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September 7, 2010


Duel Decks- Elspeth vs Tezzeret: Elspeth’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

Keen to get the decks out into the field after a thorough breakdown of each, I challenged Sam to the customary best-of-three. She took Tezzeret leaving me with Elspeth, and here are the notes from the matchups.

Game One

Sam’s on the play, drops and Island and passes. I place a Plains down, then cast an exceptional early defensive play: Loyal Sentry. With a solid play of her own, Sam then gets out an early Energy Chamber, but I go into aggression mode with a Kor Skyfisher, pulling a Plains back to my hand. With Crusade in grip and little else for the moment, it’s a gamble of a play but one with little downside.

Sam’s upkeep for turn 3 arrives, and having no other artifacts in play her Energy Chamber places a (useless) charge counter on itself. Then she casts a Frogmite. I drop Crusade right on schedule and swing in for 3 with the flying Skyfisher before passing. So far, I am liking the look of the deck- nice early defense and evasion.

Turn 4 sees Sam with a flurry of activity: Mishra’s Factory, Arcbound Worker and the Aether Spellbomb all come down on her side, with a +1/+1 counter for the Frogmite courtesy of the Chamber. With nothing able to defend her in the air, I swing in again for another 3 with the Kor, then add a Burrenton Bombardier. With her Sepllbomb and my Crusade in play, using its Reinforce ability would have been a poor use of the card, and it’s an easy choice to hardcast it.

With the Frogmite of decent size, Sam turns her Chamber’s counters onto the Arcbound Worker, whose Modular ability will allow those counters further utility if it dies. Fishing for answers, she casts Thirst for Knowledge, pitching an Esperzoa to keep the extra card. I play a Plains, swing in for 6 (taking her to 7) and pass.

Seemingly coming up short for an answer, Sam swings in with the Assembly Worker, and uses her Mishra’s Factory to pump it, taking me to 17. Smelling blood, I swing in with both flyers and cast Mighty Leap on the Bombardier for lethal. Sam rightly moves to disrupt the play by triggering the Aether Spellbomb to return the Bombardier safely to my hand, but my Razor Barrier in response thwarts her and just like that I’m up a game.

Game Two

Sam starts our second matchup in better shape: Stalking Stones and a Steel Wall. I lay a Plains and pass. She then plays an Elixir of Immortality after dropping an Island, and I get Crusade back out. With Sam’s turn 3 Moonglove Extract, I have my work cut out for me.

Fortunately, the Burrenton Bombardier makes another appearance, and I have the evasive beater I need (with the Crusade to keep it from dying to the Extract’s damage). Sam comes up blank on turn 4, and I deploy the Infantry Veteran, defying her to trade the Extract for it. She declines, and plays an Assembly Worker. Pumping it with the Veteran, I swing in with the Bombardier for 4, then lay down the Conclave Phalanx (netting 3 life). I’m at 23, and Sam’s down to 13.

Hope arrives for Sam on turn 6 in the form of Tezzeret the Seeker, and Sam starts racing to build him up to ultimate. Meanwhile, I kick a Kor Aeronaut to give my Phalanx flying, and hammer Sam for another 7 damage. The next turn hits even harder, with Sam cracking the Elixir to stay alive, but scoops after she’s unable to find an answer.

Game Three

Both of the previous games played right into Elspeth’s strength: a string of early, aggressive plays to take out Tezzeret before he had a chance to build up. Our last match would show me what his deck was capable of when gifted with a little time…

This time, Sam’s able to get out some early muscle in the form of a Runed Servitor and Serrated Biskelion, which puts me on an unaccustomed back-foot when all I’m able to manage is a Glory Seeker. Still, with a hand brimming with removal I like my chances, and take the first opportunity I have to Sunlance the Biskelion right into the graveyard. Still, Sam goes aggressive right away, and I decline to trade my Seeker for the Servitor just yet. Instead, we’re trading early swings and both our life totals are in play.

On turn 4, Sam casts Faerie Mechanist, whose reveal turns up a Contagion Clasp– lucky break! We trade blows, but I have no cards to play. On the next turn, Sam adds to the mix with a Master of Etherium and plays the Contagion Clasp (with the -1/-1 counter on my only critter, the Glory Seeker). Buffed by the Master, her Biskelion and Machinist swing in for 6, but I respond with Swords to Plowshares on him, so the buff disappears before the blows land. I take 4 instead.

