Duels of the Planeswalkers (2009) Expansion Pack 1: Relics of Doom Review (Part 1 of 2)
“At the end,” the widow said of her husband, “there was a smile on his face.” And why wouldn’t there have been? His mother was a prostitute, and he lived in the brothel where she plied her ancient trade. His grandmother was the madam, while his father was a onetime soldier, occasional boxer, and frequent street hustler whom he barely knew, if at all. He was beaten and abused, expelled from school, and with little behind him but reasons not to look back he struck out on his own to find his fortune.
By the time of his passing in 2005 at the young age of 65, Richard Pryor had made it. He’d endured the legacy of his cruel youth, overcome drug and alcohol addiction, and carved out a career in the grueling world of stand-up comedy. The first Black person to host Saturday Night Live, he’d appeared in over fifty films, and won an Emmy Award and five Grammys. Comedy Central holds him at the top of the list of all-time greatest comedians. In 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts named him as the first-ever recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, stating that as
…a stand-up comic, writer, and actor, he struck a chord, and a nerve, with America, forcing it to look at large social questions of race and the more tragicomic aspects of the human condition. Though uncompromising in his wit, Pryor, like Twain, projects a generosity of spirit that unites us. They were both trenchant social critics who spoke the truth, however outrageous.
It’s always easy to predict success for those with the greatest head start, but Richard Pryor illustrates that the drive for excellence bound up in the ambitious heart can overcome most any obstacle before it. Sometimes it is the crucible of hardship that can shape greatness, as the weakest parts of an individual are ground out through adversity, leaving the strongest behind. This brings us to another whose early upbringing followed much the same tragic trajectory.
His mother too was a prostitute, againg and less in demand than she had been earlier in life, less able to bring home something in her pocket from her night’s labours. Instead, she turned to mendicancy, begging for pittances from passers-by. His father was a “scrapper,” a scavenger who collected whatever bits of valuable metal he could turn into coin. Most valuable of these was etherium, a magical alloy infused with aether. So discounted by his parents that they did not even bother to name him, he acquired the name ‘Tezzeret’ (slang for an improvised weapon) after stabbing an older boy in Tidehollow, the sewer-like under-region where he grew up.
Born with nothing, Tezzeret clawed and scraped for every purchase he found as he grew up. He secretly hoarded small cuts of etherium from his finds before his father confiscated them for sale, eventually amassing just enough of a hoard that he was able to leave Tidehollow behind and join the Merchant’s Guild as an apprentice. He harnessed his natural talent and affinity for metalcrafting, eventually replacing his right arm with an iconic etherium construction which proved him a master at his craft. From there he moved on to the Vectis City Academy to fulfill his ambition to become a mage.
His ambition drove him to any length to better his standing, including murder and theft. When caught trying to steal the Academy’s greatest treasure, the Codex Etherium, his planeswalker spark ignited in response to the lethal beating he received from the guards. He immediately fled Esper altogether ending up on Grixis. There he met and found gainful employment in the service of Nicol Bolas, only to infiltrate and co-opt Bolas’s network of agents and spies called the Infinite Consortium. It was here he would cross paths with a young mage named Jace Beleren, who would change the course of his life forever.
As a card, Tezzeret has featured in two incarnations. The original Tezzeret the Seeker was one of second generations ‘walkers introduced in Shards of Alara. Hailing from the artifact-laden plane of Esper, Tezzeret’s abilities centered around that permanent type. He could untap artifacts as his builder, tutor them out of the library right into play, and go ultimate by making all of your artifacts 5/5 creatures. He would return two blocks later with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas in Mirrodin Besieged, again with a sequence of abilities built upon artifacts. Although a lesser-featured planeswalker, he also was given joint top-billing in 2010’s Duel Decks: Elspeth vs Tezzeret. An unabashed villain, his last known whereabouts here on the plane of Mirrodin (now New Phyrexia).
Unsurprisingly, Tezzeret’s deck today shares the focus that so defines its master.
Relics of Doom is a worthy final entry into this very intriguing Exansion Pack 1 for the original Duels of the Planeswalkers. This artifact-heavy deck centers on one card, the grow-your-own-closer Glaze Fiend. In the midst of that strategy- and the host of small, cheap trinkets that support it- is also a fairly solid Skies framework, with flying artifact creatures and ways to pump them up.
