Urza or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mox

If you know anything about me, then the following statement will floor you:

In the context of 2019’s Modern format, fair Magic sucks.

This is going to be long and kind of a rant, but there’s good info to be found here. Let’s take a deep dive into how someone like me, a fair magic stalwart, ended up jumping on to the Urza bandwagon.

While prepping for an event in early Fall, I was agonizing over what the best fair deck to play was, spending countless hours jamming Azorius this, Sultai that, and Stoneforge Mystic the other. However, what I failed to realize was that the questions in Modern right now are too good to be playing answers. The last time I did consistently well in this format was when Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was legal because I got to play Faithless Looting in fair decks with Arclight Phoenix and Lava Dart, or I got to play Death’s Shadow alongside Path to Exile and Ranger-Captain of Eos. These strategies allowed me to stay inside my comfort zone, while combating the meta on an axis that suited my skillset. Everyone wanted Looting and/or Hogaak to be banned, and I tried to warn people…everyone tried to warn people…

WE. WERE. WARNED

“If they ban Faithless Looting, Mox Opal and Urza’s Tower will dominate the format.”

Well, here we are. It’s December 9, 2019 as I write this, the most played card in modern is exactly what you’d expect: Lightning Bolt. Maybe I was a little off in my prediction, but the most represented deck is Eldrazi Tron, and it feels like Urza is everywhere, if not for at least that it’s the talk of the town. Here are the top ten most played cards as of today, along with the percentage of decks they’re appearing in, and average number played, per MTGGoldfish: 

  1. Lightning Bolt (25% / 3.8 avg.)
  2. Thoughtseize (25% / 3.3)
  3. Fatal Push (27% / 3.0)
  4. Damping Sphere (36% / 2.2)
  5. Once Upon a Time (21% / 3.4)
  6. Path to Exile (23% / 3.2)
  7. Oko, Thief of Crowns (27% / 2.7)
  8. Veil of Summer (28% / 2.5)
  9. Mishra’s Bauble (17% / 4.0)
  10. Dismember (35% / 1.9)

How did we get here? First of all, let’s look at the list, and we’ll see that three of these cards in this set were printed in Summer of 2019. Woah. Second, this appears to be a compilation of cards that are trying to beat Urza and Tron strategies. I could write a few thousand words about these ten cards and how they are taking Modern by storm, but I’ll spare you. Instead, here’s a brief breakdown by card:

Lightning Bolt: kills things, burns face

Thoughtseize: information and take any card from you

Fatal Push: kills most things

Damping Sphere: nice Tron and karoo lands you’ve got there

Once Upon a Time: A free spell that finds your Tron land, your infect creature, your Death’s Shadow, or your Primeval Titan? Neat.

Path to Exile: kills things, but this time, makes them very dead

Oko, Thief of Crowns: Oko was banned in the flagship format and Brawl, only printed a few months ago, too powerful for a lot of things—makes artifacts, gains life, creates creatures, nerfs other creatures, swaps permanents with your opponent, turns all jokes into bad elk jokes. Insane card advantage engine for *checks notes* less mana (and money) than Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Veil of Summer: this is Cryptic Command, except it doesn’t cost 4 mana, require using your entire turn, and get blown out by other copies of Veil of Summer. This card singlehandedly killed Cryptic Command.

Mishra’s Bauble: Free spell? Check. Draws a card? Check. Is an artifact? Check.

Dismember: kills most things, can reduce your life total, and is “colorless”

What does all this mean? Well, Death’s Shadow strategies have a historically good matchup against Mox Opal and big mana strategies, so the meta is reacting.  80% of the cards in this list can be found in the 4C Shadow decks that are now floating around.  Grixis Death’s Shadow is now playing Oko as a symptom of the metagame and because it’s good vs artifacts, creatures, Lava Spike, and any deck not putting many nonland permanents into play.


Four-Color Death’s Shadow [Brandon Dollaway 12/2019]

Creatures (12)
Death’s Shadow
Tarmogoyf
Street Wraith
Gurmag Angler

Planeswalkers (2)
Oko, Thief of Crowns

Spells (24)
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Stubborn Denial
Thought Scour
Thoughtseize
Drown in the Loch
Once Upon a Time
Temur Battle Rage
Dismember

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble
Lands (18)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Breeding Pool
Nurturing Peatland
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Plague Engineer
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Veil of Summer
Assassin’s Trophy
Collective Brutality
Disdainful Stroke
Drown in the Loch
Mystical Dispute
Damping Sphere


As far as my personal deck choices go, G/W Valuetown died off when the meta got faster and more powerful, while Mardu Pyromancer struggled to stay alive and the ban of Faithless Looting ended up killing the deck in the crossfire. I turned to Celestial Colonnade in these dark times and managed to do okay with some decent local results, reasonable online records, etc. but it just felt so…bad. Have you ever spent your entire turn casting a Cryptic Command just for your Tron opponent to cast their own for a single green in response? Yeah, I can only stomach that for so long. To play a reactive deck and do well, you have to be able to build your deck in such a way that you can attack the metagame, but now there are so many archetypes that I don’t truly believe you can do that long-term with success. Some UW devotees will disagree with me here, but this is my position. The cold reality is that the questions in modern are too powerful and diverse to try to play a deck full of answers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Okay, Zach. You’re telling me fair magic sucks, so what should I do? Play something proactive if you want to do well in Modern. I’d recommend one of the following: a combo deck, a tempo deck such as Death’s Shadow, a big mana deck (tron/amulet), or literally any strategy with four copies of Mox Opal.

