Understanding Hand Disruption – and the R/B Aggro Sideboard
Pro Tour Dominaria is nearly two weeks in the books, and the outcome continues to make crimson waves throughout the Standard metagame. R/B aggro is showing up in big numbers both online and on paper – and if you’ve played the deck, then you know why it’s seeing so much play right now.
One of the biggest reasons is because it makes for an incredibly flexible 75, combining the aggressive elements of red with the more controlling and disruptive features of black. Well, at least it’s been my biggest reason for playing it, even before Dominaria released.
The sideboard can be complete gas, helping you turn even the worst matchups (UW control) into favorable matchups in Games 2 and 3. My sideboard looks like this, though it’s due for some updating:
- 4x Duress
- 2x Doomfall
- 1x Angrath, the Flame-Chained
- 2x Magma Spray
- 2x Rekindling Phoenix
- 2x Chandra’s Defeat
- 1x Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- 1x Glorybringer
Notice the two cards I bolded and listed first – both hand disruption spells. In fact, Doomfall and Duress are one of the reasons UW Control is beginning to fall out of favor – and they’re arguably the most important elements of the R/B sideboard that help the deck remain SO FLEXIBLE.
(Note: For the purposes of this article, we’re only going to be looking at the bottom mode of Doomfall).
Understanding Hand Disruption
Hand disruption is one of the oldest and strongest strategies in Magic – and it comes in two forms: transparent and non-transparent hand disruption.
Non-transparent hand disruption is when your opponent forces you to discard a number of cards, but they’re unable to see your hand and force you to discard a specific card (for Standard examples, think Angrath, the Flame-Chained and The Eldest Reborn).
Transparent hand disruption is when your opponent casts a spell that forces you to reveal your hand and discard a specific card of their choice. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to explore transparent hand disruption.
When played against you, transparent hand disruption spells (e.g., Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Doomfall and Duress) provide your opponents with a wealth of information about what they can expect for the rest of the game, while stripping you of a valuable resource.
So whether you’re looking for a few pointers on beating R/B Aggro post-board in Dominaria Standard or you want to know how to play against transparent hand disruption in general, below are a few important tips that will help you do so.
#1: Think about what their discard selection tells you about their hand.
Let’s say you’re in the RB mirror match, and they cast a turn 3 Doomfall. You reveal Glorybringer, Rekindling Phoenix and Unlicensed Disintegration. The decision isn’t easy for your opponent, but they decide to force you to exile your Unlicensed Disintegration.
Such a decision tells you a couple things about what is likely in their hand:
– They don’t have many creatures in their hand, and they want to be able to protect the ones they have
– They didn’t pick one of your creatures because they have removal in hand
But if they force you to discard your Glorybringer, it means that they can either withstand your removal spell (either because they have ample powerful creatures in hand, or no powerful creatures), or that they don’t have removal for Glorybringer.
The point here is to always think about what your opponent’s discard selection could be saying about the contents of their hand.
#2: Make sure your opening hand can survive early hand disruption
Before deciding to keep or mulligan your opening hand against a deck that runs hand disruption, you need to consider if such a hand will still give you a chance to win if your opponent casts early hand disruption.
For example, keeping a two-lander on the draw isn’t always idea, but it can be solid against a deck that runs hand disruption. But if you keep a risky four or five-lander (the latter of which is almost never recommended), then hand disruption is going to make that hand significantly worse.
NOTE: the hand disruption factor becomes less prevalent in mulligan scenarios, so don’t send back a playable 5 or 6 card hand because you’re worried about facing hand disruption.
#3: Know when to expect it
Generally, Duress is brought in against control strategies and is typically used when the aggro or midrange player has a vulnerable board state. For example, the R/B player will often cast Duress against U/W Control just prior to launching a major attack, in order to snatch a Settle the Wreckage or other instant speed removal.
Other times a player will cast Duress before attempting to cast a valuable creature or planeswalker, in order to deprive their opponent of removal or countermagic, or to force them to tap out on mana.
With Doomfall, players will most often cast it on turns 3 or 4, just prior to you casting a highly impactful card.
If you’re playing against RB Aggro (or any other deck that runs hand disruption, such as Mono Black Control, WB Vehicles, Esper Midrange or Control, etc.), try to remind yourself of typical situations in which your opponent is likely to cast hand disruption, and take note of the situations in which they do.
Understanding how to beat hand disruption takes a lot of reps, but it’s one of those highly valuable and less-talked-about skills that can help you advance your game to the highest levels – if you make a concerted effort to master it.
If you’re interested in learning about more super valuable gameplay skills, I highly recommend clicking the link above and checking out the Level Up Your Magic: The Gathering Skills course.
The course covers a slate of those tricky gameplay skills that are difficult to master, such as Sideboarding, Combat Math and Spell Sequencing. I got a ton of value out of the course, and I know you will too.
What is your experience playing against transparent hand disruption? Or if you’re like me and you rely on using hand disruption to bring down your opponents, what are some of your strategies for deploying it effectively? Post in the comments section below or on the MTG Pro Tutor Facebook page.
Thanks for reading.
– Jeff Sheerin, MTG Pro Tutor Scribe
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