Sneak & Show Me The Way

Four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor William Jensen gives you an explanation of overall strategy while playing Sneak and Show pre- and post-sideboard against common matchups.

Last week, Reid Duke and I put out videos of Sneak & Show vs. The World. I played Sneak and Show’s side, and Reid played The World’s side.

Because a lot of the upcoming major tournaments are going to use Theros, I have continued to spend a decent amount of time on Legacy to get some good, advance preparation for the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis. I have made two small changes in my decklist since the videos last week, opting for a seventh fetch land over a fourth Volcanic Island and a third Ancient Tomb in place of a third City of Traitors. The extra fetch land is great for having another shuffle outlet with Brainstorm, and the fourth Volcanic Island is really not necessary. Ancient Tomb is a little better in the current metagame than City of Traitors because very few decks are actually attacking your life total and Ancient Tomb is far superior against combo and control decks since it allows you to develop your mana much more effectively.

Rather than discuss the deck card by card in this article, I’m going to give you an explanation of overall strategy in pre- and post-sideboard games against the decks that you’re most likely to face in the current Legacy metagame.

If I were to play a Legacy tournament tomorrow, this would be my Sneak and Show list:

When planning to play Sneak and Show in a Legacy event, it’s very important to familiarize yourself with the other decks in the format. If you aren’t particularly experienced with Legacy, take some time to look through decklists. Learn to identify mana bases and key cards so that you’re able to try to accurately gauge what archetype your opponent is playing. Obviously, not every player will play a deck you’ve studied, and if they do, they might not have the exact same list. But it will give you a good overall understanding of what kind of tools they have available to them. This is especially important when you are deciding what kind of hand to sculpt and which path to take to try to win the game.

You want to identify what your opponent is playing as quickly as possible. This will give you a wealth of information when deciding between casting Show and Tell and trying to hold out until you can find a Sneak Attack. Also of relevance is whether you are putting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Griselbrand into play. I’ve seen some lists play Gitaxian Probe to make this easier on the Sneak and Show player. However, in my opinion, Gitaxian Probe has a few problems. First of all, the deck is pretty short on space, and I find that every card in my list is extremely valuable. Second of all, decks with Gitaxian Probe are often faced with extremely difficult mulligan decisions. Especially with hands that contain multiple copies, you are forced to keep hands that you don’t really know the strength of because they are essentially five-card hands with two random cards to come.

Here is a large number of the top decks in Legacy and the things to consider when making crucial game-plan decisions.

BUG, Esper, & Jund

These decks are grouped together because they all have access to planeswalkers, specifically Liliana of the Veil or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, both of which can deal with one of your giant creatures after you’ve managed to Show and Tell it into play. While they are unable to put them directly into play as a result of Show and Tell, they are able to put a land into play and then potentially cast their planeswalker earlier than seems immediately obvious.

For this reason, it is always best if you’re able to put Griselbrand into play to protect against them or be pretty sure that you are able to protect your Emrakul using counterspells if you are forced to take that route. When you get Griselbrand in play and are able to draw seven or fourteen cards, even if you are unable to find a Force of Will for a potential planeswalker, you are frequently able to just Sneak out Emrakul and effectively win the following turn. Another reason that Griselbrand is much better against the Esper decks specifically is that they sometimes play a copy of Karakas. So at the very least you can give yourself seven or fourteen more cards to force through a Sneak Attack.

All of these decks are also going to have targeted discard spells, and for that reason the best opening hands are going to be ones with multiple copies of Brainstorm and Ponder. These cards are very resilient to discard spells and will allow you to reconstruct your hand after the dust has settled. Brainstorm is especially effective because it allows you to hide cards on top of your library in response to the discard spells. Very slow hands with a lot of lands and no search should likely be mulliganed.

All three of these decks are generally unable to beat a resolved Sneak Attack, so that is always an option as well. Because Sneak Attack costs an additional mana, oftentimes you will have to wait a little bit longer to go for it. While the difference between three and four mana for Show and Tell and Sneak Attack might not seem like a lot, it can make a world of difference, especially in a hand where you are trying to fight by using Spell Pierce.

