Under the Radar – I, Robot

In early 2011, the following card was printed:

Does anyone remember what the first reaction was, collectively?

If you answered anything other than “OMG this is the next Jace!!!!!1!1”, “Is this the next Jace?”, and “I should probably pick some up – since I don’t want to miss the next Jace.”, you’re mostly wrong.

Bonus points if you answered: “This Planeswalker has a lot of potential but the deck has to be built around him, and built correctly at that.”

Or, if you were Shouta Yasooka: “Everyone else is underestimating this guy.”

[deck title=Shouta Yasooka’s Tezzeret]
[creatures]
2 Spellskite
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Bloodline Keeper
1 Wurmcoil Engine
[/creatures]
[spells]
1 Batterskull
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Ratchet Bomb
2 Sphere of the Suns
1 Tumble Magnet
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
4 Tragic Slip
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Despise
[/spells]
[lands]
3 Island
9 Swamp
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Inkmoth Nexus
[/lands]
[sideboard]
2 Phantasmal Image
4 Phyrexian Crusader
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Doom Blade
3 Flashfreeze
3 Distress
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

When Planeswalkers were released a little under 5 years ago, people weren’t quite sure how to evaluate them.  They were so… different.  This trend of incorrectly assessing Planeswalkers continues to the present day.

[card]Sarkhan Vol[/card] was once worth 30 dollars.  [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] was once worth 25.  Time goes on, and people’s evaluations change as they see the card get played.

What has Tezzeret done?

The very first tournament he was legal for, Pro Tour Paris 2011, Patrick Chapin made top 8 with a 3 colour Tezzeret build:

[deck title=Pro Tour Paris Top 8 – Patrick Chapin’s Tezzeret Control]
[creatures]
1 Treasure Mage
1 Wurmcoil Engine
[/creatures]
[spells]
4 Everflowing Chalice
2 Galvanic Blast
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Mindslaver
2 Mox Opal
4 Preordain
4 Prophetic Prism
2 Pyroclasm
2 Slagstorm
3 Sphere of the Suns
2 Stoic Rebuttal
4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
3 Tumble Magnet
[/spells]
[lands]
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Darkslick Shores
2 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Island
2 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Tectonic Edge
[/lands]
[sideboard]
3 Duress
1 Flashfreeze
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Kuldotha Rebirth
2 Pyroclasm
1 Ratchet Bomb
4 Spreading Seas
2 Stoic Rebuttal
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

This more or less got swept under the rug, since Caw-Blade came out of that Pro Tour.

Let’s go one year further into the past:

“What an oppressive menace.” – many people

[deck title=Grand Prix Houston 2010 – 1st Place – Adam Yurchick’s Thopter-Depths]
[creatures]
4 Dark Confidant
4 Vampire Hexmage
[/creatures]
[lands]
4 Dark Depths
1 Academy Ruins
3 Island
4 River of Tears
4 Sunken Ruins
2 Swamp
2 Tolaria West
4 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
[/lands]
[spells]
1 Boomerang
4 Chrome Mox
3 Compulsive Research
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Muddle the Mixture
1 Rite of Consumption
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Smother
2 Sword of the Meek
1 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Thopter Foundry
4 Thoughtseize
[/spells]
[sideboard]
1 Chalice of the Void
2 Damnation
1 Darkblast
3 Deathmark
2 Duress
3 Extirpate
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

I’d like to call your attention here to [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] + [card]Sword of the Meek[/card].

For those of you who haven’t seen this interaction before, sacrificing [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] to [card]Thopter Foundry[/card]’s activation will create a 1/1, which will return [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] to play equipped to that creature.  You can rinse and repeat as many times as needed, gaining a life and a 1/1 flying chump blocker each time.  This is the reason [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] is banned in Modern.

These two strategies ([card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/card] + Thopter combo) have never been legal in the same format at the same time, except for Eternal formats.  By the time Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas was printed, Extended had just been changed to a 4 year format, and [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] had been banned.

