reaking symmetry is a beautiful thing.
Since the dawn of Magic, players and designers have entered into a dangerous dance: designers try to make symmetrical effects, and players strive to try and break that symmetry. Balance and Wheel of Fortune were some rather unfortunate, unbalanced takes from the early days. But even today, board sweepers like Supreme Verdict help smash symmetry.
Overall, modern-day cards are designed more carefully... but that doesn't mean there aren't still avenues to break them.
Today's ReConstructed is going to take a look at just that. And not just in the modern fair style of Supreme Verdict. Oh no. We're looking to change reasonably fair effects into utterly unfair ones—cards that have been printed into cards that certainly never will be printed.
And it's all thanks to one little card: Notion Thief.
Notion Thief | Art by Clint Cearley
Let's take a look, shall we?
Yvo Warner's Notionally Insane
The Battle Plan
What is going on here? Which symmetry is being broken?
The answer is in these two cards:
These cards provide strong—but ultimately symmetrical—effects. You are spending time to cast them while your opponent isn't, and your opponent is still getting something out of the deal.
But what if your opponent didn't get a benefit from them? What if they were one-sided effects? They could be incredibly powerful!
Well, one new Dragon's Maze card not only cuts off that symmetry entirely, but gives you the bounty of their side of the spell! Check out the interaction with Notion Thief.
It's simple. If you have Notion Thief in play and you cast Whispering Madness or Reforge the Soul, your opponent is going to discard his or her entire hand... and you are going to draw your usual number of cards, plus all your opponent's cards! With Reforge, that means fourteen cards. If you'd rather not dabble in drawing such a paltry number as fourteen extra cards, you can cast Whispering Madness, draw a bunch of cards, encode it onto Notion Thief, attack, and then draw an even larger number of cards.
Yeah, I'd call that breaking symmetry.
On the surface, this deck is just disguised as a three-color control deck, removing your opponent's creatures and managing the flow of the game. But you're always just one end step Notion Thief away from completely pulling the rug out from under your opponent.
How do you win? Well, aside from actual damage, this deck contains two copies of Psychic Spiral. After churning through your deck with card drawing that makes you discard your hand, you can lob all of those extra discarded cards at your opponent's library to mill him or her out. Additionally, you're just a control deck—drawing tons of extra cards will help you control the game and win on your own.
Let's go through the cards individually and see what merits staying.
This is one of the core elements of this deck. This is what makes cards like Reforge the Soul and Whispering Madness turn from all right into complete backbreakers. Additionally, Notion Thief is a pretty incredible weapon against Sphinx's Revelation control decks—having these gives you a huge main-deck edge against them. The 3 power is even reasonable pressure when it's time for your control deck to move into beatdown mode.
Because of how core it is to the deck, I definitely want to play all four.
I probably don't need to laud the usual merits of Snapcaster Mage—reusing spells while presenting a 2/1 body is something Snapcaster Mage has been successfully doing for nearly two years. Instead, I'll present a couple other important things for it in this deck in particular.
For one, it can reuse your Psychic Spiral. If they all end up in your graveyard, Snapcaster Mage can still help you get the job done.
Additionally, it works well with Whispering Madness—for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: Snapcaster Mage is a 2/1 creature, so you can encode it when necessary. The second is a little less obvious: if you Snapcaster Mage a Whispering Madness, you can still cipher it! That isn't the most intuitive interaction, since flashbacking exiles the card, but since cipher also exiles the card while resolving, it works out in your favor.
Unsurprisingly, Snapcaster is good in this deck. I don't want four for fear of being clogged on them, but I definitely think Yvo chose correctly with three copies.
Gloom Surgeon does make for a nice blocker: he can sit there and absorb damage while you begin to set your plan into motion.
However, as a 2/1 for two, he isn't particularly exciting otherwise. In fact, he can be a bit of a liability—what if he exiles your Psychic Spiral? I think a removal spell will usually be better here. Goodbye Gloom Surgeon!
