a reprint that is set-specific in its design. Both the Lorwyn and the Theros Thoughtseizes match their perspective planes. When cards get reprinted in supplemental sets, this aspect is missing. Like, in Animate Deard or Daze. Great art but largely generic. Althought mono-blue devotion took down that Pro Tour, the black list quickly caught on after Kentarou Yamamamoto brought along Pack Rat and friends. Owen Turtenwald soon followed suit, taking Thoughtseizes to Grand Prix Albuquerque months later and eliminating everyone there. Announcers: And that’s it! There it is! Owen Turtenwald’s our winner! Back-to-back GP’s! Look at that smile! Wow! The card showed up at the following Pro Tour, Pro Tour Born of the Gods, too. This time in a barrage of Modern decks. 8-rack, Jund, and Junk decks love their Seizes. Especially against a field dominated by Splinter Twin prior to its ban. Then, at Pro Tour Jouney into Nyx, guess whose favorite discard spell showed up at the top tables? Announcers: So, a thoughtseize there from Paul meaning we got to get a little bit of a look at his hand there. An island, a Psychic Intrusion… Sam: And two years later at The World Championships, it was none other than Turtenwald still casting Thoughtseizes. Carving hands and taking edges against the best players on the planet. Needless to say if you played Standard during Thoughtseize’s reign, you understand just how devastating the card’s impact was. And while many looked at its scapegoat, Pack Rat as the culprit, Patrick Sullivan knew who the true villain was. Even Mark Rosewater has admitted that experimenting with reprinting Thoughtseize was “a big mistake.” And that putting it in Theros, “went quite [poorly].” Which brings us to now, although Thoughtseize has rotated, it is the reference point for a much larger on-going debate How should reprints actually work? What is safe in a Standard environment? And, what is not? During a recent AMA on Reddit, Magic Developer Sam Stoddard addressed this question to much flak. Many players complain about prices, yet don’t fully understand the black hole effect that powerful cards like Thoughtseize have on a format. Again, it’s like dating exes. Ari Lax weighed in on Twitter saying “To everyone complaining about Modern reprints in Sam Stod’s AMA: How many Standard seasons should I get to beat people with Thoughtseize?” And then adding, “Would likely quit my day job if I always got Thoughtseize in Standard. Or quit Magic. Unsure which, honestly.” And that’s just it! Thoughtseize is the best or worst card. It just depends on which side of the table you’re on. Announcer: And there’s the handshake! Brad Nelson gives it up to David Ochoa. So, Ochoa takes the match. Two games to zero, over Brad Nelson. Yea-yea-yeah, hand destruction was really the star there. Sam: Thanks for watching, everybody! If you enjoyed this video, check out some more of my card spotlights right here: Also, find me on all the Socials @Themagicmansam and tell me your thoughts. Cheers!