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(Miss)Stepping Through Danger

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Let’s have a second opinion of a card that may be more Hype than Hope, offering a bit of a shield to those who do not follow the popular thought while illuminating the risks for those who support it. Remember, before a battle can be fought on the field, I must first happen in someone's mind. Tread carefully.

First Look

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot said of Mental Misstep.

There seems to be a consensus that it’s one of the strongest additions to Legacy in quite a while, drastically warping the format as a default auto-include 4-of in every deck, seeing that it can be cast in any deck.

I'm not going to tell you that it's not good—it is. I'm a firm supporter of free spells.

First I'll explain why you should be playing it first...

Wait. No.

If you play Legacy, you’ve already seen the multitude of 1 cost spells found in any random sampling of decks. In case you haven't:

etc... The list is so long I feel like a bad infomercial, “BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!”

Even someone's special home brew based around that lovable creature type Thrull, from Fallen Empires and Ravnica, will probably have something you can counter with Mental Misstep. On top of that,

It's Blue! It pitches to Force of Will!

All things considered, if you think you can, you should probably be playing some number of this card… at least if you're listening to everyone else.

Reality Bites... Hard

Now that I'm done hopping on the bandwagon, let's be completely honest.

Someone somewhere is hinting that you should auto-include 4 Mental Missteps in every single deck played from its official release until Time's end—or until it gets banned from there being 32 copies present in the Top 8 of every tournament for 1.5 months (I promise I'm funny).

Honestly, though. What deck have you seen in Legacy that is just completely at a loss if their turn 1 play is stopped?

Chalice of the Void has been in the format for a much longer time and it does not guarantee a win when it's set at one. If a card that counter every 1 drop spell for the rest of the game doesn’t seal the deal, what makes you think this will?

If you look at what it counters its best targets, in no particular order, are Swords to Plowshares, Aether Vial, [card Goblin Lackey]Lackey[/card], Putrid Imp, High Tide, and other Mental Missteps. It may seem like a super short list in comparison, but think of it this way: do you really care about anything else on the list from earlier? Can you think of anything that you're truly, deathly, Force of Willingly afraid of?

1 cost spells are rarely going to utterly beat you. You would, admittedly, enjoy stopping them, though.

From One for One to None for One

In a lot of ways, it'll feel like you just [card Stifle]Stifled[/card] a spell. If you've ever played Stifle, you've already experienced how much of a champion that can make you feel like.

It's also true that you can protect a creature from Swords to Plowshares with Mental Misstep. That's actually extremely relevant…

I mean, you can counter all four copies of their [card Swords to Plowshares]Swords[/card]!

... on a 1:1 ratio. That's so awesome. You can comfortably stop one removal spell with a single card! You don't even have to keep mana available for the counter. And, of course, they won't draw all 4 [card Swords to Plowshares]Swords[/card] in a every single game. You've got this.

But then you realize that you used it to stop something else earlier. Maybe you countered an Aether Vial or a [card Sensei’s Divining Top]Top[/card] on turn 1. Maybe you pitched it to a Force of Will to stop [card Tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card] from hitting the table so early. Either way, you're now down to 3 left to your disposal, mysteriously floating around in your library...

By the way, did you notice that [card Tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card] comment?

This card is not a catch all. It pitches to Force of Will against Tarmogoyf and doesn't stop a Force of Will unless it's being used to as the fuel to cast it. This spell will never counter a [card Lord of Atlantis]Lord[/card] from Merfolk. It'll never stop ANT or TES from casting Ad Nauseam and, of course, they'll be peaking at and going for your hand before they dare go off.

High Tide can be countered. But, unless you've got a strong clock in place, you're going to lose to the time they still have left to sculpt a hand.

Equivalent Exchange

While we’re on the subject of your opponent's counters, it’s true that they can run Mental Misstep, too.

There's an old saying, “What's good for the Goose, is good for the Gander.”

