Around the time that Urza was revealed I had been playing chain veil Teferi for a over two years, and at that time felt that the deck was in quite the slump. The prevalence of creatures strewn across the battlefield were not only difficult to interact with in a mono-blue deck but posed a threat to using the commander as card advantage. Furthermore: it was untenable to compete on the card advantage axis in the face of Tymna/Thrasios, and without a significant density of creatures the deck had few ways to stave off players drawing 2-3 extra cards a turn. Urza immediately upgraded artifact centric blue decks by being cheap, providing two effective blockers, mana advantage, and an infinite mana outlet in the command zone. Urza is more resilient as creatures are not only more difficult to remove/counter than planewalkers but isn’t as susceptible to hate. With the advantages offered by Urza I set about experimenting.
By pivoting away from Teferi we had to drop the namesake combo of the deck, chain veil. This wasn’t a huge loss in my mind since it incentivised playing over-costed mana rocks like basalt monolith and gilded lotus, as well of course as the eponymous chain veil. Instead we got to dramatically lower the mana curve and include a host of cheap artifacts. I’m a firm believer in the turbo xerox philosophy as it allows us to use all our mana every turn and grants an additional element of explosiveness to surprise our opponents and win out of nowhere. I’ve included a large number of cantrips (brainstorm, preordain, ponder, impulse, sleight of hand, gitaxian probe) to find our missing pieces or interaction as well as many free artifacts (mishra’s bauble, urza’s bauble, everflowing chalice, lotus petal, jeweled amulet) all of which either cantrip or produce mana in a failure case while acting a mox sapphires when Urza is around.
The abuse of “symmetrical” artifact-based mana denial by Urza is one of the most attractive aspects of the deck. Not only are we better prepared for a long grindy game than most decks but being able to tap them with Urza so that they are one-sided is the single strongest aspect of this deck. Trinisphere, static orb, and winter orb all heavily tax our opponents, and require them to assembly their combos over the course of several turns, making them much easier to interact with on the stack. I tried stasis as a carry over from teferi, but with no real way to break symmetry it wasn’t as powerful or consistent other options. Back to basics remains hugely punishing against so many decks, and with the prevalence of tainted pact there aren’t many ways for decks to play around it. Grafdigger’s cage is similarly effective at attacking a metagame overrun with flash hulk and Kess decks. Unfortunately, cursed totem wasn’t possible to leverage since it shuts off our own win condition. Most games involve searching for one or more of these hate pieces to slow everyone else down enough to overtake them in the late game.
The dark times came unexpectedly when paradox engine was martyred. This was a huge blow to the deck since it allowed Urza to easily win through null rod effects, and with such a density of cheap artifacts to trigger and tap Urza made great use of engine. It is my opinion that the printing and subsequent strength of Urza was one of the driving forces behind the paradox engine ban. I won’t linger on the subject for too long as it is far too painful, and progress should be our focus. Structurally the only changes the ban induced was that I had to converge more completely on dramatic scepter by removing engine and voltaic key to make room for another cantrip and reshape.
The loss of paradox engine also induced my research into future sight with a cost reducer and top. This proved too difficult to execute since not only is five mana a lot, but a triple blue casting cost is daunting. I liked the additional avenue of attack, but as a value engine over the course of a long game future sight is mediocre, only being truly excellent when executing the combo. Instead I’ve opted to replace future sight with the cheaper, and less cost intensive mystic forge. Similarly, the range of possible cost reducers (cloud key, helm of awakening, etc.) was narrowed down to just the Etherium Sculptor. Conveniently this combo is entirely composed of artifacts which are not only synergistic with Urza but are much easier to tutor for than any other card type. I’ve been impressed by this combination since each piece is individually powerful, providing sources of card advantage and selection, and mana acceleration.
