Legacy can be a tough format to get into. A pool of over 20,000 cards, a deeply entrenched metagame, and the price tags of some staples means that the format isn’t Magic’s most accessible. Nonetheless, Legacy is a rich and rewarding format to play, and Level One Legacy is all about helping you make a start and find your feet in the format. This week, I’m looking at Sneak and Show.
What Sneak and Show Does
Sneak and Show is the preeminent combo deck in Legacy right now, enjoying a resurgence in popularity since the banning of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. It’s all about cheating enormous cards into play, whether it’s Griselbrand, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or even Omniscience. It does this with Show and Tell, sometimes castable on turn 1 with Ancient Tomb and Lotus Petal, which then puts one of those haymakers into play.
There are two distinct flavors of Sneak and Show—one that plays Cunning Wish, and one that doesn’t. The version without Cunning Wish seeks to put one of those three massive cards into play and win with an attack the next turn, maximizing consistency with extra cantrips and on interaction with more counterspells.
“Regular” Sneak and Show
The version with Cunning Wish, however, seeks to win on the spot. After getting an Omniscience into play, it then casts Cunning Wish to fetch Firemind’s Foresight to get Brainstorm, Intuition, and Cunning Wish. Intuition fetches three Emrakuls, Brainstorm puts one back on top, and the second Cunning Wish gets Release the Ants to win then and there.
Sneak and Show with Cunning Wish
Both decks play a common core of cards, but with cantrips to find the combo and disruption to protect it. While Sneak and Show is capable of winning as early as turn 1, experienced pilots usually wait until they have extra resources to protect their combo. Nonetheless, this deck is fast, consistent, and extremely powerful.
Sneak and Show wins very quickly by doing very unfair things. It can win from behind by landing Sneak Attack and putting Griselbrand or Emrakul into play. Griselbrand, in particular, causes an enormous snowball effect as drawing extra cards with it usually finds enough pressure to close things out.
The deck is also extremely consistent, due to the sheer number of 4-ofs on top of the many cantrips to help find them. This linear game plan is, of course, vulnerable to disruption, but Sneak and Show decks are built to fight through it with cards like Spell Pierce and—critically—Flusterstorm, which aids hugely in fighting other fast combo decks.
The sideboard is built to dodge hateful cards, with the relatively new Arcane Artisan doing work against traditional anti-S&S cards like Containment Priest. There’s also Boseiju to fight through counters, and in non-Cunning Wish versions, cards like Blood Moon and Jace offer additional angles of attack.
Sneak and Show, as a fast combo deck, has many of the usual weaknesses of its kind. Proactive interaction, such as hand disruption, is the best way to pick apart its game plan, with Thoughtseize and Duress doing good work against it. But unquestionably the best hand disruption spell against Sneak and Show is Hymn to Tourach, as it robs them of a critical mass of the resources they need to go off.
Additionally, cheap countermagic does excellent work against Sneak and Show. In particular, both Pyroblast and Hydroblast (or REB/BEB). These cards are heavily sideboarded at the moment, making life difficult for the Sneak and Show player. The list doesn’t stop there, however, with cards such as Spell Pierce also being very useful in fighting the deployment of their combo.
An additional weakness of this deck is itself—despite its consistency, it sometimes spins its wheels and fails to find the combo pieces it needs. Capitalizing on this by doing anything to disrupt its regular game plan is going to put you in a great position.
Finally, Sneak and Show basically has no Plan B. It’s almost impossible for it to hard cast any of its win conditions (outside of four Lotus Petals for a Griselbrand, I suppose), and if you can fight through the initial Show and Tells and Sneak Attacks, then they’re left with 10- and 15-drops in hand, and no way to deploy them.
How to Beat Sneak and Show
The classic one-two anti-combo punch is a very effective way to beat Sneak and Show. You need pressure and disruption, and lots of both. Disruption is, perhaps, a little more important than pressure given the speed of the deck, but ensure that you’ve got them on a real clock. Otherwise, they’ll draw to their combo pieces again and get you dead.
Be ready to fight through several layers of countermagic. Between Force, Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm, and even Blasts, Sneak and Show can stockpile significant reserves of defensive countermagic. Don’t sit behind a single Force of Will and think you’re safe—a good S&S player will outfox you every time and only go for the combo when they’re confident they can land it.
Some lists have started to play Leyline of Sanctity to counter opposing hand disruption. Whether this trend catches on remains to be seen, but again, don’t rely on a single piece of disruption to win, as they may have the turn-0 answer to your hand full of Thoughtseizes.
Finally, look to leverage cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben against Sneak and Show. Chalice of the Void isn’t all that effective, given their fast mana and lack of true reliance on 1-drops. It’s better to go after their mana to begin with, as the cards they’re looking to cast are (in Legacy terms) quite expensive. Use Thalia, Daze, and Wasteland to prevent them from playing the game they want to.