As in every matchup, the post-sideboard games can be trickier. After sideboard, you don’t really know what you’re opponents are going to try to fight you with. Sometimes they have a Sower of Temptation, sometimes they have a Gilded Drake, and sometimes they just bring in more counters to try to prevent your threats from resolving.

One major advantage the Sneak and Show player has after sideboarding is that all these decks are extremely weak to Blood Moon. After sideboarding, instead of Sneak and Show, think of your deck as Sneak and Moon. The way you want to attempt to win the game is with Blood Moon first, which often can just completely lock the opponent out. If you don’t draw one and you can’t find one, the next best route to victory is to try to resolve a Sneak Attack.

Another thing you can do that is very effective to combat the anti Show and Tell cards is just use Show and Tell to put Sneak Attack into play. This has a twofold effect. If your opponent was unable to find their answer, they will often be forced to counter the Show and Tell, making it easier for you to resolve a Sneak Attack or Blood Moon. But sometimes they will have Sower of Temptation in their hand and be ready to steal your Emrakul. Instead you can just Sneak it out and attack them with it, effectively ending the game.

If you are forced to try to win with a Show and Tell plus a creature, as usual try to make it Griselbrand. If you can cast Show and Tell with a red mana up and they have something like Gilded Drake or Sower of Temptation, you’re able to draw fourteen cards and find one of your copies of Red Elemental Blast, preventing them from taking your creature.

RUG Delver

RUG Delver is a difficult matchup, but it also a very straightforward one. Usually between maindeck and sideboard they don’t have any effective ways to deal with any of your creatures once they are in play. When developing a game plan against RUG Delver, there are two major things you need to consider: your clock and whether or not you’ve been able to develop your mana.

When your RUG Delver opponent has a quick start with a turn 1 creature into a turn 2 creature, you are generally going to have to more aggressively cast your combo. There are two reasons for this. First of all, you just don’t have as much time to play as many search spells and find as much backup as you can before you die. Second of all, the fact that they had two creatures and played them in lieu of playing Ponder Brainstorm makes it less likely that they have a ton of countermagic. Always be wary of Daze or Spell Pierce and play around them if you are able to.

On the flipside, sometimes your opponent will not have a turn 1 play. Then, after turn 1, they’ll be afraid to tap mana because they have less of a response to your Show and Tell. These are the easiest games and are totally fine with you. You can easily out-control a RUG Delver deck with no clock. You have as many or more counters with more free counters. Just develop your mana and make your opponent’s Dazes and Spell Pierces nearly useless.

Another major strategy from the RUG Delver side is mana denial. Oftentimes these decks play four copies of Stifle, and they always play four copies of Wasteland. Sometimes you’ll get a draw where you’re only allowed to fetch up one basic land and then start getting Stifled and Wastelanded. This makes it hard for you to develop your mana and in turn develop your hand. The RUG Delver player will be able to make better uses of their Dazes and Spell Pierces and power through their own deck with their cantrips.

In these situations when I’m being deprived of mana and draw something like Ancient Tomb with only an Island in play and access to no other mana, I often just go all in. This is an important concept in Magic in general and certainly applies here. If you are able to identify that you are very unlikely to win a game, you are often better off making a high-risk play as soon as possible before your opponent has more time to press their advantage. In these cases, I’ll often just slam the Show and Tell, thinking "if they have it, they have it." 

This matchup changes very little after sideboard. You get additional threats in Blood Moon, and they sometimes get a couple extra counters in Red Elemental Blast. Blood Moon is exceptional in the RUG Delver matchup as well. They almost never have a single way in their deck to beat you if it hits play. It is worth noting, however, that if they are too far ahead on the board, Blood Moon doesn’t even matter much. Blood Moon is much better when you are playing first for this reason, but it’s so powerful that I’m definitely putting them in even on the draw. Just be careful you don’t put all your eggs in one basket and rely on a Blood Moon when they already have a card like Tarmogoyf in play and end up losing anyway.

RUG Delver usually doesn’t have too many gimmicky cards for Show and Tell, unlike some of the other decks, so while I’m still aware of the fact that they could play these cards, I am much less likely to play around them. One thing that they do often board in and can be very powerful against a Show and Telled Griselbrand is Sulfuric Vortex. It certainly doesn’t win them the game on the spot, but it can give them an out to racing if you "only" have Griselbrand.

