By Stephen Bahl
||The Comboist Manifesto Volume I, Article 28: A Comboist Review of Elspeth vs. Tezzeret
Remember how I once wrote a review of Heroes vs. Monsters and said that I'd eventually review more Duel Decks? Well, it's finally happened. It took a while, but I eventually tested another pair of decks...
Only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris.
About half of the Duel Decks pairings have been based around planeswalkers. Early planeswalker matchups pitted some of the original Lorwyn planeswalkers against each other. But Shards of Alara ramped up the power level of planeswalkers considerably. So in designing Duel Decks, it's as though these two are meant for each other. Only Tezzeret could serve as a check on Elspeth's sheer power, and only Elspeth stands a chance against Tezzeret. Previous Duel Decks featuring planeswalker battles corresponded to battles depicted in webcomics: Jace and Chandra fight over the dragon scroll, while Garruk and Liliana fight over Garruk being a moron. I don't know why Elspeth and Tezzeret fight, but I guess it's because Elspeth is a good guy and Tezzeret is a bad guy, so they can probably find some reason.
As with Heroes vs. Monsters, I piloted the decks against each other 50 times, recording who won in each bout. Back then, I noted that I got an exact 25:25 record, which is both rather dull and also pretty impressive, indicating that the decks really must be pretty well-balanced against each other. That is not what happened here, although the result still wasn't too extreme. Elspeth won 21 games and Tezzeret won 29 games. From my testing, I do draw the (obvious) conclusion that Tezzeret has a bit of an advantage here, but this is not without its caveats.
When I read about this product online, most reviewers came to the conclusion that Elspeth had the advantage. Why the discrepancy? I think the main reason is that the people making this claim did very little testing. If one were to pit these decks against each other, see that Elspeth won two out of three times, and conclude from this that Elspeth's deck is stronger, that's drawing a conclusion based on very little evidence. It's better than no evidence, but it's still not much. And that's why I run 50 trials. More would be even better, but I'm not that dedicated. There's also another issue here, which is that Elspeth's deck simply takes less skill to pilot. There are decisions (and potential mistakes) to be made, but Elspeth's deck can usually fall back on making creatures, attacking with those creatures, and killing whatever is in the way or whatever poses a threat. Tezzeret's deck is powered by some less obvious interactions and, while not the hardest deck in the world to pilot, it really benefits from some familiarity. In early games, I missed some plays and allowed myself to correct my mistakes, such as when I paid 3 loyalty to Tezzeret, then realized that there was a two-mana artifact in my library that was the perfect answer to the board state, but which I'd forgotten about. It isn't fair to punish Tezzeret for my ignorance, and these occurrences diminished rapidly as I played more with the deck, ceasing entirely before the first 20 trials. It's possible that Tezzeret could have lost more of his early games due to my ineptitude if I'd given myself a higher level of rules enforcement, but that would be silly. Anyway, Tezzeret seems to have the advantage if both players are skilled and familiar with the contents of the decks, but is probably at a disadvantage if both players are unskilled or unfamiliar with the cards.
As of this article, I've completed enough tests for reviews of Heroes vs. Monsters and Elspeth vs. Tezzeret. I've also done some testing for Phyrexia vs. the Coalition (which should be the next installment in my Duel Decks reviews) and Speed vs. Cunning. I own four more pairs of Duel Decks through the glorious Duel Decks Anthology box, but I haven't tested those ones yet. From what I've seen, Tezzeret's deck just might be the strongest out of the bunch. Many of the other Duel Decks would be consistently dominated by Tezzeret, which is somewhat an indicator of how strong Elspeth's deck is.
For me as a player, this pair of Duel Decks is a paradox. Technically, if the idea is to have decks fun for beginners and veterans alike, balanced against each other so that neither has a significant advantage, Heroes vs. Monsters seems to be a success. Elspeth vs. Tezzeret has a higher learning curve, the decks appear not to be as balanced, and the balancing measures are glaring or clumsy, such as giving Elspeth maindeck artifact hate and giving Tezzeret some particularly weak cards. I could consider this to be failure. But I like these decks more. They're packed with more power. They have more combos. Oh, the combos. Yeah, I'm a sucker for combos. Here are the decklists.