Proteus staff and its partner in crime tidespout tyrant were long time considerations, though I found there were too many hoops to jump through to achieve this, and neither is particularly powerful without Urza in play. There is also a very real deckbuilding restriction to playing no creatures, and the need for tutors in mono-blue makes tribute mage, trinket mage, and spellseeker indispensable. Gilded drake is the best creature removal in the entire format, snapcaster provides valuable card advantage while contesting the board (and making any Tymna think twice about attacking into two open mana) and Etherium sculptor is part of a combo. Overall the opportunity cost is high, however the ability to play a one card win condition is too powerful to ignore, builds with and without polymorph are both viable and you can choose whichever version fits your playstyle. I’ve played around extensively with both Sai and Jace, Vryn’s prodigy, both of which I’ve found to be too slow and provide painfully medium advantage. By the time Sai is in play I’d have wanted to cast most of my artifacts, and there isn’t an abundance of sacrifice fodder to make the second ability useful, mostly he recoup one mana from any artifact, but Etherium sculptor already does that by reducing the up-front cost. Jace is just too slow, and the flashback comes too late to be convenient. Planeswalkers must provide substantial value immediately or such a powerful effect that their liability it worth it. In the case of this deck that limits the choices to Tezzeret, since he can tutor for artifacts and Narset, since her static effect limits other decks.
This deck doesn’t have to ability to outrace the fastest decks in the format since assembling the combos requires either multiple tutors or several different pieces to all be simultaneously on the battlefield, moreover this opens you up to some degree of risk since playing a combo out piecemeal allows your opponents to prepare themselves with interaction or remove the pieces. Instead waiting for one player to “go for it” first and exhausting the board of resources before untapping an making use of all your mana to fight through whatever interaction is left over. To this end slowing your opponents down should be your number one priority. Knowledge of the format is paramount to determine which piece of hate you should find first, though it is usually static orb or graftdigger’s cage. Ideally you can have both in play early to safeguard yourself against both Kess and Hulk variants. If you have Urza in play static/winter orb and trinisphere will all likely lead to your victory, but this deck is able to operate well under these pieces so don’t be afraid to drop them down before Urza resolves to grind the game to a safe standstill. Worth mentioning of course is back to basics, which is perhaps the single best stax piece in the deck given the prevalence of three and four colour decks, though there are unfortunately no ways to tutor for it.
Once you’ve slowed the game down to a crawl by restricting your opponents access to mana you can begin pressuring their life totals with your large construct, ideally aiming for the player who has the most advanced boardstate or else is likely to assemble their combo quickly. Consider prioritizing players who use their life total as a resource through ad nauseum/necropotence and leaving the players who have access to counter magic alive so they can leverage it to stop anyone from going off explosively. Ideally the pressure will mount as you assemble more interaction/stax/cards until one player tries to go off half-cocked and the table fights to stop them. After resources have been exhausted or you feel it is safe to do so, dump your win conditions into play in one turn, preferably with either countermagic backup or under trinisphere so you know your opponents can’t interact. The mystic forge combo can be assembled one piece at a time and is safer to do so with, however the eponymous forge itself should usually be deployed last as it often sparks the most directed response.
As this is an adaptive deck to play your style will depend a great deal on the decks you’re playing against and the texture of your hand. Given how much mana acceleration is packed into this list you’re certainly able to quickly dump your hand and deploy an early Urza. From that point your most powerful play is to either win (obviously) by assembling a combo, but more realistically it is to play windfall/Twister/Spiral to refill your hand and disrupt your opponents’ gameplans. If you have a hand with few sourced of acceleration and/or are part of a pod with faster decks, you should focus instead on holding up interaction and trying to deploy mana denial permanents, in fact doing so before resolving Urza is often an effective way to ensure that he resolves since few people want to heavily commit to a counter-magic fight with stax pieces in play knowing they won’t be able to untap their mana sources. Pick your hate pieces carefully, if you’re playing against a Hulk/Yisan/Kess/JVP list then grafdigger’s cage is a superstar, static orb though is almost always your best card across most matchups.
Comparing the two cards on the basis of incremental card advantage is fundamentally inappropriate. While there are certainly instances where they can be resolved and protected behind a wall of countermagic, these are few and far between and tapping out for a 4/5 mana sorcery is a recipe for disaster, especially when that spell doesn't immediately accrue value. Notably this is because you need to pay mana to cast the spells off the top.
