SCG Madison Top 16 Report – Sneak and Bargain

Have you ever played with Necropotence or Yawgmoth’s Bargain? Odds are, if you like doing unfair things and have been playing Magic since Urza’s Block, or are a Vintage player, you’ve probably lusted for more cards and more power. The dark side of Magic compels you to sacrifice and trade your soul for power. Griselbrand is that dark side.

Beyond astute recognition of deck building trends and popular sentiment, new printings are responsible for the ebbs and tides of the omnipresent shifts in the Magic metagame. With spring came the printing of Avacyn Restored, and with that came the printing of Griselbrand.

Like the aforementioned Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Griselbrand allows you to trade one point of life for one card drawn, and this has generally turned out broken enough to land Necropotence and Bargain on the Banned list in Legacy, and the Restricted list in Vintage. Some people were quick to recognize Griselbrand as the latest and greatest in a trend of power-creeping fatties that have been released, making Reanimator and Show and Tell strategies stronger in Legacy, and Oath of Druids strategies stronger in Vintage. With a summer full of Legacy events on the horizon, the question becomes how best to abuse Griselbrand in Legacy?

In existing deck shells the best fits for Griselbrand are undoubtedly Reanimator and Sneak and Show. Both are quick and powerful combo decks that are relatively consistent (relative to most other combo decks), already rely on other fatties, and already play countermagic to potentially draw in to in order to protect Griselbrand. While decks that featured Necropotence or Yawgmoth’s Bargain usually relied on some kind of combo card(s) to kill the opponent in one turn, the cards themselves didn’t have a mechanism for replenishing the life you sacrificed. Griselbrand fits nicely into these decks because if you are attacking with it you are naturally going to restore your life total, allowing you to draw even more cards and do even more broken things.

In Reanimator decks there is a lot of competition for the creatures slots, with platinum hits like Iona, Shield of Emeria, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Inkwell Leviathan, and the closest competitor to Griselbrand in Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. While Jin-Gitaxias doesn’t draw the cards immediately (and is thus more susceptible to removal, as well as splash hate like Red Elemental Blast), it does effectively Mind Twist your opponent within a turn. That being said, it doesn’t gain life, and it is quite easy to be raced by an opposing Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary when all you have is a 5/4 Jin-Gitaxias. Decks like RUG Delver can’t effectively interact with Griselbrand at all, because they have no appropriate removal for it, and it is bigger and far scarier than any of their creatures. So there is a lot to be said for Griselbrand as the reanimation target of choice right now.

All of that being said, with the amount of graveyard hate flowing around right now I don’t think Reanimator is currently the best choice. The already existing Sneak and Show decks are very powerful, have decent manabases for a combo deck, and don’t allow much room for interaction with the opponent. These are three traits that lead me to believe that Sneak and Show was the best choice for SCG Madison. When everyone else is trying to grind out games with Mother of Runes, Submerge, Lingering Souls, and Lightning Bolt, I want to do something unfair that allows my opponent to interact as little as possible. People should be punished for playing Forked Bolt in Legacy.

So after narrowing down my deck choices, I stumbled upon Norman Croan’s decklist and excellent report from his 20th place finish at SCG Providence a little while ago. Most of my Sneak and Show lists had Dispel main and no Dazes, but Norm was taking the pitch counters much further than I had, and included 3 Misdirections in his list. I’m not a huge fan of card disadvantage, but in this deck Misdirection functions nearly identical to Force of Will, and when you’re playing combo and have Force of Will in your hand you generally win. So having more Force of Wills is a good thing, right!? Modeling my list from Norm’s and my previous lists, I ended up settling on this list for Madison:

Sneak & Bargain 20122Q 1.1, by Jaco 05-13-2012
Business (37)
4 Force of Will
3 Misdirection
3 Spell Pierce
4 Brainstorm
2 Ponder
2 Intuition
3 Blood Moon
4 Show and Tell
4 Sneak Attack
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Griselbrand

Mana Sources (23)
4 Lotus Petal
4 Ancient Tomb
2 City of Traitors
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Flooded Strand
2 Volcanic Island
4 Island
1 Mountain