1x Angel of Salvation
1x Burrenton Bombardier
1x Catapult Master
1x Celestial Crusader
1x Conclave Equenaut
1x Conclave Phalanx
2x Elite Vanguard
1x Glory Seeker
1x Goldmeadow Harrier
1x Infantry Veteran
1x Kemba's Skyguard
1x Kor Aeronaut
1x Kor Hookmaster
2x Kor Skyfisher
1x Loyal Sentry
1x Mosquito Guard
1x Seasoned Marshal
1x Stormfront Riders
1x Temple Acolyte
1x Blinding Beam
1x Journey to Nowhere
1x Mighty Leap
2x Raise the Alarm
1x Razor Barrier
1x Swell of Courage
2x Swords to Plowshares
1x Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1x Daru Encampment
1x Kabira Crossroads
1x Rustic Clachan
1x Arcbound Worker
1x Clockwork Condor
1x Clockwork Hydra
1x Faerie Mechanist
1x Master of Etherium
1x Razormane Masticore
2x Runed Servitor
1x Serrated Biskelion
1x Silver Myr
1x Steel Overseer
1x Steel Wall
1x Synod Centurion
1x Trinket Mage
1x Æther Spellbomb
1x Argivian Restoration
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Echoing Truth
1x Elixir of Immortality
1x Energy Chamber
2x Everflowing Chalice
1x Moonglove Extract
2x Thirst for Knowledge
1x Trip Noose
1x Tezzeret the Seeker
1x Darksteel Citadel
1x Mishra's Factory
1x Seat of the Synod
1x Stalking Stones
Of course, the planeswalkers themselves are the foil, alternate art mythic rares for their respective decks. Each deck also includes one preview card from Scars of Mirrodin. Elspeth got Kemba's Skyguard and Tezzeret got Contagion Clasp. The decks don't have a lot in common. Both of them have have some nice control and combo elements. If either deck can draw and play its planeswalker with some protection, it probably wins the game. With only one copy of each planeswalker, most games focus more on other aspects of the decks. I found that Elspeth's deck tends to act as the beatdown in this matchup, but it can take over the late game too if it draws the right cards. Tezzeret's deck is slower and weaker on removal, meaning that it often falls behind and has trouble interacting with the threats that Elspeth's deck can throw at it. But Tezzeret's deck has some powerful two-card combos and some powerful spells in general. Tezzeret's deck also has card advantage and recursion, so it can find or retrieve the answers it needs. In my analysis, here's how they measure up...
Speed: Elspeth takes this one. I mentioned that Elspeth is definitely the beatdown here, and that becomes apparent after even some cursory testing. Elspeth can usually get attackers going before Tezzeret can generate the blockers necessary to stop them, and can fly over the heads of blockers to finish games quickly. Elspeth doesn't always need to outrace Tezzeret to win, but it's the most reliable approach.
Control: This one is close, but should probably go to Elspeth. It might seem odd that the faster deck is also the more controlling deck, but it does kind of work out that way. Elspeth employs direct responses to threats, having access to cards like Swords to Plowshares, Abolish, and Sunlance. It also gets combat tricks and some big control elements like Catapult Master. Tezzeret has a weak removal suite. The control elements in Tezzeret's deck are more control-combo in nature. Direct answers, such as Moonglove Extract and Echoing Truth, do exist, but most of the control is derived from aggregates. Through things like Contagion Clasp, Trip Noose, and Serrated Biskelion, Tezzeret's deck can weaken Elspeth's arsenal while building up its own power. The longer the game goes, the more dangerous Tezzeret becomes, but it still seems that Elspeth's deck has an edge when it comes to control generally.
Topdecking: Tezzeret just gets bigger bombs. There are exceptions. Most notably, Elspeth herself is one of the strongest cards in these decks, and can easily take over a game if not answered quickly. But with cards like Steel Overseer and Master of Etherium, Tezzeret has a better chance of bringing threats to the table that simply must be answered.
Variance/Consistency: Elspeth is more consistent and Tezzeret has greater variance. This one was obvious to me from the start, but seeing just how it played out was fascinating. Assuming that neither deck gets manascrewed or manadrowned, Elspeth simply always has the opportunity to start bringing in potential attackers, and to do so in a manner that makes the decks in Heroes vs. Monsters look a bit soft. Soldiers, both as creature cards and in token form, flow forth readily almost every game. Tezzeret, being more combo-based, is also less consistent. With some cards that are almost always dead draws (Clockwork Condor) and others that are only useful at specific times (Argivian Restoration), it's easy to draw into openings that just can't compete with Elspeth's soldiers. And then there are the really, really good openings. I said that Elspeth's deck is faster, and on average, that's true. But sometimes, and it's not often, Tezzeret just goes berserk on her. An unanswered Energy Chamber or Razormane Masticore can, with the right support, knock Elspeth out before she knows what hit her. With so many one-off card slots and so much diversity in the cards and how they interact with each other, the variance in the Tezzeret deck is huge. That along with the presence of some chaff thrown in to weaken it against Elspeth (Assembly Worker, Clockwork Condor) might make it seem, to the uninitiated, to be the inferior deck. I'd argue emphatically that this isn't the case. Neither deck is optimal, but Tezzeret can, if the various tricks the deck has are used properly, outperform Elspeth.
