Once, in an age long past, he wasn't known as the monster he is today. He was just a simple artificer. Just a man, comprised of ambition and, of course, artifice, trying to make it as an artificer in a not-artificer-friendly world. But those days were long ago...ancient history at this point...long forgotten by nearly all. Things change, as do people. He was desperate to prove his mettle when it came to shaping and influencing metal, and in doing so he accidentally created something horrific. He created something that would change history forevermore, and the fires of change did not miss him along the way. As his tower, power plant, and mine destroyed the old way of life, his life was likewise torn asunder. He became something...different. Something more…
I have always loved the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo. I've played it a number of times in Legacy, and when I heard that they were unbanning it in Modern—years ago at this point—I was both excited and scared. I was excited to be able to play with it again, but scared that it was too powerful and would dominate the format. Those fears turned out to be unwarranted. Not only did the combo not dominate the format, it fell completely to obscurity in the years to come. Secretly, I have always harbored hope that I would be able to play it again. They say that hope springs eternal, and my hopes have finally come to fruition.
Modern Horizons shook it all up. Urza, Lord High Artificer was printed, and with it came new life for the Thopter/Sword combo. I guess you could say Urza is Sword of a big deal. Urza, Lord High Artificer offered the ability to go infinite with the Thopter/Sword combo by virtue of Urza's ability to tap any artifact to generate a blue mana. With Urza in play, you can tap Sword of the Meek for blue and use that mana to sacrifice it to Thopter Foundry. That creates a 1/1 flying Thopter Token, which satisfies Sword of the Meek's ability to return to the battlefield equipped to that creature. Now that the Sword is back in play, you can once again tap the Sword of the Meek for blue, sacrifice it to the Thopter Foundry, get a 1/1 and bring back the Sword. Rinse and repeat.
This combo generates infinite Thopters and infinite life, as Thopter Foundry gains a life for each activation. It also creates infinite blue mana. Each Thopter created by this combo can also tap for blue mana, meaning that each activation of the combo is +1 mana. This means that not only does the combo create infinite 1/1 flying creatures and infinite life, it also allows you to cast every card in your deck thanks to Urza's other ability: pay five mana to shuffle your deck and then play the top card without paying its mana cost. With infinite mana, you can activate this ability as many times as you want.
There are a number of cards that allow you to just win the game upon assembling the combo. Having a Ghirapur Aether Grid in your deck means you can find it with Urza and then use all those Thopters to shoot your opponent for lethal. Scrap Trawler performs a similar role with Pyrite Spellbomb. Every time you sacrifice the Sword with Trawler in play, it can loop either a Pyrite Spellbomb or a Mox Opal, and by alternating the two of them, you can deal the opponent infinite damage in increments of 2. Spine of Ish Sah also performs this purpose to some extent by allowing you to cast and sacrifice it over and over again to destroy every permanent your opponent controls, which is generally good enough when paired with infinite creatures and life.
Ultimately, I didn't include any of those cards in my list, which means that I'm relying solely on infinite Thopters and life to be good enough if I assemble the combo. While it generally is, some decks like Tron can win through it.
This is the list that I registered for Mythic Championship IV, which takes place this weekend in Barcelona, Spain. This tournament is an open decklist event, which means that my maindeck will be available for all of my opponents to see. The sideboard cards are also known by names, but not quantities. As I wish to give myself the best chance to succeed in this tournament, I'm not going to give away how many of each sideboard card I'm playing.
I decided to play this deck because I think it's fun, I think it fits my playstyle, I think it's genuinely pretty decent, and because I wanted to play with Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek. Is this the best deck in the format? No, I don't believe so. I believe that the Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis deck is the best deck in the format, by a fairly extreme margin, and the only reason that Hogaak might not completely dominate the event is that it is a victim of its own success. There might be lots of graveyard hate, which is entirely warranted, and that might keep down Hogaak. Otherwise, that deck is excessively good. I can't stress enough how powerful it is. If you don't have a ton of graveyard hate, good luck competing with recurring aggressive creatures and 8/8 tramplers that are very often cast on turn two. Graveyard hate that isn't Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace is often completely ineffective against the deck as well.
I think a lot of people will sleeve up Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis this weekend, and they will likely not be incorrect to do so.
With that being said, I do think that Urza is favored, even if only slightly, against the Hogaak menace, and I think it's also a good deck against a lot of other top tier choices, like Humans and Jund. U/R Phoenix is a close matchup, and the same can be said for Eldrazi Tron, depending on how many cards you've dedicated to the matchup. I think this is a good choice for the weekend, but I don't think that I've broken the format with this deck choice. If anything, I don't have particularly high hopes for how the event will go, but I'm excited to play with these cards.
