So Many Insane Plays – Vintage Tezzeret Dissected

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Monday, December 1st – When Shards of Alara hit the scene, Vintage maestro Stephen Menendian pounced on the promising planeswalker Tezzeret the Seeker. The card is no bearing fine Vintage fruit, and Stephen crunches the numbers to make the strongest composite list possible. Could this be the new leader in the Vintage metagame?

I firmly believe that TPS is the best deck in Vintage, and obviously so. It has the best cards in the format, is one of the fastest clocks, but it is simultaneously one of the most resilient and, for its speed, the most disruptive. It has the best suite of disruption in Duress and Force of Will, the best unrestricted power spell in Dark Ritual, and the best restricted cards in maximum quantities (Necropotence, Mind’s Desire, Gifts Ungiven, etc), it has a hyper-resilient manabase that is practically invulnerable to Wastelands, Null Rod, and Chalice compared to most power decks. To top it off, it has the obvious best two win conditions in Vintage: Darksteel Colossus and Tendrils of Agony.

However, a large proportion (perhaps the largest) of the Vintage community prefer Mana Drain decks. I do not begrudge them. I am often one of them. Mana Drain decks are among the best that can be played in Vintage if your goal is to win a tournament. The reasons are relatively straightforward and well known. Blue is the strongest color in Vintage, and Mana Drain is a very powerful card that fuels powerful Blue spells. It is also interactive, and gives the pilot an opportunity to outplay an opponent. However, it is my belief that Mana Drain decks have not been the best deck in Vintage since Meandeck Gifts was killed with the restriction of Gifts Ungiven. Nonetheless, the printing of Tezzeret gives Mana Drain pilots a shiny new tool to utilize and a great finisher.

After six years of writing Vintage articles for this site, I can only think of one other card that I spent an entire article writing about weeks before the card was even printed. In my article “Tezzeret The Unreal,” published a few weeks before Shards of Alara was released, I came up with a half dozen deck ideas, including some that have already won people power over the globe. I looked at potential deck approaches, including Mono Blue, a 3-color shell using Thirst, another using Intuition plus Accumulated Knowledge, and several other approaches besides. Josh Silvestri and I both came up with a structure for how any Tezzeret deck might look.

Now that Tezzeret will have seen tournament play for nearly two months as of the date this article is published, it is the perfect time to take a look and see what the Tezzeret builds around the world that have been performing well in Vintage tournaments look like.

Four or five years ago, Philip Stanton dissected major metagame players for analysis, and to see what a composite list reflecting what most versions of a deck looked like. Here is an example of an article he did on Oath. A few years after that, I conducted a massive analysis of Gifts decks using the same methodology. I’m going to borrow that approach once more, but with Tezzeret.

There were 37 multi-color Tezzeret decks in Vintage Top 8s since Shards of Alara became legal on October 3, 2008. (The only cutoff I made was the exclusion of tournaments with fewer than 17 players.)

Here is what I found:

Unanimous Card Choices:

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
2 Underground Sea
2 Polluted Delta

1 Time Vault
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
4 Force of Will
3 Mana Drain

23 Unanimous Cards.

Just by way of comparison, here are the unanimous Gifts cards (out of 47 total Gifts lists), from the similar article I did on Gifts in January, 2006 (wow, that’s nearly three years ago!).

1 Black Lotus
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Island
1 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island

2 Gifts Ungiven
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Tinker
1 Recoup
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Demonic Tutor
4 Brainstorm
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain

33 cards.

Although I was merely curious, the comparison to Gifts appears to be quite apt. Both the composite Gifts list and the composite Tez lists have the bare bones parts: the combo, the power suite of Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, Demonic Tutor, and Yawgmoth’s Will, plus the standard Blue disruption Force of Will and Mana Drains. Fascinating!

Now, back to the analysis of Tezzeret lists. As with the Gifts article, I will list the remaining cards in order of descending popularity.

1 Vampiric Tutor (36/37)

Only one Tezzeret list lacked Vamp.

1 Mox Pearl (36/38)

Curiously, two lists did not have Mox Pearl!

1 Brainstorm (35/37)

I would have thought that Brainstorm would be included in every single Tezzeret list. Two people evidently felt differently. They were wrong.

1 Flooded Strand (35/37)
2nd Flooded Strand (34/37)

Every list ran at least two Polluted Delta. The vast majority also ran two Flooded Strands.

2 Island / Snow-Covered Island (34/37)

I was a bit surprised that three lists out there weren’t running basic lands. That is quite ballsy.