Individual cards: Elspeth
Burrenton Bombardier: A small, flying attacker that can take bites out of Tezzeret's life total if flying blockers don't show up or are dealt with. The “Reinforce” mechanic from Morningtide shows up in Elspeth's deck a few times. The mechanic could be useful to help force through lethal damage or, in a pinch, as a combat trick.
Conclave Equenaut: Unremarkable and rather slow. The only saving grace here is that there are sometimes enough soldier tokens on the battlefield to make dropping this easy.
Glory Seeker: Boring and generally weak.
Goldmeadow Harrier: Although this one's small and not particularly useful to damage output on its own, it can shut down a key blocker, which is valuable, especially against a slower deck. If necessary, it can also keep an enemy attacker out of combat.
Infantry Veteran: I never thought much of this card back when it only existed in Visions and it isn't any better today than it was then. But in my testing, Infantry Veteran actually won Elspeth some games, forcing through enough extra damage that the other deck couldn't survive long enough to stabilize itself. For the kind of environment that Duel Decks present, Infantry Veteran is actually decent.
Kemba's Skyguard: Like I said, this card was distinctive because it was the preview card from Scars of Mirrodin. The deck has some effects that bounce its own creatures, and Kemba's Skyguard is cheap enough to employ for combos. The problem with life gain in this matchup is that it is highly unlikely to change the outcome in Elspeth's favor. If Tezzeret is doing enough damage that Elspeth's life-gaining cards actually help, it's probably too late for Elspeth to take control. It's not an especially bad card, just one that isn't quite as good against one particular opponent.
Kor Hookmaster: This is exactly the sort of thing that can give Tezzeret trouble. It's a cheap body that shuts down a blocker for two turns.
Besides being an efficient, flying threat, this is also the common with the most combo utility in Elspeth's deck. Reusing enters-the-battlefield triggered abilities, even if it's just Kemba's Skyguard, provides some value.
Mosquito Guard: First strike is usually only relevant if this is used in conjunction with something else that can make it bigger, but this deck does have ways of doing that. And of course, the Reinforce ability can be useful, especially when it is pumping a flying attacker.
Temple Advocate: Contrary to the flavor text, I actually do feel comfortable counting on this thing to be weak. A 1/3 with a life gain ability might be helpful against a faster, more aggressive opponent, but even then, it wouldn't be great. Here, it's just a mediocre card.
Kabira Crossroads: As usual, life gain isn't very valuable for this deck in this matchup, and speed is. The vast majority of the time, I'd rather just have another Plains.
Sunlance: This isn't an anti-Tezzeret card, but it is rather constrained in its functionality. All of Tezzeret's creatures are non-white, so the constraint isn't an issue for the ordinary Duel Decks pairing. Pit this against another white deck, and Sunlance becomes a very unfortunate inclusion.
Journey to Nowhere
This is one of just two enchantments in Elspeth's deck. The lack of enchantments is good for Tezzeret, because the artifact-based blue deck has very few ways of dealing with enchantments. Since Tezzeret can't kill it, Journey to Nowhere is, except on rare occasions, a permanent means of exiling a creature. At just two mana, that's very, very good. Journey to Nowhere is strictly a control element here (the rest of the deck doesn't have any real combos with it), but it is probably the best common in the entire Elspeth deck.
Blinding Beam: This is mostly employed as a finisher, preferably by paying the Entwine cost. Just when the Tezzeret deck could otherwise stabilize the board and start to overpower Elspeth, Blinding Beam can show up to close the game.
Mighty Leap: Mediocre combat trick.
Raise the Alarm: This should be the deck's default two-drop. The soldier tokens are weak on their own, but this is a deck that can make them bigger and can make more of them.
Razor Barrier: Protection from artifacts. The choice is almost always protection from artifacts. The deck only gets one of these and it only works for one turn, so it has to be used wisely, but the effect is quite good.
In one card, we have a flying attacker, a combat trick, and a boost to all of the other creatures in the deck (all of Elspeth's creatures, tokens included, are white). It even has Split second as a minor bonus, although that never came up in my testing (against the Tezzeret deck, this ability is only useful in a few scenarios). This is easily the second best four-drop in Elspeth's deck. Games that Tezzeret could take over get utterly crushed by this thing.
Conclave Phalanx: Life gain that gets better with more creatures on a creature that gets cheaper with more creatures. This is what the Magic community traditionally refers to as a “win more card.” When Elspeth is already ahead, sporting a legion of soldier tokens, this creature is easily convoked out and produces big life gain. When Elspeth is behind, this is a 2/4 that costs five mana.
Elite Vanguard: Simple, cheap, and effective. Best one-drop in the deck.
Kor Aeronaut: A 2/2 flyer or two mana is fine. The kicker only comes up on occasion, but it can sneak some more damage through sometimes.
Seasoned Marshal: Well, considering its size and cost, this is inefficient, but that ability can sometimes make a big, intimidating blocker worthless, so this is a decent tool for Elspeth's deck.