Single Card Discussions:
Future sight versus mystic forge: Advantages of future sight over mystic forge include:
1. Being able to cast ~3 x more of the spells in your deck. You can play lands and any non-artifact permanenta you wish. Notably the high density of countermagic makes for many awkward reveals, so it's not like every can is a win. Also playing lands isn't exactly the kind of value you want so that's hardly a highlight either.
Advantages of mystic forge over future sight:
1. Four mana is fewer than five. This is even more important if you're hard casting your whole combo (sculptor, top, MF) since it's 5 mana with the cost reduction where as FS will be 8. That's a huge difference and allows you to combo out both sooner and with countermagic backup.
2. Being an artifact means it is tutorable by 6 (fabricate, whir, transmute, reshape, tezzeret, inventors fair) other cards in your deck. Having access to forge when you have your other, easily tutorable pieces makes it much more reliable and consistent. Future sight is a prayer.
3. It can clear the top of your library, meaning you get to look at the top 2 instead of top. This doubles the number of hits you get.
4. You look not reveal so your opponents don't get free information on every single card you draw. I can't emphasize enough how important this is, knowledge is power and your opponents will know exactly what your capable of doing. This is further compounded in multiplayer since you can be forced to use your interaction by players earlier in the turn order.
5. UUU2 isn't a trivial colour restriction, although urza is best equipped to pay a steep blue cost, he isn't always in play and there are many colourless producers which can be taken advantage of, especially if you'd like to hold up UU.
Basically both FS and MF are poor value cards so should primarily be compared on the basis of their ability to combo. The only advantage FS has is in grindy situations to be used as a value engine. For the above reasons mystic forge is better.
Steal Enchantment: In my continued efforts to streamline and refine Urza I stumbled upon a keystone piece which perfectly complements the strategy you want to carry out. I am of course referring to the all-star that is Steal Enchantment, an incredibly unique effect which compliments the mana denial strategy and offers a handy way to deal with troublesome enchantments which mono-blue would otherwise struggle with. Despite mono blue being the poster boy for card advantage in lower powered Magic, in cEDH it struggles to keep up with the value that is accrued from decks which has access to more colours, specifically Thrasios and Tymna make it very difficult to keep pace, as these decks can convert their creature based ramp and extra mana into cards. The way which Urza combats this is by attacking their mana sources, if they can’t deploy their extra cards then they aren’t very valuable after all.
The wrinkle in this plan is that there are ways to produce mana that fully circumvent lands, creatures, and artifact. Enchantments are not often associated with ramp, but there are some very good examples of ubiquitous cards which allow decks to play normally even through a static/winter orb. Steal enchantment cuts off this line and allows you to keep pressuring your opponents to either advance their board state or interact with the table, but not both. Steal enchantment also happens to fulfil the role of card advantage by stealing some of the many enchantment based card draw effects.
My testing over dozens of games has fully convinced me that this should be a staple in any blue blue list, and may even be effective enough to be a consideration in multicoloured decks which are looking to play into the later game. There is certainly a metagame consideration to take into account, for context I play primarily against: CST, sushi hulk, gitrog, varolz hulk, curious control, silver foodchain, Tigam control, and Lavina stax. I would be very surprised is a metagame existed that did not include valuable enchantments, and they are common enough tutor targets that you should be seeing at least one in every game. I’ve personally experienced only one instance where I would have wanted to cast Steal Enchantment but there were no targets.
Examples of popular steal targets include: carpet of flower, Sylvan Library, Smothering Tithe, Necropotence, Rhystic Study, Mystic Remora, Copy Artifact, and to a lesser extent Verity Circle and Compost.
Feb 18th 2020: The above is primarily the rational for utilizing a strategy focused on isochron scepter and dramatic reversal, most recently I have pivoted to using a creatureless version to take advantage of the one card win condition of polymorph into tidespout tyrant. This allows the deck to be more explosive and the opportunity cost is quite low since there were few creatures in the list to begin with. If you prefer to use the creature version the following were the changes Out: Etherium Sculptor, Gilded Drake, Spellseeker, Spellskite, Tribute Mage, Trinket Mage, Pull from tomorrow, Snow covered Island, Buried ruin, Codex shredder, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Mystic Forge. In: Tidespout tyrant, Power artifact, Steal Enchantment, Verity Circle, Trickbind, Personal Tutor, Recurring insight, Polymorph, Boseiju, who shelters all, Witching Well, Arcum’s astrolabe, and Proteus Staff.
