In November of last year I was searching for a deck to play at my first large modern event — GP Chicago. Nothing that was currently popular in the format struck my fancy. If you know me, then you know I strongly prefer playing a fair (non-combo) game of Magic. I enjoy having all the answers.
Chicago is fairly close to where I live in central Illinois and one of the players from my local shop had a sweet brew he had been working on — a UR Fae deck. After playing a dozen or so games against decks we expected to be popular at the event, I was sold. So, thanks Matt Norton — you created a UR-colored monster.
GP Chicago has been almost a year ago now and I’ve been championing some form of the UR deck in the modern format ever since. I finished in 16th place at GP Kansas City with a UR deck featuring [card]Delver of Secrets[/card]. You can read about some of my thoughts on that deck list here.
I recently started playing Modern on Magic Online (and streaming my events on twitch.tv here). Constant, on-demand Magic in a competitive setting is great for getting in lots of testing. It has allowed me try a variety of cards I hadn’t given enough attention to in the past. MODO really is an invaluable tool for a grinder like me. I cannot believe I didn’t give it a try sooner.
Today I am going to discuss the selection of cards I feel are appropriate to play in the URx Tempo shell in modern. If you came here simply looking for my latest deck list to copy down and sleeve up, then you should simply bookmark my tappedout page and stop reading this article. The point of this article is to help us understand why we choose the cards we play for a given event.
Core Card Selection (Shouldn’t Change)
The following are all cards I believe are “must haves” for this archetype. They make the deck function at a fundamental level and if you cut them you are likely going to have a bad time.
4 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]
He slices, he dices, he bolts, he leaks — he leaves behind a body that slowly chips away at our opponent’s life total. Snapcaster is everything we want and more in a Magic card. When you are playing just remember Snapcaster’s “hidden” mode — a blue [card]Ambush Viper[/card]. When your opponent isn’t playing into your counter magic and you lack a threat on the table — don’t be afraid to deploy Snapcaster at their end step as just a 2/1 beater.
4 [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card] (S3‘d)
Every deck in Modern plays one mana spells. They all want those spells to resolve. Spellstutter Sprite helps ensure they resolve far less often. In conjunction with [card]Mutavault[/card] this little Fae is a powerhouse.
2-3 [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]
You do not want more than three Cliques and you definitely do not want fewer than two. Clique is an evasive threat that comes down at instant speed. Just don’t fall into the trap of always playing Clique at their draw step. In fact, the only time you should Clique during their draw step is when you have absolutely no other answers in your hand.
4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
This is the best removal spell (card?) in Modern. It kills mana dorks and shaves entire turns off of the clock in a race. It also helps you close out games you had no business winning.
2 [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]
The first time a [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]/[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] slips through your counter magic you will be very grateful to be packing these into your main deck. Pillar gets the nod over [card]Magma Spray[/card] due to the fact that it can be directed to a player. All of your main deck removal should double as reach.
4 [card]Mana Leak[/card] / 4 [card]Remand[/card]
These are our core way of saying “No” to the things our opponent is trying to do. Remanding something that costs over half of your opponent’s mana is almost always correct. Also keep in mind that in a counter war you can always remand your own spells.
2-3 [card]Spell Snare[/card]
Just like one mana spells, there are a pile of two mana spells in Modern we really do not want to let resolve. [card]Spell Snare[/card] helps with this.
In addition to being an ace with [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card], [card]Mutavault[/card] also helps the times we flood feel less detrimental. When four or more of your twenty two lands attack — you are rarely searching for a threat.
Supplemental Cards (Pick your poison)
If you were keeping track, you know that our core card selection only comprises about 26 spells. This style of deck wants around 22 lands, so that leaves us with twelve slots to fill. The following are most of the cards I’ve played at various points in the URx deck and they are all good in different situations depending on the metagame you are expecting for a given event.
[card]Delver of Secrets[/card] or [card]Scion of Oona[/card] (Extra Threats)
The ten threats we listed as mandatory are not enough to close out games on their own. You want either four Delver or four Scion to supplement the beat down. There are pros and cons of playing either threat.
Delver (sometimes known as Wandering One)
The reason to play Delver is free wins. Sometimes you play this little guy on turn one, he flips on turn two, and you ride the Aberration to victory. I’ve won a number of games while stuck on exactly one land because my Delver flipped the turn after I played him.
That being said, Delver is a miserable top deck late game. In fact, a Delver coming down any turn after the second is often far worse than [card]Scion of Oona[/card] (or any other threat). Beyond this, it can sometimes be very hard to get a Delver to flip over. Our deck is constrained to playing at most 24 cards that can flip a Delver.
Scion of Oona
In my current testing for GP Detroit I am favoring playing Scions for my additional threat. You wanted to Decay my [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]? Scion in response. You wanted to Tec Edge my [card]Mutavault[/card]? Scion in response. By having four more “control” cards in our deck we can really gain an edge against a number of things. In fact — the only time Scion feels miserable is when we are failing to get past our second land drop.
Scion is the more consistent choice; this is what you often want for large events.
I’ve often run two Burst Lightnings in my deck list, essentially they act as [card]Lightning Bolts[/card] 5/6. Killing a turn one mana dork is an important play in this format. Having additional one mana removal also makes our [card]Snapcaster Mages[/card] that much better.
This card just screams value. Two damage, to possibly two targets and I get to draw a card? Sign me up! That being said, three mana is a lot and I would never recommend playing more than two copies of Electrolyze in a deck playing fewer than twenty-four lands.