Sneak and Show, Omni-Tell, & Reanimator

These three decks are grouped together because when playing them Show and Tell essentially reads as follows: 2U, Sorcery, Put Sneak Attack into play. That’s because against all these decks putting one of your giant creatures into play without haste oftentimes just isn’t enough. Sneak and Show and Omni-Tell can easily just put their own Emrakul into play and then be the first to attack. Reanimator can put a Griselbrand into play and have no trouble reanimating a Tidespout Tyrant on their turn thanks to fourteen extra cards. Sometimes, however, if you’re able to Show and Tell a Sneak Attack into play and then attack with Emrakul, what they do with Show and Tell doesn’t really matter.

The three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the sideboard really shine in these matchups. What they allow you to do is what I said in game 1 to the extreme. Because Jace acts as a game-winning card without having any creatures in your hand, you can use Ponder, Brainstorm, and Preordain to completely fill your hand with counters without the need to hold on to a Sneak Attack or a creature. You can then use your ability to Brainstorm every turn to develop your mana and further craft your hand. Eventually, with nine cards in your hand, it will be no problem to resolve a Sneak Attack.

Another thing this does is give you threats in these matchups so your opponents have something they actually need to protect against. In a Sneak and Show mirror, for example, given that both players should be boarding out their Show and Tells, there are only four cards left that are truly game-enders: the four copies of Sneak Attack. Jace gives you three more of those cards. While it doesn’t end the game outright, it is nearly impossible to overcome if not reacted to immediately. I feel like having the Jaces allows me to turn myself into a control deck after sideboard while my opponent is still playing a combo deck. Because my Sneak and Show list already plays so many permission spells and has access to two more in Red Elemental Blast in the sideboard, I have always felt much advantaged using this strategy.

Reanimator is a lot tougher than the other Show and Tell based decks because its threats are very cheap. Animate Dead, Reanimate, and Exhume all cost two mana or less, so if they get a very fast draw and have a Thoughtseize or are able to stack a bunch of cheap threats in one turn, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. It’s a really tough matchup both before and after sideboard. I still think with my list you’re best off going with the Jace plan, but if you are expecting a lot of Reanimator in your metagame or if the deck makes a bit of a resurgence, I would recommend find room for a few copies of Leyline in the Void in your sideboard.

Goblins & Elves

Goblins and Elves have the unique distinction of being the only two decks against which I’ve put Emrakul into play on turn 3 using Show and Tell, attacked on turn 4, and lost the game on the following turn. Granted, both of these games I was on the draw and they had particularly fast starts, but it just illustrates how fast and powerful these two decks can be.

In game 1, you want to get one of your giant creatures in play as fast as possible, with the preference being attacking with Emrakul as soon as possible. Just go all in on whatever line gives you the best chance to do that. If they have a draw that’s faster than that, so be it. Although I said it has happened to me before, obviously it’s not very likely if you put Emrakul into play on turn 2 that either deck will be able to beat it. Elves specifically can have super-explosive draws on its own that allow it to win the game on turn 2. Sometimes they’ll just be faster, and that’s okay.

Your best sideboard card in these matchups is Through the Breach. It’s another way to attack with Emrakul as fast as possible and hopefully clear all their permanents. Misdirection is pretty much useless in these matchups, and since you have three of these to take out, you should also add one copy of Echoing Truth. This is a hedge if they board in some gimmicky card and really the only other card that can have any sort of impact on the game. Jace is way too vulnerable and slow, and none of the other cards are good at all in these matchups.

Ad Nauseam Tendrils

Overall, this matchup is okay for the Sneak and Show player, but it usually comes down to a race. The ANT deck has a lot of targeted discard spells; Duress and Cabal Therapy can target your hand and strip you of your counters, especially Force of Will. It also can use Gitaxian Probe to know when the coast is clear and know exactly what to name with Cabal Therapy. One weakness that the ANT deck has is that it often has to discard its hand with Lion’s Eye Diamond or play out all its cards in order to try to win with Infernal Tutor. Usually, by knowing the coast is clear, they do this at a point where they have nothing to worry about it.

