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Blue Black Tezzeret in Modern

Hi there Gray Merchant readers!
I have been playing Blue-Black Tezzeret featuring Thopter-Sword combo in the Modern League and received many questions about the deck. What follows is an introduction to the archetype. I don’t write much these days, so let me know if you found the format useful and please feel welcome to ask any questions in the comments section.

The State of Modern

Modern is a very fast format, often referred to as “the turn four format”. While not all games actually end by turn four, one player will often develop an edge which can then ridden to victory. To be relevant in the format a deck needs a proactive plan which operates within this time frame. If not setting up a win, there must be enough interaction to disrupt the opponent. This is the proven path to success in Modern and it won’t change any time soon.

An important lesson in Magic theory is understanding the relationship between proactive cards and reactive cards. Basically if you are playing proactive cards and they are playing reactive cards, they need to draw the right reactive cards or you just win. Creatures and Planeswalkers are both proactive, but Path to Exile is not good against both. If you both draw threats, the game becomes a race and you hope to make it to the finish line first. The aggressiveness of decks in Modern makes this interaction much more pronounced than Standard, since reactive cards like counterspells can already be useless by turn two. You must be proactive, hopefully make them react to you.

It’s been a few weeks since the unbanning of Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision in Modern and at this point in time, it’s safe to say they have not had a substantial impact on the format (this is a good thing!). These are not proactive cards. They’re slow and might not win you the game despite resolving them. Still, unbans are great and these are exciting times as the format feels exciting and new again.

So what is Blue-Black Tezzeret about?

The deck is all about its namesake, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. While the deck features the Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry combo (“the combo”), they are supplemental to the Tezzeret gameplan: resolve a Tezzeret, protect it for a few turns, and then win the game in short order.

Tezzeret is powerful enough to justify this plan. He finds you relevant cards, can protect himself and pressure the opponent and his ultimate can OTK your opponent or put you out of reach very quickly. It’s very hard to lose after activating Tezzeret a few times.

With that established, the deck is a midrange deck built around Tezzeret. The combo, in addition to Batterskull and Thirst for Knowledge help to pull the deck together, while the artifact mana allows the deck to play ahead of curve. You can take the lead early by accelerating out a Planeswalker, or you can control the board with removal leading into the combo.

What is the list?

The established best approach to the archetype derives from Shota Yasooka’s GP Kobe Top 16 decklist. My list for the first two weeks of the Modern league is very similar to Yasooka’s, basically just removing some of his niche artifacts for the combo pieces. Surprisingly, the deck did not need much more than that to be very competitive in testing.

Here’s my list from Rounds 1 and 2 of the league:

Artifacts (18)
Batterskull
Dimir Signet
Mox Opal
Relic of Progenitus
Sword of the Meek
Talisman of Dominance
Thopter Foundry

Spells (21)
Damnation
Disfigure
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Inquisition of Kozilek
Liliana of the Veil
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Thirst for Kowledge
Lands (21)
Academy Ruins
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Darksteel Citadel
Inkmoth Nexus
Island
River of Tears
Swamp
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Curse of Death's Hold
Damnation
Devour Flesh
Duress
Flashfreeze
Glen Elendra Archmage
Grafdigger's Cage
Negate
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Pithing Needle
Spellskite

Overall it performed well, narrowly beating Burn (2-1) and Wilted Abzan (2-1). I would describe both matchups as unfavourable and both my opponents played very well, so I was very happy to walk away with two hard fought victories.

What is good about the deck?

  • Fun!
  • It isn’t in my character to sell a deck on enjoyment, but the games so far have been the most fun I have had with any deck in any format. You see lots of cards, make powerful plays and always have so much to think about. There’s a lot of board management with how to use your spell lands, how much damage to take on Tezzeret, whether you want to play for the combo and so on. The deck is both challenging and rewarding. Games play out in different ways which keeps it exciting.

