Recently I’ve been playing a lot more Magic than I have in a long time. As per usual I find myself gravitating towards Modern more than anything else, and in doing so I’ve spent time both looking for fun decks and looking for the best deck. On the journey for a fun deck, I revisited an older brew of mine using the “Dice Factory” mana engine in combination with various payoffs.
Since I last looked, the archetype got a big new addition in 《Urza, Lord High Artificer》 that naturally plays well in a deck full of artifacts. In addition to just being a solid card in an artifact deck, 《Urza》 also plays well with 《Paradox Engine》, which was already an option as a payoff when you assemble a highly charged 《Everflowing Chalice》 or 《Astral Cornucopia》. After a little bit of tuning in some leagues, I’ve found myself really liking this list:
4 《Breeding Pool》
4 《Botanical Sanctum》
4 《Yavimaya Coast》
1 《Waterlogged Grove》
2 《Blast Zone》
-Land (18)- 4 《Coretapper》
4 《Urza, Lord High Artificer》
4 《Sea Gate Restoration》
4 《Astral Cornucopia》
4 《Engineered Explosives》
4 《Everflowing Chalice》
4 《Surge Node》
3 《Paradox Engine》
3 《Saheeli, Sublime Artificer》
4 《Karn, the Great Creator》
While I can’t claim this deck is broken or a tier 1 strategy in Modern, I think it’s powerful enough to get by in Modern Leagues, while being an absolute blast to play.
How it Works
This deck is a combo deck at its core. While it gives up speed compared to other combo decks, it has the upside of leveraging 《Karn, the Great Creator》 or 《Urza》 into victories in a “fair” manner. While some combo decks gain resiliency from interaction by being extremely redundant, such as Gifts Storm, this deck gains resiliency by the nature of its combo win conditions being extremely flexible, and finding lines that involve winning with combat damage or 《Karn》 with 《Liquimetal Coating》.
As far as the combo is concerned, here is step by step breakdown on how to go off:
This combo can be executed as early as turn 3, as you can either use 《Saheeli, Sublime Artificer》 to turn a 《Surge Node》 into a mana rock, or you can draw 2 《Coretapper》 and/or 《Surge Node》 to power up a mana rock to 4 counters on your third turn. From there you can cast 《Paradox Engine》, cast a cheap spell to untap your mana rock(s), and then cast 《Karn》. While this draw is quite resource intensive, it’s nice to have access to, and is more likely to come together when you really need it given most fast decks in Modern aren’t also disruptive.
Using 《Karn》 to generate infinite mana and then finding 《Walking Ballista》 is usually the end result of games that involve 《Paradox Engine》, but getting there can happen in a lot of different ways. 《Urza》 has made the 《Paradox Engine》 part of this deck much stronger, as not only can he help you generate mana to utilize with 《Paradox Engine》, his “spin” ability pairs quite nicely with it as well, as every time you hit a spell, you’ll untap all your nonland permanents and be able to spin again. While this isn’t deterministic, it’s not rare to win the game from this spot if you started off with 5+ mana from 《Urza》.
Every time your spin hits a spell you unlock another spin, and as you hit more spells your extra floating mana will allow you to afford to whiff by hitting a land. This is where 《Sea Gate Restoration》 really shines, as instead of having 22 lands to whiff with, we actually only have 18, and when you hit 《Sea Gate Restoration》 you have the potential to draw even more spells to keep going with.
If you ever hit 《Karn》 you should be able to win as now you’re in step 3, which means the combination of 《Urza》 and 《Paradox Engine》 frequently means you’re just trying to hit 《Karn》 (《Ancient Stirrings》 or 《Sea Gate Restoration》 finding 《Karn》 counts!) before you hit too many lands in a row.
So even though in the end you’re using 《Urza》 to find 《Karn》, this still effectively lets you use 《Urza》 as a combo piece with 《Paradox Engine》. And in addition to 《Karn》 and 《Urza》 being unfair with 《Paradox Engine》 and mana, they also have the potential to win the game on their own. 《Urza》 pairs quite nicely with 《Saheeli》 as not only do the Servos lead to a larger Construct and more potential mana for spins, but you can also use 《Saheeli》 to turn a random artifact into a Construct to pressure your opponent and simply win with combat damage.
《Karn》 on the other hand can utilize the Servos from 《Saheeli》 to protect himself from attackers and get more activations. Some games you can just simply assemble 《Ensnaring Bridge》 and 《Liquimetal Coating》 so you can destroy all your opponent’s lands and give yourself all the time you need to eventually win with 《Paradox Engine》.
With that being said, the win conditions of 《Karn》 and 《Urza》 are also both extremely important to draw. While you don’t have to resolve 《Saheeli》 or 《Paradox Engine》 in order to win every game, it’s quite unlikely you’ll be winning any games where you don’t resolve 《Urza》 or 《Karn》 at the very least. This doesn’t mean you should mulligan every hand that doesn’t have 《Urza》, 《Karn》, or 《Ancient Stirrings》, but it just adds more fail rate to the deck.
