Urza’s back, baby.
I said it when [Card]Mox Opal[/Card] got banned and I proved it this past weekend, even after the bans this is one of the top decks in all of Modern.
I’m coming to you fresh off a Starcity Games Team Open victory this past weekend in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, I was on the Modern seat as usual. And been working played a Dimir Urza list that is a combo/control-oriented build I’ve been working on and streaming over the past month. It’s funny to look back now, but the idea actually originated from my article on this very website back at the beginning of the month when the bannings were announced.
If you follow competitive magic then you were probably watching the SCG Opens these past couple weekends. Team BCW has been making a splash with our innovative takes on Urza like Temur at the Temur version we brought to Columbus to kick off the year.
For this Event my Dimir build was homegrown and unique. Peter Ingram was our Pioneer seat playing the new Inverter Dimir deck and to round out the team Corey Baumeister was in the Standard seat piloting Azorius Control (way to ruin the Dimir Theme Corey).
I was fortunate enough to only lose once the entire tournament with my brew which is a heck of a feeling. Funny thing is, I could have played better and been undefeated. Corey went a Smooth 13-3 with his build and Pete came through in several clutch scenarios. If you’re anything like me though, you’re more interested in Modern than those other formats. Here’s the deck list I ran for the event:
[Deck Title= First Place, SCG Richmond, Dimir Urza – Eli Kassis]
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
4 Mishra’s Bauble
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Pithing Needle
1 Sword of the Meek
2 Talisman of Dominance
2 Thopter Foundry
3 Archmage’s Charm
2 Cryptic Command
1 Drown in the Loch
3 Fatal Push
3 Whir of Invention
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
6 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Field of Ruin
2 Flooded Strand
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Mystic Sanctuary
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Sunken Hollow
1 Watery Grave
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Torrential Gearhulk
2 Aether Gust
3 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Battle at the Bridge
1 Dead of Winter
A lot of the numbers may appear odd, but they came as a result of a ton of testing. [Card]Deprive[/Card] pulls off the [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card] combo with [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] (which is a key to the deck) for just two mana. This can be especially important for when your opponent is trying to overwhelm you with multiple spells in a turn. The [Card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/Card]s and [Card]Thoughtseize[/Card] are primarily meant to take cards that will slow down the opponent’s game plan so that you’re able to get your various engines online.
If you can make it to turn three or four only slightly impeded, often you can seize the game. This deck is often working to assemble one of a couple virtual “locks” so the ability to poke a whole is really valuabele. The original Urza combo is back alive again ([Card]Sword of the Meek[/Card] + [Card]Thopter Foundry[/Card] + Urza) and allows you access to infinite life, Thopters and card draw. Having Thopter/Sword combo plus the Cryptic lock allows you to play to either one in the late game.
The sweet part of this build is a single [Card]Whir of Invention[/Card] and a [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] (or a fetch) and you have access to both of the artifact parts of the combo. That combo with the aid of counter-Magic is frequently enough to win many matches.
Real talk though, most games are just won by playing an Urza and beating down while you control the board-state. Stealing things with [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card] is super fun (like a [Card]Death’s Shadow[/Card] or Swiftspear), but often it’s just an instant speed draw two that recurs with Sanctuary again. The deck certainly misses Oko and Emry for additional card advantage. But as I have shown, it still puts up a really good fight without them. You’ll definitely want to watch our for [Card]Veil of Summer[/Card] post-board as that card is our worst enemy.
The fact is, the old Simic Urza deck was pretty broken, but it taught us a lot about the archetype. The burst of mana acceleration Urza offers pairs beautifully with counterspells. Cards like Cryptic and Charm have often been scoffed at in Modern because they simply just cost too much mana to operate efficiently in a lot of major matchups. But, with the addition of your proactive Urza and combo plans, this interactive game is actually much easier to pull off.
This is particularly true right now, where [Card]Primeval Titan[/Card]s ugly head looms high above the format, and the combination of a clock plus some hard counters often puts them on [Card]Cavern of Souls[/Card] or bust.