The cheapest of these is the Ornithopter, a classic card first printed in the original Antiquities expansion in 1994. The Ornithopter is one answer to the question, “what is a single card worth?” In this case, absent the investment of any mana that gets you a 0/2 flier. This obviously does little on its own, but it’s something of a role-player.
One of those roles is to support the Glaze Fiend, our first two-drop card. With the deck offering a full playset, its clearly an integral component of the deck’s identity. The Glaze Fiend in its natural state is even weaker than the Ornithopter, but can grow rather quickly when you start adding artifacts to the board. In that regard, even the humble Ornithopter has method to its presence, being a free pump of a Fiend if held to the right time. Since the effect is a one-shot, you’ll want to be careful how you deploy your artifacts. They’re largely inexpensive to permit you to deploy multiple a turn, but if you play them as you can rather than holding them for a Glaze Fiend, you’ll find your Friends don’t have much room to grow.
Also aiding your air force is a trio of Tidehollow Strixes. These are superb inclusions from Shards of Alara, giving you a 2-power evasive body with a very relevant ability for only two mana. Useful early or late, you’ll seldom be disappointed to draw one. The same probably can’t be said of the Alpha Myr, a mere 2/1 with no special abilities whatsoever. They’re useful in that they’re cheap artifacts, but bring little else to the deck.
The deck fills out even further in the three-drops, and some of the more controlling elements are found here. Clearly not unlike Mind of Void this is a deck that is happy to play the long game, and has stalling options like Wall of Spears and Bottle Gnomes. Wall of Spears is a very solid defensive option that can take the edge off an aggro player’s blade, while the Gnomes- a full playset- give you capable blockers as well as cheap lifegain should you fall too far behind. The last card here is the deck’s first rare, Master of Etherium. A staple in artifact-based preconstructed decks, the Master is an artifact creature “lord” that pumps up your side while drawing its power and toughness directly from them. This reinforcement lets your deck do everything it wants to do- attack or defend- that much better, and you’ll almost always get an outsize beater in the bargain.
The deck’s final creature is another from Shards of Alara, the Sharding Sphinx. A 4/4 flier undoubtedly plays a closer’s role, but in addition the Sphinx can help generate 1/1 Thopter tokens whenever any of your artifact creatures land a blow on your opponent. This is something of a “win-more” ability, but in a deck happy to take a longer perspective on board development, an extra token creature or two are never out of place.
A Gift from the Sphinx
The deck’s noncreature complement is designed to support the deck, which for all its machinations still is a fairly straightforward creature-based construction. The stream of cheap trinkets continue here, first with a Fountain of Youth. Originally from The Dark, it has seen a few reprints in Core Sets but is something of an unusual adoption. It doesn’t do much- it’s simply a mana sink for piddling lifegain- but it’s chief attribute may simply be that it’s another zero-cost artifact. This gives it a leg up over its nearest rival, the Marble Chalice, considering that the Chalice’s opposite number- the Onyx Goblet– appears here. This costs three mana, but unlike the Fountain it is free to activate once you’ve deployed it and gives the deck a little bit of reach.
From there we find some creature augmentation in a pair of Leonin Scimitars, which are cheap both to deploy as well as equip. These give you something else to do with your leftover mana as the game goes on, and can help turn one of your aerial creatures into a more potent threat. The deck’s final artifact is the Howling Mine, which has been reprinted in every Core Set from the very dawn of the game until Magic 2011, where it was replaced by Temple Bell. The problem with the Mine has always been that it benefits your opponent first, who will then always be up a card over you in terms of drawing. That said, it’s worth the risk due to the deck’s insatiable hunger for loads of artifacts. The more you draw, the more you can play, and the more you play the bigger the Glaze Fiend can get.
From there the deck takes a much more conventional turn, giving you a dose of countermagic and removal. For the former, we get a full playset of Cancels, the staple go-to for generic counters. The latter sees us with a full set of Terrors, another staple of the game. Neither of these are particularly groundbreaking inclusions, but both are bread-and-butter spells that perform a vital role in the deck, both protecting your assets as well as clearing room in the red zone for your beaters to slip through.
We continue to be encouraged by the designs of Expansion Pack 1, and look forward to putting this deck through its paces. Will Tezzeret be able to leave his mark? We’ll find out in two days’ time.