I cannot tell the number of times I’ve heard (hell, even said), “yeah I lost to some jank deck because I got got”…maybe the jank deck was proactive and your reactive deck wasn’t equipped to handle it. The culmination of all these things is why people lose to rogue decks like Ponza, Spirits, U/R Delver, and the like. They’re decks that are doing an objectively powerful thing, that has the potential and capacity to interact with what the opponent is doing, and while they’re able to be tuned to the meta, they can be assembled with a wide field in mind and still can find 40% to 60% win rates vs everything.


UR Delver [Lord_Of_Puntlantis 11/2019]

Creatures (12)
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer

Spells (27)
Serum Visions
Archmage’s Charm
Deprive
Force of Negation
Lightning Bolt
Magmatic Sinkhole
Opt
Spell Snare
Lands (21)
Flooded Strand
Island
Mystic Sanctuary
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents

Sideboard (15)
Abrade
Ashiok, Dream Render
Blood Moon
Ceremonious Rejection
Grim Lavamancer
Into the Story
Magma Spray
Mystical Dispute
Narset, Parter of Veils
The Royal Scions


It’s not a secret that Mox Opal is powerful (maybe even too much so for Modern), but it’s been around since day one and it will probably be around for the long haul. If you ask almost any competitive player what the best deck in Modern is right now, the nearly unanimous answer is Urza.

Urza, Lord High Artificer is an insanely powerful card. It can’t be bolted, it generates a second chia-like body that grows, it turns all of your artifacts into Mox Sapphire (in additional to their other modes), and it can Temporal Aperture as many times as you have the mana for each turn…oh, and Stony Silence, Collector Ouphe, and Karn, the Great Creator don’t shut it down.

If you put Mox Opal, Arcum’s Astrolabe, Mishra’s Bauble, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Snow-Covered Island around Urza, the rest of the deck doesn’t really matter all that much. Below are some of the most recent sub-genres of Urza.

Whirza

For starters, here’s an amalgamation I captured a 5-0 with in a league on MTGO (bringing my record with this 75 in leagues to 13-2) while my fiancé passed out on the couch and I was still buzzed from our engagement celebration. This deck abuses Arcum’s Astrolabe and the rules of mana production to make all five colors work in a…mono blue shell? Oh, we get to play Mystic Sanctuary too! This is a combo deck with some serious grind potential. It is looking to assemble Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. With Urza in play, this allows you to generate infinite life, infinite creatures, and play your entire deck. You can also just Oko things… I could gush about this list for a long time, but the show must go on.


Whirza [Zach Goldman 12/2019]

Creatures (10)
Goblin Engineer
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Planeswalkers (3)
Oko, Thief of Crowns

Spells (2)
Whir of Invention

Artifacts (25)
Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Opal
Chromatic Star
Nihil Spellbomb
Pithing Needle
Pyrite Spellbomb
Arcum’s Astrolabe
Pentad Prism
Sword of the Meek
Thopter Foundry
Ensnaring Bridge
Lands (20)
Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Snow-Covered Island
Steam Vents
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Ceremonious Rejection
Fatal Push
Veil of Summer
Assassin’s Trophy
Drown in the Loch
Mystical Dispute
Welding Jar
Damping Sphere


You can take the UGx “mostly fair cards with a combo finish” approach, originally developed by the Lotus Box maniacs. Here’s a crazy list that my good friend and coworker Lee McLeod made top four of a local IQ with. This deck’s MO is to just take it to the opponent with good grindy cards like Thoughtseize and Oko, Thief of Crowns, while using cards like Pentad Prism, Gilded Goose, and Wishclaw Talisman to drag race to a combo finish. The Karnboard offers versatility, ease of sideboarding, and an additional angle of attack.


Whirza [Lee McLeod 12/2019]

Creatures (8)
Gilded Goose
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Planeswalkers (5)
Karn, the Great Creator
Oko, Thie of Crowns 

Artifacts (23)
Engineered Explosives
Ensnaring Bridge
Mishra’s Bauble
Pentad Prism
Sword of the Meek
Thopter Foundry
Wishclaw Talisman
Mox Opal
Arcum’s Astrolabe

Spells (4)
Whir of Invention
Thoughtseize
Lands (20)
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Swamp
Breeding Pool
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Prismatic Vista
Waterlogged Grove
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Ensnaring Bridge
Mycosynth Lattice
Pithing Needle
Sword of the Meek
Tormod’s Crypt
Ceremonious Rejection
Fatal Push
Nature’s Claim
Veil of Summer
Dead of Winter


Four color Whirza is the “classic” Urza deck that formed shortly after Modern Horizons was printed. It’s a combo deck, plain and simple. It’s from this shell that the aforementioned 5C “mono blue” Whirza was derived.


