Deck Tech: Stealer of Secrets Control
In our deck tech series, we are taking an in-depth look at one particular type of deck. This time we will look at control decks, centered around Stealer of Secrets as a finisher. These decks are sometimes known as SoS control decks, or simply SoS decks. In this article, you will learn about the game plan, and critical ingredients of the deck, see a few selected decklists across different classes and learn about the play-style.
Stealer of Secrets is a common 6-cost 1/1 with Ward in the blue Intelligence attribute, that comes with a peculiar summon effect: “Summon: +1/ +1 for each action in your discard pile.” Thus, the more actions in your discard pile, the better his stats. You can find Stealer of Secrets in the Dark Brotherhood story expansion, and the decks require a few legendaries, so they are not the cheapest decks to build.
2 The Gameplan
2.1 Fill your discard pile with actions…
A Stealer of Secrets deck aims to consistently remove your opponent’s threats (mostly) through removal actions and wins through an SoS one-turn-kill combo. While you remove your opponent’s threats, you will fill your discard pile with actions, and strengthen your Stealer of Secrets to 26 power or more. Such a sizable threat allows you to finish your opponent in one go, skipping all rune breaks.
2.2 …while you are finding your combo pieces…
Since Stealer of Secrets cannot immediately attack after she is played, you ideally need to give her charge. To achieve this in the same turn, you can use a low-cost charge creature, like Shadowmere, followed by a Mentor’s Ring for 12 Magicka. With a Nord Firebrand, you can reduce the cost to 11 Magicka (see section 4). In a typical SoS game, you will ideally remove multiple of your opponent’s cards with only a single card of yours. By doing so, you aim to get your opponent into top-deck mode gradually. Once this happens, an aggro opponent will run out of steam as it is unlikely that their threats wouldn’t be removed anymore. But you should still aim to manage your removal actions carefully.
You should be aware that Stealer of Secrets decks are not a lot of fun to play against, because they mostly rely on removing threats without a lot of board interaction.
2.3 Cautions to the SOS Game Plan
In a matchup against a control or midrange deck, your opponent will draw a few removal actions or silencers to their hand as the match progresses. Be careful to not just play Stealer of Secrets from hand without being able to give her charge, because your opponent will likely be able to silence or remove her.
If your opponent manages to remove your SoS and then plays Piercing Twilight, you will be losing your win condition.
Stealer of Secrets decks are vulnerable to a few cards in particular. The first is Memory Wraith. The spirit banishes all cards in your discard pile, which resets your Stealer of Secrets to a 1/1 with Ward.
The second is Withered Hand Cultist. The Redguard is the nemesis of your SoS deck and increases the cost of all actions by two, while in play. You should, therefore, always retain a possible answer to remove Withered Hand Cultist immediately.
The third dangerous card is Hallowed Deathpriest. The skeleton is the nemesis of any combo deck that relies on a high-cost creature. When you build your Stealer of Secrets deck, you might want to consider to include some creatures that cost seven or more Magicka to “play” around Deathpriest.
2.3 Building Your SoS Deck – The Ingredients
Let’s look at the ingredients of your Stealer of Secrets deck.
- The Action Package – see Section 3: To reduce your opponent’s health to zero, you want to include a minimum of 26 to 30 actions.
- Typically, these will be removal actions, allowing you to deal with your opponent’s board.
- Complement these with actions that allow you to cycle through your deck to find your combo pieces or more powerful removal actions more quickly.
- Instead of including actions, you might want to include cards that generate, re-cycle, or tutor actions. Action generators are usually a little bit too slow, so use them only carefully.
- Your Combo Pieces – see Section 4: You will need between three to seven slots for your combo pieces. Usually, both dual-color and tri-color decks include two Stealer of Secrets, two Mentor’s Ring (tri-color can add Crucible Blacksmith), and at least one cheap charge creature. In red SoS decks, you can switch from Shadowmere to Nord Firebrands, allowing you to pull off the combo for 11 Magicka.
