So, today is the great day: the horror lurking within finally comes out of the closet to join us all, and Innistrad becomes Standard-legal, at last. As deckbuilders, we can experience these exciting times—and Wizards made sure we experienced lots of them quite recently, with the introduction of Modern and immediately with the update of the ban list.
Speaking of brand-new Standard, there are some easy favorites (Tempered Steel and Birthing Pod); there is buzz about the new incarnation of Caw-Blade (a true horror trope—the great villain refusing to die even when losing its limbs and other integral parts), and there are some expectations regarding Skaab Ruinator and reanimator decks. I won't waste time cheering about another X-blade and discussing every rare card from Innistrad. Instead, I'll focus mostly on cards from Scars block, especially on some old favorites of mine, namely Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Grand Architect. As a format, Scars Block Constructed was not exciting, but I expect Standard to be far more interesting.
So, we have a blue planeswalker, who costs a reasonable four mana and has powerful abilities including a game-winning ultimate. Why not to play him? Yes, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is not Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Yes, there is a ton of artifact hate in the format, but everybody is so excited by sweet new cards that I expect to see a fair amount of graveyard hate instead of artifact hate in sideboards. And let's not forget that Tezzy has proven himself to be a contender, posting some respectable records with a little help from honored players (including two PT Top 8s and a GP Top 8) during the previous year. Yet he was never really popular, overshadowed by the Caw-Blade menace. It's his time to shine again.
He seems to have some self-identity problems, as his abilities look like they complement very different strategies. An ideal deck built in a perfect world would be able to exploit them all, but as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing wrong with using only two of them (the first two, as you may have guessed), without cherishing the dream of activating his ultimate ability.
Another nuance I've learned while playing with the Tezz is that you just don't want to have Tezzeret as your sole deck-defining card, so it's mandatory to have a second one. What are the options here?
Limitless, I dare say, but I want to specifically explore the possibility of combining Tezz with Necropede, Grand Architect, or some proliferate engines. That said, I've also tried to use Tezzeret with Birthing Pod but without any noticeable success. There's an old joke, saying “We can do this work fast, well, and cheap, choose any two.” Put together, Tezz, Architect, and Pod resemble some sort of circular firing squad, preventing each other from operating at full capacity. So, let's not be greedy.
The greatest problem of any artifact-based deck is simple: they are stone-cold to Stony Silence. What cards can help old Tezz clear all the moss from the gargoyles? Spine of Ish Sah (cheap one), Karn Liberated (cheap and synergic one), and, ultimately, artifacts without activated abilities.
I'd guess that balls of steel are necessary artifacts to have too. I guess artifact creatures and artifacts, turned into creatures by Tezzeret, are more useful examples. To save the number of attacks needed to win, we want these creatures to have infect.
Does that ring a bell somehow? Yep, Brian Kibler stole some wins with such a deck last spring. But there is (as usual) a problem: Preordain rotated out.
The loss of Preordain is truly painful, but there is no other choice than to play without it. Grin and bear it.
I've studied different opportunities and finally decided to stick to a pretty sweet proliferation engine. This engine is very synergic with Tezz himself and gives the deck a strong game plan easily executable even in the absence of the namesake planeswalker. The core engine includes some Wellsprings and tools to abuse them profitably. It allows us to replenish Tumble Magnets and Sphere of the Suns, to give opponents their last poison counters, to shrink opposing creatures in the process, to draw additional cards, and to shuffle our library (which is undoubtedly useful and undoubtedly difficult without fetchlands). Finally, the proliferation engine allows us to snap-kill opponents, activating Tezzeret's ultimate the turn he comes into play. Sounds sweet, right?
The most basic version looks like this:
Yes, three, three, and three. First, you have a powerful search engine, so options are better than having four of each. Second, it's a basic version, so the numbers should be adjusted according to your needs. Usually, it's correct to cut one Throne. Also, usually it's correct to abstain from using any Spheres altogether. Contagion Clasp primarily serves as reliable, low-profile removal with the added ability to help us go bonkers with proliferate. Also, note that Grand Architect and his cheap mana can turn Clasp into an even more powerful proliferation engine, but let's not digress from our basics here. Grand Architect will have his time in the limelight later.
Innistrad is a graveyard-themed block, so it is understandable that we've got Graveyard Shovel instead of stuff like Relic of Progenitus and Leyline of the Void: powerful hate would be just unfun. But there is still one good graveyard hate card, and we can easily use it. So, the minimal sideboard pack includes one Trinket Mage and one Nihil Spellbomb—with maindeck Mox Opal as a fine addition. Elixir of Immortality is also interesting, but I'm not sure if it's necessary. So, let's go to the first list.
The deck is simple and reasonably aggressive (it's normally right to be aggressive after the large-scale rotations). Preordain and Inquisition of Kozilek are huge losses, but everybody lost them, so let's not weep.
Stepping up from the basics, we meet Blightsteel Colossus. Tempered Steel decks and Puresteel Paladin may use Dispatch, but others have close to no handy answers to the mighty monster. The easiest way to cheat Colossus into play is (obviously) through Kuldotha Forgemaster. Additional proliferate engines will be needed here too. First, it will help us win through blockers. Second, all those little pieces of metal will feed the Forgemaster. Besides Colossus, the Forgemaster can tutor up Mindslaver, Myr Battlesphere, and Platinum Emperion.
