First Draft Friday: Urza Paradox Scepter!
Hello and welcome to First Draft Friday! This article series is the spiritual successor to Fresh Spice Friday, a short column I used to write for our Facebook page. This time, things are a bit different. Instead of showcasing new decks from the community, I will let you, dear reader, vote on which cards you want me to build a deck around. To facilitate this, I set up a poll at the end of this article. Each poll will feature four cards. The most popular option will be chosen for a future article, and the least popular option will be dropped from the poll. If there’s a card you would like to see on the poll, please let me know on Twitter,Discord or in the comment section below!
The decks in this series are meant to be exactly what the title says: first drafts. If you find any of these ideas interesting, I highly encourage you to pick them up and tinker with them. The aim here is not to create the most competitive decks on an absolute scale, but rather to explore interesting cards and ideas and provide outlines for decks that can be cEDH viable with further refinements.
This week, we’re taking a break from our regular schedule to talk about one of the most exciting Commanders from Modern Horizons: Urza, Lord High Artificer
As soon as this card got spoiled, I got together with Sickrobot, Shaper, and Lerker (and a bunch of other people later on – I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many people be excited to work on a new commander) to brew up a first draft that’s ready for playtesting. Today, I’m going to showcase what we came up with.
When looking at Urza, there’s a number of things that come to mind:
- Any artifact becomes a mana rock when he’s on the field
- He comes with his own mana rock, which refunds some of the mana spent to cast him
- He’s an outlet for infinite Mana
- He can tap artifacts
- We can feed surplus mana on our turn into his Temporal Aperture/Mind’s Desire effect
Let’s go through some of these factors and look at how we can incorporate them into the build.
- He’s an outlet for infinite Mana
There are various ways of making infinite Mana in Mono Blue, so let’s try to figure out which one we want for this deck. The first option is Palinchron + Deadeye Navigator. What makes this combo not worth it is its lack of tutorability. Mono Blue isn’t particularly good at finding creatures, so instead of having tutors and tutor chains for our combo pieces, we would need to hit exactly those two to be able to go off. Furthermore, both pieces are (almost) useless outside of the combo case, and they are very expensive at and respectively.
The second option is Grim Monolith/Basalt Monolith + Power Artifact/Rings of Brighthearth. Grim Monolith + Power Artifact is the cheapest option at , followed by Basalt Monolith + Power Artifact at , and finally Basalt Monolith + Rings of Brighthearth at . Grim Monolith can help us ramp into Urza and is a mana-positive rock by itself, so it’s worth playing. Basalt Monolith however comes down too late to ramp into Urza and is generally a bit too expensive for what it provides. 3 mana is way above rate for what we want to pay for a mana rock in this deck. Even 2 mana is too expensive in most cases. Rings of Brighthearth is tutorable, but only works with Basalt Monolith, which we just found out isn’t worth playing on its own. While Rings does provide some niche synergies with things like Fetchlands and Planeswalker activations, those don’t make it worth playing. Power Artifact, which would only combo with Grim Monolith now, can be only be found with one tutor – Muddle the Mixture. Outside of that combo, the card is also completely useless, which makes it not worth playing in my eyes.
- He can tap artifacts
Let’s look at some artifacts that can be abused by controlling when they are or aren’t untapped. From this list, the following cards seem like viable options: Howling Mine, Static Orb, Trinisphere, Winter Orb. We can tap Howling Mine at the end of our turn so nobody else gets an extra draw, and we can tap the three Orbs/Spheres right before our turn so everyone else takes a hit to their mana base and spellcasting ability. For Trinisphere specifically, we can also tap it down during a big stack war to make it easier to cast interaction spells. While I do like the two Orbs and Trinisphere, I don’t think Howling Mine deserves a spot in the deck. While its effect is neat when we have Urza in play, it’s much less useful when we don’t have Urza compared to the other three cards. Without being able to tap it down, we give everyone else at the table a free draw every turn cycle. That’s rough, so Howling Mine is out.
Now that we’ve decided on our main win condition package, let’s take a quick look all the different combo lines in this deck. For this, we will separate the combo setup from the actual outlets. The main goal of our combos is to create infinite mana, which will let us use Urza to cast our whole deck.
Infinite Mana Combos:
Requirements: Dramatic Reversal in hand, to cast and activate Isochron Scepter, nonland mana sources that can make at least 3 mana
Requirements: Any Instant that can be put under Isochron Scepter in hand, , nonland mana sources that can make at least 3 mana
Requirements: , nonland mana sources that can make at least 3 to net mana while re-casting Top and activating Key
Requirements: , nonland mana sources that can make at least 2 mana
Infinite Draw Combos:
Requirements: Urza in play,
- Codex Shredder with infinite untaps = infinite mill (cast Windfall to win on the same turn)
- Copy Artifact on Isochron Scepter with infinite untaps, imprint Narset’s Reversal = infinite spellcasts
- Timetwister + Codex Shredder to return Timetwister = infinite spellcasts
- Paradox Engine + Isochron Scepter = infinite spellcasts for Scepter imprinted spell
The rest of the deck is rounded out with Mono Blue staples and some cards that synergise with Urza. One thing to note about this deck are that Urza can’t be activated on other people’s turns the way Thrasios can. Unless you desperately need a counterspell, you should only activate him on your own turn, ideally before you make your land drop. At the same time, this means that we want to tap out on our turn as much as possible when using Urza as a value engine, so cards like Unwinding Clock can help us regain that mana so we’re still able to interact. Sai, Master Thopterist and Trail of Evidence create mana rocks when we cast spells, but those mana rocks can also be used to draw more cards. Having engines that produce both mana and cards in one seems very strong. Since Urza creates absurd amounts of mana very quickly, we decided to run a few more high-end payoff cards than usual, which is why Recurring Insight made the cut. I always found it too expensive to run in Teferi, but it seems worth it here. Another thing to keep in mind is that Urza does not give his ability to every artifact. This means that Cursed Totem hurts us and can’t be run. And while his effect does work through Null Rod, playing Null Rod here is not worth it as it shuts off our Scepter combo and everything else in the deck if we don’t have access to Urza.
The only change I’ve personally made from the official decklist is Saprazzan Skerry instead of one Island. After spending some time goldfishing, I found that the deck wants more 1-mana plays and it wants more ways of getting Urza into play early. Skerry being a tapland does make it a 1-mana play in effect, and tapping for two mana makes it ramp, so it serves both of those purposes.
All in all, Urza looks really strong. I think this is the first Mono Blue Commander that can truly hold a candle to Chain Veil Teferi, and only time will tell if one of the two is better, or if they’re even similar enough to be compared to each other. What’s fascinating about him is that he can probably be built in multiple ways – while I feel that this type of midrange-y build is the best option for the Mono Blue card pool, I could see others building him as a full-on Stax deck – even all-in Storm build might be possible. My first impression is that Teferi plays at a more consistent pace while Urza can be more explosive. If you ask me whether I’d recommend playing this deck, then, well…
Yes. I do.
No poll this week since this is a special episode, but if you haven’t voted for the card you’d like to see featured in a future article on the most recent poll, don’t forget to do so! We’ll be back to our normal schedule with the next First Draft Friday article on the 7th of June.