On my turn, looking to buy some time I play the Conclave Phalanx, which nets me 2 life (putting me up to 14. By contrast, thanks to the loss of her Master Sam is back to 20). I swing in for 1 with the Seeker.

Turn 6 arrives, and Sam continues the steamroll, with Juggernaut coming down onto the table. She swings in with the Runed Servitor, looking to trade it for a card and succeeds- doubting a trap, I block with the Phalanx and we both draw. I take 2 from the unblocked flying Mechanist.

My removal allows me to at least tread water as I send the Juggernaut on a Journey to Nowhere before playing Temple Acolyte for 3 life (putting me at 15). Sam plays an Esperzoa before swinging in for 2. Knowing that the Esperzoa will take the Contagion Clasp from nuisance to threat I hit it with Swords to Plowshares as well. Sam’s life again returns to 20, and the last of my removal is gone.

On turn 7 I decide to cast my Celestial Crusader, bypassing his “combat trick” Flash to instead just get some extra hammering in. My buffed beaters swing in for 7, and I empty my hand by casting Kor Aeronaut.

Sam rolls out a turn-8 Synod Centurion, then passes. The shoe has been on the other foot this game, but often the first turn your opponent declines to attack you is when the game starts to turn. I hope that’s the case here.

Unwilling to risk my Crusader against her flying Mechanist, I only attack with the 3/3 Aeronaut. Sam’s now down to 10 life, with me marginally ahead at 13. Sam keeps the pressure on, though, attacking for 2 with the Mechanist then casting the Clockwork Hydra. I swing back with the Kor, then pass.

The game is now easily longer than the first two, and turn 9 nets Sam a Steel Wall and an activation of the Contagion Clasp, which buffs her Hydra and sends my Glory Seeker into the great beyond. Undeterred, I swing in for another 3, and Sam’s at 4 life.

Then Sam makes a serious tactical error. She taps to cast the Trinket Mage and fetches an Aether Spellbomb. But instead of casting it, she activates the clasp and swings in with a 6/6 Hydra. I chump with the Acolye, and take 1 damage from the Hydra (I’m now at 10).

Perhaps Sam thought she’d have another turn to add to her defenses, but I don’t give it to her. I Saltblast the Faerie Mechanist, which leaves her defenseless in the air, then swing in with both the Aeronaut and Crusader for lethal.

Final Thoughts

 Excepting the third game, which was a combination of a strong showing from Sam’s Tezzeret deck along with limited proactive options of my own (removal, after all, is reactive), Elspeth was a solid and consistent performer. There were no problems at all in getting threats on-line, and the lack of a sizable midgame threat was compensated to some degree by the options that did arise, typically through the Reinforce ability on a number of the cards.

Reinforce is tricky- it’s a great way to squeeze some extra power onto an existing critter when the card it’s on would not by itself be useful (a 1/1 First Striker is great on turn 2, say, but often much less valuable on turn 8). That said, the great enemy of all +1/+1 counters, whether it be from Reinforce or Modular or even, say, Devour- is that it is extremely susceptible to bounce effects- which, naturally, Tezzeret boasts in multiple. Reinforce is little different than an Aura, then, when assessing card advantage, so use with caution. The presence of Crusade and Celestial Crusader means that that little 1/1 First Striker might not stay so little for long, and be worth casting.

Thematically, the deck is very solid, and has something of a ‘Duel Decks 2.0’ feel when weighed against previous incarnations. The strategy feels more intricate, and the card selection tighter than, say, a Garruk vs Liliana. That’s not to say its without its flaws, however. In particular, the use of the Selenya ability Convoke on several of the more expensive cards seemed little substitute for having an actual threat at that mana cost. The Conclave Phalanx in particular is somewhat disappointing, in that its only upside besides being a big blocker (which an aggressive deck like this doesn’t always need) is a modest amount of lifegain. Like Affinity, cards with Convoke tend to be somewhat overcosted (so that you don’t consistently cheat them out early and break the mechanic), and it seems like a bit of a misfit here.

Overall, though, it’s a solid (if a bit unsexy) package. We’ll wait until we’ve tested Tezzeret’s deck to recommend the entire package (or not), but Elspeth is a fine choice for those who enjoy a White Weenie strategy.

