Urza, Lord High Artificer Is Bringing Artifact Combo Back To Modern

Tolarian Academy on a stick…in Modern?! Sam Black tells you how Urza, Lord High Artificer can bring back artifact combo like the format hasn’t seen since Krark-Clan Ironworks was legal!

Not long ago, Ironworks was the best deck in Modern. Then Krark-Clan Ironworks was banned, but now, we get a new four-mana card that lets us use artifacts to generate silly amounts of mana. That card is Urza, Lord High Artificer.

As the card was just previewed, I don’t know the best shell for Urza, but I do know a lot of different ways we can go about using him to do ridiculous things, so let’s take some time to go over the options.

First, you have clean three-card infinite combos:

With this combo you can gain infinite life, make infinite Thopters, and cast every card in your deck. You accomplish this by using the standard Thopter/Sword combo (sacrificing Sword of the Meek to Thopter Foundry to make a 1/1 Thopter which returns Sword of the Meek to the battlefield to let you start again), except that you always tap the Thopter token and the Sword of the Meek for mana before you sacrifice the Sword of the Meek, so the loop generates a mana instead of costing a mana. Then you can use Urza’s Temporal Aperture ability as many times as necessary to do whatever you feel like doing.

Technically you also need any other two artifacts for this combo to get you anywhere. You need two artifacts plus Isochron Scepter on Dramatic Reversal to use the Scepter any number of times, and then any one other artifact generates a mana each time. Urza provides one of the artifacts, so if you have two more, you can use Urza to your heart’s content and cast your deck.

Dramatic Reversal and Isochron Scepter are much worse than Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek on their own, but this combo doesn’t need to use the graveyard.

With a Mox Opal, either of these combos should be reasonably easy to pull off on Turn 3, since you just need a few artifacts on the battlefield when you cast Urza to get the mana to get the combo started. Since neither requires that many cards, it would potentially be reasonable to just make a deck that tries to find either of these. Consider, for example:

This deck probably isn’t great. The biggest problem is that you can’t find Urza with Ancient Stirrings, and too many of your cards depend on Urza to matter. Also, you don’t have the ability to just pick Urza up out of your graveyard whenever you want if it dies the way Ironworks did, so just jamming these combos together with some filler artifacts isn’t going to be good enough. I suspect the Thopter/Sword combo is much more valuable to hold onto than the Isochron Scepter combo, since that combo is very good without Urza.

What other options do we have?

Sword of the Meek isn’t the only place we’ve seen artifacts bouncing in and out of the graveyard, and it’s interesting to be able to get mana out of them each time. I’m imagining Scrap Trawler loops, but the problem is, without Krark-Clan Ironworks, we need some other way to sacrifice them. Also, Urza doesn’t make as much mana as Krark-Clan Ironworks. You can use the Semblance Anvil shell to get around all of this, but I don’t know that that deck really needs Urza once it has Anvil. You can go smaller with Etherium Sculptor, but that’s probably just worse since it’s so easy to kill.

Another great way to untap artifacts is just to return them directly to your hand. I’m thinking Paradoxical Outcome, but Retract is another option.

In this context, Urza is basically just an Inspiring Statuary that can give you blue mana for any purpose and float extra mana, which makes it considerably easier to go off, though an extra mana to get started and not itself being an artifact are both substantial drawbacks. It also enables Mox Amber, but that doesn’t matter that much, since it also happens to turn any zero-mana artifact into a Mox Amber.

So Urza is a potential upgrade for a Paradoxical Outcome deck, but what’s the best shell for such a deck these days? If we could build the deck such that it can get started without Urza, that would probably make it a lot more consistent.

One option is the Coretapper strategy. This is an artifact-mana engine shell that uses Coretapper and Surge Node to put counters on Everflowing Chalice or Astral Cornucopia to create artifacts that tap for large amounts of mana. After you’ve invested in them, picking them up with Paradoxical Outcome isn’t ideal, but if you play Voltaic Key, you can pick that up instead to allow you to reuse your artifact that taps for a lot of mana whenever you cast Paradoxical Outcome.

Another new addition to this strategy is Flux Channeler. Now if you get a single counter on one of these artifacts, every spell you cast increases the amount of mana it can tap for. If you’re going off in any way, this can result in artifacts that tap for comical amounts of mana, but you have to choose when in the turn you’re tapping them and you can only tap them once per turn (unless you’re using Voltaic Key or something like Paradox Engine). One way to get around that issue is to use Pentad Prism instead. This way, instead of getting counters on an artifact that you have to tap for mana, instead, for each Pentad Prism you control with a counter on it, you get one mana every time you cast a noncreature spell for each Flux Channeler you control.

This deck is extremely weird/challenging to build, but let’s take a stab at it:

This deck falls under the increasingly large category of Karn, the Great Creator ramp decks in Modern, where we basically just have a fast mana engine and Karn and then by default grab Mycosynth Lattice to lock the opponent out of the game, yet have a lot of other fun tools available if we don’t have enough mana or if they’re ahead on the battlefield.

