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Vintage 101: The Greatest Thief

Howdy folks! It's time yet again for another edition of Vintage 101! I hope you folks had an excellent holiday weekend (if you're into the whole Thanksgiving thing and all) and have had some time to relax and play a little Magic. This week we're continuing our deep dive into the various decks of the Vintage format by deconstructing Grixis Thieves! This deck is very powerful, even coming in Top 8 of US Eternal Weekend in the hands of Cosmo Kwok.

Without further adieu, let's jump right into the art of Thievery!

Thievery is Magic - The Art of Grixis

For as long as Vintage has been around as a format, blue based decks have been omni-present. With access to some of the game's best spells (such as Ancestral Recall and Timetwister) in addition to the rest of the Power Nine, it should be no surprise why blue decks are very good. Grixis based decks especially gain access to several powerful spells such as Wheel of Fortune, Yawgmoth's Will, and Vampiric Tutor/Demonic Tutor.

However, it was the printing of Dragon's Maze that brought Grixis colored decks a new toy: Notion Thief. Combined with another new toy in the Greatest Thief in the Multiverse these decks gained a lot of power.

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With the printing of both of these cards, a new combination of attacking your opponent was born. With a Notion Thief in play, activating Dack Fayden targeting your opponent suddenly turns into "Target player draws zero cards, discards two cards. You draw two cards." A repeatable Hymn to Tourach-like effect is very strong, but what if we wanted to fully ensure our opponent has no ability to stop our game plan?

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Oh. Right. These are cards. Resolving one of these turns into a one-sided "Target opponent discards their hand, shuffles, and draws zero cards. You draw 14." At this point in a game you are capable of ending it however you generally see fit.

Deconstructing the Thief's Plan

Let's take a look at a sample list, from Magic Online user Aylett from the November 10 Vintage Challenge.

Just as we did with Shops last week, let's distill this deck into its key components.


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As with all Vintage lists, the mana resources are among the most important parts of the deck. While the deck is primarily Grixis-colored, it runs the off-color Moxen because there is no downside to turning on Tolarian Academy. Having access to a land like this early can provide powerful acceleration that can often propel the game into the Thieves player's favor.

The "Blue" Card Suite

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The virtual bread and butter of most blue decks, a good majority of these cards are actually restricted (the only ones that aren't are Mana Drain, Mental Misstep, Force of Will, and Flusterstorm). Regardless, if you're running a blue deck in Vintage that is a Xerox-based style of deck, you're generally running nearly all the restricted cards and some number of the others. The use of these is relatively self-explanatory as these cards either draw more cards or counter what your opponent is trying to accomplish.

Combo Pieces / Synergy

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These cards are often ways that the deck can win the game, either by assembling the infinite turn combo of Time Vault + Voltaic Key, or by casting Tinker into Blightsteel Colossus. Wheel of Fortune and Timetwister earn a special mention in this category because they synergize well with Notion Thief and often one-sidedly end the game on their own.

Creature Threats

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While the creature threats of this deck are minor, they are very powerful. Notion Thief acts as the backbone of the deck, providing the one-sided effect that causes your opponent much pain, but the deck also runs some small number of Snapcaster Mage, as well as a new threat in the form of Goblin Cratermaker. Cratermaker is interesting since it gives Grixis a creature-based method of dealing with both lock pieces and threats from Ravager Shops as well as other creatures like Monastery Mentor.


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Vintage is a format defined by the power level of lots of artifacts, from Moxen to threats from Shops. Dack Fayden is certainly the Greatest Thief, providing not only synergy with Notion Thief but also the ability to steal other threats. Jace, while acting as a way to filter your draws, is also a powerful game-ending threat. And finally planeswalkers like Tezzeret the Seeker can help accelerate finding cards like Time Vault / Voltaic Key combo.

Miscellaneous Utility

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These cards have general utility, from tutoring for anything with Vampiric Tutor / Demonic Tutor, to the sheer card advantage engine that is Library of Alexandria.

Thieving Your Way to Victory

As with any deck, getting used to evaluating your opening hand is excessively important to getting started playing a deck like this. Furthermore, unlike most blue decks, Grixis Thieves doesn't actually have that many actual cantrip spells (like Preordain or the singleton copy of Ponder) to dig through your deck, so evaluating opening hands is even more important.

Let's do a couple "Keep vs Mulligan" exercises, just like we did with Shops. If you agree or disagree with my decision, let me know in the comments.

