War of the Spark has reinvigorated a love of Magic: The Gathering lore in many, including myself. Each set, each plane, contains a story; and while I haven't been following it as closely as I once did, I found myself enthralled with the story behind this set. The long and short is that Nicol Bolas, in his quest to achieve near-omnipotence, has hatched a scheme to lure and trap planeswalkers in Ravnica so he can harvest their planeswalker sparks to power the spell he needs to achieve his goals.
What that means is that I now find myself in a weird spot where we're on Ravnica yet the two cards from the set I'm most excited to play in Standard happen to also be two of the most important characters from Kaladesh. I'm talking about Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge, the big baddy from Kaladesh, and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer (arguably the bigger villain, if we consider her past transgressions against Standard).
On the surface, Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge isn't that powerful. He costs a whopping six mana, and the -3 ability to rebuy an artifact from your graveyard to your hand is fairly overcosted when considering how much mana you invested into Tezzeret. His ultimate isn't even game winning, like most planeswalker ults are, especially for ones that cost five or more mana. You could easily ultimate Tezzeret and completely brick off.
Tezzeret's static ability to give creatures and planeswalkers affinity is cute, but also not necessarily that impactful when you consider that a six-mana planeswalker is likely going to be one of the last cards you cast from your hand anyway. What excites me most about that ability is that you will often be able to just cast a Karn, Scion of Urza for free using it, but that's assuming you have a Karn, Scion of Urza in hand that you haven't had the chance to cast yet.
So does Tezzeret just suck then? Nah. The ability I didn't mention, Tezzeret's +2 ability, is legitimately powerful. It's powerful enough that I am excited to play with this card predominantly for that ability. Tezzeret immediately jumps to 7 loyalty when you play him and the drain ability will both kill the opponent quickly and also buffer your life total in the meantime. That will put your opponent in a tough spot where they will struggle to muster the damage to kill Tezzeret while also struggling to muster the damage to kill you. Oh, and it also kills them fast enough that they won't have much time to try.
How do we get enough artifacts in play to power up Tezzeret?
Enter Saheeli, Sublime Artificer. Two mortal enemies, Saheeli and Tezzeret, working together at last for the greater good. What greater good? My greater good. They might not see eye to eye when it comes to Nicol Bolas, colloquially known as the Nasty Bolasty, but fortunately they do see eye to eye about something arguably even more important...spewing lots of marginal artifacts into play and then hoping to survive long enough to use those artifacts to power Tezzeret's +2 in hopes that this flimsy combo will kill the opponent.
I like it. I like it a lot.
Blue-Black Frenemies4 Watery Grave 4 Drowned Catacomb 2 Dimir Guildgate 6 Swamp 7 Island 2 Blast Zone 4 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer 2 Sai, Master Thopterist 3 Karn, Scion of Urza 3 Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge4 Treasure Map 4 Fountain of Renewal 4 Orazca Relic 2 Tezzeret, Artifice Master 4 Cast Down 2 Vraska's Contempt 1 Mox Amber 1 Enter the God-Eternals 1 Azor's Gateway
Sideboard3 Negate 2 Duress 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Cry of the Carnarium 2 Ritual of Soot 3 Traxos, Scourge of Kroog 1 Unmoored Ego 2 Hostage Taker
This deck will function for both best-of-one and best-of-three gameplay in the new Standard. For best-of-one gameplay, I would probably include a copy or two of Mastermind's Acquisition and tailor the sideboard to match, since that card is incredibly powerful in the format.
The core idea of the deck is that you use Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Sai, Master Thopterist to generate a lot of cheap artifacts that can both play offense and defensive in various matchups. Any non-creature spell creates an artifact for Saheeli, and any artifact makes a creature for Sai. The problem with Sai is that there simply aren't a whole lot of good artifacts in Standard, so it's easier to rely on more copies of Saheeli than Sai, since Saheeli will make a token from any non-land card in the deck.
The artifact creatures Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Sai, Master Thopterist produce are the fuel of the deck, since they power up Karn, Scion of Urza's -2 ability to make giant constructs, power Tezzeret, Artifice Master to draw 2 cards with the 0 ability, and power Tezzeret to throw down massive Drain Lifes with the +2 ability. Treasure Map performs a similar function, in that it represents three artifacts with one card—artifacts that don't get slain by creature removal, which can likewise power up these cards.
