The ArtiFacts Of Life

Glenn Jones kicks off his weekly column focusing on lesser-known Modern decks that he sees potential in—well, the potential for fun at least—with Tezzerator.

If you like Modern, you like having fun, and you really like seeing people (especially me) make Magic much harder for themselves, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s start by chatting format. Modern has received some mixed reviews over the past couple years—including from yours truly—but its popularity is clearly on the rise and people are coming to respect it as a legitimate and competitive format. Personally, I like Modern for one simple reason:

You can do some weird sh*t.

I’m not telling you that your homebrew could win the next Grand Prix (though I suppose it theoretically could) or that some decks aren’t much better than all of the others (they definitely are), but the format is large enough and varied enough that you could spend months brewing without repeating yourself and find a lot of decks that won’t dominate the format but will still win plenty of matches and have you grinning like an idiot while your opponent picks up your cards to read them.

Case in point: people were playing Trinket Mage for Amulet of Vigor just a few months ago!

Like Legacy, Modern has a ton of cards creating room to brew, but unlike Legacy it’s got a huge Magic Online audience to support those players by providing constant arenas for battle—and that’s what I find so fun about it. There are tons of bizarre decks, and almost every Daily Event has at least one list that has me right clicking and saving to a Notepad file for future fighting. I keep Magic Online open almost all the time on my desktop so that I can check whether I own a deck at a moment’s notice!

That’s where this column comes in.

I’m here to take one for the team, spending my lonely nights and hard-earned tickets on behalf of the underdog. Who knows, maybe we’ll even win some tournaments!*

I’m going to start you guys off with an easy one. Don’t worry, we’ll be swimming in the deep end soon enough—I’ve got Hedron Crab and Death’s Shadow in mind at a minimum. Today, however, we’re going to talk about a deck with a little bit of history.

Anyone remember this little number from one of the many formats we used to call Extended?

Kenny earned himself a reputation at Pro Tour Berlin, piloting a lockdown control deck into a field rife with Elf Combo. Of course, the key to Tezzeret wasn’t just establishing him—it was protecting him.

Cryptic Card

There are some things Tezzeret can’t beat. For everything else, there’s Cryptic Command.

Kenny’s deck could abuse Tezzeret the Seeker on a level that no one had ever seen before, manipulating the planeswalker’s loyalty for card advantage or tempo as the situation warranted while simultaneously accessing an impressive toolbox of artifacts. Usually two searches would be enough to soft lock any given opponent, and many people were just ice cold to Ensnaring Bridge.

I always liked Tezzerator, but it didn’t last long in Extended. While Nassif missed the Top 8 in Berlin, it turned out that he’d broken it with Mono-Blue Faeries. Elves receded from the spotlight, and the format mostly became Riptide Laboratory vs. Wild Nacatl. Amusingly enough, I won a PTQ with both of those cards in play under my control in the finals.**

Let me hit you with that visual real quick.

Frantic Nacatl

I hear Born of the Gods has a large Lab Cat theme.

Flash-forward to the present day and Extended is no more—but most of the cards in this little gem are still legal in Modern. Truthfully, it never crossed my mind to go for Tezzeret the Seeker until I saw Secher_Bach do exactly that.

This deck will make you work for your wins, often lining up a number of convoluted lines before victory is even achievable. For example, in a game 1 against G/R Tron:

Facing down a turn 3 Karn, I was able to Trinket Mage for Pithing Needle. Then came the Wurmcoil Engines; Tezzeret for Ensnaring Bridge shut those down and stranded Emrakul as well. Last but not least, Tezzeret for Chalice of the Void into my onboard Engineered Explosives for zero allowed me to Academy Ruins the Chalice and cast it with X=3 on the following turn.

Karn Incarcerated

Karn the not-so-Liberated, if you ask me. There’s a reason lock decks were popularly referred to as “prison” back in the day!

That was one of my first games with Secher_Bach’s list, and it immediately sold me on exploring the archetype a little further. At the same time, I was pretty sure it wasn’t good—nothing that involves this much work could possibly be good enough for Modern, right?

