This article is about Notion Thief, Legacy, and one of the most brutal beatings in recorded history.
First, a bit on San Diego.
The PT went poorly for me, starting with a disastrous 0-3 in draft. I ended up with a reasonable Esper deck, similar to what I've been winning with online and in our practice drafts, but I had a couple weak slots and a high curve. After stumbling on my mana and dying in the first couple of games, I should've started upping my count when boarding. It was a situation I hadn't come across in this format yet and, slow thinker that I am, I didn't adapt in time.
A shame, because my Block deck was reasonable.
I'd learned from my last Block PT, where my biggest mistake was not communicating with other groups. Then, my read on the metagame was inaccurate, and I paid for it.
For San Diego, I talked with as many people as I could, and I knew Esper would be favored, perhaps with the obvious GWx variants in close second. Since the GW decks were maindecking Rootborn Defenses, and the GB decks were stuffed with regenerators like Lotleth Troll and Varolz, the Scar-Striped, I figured that Supreme Verdict would win the award for most heavily-played bad card on the weekend, and I wanted to avoid both playing it and losing to it.
We came up with various Bant lists throughout testing, but this was my final 75. Two others played it, and they both cashed. Bernat even lost playing for Top 8, only to lose again to receive the biggest dagger of all time in 26th place (Top 25 is the gravy train). He's a fine player, and I have no doubt he'll get his day in the sun.
The idea behind the deck is that against aggro you flood the field, and against control you force them to tap low to answer your threats before playing something more resilient, like a Jace or an Aetherling. Even if Esper sticks an Aetherling first, you usually win the race because of the early damage you sneak in with Voices and Smiters. Post-board, Debtor's Pulpit acts as another way to win the Aetherling war and as an answer to Blood Baron.
Gatecreeper Vine is one of the subtle strengths of this deck, as it both fixes the mana, provides a roadblock against aggro, and pumps your Voice of Resurgence tokens. It also works as a shuffle effect, which can be relevant with Jace, Architect of Thought occasionally bottoming crucial cards.
My biggest mistake was underestimating how much the Esper players would tune for the control mirror. Post-board, we had few answers to cards like Nightveil Specter, which we should have expected.
Everyone's emphasis on the Esper mirror is probably why Craig Wescoe was able to crush the tournament with a very straightforward GW aggro deck. Many congrats to Craig! I've been lucky enough to consider Craig a friend, and over the various drafts and testing we've done together I've noticed his incredibly sharp eye for combat. His win didn't surprise me at all—he is one of the best aggro players out there.
The most rewarding part of being a deckbuilder is seeing my fingerprints on the metagame. It doesn't have to be a fancy Top 8. I feel the same glow when I run into my deck in a 2-man on MtGO, or when someone messages me on Facebook or comes up to me at a GP and says, “Hey, I've been playing your deck.” Or even better, “I've been losing to your deck a lot, how do I beat it?”
This last weekend, I got to experience that best of feelings when I saw that Chris Anderson Top 8'd with UB Tezzeret. While it wasn't my list, it had my fingerprints all over it right down to the Darkslick Shores.
UB Tezz, by Chris Andersen
In many ways, this is a cleaner version of what I won with last year, and I recommend testing it out.
Before the weekend, Chris approached me about the deck, and it was clear he had an idea of what he did and didn't like about my old Cincinnati list. Unsurprisingly, he had it in for my beloved Karn and Wurmcoil Engines, and also wanted to take the Damnations out of the main deck. While I'd done a lot of crazy things with Damnations, like using Tezzeret to make Batterskull into a 5/5 and sweeping it away with my opponent's Stoneforge Mystic, I knew they could be substituted for a combination of Ensnaring Bridge and Transmute Artifact.
Both strategies have their benefits. Tezzeret can find Ensnaring Bridge, and the ability to tutor for it with Transmute is great. Also, Bridge works as a hoser for Sneak and Show. One problem with it is that it doesn't actually deal with what's in play. The opponent can build up a board, tutor for a Qasali Pridemage and alpha strike you out of nowhere, which isn't an issue with Damnation. Another problem is when you don't have the mana to ditch your hand, making the Bridge ineffective. Finally, it hinders the Tezzeret beatdown.
In the end, the Thopter combo is the default plan against aggro anyway, making Bridge a fine, situational target.
The split between Talismans and Signets seems strange at first, as surely one must be better than the other, but that's not the case. With Talisman, you can cast your accelerator and still pay for their Daze on your Force of Will. Post-board, you can chain it into Duress, which matters sometimes. Talisman costs life, though, so you don't want to overload on them.