April 30th 2020:Memory jar has been underperforming in a metagame with so many cheap pieces of interaction. It's rare that you're able to play and crack jar on the same turn while still using the cards effectively. It also encourages your opponents to use all of their draw countermagic on the spells you're tring to develop. Trickbind has been in for a while to stop protean hulk, but it's banned now so the need for a stifle effect in't as strong. Overburden comes in to help stop the creature based decks and has synergy with the other mana denial stax pieces. Fierce guardianship is phenomenal at protecting your own combos and preventing those of your opponents. Your first goal is getting out Urza so the condition is very often fulfilled. OUt: memory jar, trickbind. In: Overburden and Fierce Guardianship.
May 26 2020: I removed overburden and replaced it with juntu stakes. Overburden has underperformed given the lack of reliance on lands to produce mana, if a deck goes really wide with creatures they are normally able to function well off of a couple lands. Juntu stakes is in for testing.
June 11th 2020: Academy ruins comes out, as a colourless land in a high tide and back to basics deck you need to do a lot, unfortunately the games in which I want to return artifacts are quite rare, however there are so many gilded drakes out there and Urza is a very tempting target.
July 18th 2020: The prevelance of dranith magistrate and thrasios make creature theft effects more effective than ever. Some of the creature hate cards have not had a sufficiently high impact even in their best mathups and draw unecessry hate from the table. Out: Verity Circle and Juntu Stakes. In: Legacy's allure and Vedalken Shackles.
Aug 25th 2020: Vedalken shackles proved to be too much mana and too susceptible to the many artifact removal pieces in the format, it was difficult to guarantee that the creature would remain under our control. As such a cheaper version of creature interaction has been added in the form of aether spellbomb.
Oct 13th 2020:Out: Boseju, Snow-Covered island, Homeward Path. In: Sea Gate restoration, gemstone caverns, trail of evidence. Homeward path has been performing well, and having a second copy in the form of tolaria west is valuable, however it can quite easily not come up in a game and hurt your keepable hands by virtue of not producing blue. The addition of spellbomb as an easily fetchable way to bounce a stolen commander has shored up this weakess enough that I'm comfortable dropping it. Not sure how I didn't think to try gemstone caverns earlier given how much better your game is when you can cast an early Urza. Sea-Gate restoration is a but speculative but the upside of getting to dump some of your mana into a land in the mid-late game is very appealing for a deck which can easily run out of gas, and the high mana cost should be manageable since you tend to have it to spare. Trail of evidence does not too much on resolution, but ramps quite quickly while allowing you to sit back and fire off interaction without fear of running out of cads or mana since it allows you to replace both. Going to 28 mana producing lands may be ambitious, but once you're off the ground with Urza your lands are not longer your primary mana producing permanent anyways so I don't feel like I need to maximize land drop through a long game.
Nov 5th 2020: The printing of jeweled lotus provides an exceptional pieces of ramp that can easily resolve a turn 1 Urza, with the high tide having such limited applications (needing to be played only after you'd developed 3 basics islands) the swap seems very natural. Force of negation is finally in as free countermagic is good, and verity circle has been okay...but the games that it is good are not the ones where you want to be in. Lastly sea gate restoration is just never cast, it makes blue but is worse than an island due to mystic sanctuary and back to basics, war room will be tested instead as a card advantage land.
Nov 26th 2020: Prismatic Vista has been removed for a snow covered island. The minor upside of shuffling your deck and putting a card in your graveyard is outweighed by the downside of getting hit by an aven mindcensor, ashiok, and the most recently printed opposition agent. It also makes it easier for opposing deathrite shamans to produce mana. A minor change, but one which will reduce the number of blowouts at a very minor cost.