I want to talk about how to build this deck for a bit. Since this is a completely new archetype based around a lot of Modern Horizons cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer, Goblin Engineer and Arcum's Astrolabe, there is still a ton of work to be done in tuning this archetype and coming up with the best versions of it.
It would be naive for me to assume that my version is the best way to build this deck, or even close to it. I'm sure that will eventually be hammered out in time. That being said, I recognize something special in this deck. Urza, Lord High Artificer is an incredibly powerful card and I suspect that a tier 1 shell will grow around it—if not now, then eventually. The problem with Urza is that the rest of the cards that surround it are simply not that great. That can be fixed with better deckbuilding over time. I know that Urza, Lord High Artificer has what it takes to be a defining part of Modern, because the things you get to do when you cast it are obscene. Most of the flaws in this deck are only flaws when you don't draw Urza.
When it comes to the rest of the deck, however, there are a number of things I want to touch on.
The first is Goblin Engineer. This card is not a sacred cow for this strategy. I've read articles suggesting that this card is uncuttable from the deck. I don't think that is remotely true. In fact I tested nearly the entire time for this tournament without any copies of Goblin Engineer in my deck and I did not miss the card.
You'll notice that my list does contain two copies of Goblin Engineer. I added them on the last day, because I felt that the format was shifting toward hyper-linear strategies like Hogaak and I wanted to maximize my game against those strategies. Goblin Engineer is genuinely great against those strategies.
It also felt like a free roll to play at least one copy of the card over the second copy of Sword of the Meek. In most cases, it's effectively the same thing, as Goblin Engineer serves as a means to put a Sword of the Meek into the graveyard, which is a fine place for it to reside as it awaits Thopter Foundries in play to bring it back.
Goblin Engineer is genuinely good at assembling the combo when faced with no disruption, or finding the right pieces of interaction against decks that don't offer significant disruption. It is very good in that role.
The problem with Goblin Engineer is that it makes you vulnerable to a lot of cards that the deck is otherwise not vulnerable to. It makes removal good against you. If you play a Goblin Engineer and put your last copy of Ensnaring Bridge into the graveyard and your opponent Lightning Bolts your Goblin Engineer, then you've lost your Bridge forever. If you're not willing to risk losing your Bridge to a Lightning Bolt, then you have to choose to put something else into your graveyard. If you desperately need a Bridge, and you're playing a card that can tutor for a Bridge, and yet your decision is that it's too risky to do so, then I question the value of playing a tutor like Goblin Engineer in the first place. It's also a huge blowout to tap out for Goblin Engineer, dump your important card into the graveyard, and then get set back by a card like Reflector Mage out of Humans.
It also makes graveyard hate great against you. If you play Goblin Engineer and dump Sword of the Meek into the graveyard and then your opponent hits you with a Surgical Extraction, Relic of Progenitus, Scavenging Ooze or some other graveyard effect, you've lost your Sword forever. You can play around cards like Surgical and Relic later in the game once you've set up, and sometimes by dumping the Sword into the graveyard too early, you allow yourself to lose to a card that shouldn't have beaten you.
Goblin Engineer also does absolutely nothing in post-board games against decks that have access to cards like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace, which they will side in against you to shut down the Thopter/Sword combo. You have to side out Goblin Engineer in nearly every single matchup, because it becomes a huge liability post-board vs. almost everything.
I am sure there will be times I regret playing Goblin Engineer this weekend. I only hope my prediction about the decks it's good against comes true, to validate the two copies I included.
So if not Goblin Engineer, then what? What else forms the engine of the deck?
I believe that, much like KCI in the past, you can form the core engine of the deck around cards like Ichor Wellspring and Chromatic Star. By playing these cards in your deck, you create the ability for this deck to play a robust midrange game plan around Sai, Master Thopterist and Thopter Foundry. Those two cards can create a lot of value by interacting favorably with Chromatic Stars and Ichor Wellsprings.
The deck can actually win a surprising number of games solely on the back of Thopter Foundry or Sai, Master Thopterist as a value engine with those cards, without even requiring Sword of the Meek to go infinite.
I'm playing three Chromatic Star and three Ichor Wellspring in my deck. Originally this was four Wellsprings and only two Stars, but on the last day I swapped it to a three/three split because I felt that the deck often had issues getting hellbent for Ensnaring Bridge or was clunky when it drew too many Ichor Wellsprings. However, if the format slows down to a more midrange bent, then Ichor Wellspring is one of the best possible cards for this strategy.