Sideboard B (15)
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Echoing Truth
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Flusterstorm

I’m aware that many people love Intuition in this deck for the flexibility it provides in tutoring for anything, but I am less than high on it in this particular deck for a couple of reasons. Against decks like RUG Delver or UR Delver, or even some builds of UW Snapcaster Control, Intuition is really cool if it resolves, but more often than not you just spent three mana to run it directly into Spell Pierce, which means you wasted a full turn. After sideboarding, more and more decks have access to Extirpate or Surgical Extraction. In Wizards’ infinite wisdom and trying to be clever they created the Phyrexian mana shenanigans, which is my opinion is the most egregious error since the Storm mechanic. So the presence of Surgical Extraction in most people’s sideboards automatically makes Intuition weaker, as casting Intuition post-sideboard potentially wastes tempo and exposes you to full removal of some important piece of your deck. After trimming the Intuition count down to two, I also often boarded out Intuition first for these reasons.

Yes, that is definitely Blood Moon main deck in the list above. On its own, Blood Moon is a bomb against a lot of decks, and is also helps to solve the deck’s weakness to opposing Knight of the Reliquary into Karakas plays. Even if the opponent doesn’t have a Karakas in their deck, Blood Moon still screws with most manabases enough to buy you more time to find combo pieces and protection. It’s essentially the Nutty McFlush.

The sideboard consisted of cards that I thought would be useful based against trends I was seeing and what I felt would be popular in Madison. As always, I would recommend you tune your full 75 to what you expect to face that day, and my 75 will undoubtedly be different next time I play this.

After a quick ride up Saturday from Chicago with co-conspirator and Team Blouses and Team Serious member Brian Fisher, we met up with our gracious host, long time friend, and Madison native Mike Torrisi (aka SpikeyMikey). A late night dinner at microbrewery Great Dane Pub (high marks for this place all around) with Mike and some of his posse preceded a late night deckbuilding, drinking, and Type 4 binge until 4am. As the great Jerry Yang would say, “out of town, standards down.” BOOM.

So Sunday morning after meeting up with some more familiar faces like Ben Carp, Mike Solymossy, Dan Bogucki, John Donovan, Joe Bernal, James King, and more, we sat down to battle amongst 185 particpants for the Legacy Open. Here’s how it unfolded, at least as far as my chicken scratch writing can recount.

Round 1 vs. Charles Gray (playing GW Maverick)
Game 1: I win the die roll, and mull to 6. I play a second turn Show and Tell (with Force backup in hand), and drop a Griselbrand into play. Charles casually flips over his one of naturally drawn Karakas in the deck. Like a boss. I pass the turn, and on the end step he bounces Griselbrand to my hand, with which I respond by drawing seven cards for seven life. What a Bargain! I draw another Show and Tell, a Blood Moon, and even more countermagic. Charles plays a Tarmogoyf, then ships it back to me, and I drop a Blood Moon on turn three. On his turn he casts another Tarmogoyf and attacks. On my fourth turn I Show and Tell Griselbrand into play again, and he drops anotherTarmogoyf into play. So the board state is basically me at 4 life with Griselbrand in play, multiple counters in hand, and Charles having triple Tarmogoyf and Noble Hierarch in play. I pass the turn, and he goes for Green Sun’s Zenith for two (to no doubt fetch a Qasali Pridemage to blow up Blood Moon and turn back on Karakas), and I Force of Will it. I’m then able to attack with Griselbrand and survive the ensuing counterattacks, ending the game at 1 life thanks to the lifelink ability of Griselbrand. What a swell card.

I don’t remember what I sideboarded here, but it was possibly something like -2 Intuition +2 Echoing Truth or Flusterstorm. There just isn’t a lot that Maverick does that this deck cares about, other than searching up Karakas.

Game 2: We both mull to 6, and Charles lands an early Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, backed by a Tarmogoyf. I Sneak Attack in an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, wipe his board, drop him to 5 life, and effectively end the game.