As highlighted earlier, these cards are key pieces with Notion Thief. On their own they can be passable as well—there will certainly be board states where you slam a Whispering Madness on a Snapcaster Mage and just go to town. (Specifically, Valuetown.) One great thing about these cards is they can dig you closer to your Notion Thiefs—and in the case of Whispering Madness, if you have it encoded somewhere then you won't even have to find another one when it finally draws you a Thief.
While normally I wouldn't want to play four of each of these in a deck, I want to set up this deck's powerful combo as often as possible. As a result, four copies of each it is!
Countermagic is definitely something I want to have access to in this deck. When you're drawing a bunch of cards and making your opponents discard, that means their live draws are going to come from the top of their libraries—and countermagic will quash that dream. The only question to solve: how many copies, and which pieces?
Three to four seems like the right number to me. Psychic Strike, on the other hand, does not. While milling an opponent two deeper does help mill him or her out, when you're Psychic Spiraling, those extra two cards are likely to matter. (And I'd feel awfully silly if I ever flopped over an Unburial Rites or similar.) Instead, I'd rather go for Dissipate. While it's slightly tougher on the mana, the effect is far more enticing.
Two Dissipate seems about right to me. What takes up the other countermagic slots? Something that fits quite well in this deck: Dispel!
A lot of people's plans against a deck like this will be to muck with your Notion Thief. If you cast it in your opponent's end step, untap, and triumphantly slam a Whispering Madness, your opponent can simply cast a Searing Spear or similar to make you the truly mad one. For the cost of a single blue mana, Dispel solves that problem. Simply wait until turn five to play your Notion Thief with Dispel up, and you'll be in great shape. I don't want to main deck more than two, but I would definitely sideboard all the way up to four. (And likely sideboard Duress as well.)
Thought Scour is a reasonable option with Snapcaster Mage around as a cheap cantrip (a card that does something minor and draws you a card) that helps everything run smoothly early on. However, it doesn't quite do enough over other options to keep it in the deck for me. I'd rather have Izzet Charm (more on that in a moment) as an early game filtering card, and there are only so many slots in the deck that this low-impact card doesn't make the final cut.
While this deck is phenomenally positioned against control decks thanks to main deck Notion Thief and Dispel, it's crucial that care is taken to ensure creature decks don't run this deck over. If you can get your engine rolling against them, you're going to be in good shape—but you have to survive long enough to do so. That's where the removal comes in.
Far & Away is fantastic. While it can be a little slow, once you hit five mana it can completely turn the tide of your opponent's onslaught. Three feels like the right number to me: you don't want to draw only Far & Aways, but seeing at least one early is good.
Cyclonic Rift will buy you some time early—but that's not all. It's pretty crazy with Reforge the Soul and Whispering Madness. Even if you don't have Notion Thief, you can force your opponent to pick up all of his or her nonland permanents inside the end step, then untap and make them discard them all—and if you have Notion Thief before you do this, your opponent will lose everything! I'm happy with two here.
I am normally a pretty large Turn & Burn fan, since it shuts down Thragtusks, Angel of Serenitys, and more. However, in this deck, I think there are better options for removal. The late game is something this deck has a handle on, and so I'd rather play a card that can handle huge early threats. Mizzium Mortars is the card I am interested in here instead. Its 4 damage is a lot, and the ability to overload in the long game is a big deal.
In addition to adding Mizzium Mortars, I'd also like to play some Izzet Charms. Not only is it a solid removal spell, but it is countermagic to protect your combo that can also filter cards for you early on. With four Whispering Madness and four Reforge the Soul you are going to have some clunky opening hands, and Izzet Charm can easily pitch those extra ones away for you.
In addition to simply controlling the game, this is another win condition. After constantly drawing and discarding huge swaths of cards, this will mill out your opponent. The original version of the deck featured two copies so you could loop them if you needed to.
