Urza Decks in Modern: Whirza, Outcome, and Ascendancy

After Hogaak Summer we might be entering Urza's Fall. Enabling several combo archetypes, Urza might be the most broken card in Modern right now. Come join Rone as he goes deep into each Urza, Lord High Artificer variant, explaining how each combo works.


Urza, Lord High Artificer

Let me ask you a very simple question: What is the most busted card in Modern right now? If you read the title above, or the intro, or looked at the picture, you might be able to guess what my answer is. A few months ago, Hogaak, the Arisen Necropolis was undoubtedly the correct pick. Nowadays the format seems to be wide open. But Urza, Lord High Artificer is, in my humble opinion, the most broken card in the format, and this article is trying to prove it.

While it may not be necessary to ban the card right away, it already has spawned three different artifact-based combo decks that run rampant, and research artificers seem to discover more every day. So, without further ado, let's jump into some Urza's action!

Thopters Before/During Hogaak Summer


Let's go back in time to the point right before Modern Horizons became legal and all the nonsense began. Back then, artifact-based decks like Krark-Clan Ironworks were long gone and the main viable choice was Whir of Invention alongside a ton of singleton artifacts where you would imprison your opponents by combining oppressing cards such as Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge.

Instead of slowly decking their enemies to death, some people tried out the combo of Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek which—curiously for those of you who are new to Modern—was originally banned due to its past success during the old Extended era. The basic idea is, with those two cards in the battlefield or even with Foundry in play and Sword in the graveyard, you start by sacrificing another artifact, creating a Thopter token and gaining a life. Then, as a result, the Sword is attached to the token, so you can now sacrifice the Sword itself. Repeat a bunch of times as long as you have mana to do it and ultimately win the game by swinging in the air with the token army.

When the combo first became legal in Modern along with Ancestral Visions, it didn't see much play at all, was even considered a joke. All that changed when one of the most iconic characters in Magic history finally got his own card—and no, Urza, Academy Headmaster doesn't count for competitive play. Enter Urza, Lord High Artificer:


Normally, I don't really look into a deck's pilot, but this time I want to point out that Julien Henry Top 8ed two GPs in a row with this deck during Hogaak Summer. The main event at MagicFest Las Vegas was the last big tournament where the card Hogaak was legal and everyone saw it coming—not the Faithless Looting banning though. There are tons of new cards here compared with the first deck-list, especially from Modern Horizons, so let's review them all:

A total of 11 cards plus one in the sideboard that completely change the power level of the strategy, starting by Urza. When the card first got previewed, some people thought it was nothing but Commander material. Oh those fools! They were completely wrong …

Urza and Horizons Friends

Next to Hogaak, Urza is likely the second most pushed card in the whole set. How about a 4 mana creature that needs to be instantly answered lest it gets out of control, and who cares about costing 4 mana when you can speed it up via Mox Opal anyways? Time for a closer look:


Urza, Lord High Artificer close-up
  • When Urza, Lord High Artificer enters the battlefield, create a 0/0 colorless Construct artifact creature token with "This creature gets +1/+1 for each artifact you control."

The token is no joke at all, as it can grow bigger than Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Even if Urza gets killed, you are getting ahead in card advantage, and the token also makes it profitable to play a second copy of the legend. Most importantly, you automatically have an untapped artifact, so even if you have nothing else but Thopter Foundry in play at this point, you can start cooking right away.

  • Tap an untapped artifact you control: Add {U}.

This, my friends, is the nuts—the clause they maybe shouldn't have added and the reason why ultimately, one day or another, the card might have to get banned. Pretty much half your deck consists of artifacts, and Urza transforms every one of them into blue a mana rock, from Mishra's Bauble to Ichor Wellspring.

For those of you who haven't played with or against it yet, if you manage to assemble the trifecta of Urza with Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek, suddenly you get infinite tokens and gain infinite life, as you can tap the Sword for mana and sacrifice it repeatedly. Infinite tokens also mean infinite blue mana which you can use on Urza's third ability to play your whole deck if needed.

  • {5}: Shuffle your library, then exile the top card. Until end of turn, you may play that card without paying its mana cost.