For this reason, you just want to do everything you can to put Griselbrand into play as quickly as possible. Once you have Show and Telled Griselbrand into play, you can just leave it on the table and not draw any cards to prevent them from using a slew of discard spells to once again clear the path. Just wait for them to cast their relevant combo cards and draw a bunch of cards of your own in an attempt to stop it with counters that have been unable to be attacked by their hand disruption.

With Sneak Attack, it’s a little bit trickier. Usually, if you’re able to get Sneak Attack in play and unable to attack for lethal in a given turn, you can pass, and on their turn if they start to use their hand disruption spells, you can just Sneak out the Griselbrand. Again, leave it in play until you need to do something else. If they decide to not attempt to go off because of it, you have to use Griselbrand’s card draw ability at the end of their turn. After drawing seven, evaluate if you’ll be able to end the game on your next turn by Sneak Attacking into play an Emrakul and another Griselbrand and determine whether or not to draw seven more.

Be wary of all-in attacking with just an Emrakul in this matchup, as they can easily combo off starting with no permanents in play if they’ve been able to keep a lot of cards in hand and used a lot of search effects and you don’t have a lot to disrupt them. Because of Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Dark Ritual, and Cabal Ritual, ANT is able to generate a ton of mana.

For sideboarding in this matchup, I generally just take out the three Misdirections for the three Leyline of Sanctitys. Misdirection really doesn’t do much since it doesn’t even work against Duress and against Cabal Therapy it just acts like a Force of Will. Obviously a card that’s sole purpose is to get two-for-oned by Cabal Therapy is not very good.

Leyline creates a reasonable problem for the ANT deck. It is unable to use its targeted discard on you anymore. It can’t use its Gitaxian Probes to know when it’s safe to try to go off, and without removing the Leyline, it can’t simply Tendrils you to death without spending time and resources to remove the Leyline from play. Sometimes they will be forced to make a massive army of Goblins using Empty the Warrens, which at least gives you another turn to try to do everything you can to Sneak Attack out both of your giant creatures and attack for lethal damage.

Death and Taxes

This matchup is an absolute nightmare. It is by far the hardest matchup that currently exists in the Legacy metagame. I’ve played against it twice, and I’ve yet to win a game. To start off, they have four maindeck copies of Karakas. Also, they have four maindeck copies of Phyrexian Revoker. In game 1, this is a two-card unbeatable combo against you (Karakas, Revoker Sneak Attack, game over). The best game 1 strategy here is just to get Sneak Attack in play before they can find a Revoker. Karakas isn’t effective against Sneak Attack and Emrakul because after it’s been returned to your hand you can just put it back into play and attack again, costing your opponent six permanents.

The matchup gets a little bit better for us after sideboard. This is largely because the matchup is already so good for Death and Taxes that they don’t board in any cards of major consequence. Sometimes they’ll have an Oblivion Ring or something like that, but it’s not even particularly good. What I tried last time I played against this deck was boarding in three Blood Moons, two Echoing Truths, and two Through the Breaches. Blood Moon is ironically good versus this mono-white deck because of its four copies of Karakas, Rishadan Port, Wasteland, and sometimes Flagstones of Trokair. Echoing Truth can help bounce Phyrexian Revoker (if they don’t have Mother of Runes in play) to get a hit in with Emrakul. Through the Breach can be a way to attack with a creature when they have Revoked your Sneak Attack.

All in all, although you get a little better after board, it’s still a miserable matchup. Historically, Death and Taxes hasn’t been a major part of the metagame. Recently, it has been growing in popularity. I’ve been thinking about ways to combat this deck and more importantly cards that have applications in other matchups. The idea I like the best so far is to board a couple Progenituses. The problem is that this doesn’t really have applications in other matchups. I considered Sulfur Elemental, but it is too narrow, doesn’t kill Revoker, and also isn’t great in other matchups. Pyroclasm is a consideration, as at least it helps against Elves and Goblins, but I’m not sold on it yet. If you have any suggestions, let me know in the comments.

Legacy is a complex format, with nearly every card in Magic’s history available as a choice in deck construction. While there will always be rogue decks and new decks will continue to pop up, if you prepare yourself for your matchups with the decks listed above and understand the best ways to attack them, you will put yourself in the best position to be successful. I hope next time you decide to wield Sneak and Show at a Legacy tournament you will have found the strategies discussed in this article a useful tool on your way to the Top 8! Good luck!