Games 2-0, Matches 1-0

Round 2 vs. Mike Solymossy (playing Spiral Tide)
Game 1: I’m looking forward to this matchup, as I lent Soly some Candelabras to play for the day, and we’ve been trading notes on High Tide for the better part of 6 months. However there is no game 1. Soly sits down and informs me he’s been given a game loss for mis-registering his fetchland base. #FAIL.

Game 2: Soly decides to play first, and we both mulligan to 6. We exchange Ponders and setup spells for the first few turns, and he Merchant Scrolls for Flusterstorm, which is pretty good against the Show and Tell in my hand. I have multiple counterspells in my hand in case he tries to go off, but wait until I draw another Ancient Tomb or other nice mana source before I try to go off. I do draw an Ancient Tomb, and cast Show and Tell, which ultimately resolves. I have the choice of putting Emrakul or Griselbrand into play, and ultimately decide to put Griselbrand into play to theoretically draw more counterspells in case he tries to go off. He does chain a Candelabra and High Tide together, but my multiple counterspells trump his lone Flusterstorm backup, and I ultimately win the match. While it sucks to get any kind of free wins if you’re a true competitor, it is always fun to crush Soly.

Games 4-0, Matches 2-0

Round 3 vs. Sean Robbins (playing RUG Delver)
Game 1: I win the die roll and mull to 6. I drop and Island and pass into Sean’s play of Volcanic Island. I play Volcanic and pass, and he Wastelands my Volcanic, without another play, so I’m going to assume he is holding up Stifle. We both miss land drops for a couple of turns, and I drop a Scalding Tarn into play. I have Spell Pierce and Force to protect my Tarn, so on his end step I sac it, he Stifles, and I Spell Pierce. He thinks about it and lets it resolve, and I get a basic Mountain. After both of us miss some more lands drops I Force through a Blood Moon, and the game becomes academic at that point. I resolve Show and Tell into Sneak Attack into Griselbrand and Emrakul. Game, Blouses.

I sideboard -2 Intuition +2 Flusterstorm.

Game 2: We both mull to 6 again, and we both apparently have the defensive hands, as not much happens the first few turns. I resolve an early Blood Moon, then build up an uber hand and ultimately resolve Show and Tell into Sneak Attack into Emrakul, and the game is basically over. Both of us struggled on mana this match, but if the Sneak and Show player is able to develop their manabase at all they will usually win this matchup because of the countermagic superiority, and RUG having mostly soft counters. Having 7 effective Force of Wills plus Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm, plus Blood Moon, is pretty devastating.

Games 6-0, Matches 3-0

Round 4 vs. Matt Hoey (playing RUG Delver)
Game 1: Matt wins the die roll, and I mull to 6 again, with a hand that is pretty easily disruptable, but features double Brainstorm and a couple of counterspells. I Force an early Delver but ultimately lose to a Tarmogoyf while I struggle on mana.

I believe I sided -2 Intuition +2 Flusterstorm again.

Game 2: I mull to 6 yet again (yes, that’s every single game played so far), but it wasn’t enough. I struggle on mana again even with the double Brainstorm hand again, and his Insectile Aberation goes the distance. If there is one lesson to be gained from this day and this match, it is that you can afford to mulligan to simply get good mana hands with this deck. You don’t even need tons of business, because you’re ultimately going to draw into cards, and if you can simply cast them and resolve them nearly all of your opponents are going to lose. So mulligan aggressively to hands with enough mana, and worry about the rest later.

Games 6-2, Matches 3-1

Round 5 vs. Pat McGregor (playing AggroLoam)
Game 1: Pat wins the die roll, and lands a Confidant on turn 1, and a Countryside Crusher shortly therafter. That’s cool, but I quickly Show and Tell in Griselbrand, and a turn later Misdirect his Terminate to his Countryside Crusher, and after drawing some cards for more countermagic Griselbrand gets there.

I either sided in Echoing Truth or Surgical Extraction this match, but that was an error. I should have simply sided in 4 Leyline of Sanctity to turn off his discard and Seismic Assault. I couldn’t really care less if these decks masturbate with Life from the Loam on end. If they can’t disrupt you they don’t matter.