Finally, this ability is a call-back to a card from Urza's Saga called Temporal Aperture. Even when you don't have infinite mana, the second ability often allows you to dig a couple cards here and there and fill the board with more artifacts until you bury your opponent in card advantage.

Aside from Urza, Goblin Engineer is another great addition to the mix, as it gets Sword of the Meek exactly where we want it to be. Alternatively, the Goblin can tutor for some other artifact, for example if we need Ensnaring Bridge or Nihil Spellbomb to survive. Anything with mana cost 3 or lower is fair game for its activated ability, and that includes Ichor Wellspring which turns the Engineer into an engine all by itself.

Arcum's Astrolabe

Last but not least, Arcum's Astrolabe is our mana fixer plus cantrip that makes the deck even more robust. With Astrolabe, any snow-covered land gives us access to every color. Casting off-color cards in either green or white is easy between Astrolabe and Mox Opal, the latter of which of course benefits greatly from another cheap artifact as well.

Main Strengths and Weaknesses

Traditionally, artifact-based decks suffered a lot when facing Stony Silence/Collector Ouphe, and this remains true for this one too. But if you control Urza—since the mana ability comes from the creature and not from the artifact—you can still make mana and activate Urza's third ability, where otherwise you'd have nothing.

Rest in Peace is a good hate card to sideboard in for this matchup, as it shuts down the Thopter-Sword combo and makes Goblin Engineer a vanilla 1/2. Karn, the Great Creator is a huge hoser too. The card not only generates the same Null Rod effect as Stony Silence; it can effectively kill 0 mana artifacts by turning them into 0/0 creatures, and you typically don't get a lot of time before Mycosynth Lattice or Liquimetal Coating shut down the rest of the operation as well.

Stoneforge Is Unbanned, But Urza Runs Free


At the same time Hogaak was banned, Stoneforge Mystic became legal in Modern for the first time ever. The Kor Artificer immediately changed the landscape of the format, with a plethora of midrange shells now including the Mystic alongside her equipment package of Batterskull and the Swords from various Mirrrodin cycles.

Adding Stoneforge to the Whirza deck, we lose the red splash, replacing Goblin Engineer with more white cards such as Teferi, Time Raveler as well as Monastery Mentor in the sideboard to kill faster in postboard games. This spicy list in particular also makes room for a couple of Karn, the Great Creator. Daniel Toledo who has written a ton of material about the deck—including an impressive sideboard guide—was expecting a huge amount of mirror matches, and therefore adapted his main deck for it. He also runs a great podcast, albeit in Spanish, where he shares a lot of information about the deck and competitive Magic in general, so here's a big shoutout for his work.

Karn is not just a natural answer when facing other Urza or artifact strategies; it allows you to lock games combined with Mycosynth Lattice and—what's more—moves some of your combo pieces into the sideboard for extra flexibility.

Throne of Eldraine Updates

Moving to the present time, more recent lists have embraced quite a few cards from the latest set Throne of Eldraine. One in specific we will see again and again: Emry, Lurker of the Loch. What were Wizards thinking when they designed this card? Well, maybe Emry is the ultimate ploy to get Mox Opal banned, because this cards is absolutely bonkers in conjunction with Urza. Forget about Stoneforge or Goblin Engineer, stay in blue with this Merfolk Wizards that somehow has affinity for artifacts, so you can easily cast it on turn one thanks to some 0 mana stuff like Mox and Mishra's Bauble.


Looking for other new additions, we find here are: a single copy of Glass Casket as a clean answer for early threats like Collector Ouphe; a Wishclaw Talisman that either provides the missing piece to win right away or can be bounced back to our hand thanks to Teferi, Time Raveler; and finally Witching Well, perfect to dig for the pieces of the combo we need, give affinity for Emry, and later to cash in for two extra cards. Playing a total of ten legendary creatures and planeswalkers now makes Mox Amber main-deck material, unlocking crazy scenarios where you cast Emry on turn one and Urza on turn two and overall speeding up your combo.

