Grand Prix Washington DC was a blast to follow and watch. Exceptional plays, creative decks, and solid sportsmanship made for an enjoyable event and an excellent cherry on top of a fully recovered and realized Standard.
But while the Grand Prix marks the competitive end of this particular Standard, most people have about three weeks' worth of this Standard left to play; between local tournaments, Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers, Standard Showdowns, and FNMs, choosing a deck is still important. As Standard gets better, I even think there's still some room for brewing, and the Grand Prix even gave us a little fuel. While many of the format's steady archetypes made an appearance in the Top 8 of this event, Corey Baumeister's deck would have likely been the deck I would have wanted to pilot.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 3 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Archangel Avacyn
I've been trying mono-colored Eldrazi decks in the margins of my deck testing for the last few weeks, but white, despite having only one Eldrazi that requires a white source, is likely the best color to complement these otherworldly beasts. Watching him play was a blast; Reddit user Riggnaros captured the critical play that bought him a Top 8 berth.
There's still plenty of Standard in the format to enjoy, and we've still got several local opportunities to enjoy them! Just this past weekend, I got to put a deck I've been working on to the test, and while not quite as star-studded as Corey's list, it's a fun one that utilizes lots of forgotten cards from rotating and non-rotating sets.
Tezzeret the Schemer has been on my radar for a long time. A high-loyalty, low-ultimate planeswalker with a specific, build-around-me theme represents my favorite non-Tibalt kind of planeswalker. The opportunity for him to see prime-time play is dwindling, along with the format's proclivity to effectively answer planeswalkers in the first place, so Tezzeret the Schemer soon passed into obscurity (and a low sticker price), which is enough for me to drop in and give it a try. I mean, really, Tezzeret the Schemer is $2.99 at the time of this article. Planeswalkers don't get much lower, and I should know; I just bought thirty-odd planeswalkers for an alternate Cube format. But that's for another time.
Tezzeret the Schemer clearly belongs in an artifact deck, but blue and black leave something to be desired in the current format. The obvious choice, red, doesn't actually give the deck the edge it needs.
But white does.
Since Thraben Inspector was released, it has impacted the format more, just in sheer number, than any other common in the format. A 1/2 creature that replaces itself was crucial for many reasons, and even in the last throes of this Standard, it continues to be critical, both in decks like Corey's and in our deck today.
Hidden Stockpile makes tokens that I can use to defend myself, tap for improvise effects, or close out a game where my threats, while weak, outnumber theirs. Anointed Procession helps everything the deck is doing: making Etherium Cells with Tezzeret the Schemer, extra Servos, and more Clues with Thraben Inspector. Altogether, white seemed much more interesting.
The deck is a grindy control deck, but it has multiple, solid paths to victory and a diverse enough set of removal that we hope to answer our opponent, fast or slow. In testing, the deck got the job done, albeit slowly, so before I took it to a real event, I wanted to beef up the threat numbers. Tezzeret the Schemer as a four-of may seem like a lot, but it seemed like a critical piece of the puzzle.
To best explain the deck, let's take it through its paces at a Standard Showdown event last Saturday. A four-round bout with this deck showed its strengths and weaknesses.
Round 1 – Temur Energy
My first opponent, Gene, mustered an aggressive plan, sticking Longtusk Cub and energy producers and accruing massive amounts of energy. However, this seemed to be his best-optimized threat, which, without trample, couldn't break through an army of Servos, Thraben Inspectors, and, eventually, a big old Herald of Anguish. It took his life, unbent by other combat or self-pain through Desert lands or the like, in four smooth strokes.
Tezzeret proved to be an excellent damage soaker in Game 2. While he still assembled an army of Longtusk Cubs, he couldn't get the energy trigger from hitting Tezzeret the Schemer, and a couple of on-time Consigns and the Oblivions that followed kept him out of answers, especially after resolving a potentially troublesome Glorybringer.
Just like before, Herald of Anguish smashed him to death, sacrificing artifacts at will to obliterate his army.
Tezzeret the Schemer was an important role-player; while not ultimately a win condition, it was always worth the mana. It's still likely that, without the threat of killing his creatures, Gene would have been able to use his energy more aggressively instead of keeping it in reserve to pump his creatures in response to Tezzeret's minus. Herald of Anguish's discard trigger was exceptional, as the deck struggled to push through an army of Servos, and could hardly do it off the topdeck.
Round 2 – Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift
My second opponent was Ryan, an ever-friendly Standard grinder at the shop and always a generous, well-matched, and welcome adversary. In the first game, I lost to the on-time activation of his God-Pharaoh's Gift, with which I couldn't hope to compete after he had discarded two Angel of Invention.
As I picked up my sideboard for Game 2, I kicked myself for not including Crook of Condemnation; while God-Pharaoh's Gift doesn't target, and thus it's not a hard answer, the ability to cherry-pick creatures to keep him off the six-creature mark of Gate to the Afterlife is still a promising option, and it would have worked with the deck's many artifact synergies. Next time.
