So I have good news and bad news, you guys. Which one do you want first?
This article’s deck focuses on a very different resource as compared to other Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks. Whereas Forgemaster and
Armageddon Stax focused on interaction advantages that would strand or devalue as many of their opponent’s cards as possible, today’s deck
just wants one thing:
Tumble Magnet is surely destined to never be fully understood in its lifetime or at least its Standard lifetime. Tumble Magnet is this generation’s
Tangle Wire, a card that was oft misunderstood during the years it was legal in low-powered formats, but is now a permanent fixture in Vintage on
its relatively rare efficiency at buying tempo.
Tangle Wire costs you three mana and a card, but how often does it net you far more than three mana worth of tempo? Setting aside the ability to
play it off a Mishra’s Workshop, we still see that your opponent has to tap four, then you have to tap two besides the Tangle Wire. Next your
opponent taps three, then you tap one. Even if you don’t have any other permanents, such as Chalice of the Void or Null Rod, to tap, you’re still
talking about costing your opponent ten mana to your six (three to cast, plus two, then one). Not to mention if you’re tapping creatures, you’re
potentially getting even more than a mana worth of value out of each tap. A net of four mana is pretty amazing, all things considered, as that’s
more than a Black Lotus worth, albeit split over several turns.
Is it without cost? No, of course not, as it costs you a card, the mana to get going, and it’s a very crude sort of power, as it doesn’t target
what you would want most. Still, the key is that it lets you trade a single card for tempo advantage over your opponent over the next several
turns. The time you buy yourself (tempo) ought to be capitalized on by advancing your board with other cards that further your strategy, such as
Sphere of Resistance and Lodestone Golem. Otherwise your tempo advantage will dissipate entirely, as is generally the case with temporary
imbalances such as tempo. Tumble Magnet is the same way.
Finally, Wizards of the Coast has seen fit to print a card for which it is worth spending cards to buy time. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas has an ultimate
that reminds me of Tendrils of Agony — very powerful but often a turn behind the disruption that this format can level at it. Given sufficient
time and space, the new Tezzeret will drain you for twenty. How better to build a deck that buys time than to start with a mana base that starts the
game on turn 2?
I give you:
This deck only wants to do two things: stall the game and kill you. Let’s look at how it does each:
This deck plays a disruption suite that compares closely to those of other Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks — eight artifacts that come down
early and push the opponent’s game plan back a turn or two. Unlike other Tomb/City decks, however, this deck doesn’t care that much about
Trinisphere or Chalice of the Void. Instead, its primary three-drop disruption is Tangle Wire.
Instead of keeping a turn 1 Trinisphere hand on the draw and praying that the opponent won’t have a turn 1 Goblin Lackey, Wild Nacatl, or Noble
Hierarch, this deck does something about the harsh reality of losing die rolls. By playing a card that stalls the game through turn 3, it gives itself
time to filter through its deck and stay alive. In this light, how is Tangle Wire so very different from Firespout or Wrath of God?
Sure, they get to keep their guys, but what if it just doesn’t matter? Goblin Lackey is formidable on turn 1, certainly, but on turn 4?
Who cares? Sure, put your Goblin Ringleader into play. My turn? I’ll cast Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek.
This deck would not be possible without the absolute dedication of Wizards of the Coast to make blue as insane as possible. Designing an artifact that’s blue was a
masterstroke, really: who would’ve thought one card could enable deckbuilders to play both Mox Opal and Force of Will? Brilliant.
The missing piece to all of this has been Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. An early Tezzeret will dictate the course of the game, forcing the opponent to
fight through your artifact disruption instead of waiting your Tangle Wires out. In the meantime, Tezzeret is merrily digging through your deck,
finding more disruption and more mana until you have both halves of your killer combo. In a way, Tezzeret looks a lot like Jace, the Mind Sculptor: he
draws cards, protects himself, and kills the opponent. What’s the difference?
Oh, right, he adds a counter when you draw a card and kills the opponent only one or two turns after you play him. Yeah, I guess that makes a
difference. Probably makes him a little bit better for what we want to be doing. Oh, and he makes a 5/5 out of my extra Sensei’s Divining Top?
Looks a little bit like Koth of the Hammer from where I’m standing…
The parts of this deck that really separate it from other Ancient Tomb/City of Traitors decks, however, are its utility cards and its mana base. No
other Tomb/City decks play nearly this much card draw or card selection: Michael Bomholt played two Sensei’s Divining Tops in his Forgemaster
Deck, while Richard Feldman advocated for four Jace, the Mind Sculptors and four Transmute Artifacts in his Metal Force deck. This deck plays four
Sensei’s Divining Tops, four Thirsts for Knowledge, four Fabricates, and four Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.
These cards all build toward a central strategy: tear through the deck, put a lot of artifacts in play, and win with Thopters or with Tezzeret’s
ultimate. In that sense, the deck is a very unconventional Tomb/City deck. In another sense, it’s a much faster U/B Control deck, one replete
with early mana acceleration, a planeswalker-driven midgame, and a combo-driven endgame.
Its mana base supports this strategy completely. The deck really wants four Mox Opals, but I would always rather have a Mox Opal plus a Mox Diamond
than two Mox Opals, so I added two Diamonds. Fortunately, the deck plays twenty lands, which is enough to support Mox Diamond’s drawback without
causing concern. In order to turn on Mox Opal, the deck plays six artifact lands, giving you a ton of ways to have an active Mox Opal on turn 2. From
there, I suppose you could do filthy things like cast Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas on turn 2 and animate your turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top so as to
go over and smack your opponent for five before they’ve played a second land. If they’re the more aggressive sort, I suppose all
you’ll have on turn 2 is a planeswalker, a 5/5 Sensei’s Divining Top, and four mana. Rough life.
One intriguing twist of the mana base’s design is that you can’t actually play Brainstorm profitably. Since you have your sets of Ancient
Tomb and City of Traitors along with the artifact lands being used to power up Mox Opal, you don’t really have room to play enough fetchlands to
make Brainstorm worthwhile. Due to those constraints and the mana cost of both Tezzeret and Thopter Foundry, Darkwater Catacombs is probably just as
good as Underground Sea in this deck. Kind of weird, but that’s how it shakes out sometimes.
I hope this article has taught you a little about the much-maligned (and misused) notion of tempo in Magic. Join me tomorrow, where I’ll talk
about how having a Spirit Guide changes the makeup of an Ancient Tomb deck. If that doesn’t pique your interest, how about this?
Get excited. See you tomorrow!