Last updated on January 18, 2024
Blim, Comedic Genius | Illustration by Jason A. Engle
Discard is an integral part of Magic. It disrupts other strategies, like combo or control. Effects that make your opponents slowly discard cards are nice ways to get an edge in grindy matches or fight opponents with a hand full of cards.
Today we’re going to look at the best cards that make your opponent discard cards, the best discard payoffs, and answer some rules questions.
I hope you're ready! Let's go.
What are Discard Effects in MTG?
Kolaghan's Command | Illustration by Daarken
Discard effects are effects that force your opponent to put a card from their hand into their graveyard. Discard effects are usually black according to the color pie. Like counterspells are blue and burn spells are red, black always has a sorcery spell or creature that makes your opponents discard cards in every set.
Best Black Discard Spells
#31. Liliana's Specter
#30. Bad Deal
Bad Deal can generate lots of card advantage, drawing you two cards and making the opponent lose two. Unfortunately, it’s possible that you’ll overpay for a Divination if your opponent’s hellbent by the time you cast this card for six mana.
Addle is a good discard effect if you know your opponent’s colors.
#28. Acquisitions Expert
#27. Distended Mindbender
A 5/5 that can cost less than its mana value thanks to the emerge mechanic is okay, but Distended Mindbender‘s ETB will net you at least one card from your opponent, maybe two. These abilities made the Mindbender see some play in Constructed.
#26. Demonic Pact
You have three options with Demonic Pact: draw cards, drain a target, or make the opponent discard. Good to use with flicker effects or sacrifice (and needed, otherwise you’ll eventually lose the game). Cards like Brazen Borrower are good combinations with Demonic Pact since you’ll have a playable bounce effect.
#25. Urgoros, the Empty One
The nice thing about Urgoros, the Empty One is you draw cards if your opponent doesn’t have any cards to discard, shoring up one of discard’s biggest weaknesses.
#24. Elspeth's Nightmare
A Duress attached to a saga is good because there are other abilities to fall back on, even if it fails to find a target. Combining all the effects in Elspeth's Nightmare made it a good card in its Standard, and certainly playable in EDH decks interested in enchantments or discard.
#23. The Eldest Reborn
#22. The Haunt of Hightower
#21. Concealing Curtains / Revealing Eye
A card playable in black decks in Standard, Concealing Curtains‘ front side is a good defensive creature. You’ll have a better creature added to the disruption of the discard/draw effect if you transform it.
#20. Herald of Anguish
A big demon that synergizes with artifacts and makes the opponent discard during your end step, you’ll benefit from Herald of Anguish almost immediately. You can also use the Herald to kill small creatures.
#19. Rankle, Master of Pranks
#18. Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage synergizes with discard while being a discard effect itself. The good thing about Davriel is that it usually makes the opponent discard two or even three cards (and maybe deal some damage) against midrange/control decks.
#17. Inscription of Ruin
#16. Go Blank
One of the best Mind Rot variants, mostly because Go Blank exiles the graveyard of the victim. That shuts down lots of synergies, and it's a very good card to sideboard against enemy midrange or control.
#15. Hypnotic Specter
Turn 1 Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter defined most of Constructed MTG play back in the ‘90s. The fact that the discard is random makes the Specter effective, since your opponent can’t choose the worst card in their hand.
#14. Collective Brutality
#13. Torrent of Hailfire
#12. Junji, the Midnight Sky
All the legendary dragons from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty have death triggers, and Junji, the Midnight Sky’s trigger either forces your opponents to discard or let you reanimate a non-dragon creature. All this package in a 5/5 flying creature for five mana.
#11. Wrench Mind
Nothing special about Duress, but this is one card that we usually take for granted while almost every black deck plays one or two in the sideboard. This is a key card for battling control, midrange, and combo decks. It’s very effective in what it needs to do and it has no downside besides missing every now and then.