- Tutors to Fetch Your Combo Pieces Consistently – see section 5: Tutors allow you to fetch your combo pieces to hand more consistently. At the same time, they are also thinning your deck and provide you with more versatility than having two Mentor’s Ring in hand.
- Creatures to tech your deck against the meta – see section 6: In addition to creatures that help to cycle your deck, you can include drain, support removal, or other tech-choices.
3 Action Packages for Stealer of Secrets
3.1 Removal Actions
The blue Intelligence attribute offers a lot of damage-based removal actions: Cruel Firebloom, Firebolt, Channeled Storm, Reverberating Strike, Firestorm, Lightning Bolt, Ice Storm, Fingers of the Mountain, and Spirit Knife are not even all the options. While these actions will often do the trick, they are rather weak against creatures with ward or high-health creatures with regenerate.
Since all blue removal actions are damage-based, you will need to include some hard removal spells as well. The primary candidates are Piercing Javelin, Cast into Time, and Dawn’s Wrath in Willpower (yellow). Immolating Blast can do some work against token or invade decks.
In Strength (red), you have Drive Mad and Fell the Mighty that removes creatures with a cost of four and above, as well as The Red Year, that deals ten damage to all creatures on board. While The Red Year also does not deal with warded creatures, the amount of damage is high enough to deal with the vast majority of creatures.
The green Agility attribute offers Curses in combination with Finish Off, Leaflurker, and Shearpoint Dragon, and Endurance has Mummify (and maybe Weakness as pseudo-removal).
Additionally, several multi-color actions, like Sorcerer‘s Negation or Mage‘s Trick, as well as Edict of Azura. Power of the Almsivi can also help to remove your opponent’s threats but is typically not played in an SoS deck.
3.2 Draw- and Deck-Cycle Actions
In addition to removal actions, you can use actions for cycling through your deck, extending the resources in your hand, and to find your combo pieces more quickly. The classics in this area are Rapid Shot, Shadow Shift, Ice Spike, and Shadowmarking. The last few expansions have provided additional options like Spoils of War and Fresh Start. A notable combo is also to use Fear Totem in combination with Merchant’s Camel. Not only does this allow you to draw two cards, but it will also allow you to discard four cards, ideally actions).
3.3 Action-Generators, -Tutors and -Recyclers
3.3.1 Action “Recyclers”
Let‘s start to look at the recycler‘s. Ayrenn is an excellent option to re-draw an action from your discard pile and play it again, while at the same time reducing the cost of all other actions you can play. She will often be an auto-include to your Stealer of Secrets deck because you can put good stats on the board while drawing another action back to hand.
In an Aldmeri Dominion SoS deck, you may also include Ayrenn, Dominion Queen, as an additional option. For three additional Magicka, the 8-cost version of Ayrenn also allows you to regain one point of life whenever you draw an action.
Why include action-generators into your SOS deck? Usually, SOS decks are very reactive. You wait for your opponent to play a creature and see if and when you want to remove it. With action-generating creatures you can take a slightly more proactive approach and use them to contest the board. Potentially, you might also use them to go face for a few points of damage, slightly reducing the number of actions you need for your SoS OTK.
The above examples show a few of your options. In practice, however, only Cunning Ally and Paarthunax have found their way into some of the current SoS decks. Cunning Ally sees play in the Battlemage SoS-variation, and Paarthunax potentially in Tribunal. Most of the others are simply too slow or too quickly silenced or removed.
The second category of action-generators are action cards that allow you to put additional actions to hand. Usually, these generators cost a smaller amount of Magicka and allow you to get lucky by spawning a much more powerful action that you might be able to use later.
At the same time, you already get an action into your discard pile. As an example, you can find Revealing the Unseen, Battlemage’s Onslaught, or potentially even Barter in the card pool. But be careful. These actions don‘t have an immediate impact on your opponent‘s board and are very slow. If you want to experiment with them at all, it is probably best to include only a single copy into your deck.