On top of being a pretty good card in general, this thing easily has the best combos out of any card in Elspeth's deck. Tezzeret likes putting -1/-1 counters on creatures, so the enters-the-battlefield trigger can be effective as a control measure too, but mostly, it generates tokens, and a 4/3 flying attacker to lead them into battle. Hilarious when combined with Kor Skyfisher and Kor Hookmaster for utter domination, but that sort of thing is mana-intensive. I was fairly active in Magic when Planar Chaos came out, and I probably saw Stormfront Riders and thought nothing of it. That's what's really cool about Duel Decks. Before I played these decks, I had no interest in an expensive, awkward token-generator. But now I really like this card.
Daru Encampment: This is the only land in the deck that can't produce white mana, but it's worth it. If there aren't soldiers for this thing to pump, then Elspeth is going to lose anyway. Much like Infantry Veteran, this can force extra bits of damage through that add up to end the game.
Saltblast: The “nonwhite” constraint is meaningless against Tezzeret's deck, so this can hit anything. Five mana is a bit steep in the event that Tezzeret gets off to a fast start, but still, this is a good card to draw every game.
Abolish: Anti-Tezzeret card to an extent, but most other decks have some artifacts and/or enchantments, so the hate isn't too egregious. Actually, they might as well have made this a Disenchant. I never found myself paying the alternative cost.
Swell of Courage: I think I actually cast this thing once or twice, when I absolutely had to. The Reinforce ability is way better than the spell itself, so much so that it was the one card in the deck that I couldn't recall everything about off the top of my head. More than anything else in the deck, including Elspeth herself, this can very suddenly eliminate the Tezzeret deck or any other opponent. Reinforce is an instant-speed ability, so an unblocked 2/2 can become an 8/8 as a combat trick, and that size increase is permanent. While this isn't any good for early game beatdown, it is a powerful finisher.
Swords to Plowshares: I don't really tailor reviews like this to brand new players, so if you are on and you're reading this, some of what I've said has probably been lost on you anyway. For everyone else, Swords to Plowshares needs no introduction.
Angel of Salvation: Even for the Convoke mechanic, this is an incredibly expensive spell. And it's worth it. I had my doubts, but Angel of Salvation is actually a fine card here. The surprise factor is very powerful. In many cases, this creature flashes in, blocks an attacker, prevents the damage to another blocker that would ordinarily die in combat, and then sticks around as 5/5 flyer. That is worth eight mana, and the potential to reduce the cost using creatures makes it even better.
I faced this thing back when Onslaught block was new, so I already understood how dangerous it could be. I only got it online a few times, as the Tezzeret deck was understandably forced to throw everything it had into stopping Catapult Master from getting itself and four other soldiers on the board. With the high density of soldiers in this deck and the presence of some cards that can make two or more soldier tokens, Catapult Master can start doing its thing pretty easily.
Loyal Sentry: For a rare, this is a bit of a dud. I think there might have been one game in which it bought Elspeth time and she came back to take control of things, but usually, this is just another 1/1 soldier.
Crusade: About a year before these decks were released, Crusade, a classic enchantment and a former core set staple, had been reduced to obsolescence by the release of Honor the Pure. Including the older card in this deck was a throwback, but for the particular matchup against Tezzeret, it doesn't matter at all: the Tezzeret deck has no white creatures and the Elspeth deck has only one mana source that can't produce white.
Rustic Clachan: I was a bit surprised that this card was a rare, but whatever. More Reinforce is fine. This deck has some kithkin, but it isn't full of them, and there's a risk that a topdecked Rustic Clachan would slow down the offensive capability of Elspeth's deck. If it were up to me as a deckbuilder, I wouldn't take that risk.
She's probably still the best white planeswalker ever. I hesitate to overstate just how powerful this card is, but there are very few planeswalkers that measure up to her. For tournament play, she's a staple in Modern and even sees play in Legacy decks. Despite being reprinted in this deck, in Modern Masters, and in the “March of the Multitudes” Modern Event Deck, the original still a $13 card. Elspeth is a fantastic, freakishly strong card.
Elspeth's first ability, for +1 loyalty, creates a soldier token. This is the ability that gives her some self-protection. If left behind as blockers, the soldiers can build up quickly. And since they're white soldiers, all of the creature-enhancing aspects of Elspeth's deck, from Daru Encampment to Crusade, work with the tokens. Catapult Master makes them particularly threatening.
The second ability on most planeswalkers is either 0 or negative loyalty. Flaunting this, Elspeth's second ability is another +1 loyalty. While it's usually better to make more tokens, this second ability is good for all-out offense. The suite of removal spells in Elspeth's deck can often clear the skies, so turning a regular attacker into a bigger attacker with flying is powerful, and being able to do so repeatedly is even better. To add insult to injury, with both of these abilities being +1 loyalty, Elspeth can keep climbing toward her ultimate, whether she's providing defense or providing offense.
