Sneak and Show has been one of the defining decks of the Legacy format since the printing of Griselbrand. While there have been a lot of different variants of the archetype, the traditional approach hasn’t changed much since its inception. The no-frills strategy of putting a massive creature into play early in the game, often backed by countermagic, always has a chance to punish opponents no matter how prepared they are. Let’s take a look at a list that the master of the archetype, Jonathan Anghelescu (JPA93 on MTGO), has been playing recently.
Legacy Sneak and Show Deck List - Jonathan Anghelescu (JPA93 on MTGO)
Core Game Plan:
Sneak and Show is a beautifully straightforward combo deck. The goal is to put an expensive, nigh-unbeatable creature onto the battlefield using Show and Tell and Sneak Attack. While this is a 2-card combo (cheat spell + creature), you only need to resolve a single spell to get to this point, as the creature half of the combo will stay in your hand if it doesn’t resolve. This deck further cheats on mana costs by using lands that produce 2 mana and cards like Lotus Petal, which means you can present one of your cheat spells as early as turn 1 without having to commit too many resources to the cause. It backs up all of this with an efficient suite of countermagic, which makes it both a potent and resilient deck.
Let’s take a look at the card choices that make this deck hum.
The namesake cards of the deck, these are the two spells that get the creatures into play. They each serve an important role in the deck. Show and Tell is cheaper, which means it requires the least resources to resolve. It is symmetrical, so your opponent can put something into play as well, but not many decks play cards that are more impressive than what Sneak and Show is bringing to the table. You do have to take an additional turn in order to win after resolving a Show and Tell in this deck, but the creatures you put in are extremely difficult to interact with, so you will often have that opportunity.
Sneak Attack is substantially more expensive, as it not only requires an additional mana to cast, but extra mana to activate. However, if you do have the time and resources to activate it, Sneak Attack will end the game in short order. Putting in Emrakul will effectively wipe their board and dome them for 15, and putting in Griselbrand and activating it will often yield a copy of Emrakul to attack for 22.
Putting one of these creatures into play will spell the end of the game for the opponent. Griselbrand tends to have the most impact on the game, as drawing 7-14 cards is not only enough to find enough countermagic to stop the opponent from resolving a meaningful spell, but it also finds you the means to put Emrakul into play as well. A 7/7 flying, lifelink is an incredible defensive body, as well, so simply putting it into play will often stop any offense that your opponent has.
While Emrakul doesn’t generate the same type of unbeatable card advantage that Griselbrand does, it is difficult to interact with and tends to kill the opponent in one fell swoop. If it isn’t able to one-hit KO your opponent, it will devastate their board beyond repair in most cases.
In a deck that is trying to resolve 3 and 4 mana spells that end the game on the spot, free countermagic makes it much more likely that those spells resolve. While Force of Will has always been a staple of this deck, Daze hasn’t always been included. In the past, cards like Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm have taken up that space, depending on the popular form of disruption that opponents play. However, Legacy can be an extremely hostile place to combo decks these days and building your deck to optimize for the cheapest forms of disruption is a great way to end the game before your opponents can set up their defenses.
These allow Sneak and Show to further cheat on mana and resolve their spells ahead of schedule. Both cards allow this deck to resolve one of its cheat spells before the opponent is prepared to interact with it. When combined with Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors, Lotus Petal can allow this deck to cast a Show and Tell on turn 1. Later in the game, the extra mana will make opposing interaction worse, and make Sneak Attacks more threatening. Simian Spirit Guide isn’t always a staple in this deck, but the increased prevalence of Delver decks means that having additional ways to play through Daze and Spell Pierce is very beneficial.
Since this is an A + B combo deck, running the maximum amount of blue cantrips greatly increases the consistency of the deck. I don’t usually comment on the suite of cantrips in blue decks, but I did want to include a quick blurb to point out how optimized this list is to set up its combo as fast as possible.
Since both Show and Tell and Sneak Attack require multiple generic mana to be cast, these lands allow the deck to accelerate its plan by a full turn. In addition, they further help the deck play around cards like Daze and make it easier to resolve spells through soft permission. Each of them comes along with a different cost, so you don’t really want to run the full set of either. The fact that Ancient Tomb deals you 2 damage every time you use it can make it a liability in the face of aggressive decks. City of Traitors doesn’t cost any life but it doesn’t stick around for the whole game, which makes it a rather costly land to play early.
The emphasis in this deck is on blue mana, so the mountain is often unnecessary. Between casting cantrips early and using the alternate casting cost of Daze, it can be a serious liability to draw a mountain early. The addition of Simian Spirit Guide makes it less essential, as there are still a fair amount of red sources in the deck.
There are a number of problematic creatures that people could play against Sneak and Show, so it’s important to have answers to those. Both of these answer Containment Priest, which can completely shut down this deck’s plan. Abrade pulls some extra weight against cards like Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge. Pyroclasm is better against decks that can apply a lot of pressure with smaller creatures, like Izzet Delver and Death and Taxes.
