The More Things Change...

Posted in Top Decks on March 19, 2009

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

We're at the middle, a little bit closer to the finish line, right now. But let's step back to the beginning for a minute, shall we? About four months ago we found ourselves looking back at Pro Tour–Berlin. Elves was the juggernaut, winner winner, and surrounded by itself. Pundits all around were calling for the banning of, um, something ...

... but the most interesting deck in that Extended Top 8 was at least arguably played by Kenny Öberg (tied for first place at the end of Day One): the Tezzerator.

So now, some four months later, mid-March, in the middle of an Extended PTQ season that has seen Elves left in the dust kicked up by the flapping gossamer of a thousand Spellstutter Sprites' wings and Tezzerator all but forgotten amidst the dueling charge counters of competing Umezawa's Jittes ...

... and Elves sits at the top of the most recent Grand Prix, crowned in a Top 8 featuring that forgotten Tezzerator ... which in the hands of the same Kenny Öberg, was piloted to a tied-for-first place Day One. My dear readers, my chuckling friends, the Grand Prix Hanover Top 8:

1 Win, 1 Top 8
Reliquary Loam
2 Top 8s
Faerie Wizards
1 Top 8
Naya Zoo
1 Top 8
Previous Level Blue
1 Top 8
1 Top 8

For this episode of Top Decks, I just want to concentrate on just a couple of these Top 8 deck lists (especially as Elves and Faerie Wizards have been done to death), but give them some good attention.

To me the most interesting of the group is (not surprisingly) Tezzerator.

Kenny Öberg's Tezzerator

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Tezzerator is a "lockdown" deck that utilizes two upgraded green cards to achieve a great deal of hateful mischief. It is not the fastest deck in the room, but it is defensively fast enough to compete with the quickest combo decks with surgical precision, and bulky enough to slow up the beatdown decks until it can set up a series of advantageous turns. So what do we mean by "upgraded Green" cards? Let's look ...

The "Grey Ogre"

Trinket Mage is just a wonderful creature. It's not difficult to look at it and realize that it might have some value, but Trinket Mage is really, really, good. Compare it to Civic Wayfinder. For essentially the same mana cost, Trinket Mage is just better! Much better.

Civic Wayfinder is a great creature too, was popular in its Ravnica block, and helped Charles Gindy take down a Standard Pro Tour last year. Civic Wayfinder is a welcome two-for-one for three mana, a welcome source of card advantage, and, in some green decks, helps to splash additional colors (or just increase a deck's developmental consistency).

So why is Trinket Mage an upgrade? Everything Civic Wayfinder can do, Trinket Mage can also do. Civic Wayfinder can get a Mountain? Well, Trinket Mage can get a Great Furnace! Island? Seat of the Synod. All the way across the five-colored rainbow of lands or artifact lands. The difference with Trinket Mage is that in addition to fixing lands (which we've already agreed is quite good enough to win a Constructed Pro Tour), Trinket Mage can obtain a precision Wrath of God, a combo-quencher, or a "mere" Shock when that is all that is needed. Heck, it can even turn off an opposing Life from the Loam.

Tezzerator is basically a mono-blue artifact deck, but like the Nassif / Herberholz version of Faerie Wizards, it can ramp up for additional counters on Engineered Explosives. Of course it can set to zero for Empty the Warrens, or slow down Elves with a two-for-one on one, but two and three are also well within reach thanks to Polluted Delta and Trinket Mage itself, setting up cards like Breeding Pool and Great Furnace.

Chalice of the Void is at its best in this deck; it can be set to zero to slow down multiple Lotus Blooms (isn't it scary when Storm plays two Lotus Blooms on turn one?), or one to prevent any and all copies of Glimpse of Nature, Nettle Sentinel, and Heritage Druid from snowballing in a single turn when set to one. But the super secret sideboard tech in this deck ... isn't found in the sideboard at all. It's the same old Chalice of the Void! The big "problem" decks like this one have historically suffered is a little Time Spiral do-gooder by the name of Ancient Grudge. Ancient Grudge is a two-for-one that a good number of decks can bring in against the Tezzerator. Think about it .... It is pretty frightening to face off against a first-turn Wild Nacatl into second-turn Tarmogoyf, a duo to be backed up by a fast two-for-one before the avalanche of burn spells.

But set Chalice of the Void to two? No Ancient Grudges this game, no thank you. And any Tarmogoyfs, Tribal Flames, Lightning Helixes, whatever that get caught up in the wake? Too bad. Or based on your perspective as a Tezzerator player ... Whew! Thank goodness!

The Planeswalker

The Tezzerator's namesake is planeswalker Tezzeret the Seeker. Just as we can look at Trinket Mage as a kind of better-than-Civic Wayfinder, Tezzeret can be thought of as a slightly more expensive—but significantly improved—Garruk Wildspeaker.

The +1 ability on Tezzeret the Seeker is basically the same as the one on the more commonly played Garruk. Garruk untaps two lands ... Tezzeret can untap a Seat of the Synod and a Great Furnace, or a Seat and a Chrome Mox. It's pretty similar, but more flexible. For example you can attack with the opponent's Kird Ape, get it killed in combat, play a postcombat Tezzeret the Seeker, and untap your Vedalken Shackles and Chrome Mox so that you can re-use the Shackles (and have the mana to do so).

Both decks have an "ultimate" ability that will probably kill with one strike. For Garruk it is an Overrun; for Tezzeret a kind of more attractive Titania's Song. Instead of killing lands, Tezzeret's ability makes them into 5/5 monsters.