Out of the sideboard, the extra Ensnaring Bridges are best against Sneak and Show, but since we already have one to tutor up I want to mix in some number of Venser, Shaper Savant, as that card actually hits against Omniscience. Since mono-blue Omniscience won the Bazaar of Moxen recently, it might be a deck to watch out for. More discard, say, a pair of Thoughtseizes, might also fit these slots.
I like the Meekstone in the side, and would like it even more if we still had a Trinket Mage in the main deck, preferably over one of the Chalices. Flooding on Chalices when you need gas can mean game over in a lot of matchups, and I still don't think you need the full 4. That said, there were two copies of Storm in this Top 8, and all the Chalice/Trinisphere shenanigans backed up with countermagic and a fast planeswalker clock, should make that a strong matchup.
Notion Thief is a novelty, and it's rather genius out of this sideboard. We can cast it turn two on the play, which means if your opponent waits to pair his Brainstorm with a fetchland, he might already be lost.
While Notion Thief matches up well against all the cantrips in the format, it shuts off several draw engines as well. Time Spiral becomes the biggest blowout imaginable. Enter the Infinite lets you draw your deck instead of the opponent, though it will kill you if you have fewer cards. Griselbrand turns into a downright fair creature, making Thief a reasonable option to put into play off of Show and Tell.
When Thief was first spoiled, some suggested it for Esper Blade, as that deck has use for blue flash creatures that provide value and carry equipment. Last weekend, Lauren Nolan put it to the test.
Deathblade, by Lauren Nolan
This deck won the whole thing.
14 blue cards isn't many for Force of Will, and the industry standard is generally 18+. That said, you don't actually need that high of a blue count. I remember playing Painter with 14. People try to defend that with, “but Painter's Servant makes everything blue,” and sure, that's a sweet interaction, but it doesn't help resolve the Servant itself.
In that deck, as with this one, the blue card you're pitching is better than losing the game to whatever the opponent is doing. If the game goes long enough, you'll eventually either draw the blue card or the mana to hardcast it, and you will end up pitching Force to Force a lot.
His card choices agree with me, especially in favoring Wasteland over Factory. Manlands are sweet and all, especially when it's hard to stick a creature to carry a Jitte, but that's what Jace is for. Wasteland is more than another form of disruption, it's a safeguard against some forms of inevitability like Academy Ruins and Volrath's Stronghold.
I also like the one-ofs, Vendilion Clique and Notion Thief. They're awkward in the early game and hard to avoid telegraphing, but they're blue creatures that carry a Jitte well. If timed properly, they make for extreme blowouts and can swing games on their own.
That all said, I recommend mixing this list with the one Jack Fogle piloted to second place. Fogle's Forces are in the sideboard, making room for a few maindeck Liliana of the Veil. The Lilianas, in turn, make sideboard Meddling Mages more awkward and less necessary, so the slots even out. While Lili isn't as good against combo as maindeck Force, it does provide a useful soft lock against those decks, and as a powerful win-the-game trump in the grindy mirrors.
If I were going to play this deck, I'd want the other two Wastelands and a Crucible in the sideboard for Punishing Fire matchups. No Grove—no problem. It's also a way to crush the grindy decks like BUG and Jund. Leaving the opponent with no permanents in play leaves a satisfying feeling indeed.
The Birth of a Notion
This article is about a few things, but mostly Notion Thief. Consider it a celebration of its playability. For a long time, we haven't had a reason to avoid playing broken draw spells. Now, we can get seriously punished.
Instant speed better-than-Chains of Mephistopheles makes for some epic blowouts. I've cast a Plagiarize in response to a Wheel of Fortune before, and I know just how fast it makes someone go on tilt. Look at what happened to poor Justin Uppal last weekend:
The above screen shot was taken right at the point where Lauren responded to Justin's Jacestorm with Notion Thief. As with Chains of Mephistopheles, the draws are replaced, but two cards still need to be put back as part of the Brainstorm effect. In case you weren't counting, that's a five-card swing without counting the 3/1 body, useful here in pressuring Jace.
Justin is a talented kid, and after another strong finish his mental health will heal from this terrifically scarring moment. In the meantime, we can enjoy this image of one of the most perfect destructions the world has ever seen.
Best of all? Justin's anguish, and table judge Jeph Foster's raucous laughter, immortalized in this gif.
It doesn't top the epic Bonfire for best magic blowout, but it's still good. (For reference.)
I hope this trend of awesome blowout gifs continues.