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Improvising with Tezzeret in Standard


Hello friends! This weekend I had the opportunity to play in both the StarCityGames Standard Open and Standard Classic that took place in my home city of Dallas, Texas. While the Standard Open itself didn't go so well for me, I did manage to snag a 1st place win in the Standard Classic event on Sunday with one of my favorite style of decks: Tezzeret with lots of artifacts! Let's start by talking about this sweet Grixis Improvise that my good friend Peter McKinney was kind enough to share with me after day 1 of the Open. He also placed 31st with a very similar list!

This is a pile of cards that we haven't seen in Standard for quite a while. I remember when Aether Revolt first came out I saw Tezzeret the Schemer and thought, "I really want to play with this card." It seemed so good. A four-mana planeswalker that starts at a virtual six loyalty, that can also be used twice in-a-row to as removal for opposing creatures. The problem was, this card got overshadowed by some of Standard's bigger issues better cards at the time: Felidar Guardian, Aetherworks Marvel, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Thanks to some bannings and a long overdue rotation, Tezzeret can finally get back into the game with some interesting artifacts and supporting creatures.

The Power Behind Grixis Improvise

The strength of this deck doesn't come from individually powerful cards like we see in Temur Energy or Ramunap Red, but rather from a plethora of synergies between the artifacts. Take a look at Contraband Kingpin for example.

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This is a simple 1/4 creature with lifelink that lets you scry 1 each time an artifact enters play. None of this feels overwhelming powerful at first, but once you follow up with a Cogworker's Puzzleknot, Servo Schematic, or Prophetic Prism you start to see the value to be gained. Being able to scry multiple times repeatedly will allow you to draw better throughout the duration of the game; you'll draw the land when you need it or you'll move the land to the bottom so you're closer to a threat.

This is such a powerful effect not because it occurs just once, but it's likely going to keep happening each turn of the game moving forward. Follow it up with a Pia Nalaar, Maverick Thopterist, or even Tezzeret the Schemer himself to make an Etherium Cell means the scrys keep coming. The ability to ensure your deck functions more consistently isn't something that should be overlooked. We see this a lot in older formats with Serum Visions being played in combo or control decks, or in Legacy with Brainstorm and Ponder. Having control over how your early game develops means you're more likely to survive until the mid-to-late game where the deck starts to shine. In addition to the kingpin, both Renegade Map and Prophetic Prism help you keep less than perfect hands as they'll easily fix any of your mana problems.

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The next biggest artifact synergy takes advantage of the Aether Reveolt keyword Improvise. Similar to Convoke, Improvise let's us cast spells more cheaply than we'd otherwise be able to by using artifacts as generic mana sources. A common sequence of plays is a turn 2 Cogworker's Puzzleknot into a turn 3 Maverick Thopterist followed up by Herald of Anguish on turn 4. That's actually really powerful! The thopterist helps bog down the board so that you can block creatures and buy more time, while also providing you with two more "mana sources" because the thopter tokens can be used for improvising out more cards. Playing an early demon leads to the game swinging heavily in your favor, as it will immediately make your opponent discard a card on your end step and threaten to do so again turn-after-turn, while also killing of their creatures. The card overperformed for me the entire day.

Finally, the deck includes a playset of both Fatal Push and Metallic Rebuke to help answer threats that our opponent throws at us. Fatal Push has been an obvious include in most black-based decks in Standard for a while now. The card performs exceptionally well in this deck as there are more ways than normal to trigger revolt. Over a quarter of the deck can help you revolt without having to attack or block. You can:

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Metallic Rebuke is absolutely incredible in a deck dedicated to ensuring the spell only ever costs 1 mana. This card is as strong as Mana Leak but often at just half the cost. It's very easy to fully Improvise this card from turn 3 and on because simply playing a Cogworker's Puzzleknot or Servo Schematic gives you two artifacts to Improvise off of. This caught quite a few people by surprise on Sunday, as most weren't expecting to get their 4 mana or 5 mana spell countered by a single Island. Metallic Rebuke plays such an important role in this deck. It allows you to develop your board with more threats — assuming we can call a horde of Servos and Thopters threats — while also holding up protection for your payoff creatures or planeswalkers.

Sideboarding Guide

Here's a quick sideboarding guide to help get you started with picking up and playing this deck. Use your best judgment while sideboarding based on what you saw during the previous game(s). Don't side in too many cards or change the deck too much, otherwise that may do more harm than good. When in doubt, leave it as is until you can more accurately determine which cards aren't very helpful to you in certain match-ups.

Ramunap Red

OUT
Sorcerous Spyglass [XLN]Prophetic PrismProphetic PrismThe Scarab God
IN
Battle at the Bridge [AER]Battle at the BridgeBattle at the Bridge [AER]Aethersphere Harvester [AER]

Temur Energy

OUT
Renegade MapPia NalaarPia Nalaar
IN
Sorcerous SpyglassTezzeret's Touch [AER]Tezzeret's Touch [AER]

UW Approach

OUT
Fatal Push [AER]Fatal Push [AER]Fatal Push [AER]Fatal Push [AER]
Renegade Map [AER]Prophetic PrismSorcerous Spyglass [XLN]
IN
Negate [MOR]Negate [MOR]Negate [MOR]Negate [MOR]
Scrapheap Scrounger [KLD]Scrapheap Scrounger [KLD]Scrapheap Scrounger [KLD]

Sultai Energy

OUT
Prophetic PrismPia NalaarPia Nalaar
IN
Battle at the BridgeBattle at the BridgeBattle at the Bridge [AER]

Esper God-Pharaoh's Gift

OUT
Renegade Map [AER]Prophetic PrismPia NalaarPia Nalaar
IN
Sorcerous Spyglass [XLN]Battle at the BridgeNegate [MOR]Negate [MOR]

Tips, Tricks, and Card Interactions

#1. Often times you'll find yourself wanting to activate Cogworker's Puzzleknot at instant speed to create a blocker mid-combat, to trigger revolt, or to get an extra scry off of Contraband Kingpin. Prophetic Prism and Spire of Industry will let you do just that because they can produce white mana. Keep an eye out for this when you have these in play.