Emry, Lurker of the Loch

Looking into the sideboard, the deck is also adding green for a couple of reasons, on one hand three copies of Assassin's Trophy to deal with basically any permanent that can bother us, from Karns to Rest in Peace. On the other hand, Oko, Thief of the Crowns makes his jump to Modern as the proverbial Swiss army knife: threatening to steal Urzas and Emrys in the mirror match, creating Elks for us, and specifically turning into Elks all kinds of problematic permanents on the opponent's side such as Urza, Emry, Meddling Mage, Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, Ensnaring Bridge, or Chalice of the Void.

Last but not least, Mystical Dispute makes the sixth card from Eldraine that finds a room in the deck, proving how impactful the set has been on the strategy. In this case we get a Mana Leak that comes at reduced cost when used against other blue spells.

Main Strengths and Weaknesses

The actual optimal configuration is yet unknown, since the deck is still evolving as I write. Nevertheless, by adding Emry, the deck becomes more explosive even if it remains graveyard dependent. It now has better answers for hate cards with the green splash and more payoff cards than anyone can reasonably fight.

What's the main weakness then? Well, I might say that the deck is on everyone's radar, it needs a great pilot and lots of testing hours, but all in all there are so many angles to win the game that I would say its main downside is that it could be slower than other recent versions. So let's move on to the next Urza iteration.

Urza Outcome: Foundry No Longer Needed


What do we have here? Well, this is an Urza-based combo deck with a bunch of artifacts as usual. But the Foundry-Sword combo is replaced with a payoff card directly borrowed from Vintage: Paradoxical Outcome.

Paradoxical Outcome

The combo is not as obvious as the one above. In this case you don't immediately go infinite. Rather, you set up the win in multiple steps: first you deploy your cheap mana artifacts and dig for a token producer, either Sai, Master Thopterist or Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, as well as for Urza. This often involves a small to medium sized Outcome, returning all your artifacts and drawing a bunch of cards. Eventually, you chain further Outcomes into more cards, more mana, more tokens, and ever bigger Outcomes until you find Nexus of Fate, and then you kill on the extra turn with your artifact army, just like Urza's art shows in its background.

There are a lot of interactions that one could explain in more detail. However, that would take a whole article, so I'll leave you with just a few tips and tricks:

  • Engineered Explosives works as a flex slot. It can be a 0 mana artifact to speed up the combo or a tool to get rid of anything as we can pay any color for it.
  • Everflowing Chalice works the same way too, setting up a turn two Urza or Ouctome, but you can always play it for 0.
  • Saheeli's minus ability becomes super relevant in this shell, since you can animate Opals and Baubles into an Urza construct to bash in for tons of damage or alternatively turn a Chalice into an Explosives or a Thopter into a Bauble—anything is possible!

Main Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the deck's strengths is its lack of graveyard dependency. Some recent versions run Emry, but you can combo off without ever touching your graveyard. At times, you'll win faster than traditional Whirza, and because the combo pieces all do something on their own it's a little easier to grind out removal-heavy opposition.

Once resolved, the deck can't get rid of Karn—Explosives for 4 mana is not an option. It is possible, though, to do all the mana generating via Urza and follow the original game plan with all the token production and Outcomes and Nexus even under Karn.

Regarding specific hate cards, I have seen games where a quick Chalice of the Void for 0 hurts a lot. After all, the list contains up to 17 artifacts that you want to play for 0 mana, and the only way you can deal with Chalice is either Teferi or feeding Explosives with colorless mana from Darksteel Citadel or Everflowing Chalice. Another card that is seeing more play in sideboards lately is Disdainful Stroke, and this counters both Urza and Outcome for only two mana.

Jeskai Ascendancy: The Latest Innovation


Just when you thought everything was covered, there is a third choice and actually a scary one at that. This may be the reason why Wizards will have to take some action against this Urza's nonsense. The deck's approach to kill on the spot is jamming Jeskai Ascendancy into the mix alongside Emry and Urza and, why not, Paradoxical Outcome, Sai, and Saheeli, all of them at the same combo party.