Pros: Market value for the Elspeth Planeswalker card appraches overall cost of this Duel Deck; exceptional synergy between Solider cards; nicely aggressive early mana curve; Reinforce keyword an excellent inclusion

Cons: Gutshot hole in the middle of the mana curve means you’ll often have weaker options in the midgame; Scars of Mirrodin preview card a poor choice (not only is it rather dull, but it’s not even a Solider); Convoke keyword a flavourful inclusion but a bit weaker in actual play; deck sports some defensively-optimised cards (Loyal Sentry, Conclave Phalanx, etc) less suited for an aggression strategy (which White Weenie must be)

FINAL SCORE: 4.25/5.0

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Shortbus9
    Sep 7 2010

    Great article. I think that barring a nut draw that Tez has the better deck. Either way they are both great deck seems WotC is really stepping up on the precon decks.

    • F3nr1s
      Sep 7 2010

      I gotta agree with the above comment especially for casual gamers. Recently I have noticed that with card prices and the competitive scene ever increasing, the casual game has fallen thus the population of casual players has fallen. I think wizards, especially with something of this caliber, is reaching out more towards casual players with decks that actually have their own advantages. Placing a 30+ dollar card (Elspeth) and a 15-20 one (Tezzeret) immediately in there both drops prices AND shows that they do want to grow a casual audience.

      • Sep 7 2010

        Although your valuation of poor ol’ Tezz is a bit generous, your gauge of the target audience is spot on! This DD is a fantastic value, and a lot of fun to play besides. You’re quite right that Standard seems to have priced some folks out of the game, but there’s still a ton of Magic to play. The ‘Intro Packs’ make for solid fun each set, and the upcoming ‘Event Decks’ are a very intriguing idea that shows Wizards has far from written off the non-Pro-Tour set.

        Thanks for commenting!

    • Sep 7 2010

      Definitely- this Duel Deck is a great step for Wizards. The past ones have relied either exclusively on the Lorwyn Planeswalkers or gone completely non-PW (Phyrexia vs The Coalition). Wizards knew what they were doing by reprinting Elspeth here, and the ‘limbo’ between Standard and rotation to Extended is the perfect place to mine for Duel Deck and precon treasures!

  2. troacctid
    Sep 7 2010

    I did a double take at the end because I thought, “What, what is he talking about, Contagion Clasp is an awesome preview!” Then I realized you meant the Kemba Skyguard. Yeah that one’s pretty lame. Better than Beast Hunt from Planechase though. XD

  3. Sep 8 2010

    Thanks for the first-hand experience providing a basis for my own deck decisions.

    After giving Elspeth’s deck a glimpse myself, I should like to try removing the small cip (ie “enters the battlefield”)-suite entirely and replacing it with a bunch of Patrol Signalers. These go well with the convoke mechanic and other tap enablers, contribute to the flavour and provide great fodder for the Knight Captain of Eos added as well …

    Although, I’d like to keep alterations limited in order to keep the power level on a casual kitchen table basis while proudly displaying the banner of a deck full of upright soldiers 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

  4. errtu
    Sep 8 2010

    Great review and cool site 🙂 Even though i already have the DD en played some games with it, i enjoyed reading these playtests and i’m looking forward to Tezzeret part 2.

    I’m a casual player myself and even though i like to read about Pro-tour and such, i know i’ll probably never there. More fun for me is reading about these kinds of decks and possibly some multiplayer stories/tips.

    You’re at least bookmarked over here (might you want to add some popular links like Digg/Delicious and such?).


    • Sep 8 2010

      Thanks for the comment, sounds like we’re the same kind of player. I added a link to Digg for all articles now as a result of your suggestion, though there was no feature here to add, alas.

  5. Alex
    Sep 9 2010

    I was going to hold out asking until the 2nd part of the Tezzeret review, but now that you’ve seen all the cards and played with them, how much is too much to be charging for this? The DD releases seem to usually appeal to a more casual-oriented crowd, since the decks aren’t tier one, and usually have more ‘fun’ cards than ‘tournament’ cards. Singles prices aside, does this warrant the extra $10ish (so far) above MSRP for casual players?

    • Moray
      Sep 9 2010

      Alex I think this one does.

      The Elspeth deck is strong one on one deck (compared to most pre-packed options) while the Tez deck could do fine on a mulitplayer table as is.

      Both decks have stong themes. This is worth noting for cauals play as whenI’m building a fun or multiplayer deck I am looking for the next idea to get started on a new deck. The themese make it easy to slot in new cards collected that fir the theme and thus build the decks to tailor taste and type of games played.

