Extending Urza

Posted in Feature on August 1, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Here's a secret: I hated the Urza sets while they were legal in Standard. In fact, I can barely stand them now. Oh sure, Urza's Saga, Urza's Legacy, and Urza's Destiny introduced cards I use often, such as Exploration, Iron Maiden, Smokestack, Mother of Runes, the "Ghitu Encampment," Argothian Enchantress, Plow Under, Chimeric Staff, and even Imaginary Pet. The list is quite long, actually. The three sets also brought casual-player staples like Lifeline; Multani, Maro-Sorcerer; Show and Tell; Radiant, Archangel; Pattern of Rebirth; Phyrexian Processor; and Serra Avatar. In addition, I routinely play almost every reprint (and there are many) from Urza block now in Seventh Edition.

But I still hate them.

See, I was the same kind of player then as I am now. I liked turning weird cards into weird decks. Yet I routinely found my quirky ideas overwhelmed by the über-powerful Urza cards. I sighed every time a Morphling, Masticore, Tolarian Academy, Memory Jar, Academy Rector, or Yawgmoth's Bargain hit the table to steal victory from my otherwise superior board position. I cringed when my opponent played Tinker, Yawgmoth's Will, Stroke of Genius, or Replenish. I later learned to fear Donate. Losing to these cards was quick, painful, and frustrating.

You may be someone who yearns for the glory days of Urza block. I can say only that in the Urza days, I almost quit Magic because the game had become too fast for me to feel creative. Moreover, it always seemed that only my opponent or me was having fun at any given time. I never laughed when losing to a Morphling. Losses to Soulcatcher's Aerie, on the other hand, make me giggle.

Anyway, I've become a less-whiny person since then. Now I can look back on the Urza block and see a number of cards with great potential. Today I continue my "New Extended" series with a look at my most hated of blocks and that blasted artificer, Urza.

Below are several odd cards from the Urza days that make for fun new decks, especially when combined with spells from more current sets. The decks themselves will be legal in Extended in November. But because we don't know what the Onslaught set will bring, consider these decks more as interesting--and a little bizarre--thought experiments. Over the next few months, you can expect similarly wacky looks at the Masques, Invasion, and Odyssey blocks. For now, though, let us do a little Taunting Elf tango into the past . . . .

Titania's Boon
Titania's Boon

Just so you can be sure I'm talking crazy here, I start with Titania's Boon. Who starts a look at cards from Urza block with Titania's Boon? Oh, sorry . . . I did that last time. (Booby!)

Titania's Boon has shown up in a few of my decks as a way to pump up untargetable creatures like Blastoderm, Citanul Centaurs, and Blurred Mongoose. In fact, an "untargetables" deck is almost always fun to try out, usually with either red or blue to remove potential blockers. Titania's Boon isn't necessary in a deck like this, but it's a neat trick.

More recently, after seeing "Mr. Babycakes" take shape, I have a new appreciation for +1/+1 counters. The pieces began forming in Judgment, which brought with it Forcemage Advocate (see Bennie Smith's great Forcemage contemplation) and the Phantom creatures, which added spice to the Spikes from Tempest block. Suddenly, anything that can add +1/+1 counters en masse looks like it might be the basis for a tasty deck. In fact, you can push the idea without using a single rare.

1-2-3

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Of course, if you are using rares, creatures like Spike Weaver, Mindless Automaton, Phantom Nantuko, Magmasaur, Phantom Nishoba, Thopter Squadron, and Molten Hydra are sure to add to the fun. However you build your deck, just be sure to bring lots of pennies, six-sided dice, glass beads, corn chips, or whatever else you use for counters.

Gamble
Gamble

Poor Gamble. Red's silly little tutor just never seemed as good as Vampiric Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, or even Eladamri's Call. The fact that you might lose what you searched for always seemed like too much of a . . . a . . . gamble to take seriously. The only decks that could previously find a use for Gamble were combo decks like Sneak Attack, which could afford the risk if it meant instant victory.