Planeswalker ultimates are “win the game” maneuvers. You have to play your planeswalker, protect your planeswalker, and build up loyalty. The payoff, assuming that your deck is built to accommodate your planeswalker, should be that the ultimate, while perhaps not literally winning the game on the spot, produces a game state in which you basically just won. That's part of why Nissa, Worldwaker is so good and why Jace, the Living Guildpact is not. There are some exceptions (Liliana of the Veil is one of the best planeswalkers ever, and her ultimate is more of a contingency, as her other abilities should have already let her take control of the game from early on), but Elspeth is not one of them. And that's why her ultimate takes a whopping -8 loyalty. Assuming that the rest of the deck contains any threats at all, it's pretty hard to overcome “all my stuff is indestructible.”
Elspeth, far moreso than any other card in this pair of decks, is a wildcard. She only occupies one slot, but if she's drawn, she dictates the course of the game, usually by causing her deck to win. I'm serious. Elspeth only won 21 out of 50 trials, but when she showed her face, her deck's odds drastically improved. There were a few games in which the Tezzeret deck managed to take her out right away with a surprise combo and even one game that Tezzeret won around Elspeth's ultimate, but those were very extreme cases. Generally, once Elspeth hits the board, it's all but over.
Individual cards: Tezzeret
This is the only tool that the Tezzeret deck has for getting enchantments off the board. For that alone, it's valuable against Elspeth. It can also bounce the planeswalker herself before she can reach her ultimate. But most of the time, I used it on creatures. Echoing Truth is not my favorite card of its kind, but it gets the job done. In the matchup against Elspeth, Echoing Truth can be a lifesaver against soldier tokens.
Arcbound Worker: A sensible one-drop for this sort of deck. The Modular ability ends up contributing most of the time. At worst, it's a chump blocker.
Clockwork Condor: Tezzeret is sorely in need of flying blockers to keep from being overwhelmed by the airborne component of Elspeth's army. Even so, Clockwork Condor is not worth it. I'd forgotten that this existed, as I don't think I saw anyone play it even once before I tested these Duel Decks. A profoundly bad card.
Faerie Mechanists: The main downside here is that by the time Tezzeret gets to four mana, the pressure is already on. Tapping out for a single 2/2 flyer in the hopes that it will dig up something good can be an annoying risk to take. Still, it can chump block when on the defensive. It also helps Tezzeret establish control if it can be used in a combo that bounces it, digging up even more goodies.
Frogmite: Frogmite shows up in tournament decks and casual decks alike. Everyone loves a free 2/2, and Tezzeret is no exception.
Silver Myr: I usually had enough mana and found myself chump blocking with this, although there were times when activating it really mattered.
Steel Wall: Well, it feeds Affinity cards and it blocks most of Elspeth's creatures. Not good, but not bad either.
Trinket Mage: This is one of those things that makes the Tezzeret deck more challenging to pilot than most Dual Decks. If you know in advance that the cards Trinket Mage can tutor for are Seat of the Synod, Darksteel Citadel, Arcbound Worker, Steel Wall, Everflowing Chalice, Æther Spellbomb, and Elixir of Immortality, you can use that to evaluate whether to drop the Trinket Mage or make a different play. If you don't know the deck, you could needlessly make the wrong move.
Back when Mirrodin first came out, it hit the game harder than nearly any other set I can recall. Tournament play, focused primarily on the explosive creature-based interactions of the “tribes” in Onslaught block, was taken over by the faster-still artifact-heavy synergies that the new set introduced, and Affinity for artifacts was the biggest culprit of all. Darksteel released more tools for such decks, and “Affinity” became shorthand for an extremely fast aggro-combo deck powered by artifact lands and the infamous Affinity mechanic. Scars of Mirrodin introduced other powerful cards and the Metalcraft mechanic. As the new cards were incorporated into Affinity decks, the archetype curiously lost the cards it had been using that actually had the Affinity for artifacts mechanic. Legacy almost saw the development of another deck with a nonsensical name, as every card with the Affinity mechanic was cut from Affinity decks—well, all except one. Thoughtcast is so, so good in an artifact-heavy deck. And this deck can definitely support it. I think I might have cast this spell for two mana one time, and even then, it's not a bad deal.
Æther Spellbomb: Nothing about this card is amazing. It's versatility that is the selling point here. At its worst, Æther Spellbomb is an overcosted Seal of Removal. If bounce isn't needed, it can replace itself with a fresh topdeck. It is also easily fetchable through Trinket Mage or Tezzeret's -X ability. Most of the time, I either used this to bounce one of Elspeth's creatures or I used it to draw a card, but having options is good.
Moonglove Extract: While this isn't particularly efficient, it's one of the only direct damage options that the Tezzeret deck has, and that makes it useful for the deck. I'd prefer Aeolipile, though.