One cool thing I’ve been thinking about since the event is that if you want an instant win-con to go with your combo, then play [Card]Jace, Wielder of Mysteries[/Card]. The card is already decent on it’s own as a card advantage engine, but also lets you win with it’s static ability and Urza flips. I may be incorporating that strategy into future builds. I have also pondered playing [Card]Brazen Borrower[/Card] as a flexible main deck answer and additional threat. Cards that way underperformed for this event were:
- [Card]Pithing Needle[/Card]
- [Card]Nihil Spellbomb[/Card]
- [Card]Talisman of Dominance[/Card]
- [Card]Field of Ruin[/Card]
The tough part about replacing these cards is it can decrease your ability to use the Improvise mechanic for [Card]Whir of Invention[/Card]. You’ll also want some additional early interaction since you lose the speed of [Card]Talisman of Dominance[/Card]. As for what you want to do instead? I have no idea (lol). I’ve tried a few things already and can recommend what not to do but as we now know there’s just so many options when it comes to the Urza shells:
- More [Card]Thoughtseize[/Card]/Inquisition, this leads to depletion in resources and top-decking that we aren’t always well suited for.
- [Card]Chromatic Star[/Card]/[Card]Aether Spellbomb[/Card], these are the best of my bad ideas but they are still a little slow and clunky. [Card]Brazen Borrower[/Card] hasn’t been tested yet and is a nice turn two and turn three play. It’s easy to want to just add extra artifacts to the deck for synergy, but if we’re trying to also be interactive that comes at a cost.
- Emry/[Card]Engineered Explosives[/Card], this duo yields a high return but at a steep cost. At present there aren’t many targets for removal spells, but Emry provides the opponent just that. The upside is the mill foir come into play trigger helps you setup [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] locks and your Thopter combo. If you’re going to attempt this route you will need more artifacts to help you utilize Emry.
When playing with this version of Urza you really want to have access to a copy of Charm or Whir ready to cast in the mid game. Often this will be the burst of advantage (either cards or thopters) you need to bridge yourself into the late game. From there you want to use your fetchlands to keep utilizing [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] to setup parts of the combo or disrupt the opponent if you can. Often you’ll actually want to avoid sacrificing your [Card]Mishra’s Bauble[/Card]s in the early stage of the game unless you’re already playing an early Astrolabe or have alternative artifacts that can sit around (Needle/Nihil). This obviosuly helps fuel you Whirs but it can also be really nice to preserve a Bauble so you don’t have to wait a turn to draw a card that has been put back on top of the library with [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card].
Maybe the most important suggestion I can give you when playing this deck is that you should almost always be trying to progress your board state. If you can play Urza and have counter-magic mana available it often means the end of the game for your opponent. It’s easy to look at piles of discard spells and counterpells and try to play your deck like a control deck, but it’s not that. What makes this deck powerful is it’s ability to play the proactive role. Make sure you mulligan if your hands don’t curve properly.
The deck to beat right now in Modern is Amulet, and to learn how to beat it all you have to do is watch any of my feature matches. I won in a unique way each time and you’ll find there are many avenues if you are simply observant. They’re often forced to make the first move and you can win with some straight forward controlling lines. My favorite was allowing my opponents Pact to fetch Azusa, then using Cryptic to counter and bounce a green source. On my turn I used a fetch to return [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card], played an Astrolabe to draw the Cryptic, bounced another green source and they lost to their upkeep pact trigger. One last thing, [Card]Aether Gust[/Card] is one helluva card that stops [Card]Primeval Titan[/Card] even through a [Card]Cavern of Souls[/Card]. You’ll want to use [Card]Field of Ruin[/Card] to deal with [Card]Field of the Dead[/Card] so long as you have a [Card]Fatal Push[/Card] to deal with their [Card]Dryad of the Ilysian Grove[/Card].
For more great Urza talk join my Discord, Patreon and Team BCW Patreon! You can message me on Facebook or Twitter under my full name as spelled if you cannot find the link. Good luck in your next Modern tournament and be sure to share with me your thoughts and feelings on the deck anytime you see me at an event. Thanks everyone and until next, may your aperture’s draw live!