One thing I love about this deck is that there are a ton of interactions that aren't immediately obvious but are great for generating tons of value. One such interaction is that making Thopters with Sai, Master Thopterist also returns Sword of the Meek to play from the graveyard. Often, with Urza, Lord High Artificer and Sai, Master Thopterist in play, you can churn through huge chunks of your deck by tapping Sword of the Meek and another artifact for mana, and then sacrificing the Sword and another artifact to draw a card with Sai's ability. Then when you cast another artifact, you get a Thopter from Sai, which returns the sword, and suddenly you have another three mana to work with: you have the Thopter, the Sword, and the freshly cast artifact. You can tap two of those to sacrifice the Sword and another artifact to Sai's ability and draw another card. Often, you can use this to churn through your deck until you find a Thopter Foundry to go infinite.
Another great interaction is between Urza, Lord High Artificer and Thopter Foundry. With Urza and a Thopter Foundry in play, you can sometimes also churn through your deck. You use the Thopter Foundry to sacrifice an artifact to make a Thopter. That Thopter taps for blue mana, which you can then use to sacrifice another artifact to make another Thopter. You can use this to effectively turn every artifact in play into a Thopter. If a lot of those artifacts are things like Ichor Wellspring or Chromatic Star that draw you a card when you sacrifice them to Thopter Foundry, then you can draw a bunch of cards off this combo. Those fresh cards can even add more to the chain, as every one- or zero-mana artifact is essentially free to cast with Urza, as it either pays for itself or generates a mana.
The biggest struggle for me with this deck came to the sideboard. One flaw with this deck is that it needs more sideboard cards than it has access to, especially since I felt obligated to play Leyline of the Void to combat Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis effectively. Adding slots for that card really hampers the deck in other matchups.
The deck needs access to removal spells to compete with linear creature decks like Humans and Devoted Druid decks. Fatal Push proved to be the best option in this regard, and it's also great against Jund and Burn. Dead of Winter is also a nice three-mana sweeper that sometimes acts like Plague Wind if you only have three snow permanents and some 1/4s in play.
The two worst matchups from my testing were against W/U Control and Burn. I don't have anything in my sideboard for Burn. All the cards I considered seemed too narrow so I've decided to simply hope I dodge it. As for W/U Control, I felt proactive threats like Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas were the best options because you need to make sure you can pressure their planeswalkers or else they will take over the game.
Tron and Eldrazi Tron were both decks that flip-flopped in testing from being great to horrible matchups almost entirely dependant on the amount of hate I had. The best hate card against those decks, by far, is Ceremonious Rejection, which allows you to nullify a big card from them while not requiring a huge mana investment. Sometimes it is effectively free with Urza, Lord High Artificer. I think I am a bit light on Tron and Eldrazi Tron hate because I had to make room for Leyline of the Void, and I would suspect I am slightly behind vs. these decks now.
The biggest problem card from those decks is Karn, the Great Creator. Ceremonious Rejection counters a Karn, but cards like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas that can attack it to death are also valued. In a world where this deck is public enemy number one, I would have a ton of Rejections and 2 Tezzeret to make sure I am adequately equipped to deal with this deck.
Wear // Tear is a card I would prefer to not have to play, but it's a very versatile card against a lot of decks and gives you an answer to Stony Silence. You can beat Stone with Urza and Sai, but it's a lot easier to simply remove it from play. Wear // Tear is also an essential sideboard card because it destroys Aria of Flame, which is nearly impossible to beat otherwise from U/R Phoenix. The rest of that deck struggles to beat your Thopters and Ensnaring Bridge, but Aria of Flame is a huge problem, and having Wear // Tear is often the difference between winning and losing.
The sideboard tugs in a lot of directions. You need cards to beat W/U Control, cards to beat Tron and Eldrazi decks, cards to beat creature strategies like Humans, cards to beat U/R Phoenix, and effective graveyard hate for Hogaak and Dredge. The end result is that concessions have to be made somewhere, and I chose to bring graveyard hate for Hogaak decks at the slight cost of my Tron and W/U Control matchups. I hope that in time the sideboard will grow narrower as more efficient options are found.
The tournament starts tomorrow for me, and I'm about to head to the site to pick up the last cards I need, check in, and do some interviews and deck techs. I've decided to put my faith in the Lord on High, Urza, Lord High Artifcer, and I can only hope that I am rewarded for it. Praise be. May my Thopters be found(ried) and may my Sword of the Meek inherit the earth.
...Yes, ages ago, he was once a simple man. But even he could barely remember that anymore. Now he carried almost godlike power, and gods don't have time to reminisce about past lives. He had shed all vestiges of his former self. It was necessary to focus on his task at hand. Any distractions would be costly. He must rid the world of the evil that threatened to swallow it whole, and he was the only one equipped for the task. This burden fell solely on his shoulders, but he would bear it, and he would accomplish it, no matter the cost to himself or anyone else. It took someone willing to make the hard choices to win this fight. Only he could dispense justice to the evil that would tear apart the world. He was like the hand of God. Only, he wasn't the hand of God. No. He was God. He was Urza, Lord High Artificer, and this was his world.
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