Darksteel Citadel: I never found myself destroying lands with the Elspeth deck, so in that matchup, Darksteel Citadel is inferior to Seat of the Synod. But Wizards of the Coast likes putting single copies of cards into Duel Decks so that they can showcase more cards or something?
Seat of the Synod: So good it's banned in Modern. Oh yes, I got my jab in! This article is now officially a success.
Assembly-Worker: There were actually some games in which this card's synergy with Mishra's Factory came up. And when that happened, Assembly-Worker was still mediocre.
Clockwork Hydra: There are so many better five-drops that could have been in this deck. Still, I'll take this over Clockwork Condor.
On the message boards, I mentioned that this is my favorite casual card from Conflux. When I first saw Esperzoa, I thought, “4/3 flyer for only three mana? How can we work around that drawback. Wait a minute...” It turns out that Esperzoa's “drawback” can be the most powerful thing about the card. Other than Contagion Clasp and Tezzeret himself, this enables the most combos out of any card in the deck, and most of Tezzeret's best combos involve eventually fetching Esperzoa anyway, while it's Esperzoa that turns Contagion Clasp into a terrifying engine of destruction. Use it on Faerie Mechanist to dig for more artifacts. Use it on Serrated Biskelion to hit more of Elspeth's creatures with -1/-1 counters. Use it on Trip Noose to tap down to blockers in the same turn as preparation for a lethal attack. Use it on an old Everflowing Chalice, then replay the Chalice with more counters on it. Use it on Pentavus for mass token creation. Use it on Triskelion for bursts of direct damage. And of course, use it on Contagion Clasp to completely take over the battlefield. All that, and it's a 4/3 flyer, something that can not only block most of Elspeth's attackers, but can even safely attack Elspeth in many common scenarios.
Juggernaut: A true classic. This deck isn't the best for making use of Juggernaut, but the 5/3 can work to put the beatdown-focused Elspeth on the defensive.
Qumulox: In my previous Duel Decks review, I noted that I had owned Elspeth vs. Tezzeret and Phyrexia vs. the Coalition for years and just assumed that I had fragments sitting in my collection (as was actually the case with Divine vs. Demonic) until I was motivated to eventually see if I could reconstruct them. When I went over Tezzeret's deck for the first time, I found myself wishing that Qumulox was Broodstar. Now, I'm not so sure. Qumulox is actually fine for this deck, and sometimes comes down too late due to the high mana cost. Broodstar would be even more reliant on having a ton of artfiacts, whereas Qumulox can potentially act as a life-saving flying blocker even when there are only a few artifacts on the board.
Runed Servitor: Well, it's a chump blocker that replaces itself. And that's about it. Mediocre overall.
Serrated Biskelion: I miss Serrated Arrows. But this works. If Tezzeret can start putting +1/+1 counters on Serrated Biskelion, Elspeth is in trouble. Plays nicely with Contagion Clasp (Serrated Arrows would be better, though).
Synod Centurion: Even though I absolutely think that Juggernaut is a better card overall, Synod Centurion just might be better for this deck. A 4/4 won't usually be lethal, but it is enough to slow Elspeth down, which should be all it takes.
Foil: The lone counterspell variant in this deck, and one that is usually too slow. The alternate cost is much steeper than the one on Force of Will, which is probably what this should have been. Occasionally, Foil is relevant and even game-winning. It is, after all, the only way that this deck can really stop enchantments. It's an answer to any spell that Elspeth's deck has, which is notable. It's just a particularly clunky answer.
Thirst for Knowledge
There are two copies of this card in the Tezzeret deck. Amusingly enough, this means that the deck is illegal in Vintage, where Thirst for Knowledge is restricted. Of course, just because a card is restricted in Vintage doesn't mean that the power it has in that format translates to other environments. After extensive testing, I've come to the conclusion that Thirst for Knowledge is fantastic and the Elspeth player had better already be in the process of beating the Tezzeret player to death with a robust array of attackers once Thirst for Knowledge is cast. You don't need me to tell you that card advantage is good. So I won't. I'll let you do the math for yourself.
Argivian Restoration: This one is situational, sort of hit-or-miss. If Elspeth has just used Saltblast to take out the most threatening artifact on the board, Argivian Restoration on the next turn is amazing. Topdecked after having just used Elixir of Immortality, Argivian Restoration is, I don't know, some other adjective.
Mishra's Factory: Despite the underwhelming interaction with Assembly-Worker and the fact that there is only one of each card in the deck (which is most of why the interaction is underwhelming), Mishra's Factory is a good card. And remember, +1/+1 counters added to the Factory stick around even when it's not a creature anymore.
Stalking Stones: In long games, having a land that can permanently become an artifact creature too is nice. Mostly, Stalking Stone just sits there and makes me with it were another Mishra's Factory.
