Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #26: Breaking Plagiarize

I built half-a-dozen decks trying to break this damn card wide open. It was a lot tougher than you might think.

When I first saw the card on the spoiler, I looked for a method of breaking Plagiarize for Type 2 – aiming, of course, for Regionals. I built half-a-dozen different decks. I may play on version of the deck in Chicago, but I’m not sure the deck is fast enough for this environment. I’m working on that.




Until end of turn, if target player would draw a card, instead that player skips that draw and you draw a card.

The first obvious use for this card is to cast it during your opponent’s upkeep. That opponent doesn’t draw a card; you do. That alone, however, is not enough to make the card worthwhile. The trick is to add some additional card drawing so that you draw significantly more cards that they do.

Howling Mine is one option. With Howling Mine in play, they would normally draw an additional card per turn. With one Mine and a Plagiarize, you would draw their two cards plus your two cards on your turn. That’s like an Ancestral Recall, which is pretty good. The downside, of course, is that Howling Mine is pretty good for them on turns when you do not cast Plagiarize. Giving someone with an active Wild Mongrel extra cards can get you dead, fast.

Words of Wisdom is also much better when you have already cast Plagiarize. Now you draw three cards for 1U, instead of sharing with your opponent. Again, very nice… But not all that good if you have not already cast Plagiarize.

Plagiarize makes Urza’s Guilt is almost playable. However, if you really want to play U/B, there are better combos than Plagiarize and Urza’s Guilt… like Psychatog and other cards.

Cephalid Looter or Cephalid Broker also interact with it well. These both target a player, so target the opponent for the full effect. You draw the cards, they do the discarding. This is a very powerful effect, especially since the mana costs are low. The downside is that you have to have the creatures in play and keep them alive to make it work. Now, if Cephalid Broker had a six toughness, or even a three, this might work better… But any deck built around this trick will find that Cephalids are tough to get and keep in play. However, Plagiarize could be an interesting trick in a Cephalid lockdown deck built around Aboshan – but that has the same problem of trying to keep the Cephalids alive.

Cephalid Coliseum is a one-shot deal, but a good one. Once you hit threshold, you can Plagiarize your opponent during their upkeep, then activate the Coliseum and you draw four cards, they discard three. It is reasonably cheap, meaning you would probably have the mana to cast the card, activate the land and have mana free for counter backup. I think this falls in the same category as Haunting Echoes – a very nice trick if you can pull it off, but possibly not enough to base a deck around.

Laquatus’s Creativity: This one is even better. For only nine mana, you can Mind Twist the opponent and draw cards equal to the cards in their hand. However, it is a sorcery, so you cannot do it during their upkeep. At best, this might be an annoying (which does not mean playable) trick for T1 (Lotus, Mox, Mox, Candelabra, Academy, Plagiarize, Creativity) but it seems pointless for Type 2. For one thing, if you have enough mana to cast this, and your opponent still has cards in hand, you should have won anyway. Obviously, you won’t Upheaval and float nine extra mana, but this could actually work late game if you resolved a large Aether Burst during your opponent’s end step. Of course, with enough mana, you can make anything work (think combos like Polar Kraken, Reckless Charge, Twiddle, Rancor, Might of Oaks). That doesn’t mean you should build a deck around them.

Standstill gets better with Plagiarize, but you need to cast Plagiarize first, then Standstill, then trigger Standstill before the end of the turn. That takes three cards and at least eight mana – for that kind of investment, you could just cast Opportunity instead. In other words, don’t bother.

Here’s a much better option: Use Teferi’s Puzzlebox as a means of card drawing. Plagiarize after your opponent has the Puzzlebox’s draw step triggered ability and his normal draw is on the stack. You get his normal draw; then your opponent puts his hand on the bottom of his library and you draw that many cards. That should be sufficient to win, since your opponent now has an empty hand.

The problem with all these combos is that you have to get them off to get the benefits. In the meantime, you have to stay alive. Moreover, the components don’t meet one fundamental rule of combination design: The pieces of the combo either have to be good when you only have some of the individual parts, or the combination has to win the game immediately when it comes together. The pieces discussed so far are only so-so alone, and the combination merely gives you card advantage once it works. That is very good, but you still have to win the game.

Plagiarize could be broken, however, if you could cast it every turn. A few years back, one of the online discussion lists was toying with the idea of a spellshaper that could gain the abilities of any card. When it came into play, you searched your library for a card, then stuck that to the spellshaper. Each turn, you could pay the card’s mana cost, discard a card and put that spell on the stack. That would be broken: The opponent would either have a way to kill the spellshaper or counter the effect or they would never draw another card for the remainder of the game. However, no such spellshaper exists.

The closest we can come to that effect is to use Holistic Wisdom and a lot of instants. If you have a deck with at least half instants, then you can likely draw an instant every turn. Then, for six mana a turn, you can cast Plagiarize during your opponent’s upkeep every single turn. Provided the opponent doesn’t already have win conditions on the table, you will win.

