Duel Decks- Elspeth vs Tezzeret: Tezzeret’s Deck Review (Part 2 of 2)
At last, the chance to sleeve up behind Tezzeret’s Artificer deck had arrived, and with the perfect opponent. Jimi, who particularly fancies White Weenie strategies, was excited to try and take me down with Elspeth. We played our opening customary ‘friendly’ just to get a dry run with the decks and determine play order for the first ‘real’ match, and I lost quite soundly. Eager to settle the score, we began our three with me on the play, and here are our notes.
An encouraging start! I open with an Island and a Steel Wall, comforted behind its 4 toughness which should give me some vital time to develop. Jimi’s in qith a quick start, though, opening with a Plains and Goldmeadow Harrier.
A next-turn Silver Myr for a bit of ramp is highly encouraging, especially when Jimi’s response is the lousy Glory Seeker. If she tries to sneak in for damage by tammping my Wall with the Harrier, it will at least slow down her board development to the tune of each round.
Turn 3, and I’m laying out a few more trinkets- a Trip Noose and Elixir of Immortality. In my previous write-up I slagged both of these Artifacts in particular as sub-par inclusions, since while they’re both valuable they do nothing on their own to advance my game state. Time to put that theory to the test.
Jimi’s undaunted, though, and I think I see the trace of a smile as she plays a Loyal Sentry, effectively neutering my offensive. Things are starting to become intricate- she can tap one of my critters, I can tap one of hers, I have to get around the Sentry, and so on. A lot of variables in play in the red zone. What I need is another beater, so she can’t lock down my offense so easily. As if to taunt, she swings in for 2 with the Seeker. I’m now at 18.
I get the beater I need on turn 5 with an Esperzoa. Thanks to the cheapie Elixir, the ‘Zoa’s drawback will be negligible, and I should be able to start getting through for damage, but Jimi’s next-turn Saltblast provides a ready answer and the Esperzoa is no more. I continue to disrupt her offense by tapping down her flyer, but it’s a stall, nothing more.
I’m in for damage on round 6 after tapping the Loyal Sentry and swinging in with the Master, taking advantage of the fact that Jimi’s tapped out and can’t activate the Harrier. With Jimi down to 17, I cast Argivian Restoration and bring the Esperzoa back to hand.
For her part, Jimi plays a Plains and swings in with the Glory Seeker and Kemba’s Skyguard. My Wall blunts the Seeker, but I have no answer in the air. Down to 16.
The Esperzoa returns to play in turn 7, along with a Mishra’s Factory. I cast it before my attack- it’s open knowledge that I have it now, and the Master of Etherium could use a boost. As expected Jimi taps down the Master, but the Silver Myr nicks in for 2, taking Jimi to 15. I’m in a very precarious position, though, as I now have no cards in hand and my entire offense pivots on one card- the Master of Etherium. Any removal could cripple me.
Jimi casts the Angel of Salvation (taking advantage of Convoke), then passes, apparently passing up its flash ability in return for getting it out immediately. It’s an apparent misplay that’s left her tapped out, and I’ll be looking to take full advantage.
The next turn (the 8th) sees me bringing the Elixir back to hand thanks to the Esperzoa, then swinging in hard after tapping down the Sentry. Jimi trades the Angel for the Esperzoa, but I’m still in for 8, dropping Jimi to 7. Had she waited to cast the Angel she might have taken the Esperzoa and kept her Angel, so I’m pleased with the trade. Of course, hers is not the only misplay as I look down and spot the Mishra’s Factory, which could have joined the attack and dealt Jimi 4 more damage (3 from the Master-buffed Factory and 1 additional from the Factory-buffed Master).
I’ve two cards in hand now, but they’re both Islands- I’ve drawn nothing new and it’s painful. Keeping the Sentry busy with my Trip Noose, I swing in with the Assembly-Worker from the Factory after Jimi taps my Master with the Harrier, taking her back down to 7. For her part, Jimi swings back with the Skyguard and Seeker, and again my Wall stops some of the damage but I’m now at 14.
Keen to keep the pressure on, I swing in again, but Jimi casts the Celestial Crusader after tapping down my activated Factory. She chumps the Acolyte to the Master, and I’m in for no damage.
Jimi returns fire after casting a Kor Aeronaut and Kicking it to give her Seeker flying, and swinging in with the Seeker, the Crusader and the Skyguard. Thanks to the Crusader’s buff, I’m rocked for 8 damage, dropping me to 6. Unwilling to give up momentum (and knowing I have no answer to an air strike other than pressure), I go in with the Assembly-Worker after she taps the Master, but she accepts the trade with the buffed Aeronaut and both cards head to their graveyards.
Jimi swings in hard for another 8 on turn 11, and I cash in on the Elixir or Immortality. Once the dust settles, I’m at 3 life- barely hanging on, and with no answer in the air. Even using the Trip Noose defensively (leaving the Sentry alone), it’s just not enough and Jimi claims the lengthy game one.