Now, I had to get creative with cards like Declaration of Stone, which do not grant your opponent a token if they hit an embalmed creature. If your opponent has a real Champion of Wits out and two embalmed tokens, your opponent only gets one Clue. It seemed like a corner case, but it'd be something he'd have to play around come Game 3. I sideboarded in counterspells Metallic Rebuke and Confirm Suspicions alongside the other removal, should he attempt to underestimate his land needs. I wasn't worried about Negate; I was worried almost entirely on creatures I could not effectively block.
Game 2 did not go well for Ryan; after missing on some lands and with multiple Heralds of Anguish thanks to Mirage Mirror, I blasted him down with an ahead-of-curve Herald of Anguish, shredding his hand and life total. Although I had artifacts and mana to wipe out his shrimpy, non-embalmed team, I didn't need it; he was dead two swings later.
Game 3 was a nailbiter that saw him resolve Angel of Invention on-curve and me countering with Declaration in Stone, Consign on God-Pharaoh's Gift pre-combat, and a swarm of Angel of Condemnation holding down my Tezzeret the Schemer and some hard scry decisions. I wanted to play a different game, one based on tempo rather than the depletion of resources.
I realized that Jeskai God-Pharaoh's Gift's greatest enemy was its mana, both in the height of its threats' costs and the color. I decided to tax his resources shortly before time was called. We went to turns, and he was at five life. On turn 4 of 5, he embalmed his Angel of Condemnation the hard way, paying six and making a token from the graveyard, banishing my Herald of Anguish. Responding to the battlefield trigger of the token, I threw two Etherium Cells from my recently liberated Tezzeret the Schemer away, giving the creature a total of -4/-4. It never left the battlefield, I untapped on turn 5, and I swung for game, as he had no flyers to protect him.
Note to self: play faster.
Round 3 – Grixis Control
My third round opponent, Nick, was trying out and enjoying the Grixis Control deck he was piloting that day, which had led him to a semi-finals record that far.
In Game 1, I had very few cards that could effectively interact with him and his Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh finisher. Although I kept at it for a bit, I looked at the two Battle of the Bridge in my hand, considered the seventeen minutes that had already elapsed, and realized my opponent was playing with his food. I conceded and went to sideboard. Sometimes it's just right to do that to save time and give yourself more of an opportunity to scrape by in the next game.
In Game 2, with my deck full of counterspells and Mirage Mirror, I stuck Hidden Stockpile early underneath his counterspells, and he could not effectively interact with them. While he did counter most of my Tezzeret the Schemers and Herald of Anguishes, the Servos pecked away incessantly, giving me a slow but sure win.
With plenty of time on the clock, we both shuffled up in Game 3 and mulliganed to six. He never got more than three lands deep and never had the blue mana to counter my Tezzeret the Schemer or any other threats I managed to muster. What I will say is that I played conservatively, letting him have to tap out to play his consistency-generators (Supreme Will, Glimmer of Genius, etc.), and with so little blue mana, he had to prioritize it suboptimally. I snuck through too many threats, and he folded.
Six games up, two games down, which I'll take against real decks!
Round 4 – Ramunap Red
My opponent and I were both the only undefeated players that day, so we split. But, as I always prefer, we played out the match anyway.
I kept a cocky seven-card hand and got immediately punished after a turn 1 Falkenrath Gorger. My opponent had opted for nonrotating threats, so cards I hadn't thought of, like Brazen Scourge and Hungry Flames, came at me instead.
In Game 2, I realized my anti-aggro game was fairly weak, as Declaration in Stone just draws them one card closer to lethal burn, and they often have mana to spare when I'm not beating down that hard. I got to play Magic this time, but my opponent still assembled a much more aggressive team than I could manage. Glad I offered the split.
Four booster packs and three Showdown packs later, I was satisfied with my deck's performance. It's rough around the edges, sure, but some of the deck's interactions were impressive. Contraband Kingpin triggers off Thraben Inspector's Clue as well as for each Servo I make. Servo Schematic didn't need as much to be good as I'd thought, although there's a good chance that Servo Exhibition is better. Graveyard hate is not as important as less narrow, tempo-based plays, and aggro is still a tough matchup for which we must prepare, both in the maindeck and sideboard.
Given our current previews and the rotation of two whole blocks of Magic, my post-rotation Esper Tezzeret deck looks like this.
We need to see more, but I'd love to add some more Pirates and the Treasure they produce, making Treasure that functionally emulates Tezzeret the Schemer's Etherium Cell. Until then, though, I'm happy making trinkets and taking names.
Treasure opens up a lot of potential for the next set, both from flavor and gameplay perspectives. As we look to Ixalan's artifacts, which ones are you excited to try? Do you have a new list, or an old one you're remaking?