So let’s look at building a Holistic Wisdom deck. In order to abuse Plagiarize, the deck needs to be nearly all instants so you can be sure of drawing instants when you need them. Then the deck needs to get to six mana to lock up your opponent’s draws. After that, winning is a formality, but you need something to actually accomplish that.

The base deck is green (Holistic Wisdom) and blue (Plagiarism), of course; I’ll start with those two colors, but we may end up splashing something.

The first step in this build involves not dying early, which means countermagic and probably some bounce. Four Counterspells and four Force Spikes belong in the maindeck. Force Spike shines, since you can use the early ones to counter fast creatures and feed the later ones to Holistic Wisdom. Memory Lapse helps win early counter wars, works okay in a deck with non-blue lands, and is pretty good when you can stop their draw. Syncopate and Liquefy have attractions, given the number of cards with flashback. Divert could be useful against fast R/G and other counter decks, but it is unlikely that more than one – and probably none – will make the cut.

However, you cannot counter everything, so some bounce or removal is probably necessary. Aether Burst is very strong, since you could get a couple in the graveyard, then begin bouncing multiple creatures any time you need to – providing the deck can cycle through enough cards. Repulse is a strong cantrip early on. Rushing River is the third alternative, since it deals with enchantments and lands, if necessary, although this deck will be so mana-intensive that throwing away lands may not be feasible.

We want some card drawing as well. Many, many instants draw cards. Some form of one casting cost instant is important, of the Opt / Peek / Obsessive Search type. I’m leaning towards Peek, since it could also let you know whether it was safe to Plagiarize during the opponent’s upkeep. Obsessive Search would be better if the deck ran several ways of discarding cards, but I don’t see that. Beyond that, Fact or Fictions would be useful (duh). Other options are less likely – Concentration is a sorcery and Opportunity is too expensive. Accumulated Knowledge is perfect, except for one minor drawback… It ain’t legal. Fire and Ice is another possibility, but I haven’t had time to test that enough.

It’s also traditional to have a kill mechanism in the deck. Millstone is a possibility, although unless we decide to use Howling Mines and or the Puzzlebox, Holistic Wisdom cannot easily recur the Millstone with Holistic Wisdom – no other artifacts. As for instants in this format, Stroke and Psionic Blast are gone, which leaves Elephant Ambush and Beast Attack as the most likely candidates. (Although using Vivify might earn some style points…) Beast Attack has the drawback of a bad casting cost – 2 GGG – but creates big tokens. Elephant Ambush has a better initial cost, but 3/3 tokens die too easily (Fiery Temper, Aether Burst, et cetera, et cetera). Still Life is interesting since decks running Flametongue, Chainer’s Edict, Innocent Blood or Mutilate as removal cannot kill it.

If we are going to splash a little red, then Prophetic Bolt has some real promise as a kill card.

Speaking of splashes, I don’t see all that much coming from black, since most of what would be useful are not instants. Splashing white does show some promise, since it has instants capable of dealing with enchantments and artifacts permanently, which green and blue don’t have (Creeping Mold is a sorcery – where are Emerald Charm and Crumble when you need them?). White has Second Thoughts – which works for Spellbane Centaur -and my personal favorite, Reprisal. White would also allow us to abuse Life Burst – cast two or three, recur the fourth. Very few decks can handle both lots of life gain and lots of bounce. Finally, White would also give us Treva’s Charm, which can be a win condition, removal and a disenchant in one (oops – that’s Rith’s Charm, which creates tokens; Treva’s Charm doesn’t kill anything but enchantments or creatures). If only White had a Wrath of God as an instant! (Not Rout, which is a sorcery that’s playable as an instant.)

Okay, so we have the basic deck ideas – and about six cards. That’s good. But that’s six cards excluding lands, which is not good. My biggest problem in deck design is always cutting cards. So, let’s start by laying out a straight U/G version:

23 assorted Land

4 Counterspell

4 Force Spike

2 Disrupt or Liquify

3 Opt

2 Memory Lapse

2 Syncopate

4 Peek

3 Holistic Wisdom

3 Plagiarize

3 Still Life

2 Fact or Fiction

1 Evacuation (a way around Meddling Mage and Spellbane Centaur)

4 Repulse

If only we had a search engine like Mystical Tutor, this would be amazing! I’m also very nervous about staying alive long enough to draw enough cards. In playtesting, Aether Burst was not quite enough – you needed the cantrip effect of Repulse. However, bounce is not permanent removal. I’m actually thinking of playing one Vivify – but I haven’t had time to playtest that. Moreover, this deck is a mana hog. It could really use something in the form of artifact mana (like Moxen, actually), but there is no room. I would also like to include a Divert to deal with fast burn in R/G beats, which rips this apart with a fast draw, but there is no room.

Okay, let’s try a U/G/r build. The basic deck is pretty much the same, but the red helps.