Game 2: I open some terrible hands and mulligan to 5, and we screw around for a couple of turns, and Pat lands a Countryside Crusher. I think about Forcing it, but think I have enough turns and search spells to find what I need. I don’t, and his Crusher kills me a few turns later. This was probably a tactical error, but at the time I thought the Force would have been better served as protection for my combo.

Game 3: I lead this game off by developing my manabase, and ultimately drawing a million fatties and no mechanism to put them into play. I Brainstorm the extra creatures two or three times, and subsequently drew the exact same cards I shuffled aways. Pat lands a Seismic Assault the turn before I draw relevant countermagic, and slowly kills me, which is clearly unfortunate. I didn’t see a Blood Moon any of these games, which would have been sweet. I am pretty confident that had I sideboarded correctly I would win this matchup most of the time. Time to go undefeated to grab that cash money.

Games 7-4, Matches 3-2

Round 6 vs. Tim Saari (playing BR Goblins with Cavern of Souls)
Game 1: Tim wins the die roll and drops a first turn Goblin Lackey, which I cannot counter. On turn two he attacks, drops Siege Gang-Commander into play, and resolves another Goblin Lackey. I need to do something, and fast. I Brainstorm on his second end step, drawing Ancient Tomb, and shuffle away the junk with a fetchland. On my third turn I’m able to cast Sneak Attack, trigger it once with Lotus Petal to drop Griselbrand into play, draw 7, and drop Emrakul into play off of another Lotus Petal. Solid.

I think I may have sideboarded +2 Echoing Truth +1 Flusterstorm -3 Blood Moon.

Game 2: I drop a first turn Lotus Petal and Ancient Tomb into Show and Tell into Griselbrand (with counter backup, just in case he has removal). I do the Griselbrand dance for a few turns and that is enough to finish off the match.

Games 9-4, Matches 4-2

Round 7 vs. Brian Lark (playing BUG Tempo style)
Game 1: Brian wins the die roll, mulls to 6, and starts off with a Ponder. We play lands and setup spells for a couple of turns, and I’m able to Show and Tell a Griselbrand into play with Spell Pierce to counter his Force. Griselbrand draws cards at an alarming rate, and I win. What a Bargain.

I probably sideboarded -2 Intuition +2 Flusterstorm.

Game 2: Brian leads off with Ponder and then Inquisition of Kozilek, to which I respond with a Brainstorm to hide all of the loot that costs 3 or less. A couple of turns later Show and Tell into Sneak Attack happens, and Emrakul makes an appearance to wipe his board, and then he Surgical Extracts Emrakul with the shuffle trigger on the stack. Griselbrand makes an appearance a short time later, and that’s all she wrote.

Games 11-4, Matches 5-2

Round 8 vs. Greg Pino (playing UR Delver)
Game 1: Greg win the die roll and lands an early Delver of Secrets which immediately flips to an Insectile Aberation. After a couple of attacks and a couple of my fetchlands I’m down to 11 life, and then Show and Tell into Emrakul happens. He’s able to bring me down to 2 with various Lightning Bolts and attacks before Emrakul does the damn thing.

I probably sided -2 Intuition -3 Blood Moon +3 Leyline of Sanctity +2 Flusterstorm here, because everything else is irrelevant or too slow.

Game 2: I mull to 6 and Greg leads off with an early Goblin Guide, and before I know it I’m at 13, but have drawn a couple of lands from Goblin Guide after Brainstorming and Ponder to set up. Sneak Attack gets pushed through, and Emrakul wipes his board. A turn or two later another Emrakul finishes the job.

Games 13-4, Matches 6-2

So according to my notes, the only games I lost were from the matches I lost, and I won every game in the matches I won. Overall the deck felt just as savage as I had hoped, but mulliganed a good amount, which is fairly normal for the “unfair” decks. Griselbrand is more broken than advertised, so I would recommend picking some up if you haven’t already. This card has a future in multiple formats.

Like on most road trips, I had a blast, got to see a number of old friends, and got to meet some cool new people, including my coolest opponents Greg Pino and Pat McGregor. You guys ruled.

Thanks for reading and checking out Eternal Central!