Jan 28th 2021: Legacy's allure, fact or fiction, reality shift, and snow covered island out and relic of progenitus, tormond's crypt, pongify, and emergence zone in. The prevalence of graveyard centric decks is at a high with breach decks being so prevalent so tormond's crypt and relic of preogenitus seem like an appropriate response. Legacy's allure underperforms in this environment as it is mostly to counter grindy thrasios decks. This swap shores up red matchups while still being versatile when graveyard decks aren't present. Fact or fiction isn't fast enough to be good in a short game or enough value to be good in a late game. Giving your opponents information isn't ideal and there are enough other sources of card advantage that losing it doesn't throw off the overall deck balance. The change from reality shift to pongify is just to help reduce the curve, the topdeck hate and exile effect of reality shift are powerful, but at twice the mana cost it is not regularly worth it. Emergence zone allowing you to hold up potential wins, the addition of a colourless nonbasic hurts but getting some value off of your manabase is a way low coloured decks can recouperate the loss to card quality.
April 26th, 2021: Timespiral, paradoxical outcome, and tormond's crypt out. Resculpt, solve the equation, and tempted by the oriq in. Strixhaven brought with it a bunch of new tools, some of which fill glaring gaps in what mono blue can do. Solve the equation represents the first to-hand tutor for instants AND sorceries, which has been tremendously useful in being able to find all sorts of interaction as well as both polymorph and dramatic reversal. It has been very versatile and allowed for some trimming of inefficient card draw by simply finding the exact card you need. Resulpt represents a good way to deal with artifacts (cursed totem and nullrod especially) which still being on rate as creature removal. The body it makes is honestly an upside as that 4/4 tends to be attacking the players using their life totals anyways. Tempted by the oriq is a great way to back up your mana denial strategy, and happens to hit almost every creature and planewalker in the format. I've found it very powerful in testing, even if you're not getting "full value" from it. Stealing a threat to make it your own is much MUCH better than removing a threat. Timespiral is powerful, but you'll rarely get a full rebate on the mana and the upfront cost is so high that it can be tricky to hold up protection for it as well. Paradoxical outcome remains one of the best ways to extend an advantage, however given how often Urza has to play from behind I found that it was not as useful as I might have liked. Still, it is one of the most fun cards to play, but is unlikely to return when building the deck for maximum win percentage. Tormond's crypt is excellent against graveyard centric decks, however relic is equally good as well as having the ability to cantrip away when not needed, furthermore exile all graveyards is more effective than just hitting one, you have so few graveyard synergies that it's not a huge concern to lose your own.
June 21st, 2021: Out: Relic of progenitus, everflowing chalice, blast zone, delay In: Bribery, misdirection, counterbalance, urza's saga. he additions are fairly simple in so far as they are all trying to allow your deck to compete better in the midgame. The window I've been looking to win on is turn 5-7, and these are all cards which helps give you a bump in power at a medium cmc cost. Misdirection is in response to needing more free interaction, and I like it more than the other options. It's also a great way to defend you permanents, and since you're playing to the board a lot it'll often be the case that you'll fight over the removal spell instead of on the stack. It happens to get around abrupt decay too which is particularily tough to win through. Urza's saga is fairly easily a staple, it does everything you'd want in an Urza deck. Blast zone is also good but there are enough random permanents of your own that it can often be a double edged sword. Counterbalance is unique in that it forces the game into a grindier game, and only gets better the longer it goes, at 2 cmc as well it's fairly easy to get around countermagic and you can (not with full confidence) tap out for it. Bribery is simply a response to hullbreacher and opp agent. The graveyard hate has been removed as the best way I've found to fight these types of decks has been on the stack instead of with on board hate. If you're finding yourself in a metagame with many graveyard synergies then including one of both of relic of progenitus and tormond's crypt seems wise.
