When Duress was first introduced to the Magic world back in Urza’s Saga, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Combo winter had arrived and turn two kills abounded. To make up for this aggressive new format, Suicide Black – sped up with Dark Ritual and the new Priest of Gix – and Sligh – packing a number of new and efficient one-drops thanks to Saga – were re-introduced in an effort by the beatdown player to keep up with the impressive speed of Academy decks. Duress was a turn 1 Godsend, capable of grabbing the explosive turn 1 Dark Ritual, the largest monored burn spell, or Academy’s first Windfall.
After a flurry of bannings, Duress quickly found itself packed into monoblack Necro decks. The Necro player used Duress as a cure all to stop any early game threat from hitting the board in place of the rotated Hymn to Tourach. During the mirror match, Duress was key for stopping an opposing Necropotence from hitting the board, because black had no means of dealing with it once it was in play.
In Extended, Trix – backed again by Necropotence – was quickly killing people on turns 2-5, and Duress was again called upon to disrupt the combo player sufficiently enough to provide time for more handkill and landkill, in the form of Pox, to finish a player off. After a time, black became dependent on turn 1 Duress to stem an opponent’s tempo and become established in a game.
When Duress was reprinted in Seventh Edition, a number of players commented in surprise at the return of a card of its power level. However, there was one reason Duress was not as powerful as it was in its heyday: Fact or Fiction. Duress and handkill in general were outmoded by the fact a player could topdeck Fact or Fiction and fill his hand up again. With the power of Torment, monoblack made an effort in type two, but was eventually overpowered (as was seemingly everything else) by the various Psychatog builds available.
Enter Onslaught. With the brand new set comes a flurry of new deck ideas, a wide-open States metagame, and the rotation of the Invasion block, and with that, the rotation of Fact or Fiction. Duress can return to the spotlight (though it didn’t really ever leave) in an environment with the fewest efficient card advantage tools since many players can remember. Turn 1 Duress is back in style, and participants in the upcoming State and Territory championships have to be ready.
But in the new environment, is turn 1 Duress always the best play?
Duressing in the New Type Two
Listening to player’s concerns, Wizards of the Coast has significantly slowed down Constructed tournaments. Though players can still lose on turn 4 or 5 if you put up no resistance to a Deep Dog or Sligh player, games tend to last longer and have more player interaction than they have in past formats. In order to slow the format down, individual power levels of cards have been decreased… And casting turn 1 Duress is no longer always the best play.
Because you don’t have to rely on Duress to prevent your opponent from killing you on turn 3 after Dark Ritualing a Necro into play, or dropping a horde of artifacts and casting Time Spiral… Under some circumstances, the correct play is to hold onto Duress.
But when should Duress be cast first turn and when should it be held?
Casting Duress Turn One
Deep Dog: Cast Duress against Deep Dog/UG Madness if you are playing first. The idea is that you want to Duress their Careful Study before they can use it to drop two Basking Rootwallas into play, or discard two Roar of the Wurms (or Wonder, or one Basking Rootwalla and one Roar of the Wurm, or…). Nabbing the Study can help steal their tempo and allows your Mutilate to be a bit more effective. If you’re not playing first, hold the Duress (see When to Hold Onto Duress).
Deep Dog Sideboard: During Games 2 and 3 against Deep Dog, it’s a good idea to Duress until the player has two mana on the board, one of which is green. Your goal here is to nab their Compost, which they almost assuredly sideboarded in. However, once they hit two mana with a green available, if they have Compost, they will have played it and it’s too late. At that point, whether they’ve played Compost or not, you should hold onto your Duresses for the late game (see When to Hold Onto Duress).
Sligh: Sligh hasn’t changed much since the days of Saga, and the inception of Duress. If you open with Duress against Sligh, play it as quickly as possible. They won’t have much of a hand past turn 4 or 5, and what legal targets for Duress they do have will have been spent if you wait. The best card to grab in this situation is Reckless Charge. Once you’ve gone into a mid-game, it’s better to hold your Duress against Sligh to be discarded to Undead Gladiator. If they have cards in their hand, they’re most likely lands to foil you into casting Duress or creatures being held back to rebound from your Mutilate.
Tog/UZI/UB Contro and with Sideboard: Against U/B control builds, be they Psychatog, Zombie Infestation, or other, casting Duress turn 1 is vital if your opponent is playing Compulsion. If you suspect this to be the case, or know from scouting, you should Duress your opponent until they have two mana on the board, one of which is blue. At this point, Compulsion will most likely have hit the board if they have it, and you should hold your Duresses for the mid/late game (see When to Hold Onto Duress). The game plan remains the same for games two and three: If the opponent has Compulsion, Duress early. If they don’t, hold the handkill in reserve.