While I know they weren't thinking of Magic, the statement holds true. If you’re the Goose, the rest of the format flirting with the inclusion of Mental Misstep is the Gander. Since Misstep is susceptible to other Missteps, you’re offering Misstep targets to your opponents by including Misstep in your own deck.

Imagine, if you will: Your opponent is short on mana—let’s say their Brainstorm bricked on turn 1 and you had the sickest read on their hand. Your opponent then casts a second before he plays his land on turn 2. You attempt to Misstep his spell paying 2 life, seeing that you Pondered earlier. Bam! Suddenly you're staring at your opponent's own Mental Misstep! You look back to your hand at a Force of Will disappointedly wishing for a target... Yet you don't have another blue card for it.

It was a good try, though.

Another situation: They cast Brainstorm to find a counter for your Counterbalance. You attempt to Misstep it. You cleverly decide to play it without costing you life, using up your last blue mana... Smile! Your opponent has a Daze, now being able to easily counter whichever spell they choose. No Counterbalance for you.

Sure, you could have stopped his spell if he didn't have the Daze and you knowingly chose to play around it. But sometimes we’re pushed into a corner where we have to make a decision and we make one of the (many) incorrect ones.

We all have tons of thought on the things we could have done differently, but the reality always sits as it is. We didn't do those things differently. Sometimes these mistakes cost the game, sometimes they don't.

Like the Others

I mentioned earlier that successfully using Mental Misstep was like [card Stifle]Stifling[/card] a spell. Let’s explore the similarity a bit further here.

It's not that Mental Misstep’s a bad card. Saying that would be like saying free spells with narrow application are bad.

...did I just say that? Someone just closed their browser.

Perhaps I should explain. In most situations, countering a 1 cost spell isn't going to win the game. If this spell wasn't available for free, it wouldn't be played in any format beyond perhaps Standard or Block. If you need a reason you probably haven't been reading and/or comprehending this article.

I'll explain it like this: Spell Snare costs 1 blue mana and counters any spell with a converted mana cost of 2. It routinely fights for position with Spell Pierce in Legacy. Spell Pierce is currently winning because it can counter beasts like Show and Tell and Natural Order, even extending application to aid in counter battles or annoy combo. Even then, with a resurgence of Counterbalance based decks you may find that Spell Snare's application and use may increase.

Let's look at the list of cards that can be countered with Spell Snare:

And even Daze if you're feeling frisky or just think you got it like that.

Do you see the spells in that list?! Which of those would you let hit play? Even [card Qasali Pridemage]Pridemage[/card] is a one heck of a threat, as Exalted is one heck of an ability.

... So Cheap

So what makes Mental Misstep different than Spell Snare? Why would I play a spell that hit's a list of spells that are inferior threats? Why not just play Spell Pierce, as most of the relevant spells are non-creature?

The answer's easy. It’s free!

Free is a powerful word. Economically, we all love free things. Want a free sample? Well, of course I do!

It's exactly the same way in Magic.

  • Affinity once ruled Standard because nearly everything became free to cast, at least. You still had to come by the cards, and we won’t get into the ethics of theft here...
  • Cascade played a free spell. Sometimes more if you Cascaded into another Cascade spell!
  • Storm places free copies of a spell on the stack. So many of them, in fact, that you usually lose the game even if the first is countered.

All of these are easy to spot in Magic because they do things for free.

Mental Misstep is, in Magic’s mana currency, free. That's why it will be an incredibly inciting option for some time, at least until the community realizes this card doesn't beat every deck on its own and takes a big step back to get the big picture.