Whirza [Drake Sasser 10/2019]

Creatures (9)
Goblin Engineer
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Planeswalkers (2)
Oko, Thief of Crowns

Artifacts (27)
Chromatic Star
Damping Sphere
Ensnaring Bridge
Mishra’s Bauble
Pithing Needle
Pyrite Spellbomb
Sword of the Meek
Thopter Foundry
Tormod’s Crypt
Welding Jar
Mox Opal
Arcum’s Astrolabe

Spells (2)
Whir of Invention
Lands (20)
Snow-Covered Foret
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Swamp
Snow-Covered Island
Breeding Pool
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Spire of Industry
Steam Vents
Watery Grave
Inventor’s Fair

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Ensnaring Bridge
Mystic Forge
Assassin’s Trophy
Fatal Push
Mystical Dispute
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Collective Brutality
Thoughtseize


Urza Midrange

This last Urza archetype is going to be the single most popular right now by a country mile. This is the list that was the breakout deck at the Star City Games Season Two Invitational last month, and it was then taken to a Grand Prix win by Brian Coval shortly thereafter. The name of the game with this list is grinding. Who knew the best Cryptic Command deck would also be playing Mox Opal instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor? You grind your opponents into oblivion by looping Engineered Explosives, Mishra’s Bauble, and Cryptic Command (via Mystic Sanctuary). Once your opponent has had about enough, you can close the game with either Oko or the old Karn, the Great Creator/Mycosynth Lattice lock. This is the de facto best deck in modern right now, and you should either play it or have a very good reason to not be playing it.


Sultai Urza [Brian Coval 11/2019]

Creatures (12)
Gilded Goose
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Planeswalkers (7)
Karn, the Great Creator
Oko, Thief of Crowns

Artifacts (21)
Engineered Explosives
Everflowing Chalice
Mishra’s Bauble
Witching Well
Cryptic Command
Metallic Rebuke
Mox Opal
Arcum’s Astrolabe
Lands (20)
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Breeding Pool
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Damping Sphere
Ensnaring Bridge
Mycosynth Lattice
Pithing Needle
Tormod’s Crypt
Assassin’s Trophy
Drown in the Loch
Fatal Push
Thoughtseize


Paradoxical Urza

During the summer right after Hogaak was smited by the banhammer, Paradxical Outcome Urza was dominating the format. While it’s not particularly popular anymore, this was the most “all in” combo version at the time. It seeks to put a token generator onto the battlefield, and go both very wide and very tall. Some versions played Jeskai Ascendancy in conjunction with Emry, Lurker of the Loch to enable a lightning fast combo kill. This deck hasn’t really shown up in a while anywhere, so we’re going to just mention it and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Wrap-Up

This is dragging on, so let’s get to the point here. The core of the Urza archetype is so undeniably powerful, that 50% or so of the spells in your deck don’t even really matter. Let’s recount the highlights:

  • It generates more card advantage than most other archetypes
  • It enables combo finishes
  • Mox Opal
  • Insane grind potential with Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Goblin Engineer, Oko, and generating a good old two-for-one by resolving Urza
  • Rock-solid mana supported by our new one mana Prophetic Prism friend (Astrolabe)
  • Access to whatever colors fit your identity best as a player
  • Proactive strategy that has a difficult time falling flat against rogue deck

Do you remember the Krark-Clan Ironworks deck? Whirza is KCI, except better, as it gets to play a lot better sideboard cards, isn’t quite as linear, and can play a better interactive game…oh and we don’t auto-lose to Null Rod effects. I typically take the approach of trying to beat the best deck, but that gets really exhausting, and sometimes you get so caught up in doing that that you end up losing to everything else. This is a fine approach, and if you don’t want to spend $300 or more on a playset of Mox Opals, then it’s reasonable to fight the good fight. In this case, I’d recommend playing Grixis Death’s Shadow as I believe it is the best deck at combating the Urza menace. Amulet Titan and Eldrazi Tron are also both strong options right now–while I don’t find them to be particularly challenging matchups on the Urza side, not everyone agrees, and they’re very good at beating up on whatever else is trying to beat Urza.

As far as I am concerned, I decided that it was time to just go ahead and play the best deck, rather than going against the grain. As a result, I’ve immediately solved my burn-out problem, seen a direct correlation with a positive change with my mental health regarding the game, and have found myself to be (shockingly) winning a lot more. I truly love this game, and it turns out the solution to all of my agonizing this whole time was to just play the best deck.

If you’re like me, and you like to try and fight uphill all the time, I’d recommend at least giving Urza a try. It may wind up for you like it did for me, and you too can learn to stop worrying and love the Mox.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@ZachGoldmanMTG) with any questions you may have about anything discussed here.

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