The Beautiful Struggle: Building a Better Urzatron

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Champs!

The Champs articles keep on coming! This time it’s the turn of Mark Young. He takes us through the evolution of Urzatron decks, in both U/R and U/W, and even offers up a R/W build for those crazy enough to run with the Boros Legion… The Standard metagame promises to be extremely diverse. Are the defining decks of the format available in this article? Read on to find out!

All right, class, it’s time to talk Standard. Actually, it’s way past time to talk Standard, but there’s still plenty of time to get caught up.

Right now, the format is wide open. You might get beat down by anything from Kird Ape to Knight of the Holy Nimbus to a Shadow Guildmage enhanced by Bad Moon. Your opponent could make you discard your hand with Persecute or Wheel of Fate or Restore Balance, or he could control the board with a Magus, a Mesa, or a (Darwin) Mess. A lethal combo might come from Enduring Renewal, Dragonstorm, or Early Harvest plus Reiterate. You might get pounded by The Rack, or by Akroma’s rack.

Faced with a similarly wide-open format for Pro Tour Honolulu earlier this year, Osyp Lebedowicz opted for playing a Blue/Red Urzatron deck designed by Mike Flores. The reason was simple: if you can’t predict the sort of decks that will be showing up across the table, then you might as well play the most powerful deck you can find. Any deck that can bash with Keiga for five and then follow up with a Blaze for fifteen is definitely going to challenge for that title.

However, it would be a mistake to just assume that an Urzatron deck is automatically the most powerful in the format now. The introduction of Coldsnap and Time Spiral means upwards of 600 cards have entered the format, and although a large number of those cards will never be relevant, it seems that a surprising number of them will be.

Blue/Red Wildfire Tron: Old Reliable

This is the uninteresting part of the article, because there’s already a very solid deck to start with: the very similar builds piloted into the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals by Ben Lundquist and Tim Aten.

The big issue, which will also influence the other decks in this article, is that you now have access to much better card-drawing spells. When I first saw Careful Consideration, my first thought was that you’d prefer to run it over both Tidings and Compulsive Research. The Time Spiral instant combines the best aspects of the previously-used sorceries: you get to see as many cards as with Tidings whether you cast it in your main phase or not, and if you cast it in your main phase it puts you up the same amount of cards that Compulsive Research would. As if that weren’t enough card advantage, you also get a fantastic way to put your Urzatron mana to good use with Whispers of the Muse.

The drawback is that you have to find a replacement for Keiga. This is particularly rough because the other creatures with a single Blue mana in their casting cost are not even remotely as awesome as the Tide Star. Teferi at UUU and Niv-Mizzet at UURR are not guys I want to gamble on, so options are even more reduced.

Simic Sky Swallower seems an obvious selection, given that he saw some success at U.S. Regionals earlier this year. I wouldn’t mock anyone who wanted to try him, but personally I don’t want to add a third color to the U/R deck if there’s any other option, because the deck’s colored mana is already walking on the edge of a knife. For one thing, adding Green can make your Wildfire land-sacrificing decisions a lot tougher. In fact, as you’ll see, I’ve even cut Lundquist’s Simic Signet from my version of the deck so that I would have a better way to make both Red and Blue mana.

At first I was enamored with Cerulean Sphinx as the finisher, which I figured would be impossible to kill. However, if you think about it, shuffling the Sphinx back in is basically the same as killing it. I haven’t done a lot of in-depth math on this, but if you have 30 cards left in your library including three Sphinxes, and you shuffle the fourth Sphinx in, you’ve only increased your odds of drawing a Sphinx on your next draw by 2.9 percent (from 3/30 to 4/31); you’d prefer that the game didn’t run that late anyway since your countermagic only gets worse as the game runs longer.