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#2. Herald of Anguish's end step triggered ability works surprisingly well in combination with your opponent's The Scarab God end step triggered ability after it dies. Since two triggers are trying to go on the stack at the same time, first your triggers are put on the stack since you are the Active Player (AP), then your opponent's triggers are placed on the stack on top since they are the Non-Active Player (NAP). This means that The Scarab God's ability will resolve first, returning it to your opponent's hand. Hopefully it's empty. Then when the Herald's ability finally resovles, it will discard the god and get rid of it once and for all.

#3. Herald of Anguish's -2/-2 ability also allows you to make very profitable blocks. If your opponent attacks with a 6/6 Angel of Invention, you can give it -2/-2 once and block it with the 5/5 Herald. You don't always have to completely kill off your targets by tossing away artifacts; blocking works just as well if your opponent offers one to you.

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#4. Try to setup turns where you play and activate Tezzeret the Schemer to create an Etherium Cell such that you plan to use it on your opponent's next turn. You can use this free mana source to cast Fatal Push with revolt or to improvise out a cheap Metallic Rebuke. This often can catch opponent's off guard who are used to looking at your mana to see if you can cast spells as opposed to looking at all of your utility artifacts.

#5. Tezzeret the Schemer actually has four planeswalker abilities, one of them is just hidden in the text of the other three. The abilityies are: make an Etherium Cell, kill a creature, make an emblem, and make your own creature stronger. His -2 ability reads "+X/-X," allowing you to strengthen the power of your own creature if you have exactly the right amount of artifacts. This is incredibly useful when paired with lifelink creatures such as Aethersphere Harvester and Contraband Kingpin. I found myself using this hidden "fourth ability" at least once a match. Giving your Aethersphere Harvester +4/-4 because you have exactly four artifacts in play means you now have a 7/1 flying lifelink creature.

#6. There are times where you can bluff not being able to cast a counterspell or use Fatal Push thanks to the mana filtering power of Prophetic Prism. This can be done by intentionally tapping the "wrong colors" of lands such that you only have up basic Swamp or Mountain. Then when your opponent casts a spell that you want countered, use the prism to filter the mana to blue and cast the Metallic Rebuke. While this sounds like a simple and easy bluff that your opponent can avoid, in reality they won't realize the trap until it's too late because they'll be focusing on other parts of the game.

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#7. Sorcerous Spyglass is a unique card that allows you to disable a lot of otherwise difficult-to-deal with abilities. Remember, you don't have to name a card in your opponent's hand; it can be any card legal in the current format. The most common cards to name with the spyglass are:

#8. Since Battle at the Bridge gives creatures -X/-X as opposed to dealing damage, you can use it to get rid of annoying gods like Hazoret the Fervent or Rhonas the Indomitable. There is one creature, however, you want to be careful not to target if you can afford it. That creature is Rampaging Ferocidon. If you use Battle at the Bridge to kill the red dinosaur, it won't actually kill it before you gain the life from the spell. This is because the spell doesn't say "destroy" or "exile" the creature, all it does is lower its power and toughness. A creature with 0 toughness is put into a graveyard but only after the spell has completely resolved. In other words, casting Battle at the Bridge on Rampaging Ferocidon for X = 5 will net you a total of zero life and a dead dinosaur.

#9. As long as there is a Scrapheap Scrounger in your graveyard, your opponent is going to have a hard time stealing your creatures with their own The Scarab God. Make sure to keep mana up so that you can exile a creature in response to the god's ability. This is a fairly edge-case interaction, but it's worth noting given how powerul the blue-black god has become.

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#10. Tezzeret's Touch is a strange enchantment aura that helps turn your artifacts into big attackers or strong defenders. If you use this on a vehicle, such as Aethersphere Harvester it will "override" that creatures original power and toughness. Thus your harvester will permanently remain a 5/5 flying creature. Even if you crew the creature that won't change it's power and toughness. You can also get really creative with Tezzeret's Touch by enchanting your opponent's artifacts. While this won't come up very often, it's worth pointing out because you can use it to turn an equipment into a creature causing it to become unequipped from the creature it was attached to. Equipment that are creatures cannot be equipped to anything [Comprehensive Rule 301.5c].

#11. This last one isn't for everyone but I find it very useful when playing in paper Magic tournaments (not on Magic Online). Use white-bordered basic lands. The reason this is helpful is because this deck takes advantage of Renegade Map for tutoring up basic lands. If you pick up your deck to search for a single Island hidden within 50 other cards of your deck, it becomes a lot easier to find that solo Island if its border is white; it stands out very sharply. Each time you search, this can save you 5-10 seconds or more, which will add up over the course of the match. This is especially helpful for a deck such as Grixis Improvise because there are already so many interactions that require a good bit of thinking.

That's a Wrap

As always, I hope you've enjoyed reading about this new and exciting deck. It may not be the easiest deck to pick up and play but it sure is a ton of fun and rewarding if you learn all of the tricks it has to offer! Let me know if you discover any other cards or techniques you've picked up while playing this Grixis Improvise deck. Feel free to leave a comment or reach out on Twitter @UTDZac.


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