1 Voltaic Key (33/37)

I was very surprised to see that so many lists were running Voltaic Key. In my initial analysis of Tezzeret lists, I thought Key would be pure surplus… a card that isn’t tactically useful against an opponent, and thus a win-more card. However, experience has proved that initial presumption wrong. It seems to be a staple in the archetype.

This seems to be due to a combination of factors, but the ultimate reason seems to be that Voltaic Key has enough total value to justify its inclusion, including various synergies.

1 Tolarian Academy (33/37)

1 Mana Crypt (32/37)

Mana Crypt is not quite as powerful here as it is in Gifts. Since your goal is to take an arbitrarily large number of turns, Mana Crypt has attendant risks turn after turn that put some players off it. Still, it will make our composite lists, and the best players have found ways of dealing with it after comboing.

3 Thirst For Knowledge (32/37)

Thirst For Knowledge has shaped up to be the draw-engine of choice for the Tezzeret deck. It makes the most sense here. Tezzeret is an artifact tutor, and Thirst For Knowledge has the most synergy with these artifacts. What’s most curious about this is how the super-majority of Tez players were running these (over 85%), but only 65% of Tez players were running all 4 Thirsts.

4th Mana Drain (31/37)

Most Tezzeret players run all four Mana Drains, but a few like to mix it up with Duresses and Misdirections.

1 Tinker (30/37)

Only 81% of Tez lists ran Tinker.

2nd Tez (30/37)

The vast majority of Tez lists ran at least two Tezzeret.

1 Mana Vault (29/37)

Like Brainstorm, this is a card that I would have assumed would be a unanimous inclusion. I would probably even run this card before Mana Crypt in this decklist. The reason is that it both Tezzeret on turn 2, but it also synergizes with Voltaic Key. It’s also a critical restricted mana accelerant.

Only 20 slots left.

1 Sensei’s Divining Top (28/37)

This card’s prevalence is not surprising either, especially in light of the bundle of artifact synergies in this deck, starting with Thirst For Knowledge and Voltaic Key (cool trick!).

1 Merchant Scroll (28/37)

I am a little bit sad to see this. This was the once uber-powerful Blue tutor, now rendered impotent by restriction. Nonetheless, it is a top inclusion into any good Tez list.

3rd Island/Snow-Covered Island (27/37)

1 Echoing Truth (26/37)

Echoing Truth is the bounce spell of choice for the Tezzeret pilot. Chain of Vapor and Rebuild are miniscule in numbers by comparison.

1 Mystical Tutor (25/37)

Only two thirds of the Tezzeret lists ran Mystical Tutor. The consensus is in favor of its inclusion, but it’s not an automatic inclusion. I can understand the omission. Mystical Tutor for Ancestral Recall is not as powerful as Scroll for Ancestral in terms of card advantage. Unless you are running the Tinker package, I could see an argument for something else.

1 Fact or Fiction (24/37)

One big question is whether Fact or Fiction belongs in Tezzeret lists. According to this analysis, Fact or Fiction ties Thirst For Knowledge # 4, and is a couple of spots ahead of even Gifts Ungiven. I consider Fact to be an automatic inclusion in Tezzeret Control.

4th Thirst For Knowledge (24/37)

3rd Underground Sea (24/37)

1 Volcanic Island (24/37)

Red is clearly the tertiary color of choice.

1 Gifts Ungiven (22/37)

Almost 60% of Tez lists run a Gifts Ungiven. Gifts is quite potent in this deck, since it can be used to find Time Vault combo parts. Some decks even run Regrowth, which makes Gifts even more powerful.

10 Slots left.

1 Darksteel Colossus (21/37)

Darksteel Colossus is the format’s best “oops, I win” play with Tinker. It should not be surprising that a majority of Tez pilots pack it.

3rd Polluted Delta (19/37)

1 Library of Alexandria (17/37)

Just under a majority of Tezzeret pilots run Library. Library makes a lot of sense in a Tezzeret deck. Tez is more controlish than Mana Drain decks of recent design.

1 Duress (17/37)

After Mana Drain and Force of Will, Duress is making its way into various Tez builds. It’s the next disruption spell of choice.

3rd Flooded Strand (16/37)

2nd Duress (15/37)

1 Misdirection (14/37)

It’s interesting that nearly 40% of the Tez lists ran a Misdirection. Our composite list will have 4 Force, 4 Drain, 2 Duress, and a Misdirection.

1 Ponder (14/37)

2nd Volcanic Island (14/37)

Only 1 slot open.