      Finally solid options included. Both deck have good cards worth having for a collection. Swords to plowshares, Mishras Factory, journey to nowhere, thirs for knowledge, both planes walkers of the top of my head. This means once play has been had from the decks themselves breaking them up doesn’t decrease the value as you will ultimately use several of the cards in other decks. There not too many narrow cards.

    • Sep 9 2010

      Good question. I take a bit of pride in being thrifty with getting my precons, and know where you’re coming from. Personally, my answer is that while it probably is worth the extra $10 premium in terms of fun and playability, I wouldn’t pay it for a couple of reasons.

      First, a large part of the ‘premium bump’ is because of the Planeswalkers, no news there. While Tezz has been hotter in older formats as opposed to Standard and won’t see much of a price change, Elspeth has been a real heavy-hitter in Standard. However, she’s outta here in just a few weeks as Shards Block rotates, and will go down somewhat in price. Expect the Duel Deck to follow.

      Finally, while I hate to recommend them over dedicated hobby stores, you might have some luck at WalMart or Target. Although I keep my business at my local store where I get good pricing, the local Wal Mart here has a selection of Magic including the last couple Duel Deck releases. Wal Mart doesn’t play the collector’s game, so I’d imagine once they hit the shelves there you’ll nick them for MSRP.

      Finally, you never know, you just might win our anniversary contest!

      • Alex
        Sep 9 2010

        Thanks for the extra input. I think I’ve arrived at the same answer after a couple of days looking into everything. I decided that if I happen to run into one at a chain store, I’ll grab one. I’d love to support my local shop(s) but between the limited amount of product they got and people gabbing 4 or 5 of them the day of release, I can’t justify the the extra premium they’re now charging.

  6. DragonGhola
    Sep 9 2010

    With the few games I have played with this awesome set, I have been a little disappointed with Elspeth. I have almost never gotten the curve I need to beat Tezz, and once I have cast my spells, I have to hope that I don’t hit a land pocket, as the Elspeth deck has no form of draw. Even a Howling Mine or similar would be more than welcome.

  7. Reparadocs
    Sep 15 2010

    I totally agree the SOM preview does not belong here at all(though it is a fine addition to my RW life burn deck),but overall pretty good deck, I agree. I was wondering for one article if you could divert from your normal path of precon and into SOM spoilers. I would really love to here your input on some of the already revealed cards

    • Sep 19 2010

      Thanks for saying so! Alas, I decided for this set I was going to avoid spoilers as much as humanly possible, but perhaps for a future set. I’ve devoured spoilers for the past couple sets, and realised that any sense of mystery I was getting from cracking a booster was diminishing. I remember quite well my first ever Prerelease tournament, in NYC for Stronghold, and how I cracked each pack like a sacred thing, full of wonderment and mystery at each new unspoiled card. Back then, there were a few ‘teaser’ cards printed in Duelist, but that was about it. So I am trying to recapture that magic and see if it works.

      Of course, a couple of spoilers have been unavoidable, but so far I’ve done fairly well. We’ll be going all-out with reviews and Meddlings once SOM hits, so there will be plenty to talk about then!


  8. web8970
    Sep 19 2010

    Having exhaustively played Elspeth against her counterpart, there are several things worth concluding:
    * An early Crusade boosting my 1-3-Mana soldiers almost always created an overweight in my favor
    * More than once I had the Conclave Phalanx sitting in my hand waiting for enough soldier tokens to be worth being cast
    * Reinforce is invaluable when used on an unblocked attacker in order to force the last points of damage
    * Elspeth wins in the early game or never: We once found ourselves being stalled in a situation where the opponent had nothing but a Steel Overseer with some +1/+1 counters on it while I had my Elspeth pumping out tokens for defending attacks on her. The duel was finally decided by the card quality created by blue draw effects.
    * There is little use in the middle and late game for 5+ lands. I kept my hand filled with them in order to have my opponent fear combat tricks. I’m actually considering adding an Arcane Spyglass …
    * After an early rush, the floor will get crowded with artifact creatures, therefore evasion as seen on the Kor Skyfisher and the Kemba Skyguard helps a great deal.

    However, much in contrast to my previous posting, I should like to give stressing the bounce/cip aspect of the deck a try. Obviously quality gets the job better done than quantity and – as mentioned – Reinforce as well as a repeatedly used kicker effect proved to be tools to rely on.

    So much for further practical experience … have success with the Knight Lady.


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