So, what has [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] done in Eternal formats?  Up until recently, it’s mostly been this kind of thing:

[deck title=UW Enlightened Tutor]
[lands]
4 Flooded Strand
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Tundra
2 Underground Sea
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Polluted Delta
1 Academy Ruins
1 Karakas
1 Tolaria West
1 Wasteland
5 Island
1 Plains
[/lands]
[spells]
4 Brainstorm
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
3 Enlightened Tutor
3 Mental Misstep
2 Ponder
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
2 Thopter Foundry
1 Sword of the Meek
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Counterbalance
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Moat
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[/spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Dark Confidant
1 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Peacekeeper
1 Energy Flux
2 Perish
1 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Vendilion Clique
1 Sundial of the Infinite
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

(You can tell this list is dated – we no longer live in a world of [card]Mental Misstep[/card]s, it’s banned in 3 formats, including Legacy)

These decks tended to approximate the essence of pure control. They would use single cards to negate whole swaths of strategy ([card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card], [card]Moat[/card] and [card]Humility[/card] are good examples) and then win slowly with a win condition that was hard to disrupt.

If you’ve played with or against this deck, you probably noticed one word in the last paragraph that seems like it should have been emphasized more – the word slowly.

The danger of these ‘durdle-y’ UW decks is that the games took so long to win.  Winning matches became a challenge – the best way to do so was to win game 1, and hope to go 1-0-1.  This is not a fun way to spend your day.

aside

The best Thopter-Sword example of this, I think, comes from that same Extended season (2010) when my friend Evan Berry, fun-loving artist extraordinaire*, sleeved up the [card]Tezzeret the Seeker[/card] control deck that utilized this combo as one of its win conditions, and promptly went 0-0-3-drop.  His round 3 was a UW Thopters mirror match, and I believe they drew game 1.

end aside

So, a visionary had the idea of integrating Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas into this strategy.  His name was David Gearhart.

As it turns out, both the Tezzeret strategy and the Thopter/Sword strategy have weaknesses that are protected by the other.  Tezzeret needs pieces to work with to do anything of value.  As it happens, both the Foundry and the Sword are artifacts.  Thopter/Sword needs to close out games quickly.  Tezzeret can do this the turn after he lands if you have the Thopter/Sword combo online.  When you have as much deck velocity as this deck has you will often find single artifacts that will negate whole swaths of strategy, similar to how the UW Enlightened Tutor decks did.  This gives the deck “stopping power”, to borrow a firearms term, since this is done with the use of “Silver Bullets”.

I made a couple of small changes based on expected metagame and personal preference and this is what I ended up with:

[deck title=David Gearhart’s Shot in the Dark (modified by JB)]
[lands]
4 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
2 Tundra
1 Underground Sea
1 Scrubland
2 Seat of the Synod
1 Ancient Den
1 Vault of Whispers
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Swamp
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Academy Ruins
[/lands]
[artifacts]
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Thopter Foundry
2 Sword of the Meek
3 Mox Opal
2 Chrome Mox
2 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Ethersworn Canonist
[/artifacts]
[other spells]
3 Force of Will
4 Brainstorm
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Humility
[/other spells]
[sideboard]
4 Counterbalance
2 Perish
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Vindicate
1 Sphere of Law
1 Force of Will
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Karmic Justice
1 Sun Droplet
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Engineered Explosives
[/sideboard]
[/deck]

 

OK.  Now that you’ve taken through a lovely stroll through memory lane, and you’ve presented your decklist, tell me this – why should I play this list?  Why bother?

This deck is really good at slaying “The Others” **.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

———————————————————————————————–

The Simple Seven ***

  • What is this deck’s plan against Aggro?