1 Tropical Island (13/37)

The Green splash is quite popular, and it represents a major variant of the deck. Most of these lists run Regrowth to combo with Gifts.

1 Engineered Explosives (13/37)

Engineered Explosives is also surprisingly popular. I am not quite sure why.

1 Thoughtseize (13/37)

Players like to mix up Thoughtseize with Duress, and run a Thoughtseize over additional Duresses.

1 Fire/Ice (13/37)

There is a four-way tie for the 60th slot. Our composite list already has 25 mana, so there isn’t a terrible need for more mana. It’s already quite disruptive as well. I randomly selected Thoughtseize for the composite list.

Here are the remaining cards that showed up in Tezzeret lists:

1 Tormod’s Crypt (11/37)

1 Lotus Petal (10/37)

Note that Lotus Petal does not make the cut for the Composite list.

4th Island (10/37)
2nd Sensei’s Divining Top (10/37)

3rd Volcanic Island (9/37)
3rd Duress (9/37)
2nd Misdirection (9/37)

1 Regrowth (8/37)

2nd Tropical Island (7/37)
1 Transmute Artifact (7/37)
1 Academy Ruins (7/37)
1 Gorilla Shaman (7/37)
2nd Thoughtseize (7/37)
4th Polluted Delta (7/37)

1 Sundering Titan (6/37)
1 Repeal (6/37)

2nd Repeal (5/37)
4th Duress (5/37)
1 Pithing Needle (5/37)

1 Chain of Vapor (4/37)
1 Red Elemental Blast (4/37)
1 Hurkyl’s Recall (4/37)
2 Trinket Mage (4/37)
4 Accumulated Knowledge (4/37)
4th Flooded Strand (4/37
4th Underground Sea (4/37)

3rd Thoughtseize (3/37)
2 Intuition (3/37)
3rd Tez (3/37)
2nd Voltaic Key (3/37)
2nd Explosives (3/37)
1 Grindstone (3/37)
1 Painter’s Servant (3/37)
1 Rebuild (3/37)
2 Impulse (3/37)
1 Timetwister (3/37)
3rd Transmute Artifact (3/37)
1 Imperial Seal (3/37)
2 Goblin Welder (3/37)
1 Platinum Angel (3/37)
1 Triskelion (3/37)

3rd Trinket Mage (2/37)
5th Island (2/37)
4 Thoughtcast (2/37)
3rd Tropical Island (2/37)
3rd Misdirection (2/37)
3rd Sensei’s Diving Top (2/37)
2nd Painter’s Servant (2/37)
3rd Repeal (2/37)
2nd Transmute Artifact (2/37)
1 Wipe Away (2/37)
4 Dark Confidant (2/37)
1 Skeletal Scrying (2/37)
1 Viashino Heretic (2/37)
2nd Red Elemental Blast (2/37)
1 Rack and Ruin (2/37)

Cards that only showed up in one list:

4th Trinket Mage (1/37)
1 Scroll Rack (1/37)
2nd Grindstone (1/37)
3rd and 4th Painter’s Servant (1/37)
1 Deep Analysis (1/37)
3rd and 4th Impulse (1/37)
2nd Fire/Ice (1/37)
1 Cunning Wish (1/37)
1 Magus of the Unseen (1/37
3 Mind Twist (1/37)
1 Dark Ritual (1/37)
3 Tarmogoyf (1/37)
2nd Shaman (1/37)
1 Pyroblast (1/37)
1 Empty the Warrens (1/37)
1 Ancient Grudge (1/37)
2 Lim Dul’s Vault (1/37)
1 Shattering Spree (1/37)
6th Island (1/37)
1 Bayou (1/37)
1 Swamp (1/37)
1 Mishra’s Workshop (1/37)
4 Oath of Druids (1/37)
1 Gaea’s Blessing (1/37)
1 Hellkite Overlord (1/37)
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath (1/37)
1 Trinisphere
4 Forbidden Orchard

The Sideboard

1 Tormod’s Crypt (24/37)

The most popular sideboard card!

1 Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast (20/37)
2nd REB/Pyro (16/37)

Red Blast has been one of the top sideboard cards since the inception of the format. No surprise here.

1 Extirpate (15/37)
1 Duress (15/37)
1 Hurkyl’s Recall (15/37)

2nd Extirpate (13/37)
1 Pithing Needle (13/37)
1 Yixlid Jailer (13/37)

2nd Duress (12/37)

1 Rack and Ruin (11/37)
2nd Tormod’s Crypt (11/37)

1 Pyroclasm (10/37)

Only two slots left:

3rd Duress (9/37)
1 Ingot Chewer (9/37)
2nd Yixlid Jailer (9/37)

Once again, there is a three-way tie. Since the maindeck will have 2 Duress, we can rule that out. Ingot Chewer and Jailer it is!

