This time of the year in Magic is particularly odd for me. It’s the summer, so it’s Nationals season, which means there are no Grand Prix and no Pro Tours for quite a while. That means my time playing Magic is limited to occasionally battling on Magic Online, since Ben Rubin departure for Curacao left me without any San Diego area testing partners. While M12 may be on sale in the real world this week, it won’t be hitting the virtual shelves for a while now. That makes the actual Magic I play somewhat disconnected from what’s going on in the real world.
Just how much M12 will shake up Standard remains to be seen, but the format was already in enormous upheaval after the recent bannings, so it’s hard for anyone to claim to have their finger on the pulse of the formatâ€”let alone me, what with my zero games played with any of the new cards. I’m going to have to start preparing for Nationals soon, but unlike for Pro Tours, my usual test crew isn’t getting together before the event to sort everything out. That leads me trying to use the resources at my disposal to learn as much as I can on my own.
Right now, what does that mean? While I’m going to be in touch with the usual suspects via Facebook, reading decklists is no substitute for actually playing Magic. I’m going to try to get some live games in over the next few weeks with fellow So Cal players like Paul Rietzl and Matt Sperling, but they’re not exactly an easy couple of guys to get to commit to sitting down and gaming, so I can’t rely on that as my only source of practice.
What I can do is play Magic Online. Yes, Magic Online is missing M12 and will be for the entire duration of my testing period, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it. There are only so many new cards in M12, and some strategies don’t really change that much at all. Granted, I probably wouldn’t want to bank on the relevance of my results playing against pre-M12 Mono Red, but decks like Valakut, Vampires, Tempered Steel, and Splinter Twin are going to be relatively similar to what’s available right now.
The most important thing is that the deck that I’m testing isn’t likely to change too much with M12. If I’m going spend time to learn the ins and outs of a particular deck, the last thing I want to do is spend that time learning about a deck that only has half of the same cards by the time the new set is taken into account. Thankfully, I had just such a deck in mind.
Now, for those of you who have been keeping up with my articles, this deck probably looks familiar. It’s the port of Shouta Yasooka’s GP Singapore deck that I mentioned a few weeks back. While I think many U/B Control decks and many people’s takes on Tezzeret will change substantially with the introduction of M12 and Solemn Simulacrum, this particular deck is built around a card that has slowly become one of my favorites in the formatâ€”Torpor Orb.
My first impression of Torpor Orb, like that of many others, was “too little, too late.” A lot of people looked at the Orb when it came out and wanted it to be a solution to the Caw-Blade menace, but it was simply too slow to stop Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic coming down turn two on the play. Despite that initial disappointment, I decided to play a few copies of the Orb in the sideboard of my Certarch deck at GP Singapore, primarily intended as an answer to Splinter Twin decks.
To say Torpor Orb worked well in that matchup would be an understatement. I won a game in which I was stuck on a Drowned Catacomb and an Inkmoth Nexus for mana literally the entire game simply because I played a turn two Torpor Orb, which shut down my opponent’s hand of Sea Gate Oracles, Manic Vandals, Deceiver Exarchs, and Inferno Titans, and I eventually killed him with that same Inkmoth Nexus pumped several times by a Steel Overseer.
While Torpor Orb was great in the Certarch deck, it’s even better here. One of the dangers of playing a control deck in a format filled with Valakut and Splinter Twin is the threat of something terrible happening to you if you ever tap out and leave your guard down for a single turn. Rather than wait to sculpt the perfect hand of Spreading Seas and removal to be able to handle a resolved Primeval Titan against Valakut or just tap out and pray you don’t die against Twin, with Torpor Orb you can just play your threats as you please and then use your removal spells or Tumble Magnets to take care of your opponent’s plays; you can then continue to go about your business.
This ability to take a more aggressive position in these matchups is huge. For a great example of this, watch the matches I play against Valakut in my videos I did with this deck, where I’m able to play Consecrated Sphinx and Tezzeret very aggressively and force them to react to what I’m doing rather than the other way around.
Consecrated Sphinx is the go-to creature here rather than Grave Titan in part because Torpor Orb shuts off the Titan’s come into play ability, but also because it’s simply insanely powerful. Both creatures are typically going to win you the game if they survive for more than a turn or two, and both of them have the magic six toughness to survive Dismember. One thing I particularly like about Sphinx, though, is that it doesn’t even have to attack to completely dominate the game. I can’t tell you the number of Grave Titans I’ve kept locked down under a Tumble Magnet in my day, or that I’ve seen fall to the icy grip of Frost Titan. Sphinx absolutely requires a removal spell very quickly, or it will cause the game to spiral completely out of control, and that’s the kind of finisher I can get behind.