3.3.3 Action Tutors
Since SoS decks require you to manage your resources very carefully, action tutors are another possible way to expand these. Most of them are not seen in SoS decks as you usually prefer to use cycle actions. The only one to consider seriously is Sun-in-Shadows for Telvanni decks. The Argonian allows you to find a specific action when you need one to deal with your opponent‘s threats.
3.4 Creature-Generating Actions
Another potential category for Stealer of Secrets decks are actions that generate creatures. Unfortunately, none of them is viable, except Raiding Party. Raiding Party puts two cheap charge creatures to hand that you can use for the SoS combo. However, all the other creature-generators are not particularly playable. There has been some experimentation with Skeever Infestation in the past. But those Skeever SoS decks haven’t seen a lot of success.
Let’s keep this category of cards in mind as more of that type get released.
4. Combo Piece Variety
The combo pieces for your finisher are one copy of Stealer of Secrets, a copy of a cheap charge creature, and one copy of Mentor’s Ring in your hand.
Shadowmere is the cheapest neutral charge creature, making the combo accessible to any class that can run blue. In this case, you will need 12 Magicka and enough actions in your discard pile. If you want to play an SOS deck that runs blue and green, you might even consider Baandari Opportunist as another 1-cost charge creature.
You can reduce the cost of the combo to 11 Magicka, by replacing Shadowmere with a 0-cost Nord Firebrand or, even better, a Raiding Party. This is possible for Battlemage, House Dagoth, Daggerfall Covenant, and Guildsworn decks.
However, most SOS decks are in for the long game. Being able to pull off the combo at 11 Magicka is nice, but how can you ensure to be having enough actions in your discard pile for an effective OTK? Even if you managed to deal some damage to your opponent‘s face and have them at 21 health, you would still need 21 actions in your discard pile by turn 11. That‘s not likely to happen.
5. Tutors to Fetch Your Combo Pieces More Consistently
To get your combo pieces to hand more consistently, you might consider to use tutor cards. Before we go into detail, it is worth noting that the cards to tutor these specific combo pieces are mostly creatures. Therefore, by including them in your deck, you will dilute your ability to get more actions into your discard pile. You should, therefore, use tutors very carefully only.
5.1 Tutoring Stealer of Secrets
5.1.1 Laaneth – Great
Stealer of Secrets is a High Elf, and there is currently no card that would allow you to tutor her based on his tribe. The best option to fetch Stealer of Secrets is Laaneth. She will pull her, or any of the other combo pieces to hand, and sets you up for your combo (ideally) on the following turn. Laaneth is a tutor worth including.
5.1.2 Genius Pathmage – Difficult
The other options are slightly less attractive. Genius Pathmage is a 7-cost 4/4, that summons a random creature from your deck with cost equal to your current Magicka. To pull Stealer of Secrets, you will need to ramp your Magicka to 13 and have Stealer of Secrets as the only 6-cost creature in your deck. You can then use the remaining Magicka to play the charger and Mentor’s Ring from hand on the same turn. Since you are otherwise not running many other creatures in your SoS deck a Pathmage in hand can easily be a dead card. Particularly, when you draw a Stealer of Secrets early. With careful deck construction, you might be able to leverage him to pull a creature with drain or a Shadowfen Priest when you need them.
5.1.3 Chanter of Akatosh – Difficult
Chanter of Akatosh is an alternative option to use a 6-cost action (like Immolating Blast or Fingers of the Mountain) to summon Stealer of Secrets as the only 6-cost creature in your deck. Similar to Pathmage, you will have to have the other combo pieces in hand, which is rather unlikely to happen. Since you will need to include more creatures into your deck to leverage the chanter’s unique ability, he is usually better left out of a SoS deck.
5.1.4 Apex Wolf – Tech Choice with a Twist
For Mage, Tribunal, or Guildsworn SoS decks, you might want to run Apex Wolf for some life gain as a tech choice. Since your SoS deck is running a smaller number of creatures, you might get lucky and pull the stealer to hand. This is not a guaranteed tutor, but occasionally this might make the difference between winning or losing.