Draining Whelk is fascinating. Obviously if you counter an opposing bomb like Angel of Despair or Rimefeather Owl, that’s just amazing. If you counter something like an Ohran Viper or a Char then you get attacking power equivalent to Adarkar Valkyrie, so the Whelk isn’t terrible against aggro. However, the Whelk takes away one common play against aggro that you had with Keiga: simply run the 5/5 flier out there as soon as you can and win the race with Demonfire (if you watched the video of the Osyp/Heezy Top 8 match in Honolulu, you may recall that Osyp’s lone win came in this fashion). Most versions of the deck have 10-12 counterspells but all of them have some kind of restriction or drawback, so you’ll need to go beatdown with your giant fliers a lot more often than you might expect… and if there’s one thing the Whelk doesn’t do, it’s beatdown.

Even Bogardan Hellkite received consideration, but eight mana seemed a little too much and I was concerned about having an RR finisher in a deck alongside both Careful Consideration (requires UU early) and Wildfire (usually Red-producing lands are the first to be sacrificed). So, at the end of the day, I just went with the old reliable: Mahamoti Djinn. A six-butt isn’t what it used to be, given the presence of Akroma and SSS in the format, but it’s still very saucy most of the time. The UU casting cost isn’t so great, but at least it’s synergistic with Careful Consideration.

Some notable changes from the U.S. Nationals deck:

Prismatic Lens
This card might actually be gas. In limited testing I’ve already had three different occasions where I held Wildfire in hand but with only one Red source in play, saved by the second ability of the Lens. You have to admit, Simic Signet doesn’t do that.

On the other hand, Simic Signet might be at its most powerful for States than at any later point, because in an undefined format the threat of Simic Sky Swallower (even as a bluff) will be have to be taken most seriously. Also, Foriysian Totem might be better than either the Lens or Simic Signet; I just had the feeling that it was too slow for aggro matchups.

In Lundquist’s article, he notes that Confiscate was practically his only out versus Umezawa’s Jitte. With the Jitte gone, I wanted to see how the deck responded to replacing these with two more cantrips (the fourth Repeal and the third Whispers of the Muse). However, the all-purpose goodness of Confiscate should not be underestimated, since it can steal anything from a Gruul deck’s Rumbling Slum to a Solar Flare deck’s Karoos. At some point this card may become a necessary inclusion in the deck again; I’m just trying to go without for now.

Early testing suggests that Dragonstorm combo is no joke. It may not be good enough to win States, but it’s good enough to make sure you don’t win States, if that makes any sense. Hence the uncounterable Stifles, which also stop any potential Grapeshot absurdity (although I have a lot less respect for the Enduring Renewal/Grapeshot combo).

Avalanche Riders
Inserted into the sideboard with the same intention as with the Giant Solifuges from Osyp’s Honolulu deck: a hasty attacker that throws a monkey wrench into the plans of opposing control decks. Hell, I might even bring it in against Zoo, given how ugly their manabase often is.

I haven’t done a lot of in-depth testing, but what testing I have done suggests the following:

* The addition of Soltari Priest to the Boros and/or Azorius beatdown decks is not as bad as one might think. Spell Snare still counters him, and Repeal can still send him home prior to the intended winning Wildfire. One advantage of Mahamoti Djinn over most other possible creatures is that he blocks Paladin En-Vec and forces the opponent to have the Char or Psionic Blast if they want to finish him off, so the Priest is typically your biggest worry.

* Beating Teferi will generally depend upon when the Tron deck achieves its Urzatron. If it does so before the Teferi deck has seven mana, the Tron deck will generally win. If the Teferi deck gets to seven mana before the Tron deck makes the Urza set, the Tron deck has almost no shot. Seriously, once a Teferi deck untaps with the legend in play you’re basically done (an upcoming article about Teferi will address this issue in more detail). Seven mana is typically key because the Teferi deck then threatens to resolve its namesake spell with a counterspell in reserve, but sometimes Teferi-based decks will have even more tricks in hand to beat you, such as Wipe Away or Gigadrowse.

* I honestly have no idea how popular Solar Flare will be at States (though the new Solar Pox deck looks very nice), but the one thing you have going for you in that matchup is that they can’t really beat Demonfire going long. Your biggest problem is that if they string together enough two-for-ones, you won’t be able to “go long” because they will inevitably get to Akroma or Adarkar Valkyrie, both of which are very hard to beat.