Jeskai Ascendancy

Setting up the combo is even easier than with previous versions. All you need to win is:

  • An active Emry (ideally cast on turn one thanks to affinity for artifacts)
  • Ascendancy on the battlefield
  • A 0 mana artifact, if possible Bauble to start with, though two copies of either Mox will do, either in the graveyard or in your hand

What happens next is you create a loop where by casting Mishra's Bauble, Ascendancy triggers putting a +1/+1 counter on Emry while looting a card in the process and untapping Emry. You sacrifice the Bauble and are back at the starting point. Continue the draw-discard process until either two copies of Mox Opal or Mox Amber show up in which case you have access to infinite mana as you chain infinite Moxen while growing Emry and finally finding Urza, or a Sai, or an Ouctome to draw your whole deck and create infinite tokens. Keep in mind that Jeskai Ascendancy's second ability is a may; so you don't mill yourself if you don't want to.

Needless to say you win on the spot by attacking with a giant Emry. Alternatively, you now got a million tokens on the table, and you can deploy Grinding Station and win via decking. This is not an artifact-based deck where you have silver bullets to tutor for—this is a straight-up combo build where you win if you get the nut draw of Emry plus Ascendancy plus Bauble, and if for some reason you get disrupted, you have the back-up Urza route along with Paradoxical Outcome to rebuild and start over.

Main Strengths and Weaknesses

Emry needs the graveyard in order to work, so permanent ways of shutting it down for business, such as Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, do affect this version. Also, targeted removal, for example Force of Vigor, is great to destroy the Ascendancy. Damping Sphere stops the infinite loop as well.

Aside from that, this version is super fast, able to kill on turn two as mentioned, can follow different game plans, and features a higher count of payoff cards compared to the traditional Whirza where only the namesake card and the combo pieces were the cards you needed to answer.

Conclusion: Is Urza Too Powerful for Modern?

I hope you are now convinced of Urza, Lord High Artificer's power. But is it too good for Modern and needs to be banned? That's still up for debate.

Urza is great at enabling artifact-based combo decks. What truly makes the latest versions such aberrations is the combination of Mox Opal's acceleration with the brand new Emry, Lurker of the Loch. Modern was always supposed to be about turn-four kills, and players have always attempted to go faster than that. But it's becoming too easy, and as a result I am afraid either Emry or Opal will need to go sooner or later.

Once again, thank you for reading and I hope you have enjoyed the article. Feel free to leave your comments or questions below or to hit me up on my shared Twitter account.

See you soon
Rone


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

4 Comments

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Tatzelwurm-V(2019-10-31 15:06)

"The actual optimal configuration is yet unknown, since the deck is still evolving as I write."

Indeed, there is a list, which did very well at the SCG Open Tournament last weekend (four copies in Top 8), and is more midrange based Whirza with Oko in main board, Emry, and counterspells. So beside the Thopter/Foundry-combo it can win through grinding or even lock with Cryptic Command + Mystic Sanctuary, which is very versatile.

The Urza/Emry-decks seems really a bit too strong in Modern at the moment. But there were many very powerful, because they are kinda game-warping, cards in the last sets (little Teferi, Hogaak, Urza, Wrenn, Oko, Emry), so i'm wondering, if there is a intention to print such cards more frequently now, so that formats like Modern get the chance to adapt at a higher powerlevel in the near future, or not, so that maybe till likely Urza/Emry will become so dominant in Modern like Hogaak and needs to be banned.

MakutoPro(2019-10-30 00:28)

It is really curious how much it took until Paradoxical Outcome made some impact outside Vintage, seing it together with Jeskay Ascendancy... Wow! It is really sweet. Emry, Lurker of the Loch is a crazy card, I sometimes look at it and think "how can you be that good!!??" - Thanks for the article!

Rone
RonePro(2019-10-30 10:58)

MakutoPro: Thanks for your comment, Emry is indeed an absurd card in the Modern current meta-game, let's say there is no Urza and/or Asecendancy, the card is still pretty good but with all non-sense is a matter of time until something gets banned.

MakutoPro(2019-10-30 11:02)

RonePro Please, do not ban Opal! Let Wizards know :)

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