5.2 Discard-Pile “Tutors”
5.2.1 Soul Tear
Another option to fetch Stealer of Secrets is to pull her back from your discard pile, using a discard pile tutor. This might be necessary if your hand was clunky enough that you needed to play her to board too early, to survive for another turn. In this case, Soul Tear can do some work for you, as it also increases the stealer’s buffs.
5.2.2 Odirniran Necromancer
Odirniran Necromancer is a good option for Telvanni or Tribunal SoS decks. For 6 Magicka, the dark elf allows you to summon Stealer of Secrets from your discard pile. With a cheap charge creature and Mentor’s Ring in hand, you can pull off the combo with a discarded Stealer of Secrets.
Gravesinger is another exciting option. At the beginning of your turn, the 10-cost 6/6 summons the highest cost creature from your discard pile and gives it charge automatically. With Palace Conspirator, Merchant’s Camel, or Discerning Thief, you can get the high elf into your discard pile quickly. Note, that this trick also protects her against Hallowed Deathpriest, but not against Piercing Twilight nor Memory Wraith.
However, if Stealer of Secrets is the highest-cost creature in your discard pile and you get Gravesinger to stick, you will not even need to play Mentor’s Ring on a charger. For SoS decks that run the sorcerer colors (blue and purple), this can be a surprising twist.
5.3 Tutoring Mentor’s Ring
Laaneth is a viable option to fetch Mentor’s Ring from your deck. The other playable option is Crucible Blacksmith. However, the Wood Elf can feel like a burden in an SoS deck, as she is not really a fighting body. In an SoS deck, you also don’t want to include additional items, as this dilutes the density of your actions in your deck. Only, if you have a slightly more proactive SoS deck, that relies on some creatures, a single copy of one or two additional items might be useful. With actions like Cruel Firebloom (or a creature like Cornerclub Gambler), you may put her to use, but running three copies of the blacksmith seems just like an overkill for what you are trying to achieve.
5.4 Tutoring a Cheap Charge Creature
Your best option to (pseudo-)tutor a cheap charge creature is Raiding Party. Although a pilfering Goblin Skulk can easily pull a copy to hand the goblin reduces the number of actions in your deck. Raiding Party is superior as it fills your discard pile with an action. Moreover, you may use the second Firebrand to deal with a warded creature, remove a low-health creature or use him as fodder for Cruel Firebloom.
If your Stealer of Secrets deck is running Shadowmere or Baandari Opportunist you might want to use Brass Arquebus to tutor them. By including two other 1-cost creatures, like Ghostgate Defender or Moon Bishop, you can sacrifice two additional slots in your (75-card) deck to get some extra value from them without affecting the number of actions in your deck too much.
6 Tech-Choice-Creatures in Stealer of Secrets Decks
You might want to include a few creatures as tech-choices into your SoS decks. Put creatures that allow you to cycle through your deck on top of your list for consideration. Merchant’s Camel, Thieves Guild Report, Palace Conspirator or Discerning Thief can do some work for you.
Otherwise, try to add creatures where the pool of available actions does not offer you sufficient options to draw the cards consistently. For example, Edict of Azura and Dismantle are the only actions to remove your opponent’s supports. If the meta requires you to more draw support removal more consistently, you can include Shadowfen Priest or Dushnikh Yal Archer to compensate.
Similarly, not every attribute or class has access to life-gain actions. In this case, you can include powerful drain creatures like Apex Wolf, Hand of Dagoth, or Dark Seducer to mitigate this.
These are just a few examples, and our article cannot cover all tech-options for every meta. Be careful not to include too many tech choices, as they can distract you from following your main game plan. In a 75-card deck, you can devote up to 20 slots for your tech choices to counter the meta or help to cycle your deck faster.
7 Stealer of Secrets Decklists
Please note that the lists below are just sample lists for the general structure of a SoS deck in the corresponding class and will need adjustments to the current meta.