* You can beat Dragonstorm combo in game 1 by Remanding their Lotus Bloom, but even that is not a guarantee if they draw/tutor for enough copies of Seething Song and Rite of Flame. One big issue is that you will probably have to tap low for a Fat Moti at some point, and if they have a well-built Dragonstorm deck, they will easily be able to go off on the following turn. The only way out of this is to simply shaft them with Wildfire.

U/W Tron: Magus, May I?

I liked the above-mentioned U/R Tron list well enough, but the strategy in general has some shortcomings. Mahamoti Djinn is a good man, but he doesn’t really ask any questions of the opponent. Keiga, for example, asks “how do you kill me without three-for-one-ing yourself?” and Akroma asks “how can you attack back profitably during the three-turn clock you’re under?” All the Djinn is able to ask is, “does my butt look big in this?” (Although, as every guy knows, there’s no satisfactory answer to that question.)

Also, the Tron deck sometimes proves very vulnerable to what I would otherwise call the worst beatdown deck in the format: Zoo. When Repeal is the only answer to Kird Ape before turn 6 and Tin-Street Hooligan can nuke the Tron deck’s Signets, some Zoo draws will be nigh unbeatable in game 1 and only manageable in game 2 if you draw a lot of Volcanic Hammers.

Thus, I turned to Shaheen Soorani brainchild, Blue/White Urzatron. For reference, here’s the list Soorani piloted at U.S. Nationals:

Not gonna lie, there will be no Storm Herd nonsense in my deck. Maybe it’s good, but I just can’t bring myself to try it. Plus, with Adarkar Valkyrie available, I’m not really sure you even need it, thus:

Blowing away your own Signets with Magus may seem terrible, but it’s preferable to losing to Kird Ape or and unstably mutated Soltari Priest. In slower matchups the Magus is simply awesome, since the opponent will have to kill it (through your countermagic, of course) before he’ll even have a hope of attacking.

I go back and forth about whether your finisher package should be four Valkyrie or three Valkyrie and a lone copy of Spell Burst. You see, the Wildfires in the Blue/Red Tron deck perform the highly important service of simply preventing the opponent from doing anything, so that even if you haven’t found Keiga yet you’ll have time to draw into it. This U/W deck has a lot of Wraths, but no similar way to shut the opponent down cold. Spell Burst could be that way — if you have the Tron.

The contrasting argument is simply this: Valkyrie is awesome, always. I originally wanted to run Akroma in that slot but the Coldsnap angel may well be better. It asks basically the same questions that Akroma asks — “how do you kill me” and “how can you attack back profitably while I’m kicking your ass?” — without the chore of obtaining eight mana including WWW. It easily survives a Wrath or a Magus of the Disk activation, and it will occasionally make the very naughty play of sacrificing itself to retrieve a used Magus, should you need to have a Disk in your pocket. The opponent’s best outs are White removal such as Condemn, Gelid Shackles, or Temporal Isolation, which are odds that I’m willing to accept over the course of a long tournament like States.

Other thoughts about this deck after a few test games:

* Condemn is just what the doctor ordered against aggro; a one-mana answer to everything save Giant Solifuge. The life gain is irrelevant since they can’t beat you after you untap with a Valkyrie in play. Condemn also beats opposing Valkyries, Owls, Skeletal Vampires, Akroma… almost everything a control deck might want to finish with. Highly recommended.

* Circle of Protection: Red is nice in the sideboard because in addition to its typical role against Char and such, it usually stops Dragonstorm from beating you. However, it doesn’t stop Grapeshot or Pyromatics (each copy needs to be COP’d, and most combos I have seen can make “infinite” copies of those spells) or any loss of life effects like Rain of Gore. It also costs quite a bit of mana even when it’s working well. I see many less-experienced players assume they should just auto-win against Red with a COP in play; don’t let yourself get caught up in that trap.

