Duel Deckin' Upgrades

Posted in Building on a Budget on September 22, 2010

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome to the third week of Scars of Mirrodin previews here on magicthegathering.com. Scars of Mirrodin is shaping up to be one of the most exciting sets I've ever seen. My favorite creature of all time, Trinket Mage, is making his return. Also, it's been far too long since I've poisoned someone in a sanctioned match.

A lot of readers have recently asked if I could shift the focus of the column to make it more accessible to casual players. Many of my readers have no interest in organized play, they seek out this column in hopes of finding an inexpensive casual deck or two that they can play with and against and amongst their friends. Other readers are interested in finding offbeat, inexpensive, and fun competitive decks that can do well in local tournaments. I try my best to appeal to both sides of the coin. In that vein, this week's column is geared toward the casual crowd.

Wizards has done an excellent job with the Duel Decks series. Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Tezzeret was released on September 3rd. I've spent many hours battling with the Tezzeret half of the deck over the past week. The decks make for excellent games of Magic. It's also an excellent tool for teaching friends how to play. Zac Hill, Chris Millar, and Erik Lauer (The design and development team) all deserve a lot of credit.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Swords to Plowshares

When asked which deck they would prefer to play with; Most of my friends jump at the opportunity to play with cards like Elspeth, Knight-Errant, one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever printed, and Swords to Plowshares, arguably the best removal spell.

Some people like being sneaky, though. I'm one of those people. I'd rather cast a Trinket Mage than a Kor Skyfisher any day of the week. Thirst for Knowledge is another powerhouse that may be underrated amongst newer players. Also, Tezzeret is exceptionally powerful here.

A lot of players at my local shop have complained that the Elspeth deck wins almost every game they play. After having played a lot of games with both decks I was very surprised to hear this. In my experience, the decks present each other with a very even and exciting match. I'd like to talk about some of the strategies I like to use when playing with the Tezzeret deck.

First, beware of flyers. The white deck does a very good job of controlling the skies. It's important to save your removal and tricks to deal with the air. The Tezzeret deck can often do a very good job of bashing through the gates on the ground whilst winning the race with a timely bounce spell on one of the Elspeth player's flyers. It's very rare that I would use Triskelion or Contagion Clasp counters to kill anything besides flyers. (Very rare usually refers to Catapult Master or Celestial Crusader.) It's also important that you try to be as aggressive as possible when presenting a board presence, especially in the first four turns. Thirst for Knowledge may be one of the most powerful cards in the deck, but I don't think I'd want to be casting it before a three-mana creature or removal spell unless I had Argivian Restoration in my hand. If you let the Elspeth player have a favorable race in the air, then they can sandbag their removal spells for your flyers.

Next, beware Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Elspeth is far and away the most powerful card in the match-up, but there are a lot of things you can do to minimize its effectiveness. First, if you draw the Foil, save it for Crusade or Elspeth unless your opponent's spell will actually win him or her the game. Presenting a healthy board presence is also important here. You can often swing back at an Elspeth and reduce her loyalty to 0. Remember, all the Soldier tokens that the Elspeth deck creates have the same name. You can use your Echoing Truth to get rid of all your opponent's Soldiers and make an opening to attack the planeswalker.

If you draw Tezzeret the Seeker, build your game around him. Tezzeret is all about the ultimate, his other abilities are quite good, but making Elixir of Immortality into a 5/5 beatstick is what we're really hoping to accomplish. Again, developing your board position takes precedence when you're trying to set up a Tezzeret. The trick here is to set up a turn where your opponent can't use evasion to tick down the Tezzeret's loyalty, oftentimes you'll have to engineer a turn that's ideal for this type of play.

For example, it's your fifth turn and your hand is Echoing Truth, Æther Spellbomb, and Tezzeret the Seeker. You have five lands, a good number of artifacts, and a healthy ground force while your opponent has a pair of flyers and a guy on the ground in play. The correct play here is quite simple, but it makes you think a turn in advance. I'd make a safe attack with my ground guys, cast my Æther Spellbomb, and pass the turn. When my opponent attacks with his flyers I'll simply take the damage—I don't want to give him or her an opportunity to replay them in the second main phase. When my opponent passes the turn I can use the Echoing Truth and the Æther Spellbomb to bounce his flyers. The next turn I can make another safe attack and cast my Tezzeret. I can use the Tezzeret to untap the ground critters I attacked with and pass the turn. My opponent won't have any flyers on the battlefield and I'll be able to use Tezzeret's ultimate, which will probably win the game.