The core cards of the deck are Treasure Map, Fountain of Renewal, Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, Karn, Scion of Urza, and Tezzeret. The rest of the cards are all fairly malleable. I have no idea what mix of removal spells is correct or how many to play. The more removal spells you play, the fewer cards you have to fuel the synergy of the deck, but some amount of removal does seem necessary to not just get steamrolled by creature decks.
The two sweeper effects, Cry of the Carnarium and Ritual of Soot both seem incredibly awkward in that they also kill all of your own creatures. I've decided to leave them on the bench and rely on Sai, Master Thopterist and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer to hold down the fort against creature strategies by spraying the board.
Unfortunately, this deck doesn't take advantage of Saheeli, Sublime Artificer as well as we would like, since Saheeli's -2 ability has very little value. The only creature to copy—Sai, Master Thopterist—is legendary, meaning that will not end well, and the artifacts we can copy aren't great. We can get a scry by copying a Treasure Map, and we can use Orazca Relic or Fountain of Renewal to draw a card, but beyond that we're looking at very occasionally using Saheeli's -2 to turn a Servo into a Karnstruct to attack for a huge chunk. The old chunk and dunk, they call it.
I'm in love with the idea of sideboarding Jin GiTraxos, commonly known as Traxos, Scourge of Kroog, against decks that either can't kill it or that will side out creature removal against us. Good luck with this 7/7 trampling beefstick.
One question I anticipate getting a lot is why not play Karn, the Great Creator? Bryan Gottlieb wrote about Karn and Tezzeret and how Karn, the Great Creator can create an infinite combo with Tezzeret, Sai, Master Thopterist, and five artifacts in play, abusing his static ability to give creatures and planeswalkers affinity for artifacts. You use Karn, the Great Creator to find a Guardians of Koilos from your sideboard, use that to bounce Karn, the Great Creator, replay Karn, the Great Creator, find a second Guardians of Koilos and use the two Guardians to loop each other with a Sai, Master Thopterist in play to generate infinite thopters. Then Tezzeret's +2 ability is lethal.
Personally, I don't think Karn, the Great Creator is very good in Standard as there aren't very many good artifacts. In fact, outside of Treasure Map and—even this is a stretch— Fountain of Renewal, there are almost no worthwhile artifacts to bother getting. While the combo is nifty, I think if you have a Sai, Master Thopterist, five artifacts in play, and a Tezzeret and a Karn, the Great Creator you're probably winning anyway. The combo is quite unlikely to pull off and fairly unnecessary, in my opinion. I'd much rather play Karn, Scion of Urza, which I think is actually one of the massive draws to the deck thanks to the -2 ability being able to play offense and defense incredibly well.
This is the deck that I am most excited for in Standard by a huge margin. In fact, I've been patiently waiting for weeks now to play this deck ever since I saw Tezzeret spoiled that first day. I'm looking forward to coming home after the next Mythic Championship so I can start taking people to the cleaners with this masterpiece.
While the Tezzeret deck abuses Saheeli, Sublime Artificer's ability to churn out artifact creatures, it doesn't take advantage of the -2 ability very well. This next deck on the other hand is the opposite. It doesn't really take advantage of a bunch of 1/1 artifact creatures in quite the same way, but it uses the -2 quite well. I'd like to upgrade my Servo into a Crackling Drake, please and thank you.
One of the most powerful cards in this strategy in the past was Murmuring Mystic. Murmuring Mystic, when paired with cards like Tormenting Voice, Radical Idea and Chart a Course was able to oftentimes single-handedly take over games. The issue with Murmuring Mystic was that it was slow, vulnerable to sweepers or removal on the turn you cast it, and competed with Crackling Drake and hardcast Arclight Phoenix at four mana, which is a problem in a deck playing 21 lands.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer solves a lot of those problems. By virtue of being a planeswalker, it dodges Kaya's Wrath or other sweepers and it comes down on turn three, which encourages play patterns like a turn-three Saheeli, Sublime Artificer followed by playing a few spells on the next few turns to set up and return Arclight Phoenix, followed by playing Crackling Drake and then copying it with a Servo to effectively give the Drake haste.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer gives this deck a completely new dimension, the ability to grind and the ability to go wide. Previously, this Arclight Phoenix strategy was not a major part of the format because it had so many problems in so many matchups. It struggled against control because Cry of the Carnarium handles Phoenix and Electromancer so cleanly, allowing other removal spells to easily Dispatch Crackling Drake. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer changes that dynamic entirely. With Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, any spell makes a threat, meaning that she is an immediate must-answer otherwise she'll take over the game by herself.