For a Scars of Mirrodin preview card, Elspeth got Kemba's Skyguard and Tezzeret gets this crazy little thing. I don't know how Wizards of the Coast thought that this was remotely fair, but I'm glad, because this deck would not be the same without Contagion Clasp. The Esperzoa combo is the most obvious. It works especially well once the deck can generate enough mana to activate Contagion Clasp, bounce it with Esperzoa, replay it, then activate it again all in the same turn. That may seem like a lot of mana, but Contagion Clasp fuels Everflowing Chalice too, so it's quite realistic. Contagion Clasp is also a key card to use with Tezzeret. At only two mana, it's easily fetched by the -X ability, which immediately weakens a potential attacker. And then of course, there's Tezzeret's +1 ability, for which the play is to activate Contagion Clasp, use Tezzeret to untap Contagion Clasp, then activate Contagion Clasp again, for a total gain of +3 loyalty, on top of whatever other things proliferating twice accomplished. This deck has a lot of cards that use counters, and Contagion Clasp helps them all.
Elixir of Immortality: Against an opponent who might only barely outrace this deck, life gain matters. More importantly, Tezzeret would probably like to get back some of the really good cards it has that were sent to the graveyard. While the Elspeth deck can exile some things, which can't be helped, Elixir of Immortality is a great way to salvage the rest. Years ago, I used to use Soldevi Digger in a lot of my decks, and this is better.
Energy Chamber: While Contagion Clasp shenanigans eventually overtake the utility of this thing, it's easily better for the early game, where Tezzeret struggles the most. This is one of those cards that, if it hits the board early and isn't dealt with, can give Tezzeret a more powerful start than Elspeth can cope with. And of course, there's only one copy in the deck, which provides higher variance.
Everflowing Chalice: Not a card I'd normally give much consideration, but it plays nicely with Energy Chamber and Contagion Clasp, as well as being decent mana acceleration at most points in the game. And it's not like they were going to give this deck Sol Ring or Mana Vault.
Trip Noose: Tezzeret's counterpart to Elspeth's Kor Hookmaster. This could have been Puppet Strings, but whatever, Trip Noose is cheaper and still generally gets the job done. Trip Noose might even be the ideal card to fill its niche in this deck, since two mana is easily affordable for Tezzeret's -X ability. Trip Noose is mostly there to shut down an attacker, but once Tezzeret is ready to go on the offensive, Trip Noose interacts with this +1 to get potential blockers out of the way.
Master of Etherium: One of the most prioritized targets for Elspeth's removal spells. A creature that gets bigger and makes Tezzeret's other creatures bigger is a threat that Elspeth cannot ignore. And this thing becomes especially fun when used alongside Pentavus.
Pentavus: Well, it's expensive. By itself, it's not really enough to do much against Elspeth's forces. But if Tezzeret can get enough mana, say with an Everflowing Chalice or two, Pentavus becomes an impressive token-generator. And of course, those tokens are artifacts, so they synergize with Master of Etherium. Pentavites can stall Elspeth's airborne attackers and buy time for Tezzeret to deal with them. A worthy inclusion in this deck.
Razormane Masticore: I'm guessing that Wizards of the Coast included this in the deck over the original Masticore because of the perception that the original is too good, and Elspeth is better off for that, because Masticore would have been awesome in this deck. Razormane Masticore is still pretty good. A 5/5 with first strike is enough to give Tezzeret excellent board presence, at least on the ground, and the damage ability puts a lot of pressure on opponents. Elspeth can let the upkeep ability trigger resolve, then hit Razormane Masticore with an instant before the draw step ability has a chance to trigger, which is annoying, but the card is still worth that risk.
It's hard to evaluate just how good this card is, just because when I did play Steel Overseer, it was the prime target for every form of removal the Elspeth had. Steel Overseer saw more time in exile than on the battlefield, but I don't think I was wrong to play Elspeth's deck that way. This card is the scariest thing in Tezzeret's arsenal. If it is left alone, no matter what Elspeth's deck does, it will produce a horde of ever-growing metal monsters to tear Elspeth's armor apart off and smash the delicate, organic planeswalker. Machines do not know mercy, Elspeth.
Triskelion: At worst, this is a 4/4 that costs 6 mana, which is admittedly rather bad. At best, this is a cannon fueled by things like Energy Chamber and Contagion Clasp, blasting away at Elspeth. Triskelion is expensive direct damage, but it's also versatile direct damage, and it's fair enough that such things can't come cheap. This deck doesn't really do the combo potential of Triskelion justice, but Triskelion does do its job well enough here.