24 assorted Land

4 Counterspell

4 Force Spike

2 Memory Lapse

2 Fire/Ice

4 Peek

3 Holistic Wisdom

3 Plagiarize

2 Prophetic Bolt

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Temporary Insanity (or is including it just insane?)

1 Divert

1 Urza’s Rage

4 Repulse

We could also try abusing the Flame Burst mechanic, (get two or three in the graveyard, keep recurring the final one) but I would have to test that a lot before buying that idea. Prophetic Bolt is just better.

Adding white gets us the following:

24 assorted Land

4 Counterspell

4 Force Spike

2 Memory Lapse

4 Life Burst

4 Peek or Fire/Ice

3 Holistic Wisdom

3 Plagiarize

2 Still Life

2 Absorb

2 Fact or Fiction (or maybe Reviving Vapors?)

2 Treva’s Charm

4 Repulse

I need to test all of these a lot more, but I like the third the most, since it has more answers to enchantments, and since Treva’s Charm is a cheap method of removing attackers. I have also had some success using Life Burst recursion against R/G and R/U tempo, which otherwise runs the deck over. Having a Force Spike for the turn 2 Mongrel is still critical against these decks, but the Life Burst and Treva’s Charm do help to get you past the rush if you don’t.

I’m not happy with the land, however. (I want my duals!) I either end up taking too much painland damage or not having an immediate blue for a turn 1 or 2 Force Spike. Cephalid Coliseum is good, but the pings can kill you. Another question with the lands is whether to run more (I had twenty-five at one point) or more cheap card drawing like Opt. Opt has the advantage that, unlike a land, Holistic Wisdom does turn Opt into a Plagiarize. I have tried dropping to twenty-three land for another Opt, but I need to test more.

I have also looked at adding Teferi’s Moat versus aggro green decks – but as good as that is, it dilutes the number of instants. I stay alive a little longer, but eventually lose the lock. It will be in the sideboard of any U/G/W builds.

I am also very torn on Repulse versus Aether Burst. Each are good in some cases and insufficient in others.

I have one Teferi’s Puzzlebox in the deck box and keep slipping it in during playtest sessions. It is a great way of getting rid of threats (bounce creatures, and if the opponent holds them back fearing your counterspells, you drop Puzzlebox and the creatures end up on the bottom of the library). However, it often helps the opponent too much. It is almost impossible to get the Puzzlebox/Plagiarize combo off in a meaningful timeframe, unless the opponent is playing very badly, is totally mana screwed, or has a very bad deck.

I would love to build a four-color version with Fire/Ice, Prophetic Bolt, Life Burst and Treva’s Charm, but getting the land to work is almost impossible without a lot of painland damage. Sure would be nice, though.

Alternative build: Cephalid Looter/Broker and Plagiarize.

24 assorted Land

4 Counterspell

4 Force Spike

2 Disrupt

4 Repulse

4 Peek

4 Cephalid Looter

4 Cephalid Broker

3 Holistic Wisdom

3 Plagiarize

1 Rushing River

1 Evacuation

1 Gurzigost

2 Divert (to try to protect all those costly but vulnerable creatures)

My two biggest fears with this deck are fast burn torching the Cephalids, and running out of cards before you can kill them. The first test build tried to win with Looter beatdown – which is problematic. Remember, once you have the lock, you are drawing two to three cards per turn and removing one of them from the game. The lock is pretty solid in this build – with Looter/Plagiarize, you not only prevent them from drawing anything, you also empty their hand, but since there are fewer instants, you often have to draw several cards to find an instant, and if a Cephalid is tapping to draw cards, it is not beating. That’s why the Gurzigost is in the build – he not only wins games, he keeps you from running out of cards. However, the Looter deck has another downside: The creatures mean you are now vulnerable to Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict, and the Ichorid decks already give you fits.

I am also considering splashing white for Sunscape Familiar, since making the deck cheaper could get the lock down faster. With Familiars, the lock would only cost five mana for the initial casting, and holding it would also just cost five mana (three for Plagiarism, plus two to use Holistic Wisdom). The main problem is that so much of the current metagame kills three-toughness walls (Mongrel, Aquamoeba, Nantuko Shade, almost all the burn, etc.), as well as being more vulnerable to Edict. However, running the Familiars would allow you to run a creature as a kill card.

Anyway, that’s my attempt to break Plagiarize. I beat on it a ton, but it isn’t broken; I’m not sure it’s even scratched. The fast decks in this format are too fast and the counter decks are still common, even if Psychatog is no longer completely defining the format. That means that the mix of cards is critical, and I am not completely comfortable with any of these builds. However, it can work – I’m just not winning more than fifty percent against the most common decks.

What am I missing?

I finished the first draft of this article and started playtesting these decks just before Jay Schneider’s Wild Plagiarization article came out. It is tempting to try to mix the madness effects he has with the above notes on breaking Plagiarize, but the decks are already tight. Suffice it to say that Wild Research can perform the searching functions for Plagiarize/Holistic Wisdom decks, but you cannot use the empty hand/autodiscard/madness engine that makes his decks run.


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