Making Urza sing


Another weekend in the trenches and yet another strong showing for Urza, High Lord Artificer!

This past weekend I managed to Top 8 the Team Trios SCG Open in Richmond with an updated version of the Urza Sword deck I piloted to a Top 16 finish at the most recent Mythic Championship in Barcelona.

Before I get into the deck I played, I’d like to introduce myself quickly. The team series has come to an end, but I’ve stayed on with Face to Face Games to continue bringing you high level content and strategy! I’m 36 years old, been playing Magic since 1993, and I’m also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. Some of my proud accomplishments in Magic are: 8 GP Top 8’s (two victories), 14 SCG Open Top 8’s, Invitational Winner, and I’ve been a mainstay on the Pro Tour the last few years. Recently, I’ve started to stream regularly (mostly Modern), on Tuesday Thursday and Sunday evenings around 8 p.m. EST. So if you like my content and are interested in keeping up with my game, come hangout!

Now, back to my regular scheduled Urza ramblings.

This deck is a never ending puzzle. You have access to all the colours in Magic, and outside of the fact that you have to build around your artifact synergies, you can really play whatever you want. What’s been the biggest challenge is deciding on which interactive cards I want to play. Should I stick to three or four colours and focus on Galvanic Blast and Thoughtseize? Or do I want to stretch the deck even further to make room for Assassin’s Trophy and Teferi, Time Raveler?

These are the questions that have been difficult to manage while iterating on this archetype. When you have access to it all, how do you make a decision?

Modern is a tricky sandbox right now. Obviously the continued dominance of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis informs a lot of your decisions. You need your Ensnaring Bridges and sideboard graveyard hate. But, trying to figure out what the rest of the metagame will look like and how to tackle that is quite tricky.

Like I said in my last article, I personally think that if you play tight, Urza is a favourite against Hogaak, and that’s a great place to start in Modern. This time, I want to take you through my process of working on the deck, and how I eventually ended up at my Richmon list.

With this version of the deck I used a pretty unique method to come to my final list. I built the deck in groups of cards. To start I assembled a list of the cards that were most prominent in successful versions of the deck, these are what I would call the “must haves” that I wanted to start from and then build around:

This is only 30 cards (exactly half the deck). We haven’t even begun choosing our second colour yet and that’s one of the toughest choicest with the archetype. Before we do that let’s go over some of the things the deck needs that many other top pros have been begun agreeing on. Mox Opal needs more artifacts to enable metalcraft and Chromatic Star slots in nicely to make that happen. Four Chromatic Stars may be too many, but at least two is a good starting point. You want two copies of Sword of the Meek just to be safe and the same is true of Ensnaring Bridge. To be solid against Hogaak maindeck we need two to three copies of graveyard hate. Thopter Foundry is a card we always want to draw so that should be kicked up to four copies.

After updating our deck to the current metagame, this puts us up to 36 cards, but we still need to build out our manabase. The most common amount of lands in these decks is 20 and after extensive testing I believe that’s the correct amount. So, with 24 maindeck slots remaining, half of them must go to lands. We are then left with 12 slots to play around with. That means we’ve got to figure out what colours we want to play. Let’s run through the options:

At first glance it may seem that Esper gives us the largest number of options to build our deck — but it’s not just about options, I’m looking to build the most powerful deck possible. Also going straight Esper eliminates many of the multicoloured options that a double splash could afford us. One of the primary tensions with building this deck is that because we’re base-Grixis, we’re forced to splash to interact with problematic permanents like Leyline of the Void or Stony Silence. Here are the options I like best:

All of this in mind, I think it’s best to take each colour variant and assess their  strengths and weaknesses to find what works best. The easiest place to start is pairing the blue with either black or white. These colours obviously cast Thopter Foundry best which can be a deckbuilding tension. Let’s start with the black and see what the deck looks like:

Black gives us a solid 46 maindeck cards, with ten of our remaining 14 slots needing to be more lands. From here we would just need to fill in those lands and four slots with things cards that can help smooth out our draws. For this I started with Serum Visions in order to better find our combo pieces and interactive cards:

Next let’s try white. An Azorius-based Urza deck I’d start with a shell like this:

As far as limiting ourselves to two colours gos, these are obviously the only two options available. They offer consistency and a reasonable power level. But, our deck has such amazing mana that I think it’s worth trying to stretch the build further to gain access to some unique interactive cards. Modern is a diverse format, so having access to unique catch-all answers is extremely powerful. The next step was to start looking at the three-colour variants: Jeskai, Sultai, Grixis and Esper.

All four of these above version have pros and cons. Grixis and Jeskai offer some very efficient creature removal options that allow you to stave off aggressive starts in order to stabilize behind an Urza. With the exception of Grixis, they also allow for you to gain access to unique multi-colour spells that interact with some of the hateful sideboard options people try to beat you with. The initial builds of Urza struggled to interact with artifact hate, planeswalkers and enchantments, but cards like Teferi and Assassin’s Trophy give you a way to get out from underneath those troublesome effects.