Given the prevalence of Karn in Modern, it’s extremely helpful that Urza taps the artifacts for mana rather than allowing the artifacts to tap for mana, so it can still generate mana through an opposing Karn’s static ability.

It’s possible that this deck should play some greater number of planeswalkers to take advantage of Flux Channeler possibly allowing you to immediately ultimate (Jace, the Mind Sculptor?); to protect the combo (Teferi, Time Raveler); or as another engine piece (Saheeli, Sublime Artificer).

Let’s talk a bit about the cards I’ve chosen for the sideboard here, because several are noteworthy considerations for the maindeck in this kind of strategy.

Walking Ballista offers an easy kill with Flux Channeler if you find a way to do lots of things, while also removing problematic creatures or planeswalkers. Ensnaring Bridge is an obvious Karn target that pairs very well with Mycosynth Lattice to cover you when you’re behind. I already touched on the Thopter/Sword combo, but it’s cool that, if you have a turn or a Paradoxical Outcome, Karn can grab both of them.

A lot of the other cards are obvious versatile answers to things, but Paradox Engine and Magistrate’s Scepter are worth pointing out specifically. Magistrate’s Scepter is one of the best things you can proliferate onto with Flux Channeler, as it can easily lead to taking all the turns, and Paradox Engine combines with Urza to create a state where you probably win the game if you have a good number of artifacts, especially if some of them tap for five-plus mana, though you can potentially fizzle if you hit too many lands in a row with Urza’s ability.

This strategy is built to be explosive. It needs the right cards to come together, but the pieces are more interchangeable than they are in the decks based around specific three-card combos. If you don’t have Astral Cornucopia, Everflowing Chalice will work instead. If you don’t have Surge Node, Coretapper will do just fine. Urza, Flux Channeler, and Voltaic Key are all alternate ways of really ramping up your mana. Urza, Paradoxical Outcome, and Karn are all reasonable mana sinks. As you can see, you can win without finding any particular card.

Going even further in that direction, we can build a more value-centric combo deck that’s looking to grind more than explode:

This deck isn’t exactly sure if it’s an Arcbound Ravager aggro deck, a Scrap Trawler value deck, or a Sai combo deck, but really, why pick just one? I’m honestly not sure exactly how this one plays out, but I think that if you get Urza, Arcbound Ravager, Scrap Trawler, and Etherium Sculptor on the battlefield, you probably kind of go off?

Let’s get back to looking at Thopter/Sword, because that’s seemed the most promising:

I really like the idea of casting Urza and immediately having Stoic Rebuttal up, and it’ll play as Counterspell reasonably often in this deck. It’s also very appealing to have Teferi, Time Raveler on the battlefield to protect Urza when you’re trying to go off.

This build isn’t as flashy as some of the others, but I think this is the most promising by quite a bit. Thirst for Knowledge and Stoic Rebuttal let you play an interactive game with your planeswalkers while you dig for Urza or just natural Thopter/Sword people, with the added benefit that discarding Sword of the Meek to Thirst for Knowledge is great. This deck also uses Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal with Mox Amber in a way that isn’t too exposed to artifact hate because of the strength of your planeswalkers, and after sideboarding, you can just lean further into that.

I’ve been looking for ways to try Tamiyo, Collector of Tales in Modern, since it’s my favorite card in Standard, and I think it’s possible this deck should be leaning on Tamiyo even more. Tamiyo is fantastic at finding Thopter/Sword, you want Thopter Foundry in your hand and Sword of the Meek in your graveyard, and if you already have Thopter Foundry, you can just name Urza instead and maybe get the whole combo that way.

I was thinking about using Cryptic Command in the Stoic Rebuttal slot, since you can potentially cast Urza and immediately have Cryptic Command up and it’s nice to have a versatile answer to things, but I decided that I don’t need that particular kind of value in a deck that’s trying to go infinite and Stoic Rebuttal helps earlier in the game. Still, if you end up needing ways to get things off the battlefield, I think Cryptic Command is a reasonable consideration for this deck (though Teferi can do some of that).

There are a ton of different ways to build midrange Thopter/Sword decks – you can play black for discard instead of white for Teferi to protect the combo, you can play red for Faithless Looting – but I think green for Ancient Stirrings and Tamiyo and white for Teferi is the best way to go.

Honestly, I expected to explore a bunch of weird combos that exist in Modern to take advantage of a card that’s busted on its surface, but hard to find a home for. Right now I think there’s a decent chance that there’s a real archetype here, and I think planeswalkers specifically make a good pairing with the Thopter/Sword/Urza package, both because Thopters are good at protecting planeswalkers and because there’s very little overlap in hate cards for those strategies.

This is obviously just a first take, but I’m excited to see where this archetype goes.