On the play, I lay out an Island and Aether Spellbomb, then a turn 2 Steel Overseer. Another strong start, I’m hopeful it will have a different outcome than the last. Jimi’s playing with an almost Red-like aggression, casting a turn 2 Kor Skyfisher and returning a Plains to her hand. I get the dynamic duo turn 3, playing a Mishra’s Factory and using it to cast Assembly-Worker before passing. Jimi’s response is the Mosquito Guard after swinging in for two points of flying damage. I activate the Steel Overseer at the end of her turn (putting +1/+1 counters on the Overseer and Worker), and she passes.
On turn 4, I activate the Overseer again after I animate the Factory. Jimi casts Swords to Plowshares on the Overseer, and I trigger the Spellbomb in response (Unsummoning the Overseer). His contribution, though, helps my other two robots get in for 7, taking Jimi to 13.
My offense is dealt a heavy blow when Jimi taps for an Abolish, sending my Assembly-Worker to the grave. She attacks for 3, and passes.
My only available play is to recast the Steel Overseer, which leaves me no mana to activate the Factory. I pass turn. Jimi drops a Crusade, and swings in again, this time for 5. I’m now at 10 life, while Jimi remains at 13.
Desperate for reinforcements, I play the Faerie Mechanist on turn 6, revealing a Juggernaut and two Islands. The Land goes to the bottom of my library, and I gratefully put the ‘Naut into hand. Jimi punishes me by blasting the Faerie with a Sunlance, swinging in for 5 and playing a Glory Seeker. Overwhelmed by her speed, I need an answer or it’s lights out. At her end of turn, I activate the Steel Overseer for some more counters.
With turn 7 I drop a Clockwork Condor, a timely answer to her aerial threat. It’s for naught, though, as her response is to play Elspeth, pumping up her Skyfisher with Elspeth’s builder, and swinging for the fences. I’m left with no alternative to chumping both my Condor and the Overseer just to stay alive. The expensive answers in my hand are mere ashes as I scoop after drawing nothing of use.
After three defeats in a row (counting the first “pre-game game”) I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong. My draws seem to be highlighting a lack of focus I didn’t quite pick up in Tezzeret when I took the deck apart- I’m just not able to get enough credible threats on the table with the same speed that Elspeth can, and my stalling measures are not getting the job done as I’d expect they should in a slower deck. Still determined not to wear the collar for the match, I draw a hand, declare that I’m keeping it, and drop a turn 1 Aether Spellbomb. Jimi’s response is muted- a Daru Encampment.
It’s a telling sign that I’m actually thrilled to get out a turn-2 Runed Servitor, dreaming of big things ahead with the Energy Chamber in hand. Jimi casts her first critter- a Temple Acolyte (bumping her life to 23), and passes.
With my land drops hitting just fine, I’m able to use turn 3 to get out two Artifacts- the Energy Chamber and an Elixir of Immortality. The Elixir feels like a mulligan here, like the best use of the card is only to cheapen an Affinity beater or pump the Master of Etherium, but it’s a fine use for the open mana. Jimi plays the Kemba Skyguard and is now at 25 life as she swings in with her Acolyte, which bumps against the Servitor.
As turn 4 begins, I put a +1/+1 counter from the Chamber onto the Servitor, then swing in with it for 3. I finish by playing a Trinket Mage which allows me to go fishing for an Everflowing Chalice. Having missed my first land drop and keen to avoid a repeat of the last game, it’s easily the best choice.
Jimi drops a Kor Skyfisher, opting this time to return the Temple Acolyte which she declines to recast despite having two mana open. This makes me anxious about a possible combat trick, but I decide I have little alternative than to go in hard while I still can.
The Servitor gets another counter at my Upkeep, and is now a 4/4. I play the Chalice (Kicked twice), then swing in for 4. Jimi declines the block, and is now down to 18. If she had a trick, she must have opted against it because Jimi now plays the Acolyte, putting her life at 21, then swings in for 4 damage of her own.
On turn 6 I opt to put another counter on the Servitor rather than powering up the Chalice despite having a couple nice, expensive options in hand, figuring it better to keep some steady pressure on her now rather than to give her a chance to regroup. I swing in for 5, then cast both the Juggernaut and Arcbound Worker. Jimi reaches for the Juggernaut with Sunlance, but I have the mana open to pop my Aether Spellbomb, and it comes back to my hand. Still, Jimi gets all in for another 5 then casts a Kor Aeronaut.
Next turn, I opt instead to diversify threat and put the +1/+1 counter from the Energy Chamber on my Arcbound Worker, figuring even if it dies it won’t go to waste as the Worker has Modular. I swing in again with my robot army, and Jimi gives up the Kor Aeronaut as a chump blocker. She’s down to 12, and I play the Juggernaut. My land drop of the round adds to my threat: it’s the high-performing Mishra’s Factory.