It's the middle ability that justifies Tezzeret's slightly pricier mana cost. Garruk produces some perfectly respectable Call of the Herd-type tokens; the Seeker, though, goes and finds exactly the right kind of threat or answer a situation calls for. For instance, Tezzeret can grab Trinisphere to mix up the kinds of response cards an opposing combo deck will have to worry about, or the mighty Shackles ... which is good for a bunch of 3/3s itself.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Future Sight

Even more exciting on five mana than Tezzeret the Seeker—at least arguably so—is a new addition to the sideboard: Future Sight. Future Sight is old enough that it will be rotated with next season's Extended changes, but it is new in the sense that Faerie Wizards dusted it off only recently to play among themselves. Future Sight is exciting in a similar way to Tezzeret: you tap five mana, you get to play not just the most popular tech in Faerie Wizards sideboarding, but whatever you like, over and over.

This enchantment is an important addition to this strategy because it allows Tezzerator to compete with—and ultimately ignore and overcome—tremendous interactive sources of card advantage such as Raven's Crime. Typically a player manning The Rock can empty a blue mage's hand and initiate topdeck mode. That doesn't change with Future Sight in play ... only "topdeck mode" takes on a new meaning when the Tezzerator player can actually play whatever is on top of his deck. The math changes such that the limiting factor shifts from how many cards one has in hand to being bound by mana alone (provided there isn't an annoying land glut or some such).

Very often "the best deck" to play in a PTQ is whatever seems to be ignored or under-played. The reason this works out is because when a deck is under-played, its "prey" can take up a disproportionately large percentage of the remaining metagame. So when you have a deck like Tezzerator – which I originally predicted to be a PTQ winner – fall completely off the metagame radar, that means that its good matchups might be waiting around to be knocked over like bowling pins... As a lover of tapping out for Blue spells, I know this deck is one that I will be looking at for my remaining PTQ this season.

Knight of the Reliquary in Reliquary Loam

The other deck or decks that might have raised an eyebrow from the Hanover Top 8 are some black-green-white Loam decks featuring newcomer Knight of the Reliquary.

Lukas Kraft's Reliquary Loam

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Karim Bauer

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Knight of the Reliquary is an exciting new threat. It is kind of a smarter halfway point between a Terravore and a Countryside Crusher (both hefty contributors to Extended wins in previous years)... Huge as either monster with the right lands and graveyard, but more strategic—at least in the absence of a Devastating Dreams—than either. The Knight seems to have taken the place of Bitterblossom in these decks, simultaneously justifying a spread to white for Path to Exile, Loxodon Hierarch, and some incremental value on Crime.

You can set up the Knight, cracking a couple of Onslaught block dual lands before dropping it so that it never flirts with Lightning Helix (Countryside Crusher can't really say that) ... but this creature is so much more than an impressive frame for three mana.

The black-green-white decks are curious mixtures. The Naya and Zoo decks are all about efficiency and playing the same basic game every time. Combo decks like Storm are built to ram hot death down your throat, while combo decks like Elves are built for speed. Swans and All-In Red are each destructive, each somewhat disruptive. But more than many of the decks in the field, these takes on The Rock are equal parts awesome and awful. Take Ghost Quarter. Against most decks, Ghost Quarter is flirting with unplayability; but against Faerie Wizards it is one of your best possible cards (a one-card deficit is a small price to pay for the ability to remove Riptide Laboratory from the board).

Consider how Karim Bauer approached this card: he played only one Ghost Quarter.

Ghost Quarter

Karim had the option to go light on Ghost Quarters (remember they aren't very good fundamentally) because of his Knights. With any Forest or Plains, Ghost Quarter was just a tapped three-drop away .... That same recurring tutor action allowed for one Treetop Village; one Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth; and so on.

And of course, the full set of Life from the Loam allowed the Knight of the Reliquary decks to recoup and re-use any downed lands.

The remainder of the deck is a set of typically un-like extremes. Thoughtseize for combo, Darkblast for the tearing of tiny wings. Kitchen Finks to block, Tarmogoyf to attack. Path to Exile for the big jobs, Crime to clean up the mess .... All of these laced together with Life from the Loam to enrich and build upon the advantages brought to the table by Knight of the Reliquary.

Worm Harvest

One interesting thing to examine is how the two Top 8 decks diverged on a two-of spell slot. Bauer played the ubiquitous Umezawa's Jitte, but Kraft dusted off Phyrexian Arena. You will notice that both decks play a trio of Extirpates in their sideboards. Extirpate does a tap dance on this kind of a strategy's grave when pointed at Life from the Loam, but with Phyrexian Arena, Kraft had a little bit of remaining card advantage oompf, even if the worst were to occur.

Going long, these decks will typically finish with Worm Harvest. Dredging Life from the Loam will eventually flip the Harvest into the graveyard, then it is just a matter of producing five or ten token creatures per turn. The aforementioned Life from the Laom should ensure that the modest (by comparison) retrace cost is taken cared of ... while ultimately building the power of both Worm Harvest and the Knight at the same time!

Reliquary Loam is another interesting and "a little bit different" way to approach this year's Extended. It should appeal to players who like to run a lot of lands (heck, these decks approach 50%), but the cycling lands help to prevent flooded mulligans. As we've discussed, these decks can take on all comers due to a mix of interactive spells spread across almost all the archetypes, and there are even bullets waiting for the mirror match or other Loam-oriented strategies.

Good luck, though, with whatever deck you are planning to duel with the day after tomorrow!

You can check out the entire Top 8 in the GP–Hanover coverage.

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