I'm not so interested in spending a second spot on one of these. I can justify one copy since it will help in a large chunk of games, but I never want to draw this early on and the deck already has a lot of clunky slower cards. The concern with just one is that you'll be forced to discard it at some point, but with Snapcaster Mage in your deck, I feel pretty comfortable: you would need to run out of Snapcaster Mages and have had thrown away your Psychic Spiral to miss going long. If you play carefully, you should be just fine with one.
This card's inclusion is actually fairly clever. While Crypt Incursion isn't exactly a huge Constructed powerhouse, it's pretty reasonable in this deck. Against beatdown decks, you might assemble everything you need—but then still be at only a few points of life and die to an attack or a topdecked Searing Spear. Crypt Incursion puts you out of range, gaining you a ton of life after you've killed off some creatures and forced your opponent to discard some others.
How many is the right number? I like exactly one. When you're going off you are likely to find it so you can use it, but you will very rarely draw it normally so it doesn't clog up your hand early on. Since this card is good against the Unburial Rites decks as well, I could see sideboarding a second copy.
This card is pretty cute with Notion Thief. However, with eight sorcery-speed cards that already combo with the Thief, I don't really need a ninth. While a cool idea, I don't think this one is necessary. (It doesn't make opponents discard their hands, either, which is a huge selling point for me on Reforge the Soul and Whispering Madness.)
With all of those changes noted, there's only one more thing I'd like to add: a single copy of Ætherling. There will be times when you need to go on the beatdown route, and Aetherling is just the creature for the job. You only need one because it's so difficult to remove, and it can close the game on its own. If you find it while digging through your deck, you can just keep it and then use it to finish off the game. While Psychic Spiral can win quickly when you're in Whispering Madness combo mode, for all other cases you have an Ætherling to get the job done.
That brings the final decklist to:
Gavin Verhey's Clear Eyes, Full Hands, Can't Lose
Notion Thief is a card that's supposed to regulate fairness—and this deck does the exact opposite. Some of this deck's draws are completely crazy, removing your opponent's hopes of winning as early as turn five. The control shell gives this deck some serious legs, since you can always just threaten to Nephalia Drownyard your opponent out as well.
Build this deck up and give it a try! With only a handful of weeks until Magic 2014 hits, there's still plenty to do in Standard.
And speaking of plenty to do in Standard...
There were a lot of quite interesting decks submitted in this week. A Nivix Cyclops deck that can consistently kill on turn three? Spelltwine combo? Wurm tribal!? It's all there—take a look!
Tomoyuki Sekino's Third-Turn Sayonara
Nick's Spelltwine the Infinite
Linguo's Gates of Redemption
Tibalt Adson's Troubling Tibalt
Francois Lebel's Wurm Tribal
Luke Paulsen's Don't Blink
David DeFratis's Turbo Fog
Sam Holmes's Varolz and Lolz
Ryan's RUG Aggro
Itsuka Yayoi's Genius Burn
Larry Liang's Grixis Cruelties
Ryan Schwenk's Pay The Reaper
Adam W's Scavenge Jund
Hayden Stockwell's Fling of the World
Devin Carter's Esper Delver
Cristerson Chee's Mono-Red Worldfire
And there's a fresh look at Standard for you! There were quite a few good decks submitted this week, so take care to comb through the lists above for plenty of inspiration.
In two weeks from now, I have a little something different for you, so there are no deck submissions this week. Don't worry, though—I'll be back next week with a whole new challenge. In the meantime, feel free to send me any feedback via the forums or on Twitter and I'll be sure to take a look.
Next week, we'll be taking another look at the exciting Modern format. We've had some exciting Modern decks recently—what will next week's Modern Masters–inspired deck have in store? You'll have to check back next week to find out.
Talk to you then!
When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he wanted a job making Magic cards. Ten years later, his dream was realized as his combined success as a professional player, deck builder, and writer brought him into Wizards R&D during 2011. He's been writing Magic articles since 2005 and has no plans to stop.