But damn if it isn’t fun. Like a Magic crossword puzzle, for all intents and purposes.

The target in today’s Modern metagame is actually not so different from the target in Berlin—Birthing Pod and Elves have some serious similarities. They can both capitalize on an early mana advantage, creating tempo while threatening an overwhelming amount of pressure via their combo kill. You have to defend yourself from their advance without becoming vulnerable to their combo; that’s no easy feat.

The primary difference lies in Pod’s overwhelming versatility. Pod can play any kind of game, and the deck is capable of spinning on a dime and presenting a completely new angle of offense or defense. It’s like fighting The Borg!

Melira of Borg

Take a look at Tezzeret the Seeker (you can hover over the card’s name—technology!) and you’ll see that the man is literally a cyborg! Real cyborgs trump metaphorical cyborgs any day of the week.

Tezzeret the Seeker also functions very similarly to Birthing Pod, with the primary exception being that he summons answers rather than threats. The planeswalker is the threat—left unchecked, he’ll lock out their lines and take over the game before literally killing with the ultimate.

Let’s chat about some of Secher_Bach’s adjustments from Kenny Oberg original concoction. Which tools changed?

-1 Aether Spellbomb
-1 Trinisphere (to the sideboard)
-3 Stifle (of course)
-1 Riptide Laboratory (of course)
-1 Venser, Shaper Savant (no Riptide Laboratory)
-1 Vendilion Clique (to the sideboard, also no Lab)
-1 Miren, the Moaning Well
-4 Chrome Mox

Of these, the most relevant seems to be the loss of Chrome Mox—because it’s, you know, banned—and the subsequent requirement to play more lands. Because Modern is a bit slower than Extended used to be, the Chrome Mox engine may not be as important, but at the same time, I kind of wish we could find out.

Losing Chrome Mox decreases the reliance on Thirst for Knowledge while simultaneously allowing the deck to play stronger lands and additional bullets—including a few that didn’t even exist back in Berlin. You can also play a lower colored card count to facilitate this element of the engine.

Kenny Oberg probably would’ve sold his nephew to the mines for a Spellskite; adding Mox Opal, Torpor Orb, and Grafdigger’s Cage is just delicious buttercream frosting.

+3 Spellskite (certainly shouldn’t be zero or four)
+1 Torpor Orb (taking the metagame-slanted maindeck hate slot from Trinisphere)
+1 Relic of Progenitus (again, different cards for different eras)
+1 Grafdigger’s Cage
+2 Serum Visions (just because I guess?)
+2 Tectonic Edge

A few other minor adjustments to the mana based on sideboard choices and legal lands (goodbye Great Furnace) are also worth noticing but not especially relevant.

These new options are almost an argument in and of themselves. “This deck was decent before; with all the new stuff, it has to be better, right?” Well, yes and no.

For one, Riptide Laboratory really was just that awesome back in the day.

For two, all of the other decks got new cards too!

Fighting against some of the nonsense Modern decks are capable of can be very difficult for a deck so heavily reliant on specific answers, especially in the context of format diversity. For example, this deck is a joke against Scapeshift in the main. Kenny didn’t have that problem because Valakut didn’t even exist!

Some powerful decks are easier to address than others—see Torpor Orb and Spellskite against Twin—but others, like Scapeshift, require massive sideboard maneuvers to do anything about your vulnerability. That’s an incredibly significant cost that gets progressively more expensive every time you have to pay it.

It’s a brand new world out there, quite frankly, and it’s tough for a lock deck to make it. Modern doesn’t just have combo decks—it has lots of combo decks, with many different angles and answers. Even the fair decks have some very potent synergies!

Turn 2 Liliana of the Veil that is [very difficult to beat].

Moving forward, my experience tells me that you don’t want three Spellskites, and the Serum Visions just aren’t good at all. It might seem intuitive to play more Vendilion Cliques to solve your combo problem, but realistically that’s never going to get there—I think Clique is actually worse in this deck than it used to be, as the format is just not vulnerable to a 3/1 flying beater and the combo decks are too resilient to care, plus you frequently want Torpor Orb in play.