– Use countermagic and removal to slow them in the first couple of turns, or race towards a lock.  If you can correctly assess which deck they’re playing, you can [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card] for a ‘silver bullet’ that is very effective against them.  Against most aggro, the best ‘bullet’ is [card]Sword of the Meek[/card](you likely already have [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] in your hand), since an unlimited stream of flying blockers and life gain is pretty good against Aggro.  You can also empty your hand and drop [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card], since most aggro decks need to attack.  Kill [card]Mother of Runes[/card] on sight.
  • What is this deck’s plan against Combo?

– Hold countermagic up until their Fundamental Turn (the turn in which they kill you or execute their plan that makes you basically dead) while developing your board.  Game 1 you have several trumps – a maindeck [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] and a maindeck [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] that can be found by [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card], and they’re likely not packing hate for your hate, because it’s game 1.  Out of the sideboard, all 4 [card]Counterbalance[/card]s come in, and the game plan becomes to lock them out with [card]Counterbalance[/card]/[card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] while you find your win condition (your planeswalkers, Thopters, or 10 turns of Canonist beatdown).  Artifact mana makes it easier to set up this lock in time.
  • What is this deck’s plan against Control?

– Focus on what really matters.  There are many spells that you can resolve that they can’t answer very well, the key is patience.  Play around [card]Daze[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] wherever possible.  The best way to run them out of spells is to play ‘test spells’ – spells that are good in that situation but not the ones you care the most about.  Get maximum value out of your [card]Brainstorm[/card]s!
  • What does this deck offer that isn’t currently available in another deck?

– Virtual card advantage, in spades.  Single cards can lockdown entire decks, and you have access to these cards through one of the best tutors available in the format ([card]Enlightened Tutor[/card]).  This deck can also offer a pretty fast clock – typically the turn after resolving a Tezzeret you are in a position to win the game, using the ultimate.  Many decks can’t win through the Thopter/Sword combo or the Counterbalance/Top combo.  The other decks ask questions; you easily provide the answers using tutors and the best cards Legacy has to offer ([card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Brainstorm[/card], [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card]).  Artifact mana sources also makes you very resilient to those griefer decks that try and win by keeping you off your mana.
– If you’re not already sold – I haven’t dropped a game against Dredge in 4 sanctioned matches, plus my Mono-Red matchup is quite favourable.  In short – if you sleeve this deck up, you won’t be ‘caught unawares’.
  • What’s the best deck in the format, and is the matchup favourable?

– RUG Delver and Esper Stoneblade are probably tied for the best deck, with an honourable mention to Maverick.  In all honesty, these matchups come down to who draws better.  Shot in the Dark most likely loses to RUG’s nut draw, or if Stoneblade can get an early Jace down and protect it.  But given average draws on both sides of the table, I would put the matchup at no worse than 50/50 with both RUG and Stoneblade.  I think the Maverick matchup is favourable after board, but I haven’t tested it extensively.  [card]Perish[/card] is in the sideboard for that matchup, to make it better (and for Combo Elves which has the habit of randomly showing up and crushing me).
  • What’s the most likely deck to be played, and is the matchup favourable?

In all honesty, I suspect the most likely decks to be played in the average tournament to be the budget yet still competitive decks – Mono Red, Affinity, Dredge – as well as the slightly pricier Stoneblade and Maverick.  It has a good matchup against these decks as long as you remember to save counterspells for hate that gets brought in against you, whenever possible.
  • How do you beat the Red deck?

Lifegain, counterspells and stymieing artifacts and enchantments combine to make this matchup favourable.  I have let a [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] resolve against me before when I had a [card]Force of Will[/card] available to counter it.([card]Sphere of Law[/card] answers that card extremely well)  It’s one of the main reasons to play this deck, especially at a low-level tournament.  Counter/Top has always been strong against decks looking to cast 1 and 2 mana spells.

