Jan ’20 Brew Report: Amberning Up

It’s a whole new Modern, but we’ve got some unfinished business to take care of. Sure, some of the following lists are from after the Oko ban. Others, before. But all of them are from this month, which saw some really neat developments!

Simic Urza

Don’t call it a comeback! Simic Urza may have lost its key payoff in Oko, and its key enabler in Mox Opal, but it’s apparently still viable.

Simic Urza, LUCABIRESKUSKU (3-2, Modern Preliminary #12076840)

Creatures (20)
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Gilded Goose
Ice-Fang Coatl
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Artifacts (14)
Arcum’s Astrolabe
Engineered Explosives
Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Amber
Tormod’s Crypt

Instants (6)
Cryptic Command
Metallic Rebuke

Lands (20)
Breeding Pool
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Scalding Tarn
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Tormod’s Crypt
Blood Moon
Ceremonious Rejection
Galvanic Blast
Mystical Dispute
Questing Beast
Veil of Summer
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I have to say I was quite surprised to see Simic Urza putting up any kind of result after the bans. As I understood the deck, it began splashing green only to fit Oko, Thief of Crowns, the card it was more or less built around. But while the components have shifted a bit, Simic Urza appears to be following a similar gameplan: ramp into strong three- and four-mana plays and secure the advantage with permission.

The new cards here are Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Mox Amber, which respectively replace the identically-costed Oko and Opal. Uro is a passable value play that becomes more threatening later on. It of course can’t wear Oko’s many hats, but it still provides some velocity up-front and gets pilots closer to Urza, Lord High Artificer while being more flexible than a regular cantrip. 6/6 is kind of huge in Modern, where the strongest toughness-matters removal stops at 5.

As for Mox Amber, the only card activating it quickly is Emry, Lurker of the Loch. And the pair has notable synergy, as Mox gives Emry affinity, and can then tap for mana once the legend resolves. But without Emry, it’s just an artifact for the battlefield, similar to Mishra’s Bauble, another cog pilots are hesitant to crack early on.

Both changes are significant downgrades, but the Urza core seems strong potent to make things work.

Temur Urza, DANKCONFIDANT (5-0)

Creatures (10)
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Urza, Lord High Artificer
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Planeswalkers (3)
Wrenn and Six

Artifacts (16)
Arcum’s Astrolabe
Engineered Explosives
Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Amber
Pithing Needle
Aether Spellbomb

Enchantments (2)
Blood Moon

Instants (7)
Cryptic Command
Galvanic Blast
Metallic Rebuke

Lands (22)
Breeding Pool
Fiery Islet
Ghost Quarter
Lonely Sandbar
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Galvanic Blast
Ashiok, Dream Render
Damping Sphere
Dismember
Ghirapur Aether Grid
Grafdigger’s Cage
Magus of the Moon
Mystical Dispute
Nature’s Claim
Weather the Storm
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Then we have Temur Urza, which splashes red for high-power plays like Wrenn and Six and Blood Moon. Wrenn plugs a curve hole as does Tarmogoyf in mana-dork decks, punishing opponents for removing a first-turn mana generator and attacking from a unique angle besides. Moon also penalizes tap-outs, the very threat of its existence slowing opponents down.

Splash aside, this build goes harder on Mox Amber, including a full set. It’s Uro which finds itself in slimmer numbers, trimmed to accommodate the red payoff cards.

While my own playstyle biases make me partial to how this deck looks, I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t stretched too thin. The red plan it splashes for has no overlap with the artifact plan forming the deck’s backbone, and a major draw to Simic Urza decks pre-ban was the cohesion between its pieces: while Oko stood alone as a win condition, it was only enhanced by an abundance of Baubles and Astrolabes in a way that Wrenn and Moon aren’t. Either way, though, I find this development for midrange-trending Urza decks interesting and even refreshing, as most Urza decks post-ban have naturally reverted to prison-style Whirza decks.

Dats a Combo

Simic Urza was great at unfolding its gameplan while disrupting opponents, but it also proved soft to the kind of disruption that has historically wreaked havoc on combo decks. During its reign, sleeving up any form of combo seemed like a a shaky choice. These decks are starting to crawl out of the shadows.

Coretapper, CHERRYXMAN (5-0)

Creatures (6)
Coretapper
Walking Ballista

Planeswalkers (8)
Karn, the Great Creator
Ugin, the Ineffable

Artifacts (26)
Astral Cornucopia
Chalice of the Void
Everflowing Chalice
Expedition Map
Mystic Forge
Paradox Engine
Surge Node

Instants (1)
Once Upon a Time

Lands (19)
Blast Zone
Ghost Quarter
Inventors’ Fair
Sea Gate Wreckage
Snow-Covered Forest
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower
Wastes
Sideboard (15)
Walking Ballista
Paradox Engine
Crucible of Worlds
Ensnaring Bridge
Grafdigger’s Cage
Liquimetal Coating
Spatial Contortion
Thought-Knot Seer
Tormod’s Crypt
Witchbane Orb
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Coretapper suffered doubly under Simic Urza’s reign, as it simply cannot function under Collector Ouphe, a card popular for incidentally cramping Urza’s artifact engine. The deck isn’t entirely new to Modern, but it has gained an interesting tool lately in Once Upon a Time. The exact number of copies to run remains a mystery; still, Once pulls double-duty here by both finding Tron lands and locating Coretapper, an integral component of the deck’s mana engine. And like the dedicated Tron decks themselves, losing Mycosynth Lattice doesn’t appear to make Karn, the Great Creator any less of a staple in decks that produce a lot of mana.