Monoblack and Sideboard: In a mirror match-up it’s definitely in your favor to cast Duress as early as possible. Your goal should be to stop their early Duress, Persecute, Mind Sludge, or Diabolic Tutor. Just as in the days of OBC, this matchup can easily come down to who gets off the first large handkill spell, and you can stop your opponent by getting off that early Duress. The same goes for games 2 and 3, where they may have added Rancid Earths to their maindeck to further slow you down.
Opposition with Sideboard: When playing against Opposition (and any deck with Green) games 2 and 3, you should, just as in the Deep Dog matchup, use Duress until your opponent has 1G available. It’s important to stop the early Compost if at all possible… But once they hit the 1G threshold, if they have the Compost, it hits the board. For many black players, the early Duress is your only real opportunity to stop Compost from being played.
Wake: Wake has so many juicy targets to pick with Duress, it really doesn’t matter when you cast it – you’re bound to hit something. The big two you want to grab are Compulsion and the Wake itself… But in addition, you have their Counters, Quiet Speculation, Deep Analysis, Cunning Wish, Burning Wish, Mirari, etc. etc. Late game if you draw into a Duress, it becomes a good idea to hold onto it and use it to grab a counter before casting Haunting Echoes/Mind Sludge/game breaker.
When to Hold Onto Duress
Deep Dog, playing second: When playing second against Deep Dog, Duress takes on a new disruptive element. Because you’re playing second, you don’t have the opportunity to steal Careful Study from the U/G player’s hand (they already had the chance to cast it turn 1 – and if it was going to benefit them significantly, they would have). Their only other targets for your Duress are now Circular Logic, Roar of the Wurm, another Careful Study… And, depending on the build, Aether Burst and/or Deep Analysis. Of those targets, you don’t want to make them discard Roar of the Wurm, and forcing them to lose Deep Analysis is not greatly in your favor, though theoretically stops them from drawing two cards. Each Careful Study past the first one is providing card disadvantage, not card advantage, and making them discard Study number 2 is not as important as getting the first one.
So that leaves you with Aether Burst and Circular Logic. Depending on your build of black, Aether Burst is often a dead card against you, and is really only used to bounce the U/G player’s creatures back to hand in response to creature kill. Thus, the player’s Circular Logics are really the only card you want to grab after turn 1. Many UG players are only running four Circular Logics main for counter magic. By reserving your Duress to cast it turn 5, you’re using it as a sort of pre-emptive counterspell, making them discard their Circular Logic so that you can successfully cast Persecute/Diabolic Tutor/Mutilate. This method of Duressing is a lot more beneficial than simply nabbing whatever legal targets they might have in their hand after turn one.
UB/Tog/Uzi without Compulsion: The U/B control builds run a lot more countermagic than Deep Dog, but if they don’t have Compulsion, using Duress as your countermagic is better than blowing it on the first turn. Much of the U/B creature control cards are dead against black, so you want to make sure to hold Duress as long as possible so they have the opportunity to draw as many potent threats as they can. Save Duress until turn 5 and force through your Persecute.
Since many U/B builds are running Upheaval, however, you’ll probably want to cast one Duress before they’ve reached six mana. It’s best to wait as long as possible to do this so that they have as much time as possible to draw into Upheaval, and so you can develop your mana to hopefully be able to force another spell through if they counter Duress.
Opposition Game One: Again, Opposition is a deck you often want to use Duress as a counter against. Squirrel’s Nest should be nullified by Engineered Plague. The other targets you’ll want to hit are their Circular Logics and Oppositions. If your hand is light on creature kill, you may have to Duress as soon as they have three mana available to stop Opposition from hitting the board. If your hand has sufficient creature kill, save the Duress to nab a Circular Logic and force through a game breaker. Since you can kill many of their creatures, Opposition won’t have such a significant early impact on you, and you can gain control of the mid/late game. If you don’t have the creature kill, using the Duress at the last possible moment gives the Opposition player the longest time possible to draw the enchantment.
UW Mobilization/Control: If they don’t have Compulsion, you really want to use Duress again as a means of forcing your big spells onto the board. Mobilization should not be as scary as it seems (again, the maindeck Plague shuts it down) as long as you have a means of forcing your answers to it onto the board. By saving Duress, you help to ensure that you do.
Without Fact or Fiction, Duress has become much stronger. By using it intelligently, you can help increase your success at States.