  • Great matchups with the highly interactive decks.
  • Modern is split into two camps: un-interactive linear decks aggro/combo and slower interactive “fair” decks. You beat up on the second camp really harshly. Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, Path to Exile, and even Kolaghan’s Command just do not phase you too much in practice. Unless your opponent is mounting heavy offense at the same time, eventually you will assemble some kind of engine and take the lead. Importantly, you can play a Thopter Foundry late in the game – even in the face of removal – and still make a board full of Thopters which is usually sufficient against these decks.

What’s bad?

  • You can still lose to the un-interactive decks.
  • None of the matchups are particular bad because you can always draw an opening hand with cheap discard and removal. Some of the matchups are actively good (eg: Living End). I just do not want to give you the impression this archetype avoids the weakness shared by all the fair decks in Modern – sometimes the linear decks just get you and you have to accept that. You have a lot of room for tailoring in the sideboard if you know what decks specifically you have to beat.

  • Modern hate cards are a beating.
  • Tezzeret is similar in many ways to Affinity – you have an unreasonably strong Game 1 against fair decks, but after sideboard they get powerful hate cards to even the field. One for one artifact removal not complimented by heavy pressure is mostly irrelevant, and while Ancient Grudge and Shattering Spree are better they do little against an active Tezzeret. I have won games against the dreaded turn 2 Stony Silence, but you are very weak to it. Discard and counterspells do help a little. I would say you are more resilient to sideboard cards than Affinity, and that deck is often surprisingly resilient.

What’s next?

I have had such a great time I will certainly keep working on the deck and will likely play it in events when my suspension ends.

No doubt there are improvements to be found, especially in the sideboard. Damnation and cheap interaction were the best performing cards for me, so I would want more of those effects.

I found Liliana of the Veil to be pretty bad in the deck. While activating her +1 to discard a Sword of the Meek is awesome, she is otherwise unimpressive in the deck. When Yasooka played the deck, there was no combo, so trading your underpowered artifacts or excess lands for their real cards made a lot of sense. Now with the combo in the deck, there is a substantial draw back to pitching excess mana sources because you will not be able to make as many Thopters if you only get one opportunity to do so. Given how frequently even one turn of making Thopters wins the game, this downside of Liliana was unacceptable, so she was cut.

I have not determined the best anti-Stony Silence plan. I liked the idea of more Planeswalkers, but given Stony Silence can shut down so much of your mana it can be hard to make them work. Pack Rat was recommended to me and tested well, as the deck plays cheap acceleration and draw threes to supercharge the rat. Seeing this I switched Inkmoth Nexus to Mutavault to supplement this sideboard plan. Unsurprisingly, given how bad spot removal is against you in Game 1, opponents are usually hard pressed to deal with discard into Pack Rat post-board.

Here’s a work in progress list you can try out:

Artifacts (20)
Batterskull
Dimir Signet
Mox Opal
Relic of Progenitus
Sundering Titan
Sword of the Meek
Talisman of Dominance
Thopter Foundry

Spells (19)
Damnation
Disfigure
Dismember
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Inquisition of Kozilek
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Thirst for Kowledge
Lands (21)
Academy Ruins
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Darksteel Citadel
Mutavault
River of Tears
Sea Gate Wreckage
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Damnation
Duress
Flashfreeze
Glen Elendra Archmage
Grafdigger's Cage
Pack Rat
Negate
Spellskite

If you play any games, let me know how it goes and whether you would make any changes.

Thank you to Joe Fox for suffering through testing with me, and Richard Owen for hours of theory-crafting.

Regards

Zem.

  • Josh Alexander

    This looks very similar to the list I ran a little over a year ago! Definitely a fun time, and you get to beat up on Midrange stuff. I would recommend looking into Kalitas in the main or side, and possibly to replace Batterskull, now that the meta has shifted to Burn and Abzan.

    • James Nicolas Fazzolari

      Thanks Josh, thats a great recommendation. I see Kalitas more as a sideboard card (as I dont run a lot of removal) with narrow but very powerful applications. Ill definitely make space.

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