Tezzeret the Seeker
A whole lot of players would say that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the best blue planeswalker (or just the best planewalker ever). While there is some merit to that perspective and it has results to back it up, I don't agree. The vast majority of those players do not own Time Vault. I do. Given any pile of technically functioning cards, other planeswalkers may account better for themselves, but with access to the best cards in the game, Tezzeret gets the biggest boost out of all of them. There have been a whole lot of great artifacts printed over the years. Time Vault is an obvious win, but Tezzeret could also make great use of other artifacts. Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, Lotus Bloom, and Pithing Needle are all excellent cards to use alongside Tezzeret the Seeker. While he doesn't get that kind of power in this deck, he does get access to some toned down combos.
Tezzeret's first ability, for +1 loyalty, is a big part of why he sees play in tournament decks. In this deck, it isn't quite as powerful as it would be in a dedicated Tezzeret tournament deck, but it still has its uses. The ability works on any artifact creature that is being used as an attacker. It also has synergy with abilities. There are three categories into which these abilities fall.
1. Mana producers: Seat of the Synod, Darksteel Citadel, Silver Myr, Everflowing Chalice, Stalking Stones
2. Creature enhancement: Mishra's Factory, Assembly-Worker, Clockwork Hydra, Steel Overseer, Contagion Clasp
3. Offensively oriented abilities: Serrated Biskelion, Trip Noose, Contagion Clasp.
If Tezzeret can use his first ability on a couple of those artifacts, it's super happy fun combo time.
Tezzeret's second ability is a -X loyalty ability, searching for an artifact with converted mana cost X or less and putting it directly onto the battlefield. It is the use of this ability that unlocks Tezzeret's power in this deck. In some of my test games, I played simply played Tezzeret as soon as I possibly could, then used him to tutor up an artifact that I needed, ignoring the fact that he would be vulnerable to damage and I'd lose a planeswalker. That's a key distinction. Elspeth's deck wants its planeswalker to come out and to stay out, but in the Tezzeret deck, the planeswalker is expendable and can even be reused by shuffling him back into the library with Elixir of Immortality and drawing him again. His +1 loyalty ability and his ultimate are fine abilities, but the real power in this deck lies in the artifacts, and it's Tezzeret's -X loyalty ability that is best for getting the right ones. To an extent, this mitigates the one-off slots dedicated to artifacts that could work better here in multiples. In this deck, using Tezzeret's second ability usually means going somewhere between -0 and -3, rarely choosing 4 or more. Knowing which to do requires familiarity with the deck. But when I used Tezzeret as a toolbox, my most frequently employed tools were...
0: Seat of the Synod and Darksteel Citadel when I needed to ramp up my mana very quickly. Everflowing Chalice can be used to set up a more of a long-term mana ramp if Energy Chamber is already on the battlefield. Going -0 is unusual, but it can happen.
1: Steel Wall for a cheap blocker or Elixir of Immortality if I really wanted to get my graveyard back into my library immediately. Of course, there's also Æther Spellbomb as an emergency bounce spell. And that's it. Going -1 is actually atypical for this deck. When it does happen, it's almost always because an Æther Spellbomb play is desperately needed.
2: Often Trip Noose to mess with combat. But usually it's Contagion Clasp, Steel Overseer, or Energy Chamber, because those cards are amazing. Except in the case of Contagion Clasp, which is fine early, but gets better later on, I'd prefer to draw those cards in my opening hand, but if I have to use Tezzeret to fetch them, I will. Going -2 was the most frequent approach after I'd just dropped a Tezzeret in my tests. Chances are, whatever the board state, one of those cards is the best answer in the deck.
3: Almost always either Moonglove Extract for access to direct damage or Esperzoa for a combo. Serrated Biskelion sometimes came up as an option too, but that was rare. Technically, one could use Tezzeret to fetch Master of Etherium, but I never felt the need.
In contrast to Elspeth, Tezzeret's ultimate is highly situational and not a goal he is always climbing toward. The only times I didn't ultimate Elspeth once I had her to 8 loyalty were time when I was confident that I could get her to 9 loyalty without being stopped, and even then I was hesitant to wait. But I've gotten Tezzeret way above the necessary loyalty for his ultimate, yet elected not to use it. Ideally, with combos powering up a swarm of strong artifact creatures, using Tezzeret's -5 just to make the creatures in his army smaller is silly and could be disregarded. Of course, that's not always how it works out. In some games, the combos to make all of the creatures bigger just don't emerge. With a large enough number of artifacts, Tezzeret's ultimate can be a good finishing move.
Well, I suppose that I had better wrap this up. This became one of my longer articles at some point, and I didn't even notice! Not to dismiss Heroes vs. Monsters, which honestly does seem to be more balanced, but I enjoyed this pair of decks a lot more. As a combo-lover, I don't know that I'll be seeing anything approaching the kind of interaction that the Tezzeret deck is capable of in future reviews of Duel Decks. I guess we'll see. Next up, at an unspecified point in the future: Phyrexia vs. the Coalition!
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