Oracle Ad Nauseam, SLYDANIEL (5-0)

Creatures (8)
Thassa’s Oracle
Simian Spirit Guide

Artifacts (8)
Lotus Bloom
Pentad Prism

Enchantments (4)
Phyrexian Unlife

Instants (16)
Ad Nauseam
Angel’s Grace
Lightning Storm
Pact of Negation
Spoils of the Vault

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (20)
City of Brass
Darkslick Shores
Gemstone Mine
Plains
Seachrome Coast
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Enlightenment
Sideboard (15)
Pact of Negation
Bontu’s Last Reckoning
Grafdigger’s Cage
Leyline of Sanctity
Meddling Mage
Path to Exile
Teferi, Time Raveler
Wear // Tear
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Oracle Ad Nauseam runs not one, not two, but four copies of Oracle of Thassa. David explored the card’s potential in this deck a couple weeks ago, but he hadn’t expected Oracle to surface in such a quantity! It turns out that blocking and scrying along the road to six mana is closely aligned with Ad Nauseam‘s Plan A in addition to offering a straight upgrade to the once-run Laboratory Maniac.

Christmas Beatings

Speaking of my predilections, nothing feels more Magic to me than turning dudes sideways. And I’m not alone in my pursuit of combat!

GR Aggro, PSYCHOPHOBIC (5-0)

Creatures (32)
Bonecrusher Giant
Arbor Elf
Birds of Paradise
Bloodbraid Elf
Glorybringer
Gruul Spellbreaker
Magus of the Moon
Obstinate Baloth
Vengevine

Planeswalkers (3)
Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner

Enchantments (4)
Utopia Sprawl

Lands (81)
Forest
Kessig Wolf Run
Mountain
Stomping Ground
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
60 Cards
Sideboard (15)
Obstinate Baloth
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Cindervines
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Trinisphere
Wheel of Sun and Moon
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This build of GR Aggro follows a simple credo: cast a three-drop on turn two. I mean, it worked for Oko decks, right? An abundance of four- and five-drops turns extra dorks (and incidental mana garnered from the Arbor-Sprawl interaction) into real threats, including the recursive Vengevine. Vine boasts little synergy with any element of the deck other than it plays a lot of creatures, making this list perhaps the most fair usage of the 4/3 I’ve ever seen in Modern.

Here too is Bonecrusher Giant, a card gaining steam as a versatile modal spell that locks in value for longer games. Between Giant in aggro strategies, Brazen Borrower in Ux tempo decks, and Merchant of the Vale in graveyard-based ones, the adventure mechanic has shaped up to be quite strong in Modern.

GR Aggro, KILLAGERM (32nd, Modern Champs #12061198)

Creatures (15)
Arbor Elf
Bloodbraid Elf
Goblin Rabblemaster
Hexdrinker
Magus of the Moon

Planeswalkers (8)
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
Karn, the Great Creator
Wrenn and Six

Enchantments (4)
Utopia Sprawl

Instants (8)
Dismember
Lightning Bolt
Once Upon a Time

Sorceries (4)
Pillage

Lands (21)
Forest
Ghost Quarter
Horizon Canopy
Mountain
Stomping Ground
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Cindervines
Ensnaring Bridge
Liquimetal Coating
Mycosynth Lattice
Shifting Ceratops
Trinisphere
Veil of Summer
Walking Ballista
Weather the Storm
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This build of GR Aggro focuses less on three-drops, featuring something to do should opponents actually have a Lightning Bolt. It’s more midrange-leaning too, with a higher curve epitomized by 4 Karn, the Great Creator. I don’t see this package hanging on with Lattice gone, as it’s no longer a win condition, but I’m still tickled by the idea of an aggro deck adopting such a strategy so decisively. Once Upon a Time is also cool here, as it finds Arbor Elf for Sprawl shenanigans or Rabble, Hex, or Magus depending on the matchup (hence the split between those creatures).

One notable is that Tarmogoyf is absent from both decklists. Even though it hits like a ton of bricks and covers for shot-down one-drops, the above deckbuilders evidently found that the once-ubiquitous beater had little to contribute to their ecosystems: PSYCHOPHOBIC’s deck refuses to indulge even a single two-drop, while KILLAGERM’s prefers Wrenn (and Once) in those precious few slots. My, how the mighty have fallen!

Year of the Brew

That’s it for today’s installation. If you happen to come across any sneaky-scary Modern brews, don’t hesitate to rat them out!

3 thoughts on “Jan ’20 Brew Report: Amberning Up

  1. So one of the most interesting lists I found in the January 31 5-0 deck dump is this really interesting Gruul Aggro list here going wide with playsets of Goblin Rabblemaster, Legion Warboss, and Seasoned Pyromancer topped off with Domri, Anarch of Bolas and even Embercleaves. https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2723958#paper

    It definitely looks like an interesting jumping-off point, but I’m a little worried about having only the 8 mana dorks and (almost) nothing to do on 2, which means if your opponent bolts the bird it’s almost a Time Walk. Also, I feel like this deck should definitely be running some number of Castle Embereth as well as (maybe?) a Torbran, as both those cards get better and better the wider you go.

    1. Seems close in spirit to the lists I posted above, which also feature zero two-mana plays. I think the ideas behind them are are as follows:

      1. Bolt/Push are experiencing a lull right now
      2. There are enough one-drops to follow a dead Bird with two more before curving into 3 the next turn, or 5 if the new dorks live

      Both points are debatable, but they may represent the thinking that went into these builds.

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