Welcome to another installation of Archetype Analysis. Today, I’m tackling decks for players who can’t keep their grubby little fingers to themselves – the ‘Big Stealy’ decks. The biggest appeal for most players is that theft effects are along the axis of judo decks, which are very interactive decks. Also, you get a lot of value out of your cards.
Just remember to include some ways to win without your opponent’s stuff, okay?
Thanks for Doing the Work
Arguably the best part of the big stealy plan is that you never spend as much mana as your opponents. Never pay retail! Stealing has mana profits in the same way removal does. You spend six mana on Visara the Dreadful and your opponent spends four mana for Control Magic – they removed your threat for less mana than you spent.
But unlike typical removal, now they can use it against you!
The mana value for stealing threats is amazing; using those threats against your opponents is even better. You strengthen yourself while improving your position. I’m always advocating to make an advantage while you take actions against your opponents; in EDH, with the absurd mana costs and powerful creatures, theft effects are simply far more useful than duels. You can conserve resources and sweep your opponents.
However, you must be cautious in how you defeat your enemies. If you snag someone’s dragon and kill them with it, you lose the dragon too. I’ve beaten stealy decks by changing my play and going after the robbed player. Big stealy loses their stolen toys and has fewer options with fewer opponents left.
The best theft effects are blue. (Heck, blue is almost always the best color in Magic!) But theft effects are mostly exclusive to blue in general. This is basically the one archetype that pretty much requires being at least partly in blue.
Control Magic is the main reason for this. There are plenty of variants from Persuasion to Sower of Temptation to Spirit Away. The preponderance of Control Magic variations gives stealy decks plenty of effects to nab the best cards on the board.
However, each of those effects only targets one thing. Once. Repeatability matters against multiple opponents. Vedalken Shackles and Memnarch are just two examples of a repeatable theft effect. Pick a card database, search “gain control target” and then have fun picking cards.
The challenge with almost every permanent-based theft effect is that they require the permanent to remain in play. One Disenchant is enough to destroy Mind Control and return a stolen Avacyn, Archangel of Hope. But some theft effects are more difficult to stop. These spell-based theft effects are my favorite because they are unbound. Bribery is likely the very best, Blatant Thievery snags several permanents (of any permanent type), and Dominate is expensive, but an instant – which adds versatility. Other spells like Telemin Performance are more random, but more affordable.
A final blue theft effect type is the switch effect seen in cards like Vedalken Plotter or Switcheroo. These spells and effects can snag a critical card from an opponent or mess with multiple players, injecting chaos as a side-product to help confuse the game-state further.
The next best color option for thievery at the game table is using black. However, black can’t really steal from the battlefield. Instead, what black can do is pluck creatures from the graveyard to use. Fire off a couple kill spells, and then the best creatures are open to your use. Again, repeatable uses are best; Geth, Lord of the Vault, Beacon of Unrest, and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni are a few great examples. Bringing back dead creatures turn after turn can keep your offense and defense going. When a one-time effect is needed, there are enchantments that reanimate creatures like Animate Dead or Necromancy.
Black does have a few options for more traditional theft…they are just really uncommon – Enslave is an example of a premium theft effect since it also drains the owner of the original creature. Other theft effects in black are also blue, like Soul Ransom, furthering the case for being in Dimir.
Once you leave Dimir options, however, theft starts getting harder and less permanent. Red has lots of various Threaten effects, but they last until the end of a turn. You can run Bazaar Trader to extend those effects, but it’s still clunky. One of the best theft effects outside Dimir is Yasova, Dragonclaw. Her effect lasts until end of turn, but it can be activated every turn. However, she is limited in what she can steal and this needs to be taken into consideration.
When you want to steal stuff that isn’t a creature, there are more options that it first seems. Artifacts in particular are quite easy to steal. Sen Triplets can steal them (or anything) from the hand, Thada Adel, Acquisitor can nab them from the deck, and Hellkite Tyrant swoops into to take them on the battlefield. Stealing spells is possible with counterspells like Spelljack and friends. Or there is the option of digging straight into a deck or graveyard with Memory Plunder and Knowledge Exploitation.
If taking creatures advances your board while weakening your opponent’s, nabbing lands is even more important since they’re a much more useful resource. Annex or Confiscate can fix your mana, give you oodles of mana, or add versatility, while Word of Seizing does this same thing for a brief, well-protected bit. You can get a huge advantage from stealing a land, especially when it’s something that scales like Cabal Coffers-style lands.
Take Back What’s Mine
Thievery is all well and good, but no one enjoys being the victim of the Big Stealy deck. How do you put them in their place? The most obvious is Homeward Path and Brand. Good job – we got those out of the way.
The easiest thing to do is destroy the thing that took your stuff. Mind Control and Vedalken Shackles can be easily removed. Suddenly, you have your creature back. If you want to avoid having someone else play with your toys, hexproof and shroud are here to save the day. In Modern, the Boggles archetype blanks removal. Hexproof does that in EDH, and blanks all the annoying theft effects too.
Graveyard hate is another important step in halting a Big Stealy deck. Sometimes you have to eat your own graveyard with Scavenging Ooze or Tormod’s Crypt. These cards double up on stopping big stealy from taking a card from your other opponents’ graveyards and halting recursion shenanigans. Versatility and double duty for the win!
My favorite solution to Big Stealy is the Lightning Bolt solution. A dead player can’t do anything. Lightning Bolt is one of the best counterspells in Magic. When an opponent steals something nigh unstoppable, you can get it away from them by removing the owner. Crazy stolen Eldrazi? Take out the Eldrazi player. Plus, now they’re even weaker since the scary creature was stolen. This might take a few turns, but it will permanently remove the issue.
(Bonus points for speeding the game along and removing an opponent. I wrote an article about my girlfriend’s Sen Triplets deck and since she has converted it to Dragonlord Silumgar, my most successful method of removing a stolen threat has been to remove the player she has stole things from. My playgroup has also removed me from several games because she stole several good cards from me – take care because it works both ways.)
How have you approached the Big Stealy archetype? What tools have I forgotten to mention for the stealy players out there? How about the cards that can help overcome a dominating Big Stealy deck? Let me know in the comments and the tweets.