7.1 Battlemage Stealer of Secrets
Battlemage was the first true SoS OTK deck. It can still be played in today’s meta. Above, you can find a sample shell that requires tailoring to the meta. With Fear Totem and Merchant’s Camel you have a spicy combo for a 50 card deck. Rapid Shot adds some additional cycling. As it is typical for Battlemage, there are no healing options, which requires you to monitor your health very carefully.
Renegade10 has created a version running Stone Throw, which is all you need to deal with those pesky Oblivion Gates. The deck also runs Mankar Camoran, Mages Guild Retreat and Forces of the Daedra for some extra daedra fun.
7.2 Mage Stealer of Secrets
The Mage version of Stealer of Secrets Control is faster than the tri-color versions but less resilient. Since there are so many ways for your opponent to gain life, your Mage SoS deck might not be running enough actions to go for the kill. At the same time, it runs a smaller amount of creatures that could go face.
7.3 Assassin Stealer of Secrets
Assassin SoS decks rely on the great cycle-capabilities of green, the damage-based removal options of blue. Curses provide another removal option. As a 50 card deck, it is a little faster to assemble the combo pieces. An interesting take on an Assassion SoS deck is an approach that relies on zero-cost actions and Swindler’s Market to gain life.
The sample deck above runs a core of 13 zero-cost actions, as well as a cycle package with Baandari Opportunist, Shadow Shift, Thieves Guild Recruit, Shadowmarking, Spoils of War, Fresh Start and Gnarl Rootbender that allows you to go deep into the deck. It can be confusing to people on the ladder because the Market is not your real win condition. With Debilitate, Winter’s Grasp, and the curse-based removal you can control the board and let your opponent start to break runes. As you get one a Swindler’s Market you can heal back a little and finish the game with an SoS combo.
7.4 Sorcerer Stealer of Secrets
SoS in sorcerer relies on damage-based actions for removal. Mummify, Spirits Knife, and Fingers of the Mountain are your best option to deal with powerful threats. There are relatively few options to cycle through your deck. Midnight Sweep is a decent defensive action that you can use when blockers are needed in both lanes. The Gatekeeper can also slow-down your opponent considerably if they don’t have removal or lethal creatures to contest him. The deck has some tech choices for healing with Barrow Stalker and Dark Seducer. The lack of draw is possibly one of the biggest challenges for SoS sorcerer decks.
7.5 Guildsworn Stealer of Secrets
Guildsworn has a lot of flexibility to adapt to the meta by tech-ing creatures or actions as needed. It also provides excellent hard removal, good deck cycling, and options to gain life. Ianbits recently featured an up-to-date SoS Guildsworn deck by Levios on his YT channel. Levios is known as one of the masters of SoS decks. His deck runs Laaneth as a tutor, Guildsworn Revitalizer, to heal while your actions are being played and Dushnikh Yal Archer as an additional tech choice to deal with supports. Check out ianbits video.
Gαmαεulεr has created a similar list with Fear Totems. In this case, you have the option to unsummon Ayrenn or your opponent’s creatures. However, the best move is, probably, to unsummon Merchant’s Camel, to draw two, but more importantly, to discard four extra cards (ideally actions).
Another interesting list is one by Fierce Infinity. His Painted Stealer Guildswon deck leverages the several actions to generate creatures. For example, the 1-cost Fabricate gives a choice of neutral creatures with a keyword (Drain!), the 1-cost Lunar sway can put a 4/4 guard to hand, and the 12-cost action Painted World from Jaws of Oblivion summons sizable threats to contest the board more proactively.
7.6 Aldmeri Dominion Stealer of Secrets
The Aldmeri Dominion has access to some of the best hard removal actions (for single target removal and board removal), great deck-cycling, and some very decent tech choices for healing. One of the main weaknesses of Dominion control decks is the lack of support removal, which you could mitigate by including Dismantle if required by the meta.
