Well, folks, Stanislav Cifka did it again. This deck first appeared at the end of 2013 in a Magic Online Daily Event, but it seems poised to be especially good in a world with Born of the Gods. As the metagame changes, decks can go from amazing to unplayable and back again. Now that we're living firmly in True-Name Nemesis' world, it's about time to find the combo deck that can break things wide open again.
The first requirement of this combo deck is that it can't lose to Deathrite Shaman. One of the more popular iterations of True-Name Nemesis + Stoneforge Mystic involves Deathrite Shaman—it's a bluer version of Deathblade, the Witch-Maw Nephilim colored midrange deck that was worse than Shardless BUG until True-Name Nemesis showed up.
After True-Name Nemesis hit the streets, things changed. Shardless Agent and Ancestral Vision got worse, while playing objectively powerful cards got better. Deathrite Shaman is an objectively powerful card, and it's not surprising to see it doing well with multi-format all-stars Stoneforge Mystic; Snapcaster Mage; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and Liliana of the Veil:
Beyond merely powering up Deathblade, though, Deathrite Shaman exists in a huge percentage of high-level Legacy decks. Playing a combo deck that can just lose to Deathrite Shaman is a poor place to start.
Show and Tell has never had a huge problem with Deathrite Shaman and has served as a foil to Deathrite Shaman in Reanimator decks ever since Griselbrand made a splash in Legacy. It's reasonable to look to Show and Tell as a way to beat True-Name Nemesis as well.
What are the existing Show and Tell decks and why aren't they so great?
The consensus best deck heading into Grand Prix Washington DC, Sneak and Show, has taken down more than its fair share of tournaments, and I wouldn't fault anyone for playing it. It can put eight huge creatures into play with Show and Tell, can cast Sneak Attack and put any of those same eight creatures into play with it, and has a lot of countermagic and cantrips to find the right mix of creatures and enablers.
So what's wrong with it? Well, ever since Thomas Enevoldsen won Grand Prix Strasbourg, people have been figuring out that Death and Taxes is very good. Between eight mana denial lands; three or four copies of Karakas; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Flickerwisp; and newcomer Spirit of the Labyrinth, Sneak and Show isn't set up well against Death and Taxes. Besides the still rising popularity of that deck, Sneak and Show has to deal with the format having largely adapted to the presence of large legendary creatures on early turns of the game. Although people's deckbuilding is less antagonistic to the card Sneak Attack, players come to Legacy tournaments fairly prepared to fight against an early Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
There are fewer free wins available for Show and Tell decks that rely on winning some number of games where they cast Show and Tell on turn 2: legendary creatures get bounced by Karakas, people play more Liliana of the Veils now, and Delver of Secrets decks play more Spell Pierces and fewer Stifles than ever before. Stifle, one of the worst cards against Sneak and Show, has disappeared from U/W/R Delver decks that prefer full sets of Daze, Spell Pierce, and Force of Will alongside eight cantrips, eight removal spells, ten creatures, and two pieces of Equipment to go with twenty lands.
Beyond all of those environmental factors, Sneak and Show is also a high-variance deck. Yes, it plays a lot of cantrips, and yes, it has eight of each half of its combo. But sometimes it just bricks off. It plays no proactive disruption and only has counterspells, so there are games where it just doesn't draw the right parts of its deck. It can have the perfect turn 2 hand, get Thoughtseized, and just die. It can have a hand with a Brainstorm, some creatures, and some lands and just brick off on drawing Show and Tell or Sneak Attack. It's a combo deck in Legacy—you get the point.