* An important question for this deck is how much of Mike Flores‘ KarstenBot BabyKiller will be in the format. Judging from recent MTGO results posted by Frank Karsten and blisterguy, the answer is “not much” … if you want to play U/W Tron at States, you’d better hope so. KBBK entered my testing gauntlet mainly because it was almost impossible to have an IM chat with Flores during the month of September without him mentioning how awesome the deck was, and in this case, it’s quite awesome indeed.

KBBK was designed to beat Solar Flare, and it also does quite a number on this deck for many of the same reasons. At least U/R Tron can try to mana-hose KBBK with Wildfire; U/W Tron has no such outs. Cryoclasm and the return of Avalanche Riders team up to make very bad news for your manabase. Since they have Scrying Sheets and a heavy snow complement including Ohran Viper, they can draw just as many extra cards as you can. Should you resolve an Adarkar Valkyrie, it’s unlike to make it to the end of summoning sickness due to Skred.

Boros Tron: The Red-Headed Stepchild

Being a red-headed stepchild myself, I can tell you that it isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s heavenly compared to being forced to play Boros Tron.

During the “old” Standard, the R/W Urzatron deck could at least do some savage stuff with Godo, Bandit Warlord, and equipments. I assume that is why certain people gave the deck an unnatural, almost unhealthy, devotion.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned by being a writer, it’s that it’s really hard to push people off of their devotions, no matter what may happen. Thus, I’m at least going to mention the Boros Tron deck, even though I cannot imagine why sane human beings would want to play it. And once I’ve decided to open my big mouth about this deck, I’m honor-bound to mention that you do get access to up to four more Wraths, which in this case come on a stick: Desolation Giant.

4 Weathered Wayfarer
4 Lightning Helix
3 Demonfire
4 Wrath of God
4 Boros Signet
2 Prismatic Lens
3 Magus of the Disk
3 Desolation Giant
4 Adarkar Valkyrie
3 Condemn
3 Wildfire
3 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower

I haven’t included a sideboard because just looking at that main deck makes me want to run out into traffic.

Yeah, I’m aware that using Adarkar Valkyrie to retrieve your Desolation Giant is a disaster, but we’ve already been over how awesome the Angel is in every other possible situation, so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt in this deck. Resolving the Angel may well be the only chance this deck has of winning any match ever.

I cannot imagine you beating a Red aggro deck or a BabyKiller style build. On turn 1 they could have Shock, Seal of Fire, Assault / Battery, or Rift Bolt, all of which neuter your Weathered Wayfarer. At that point you’re just praying to make it to your Wrath, and then praying some more that you can handle the creatures they’re holding in reserve for after your Wrath. Boros decks can even play a Karoo to embarrass your Wayfarers.

I also cannot imagine you beating a control deck ever, since you don’t have Boseiju, Who Shelters All anymore. Yes, a turn 1 Wayfarer can turn into quite a bit of mana, but they can just Remand your high-mana plays. I suppose if you mised enough Tron pieces that you could play a couple of lethal hellbent Demonfires – that might do the trick – but any plan dependant upon mising is not a plan I want to be playing.

It may be that this deck – God, it hurts just to think this – needs to replace Wildfire with Browbeat. If your opponent gives you the cards, that’s clearly awesome. Assuming your opponent doesn’t give you the cards, a couple of Browbeats and a couple of Lightning Helixes is sixteen damage; at that point you’re just a hop, skip, and a Demonfire away from winning. If the opponent counters your Browbeat, you’re also happy, since you basically just traded a soda coaster for a counterspell. This burn plan might cause the deck to move even faster than it would if it contained Wildfire.

Of course, once you reach the point of just trying to burn your opponent out, it’s worth asking if you should just be running Karoos instead of Urza lands. Karoos do good things in concert with Weathered Wayfarer, and they help you resolve Desolation Giant more than Urza’s pieces would. However, then we’d be moving beyond the scope of this article, so I’m going to bring this discussion to a close with a warning: friends don’t let friends play Boros Tron.

This article written while listening to the top8magic.com podcasts.

mmyoungster at aim dot com
mm underscore young at livejournal dot com