Hand #1

This hand has some actual relative action to it, including a Force of Will plus another blue card to pitch to it if need be. I would possibly keep this, since it enables at bare minimum a Turn 2 Dack Fayden, and depending on what we draw that turn we could start to sculpt a game plan or hold up Mana Drain.

Hand #2

This hand is intriguing because it entices you on the possibility of having a Turn 1 Notion Thief off Island + Black Lotus, but is even more interesting on the draw with Library of Alexandria. Brainstorm here is also interesting, because it would allow you to put back the Blightsteel Colossus. However, the blue source in this hand not being a fetch-land can hurt if your Brainstorm doesn't pull a fetch. Regardless, on the draw I would probably keep this because of Library.

Hand #3

This hand is... weird. It doesn't actually have much action other than possibly being able to Misstep or Force of Will, and possibly has two mana with Top + Academy, but it incentivizes you to fetch for duals to be able to use Goblin Cratermaker, leaving you soft to Wasteland. It could be interesting, but I don't know that I would keep this.

As always, it is important to remember that sequencing is ever important in these kinds of decks. Sometimes it is correct to hold onto flashing in a Notion Thief until your opponent attempts to resolve a spell like Ancestral Recall, or when it feels safe to do so. Furthermore, playing with Library of Alexandria requires a lot of sequencing of your plays in order to stay on the Library plan while being able to make relevant plays to keep up your card advantage.

Sideboarding With Thieves

Within the Grixis color base there are plenty of powerful sideboard options, but they can often be distilled into several key types of cards.

Graveyard Hate

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One of the most obvious mainstays of the Vintage format is the presence of graveyard hate in sideboards. Dredge is a fairly potent threat, and these decks often require up to 6-7 slots to be able to deal with the deck. The most common of these cards to see in a deck like Thieves is Tormod's Crypt and Grafdigger's Cage as they are fairly one-sided, and Thieves often cannot afford to spend the slots on cards like Leyline of the Void. Yixlid Jailer is also interesting since it removes abilities from cards like Bridge from Below.

Artifact Hate

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Artifact hate is also incredibly important in Vintage, due to how powerful Ravager Shops is. Cards like By Force have worked their way into the format due to being able to blow up multiple artifacts in one spell scaling upwards, as well as being able to get around Chalice of the Void. Goblin Cratermaker finds its way into the sideboard as well as additional ways of dealing with Shops permanents.

Opposing Blue Decks / Storm

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Some amount of anti-blue deck and Storm cards are generally required in the sideboard, whether they're additional copies of Flusterstorm / Pyroblast or cards like Mindbreak Trap to deal with Storm or Paradoxical Outcome.

Multipurpose Cards

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Some of these cards are either bimodal in nature (like Abrade) or have effects that scale with how much mana is put into them. Subterreanean Tremors can double as Shops hate plus also kill non-fliers like Monastery Mentor / Young Pyromancer and friends or dealing with Dredge threats. Echoing Truth can put a hard press on tokens like Monks/Elementals and even Zombies.

Resources Around the Web

As with last time, I went and found a few videos to show off the power of this deck and how strong it really is.

The Spice Corner

Now for something completely... different. Brian Kelley yet again amazes us with a look at Grixis Control with... Tasigur, the Golden Fang?!

What I'm Playing This Week

I'm still on the Ravager Shops train this week, and probably will be for some time as I learn the deck. I am working myself up to the point where I can start recording more matches to post to my personal YouTube to get out content on the deck. Regardless, I'm really enjoying playing the deck a lot.

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have this week folks! Just a reminder that at the time of this posting, my contest over on Twitter will be ending on the 30th! I will be posting the winners to Twitter via video on YouTube and the five winners will be named in my article for next week. Good luck to everyone who entered and I greatly appreciate how awesome of a contest this was. It was a lot of fun to run. I would be interested in running future contests here or there if it helps people get invested in Vintage on Magic Online!

For next week, we're going to kick December off with a delve into the darkest of black magic arts that Vintage has to offer. Get ready to get a little dirty in the graveyard, because we're going to be doing a hard deep dive into the art of Dredge. Again, we'll be deconstructing the various versions of the deck that exists, discuss sideboarding options and a little history on the variations of the deck as well as discuss things like mulligans, etc.

Until next time, keep kicking it Old School!

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