To nobody's surprise, people have adapted to large creatures in Legacy after a few years of Griselbrand being a major player in the format. But what about mono-blue Show and Tell? Grand Prix Paris Top 8 competitor Jean-Mary Accart introduced his monochrome Show and Tell deck in Ghent in part as a way to get around the prodigious amount of legendary creature hate getting played against Sneak and Show. His creation focused on Omniscience and Dream Halls, two enchantments that don't care about Karakas, don't care about Liliana of the Veil, don't care about Terminus, and don't care about Swords to Plowshares. By incorporating Cunning Wish as an anti-hate catchall, Jean-Mary Accart created a flexible and powerful deck that could be built to beat a wide variety of metagames:
Unfortunately for Omni-Tell, Born of the Gods has a creature that shuts down nearly the entire deck. I believe it's going to be either the best or second best hate bear in Legacy behind Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Let's take a good hard look at Spirit of the Labyrinth:
For an in-depth look at what the card does in Legacy, check out my article here. It's clear what Spirit of the Labyrinth does against a deck with fourteen cantrips and a win condition that as part of its resolution allows its caster to draw roughly 40 cards. It's not pretty for the person casting Gitaxian Probe and Enter the Infinite. An additional problem arises when you realize that Omniscience can beat Thalia, Guardian of Thraben by drawing its deck, having untapped lands, and casting Cunning Wish for a bounce spell, whereas Spirit of the Labyrinth never lets you get to your anti-hate.
To be fair, Spirit of the Labyrinth is just a huge beating for anyone playing cantrips, but there are certainly choices that we can make to mitigate the damage it does. For instance, you could play this deck:
I think this is a good first cut at the deck. It has a lot of good things going for it: a high land count in a deck with Intuition and Gifts Ungiven, discard spells allowing you to cut both Gitaxian Probe (why just look when you can take?) and counterspells, very few dead cards, and enough basics to play Magic through Wasteland. It's also a bit misbuilt, as I'll discuss in a bit, but first I want to talk about why all of the above things are so great.
A lot of Show and Tell decks play 19 or 20 lands, with a daring few willing to shave all the way down to 18. Pro Tour Return to Ravnica champion and chess FIDE master Stanislav Cifka (obv on Magic Online) plays 21 lands with a 22nd land in the sideboard. He has three basic Islands, enough to cast all of his spells except for the discard and Gifts Ungiven. This is meaningful primarily because Sneak and Show wants both a lot of blue mana (so that it can chain together multiple cantrips in a turn) and a lot of red mana (so that it can cast and activate Sneak Attack in the same turn).
One of the ways that Sneak and Show can lose games that is relatively unique to its corner of the universe is to get Wastelanded out of the game. Because it has Lotus Petals and relatively complex mana requirements, it is possible to reach points in the game where it lacks a combination of colored mana needed to maximize its holdings. As Omni-Tell plays nine to ten basic Islands and Omni-Gifts can both fetch enough basics to entirely play around Wasteland and does not need nonblue mana to execute its kill, Sneak and Show is therefore on its own in its capacity to lose games due to missing a color.
Cutting Gitaxian Probe is an element of Cifka's list that I love. Against blue decks, Gitaxian Probe is great at showing you what you need to draw to win. Unfortunately it doesn't always draw it for you, and you don't get to play 25 Brainstorms. Don't get me wrong—I love Gitaxian Probe more than most. It's just that if you asked me whether I would rather pay two life to look at someone's Spirit of the Labyrinth or pay two life and a mana to discard someone's Spirit of the Labyrinth, I don't think it's particularly close. When you tell me that I also get to cut Pact of Negation from my deck? I'm positively ecstatic. Having discard spells is a huge boon for this deck, as they fulfill a lot of roles that were being covered piecemeal in other Show and Tell sub-archetypes.
Another major appeal for the deck is that it plays very few dead cards. One of the questions with any combo deck is how well it does when things go bad. If your first Show and Tell gets answered, how does your game play out? For Sneak and Show, the answer is "I have seven more of those things, come at me." For Omni-Tell, it's "I have Dream Halls and Cunning Wish for Intuition for Show and Tells, so you better have a way to kill me too." For this deck, it's "I have Duress and Thoughtseize for your discard spells and Intuitions to find the other three copies of Show and Tell."
