Sometimes, a single card can fuel the brewing process of a deckbuilder for its entire stay in a format. I often will experiment with a card immediately after it is released and will find the card to be strong in a lot of ways that maybe weren't obvious just upon reading the card. As Standard unfolds and more sets release, I often find myself returning to that same card in hopes of it now having the support necessary or a home that makes sense. And if I found early success with the card, all the more likely that I give it another shot later on.
I found both cards to be more powerful than my peers and kept returning to them in different brews across multiple formats, with varied levels of success.
In Standard, at the moment, I have a small list of these cards that I have been going back to the drawing board with time and time again. Ruins of Oran-Rief is definitely on that list, for example, as is From Beyond. In playing with both of these cards, I have naturally been using a lot of Thought-Knot Seers as well.
While the card used to be the best in Standard, it has largely been ignored for the past year as new sets and mechanics have emerged. Today, I would like to challenge that trend and to make the case for why you should be playing more Thought-Knot Seer, both in existing shells and new ones!
When Thought-Knot Seer (or TKS) first came out, it was quite format-warping and heavily played in a multitude of shells. Over time, we saw more and more cheap removal that could answer the 4/4 as well as a rise in strategies that weren't reliant on a single card as much. Harnessed Lightning; Grasp of Darkness; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Reflector Mage; and Disallow all did their part in creating an environment where Thought-Knot Seer was more likely to die than to live. As Vehicles and other aggressive decks popped up, TKS could hope to nab a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but for the most part it stopped providing value in ways conducive to winning. As a result, people began moving away from TKS and have not really returned to it at all in the past year.
The series of bans in Standard did a lot to better-position Thought-Knot Seer, but most of the attention remained focused on absurd strategies like Felidar Guardian combo or Aetherworks Marvel. Keep in mind that these bans included Reflector Mage, which was one of the strongest cards in the format against Thought-Knot Seer. The early pressure also got relieved a bit with Smuggler's Copter getting banned, and Saheeli Rai's pet Cat being gone also gives us some breathing room. Slowly, Thought-Knot Seer has been quietly rebuilding its resume.
While there are many facets of Standard that help usher in our one-eyed friend, perhaps the most pronounced is the disproportional power level found in specific cards or certain decks. Aetherworks Marvel is the lowest-hanging fruit here, but just think about how that deck looks when it doesn't actually have its namesake. Woodweaver's Puzzleknot and three-mana 3/2s are hardly going to win you many games. Similarly, think about the blue control decks without access to Torrential Gearhulk. Without that burst of card advantage and the free clock it provides, you have much more time and ability to shape the game the way you want it to be shaped. Gideon, New Perspectives, and Glorybringer are all going to be commonly exiled by TKS and this is especially important because, even if that card is ever recouped, we can usually live with that.
Remember, we are not dealing with Mesmeric Fiend here. Thought-Knot Seer will provide the opponent with a card upon death, but that original card we plucked out of their hand is gone forever. I will happily steal your Aetherworks Marvel, knowing that I am turning your Harnessed Lightning into a cantrip. I took something that is worth much more than a random card and I forced your hand with the Harnessed Lightning to boot; so long as I can take advantage of the new window given to me, TKS has done its job.
This is also not a given problem to have, as there are solutions which we will discuss a little later, but it is important to understand how valuable of an effect TKS is right now, even given certain death.
While it is reassuring to look at Thought-Knot Seer's triggered ability and be happy enough with the card, the current environment does reward us a little more than usual for that four power TKS is sporting. Four power threatens Gideon, trades with Heart of Kiran or crews one up, and holds off all sorts of annoying four-health critters on the ground. While we can be happy even if TKS dies, when it lives, we have a game piece that actually matters. This is not the case for Brain Maggot, for example, who is more of a temporary Thoughtseize. TKS does not allow you to ignore it in the same manner and then doesn't punish us as harshly if it does get answered.
There are certainly some matchups where Thought-Knot Seer is perhaps not the greatest, but this floor can never go too low because of the 4/4 body. When Transgress misses, you have lost a card and tempo, making it a card you absolutely cannot have in your deck in some matchups. Thought-Knot Seer is never going to be that bad. You may find reason to sideboard it out, but its worst performance is still pretty good.
One of the biggest reasons for the Seer's lack of play recently has been its lack of a natural home to move into. If you take a card like Chandra, Flamecaller, and you (theoretically!) ban it from Standard for six months, when it comes off that banned list, it will already have some decks that it slots right into. Any deck playing red mana and looking to get past the mid- to late-game will at least consider Chandra. TKS cannot make this same claim, though. It turns out that supporting a card with colorless mana in its casting cost is a lot more difficult than just playing four Evolving Wilds and a Wastes.
Of course, plenty of decks could use the ability to strip a card from their opponent's hand, but the effort of getting your manabase to comply just doesn't appear to be worth it. If TKS is going to make it back into constructed decks, it is going to need to be in new lists built to take advantage of the giant eyeball on legs. Once we are working to accommodate Thought-Knot Seer, we may as well maximize it too. Just playing TKS in our deck is fine, but there are definitely areas where it can be improved in meaningful ways to take on this metagame.
1. Three is less than four.
I may have just blown your mind with some 1984 stuff, but I am here to officially announce that three is less than four. I know, I know, take a minute...
Thought-Knot Seer is a pretty incredible card on turn 4, but if you can find a way to sneak it out a turn earlier, it can feel like one of the best cards in the format again. On turn 3, TKS gets to remove crucial cards on the play or draw, such as Aetherworks Marvel, that could normally sneak under us when we are on the draw.