#9. Archon of Cruelty
One of the best reanimator targets ever printed, Archon of Cruelty is a 6/6 flier that triggers a little Cruel Ultimatum effects. Reanimator strategies usually depend on the creature having immediate impact on the board, and Archon will make your opponent lose a creature/planeswalker, a card, and three life, all while giving you resources. It’s even relatively good to cast for eight mana.
#8. Tourach, Dread Cantor
Cards from Modern Horizons 2 are generally good, and Tourach, Dread Cantor is no exception. This card is a good midrange threat that usually comes from the sideboard. Its kicker effect is literally Hymn to Tourach, and after that you’ll have a good-sized threat in a 4/3 with protection from white.
The cycle of mythic elementals became a staple of most Constructed formats. Grief is a 4-drop that discards a card from your opponent. And it becomes a devastating threat once you pair it with blink effects like Ephemerate or Undying Evil.
#6. Hymn to Tourach
Hymn to Tourach‘s two mana to make your opponents lose two cards at random is very strong, perhaps too strong for certain formats like Modern. People really don’t like discard at random because it breaks a good mulligan or a good hand, and it’s very hard to play around that.
#5. Mind Twist
Speaking of discard at random, Mind Twist is a good first pick in Cube because it’s so effective when cast. Opponent has five cards? Mind Twist for three is already good, but it could be cast for five and take their whole hand.
A single Twist could spell game over in formats known for generating fast mana.
#4. Liliana of the Veil
Oh, and it ticks to a game-winning ultimate.
#3. Cabal Therapy
#2. Inquisition of Kozilek
There’s not much to say about Thoughtseize, except that it sees play in every format where it’s legal, and it’s hard to think of a more staple card than this. Taking any nonland card from your opponent is huge, and the life loss is often worth it.
Best Multicolored Discard Spells
#15. Disinformation Campaign
#13. Dinrova Horror
Pauper was taken over by Dinrova Horror after its downshift to common. It’s also one of the more powerful cards in blink/control strategies. Blinking it with Ghostly Flicker and cards like Archaeomancer is a legit win condition for the format.
#12. Basilica Bell-Haunt
Your opponent discards a card and you gain three life when Basilica Bell-Haunt enters the battlefield. This is a good midrange threat, usually in the sideboard against aggro decks, but it’s hard on the mana cost. Blink it in Esper () decks for maximum value.
#11. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
As long as Nath of the Gilt-Leaf is in play, your opponent will be discarding cards at random and you’ll make some 1/1s. The bad thing is that it doesn’t do anything when it ETBs, which isn’t ideal in a 5-mana card.
#10. Thought Erasure
#9. Lord Xander, the Collector
#8. Lightning Skelemental
#7. Esper Charm
A card played for versatility, Esper Charm can be a discard two, draw two, or destroy target enchantment. This card is never dead and is one of the reasons to play Esper control in formats like Modern.
#6. Rakdos's Return
#5. Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
The new planeswalker from Streets of New Capenna, Ob Nixilis, the Adversary forces your opponent to discard a card or lose life. It's better played with board pressure since your opponents won’t keep their cards in hand when their life total is low. And the tax becomes real with lots of activations since there are usually copies of Ob around.
#4. Blim, Comedic Genius
I like designs like Blim, Comedic Genius that create amusing situations. 4/3 flying for four is good, and you’ll give a permanent to your opponent when it deals combat damage, and then they’ll be punished for how many permanents they own but don’t control. Demonic Pact with all counters used should be a fun one.
#3. Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Another card that given time will be a good win condition, Kroxa is a discard and deal damage spell. And with some cards in the graveyard it becomes a powerful creature. As long as you can keep your graveyard full, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger will always come back for more.
#2. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager / Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
One good reason to play Grixis (), Nicol Bolas, the Ravager comes down as a 4/4 flier that makes your opponent discard. It also becomes a powerful planeswalker that can dominate the game with enough mana.
#1. Kolaghan's Command
Best Discard Payoffs
Discard is already a good effect in and of itself, but there are some cards out there that give you that extra incentive to attack your opponent’s hand.
Waste Not is literally a discard deck build-around since its abilities trigger whenever your opponent discard something.