Right now, you can see I’m using 4 spell slots on 《Engineered Explosives》 and I’m not confident this is correct. The charge counter synergy is nice to have and they can buy you a lot of time in aggressive matchups. In addition to that, just a 0-mana artifact can be worth a lot with both 《Urza》 and 《Paradox Engine》, but perhaps something like 《Relic of Progenitus》 or even 《Serum Visions》 could be useful to help cycling through the deck. I can’t imagine ever completely cutting 《Engineered Explosives》, but right now I consider the 3rd and 4th copy to be flex slots.
As far as sideboarding is concerned, I only have the 4 cards that aren’t part of my 《Karn》 wishboard. Occasionally I’ll do something like board in 《Chalice of the Void》 because it’s good in the matchup but not good enough to tutor with 《Karn》. I only ever side out as much as 2 《Paradox Engine》s, 2 《Saheeli》, and 2 《Engineered Explosives》s, depending on the matchup.
In my lands you’ll also notice 2 copies of 《Blast Zone》, which are additional hedges for beating opposing 《Karn》s, 《Stony Silence》s, or 《Collector Ouphe》s. I also hedge for those cards with the sideboard 《Spine of Ish Sah》, as if you can go off with 《Urza》 and 《Paradox Engine》 in the face of one of those cards, when you finally hit 《Karn》 you can generate infinite mana with 《Statue》, rebuy 《Karn》 for the 《Spine of Ish Sah》 to destroy the permanent, and then use your infinite mana to use 《Urza》 to find another 《Karn》 to find 《Walking Ballista》.
Right now, I also just have the general luxury of 《Stony Silence》 not being frequently played, letting me skimp on something like 《Nature’s Claim》 in favor of more 《Karn》 grabs. I would consider 《Chalice of the Void》 and 《Spine of Ish Sah》 luxury artifacts, but the rest of them I’d be reluctant to cut.
This deck has a lot of strange lines available to it at times, here are some that I’ve run into or thought about:
The Good Decks
In my last article I predicted that 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》 would be good enough for the 《Uro》 midrange decks to move to 4 colors to include it, and it looks like I was right. I’m currently under the impression that this archetype is the best deck in Modern, but not by a large margin.
In my testing the last couple months I’ve found five decks to stand above the rest; Omnath Midrange, RB Shadow, GW Ramp, GW Heliod, and Red Obosh Prowess. I think all of these decks have a lot of proactive power behind them, while also having a lot of play against other decks. Of course, due to the nature of Modern, there will certainly be good times to play other archetypes if the field isn’t prepared for them. We frequently see this happening with things like Dredge, no land combo decks, and Ad Nauseam. I just think those first 5 decks are quite difficult to hate out, despite people trying with things like 《Boil》 or 《Rain of Gore》.
The problem is these top archetypes all have really effective ways to make these narrow sideboard cards not very impressive. In particular I keep seeing 《Boil》 across various archetypes, and while I know it has its moments against both 《Mystic Sanctuary》 and 《Dryad of the Ilysian Grove》 decks, it also can be embarrassingly bad against both of them. The ramp decks just brick it if they have draws that don’t involve 《Dryad of the Ilysian Grove》, and the 《Mystic Sanctuary》 decks not only can be in a position where they can leave up counter magic for 《Boil》, but they also don’t really care if control 《Wrenn and Six》, 《Uro》, 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》, 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》, 《Teferi, Hero of Dominaria》, or have resolved 《Hour of Promise》 and made some Zombies.
I guess if you really believed either of those matchups was bad enough that you needed something high variance to give yourself a shot, I could see the inclusion of 《Boil》 being worth it, but I just find it unlikely that you really need that.
I hope that if you try out the 《Paradox Engine》 deck you find success with it, or at least find yourself having a lot of fun playing it. I really enjoy finding combo decks like these because not every game is just executing the combo. It’s really enjoyable to sometimes play control with 《Engineered Explosives》 and 《Blast Zone》, or play the game towards ramping into a 《Wurmcoil Engine》.
I know there’s a colorless variant of this deck that uses Tron lands and 《Mystic Forge》, but I think 《Ancient Stirrings》 is just one of the best cards in my deck. I wasn’t too impressed by the Tron land part of the deck, so maybe there’s a 《Mystic Forge》 variant with green sources and 《Ancient Stirrings》s. While 《Urza》 takes a bit more resources to win with 《Paradox Engine》, I think 《Urza》 is stronger in a wider scope of matchups by himself, mostly off the back of providing a strong amount of board presence with the Construct.
I think Modern is actually pretty healthy right now in terms of power level, but I still think 《Mystic Sanctuary》 and 《Uro》 should be banned, as the gameplay is extremely repetitive, and both of them are hindering deck diversity for midrange and control decks. I also think cards like 《Field of the Dead》 and 《Wrenn and Six》 feel too powerful, but part of that is because of how well they work with 《Mystic Sanctuary》 and 《Uro》.
Another alternative to bans could be reverting the 《Mox Opal》 and/or 《Faithless Looting》 bans. While those cards are both extremely powerful, I think a lot of players were disappointed by the amount of money and time they invested into playing with those cards, only to see them banned. They felt similar to pillars of the format like 《Bazaar of Baghdad》 and 《Mishra’s Workshop》 in Vintage. While it’s strange to ban other cards to keep the real culprits legal, it can be worth it for net player enjoyment.
Jacob Nagro (Twitter)