This deck also suffered against white aggro strategies because it would often take too long to set up with Arclight Phoenix and Crackling Drake to survive. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer again helps by spewing the board with tokens to chump, trade, and buy time to block and return Arclight Phoenix over and over until it's safe to take the offensive.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer also is a continually growing clock in non-interactive matchups. For example, against a deck like Simic Nexus, Saheeli will continue to make more and more creatures with every Radical Idea cast, which allows this deck to do things like hold up Negate and also apply pressure, instead of having to often pick which of the two it wishes to do.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer actually represents a much faster clock than it seems, because anytime your opponent gets within Crackling Drake range, they are at risk of dying to a Crackling Drake being cast and then Saheeli turning a servo into a Crackling Drake and swinging for a massive chunk of lethality. This allows for additional depth of gameplay in that you can just play a normal interactive game of Magic and then once your opponent is at 10 life, you just one-shot your opponent from nowhere.
It's no surprise that in a set with 36 planeswalkers, there are a surprisingly high number of playable planeswalkers that can fit into decks in Standard. That is very useful for the sideboard of this deck. Esper Control was one of the bad matchups for this deck and Niv-Mizzet, Parun was a fairly ineffectual sideboard card in this strategy because of the nature of the deck. This deck is looking to dump extra lands with filtering spells, not hold them to tap out for a six-mana Dragon and hope it works.
Now this deck doesn't need to rely on Niv-Mizzet, Parun as much, and in fact there's a good chance it shouldn't be in the sideboard at all, since it now has a more robust plan against Esper with a variety of planeswalkers. There is Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, and Ral, Izzet Viceroy already, but now the deck can also play Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, Ral, Storm's Conduit, and other new options, which means that it can actually put pressure on Esper Control in a way that might finally work.
I do not believe Tezzeret will see much play outside of Standard, and likely not much play in Standard either. I don't think Tezzeret is going to be a tier 1 strategy, I'm just really excited to try to make it work anyway and have some fun with it, and who knows, it might be better than I expect.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, on the other hand, could be a huge powerhouse in older formats, especially Legacy. It basically serves as a hybridized role between Young Pyromancer and Monastery Mentor. Hybridized, because while it doesn't have or give prowess like Mentor, it does trigger from any non-creature spell like Mentor does. The tokens basically function like Young Pyromancer tokens otherwise.
Planeswalkers tend to survive better in Legacy, since there are a lot of strategies that basically just ignore them entirely, and decks that do play removal spells generally have cards like Swords to Plowshares, which can take out a Young Pyromancer, but not a Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer could easily serve as a Young Pyromancer for decks that don't want Young Pyromancer because they play too many other non-creature spells, or for decks that want a Young Pyromancer that provides lasting value in the face of removal or sweepers. The -2 ability is also not irrelevant, as it can allow the copying of bigger threats like Gurmag Angler or more. I dream of the day that someone turns a Mox Diamond into a Marit Lage and swings for a "hasty" 20 thanks to Saheeli, Sublime Artificer.
I've become fairly curmudgeonly over my years playing Magic, to the point where new sets and spoiler season doesn't excite me like it once did. That said, I'm actually mustering some amount of excitement this set, which I think will have a pretty big impact on Standard and also older formats like Legacy and Vintage. Even Karn, the Great Creator I expect to be a player in Modern, especially with the sweet combo with Mycosynth Lattice.
With that said, my excitement lays elsewhere. That's right, with all these sweet cards, my excitement falls heavily on a six-mana planeswalker that is worse than multiple other six-mana planeswalkers in the same set and that will be unlikely to even make a big impact on Standard, the only format it will probably see any play in.
I wouldn't have it any other way. We can't choose who we love, and sadly, I find myself drawn to a metal-armed, weasily, mid-level bad guy. In the immortal words of Patrick Henry, "Give me Tezzeret...and give me death, since I probably won't win with it."