Pun Intended

I don't want to mislead you. The card is good. It's actually pretty darn good. But you have to remember a couple of things:

  1. Remember that your opponent is able to play Mental Misstep as well. Don't fall victim to the thought that you're the only one aware and able to acquire them.
  2. This format is full of cards. Not all of them cost 1. I know I don't need really to say that to you, but, if you listen to the hype, you may be lead to believe it can solve most of your issues. I just want you to realize that, sometimes, those aren't your issues and it may be best to ignore them.
  3. You don't have to play 4. Magic is an amazing game that lets you play up to 4 of any non-basic land card. “Up to” is a misleadingly strong statement. If we really had to play 4 of everything in every deck, I would simply play Burn.
  4. Every deck that you would put Mental Misstep in has to be able to function without it. So, as a general rule, if you can't beat a turn 1 play without Mental Misstep, you should consider rethinking your deck.
  5. The best way to fight Mental Misstep is with Mental Misstep... or just avoid having cards with a converted mana cost of 1. Looking at you, Dragon Stompy.
  6. Just because something's good, or even great, doesn't mean that it belongs in your deck.

Until Next Time…

I can't just close without giving you something else to think about. So, here’s a question that'll make you think... at least a little bit. There is no right or wrong answer, only strong justifications—and “someone else said so” isn't a very strong justification.

So, “Why would Thoughtseize be the best spell you can play into a known/suspected Mental Misstep?

Until next time,
Ian Ellis

6 thoughts on “(Miss)Stepping Through Danger

  1. This card is so over valued. At my LGS everyone seems to be pulling them in mass quantities and its crazy expensive for a uncommon.

    As for your question. Thoughtseize is the best spell to play in that situation because you are essentially get the effect anyways. If they have the mana you still get a card out of their hand like your hoping to. If they don't have the mana then they pay two life and still ditch a card. Finally if they choose not to use it for whatever reason (like its the only 2 or less cost card in their hand) you get a free peek and still get them to discard a card. None of that really seems bad.

  2. Thoughtseize lets the player choose ANY nonland card in his or her opponent's hand. But, the drawback is that you lose 2 life.

    However, the drawback on Misstep is also 2 life. Except it's a payment. The alternate cost. Thoughtseize's life loss is part of the effect, so if it gets caught by the Misstep, you made THEM pay the drawback on your Thoughtseize.

    Great job, opponent!

  3. Honestly, I'm not surprised. Misstep is a good card (pretty darn good). I'm surprised to see Spell Snare come out of hiding for this tournament. I would have figured that it'd stay hidden a bit longer.

    I think that the absence Choke is the bigger question. With 3-5 of the top 16 decks being able to be severely hindered by a single resolved Choke, it seems like it would be a great choice for the current look of legacy. So, The question becomes, "What to run it in… ?"

    …I wonder if anyone had it in their board and how they did.

  4. Hey Ian! Nice to see you writing some articles since you've definitely got the experience for it. However, misstep is much better than you're giving it credit for. It's at its best in Gerry T's landstill list because there you just need a critical mass of counters and then you can prevent them from doing anything relevant until you've got the game locked up. If you misstep their first spell, then you basically both mulled to 6, which makes your standstills much better (you're less likely to have to discard after they pop the standstill, and they lost a turn of tempo, so it's easier to drop standstill into an empty board, where it will benefit you the most). You can also shuffle it away with jace and brainstorm, discard it if your standstill draws you to over 7 cards, pitch it to force of will, and even "just" use it to counter a late-game brainstorm or something of theirs. In a pure control deck (like that uw standstill list), mental misstep : aggro :: force of will : combo. Basically, misstep acts like a force for aggro decks, stopping their big plays and giving you time to stabilize the game and drop something big (like a jace or shackles).

    Also, I do agree that choke seems pretty nice right now. It seems like a decent sideboard card in junk, but I think that it might just be time to break out rifter again. Enlightened tutor for choke or crucible just goes over the top of what the other control decks are trying to do, and lightning rift seem like a solid choice against all the merfolk that seems to be cropping up. Maybe I just want to be playing renewed faith against the Patrick Sullivans of this world, but I really think that a well-built rifter list could be the best deck for this meta.

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