Now let’s try going one step further.

When we include a fourth or a fifth color the manabase undergoes a few changes. We no longer can support the Gemstone Caverns, Inventor’s Fair or  Darksteel Citadel. With that said, those three lands are already questionable inclusions in some of the three-colour builds in the first place — there really is nothing better than good mana. Instead of those utility lands, you’ll want the additional support of Spire of Industry to ensure you can cast your spells]. With eight fetches you’ll want to make sure you are playing at least six basics. If you play nome fetches you can go down to five basics, but that’s as far as you’ll want to stretch that.

After some testing I actually ended up stretching my deck to have access to all five colours in small numbers. The key here is that you’re still a base-blue deck. You want to limit your splashes to only the most important effects:

Let’s talk strengths and weaknesses.

Two Colours

The straight forward Dimir build is sleek and smooth, but vulnerable to problem permanents like Karn, the Great Creator, Chalice of the Void and Collector Ouphe. Our sideboard options are strongest with black, but without green we lose the flexibility of some of the best cards in Modern. The control matchup also gets weaker because our threats are less adaptable.

The two-colour Azorius build is similarly sleek and smooth. Because we are forced to fill the empty space with cards like Serum Visions — which helps us find Urza, but isn’t a high powered card. The white gives us Teferi, Time Raveler which makes maindeck hate cards like Karn less powerful against us. The downside to the white build as opposed to black is our sideboard suffers a lot. The better white sideboard cards in Modern hate on our own deck and we are forced to play more expensive answers to combat the hate cards (like Detention Sphere).

Three Colours

Three-colour builds gain the advantage of additional powerful combo interactions like Goblin Engineer and Sword of the Meek. Our removal improves with Galvanic Blast and Assassin’s Trophy’s versatility. Pyrite Spellbomb vastly improves our Humans matchup and our sideboard options start to become much better across the board.

Four/Five Colours

The five-colour builds get to play the most powerful choices, but may also be less consistent. Usually we lose a step against decks like Burn in order to get our mana setup, but we’re much better setup to tackle the midrange and control decks after board.

So which list is the best?

This is the big question, and I don’t think the definitive answer exists yet. However, for Richmond I decided to push the build as far as I could. I ended up playing all five colours and was able to ride the high power level of my build all the way to the Top 8.

In my next article I’m planning on working through my sideboard plans in order to better explain why I chose to go the direction for the event. Here’s my Top 8 list:

Before I wrap-up though let’s go over some of the cards people are playing that I don’t like and don’t recommend. I’ll also explain the why of each card:

Karn, the Great Creator

Karn is over-costed for the curve of the deck, takes up too much space in the sideboard and is really hard to protect. To me the biggest perk here is it wipes Chalice of the Voids out really well.

Mind Stone

A mainstay of the old KCI decks, Stone only ramps into one card in our deck (Urza). After thoroughly testing I’ve found that it’s extremely rare for us to crack Mind Stone and it’s a huge brick with Astrolabe. I just prefer how smooth Chromatic Star is and don’t think ramping on two matters enough of the time to justify playing Stone.

Sai, Master Thopterist or Monastery Mentor

There’s a conflict with these cards where you want to progress your gameplan, but also conserve your cheap rocks in order to trigger them. it can be extremely costly to weaken your Urza draws in order to enable these midrange threats and I find that even when you go off with them it’s not back-breaking enough to justify the cost.

Spine of Ish Sah

Seven mana is a lot, you can cheat it into play with Whir sometimes but that is a rarity. I’ve just found that this card is just as likely to rot in your hand and cost you a game than win it for you. I much prefer stretching the mana for more efficient answers.

Mystic Forge

In the Hogaak metagame this card being a brick with Grafdigger’s Cage rules it out as a maindeck option. It’s probably fine as a singleton tutor target for Whir. As we move forward I think this card is solid in the non-Engineer versions with a ton of colourless cards.

Dead of Winter

Sweeping the board post-board doesn’t do a whole lot except a lot of the metagame with the exception of Humans. This card is mostly effective against midrange creature-based strategies and the meta just doesn’t include enough of these anymore. One-Drop spot removal is more important in order to improve your matchups against Burn, Infect, Hardened Scales and the like.

I’ll wrap here for now, but like I was saying before. Keep an eye out for part 2 of my Urza coverage when I’ll be discussing sideboarding for this deck that you can use at your next event!. I’m always available via social media outlets if anyone wants to discuss this deck more. Over time I am confident people will continue to find additional cards to improve the power level even further. I’m confident this will be a force to reckon with in Modern for years to come.

Thanks for reading!