——————————————————————————————–

Piloting this deck against stock builds of the mainstream deck or against other off-the-wall brews often feels like you’re playing a different game than your opponent (in a good way).  This deck has all the tools to fight basically anything, and a one mana-tutor to get those tools.  It plays all the best control spells (Brainstorm, Force of Will, Jace, Swords to Plowshares) but can goldfish on turn 4.  It has maindeck hate for those decks that assume they have game 1 locked up.

It also has the rogue factor going for it – it isn’t a pillar of the metagame, so people aren’t packing hate for it (although it does tend to get a little bit of splash hate from Affinity, but that’s usually easily dealt with).

Some things I learned about this deck while playing it:

  • [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] is really good.  No, like, crazy good.  You know how good Brainstorm + deck shuffling is? (hint: the best)  You get that just about every turn if you have Top in play.
  • [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] deals a lot of “splash damage” in Legacy and in the matchups where it’s bad, it is the perfect target for Tezzeret’s -1 ability.
  • Don’t walk into [card]Daze[/card].  I would probably give this piece of advice no matter what deck I was advocating, but people still do it.  If you can get the TF/SotM combo going, you can regain the life you lose by waiting.  Don’t walk into [card]Daze[/card]!  Also, [card]Spell Pierce[/card] is very much a card and is very good against this deck.
  • I added a basic land to this deck so that there is a basic source of each colour.  Fetch these whenever possible, don’t fold to [card]Wasteland[/card].  [card]Wasteland[/card] is already plenty strong against this deck, no need to hand them the match.
  • Try not to keep one land hands if you can avoid it, even if you have Artifact sources of mana.  The exception is if you are facing a combo deck and you have a Force or two in hand, since they are the most important thing in the matchup. (2nd place goes to [card]Enlightened Tutor[/card])
  • This is probably obvious, but you can protect your Thopter/Sword combo from most graveyard hate by always leaving at least 1 mana open, and sacrificing a second artifact in response to the hate, returning your Sword to play on top of the stack.  Since [card]Extirpate[/card] isn’t really played anymore, it shouldn’t be a problem. (it hasn’t been, for me)
  • [card]Counterbalance[/card] comes in against most decks.  It’s the kind of card that is usually really good against whatever sideboard strategies the other deck decides to adapt – their sideboard cards probably cost 3 or less.  Also, you can pitch spare copies to [card]Force of Will[/card], which brings the number of non-Force blue cards closer to 16 (16 is the magic number for 4 [card]Force of Will[/card]s)
  • Against Red, ultimate Tezzeret if you can get even a 10 point swing.  At that point, they’re probably out of the game.
  • An early [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] activation sacrificing a spare [card]Mox Opal[/card] is usually a good deal, since your mana becomes constrained quickly as you approach the late game. (especially since you’re playing around [card]Daze[/card], right?)
  • Don’t be afraid to go into top-deck mode.  [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card] rewards you for doing so – that’s how I was able to beat an affinity player by building up to the ultimate of [card]Jace the Mind Sculptor[/card].  Just don’t forget about [card]Cranial Plating[/card]’s ability to be equipped as an instant!
  • [card]Karmic Justice[/card] is in the list for decks playing [card]Pernicious Deed[/card] and [card]Shatterstorm[/card] effects.  I didn’t understand it at first either, and have yet to see it be awesome, but it needs to stay.

 

I ran this deck to a 6-3 record at Grand Prix Indianapolis and a 4-2 record at CMT:Ottawa – the deck is competitive, it just needs a better pilot.  Maybe that’s you, dear reader!

Thanks for reading!

Johnathan

JohnMBent on Twitter

fightingmongoose on Magic Online

* you can see his work here.

** as written about here.

*** 7 questions you should be able to answer before you take your deck to a tournament.  If you can’t give satisfactory answers to all 7, make changes, or take some time and reflect!  First written about here.

3 thoughts on “Under the Radar – I, Robot”

  1. I actually went 0-1-2-drop. I conceded the third match instead of taking the draw. 

    Reply
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