For once, it seems like Jimi’s the one desperate for an answer. Her turn 7 play is to lay out a Plains and pass. I put another counter on the Worker, then cast a Triskelion. He won’t add to the offense, but instead is there as insurance against a combat trick (figuring if she tried to cast Mighty Leap or some other such card, I could burn the target down with the Triskelion and fizzle her spell). My assault claims the lives of the Temple Acolyte and Kemba Skyguard, crippling her defense. She’s unable to draw an answer, and Tezzeret gets his first win.
As mentioned above, one thing we didn’t see with the deck under inspection is that it seems to suffer from an occasional lack of focus. Unlike Elspeth’s deck, where there’s so much synergy that most every draw is either helping to set up other cards (see: Catapult Master) or benefitting from them (see: Crusade), there’s a disjointed stripe running down the middle of Tezzeret’s. There are certainly a number of synergies, but too many cards that don’t pull their own weight here.
Elixir of Immortality is probably the worst offender here. Being something of a “PTI” card (“prolong the inevitable”), it was never something that helped advance my threat state and I hated drawing it.
Trip Noose was another. Tap-down effects work best when you’re presented with a clear target- the 5/5 leader of a few 1/1’s, for instance, or a particularly unpleasant utility critter. When faced with a horde of Weenies, all you’re really doing is saving yourself a few extra points damage… in other words, prolonging the inevitable when what you really need is a solution.
For a third example, we present the dreadful Frogmite, who at its best is a vanilla 2/2 on turn two and nothing you’d ever want to see later in the game.
Perhaps the most painful absence from Tezzeret is actual removal. Blue provides the deck only with bounce effects (though if you cast Echoing Truth on one of the many Solider tokens that clutter up Elspeth, you’ll often be delighted with the result), leaving only a small number of artifacts to offer permanent solutions to nettling problems like the Goldmeadow Harrier or Elspeth’s many flyers. By nature, though, these are very limited answers- limited either in effect (see: Triskelion) or by time (see: Contagion Clasp).
But enough with the negatives- Tezzeret remains a blast to play! There was something very rewarding about laying down a bunch of early trinkets and robots which captured the feel of an Artificer perfectly. Although not quite as enthusiastic about the deck as we were when we analysed it, it’s a good foil to Elspeth in the set.
Although we conclude that Tezzeret is slightly the weaker of the two decks, it’s a perfect matchup if you are playing against someone of lesser skill than you but want you both to have a great time playing. Elspeth is a much more straightforward deck, and it’s Weenie strategy is well-suited to newer players, while Tezzeret has considerably more complicated decisions for optimal play and is a solid skill-tester. The package overall is easy to recommend.
Pros: Complex interactions between cards results in high variety of play in games; exceptional flavour and theme to the deck captures the essence of an Artificer-mage better than previous offerings
Cons: Some card choices are suboptimal in Tezzeret-Elspeth matchup and seem poorly chosen; high back-end mana curve can be difficult to cast and clog your hand; removal options could be a little more robust
FINAL GRADE: 4.6/5.0
Postscript: I was rather disturbed by the disparity between what we analysed in the deck during breakdown and what we saw during the actual playtest. Tezzeret looked well-constructed, but just didn’t come together very well at all in actual use. How could we have been so off?
As usual, the answer lies in the details. Concerned, I challenged my usual sparring partner, Sam, to a couple casual matches with her playing Elspeth. I stole a win in the first game through a couple mised draws, but absolutely crushed in the second when I played (in order): Steel Overseer, Runed Servitor, Energy Chamber, Steel Wall, Contagion Clasp. Despite being slightly mana-short, I was able to pump up my Artifact Creatures rapidly with the Chamber and the Overseer, played a few more junker trinkets and destroyed Sam when I got Tezzeret out and went ultimate the next turn.
It’s the nature of Duel Decks that the Planeswalker singleton in each can massively swing the game, and it’s a fun bit of chance. But the real lesson I learned from the follow-up games is that Tezzeret has a greater degree of variance than initially thought. Much like Phyrexia, the nut draws can absolutely crush, while the inferior draws can leave you more or less stranded as your opponent easily outpaces you and you fight to tread water.
Higher than normal variance comes with the territory of preconstructed decks and shouldn’t count severely against them. Nevertheless, it was missed here and needs to be noted. To use a school analogy, Elspeth is a solid ‘B’ performer (tighter variance but less top-end), while Tezzeret depending on draw can be anything from a ‘C’ to an ‘A’ (higher variance, but higher potential). We saw this in Phyrexia vs The Coalition as well, where the outcome of the game was somewhat contingent on how good the Phyrexia players draw and first few plays were. Remember, though, that variance is a design parameter!