If you have been around since the Dimir made their triumphant return in, well, Return to Ravnica, you are probably familiar with a little combo nestled into the guild. If you deploy a Notion Thief to the fields of battle (which is not the worst thing anyway, as we will discuss soon) and then follow up this Notion Thief with a Whispering Madness, many good things come as a result.
The first thing to note before doing this is the number of cards in each player's hand. At the end of this spell, your opponent will be left with 0, effectively Mind Twisting their hand away, and you will be left with likely a large number. Basically, you take the number of cards greatest between the two players before Whispering Madness resolves, and then you draw double that while your opponent draws nothing.
If you had three cards and your opponent had four, you end up drawing eight when all is said and done.
That is a powerful enough interaction that just resolving it a single time can be backbreaking, but because Whispering Madness has cipher, you actually can get to do this a second time in the same turn if your Notion Thief can connect. In the above scenario, this results in you having 16 cards in your hand to do as you see fit. Even if you end up discarding half of those, the selection is strong enough to win a game.
This is an interaction that has been in Standard for well over a year and yet no one has really run it to any sort of success. I even tried Notion Thief in Modern where the combo cards were better off on their own (like Careful Consideration) but it still proved to be a bit too fragile. You cannot really build your entire deck around getting a two card combo to resolve involving a one-toughness creature. You need more redundancy at the very list.
If you look at Splinter Twin, you see this. With just four of each combo half for the deck, the deck is quite inconsistent and not really tier one. Once you have access to six, seven, or even eight copies of each effect, on top of all of the card selection in Modern, you have a realistic plan that you can actually build around.
Unfortunately for us, in Standard, both of these effects are pretty unique. You are not going to find another card that does what Notion Thief does and they are not printing two different Windfalls in the same two year period. What we can do though, is look for other unique effects that interact with one of these two cards in a meaningful way.
For example, I know that Howling Mind works favorably with Notion Thief. In Standard, Dictate of Kruphix has the same text box and can be used to draw you two cards a turn while your opponent draws none. Even though this effect is not Whispering Madness, it is something that works with Notion Thief and therefore increases the number of draws we have where Notion Thief would matter.Outside the Box, Squared
If we could do the same thing we saw with Dictate of Kruphix enough times, we could theoretically become a deck of a lot of inconsistent two-card combos, but so many of them exist that the inconsistency is balanced out. I wanted to go through all of Standard and specifically identify cards that worked favorably with either Notion Thief or Whispering Madness and I made a list to reference later on.
Whispering MadnessFate Unraveler Chasm Skulker Waste Not Cyclonic Rift Consuming Aberration
Notion ThiefDictate of Kruphix Master of the Feast Dakra Mystic
In my mind, the ideal way to make any of these things work is to sort of weave them together. There should be basically no one card that interacts only with another single card. We want to have as many of our cards overlap in use so that drawing any two unique cards is likely to have an impact. Some of this actually works out perfectly.
If we have Waste Not in our deck to work with Whispering Madness, a card like Dictate of Kruphix, designated as aiding Notion Thief, keeps our opponent with cards in their hand so that our Waste Not can continue to trigger. Obviously this is not as ideal as taking their hand all at once, but it is an interaction that can easily come up and determine the outcome of a game.
If we start to elaborate on our little packets of cards, we can weave things more easily. Basically, we want to begin to take the cards listed above and look at other cards mentioned to see if they contain synergy.
Beyond just looking at individual cards, it is also important to look at fundamental ideas and directions. For example, we know that we are running a bit of a synergy driven "combo" deck, if you will. Protecting a combo with hand disruption or countermagic has traditionally been very successful, so we should be looking to do that here.
If we know that a card like Waste Not is in our deck though, it becomes pretty easy to choose the discard stuff over the countermagic. In fact, justifying eight Thoughtseize effects is not all too difficult when you know that they will be live much longer in the game and have extra benefits such as Waste Not.
After looking at most of the available set of cards, this is the list I am currently on:
Many of the numbers might look a little strange and that is mostly due to this list being in the midst of being worked on. For the longest time I had four copies of both Waste Not and Dictate of Kruphix in the deck, but I think you generally don't want more than one of either of those unless special circumstances call for it..
One of the biggest problems for a blue/black deck like this is a difficulty in controlling the board. And if the opponent sneaks a lot of small threats through, like a monored or monogreen deck might, you essentially have no way to catch up.
Drown in Sorrow is a reasonable option, but it has a couple of things working against it here. First, it is another three-drop which is something we already have plenty of. Also, it is a completely dead card against control and we can't afford that here. Instead, I am trying out a card that has been forgotten about but still puts in good work. Ratchet Bomb makes a lot more sense right now as Standard has taken on a more aggressive approach.
It is one of the few cards that can actually answer a Burning-Tree Emissary Explosion before you die. It also answers Pack Rat. Because all the tokens have the same mana cost as the original rat (unlike normal tokens) a single bomb for two cleans up the rat and all of its droppings. Against control you have a card that can pick off Banishing Light or Jace, even if it is not the most elegant way to do so. Blue/black is not used to having any way to deal with the likes of a Detention Sphere and now it can.
Cyclonic Rift can provide board stability, but that generally is not going to happen until you have seven mana. At that point, an end of turn Rift into Whispering Madness on your own turn can change an entire game. Far // Away is the more cost efficient option here, coming down for five mana and having a pretty big impact on the board. Again, creatures in our opponent's hand are totally fine. Thoughtseize and Madness can both snag them from there and they become great fodder for Waste Not.
In terms of the mana base, I am not quite sold on it as of yet, but Radiant Fountain seems like a necessity for this deck. It tends to hover at dangerous life points for too long against red decks, giving them ample time to find a top deck that kills you. Finding a single copy of Radiant Fountain during your digging can usually be an entire card from the opponent.
It might be true that the manabase cannot support them all that well, but additional Islands would not be the greatest aid in the world either, so we are basically looking at maybe an additional Swamp or two. I hope that the Urborg makes these less painful than they otherwise might be, but it is something I want to keep my eye on during testing.Sideboard
While there is certainly no set way you need to build the board for this deck, I do think you should be looking to address two big issues. The first is the aggressive decks that Ratchet Bomb looks to aid against, but it will not be enough against well-tuned lists. Cards like Drown in Sorrow and cheap spot removal are basically a must-have.
I also am experimenting with Woodlot Crawler as green can be a tough match up and it is very solid there. Picking up Whispering Madness and never dropping it actually allows you to turn into somewhat of a mill deck at times, which is pretty interesting. Just holding back Polukranos and Arbor Colossus is worth the inclusion though. If there is a reason I am cutting this guy, it is because we need the room and he almost has to be at least a three-of to stay as effective as we need him to be.
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is a card to help out against control or anything weird. We have a lot of disruption and a lot of tempo so being able to capitalize on that with a cheap planeswalker is really nice. I have been trying to come up with a way to get Ashiok into the main as the mill threat would be much more real and we would have a card that could win the game on its own. It might take cutting the likes of Dictate of Kruphix or something and I will be watching to see just how good the walker is as I continue to test.Wrap Up
Unfortunately, all of this fun can only be had for a short while longer. The rotation is a few months away and Notion Thief will be leaving to the ranks of Modern and beyond. In the time we have left, I am not sure if the right environment will erupt to allow this deck to actually gain any traction. If control starts to rule everything though, this would be a good choice.
In the meantime, this deck is still a lot of fun and can put up a reasonable fight against most of the field, save possibly burn. I would definitely experiment with Ashiok in the main at some point too. If nothing else, expect a small report back on that in the near future. As always, thanks for reading!