It's not always this simple, though. Sometimes you need to accept that your opponent's evasive creature will prevent you from going ultimate with your planeswalker. In times like this I like to use Tezzeret as a tool for racing. You can grab Æther Spellbomb and bounce his evasive guy to create a good tempo swing. They'll often just replay their flyer and pass the turn, at which point you can grab something like a Trip Noose and create more of a hassle for them. Remember that Tezzeret's +1 ability can abuse cards like Trip Noose, Steel Overseer, Contagion Clasp, and Everflowing Chalice.

Trip Noose
Everflowing Chalice

Lastly, make sure you keep an eye on all the interactions between your cards. You may think using a Steel Overseer as bait so your Master of Etherium can enter play unmolested is a good idea, but what if you have a Triskelion in your hand? Is Master of Etherium really better than building a shiny robot machine gun? Triskelion is my personal favorite card in the deck, it just works so well with proliferate, Steel Overseer, and Esperzoa.

I'm Gonna Upgrade You

Scars of Mirrodin returns us to the plane of Mirrodin. There couldn't be better news for Tezzeret. I'd like to tell you about some of the coolest additions you can trade for at your local Prerelease.

Riddlesmith is a nice addition that can be easily acquired at your local Prerelease. The Tezzeret deck draws a lot of its strength from specific card interactions. Riddlesmith helps you put together the pieces you need to start doing crazy things. I'd recommend subbing these in the spot currently occupied by Runed Servitor.

Etched Champion doesn't seem to be getting the kind of attention I feel he deserves. This guy seems absolutely insane to me. He's probably the best equipment target since Troll Ascetic. He shouldn't be too hard to acquire through some trading and he's an excellent upgrade to the Assembly Worker. One really nice trick is when you have two artifacts in play with a Mishra's Factory. You can trick your opponent into blocking or using a removal spell on the Etched Champion before it becomes invincible. When your opponent takes the bait, you activate the Mishra's Factory, and suddenly, your Etched Champion has protection from all colors.

If you can trade for a Steel Hellkite, then you can upgrade your Clockwork Condor and have a very reasonable top end in the air. Steel Hellkite is an impressive spell. Your Elspeth opponent will certainly have to save those Swords to Plowshares if you're packing this kind of awesomeness.

There's a whole world of possibilities here. Scars of Mirrodin is full of exciting new cards that can really bring the Tezzeret deck to the next level. If you're lucky enough to open a card like Ratchet Bomb then I'd strongly recommend adding that to the mix. You could even revamp the whole deck to be more focused on the proliferate mechanic. The Tezzeret deck is already full of cards that take advantage of the new keyword; Why not make it the focal point.

Some of you will probably open a mythic rare artifact or two. Basically, every one of these, except perhaps Mox Opal would be an excellent addition to the Tezzeret deck. I'd be careful which cards I removed to add in, though. Try to swap cards for other cards of similar converted mana costs and type. R&D did an excellent job making the decks play at very good paces. Changing the casting costs and types of cards may change the dynamic of the match-up. For example, Platinum Emperion is pretty exciting, but you may do more harm than good if you replace your Silver Myr for an eight-cost monster. Consider cutting one of the more expensive spells if you decide to add something like this.

Adding cards to the Tezzeret deck is an excellent way to personalize your Magic experience. Building decks has always been my favorite part about the game. As you acquire more cards you may eventually be able to morph the deck into a Standard deck for Friday Night Magic. Scars of Mirrodin should provide you with enough exciting new artifacts that you can make a somewhat competitive Standard deck to play with at your local tournaments.

Make sure your Elspeth deck doesn't fall too far behind, though. If the artifact deck becomes too powerful you could consider adding something like Sunblast Angel to the white deck. Sunblast Angel seems like the perfect card to add a new facet to the game. It can be played around, but if you decide to ignore its existence it can certainly do a whole lot of damage. It's safe to say that adding a disenchant effect or two every time your Elspeth deck seems too weak because of new artifacts you acquire from Scars of Mirrodin may be a good way to balance the two decks.

The Prerelease for Scars of Mirrodin is this weekend! Be sure to get up to speed if you haven't already found the location of the Prerelease closest to you. The Prerelease is one of the best places to make new friends, learn how to play a sanctioned match, and be the first of your friends to have Scars of Mirrodin goodies. This Visual Spoiler has all of the cards in the set now, so check it out if you haven't already! I feel like every new set is more amazing than the last. Wizards has really been on a hot streak. I'm confident that Scars of Mirrodin will continue this trend.

I'd love to hear what you thought of this column. Shoot me an email or hit the forums to tell me what you thought. I'll probably go back into the brewery for next week, but I'd like to do a column like this every once in a while if it's received well. I try my best to listen carefully to my readers and I'd like to see if this is something you'd enjoy more of.

I'm going to poison everyone ... and there's nothing that anyone can do about it.

Happy Brewing!

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