This list is rough and needs to be tuned a lot. In essence, it is combo-control without any possibility of turning aggro, so it would be highly advisable to know the field really well in order to have any chance of fighting it profitably. Today, I'd say it's somewhat dangerous to pick up this deck, but it could be just the right choice during the upcoming weeks, when you make sure that no Stony Silences are, in fact, played by your local grinders (because, honestly, Torpor Orb is just better against Birthing Pod decks, and Pod is obviously one of the decks everyone is gunning for at the moment).
But, let's envision the world where Stony Silence IS popular and universally adopted. Harsh world, for sure. What can we do? The simplest answer is “just play a R/G deck” (by the way, I used to be a Valakut champion but not today), but we don't want to go the easiest route, oh no. The range of answers available to Tezz is very limited, so let's try to use a powerful one: Spine of Ish Sah. This card is exactly what every Timmy likes: powerful and expensive. But Johnny knows how to cheat it into play. Enter Grand Architect.
Grand Architect and his best friend Treasure Mage together form another interesting and powerful engine, rather attractive to those seeking fast mana and huge threats. (Valakut, anyone? 12Post? Urzatron? Eldrazi Green? Mythic Conscription? There are cohorts of us who just LOOOOVE it, no shame in it, really.) The most amusing trick of all in such a deck is copying Spine of Ish Sah with Phyrexian Metamorph and destroying a permanent every turn. Attractive? Check. Powerful? Check. Immune to Stony Silence? Like, totally (if Phyrexia's Core is used as a sacrifice outlet). Just go your own destructive way and ignore the mossy gargoyles.
Recently, Ali Aintrazi posted a nice Grand Architect list featuring Kuldotha Forgemaster as an additional search engine. The thing is, Forgemaster is obviously bad against Stony Silence. In order to combat the dreaded enchantment, Ali had suggested splashing a second color. Black is not very helpful here, so white is the choice. Besides gaining Revoke Existence as an ultimate remedy for our ills, we also receive an alternative tool for spine chaining: Venser, the Sojourner.
So, there are three cards that can complement Grand Architect in order to form a strong and synergic core engine for our deck: Tezzeret, Venser, and Forgemaster. Both fortunately and unfortunately, the number of possible combinations is endless, and I have no time machine to test every one of them, so I encourage you to try it by yourselves. I would be very pleased to receive any feedback on this idea.
The last Tezzeret deck for today is the one directly inspired by the old creation of Patrick Chapin: Grixis Tezzeret. Splashing red for Slagstorm and Galvanic Blast allows us to use Tezzeret's ultimate ability as a finisher. Dealing twenty is almost impossible, but fourteen is plausible.
Slagstorm is not the easiest card to cast in this deck, but it is definitely better to have Slagstorm than, say, Arc Trail, because of the ability to kill a sword-equipped Invisible Stalker and a Memnite or Vault Skirge with Tempered Steel in play. For those who are fatter (like a Sword-equipped Geist of Saint Traft or Hero of Bladehold herself), I would recommend a strong diet. And no candies! If they refuse—use Galvanic Blast or Doom Blade. Geist of Saint Traft is a sort of Invisible Stalker for our point removal, so our new red splash offers great artifact removal—Ancient Grudge (we can even pay flashback cost from time to time).
This list is, again, weak to Stony Silence, but there are a few ways to deal with it in the sideboard, and… creatures die to removal. Is it an argument to not play creatures at all? This article is named “Balls of Steel,” so high risk, high reward.
But, to be serious, there are two creatures in the maindeck, and they'll probably catch removal immediately after entering the battlefield. So, there is a serious question whether to play creatures in this deck and which creature to choose if you do. Possibilities are “not to play” (there's nothing wrong in this approach), Wurmcoil Engine, Batterskull, and Kuldotha Phoenix. Wurm and Phoenix are weak to Dispatch, while Phoenix is great against any control deck that can't exile it. Batterskull is the most expensive one (it obviously costs eight, not five), but the easiest to protect from artifact hate. First observations of the expected metagame indicate the presence of Mono Red, so I'll choose Wurmcoil Engine, as it is harder to deal with immediately.
Mana base looks a little pesky after the first and second looks, but it is very playable in reality, despite the six or seven colorless lands in the three-colored deck. Some adjustments are needed but definitely not the fundamental charge.
The only color-intensive requirement is an early Slagstorm, which is achievable with seventeen red sources. Other spells are easy to cast. Stensia Bloodhall and Devil's Play are interesting ways to solve the problem of mana utilization in a long game, where we typically would run out of a gas at one point—Jace 1.0 or Jace 2.0 would be very enjoyable, but it's just a dream. And don't forget that Tezz's ultimate also gains life! While it's normally correct to plan your game for winning through one-shot, Tezz could allow you to survive for some turns and to win with the help of Stensia Bloodhall or Devil's Play flashback (if you drew one earlier, it was probably already used to kill a creature).
The sideboard gives us a bunch of powerful weapons to fight against almost everything (here you should remind me about Stony Silence, and I will answer that I didn't see it and Ancient Grudge in any actual decklist). Everything else is similar to previous lists, so it's time to leave my readers and to gather cards for today's FNM.
Look at the metagame, and I hope that something similar to my lists will help you to be good at States!