Luckily, Odyssey block has made discarding fun for the whole family. Now Gamble can retrieve cards playable from the graveyard via flashback (Firebolt and Volley of Boulders) or even from a discard via madness (Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption). A particularly funny trick is to Gamble for a Recoup in a sorcery-heavy deck, allowing you to smile away the random discard--or even to flashback Gamble itself.

One tenet of using Gamble has always been to try to keep your hand as full as possible to minimize your chances of tossing away important spells. In the aforementioned sorcery-heavy deck, both Overmaster and Browbeat seem ideal.

In addition, Odyssey block provides both the perfect creature for a sorcery deck and the perfect red threshold creature if you happen to be filling your graveyard.

Ace of Diamonds

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Creature (8)
4 Fledgling Dragon 4 Magnivore
Artifact (4)
4 Fire Diamond
Land (25)
21 Mountain 4 Wasteland
60 Cards

Iridescent Drake
Iridescent Drake

Lost amidst the ridiculous power level of the Urza block is an interesting thematic cycle of cards that includes Academy Researchers; Iridescent Drake; Metathran Elite; Rayne, Academy Chancellor; and Thran Golem. The idea behind these creatures was to make creature enchantments more playable and less ripe for card disadvantage. Yet even the power of Rancor (also in Urza block, sigh) could not persuade most people to use them.

Armadillo Cloak aside, Elephant Guide is probably the most playable creature enchantment to come along since Rancor. As an added bonus, Elephant Guide just loves being used twice (or three times, or four . . .) to create a herd of Elephant tokens. In Standard, Nomad Mythmaker allows for recursive Elephant Guide tricks, but in Extended, I might as well dip into blue. Rancor still being legal in Extended makes for at least eight legitimate creature enchantments for such a deck--something that might look something of like this . . . .

Suit 'Em Up

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With the plethora of multicolor lands available from Invasion block, I also can see adding white for the benefits of Armadillo Cloak, Nomad Mythmaker, and tricks like a Monk Idealist - Auramancer combo to further push the creature enchantment idea.

Flicker

Finally, who doesn't love Flicker? Take a card out of play and then immediately plop it right back into play. My only consternation is that it isn't an instant, which would allow you to give opposing creatures "summoning sickness" at opportune times. Besides, doesn't "flicker" just sound like an instant? Ah well, it's still loads of fun with any "comes into play" or "leaves play" permanents.

Besides, now we have Liberate, which is faster, although it misses the immediate payoff of Flicker and can target only creatures. Just like Flicker, Liberate suggests hordes of activations and re-activations on any creature you play. But which to put in a deck? I say use them both and go crazy.

Liber-Licker?

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Just as with Tempest block, many more cards deserve mention than I have space. Very briefly, reconsider the following oft-overlooked pieces of Urza block cardboard.

About Face provides an all-commons combo with Tireless Tribe.

Attunement is simply crazy with the flashback, threshold, and madness mechanics.

Defense of the Heart, meet Questing Phelddagrif and/or Nantuko Shrine.

Sleeper Agent might not do anything with newer cards, but I've always liked it with things like Ensnaring Bridge, Wheel of Torture, and Scalding Tongs.

Brand has been worth playing ever since Thieves' Auction joined Gilded Drake in the world.

Angel's Trumpet in a creatureless deck with Orim's Chant, Teferi's Moat, and the like is pretty funny.

Angelic Chorus makes Test of Endurance look better and better.

• A Second Chance - Soulgorger Orgg pairing sounds scary, fun, and in need of a little Worship.

Body Snatcher, Gamekeeper, and Karmic Guide still make for terrific fattie reanimation decks, either separately or together.

Actually, all sorts of possibilities exist within Urza block if you allow your imagination to roam. Many, many creative cards from the block are still waiting in the bleachers, looking bewildered after so many of their counterparts were invited to the Seventh Edition party. Who knows what could happen if you ask them to dance?

And if you do, be sure to step on Morphling's toes for me as you waltz by.

Next week: I'm a Djinni in a bottle, baby!

-j

Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

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