It's not just about building your deck to play through a very obvious piece of interaction though—the kill mechanism for the deck is beautiful. On a very fundamental level, the deck can still cast its fair share of turn 2 Show and Tells, as it has four copies of it and eight things to put into play. Sometimes it puts a Griselbrand into play, more often it puts Omniscience into play, and very rarely it puts Emrakul, the Aeons Torn directly into play. When it sticks an Omniscience, though, it kills people on the same turn. Here's how:
- With Omniscience in play, cast Intuition or Gifts Ungiven.
- Intuition for Gifts Ungiven; Gifts Ungiven; and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Gifts Ungiven for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; Gifts Ungiven; Intuition; and a cantrip.
- Shuffle your graveyard into your library.
- Rinse and repeat, except you have an extra card. Iterate until you've drawn your deck one card at a time.
- Cantrip into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; cast Griselbrand; cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; and attack for 22 on your extra turn.
Why is this deck well positioned in the metagame? Well, for starters, it doesn't require you to be able to activate Griselbrand or cast Enter the Infinite to win, a fact that I take as seriously as I take Spirit of the Labyrinth. Gifts Ungiven and Intuition don't draw cards; they merely put them in your hand. Unfortunately for Cifka's iteration of the deck, it still can't beat a lethal board with Spirit of the Labyrinth and Karakas in play, as it has no way of absolutely putting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in its hand. I want to start by changing that.
Here is the list I want to play for you, dear viewers:
A lot of the work on this list was done by Jarvis Yu. He pointed out that a basic Swamp is desirable against any matchup with Wasteland, which is over half of the format. He swapped two Scalding Tarns for the Swamp and a Marsh Flats (which could by any black fetch land), as such a change only reduces your blue count by one and gives you six ways to put a basic Swamp into play. Jarvis also pointed out that sideboard cards are best in quantities of three since Intuition can find three cards and doesn't care about their names. Therefore, if you absolutely want to find a sideboard card with Intuition, you only need three copies of it.
I particularly love his sideboard changes. Massacre is at its best in a format where everything from tempo to midrange to control plays Stoneforge Mystic, and costing zero mana with a Swamp in play means that the price is absolutely right. Echoing Truth is great against a variety of annoying cards—Counterbalance chief among them—and gives you some play against cards like Empty the Warrens and Bridge from Below.
Jarvis and I both like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which is a great card in the right context. It should only come in against decks that can't easily kill it, so nothing with Lightning Bolt or True-Name Nemesis. A lot of combo mirrors are drag-down attrition battles featuring tons of discard. In those situations, having a free Brainstorm every turn is game breaking. Against particularly slow control decks, Jace also provides another threat that must be answered and perhaps not in the most convenient way for the control player.
I still like playing three Surgical Extractions, as having the ability to Intuition for three copies of a zero-mana spell is a powerful capacity. There are a number of powerful graveyard decks in Legacy nowadays, and Surgical Extraction is the best way to fight them out of a combo deck with cantrips and Intuition.
The additional opportunity that I identified is in sideboarding one-ofs. The concept of playing one-ofs with Gifts Ungiven is nothing new, but sideboarding nearly redundant cards in Legacy because of Gifts Ungiven is a relatively unexplored notion. I want to talk about the last three sideboard cards in this context.
Finds either a Show and Tell or both an Omniscience and a way to put it into play two turns later. Dream Halls also provides resilience against Surgical Extraction on Show and Tell, as you have seven cards that can "cast" a Griselbrand and many more that can "cast" an Omniscience.
Cabal Therapy and Flusterstorm are the cards I'm least sure of. But the deck has occasion to want more interaction, and being able to Gifts Ungiven for Thoughtseize, Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Flusterstorm against anyone who's trying to reactively stop our combo is a powerful play. However, I'm always open to better ideas.
What do you think of the deck? Is it missing something? What would you change before I record videos with it?