Tezzeret’s biggest claim to fame was that he was once the best answer to an opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Now that big Jace is gone, a lot of people seem to have moved away from the Agent of Bolas, but I think he remains incredibly powerful. While Tezzeret requires certain deckbuilding concessions to make him work, the payoff is huge. His ability to create a stream of 5/5 creatures can work both on offense and on defense, and his impulse ability can generate a huge advantage over the course of a few turns. He’s no Jace, TMS, but that’s not a comparison that we need to make in Standard anymore.
A big question that arose in the forums of my last article was whether a deck like this one has enough artifacts to use Tezzeret effectively. At the time, I hadn’t played much with the list, but now that I’ve gotten some games under my belt, I feel like I can definitively say that it does. Tezzeret isn’t as powerful here as it was in my Certarch deck, by any means, since he doesn’t threaten a lethal drain life the first turn after you +1 him, but that’s not the primary use for him here anyway. Most often, I find myself playing Tezzeret on turn four (or turn three if I had a Chalice draw) and using the +1 ability to dig. While the deck only has 12 artifacts to hit in the main deck, with a five-card impulse, you’re going to find something substantially more often than not. While it sucks when you miss, it’s not a horrible fateâ€”you still have a Tezzeret in play that you get to use the next turn!
One thing that playing Tezzeret does do in this deck is require certain sideboarding concessions. While Torpor Orb is awesome against some of the field, it’s certainly not the best against decks like Mono Red or Vampiresâ€”though it’s actually not bad against the latter if they have both Gatekeeper and Manic Vandal. With that in mind, we need a certain number of artifacts in our sideboard to bring in against those decks where we’re taking out Torpor Orbs in order to maintain the power level of our Tezzerets.
That’s where Spellskites come in. Spellskite is a downright awesome card that I might end up playing in my sideboard anyway, but the fact that it helps keep my artifact count up is particularly sweet. Spellskite is a great blocker and burn-soaker against beatdown decks, and also gives you yet another must-remove card against Splinter Twin if they want to actually try to kill you with their combo.
The other card in the sideboard intended for when you board out your Torpor Orbs is Trinket Mage. I actually had Trinket Mages in the main of an earlier version of the deck, but the poor interaction with Orb made me move them to the sideboard. The idea behind Trinket Mage is that it’s a relatively inexpensive threat against other control decks that can serve to pressure their Jace Belerens while somewhat increasing your effective artifact count and providing card and mana advantage by fetching Everflowing Chalice or Hex Parasite for cleanup duty.
Trinket Mage for Hex Parasite is especially appealing in a world where Pyromancer Ascension is a real deck, and depending on just how real it is, Nihil Spellbomb might be worth a look as well. I had a copy of Elixir of Immortality in the version I played in the Daily Event so my Mages would be stronger against Red, and that might be an idea worth revisiting, but that’s something that I’ll have to figure out with more testing. Peace Strider is another card that I considered, both here and in my Certarch deck as an anti-beatdown measure. A lot of people laughed at it when I mentioned it in Singapore, and I ended up playing Batterskull instead, but the lower cost and immediate life gain even if it dies are both appealing, especially in a world likely to be full of Mono Red decks.
But when we’re looking at four-cost artifact creatures, though, it’s hard to pass up Solemn Simulacrum. It’s also possible that the sideboard just wants Jens for most of the matches where Torpor Orb comes out. Simulacrum does a great deal of what you want against both the beatdown and control decks where you don’t want Orb, providing you with acceleration, the ability to attack planeswalkers, and the ability to defend yourself, while being an artifact for Tezzeret the entire time. In fact, it might be the case that you’d rather have Solemn Simulacrum in the main deck and move the Torpor Orbs to the sideboard, but that’s something I’ll have to address when I can actually play with M12. I actually think M12 makes me more likely to want the Torpor Orbs, if only because opposing Simulacrums make my Orbs that much better in quite a few matchups. When Orb shuts down not only Primeval Titan but also one of Valakut’s accelerators, it’s more than earning its keep.
It’s quite possible the deck needs significantly more action against Tempered Steel, which has exploded in popularity online, at least. Both of my losses in my recent Daily Event were to Tempered Steel, which was a big part of my motivation in shifting my removal suite toward a mixture of Doom Blade and Go for the Throat in the main deck, with additional Go for the Throat copies in the sideboard. If Tempered Steel remains popular in the real world, I could see adding some number of Ratchet Bombs to the sideboard to help combat it, though that might be the wrong card against modern versions of the deck since Phyrexian mana cards stagger the costs so much. I’d also consider trying out Contagion Clasp, which is both a nice removal spell against Tempered Steel and a potential value card with Magnets, Chalices, and planeswalkers against control decks in the long game.
I’ve got a long list of things I want to try with this deck, most of which I can do without waiting for M12 to find its way to Magic Online. While it’s not the optimal situation for testing, it’s better than nothing, and right now it’s all I’ve got. See you in the 2-man queues!
Until next time,