It is time for yet another edition of the TES Matchup Battles series and this episode we take on Sneak and Show! We have previously taken on creature and control decks, but let's see how we match up against another combo deck. Show and Tell decks have gone up and down in popularity for the past several years. When Griselbrand was printed it really put this deck on the map as a real contender. In terms of very high level concepts this decks overall goal is similar to that of TES. Cast a couple of cantrips early on and use 6-10 pieces of disruption to try and protect the combo and then kill the opponent as quickly as possible with their combo. Now instead of storming out the opponent they try to put a big permanent into play like Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn or Omniscience to win the game. I don't see this type of strategy going anywhere, so it is a good idea that we look at this matchup in depth, and some of the major principles can be used when playing against other combo decks.
How does Sneak and Show matchup against TES?
For reference – I am basing this off the list that recently got Top 8 at GP Louisville.
Show and Tell, Sneak Attack, Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn – These cards are what make their combo and is what allows them to put their big monster into play. Show and Tell is much faster, but easier for us to beat. If they cast Show and Tell and put an Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn into play then they have to pass the turn and that gives us the opportunity to still combo off, whereas our chances of winning diminish a lot if they Sneak Attack an Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn into play because we lose 15 life and 6 permanents. Griselbrand through either avenue is definitely harder to beat than Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn because they can draw a ton of cards and find their disruption. If Griselbrand comes into play via Show and Tell now they have that ability at instant speed, on our turn, and because of this ability to do this at any time during our combo then their counters are protected from our discard spell.
Force of Will, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm – Their primary interactive cards. Most lists I've seen usually run at least 8-10 of these cards in their 75 and 6-8 maindeck, and can sometimes include cards like Daze. These will protect their combo by countering our discard spells, but also being able to counter our combo. Running into their counters could be a way we lose this game, so trying to goldfish them out isn't the best way to approach this matchup even though the idea is to combo off before they do.
Leyline of Sanctity – I do not believe most lists run this card, but the most recent one that Top 8'd the last GP had 4 in the sideboard, so hopefully for us this does not become the new standard, because then we would only have two Chain of Vapor and Empty the Warrens to beat a Leyline of SanctityEmpty the Warrens is generally not good in this matchup to try and win with because it is much slower and could be stopped by a Griselbrand. Without being able to target the opponent with Tendrils of Agony the matchup becomes much more challenging. One thing to note, just because the opponent doesn't begin the game with it in play doesn't necessarily mean we are in the clear. I have seen opponents cast Show and Tell and put a Leyline of Sanctity in play against storm several times, so when seeing the opponents hand be aware of this potential line they could take.
- 4 Burning Wish
- 4 Infernal Tutor
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
- 4 Cabal Therapy
- 3 Duress
- 1 Ad Nauseam
Ways to win this matchup
Killing Them – TES is a very fast deck and is good at doing it. We can easily win a lot of games on turn one and turn two, but the problem is unless we know the coast is clear that probably isn't the best way to approach this matchup because of their many counterspells. The opponent has a lot of free and very cheap interaction that can stop us during our combo turn. This is why the fundamental turns of this matchup are generally going to be 3-5. The exception is if we are on the play, then I find it a lot more intriguing to go for the kill on turn 1 because then its Force of Will or bust for them. Once they've played a land then that gives them access to Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm.
Tendrils of Agony - This is the primary win condition in this matchup, and by that I mean the only way you should be winning except in rare occasions. The goblins plan just isn't great against a potential Griselbrand and some Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn situations where we'd have to annihilate our team. There are some exceptions where we have the ability to make enough goblins to beat a Griselbrand though, but for the most part Tendrils of Agony is the safest and cleanest kill and should be seeking this route.
Duress/Cabal Therapy- All of their disruption is in the form of counterspells, and their combo is based off of non-creature spells in both Show and Tell and Sneak Attack. The reason why I prefer Duress over Cabal Therapy in this matchup is because we don't know where we stand until after we've seen their hand. Our discard spells may have to hit their counterspells in order to clear the way for our combo, but they also may have to be used defensively by taking one of their combo pieces, and we never know which is the case until after we know their hand and can then make a game plan around that. Cabal Therapy is the other way. It requires you to have a game plan in advance and then name the card that the opponent could have the interferes with that plan. Each plays their own role in this matchup differently.