Actually, if you look at the four-mana threats in the format right now that TKS would prefer to nab before they get cast, it makes sense that we want this same interaction available whenever we are on the draw, just as when we are on the play. Here are a few notable fours:
This general idea of getting TKS out a turn early is largely why I built the B/G Eldrazi list I showed off last week. I actually only ran Channeler Initiate and a single Warping Wail to enable TKS on turn 3, so I decided to revisit the list with a slightly heavier commitment to that plan.
- 3 Bearer of Silence
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Channeler Initiate
- 2 Deathcap Cultivator
- 1 Distended Mindbender
- 3 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Wasteland Strangler
- 1 World Breaker
2. Five is greater than four.
All right, perhaps this formula is going to get old, but in the meantime, it does a good job of highlighting what matters. Four toughness is a definite weak spot for Thought-Knot Seer in Standard. While we are usually fine with TKS resolving and then dying, it would be nice if we took some steps to avoid that some of the time. In this case, I am looking at ways to get our TKS to five toughness where it begins to feel a lot safer.
I have been really big on Ruins of Oran-Rief due to its somewhat free inclusion in many decks and its ability to cast Thought-Knot Seer. With Ruins, you can play TKS on five mana and pump it up to a 5/5. If the opponent has mana open, you can threaten this at instant speed, so let your TKS ability resolve so you know what the opponent is working with. If they respond with Grasp of Darkness or Harnessed Lightning, you can get them with the +1/+1 counter in response.
If you don't want to go as rogue with your interactions, there are plenty of Tier 1 cards that get TKS up to a 5/5 or bigger. Always Watching is an excellent card being utilized in a lot of lists. Perhaps combining it with Eldrazi Displacer and Thought-Knot Seer isn't such a bad idea. There are also Gideon emblems, Nissa +1/+1 counters, or Blossoming Defense, all of which are excellent at protecting Thought-Knot Seer from that crucial four-health point. Perhaps my favorite way to get the Eldrazi Cyclops into 5/5 mode is Metallic Mimic set to Eldrazi, which is surprisingly strong.
You can parlay Mimic into Eldrazi Skyspawner or Catacomb Sifter for some nice value, and if the opponent chooses to use their removal on your Mimic, then your TKS is more likely to go unopposed. I actually really appreciate the space that blue opens Eldrazi strategies into. While I want to keep our focus on Thought-Knot Seer, here is a direction you could go that moves away from green entirely but has multiple ways of getting TKS to five toughness, even sporting a Tide Drifter in the sideboard!
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Dimensional Infiltrator
- 1 Drowner of Hope
- 4 Eldrazi Skyspawner
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 3 Ruination Guide
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
This list obviously needs a lot of iteration, but I will say that Brutal Expulsion is a one heck of a card right now and more decks should be paying attention to it (in small numbers). My main goal with this list is to show off a very different approach to using Thought-Knot Seer while maintaining a similar cast of characters. Reality Smasher in particular is just such a strong follow-up to TKS that I often find myself returning to the haster, even when I initially try to cut it down in number.
I certainly don't want to give the impression that Thought-Knot Seer is the savior that Standard needs. I find the card to be very good and very underplayed at the moment, which I would like to see change, but it certainly has some hurdles to clear as well. For example, while Grasp of Darkness and Harnessed Lightning are pretty much impossible to dodge entirely with a creature deck, Fatal Push is a bit of a different story. In my G/R Planeswalkers list, for example, I specifically want TKS in my sideboard, where it is safe from the one-mana removal spell.
My maindeck does a pretty great job of sidestepping Fatal Push, which is always apparent mid-match as you see the opponent cave in and Fatal Push a Wolf or Plant token. Glorybringer and Reality Smasher explicitly avoid Fatal Push, which generally leads to the card being sideboarded out, at which point Thought-Knot Seer can have some fun if we deem the matchup appropriate.
Zombies is another issue. While the deck has been in a bit of a decline recently, as new Vehicles and Esper lists have been popping up, Zombies is definitely a strike against TKS. You will happily cast a turn 3 or 4 TKS against Zombies, but there is a good chance it will not turn out as well as you may have hoped. First, most of their threats are cheaper than TKS and can usually make it into play first. Second, they have plenty of removal that takes out a 4/4, and having to prioritize that or default to taking it is not the greatest play in the world. Third, Seers cast in the mid- to late-game are likely to miss entirely and then to just be sitting ducks for a free card at our opponent's demand.
We can definitely land a high-value TKS against Zombies that pulls double duty and stops up the ground as well, but we should not necessarily count on it the way that we can count on TKS to fight Aetherworks Marvel. As Zombies dips in popularity, that would be a good time to try out maindeck Thought-Knots.
Finally, Ceremonious Rejection is already seeing heavy play to fight other colorless four-mana cards, so resolving Thought-Knot Seer is far from a sure thing. I have been trying to support TKS with plenty of other colorless cards to overload Rejection, or in some cases just fighting Rejection directly with my own countermagic.
Thought-Knot Seer is far from a perfect card, but it is extremely powerful and I believe well-positioned at the moment. For these reasons, I can't help but believe that it is being criminally underplayed. The new toys of Kaladesh left memories in their wake and TKS seems to be one of them. Innovation is not always about discovering new things, though. Sometimes finding new ways to use old things is the greatest innovation of all. Good luck brewing!