You can draw cards using Tinybones, Trinket Thief and punishing your opponent for having no cards.
When Can You Discard a Card in MTG?
You can only discard when a certain effect tells you to do so. You can discard cards on your turn or on the opponent’s turn, and you can discard multiple cards or even your whole hand. It all depends on the description of the effect or ability that made you discard in the first place.
Do You Only Discard on Your Turn?
To hand size: yes! But for any other effects you can discard a card on your opponent's turn too. In fact, you'll be more likely to discard a card on your opponent’s turn since most discard effects are activated at sorcery speed.
Can You Just Discard Something Whenever You Want?
Well, of course… not! You can only discard a card if an effect or ability tells you to, or to maximum hand size on the end step. Strategies like dredge and reanimator require that certain cards go to the graveyard so a specific effect is required, whether it’s the looting effect on Faithless Looting or the rummage effect on Bazaar of Baghdad.
How Does the Discard Step Work in Detail?
There’s a phase called the cleanup phase during your end step. In this phase, you’ll need to discard cards until you have seven (the maximum hand size) if you have eight or more cards in hand.
You can freely choose what card you want to discard and the order, if that’s relevant. It's also important to point out that are also some cards that specify that you don’t have a maximum hand size, like Sea Gate Restoration and Reliquary Tower.
Effects that reduce the hand size can also be applied, like Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. In this case your opponent’s maximum hand size is reduced by seven, which means they have to discard down to zero cards during the cleanup phase.
What's a Discard Deck?
A discard deck is a deck that has multiple effects that forces the opponent to discard, and some synergies that trigger when that happens.
One classic discard deck is 8Rack. It’s a reference to The Rack, which damages the opponent if they have two or fewer cards in hand. Cards like Megrim and Liliana's Caress punish the opponent each time they discard a card.
Is Exile the Same as Discard?
When you exile a card from your hand you’ll lose the card, but it's put into the exile zone. This isn’t the same as discarding a card.
Is Surveil the Same as Discard?
Surveil is a different effect entirely, and closer to mill than discard. Surveil lets you see the first card in your deck and put it in the graveyard if you want to. Discard only works from your hand.
Can You Discard with No Cards in Hand?
No, you can't discard if you have no cards in hand. If an effect makes you discard a card and you don’t have any, nothing happens. In the same way, you can’t activate an ability that requires you to discard a card if you haven’t got any cards to discard. That is a way to take advantage of symmetrical effects like “each player discards a card.”
Does a Creature Dying Count as Discarding?
No, it doesn't. A creature dying will be put into the graveyard as a state-based effect, and it’s considered destroyed. Discarding involves a card moving from a player’s hand to that player’s graveyard.
Can You Discard from Your Library?
No, you can only discard from your hand. But there is a way to put cards from your library in your graveyard, like with mill or surveil effects.
How to Stop or Counter Discard Strategies?
Here are the most effective ways to play around discard strategies:
- Draw a bunch of cards consistently, which is unfortunately something that some colors struggle to do (blue and green are the best colors for drawing cards).
- Cards that let you play a spell when you discard, like Loxodon Smiter, were designed as an answer to discard effects like Liliana of the Veil. Other cards like Ajani's Last Stand also play around discard nicely.
- Mechanics like flashback and disturb that allow a card to be played from the graveyard mitigate the effect of discard, but don’t circumvent it entirely.
- HELLBENT! You can’t discard if you have no cards in your hand. Okay so this is a bit extreme, but it works.
Duress | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Well, that’s all for today folks, and I’m happy to have covered it all! Discard is something that will always exist in MTG, especially on black cards. Although losing a card is frustrating, and discarding one of them at random certainly is more frustrating, that’s just part of the game, as are bad luck and mulligans.
As extensive as this list was, I could have missed your favorite discard effect, so let me know in the comments below. And our Discord server is a nice place to discuss our stuff and other MTG formats, so be sure to check that out too.
Be safe, and may your hand be full of cards that you don’t mind discarding!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: