Way back in August of 2018, I wrote an article here on Star City Games detailing my fear of Core Set 2019’s Buy-a-Box promo, Nexus of Fate. A new Magic rarity had been created overnight, and a card that was available in unknown quantities and only available in foil was clearly destined to become a format staple.
Since that article, most of my initial fears around Standard-legal Buy-a-Box promos have subsided. Supply of these cards was much greater than we initially assumed, and subsequent Buy-a-Box promos seemed to suggest that Standard playability for these cards was more likely to be an aberration rather than the norm. Really, my last remaining complaint is centered around the foiling of these promos, and the tendency of foils to curl and be rendered unplayable in a tournament setting. I’m sure by now you’ve all seen how this was dealt with in the case of Nexus of Fate.
Check out these sick Magic cards I spent $180 to play with this weekend!! pic.twitter.com/OC3VdRl8Ue
— Bryan Gottlieb (@BryanGo) August 18, 2018
In the eyes of most people like me who love the aesthetic aspect of Magic, this is a sad solution. Some other way of making these cards special besides foiling (full art?) seems vastly preferable to me, but there must be some marketing data somewhere that would prove my assumption wrong.
Impervious Greatwurm and The Haunt of Hightower were closer to what I envisioned from Buy-a-Box cards when they were announced: cards that more casual players may want to acquire in smaller numbers that would be particularly at home in the Commander format. With War of the Spark‘s Buy-a-Box promo however, it seems like an unintuitive interaction with a forgotten-about uncommon might just be enough to get our latest Buy-a-Box promo some run in Standard.
Affinity. Actual affinity. I never thought I’d see the day. If you lived through the dark times of Mirrodin block, you know just how absurdly powerful this mechanic was. Tezzeret gives affinity for artifacts to all of your creatures and planeswalkers.
In most instances my alarm bells would be ringing at the loudest possible value. Thankfully, Tezzeret itself costs six mana. It seems tough to really get all that much value out of a mana reduction ability that only turns on after you’ve cast your six-mana spell. This likely renders the clause a neat nostalgic call-out and an ability that seems tailor-made to shine in Commander games that will likely go long and have a tolerance for very-high-cost permanents. In the world of Standard, though, you’ll have to find an obscure and powerful interaction to ever take advantage of Tezzeret’s static ability to its fullest…
Meanwhile, Tezzeret’s +2 can potentially generate a nice little life boost, or maybe even meaningfully impact your clock if you’ve found a way to get aggressive with artifacts in the early turns. This is a fine ability in the abstract, but when compared to the plus ability on other six-mana planeswalkers, it loses a bit of its luster.
Maybe Tezzeret beats Chandra Ablaze? Not exactly top-tier company.
Meanwhile, the -3 ability is starkly conditional. An artifact must be in your graveyard. It must be useful at this late stage of the game. It must either benefit from Tezzeret’s cost reduction mechanic or you must survive until your next turn to fire it off. I’m not sure how often all these things are going to be true. It’s not useless, but the game has to have played out in a very specific fashion.
Finally, Tezzeret’s -8 ultimate is fine, but again, we must compare it to its contemporaries. Those aforementioned six-mana planeswalkers mostly have ultimate abilities that read, “You’re going to have to try really hard to lose this game.” With the power level of Standard artifacts, it’s not hard to envision putting six or seven artifacts onto the battlefield and accomplishing very little. We should be getting more!
So why, then, after being entirely underwhelmed by every line of text on the card, do I think Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge just might have a shot at seeing play in Standard? It’s all about the infinite combo potential.
Did you find it? I had honestly forgotten Guardians of Koilos was a card until GP Top 8 competitor Adam Hernandez (better known as @Yoman5) clued me in on its interaction with Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge. I’d happily dismiss Guardians of Koilos-based combos in most instances just due to the pain of having to put such a mopey card into my deck. In this instance, though, we don’t even need to play the card in the main.
Basically, we’re looking to do the following. With five artifacts and a Sai, Master Thopterist on the battlefield, we cast Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge. We cast Karn, Master Creator for free. -2 to go get a Guardians of Koilos from our sideboard. Cast Guardians of Koilos for free. Return Karn to hand. Cast Karn for Free. -2 to go get our second copy of Guardians of Koilos. Cast it for free. Return the first Guardians of Koilos to hand. Keep casting and returning Guardians of Koilos until Sai triggers give us a million Thopters. Then +2 Tezzeret and kill our opponent. If something happens to our Guardians, Karn or Tezzeret can always rebuy them on the next turn and try again.
If this all sounds like a lot, it absolutely is. The only reason we can even consider a combo like this is if the core of the deck is completely acceptable on its own. Here, we have a version of Dimir Control that benefits from having some extra card selection and utility in the form of Karn and Tezzeret. All the classic Dimir Control hits are here, and while our combo has eaten up the slots typically reserved for countermagic, we make up for it by having real closing speed and difficult-to-answer threats.
In addition, individual pieces of the combo have a bit of duality to their roles. Sai, Master Thopterist is a kill condition, but his Thopters will also serve as fuel for Tezzeret’s mana discount. Treasure Map simultaneously finds combo pieces and powers them up. Fountain of Renewal will do its best to keep us alive while all of this comes together.
If there is a weak point in the combo chain, it’s likely Karn, the Great Creator. As it stands now, the static ability locking out artifacts is mostly a blank, and our sideboard tool box options are somewhat thin. I initially had some goofy cards like Thran’s Temporal Gateway and Amulet of Safekeeping, but these cards are so narrow as to be almost meaningless. I considered value targets like Runed Servitor or Skyscanner just to make sure Karn was always doing something, but I’m going to start without them first and see if I can just default to grabbing Scrabbling Claws in safe situations. It seems more important to save sideboard slots for Negate and Unmoored Ego against combo and control, and Moment of Craving and Sailor of Means against aggressive strategies.
The Karn, the Great Creator targets that do make the cut consist of our two copies of Guardians of Koilos to combo off with, a Meteor Golem to answer almost everything, a Transmogrifying Wand to answer game-winning threats like Crackling Drake and Thief of Sanity, and an additional Sorcerous Spyglass to shut down opposing planeswalkers or utility lands. There’s also the one-of Scrabbling Claws to default to as a cantrip or cheap affinity enabler in safe situations. It has the bonus of exiling an artifact in your graveyard so it can later be searched up with Karn.
In-game, we fall clearly into the control role, content to chip away at our opponent’s threats while powering-up our two-mana card advantage/selection engine of choice. Sai, Master Thopterist likely should be used proactively against most decks, as Thopter beatdown can force our opponents into awkward stances. Finally, when shields are down, we can slam a Tezzeret and look to move all-in. With five artifacts already on the battlefield, it’s worth noting that the entire combo can be played from hand for only seven mana and three cards. Not the worst rate for an infinite combo when it comes to Standard. Given enough mana, you can enter your combo with less than five artifacts available, since Sai’s trigger will eventually make your Guardians of Koilos free.
Every artifact printed in Standard from this point forward has the capability to add a powerful new wrinkle to this kind of strategy. Furthermore, looking at stained glass tea leaves points to the fact that there is likely another colorless planeswalker waiting for us in War of the Spark. As these moving parts fall into place, I’ll be keeping a careful eye on Tezzeret’s potential in War of the Spark Standard.