7.7 Daggerfall Covenant Stealer of Secrets
Mester Vester puts Dark Seducer and Daedric Incursion to work in a Daggerfall SoS deck. With Dark Seducer being the only Daedra in the deck, Daedric Incursion helps to regain life when needed. With Squish the Wimpy, it provides a great option to heal. Therana is another interesting choice here, as she can shuffle more actions back into the deck. When two actions get played per turn, Mages Guild Retreat will gratefully summon a random Atronach for some additional pressure.
7.8 Tribunal Temple Stealer of Secrets
SoS Tribunal is the slowest Stealer of Secrets deck. You have to be very committed to play that, as you have minimal extra card draw, but a lot of options to gain life. One particular challenge is to find Shadowmere in your 75 card deck, but Brass Arquebus might help with that.
7.9 House Dagoth Stealer of Secrets
In House Dagoth, you can leverage Agility‘s ability to extend the resources in your hand very quickly. With Shadow Shift, Rapid Shot, Thieves Guild Recruit, Moonphase Suthay, Palace Conspirator, Merchant’s Camel, and Fresh Start, your deck runs 27 cards to draw more. Supplemented by several powerful utility creatures, like Hand of Dagoth and Brynjolf, you can also chip-in some damage early when healing is needed.
7.10 House Telvanni Stealer of Secrets
Just like Dagoth, House Telvanni can also leverage green’s ability to cycle the deck very effectively. Gαmαεulεr runs a good amount of cycle, e.g., actions as Scout’s Report and Merchant’s Camel to look for combo pieces with an option to discard actions faster.
8.1 SoS OTK Decks have Their Place in TESL
Stealer of Secrets OTK decks are reactive control decks. They aim to watch your opponent build a board only to destroy it soon after that. As an SoS pilot, you need to manage your resources very carefully and patiently play action after action to fill your discard pile. Once you have the required combo pieces, you can go for the kill. SoS OTK decks are particularly fun to play in a meta where proactive board-centric decks dominate the meta-game. With Combo Invade being as good as it is, there is an argument to play SoS OTK decks and enjoy how your opponent’s shadow lane gets annihilated by Dawn’s Wrath or Immolating Blast.
Since the archetype has relatively few board interaction, many players that like a proactive play-style don’t enjoy playing against the deck much. Nonetheless, the deck archetype has been around for a few years now and has evolved with every new expansion. Several tech choices can prevent the SoS game plan from succeeding. So the deck isn’t particularly over-powered. Nonetheless, the deck can be used to climb the ladder, and some players consistently navigate the deck in top 100 Legends.
8.2 What’s the Best Class for SoS?
Now, which SoS OTK deck is the best? Well, each one has their pros and cons, and you can only answer this for a specific meta. SoS decks with Willpower have the strongest hard removal, while any deck with Agility has better cycle-power.
At the moment, it feels as if Guildsworn might have a slight edge, as it has the best balance between healing options, removal, and cycle power. Dushnikh Yal Archer is just a very flexible card to block and to remove a ward or a support. Raiding Party allows trade on the board while being a combo piece, and The Red Year is a big deal as it is a double Dawn’s Wrath.
When compared, Aldmeri Dominion SoS might be slightly favored against a very token-heavy meta, because it has also access to Debilitate. Yet, there can be a meta, where dual-color SoS decks might have a big comeback, as they allow you to assemble the combo pieces much faster.
8.3 Evolving the Deck Archetype
It would be interesting to see the archetype can evolve into a slightly more proactive deck. FierceInfinity’s Painted World deck is an interesting example of how powerful creature-generating actions like Painted World could potentially help advance the deck into this direction. Another option might be a Market Assassin deck that uses SoS as an alternate win condition. Those decks might not be as viable yet, but it would be interesting to see some future cards promote the deck into a slightly more proactive deck.
To close up, I would like to thank Gαmαεulεr, ioftherestlessstorm and Levios for their support during the creation of the article. It’s been one of the most work-intensive ones to date, and I hope you found it a worthwhile read. Please leave a comment with any feedback, critical or encouraging. See you with your SoS deck on the ladder!