An extra Ensnaring Bridge is worthwhile because it’s the toughest piece to replace if the opponent removes it; Bridge has a tendency to Decay Abruptly in some matchups where you really need it to stay sturdy.

Serum Visions sucks. It’s just really bad at basically everything that it does, and we should feel bad for being forced to play with it. Oddly enough, the card I’d most like to try in that slot is See Beyond, which can shuffle back useless bullets while helping you to continue making land drops.

A Signet may help as well, but I wouldn’t want to go overboard on those. One should suffice, if you are so inclined. I’m not. If you do play a Signet, might I recommend Orzhov Signet?

Oh, you’d like to know why?

Well, it starts with Crucible of Worlds. I played a singleton Crucible earlier this year in a U/W/R Control shell, and it was fantastic. It’s not just a source of card advantage—and in this deck, Academy Ruins insurance—but it also opens you up to some sweet sideboard plans. The Gifts package for Expedition Map + Crucible of Worlds + Academy Ruins + Mindslaver was very strong in Gerry’s U/W Tron deck. You could dedicate a few slots to the Unburial Rites + Elesh Norn + Terastodon / Iona combination as well, and Orzhov Signet can be searched for and casts both sides of Unburial Rites.

Sure, that would mean your sideboard is basically just Blood Moons, Gifts, Gifts targets, and a couple catchall removal spells—but that sounds pretty good to me! Ancient Grudge is overrated and access to Elesh Norn might just be more useful. Rites into Elesh Norn has been a home run game plan for me in many Modern matchups, often translating into a win even if the Pod player could scramble their way into Phyrexian Metamorph—a play that is now impossible.

A couple Gifts could find their way into the maindeck if the See Beyonds don’t work out, as you can usually just fetch a few powerful spells and put the opponent into a bind, but I’d really like to try the See Beyonds first. If you want to main some Gifts, I’d encourage a bullet Expedition Map to set up game 1 Tectonic Edge locks in control mirrors!

The biggest concern I have with the Gifts sideboard—and even the deck in general—is that Scavenging Ooze negatively affects a lot of these fancy pants plans. Maybe some Dismembers could belong somewhere to make this less problematic, or Aether Spellbomb? If you bounce the Ooze and then Gifts, there’s nothing to stop Elesh Norn from dominating the game. It largely depends on how much Ooze moves into Modern, but I don’t really have any problem “experimenting” for now. After all, it’s pretty easy to recommend things in a vacuum with no experience or rational logic—politicians and college students do it all the time.

I’d start here:

I did consider an extra Mox Opal or two, but I’m not certain how useful that interaction with the new legend rule actually is in this deck. Time will tell. If you really want to put your Todd Anderdon tokens to good use, Nasty Terasty is an excellent sideboard option as well.

You may need some Sharpie errata.

Todd Anderdon

The sideboard is obviously totally experimental, but it offers a number of radical shifts that assault the opponent from very different vectors than the maindeck. That’s my favorite kind of sideboarding—the sort that leaves someone regretting how they’ve adjusted their own deck because they’re fighting the wrong fight.

Note that you can’t board in the Gifts + Rites combo and Blood Moon unless you’re going All The Way, which basically means just trying like crazy to snag games against Scapeshift or some other combo deck / horrible matchup. Mostly, you’ll alternate between Gifts + Rites and Gifts + Crucible, with Blood Moon coming in alongside the former against decks like Tron and U/W/R. I think the Moons are still worthwhile—frankly, they just win a lot of games!

My cauldron is on empty—I hope you enjoyed the show. If you’ve ever got a hot tip on a weird deck, ship it my way and you might see it grace the pages of this very column in the future. You’ll be able to find all of my relevant contact info at the bottom of every article.

Glenn Jones



*Don’t count on it.

**I bet you thought you were clever for deducing that I used Vedalken Shackles to engineer this situation. WRONG!

It was Threads of Disloyalty.