2nd Pithing Needle (8/37)
3rd REB/Pyro (8/37)
2nd Hurkyl’s Recall (8/37)
2nd Rack and Ruin (8/37)
1 Sower of Temptation (8/37)
1 Engineered Explosives (8/37)

2nd and 3rd Ingot Chewer (6/37)
2 Tarmogoyf (6/37)
3rd Yixlid Jailer (6/37)

1 Platinum Angel (6/37)
1 Darkblast (6/37)
1 Trinisphere (6/37)

2nd Pyroclasm (5/37)
3rd Extirpate (5/37)
2nd Sower of Temptation (5/37)
2 Thoughtseize (5/37)
1 Sundering Titan (5/37)
1 Ancient Grudge (5/37)

3 Chalice of the Void (4/37)
2nd Ancient Grudge (4/37)
3rd Tormod’s Crypt (4/37)
1 Krosan Grip (4/37)
3rd Tarmogoyf (4/37)
1 Empyrial Archangel (4/37)
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Trygon Predator (4/37)
4 Oath of Druids (4/37)

4th Chalice of the Void (3/37)
4th Tarmogoyf (3/37)
1 Massacre (3/37)
1 Tropical Island (3/37)
1 Viashino Heretic (3/37)
1 Energy Flux (3/37)
2nd Trygon Predator (3/37)
2 Blood Moon (3/37)

3 Threads of Disloyalty (2/37)
1 Gaea’s Blessing (2/37)
2nd Engineered Explosives (2/37)
4th Ingot Chewer (2/37)
2nd Viashino Heretic (2/37)
2nd Krosan Grip (2/37)
4th Duress (2/37)
2nd Energy Flux (2/37)
4 Leyline of the Void (2/37)
1 Razormane Masticore (2/37)
1 Flametongue Kavu (2/37)
1 Rebuild (2/37)
1 Mindslaver (2/37)

Cards that only showed up in one deck:

3 Trickbind
1 Jester’s Cap
1 Jester’s Scepter
2 Firespout
1 Forbidden Orchard
4 Helm of Obedience
1 Control Magic
1 Executioner’s Capsule
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Tombstalker
1 Magus of the Unseen
2 Goblin Welder
2nd Rebuild
3 Counterbalance
1 Claws of Gix
1 Island
1 Spawning Pit
2 Goblin Bombardment
1 Crucible of Worlds
2nd and 3rd Flametongue Kavu
1 Hellkite Overlord
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
3rd Blood Moon
3rd Trygon Predator
3rd Krosan Grip
4th REB/Pyroblast
1 Volcanic Island
2 Seal of Primordium
3rd Sower of Temptation
2nd Massacre
2nd Tropical Island
1 Bitter Ordeal
3 Oxidize
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Stifle
1 Acquire
1 Aether Spellbomb
1 Masticore
1 Psionic Blast
2 Sphere of Resistance
2 Virtue’s Ruin

If you are a Tezzeret pilot searching for ideas, there is much inspiration to be had here.

So there it is! Tezzeret dissected.

After all of that work, here is what our final decklist looks like.

I am actually very impressed. In fact, this deck and sideboard look better than any individual Tezzeret list I’ve seen yet. Which is actually surprising. Whenever I’ve tried to do this sort of composite approach in the past, it’s usually worse than one variant or another. This one looks more powerful than any given variant.

In terms of specific matchups, this deck somehow is very well built. It has 3 maindeck Duress effects and a Misdirection for TPS. Post-board, it can bring in two more Duresses, two Red Blasts, and 2 Extirpates. For Ichorid, it has Jailers, Crypts, Extirpates, and a Needle. For Workshops, it has Rack and Ruin, Ingot Chewer, and a Hurkyl’s Recall. For aggro, it has Pyroclasm. And for the mirror, it has Duresses and Red Blasts.

As with Gifts Ungiven, I expect Tezzeret decks to the premiere performing Mana Drain deck for the foreseeable future. However, as with Gifts, it could be some time before the best list rises to the top. There is inevitably a time lag as people get better with Tezzeret and as people see what’s winning and what’s not. This is just the beginning. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian


1. Jason Jaco

2. Brian Fisher

3. Stephen Houdlette

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