October 20th 2021: Out: chain of vapor, emergence zone, bribery. In: Eye of vecna, relic of progenitus, blast zone. Chain of vapour is a problem as removal since Urza plays to the board a lot, and bouncing some of your pieces can heavily disrupt your gameplan, even if it's only the construct. This also makes using it to remove problematic stax pieces tough since that player can then remove your own and put the table at a relative parity. Resulpt hit almost all of the things that chain would want to, and cyclonic rift will have to be relied on for the rest. Emergence zone hasn't been a huge performer, despite having pulled off some fun things blast zone simply came up more often. Bribery was mostly a response to hullbreacher, and I did keep it around for long enough after the banning to see if it was worth it, sadly it has not been. Eye of vecna comes in as a tutorable piece of card adtange, drawing the card right away is pretty important, and since you'll want to deploy your incremental card advantage after Urza anyways, it acts as ramp to boot. I have found it very useful for stax heavy games, the life loss is mostly immaterial and that Urza makes so much mana means the cost to activate is very achievable. Useful too since it's hit by neither cursed totem or null rod. Relic of progenitus is necessary, not having any graveyard hate was almost certainly a mistake.
November 4th 2021: out: tidespout tyrant in:hullbreaker horror. This is a very simple one, the kraken is much better. Cheaper, uncounterable, has flash, bigger, and can protect itself better with the spell bounce ability. Not bouncing lands can hurt if you needed to reset mystic sanctuary, however that's a corner case at best. It's possible running both is correct, however I think the times you'd want two are outweighed by the times you don't want to draw either.
March 3 2022: Out: tempted by the oriq, snow-covered island In: otawara, imposter mech, pongify. These leaner options are very powerful and provide an upgrade against the creature heavy metagame, the additional utility of otawara makes your land base do even more work for you, and is so powerful it may warrant replacing a nonland card for it.
April 18 2023: Out: Island, eye of vecna, steal enchantment. In: The One Ring, Mindbreak Trap, The Mycosynth Gardens. Shifting my dedicated card draw artifact from eye of vecna into the one ring helps in grindy games by quite a lot, the inclusion of mycosynth gardens will add some resilience to stax, and mindbreak trap as free interaction to protect yourself when you tap out is very helpful and gets around storm and uncounterable quite well.
June 3 2023: Out: lodestone bauble, preordain. In: Borne upon the Wind and hydroblast. Lodestone bauble and preordain aren't high enough card quality and these two play much more significant roles in assembling and protecting your win. Hydroblast over blue elemental blast as it is easier to initiate Kraken loops and targeting phantasmal image is more valuable than playing around misdirection effects.
PolyTyrant versus UPS:
The primary strategy for any UPS build is centred around the eponymous cards isochron scepter and dramatic reversal. This compact strategy has become a mainstay for many cEDH decks and is both easily assembled, having few pieces both of which are readily tutorable, and has high individual card quality. Both dramatic reversal and isochron scepter have utility outside of their combo meaning they are rarely a dead draw. In support of this strategy UPS decks usually play power artifact with grim monolith and one of either Sensei’s divining top, etherium sculptor, mystic forge/future sight or rings of brighthearth and basalt monolith. These are both worse than the central strategy but serve as backup plans for when your primary plan is disrupted.
Being in mono blue significantly restricts the number of quality spells you are able to play, and this is felt nowhere as strongly as the creature suite. Thus, some players have elected to eschew the creatures entirely in favour of playing non-creature card advantage and interaction. This allows for the inclusion of the polytyrant package which includes: Tidespout tyrant, polymorph, and Proteus Staff. There is a significant opportunity cost to this means you are no longer able to play etherium sculptor, which makes its combo too slow play. The loss of gilded drake, spellskite, and the tutor mages also hurt the consistency of the deck.
The play patterns of PolyTyrant and UPS are similar, however having access to a single card win condition once your commander is on the battlefield makes it far more important to resolve and protect Urza. This adds some much-needed explosiveness to Urza and forces your opponents to play reactively to what you are doing instead of having to react to them. Tidespout tyrant also allows you to play around any type of on-board hate pieces since you can use its ability to bounce any troublesome stax pieces. It also offers you an infinite mana outlet through a null rod effect.
There are very few tactical differences between the two decks irrespective of their strategic differences. Your aim should still be to: develop mana and Urza, disrupt your opponents’ mana, find your combos/interaction, wait for an opening to try and force through your win. All the while pressuring your opponents with constructs to force them to try and win the game before they are fully prepared to do so.