Decks like Reanimator are both fast and consistent, which can make it difficult for Sneak and Show to win. Faerie Macabre goes a long way when it comes to disrupting them and slowing them down long enough to set up a Griselbrand or Emrakul attack.
A lot of Sneak and Show lists play Omniscience in the main deck because the ability to win on the spot is extremely potent. However, a fair amount of decks right now struggle to beat a Griselbrand or Emrakul alone, so streamlining the plan and relegating Omniscience to the sideboard is a solid choice at the moment. Omniscience does really help beat a lot of different cards people use to counteract Sneak and Show, though, and it is a valuable card to have access to. Both Containment Priest and Oko look silly when you put an Omniscience into play and cast a Griselbrand or Emrakul, and it even helps make Show and Tell a lot better in the mirror.
This card helps against Containment Priest, as it makes a token copy of the creature. It’s also nice when you expect your opponent to sideboard out their removal and in cards like Spell Pierce and Flusterstorm.
Blue spells and permanents are still the best in Legacy. From Force of Will to Oko there are a fair amount of blue cards which are specifically good against this deck, so Pyroblast can pull a lot of weight.
This is a relatively clean answer to Karakas, while also answering the various planeswalkers which can be problematic, such as Oko and Teferi.
Tips and Tricks
- Show and Tell can also put enchantments into play, which means you can save some mana and Show in a Sneak Attack to kill your opponent on the turn Show and Tell resolves.
- If you have a lot of ways to put creatures into play but no creatures in hand it is sometimes correct to just cast a spare Show and Tell against an opponent playing blue. They will often have to counter it out of fear, and this will open up the door for one to resolve later.
- If your opponent is low on life and permanents from an Emrakul attack off of Sneak Attack but you’re having trouble finding a creature to finish them off, don’t forget that you can Sneak in Simian Spirit Guide and Faerie Macabre for a surprising 2 damage.
- City of Traitors’ sacrifice ability only triggers when you play a land from your hand. If you have a City of Traitors and a fetchland in plan, the land you search up off of the fetch will not cause the ability to trigger.
Sideboard and Matchup Guide:
First and foremost, you have to survive in this matchup. This means countering their enablers, like Entomb, or trying to set up having a Faerie Macabre in hand. They are substantially faster than Sneak and Show, but with 12 free spells to disrupt them that will give you a decent chance of survival. Show and Tell is risky, and stopping them is more important than killing them a lot of the time, so I don’t like leaving any in.
I don’t know if this sideboard approach is correct, but considering some of the marquis features of Death and Taxes, I like this approach. Your mana base will be under attack, so you can’t really afford to bounce a land with Daze. Thalia will make a lot of the set up spells way more clunky, so I don’t think you want to rely on cantrip heavy hands. You aren’t going to be fighting counterspell wars, so I don’t think you need the full suite of Force of Wills. They still come in handy because they have some scary cards, but a lot of the time they’re putting them in with Aether Vial anyway (I could actually see cutting all 4).
Everything you’re bringing in answers an element of their deck. Karakas, Thalia, Sanctum Prelate, etc… A lot of their cards are annoying to deal with, so bringing in a wide variety of answers will help the matchup a fair amount. This matchup can be a huge pain, but Omniscience goes a long way here, so try to set that up.
Delver decks can be difficult for Sneak and Show to play against. The combination of a fast clock, efficient disruption, and Oko to top it off can make a lot of Sneak and Show’s plays kind of awkward. That being said, even in the face of Oko, resolving Show and Tell is often lights out and this version has a lot of ways to push through their soft permission. I like cutting cantrips on the play because so many of the cards are designed to resolve Show and Tell and I really want to lean into that approach. On the draw, Daze can be kind of awkward to use and i’d rather try to set up for a better combo turn rather than rely on Daze when they might have an extra mana.
With Dreadhorde Arcanist in the mix, it might be right to bring in Abrade. I’m a little wary of trying to play an interactive game in the matchup, but Arcanist can generate a ton of card advantage so I could be wrong about that.
While you could try to play this matchup as fast as possible, cards like Daze and Simian Spirit Guide lose a lot of value if the game goes a bit longer. I still like trying to kill them sooner rather than later because they will have access to a lot of disruption in a longer game. Snow Control decks have a decent amount of cards that can be problematic if they resolve, like Oko and Teferi, so bringing in some answers to those can go a long way. Omniscience helps you win through both Oko and Containment Priest, which is valuable in this matchup.
Plan A is good enough here, so trying to push that through quickly is the way to go. Chalice is annoying but not game ending in some cases. The most annoying disruption is Thought-Knot Seer cast through a Cavern, since there isn’t any way to disrupt that. If you can’t set up a combo before that happens, try to hold open Brainstorm to protect your hand.
Abrade helps against Chalice and Thorn of Amethyst so I think it’s worthwhile to bring in. They will often have Karakas, so I think Sorcerous Spyglass is necessary. I think I side out cantrips with every deck more often than the average player, but I find that relying on them against decks with Chalice can lead to having too many dead cards.