Turns two through four are the fundamental turns for both of us because the first couple turns we are making our land drops and casting cantrips to sculpt our hands into our combos, but also our disruptive spells. This game is definitely about knowing your role, but that is true for a lot of matchups, so what makes this matchup different? Well, the roles change from game to game, from hand to hand, and can even change from turn to turn, and if you ever are wrong about your role then the game could just be over, or you could miss the opportunity for a win. Some scenarios we could possibly run into (example below) would be if the opponent has their combo and counterspells in hand, and we only have one discard spell.
+2 Chain of Vapor
In combo and other fast matchups I take out a couple copies of Ponder because we just don't have the luxury of spending too much time cantripping and digging. The game is not going to go a lot of turns and we aren't going to have to recover from any discard spells or anything like that. This matchup is all about the business cards and the speed. We need to have as much of the combo and some disruption as possible, and the opponent is going to have that same strategy. Having a hand full of cantrips is just not a winning strategy in this matchup.
I expect the opponent to bring in Leyline of Sanctity, because that was what was in the list that Top 8'd GP Louisville, and I want to have some outs to it, so I would bring in Chain of Vapor. Without it we have no outs and have to win with the goblin plan at that point. Even if the opponent does not have Leyline of Sanctity in their 75 it still is probably better than Ponder because we can bounce Griselbrand. This would prevent them from being able to draw their cards during our combo. They would have to do it before we started comboing off and then we can use a discard spell to hopefully clear the way.
This was a game 1 scenario I ran across and I was on the draw with an unknown opponent and we both kept our 7 cards. I basically had the ideal hand of the combo, some discard, and some lands. He started off with a Flooded Strand and passed the turn. I drew my card for the turn and then I started my turn off like any typical matchup with a turn 1 Gitaxian Probe and he revealed his hand.
Seeing his hand made me think because he basically had his ideal hand too which included the combo, a counter, some cantrips and mana, so where do we go from here? How do we use our discard spells and how do we try and combo off before he does? These are the questions that this entire matchup revolves around. We can use our discard spell on his combo or on his Force of Will and try to combo off the following turn. I played and cracked my fetchland grabbing a Badlands casting Cabal Therapy and my opponent let it resolve. I wasn't 100% sure if they would let it resolve or not, but when it did then I named Force of Will with the hope of comboing off the next turn. The fear is if the opponent does draw a mana source for their draw step then they can put an Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn in play, but I can win before it attacks, so I wasn't too worried. If they had revealed a Griselbrand instead then I probably would have named Show and Tell instead because that could stop my combo if that was in play and then they drew Force of Will off drawing 14 cards.
I lost game 2 due to a couple mulligans and my opponent having a quick Griselbrand in play, so this was game 3. I was on the play and I kept this hand. Once I told my opponent I was keeping my hand he could't put his Leyline of Sanctity onto the battlefield any faster. I re-evaluated my hand now that there is a game changer in play. So, what I can do now is go for the sideboard Empty the Warrens, and make 10 goblins. As long as my opponent doesn't have a really quick Griselbrand then that should be good enough, but I will lose to a Force of Will because I don't have a discard spell. That makes our options to either go for that route and cross our fingers a few times or we can cast this Ponder and look for either a Chain of Vapor for the Leyline of Sanctity or a discard spell to try to clear the way for the goblins. I went with plan A because if the Ponder misses on either of those we probably just lose, and the longer we wait the worse the goblin plan gets because then they are that much closer to assembling their own combo, and once they play a land now Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm become online, so I am actually playing around more things by going for it on turn 1, and that is exactly what I did. Luckily, they did not have Force of Will or a Griselbrand, but instead had a turn 3 Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn which was not good enough to defeat our horde of goblins.
The main takeaway from this is that there is quite a bit of evaluating and tough decisions. There are very few decisions, but the ones you make can and often will determine who wins the game. This isn't a match vs miracles or a Sultai deck where the game will go long, there will be lots of decisions to make and where the roles are pretty defined. Who is playing defense and who is playing offense in this matchup changes from turn to turn. Both players are trying to assemble their own combo and protect it while also trying to break up the opponents'. One reason why I give the edge to TES is because of these very important decisions and role evaluation being able to have full information and see the contents of the opponents hand with cards like Gitaxian Probe and our discard spells is such a huge advantage that the opponent just doesn't have. They are always in constant guessing of how many turns they have left, what card to counter, and what role they are every stage of the game. Most of the time we have the luxury of always knowing, so remember know your role and good luck storming!