Jet doubles as both a removal spell and virtual card advantage (are you pumped this is coming back to standard? I know I am). Filtering your draws to find that next land you desperately need or putting lands 7/8 on the bottom of your library are both invaluable. If you are playing Delvers — Jet is a great way to help that little bugger flip over.
You definitely want some number of Spell Pierce in your 75. Having a cheap counter spell is often what can push you over the top in a counter war against another blue deck.
There is no denying that all the cantrips in modern are awful. That being said — I think Telling time is the least awful of the bunch. It deploys at instant speed and helps you filter your draws to what you want. Snapping it back is no joke, either.
“Comes into play tapped” lands suck. That being said, there is something to be said for having a fifth land that can beat your opponent to death. If you are playing Scions I would heavily recommend playing at least one Conclave — this is because our first land coming down tapped is less relevant when we don’t have Delvers in our pile of cardboard.
Your sideboard should 100% be tuned to the metagame you expect to play in. You should never simply copy a sideboard from a posted deck list and expect it to be OK for whatever field you are going into. It is also important to keep in mind that your choice of threats should influence your sideboard selection. It is important to keep your instant/sorcery count high if you are playing Delvers.
That being said, there are a couple cards that I feel are a mistake to omit from the URx sideboard.
2-3 [card]Blood Moon[/card]
Modern is a format of greedy mana bases. There are a number of games that we win on the spot because a Blood Moon resolved. This is a powerful card VS UWR, Tron, Jund, Junk Scapeshift and other miscellaneous things you might play against.
2-3 [card]Magma Spray[/card]
Instant speed exiling removal, you want access to at least four pieces of exiling removal in your 75. If you are expecting a lot of Merlia Pod then packing extra can’t hurt. Effective, low cost answers to Finks and Voice are extreme valuable.
Cheap removal that doubles as “kill target Goyf/[card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]”? Yes please!
Additional Counter Magic ([card]Spell Pierce[/card], [card]Negate[/card], [card]Dispel[/card])
I would recommend playing at least two additional pieces of counter magic in your side board. Which ones you pick should depend on what you expect to play against.
This is our best way to remove troublesome permanents from the table. It kills Goyf, [card]Pyromancer’s Ascension[/card], a swarm of Goblin tokens or a pile of Robots. It is a flexible card and well worth the slot.
Sometimes we want to disrupt our opponent’s mana without disrupting our own. Spreading allows us to do this in a cost effective manner that also doesn’t generate card disadvantage. I am rarely sad to draw multiple Spreading Seas in a game and they are my favorite way of turning off a [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card].
This is a decent, catchall, one mana removal spell. Sometimes something with 4+ toughness slips through the cracks. Dismember is UR’s best way to deal with these things.
Strap a [card]Telling Time[/card] or [card]Magma Jet[/card] to this bad boy and you likely won’t have a bad draw for the rest of the game. It is sweet to say the least. I wouldn’t recommend playing more than a single copy of the scepter though — they are truly awful when they are drawn without things to imprint on them.
Good general catchall modern side board card. It protects our threats from removal and disrupts a number of combo decks.
[card]Shadow of Doubt[/card]
Kills target fetch land, stifles a [card]Birthing Pod[/card] activation, counters a Gifts or a [card]Scapeshift[/card] — all while drawing a card. The only problem is that double blue can be hard to cast at times.
Squelch is often like an easier to cast Shadow of Doubt. The only problem? You have to have a valid target for it, meaning you can’t cantrip it on an empty board (you can however activate and Squelch your own [card]Mutavault[/card] if you really need to draw).
Splashing a Third Color
One thing I’ve been experimenting with since Kansas City (and really liking) is splashing a third color for sideboard cards. Black is my current color of choice because gaining access to hard removal such as [card]Go for the Throat[/card] really helps improve some of the harder match ups for this deck. I think [card]Go for the Throat[/card] is the right piece of removal for a number of reasons.
- Playing [card]Path to Exile[/card] in your [card]Mana Leak[/card] deck is an awful idea — don’t ramp your opponent or play soft counters.
- [card]Terminate[/card] is out because we often have at least eight lands that do not make red or black mana
- [card]Doom Blade[/card] is out because our robots match is already fine — so we would much rather have our extra removal kill Bobs/Deathrites
- [card]Dismember[/card] costs us a ton of life, meaning we often can’t cast more than 1-2 of them in a game. Sometimes we need more removal than that.
Cards I do not think are worth Playing
There are a number of cards I’ve tried over the last year that aren’t the greatest. I’ll list a few of the more common ones I get asked about.
If you’ve been following my stream for the last month — then you know there was a week where we experimented with [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] in the S3‘d slot. I am here to tell you that I have set fire to a pile of tickets so you do not have to. YP is worse than [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card] in just about every way possible in this deck. YP forces you to often play out your spells in a sub-optimal order in order to try and extract “value” from our Pyromancer. In addition he makes many match ups where S3‘d is an ace much worse (Storm, Living End, Tron, Burn to name a few).
Playing Mistbind in a deck without [card]Bitterblossom[/card] in a format that is as removal heavy as modern is just asking to get yourself two for one’d. Don’t do it.
Our mana curve stops at three. We don’t have room to play clunky, expensive cards like [card]Cryptic Command[/card]. The triple blue in the casting cost can also be prohibitive with our [card]mutavault[/card]s.
[card]Threads of Disloyalty[/card]/[card]Vedalken Shackles[/card]
New players often feel like they want one or both of these cards against Goyf decks. You know what those Goyf decks also play? [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]. You feel really silly spending three/five mana to take their creature, only to have them spend two mana to snag it back. You’d much rather just be playing removal over either of these cards.
[card]Mutavault[/card] makes this one hard to cast on two. This coupled with the fact that it is unable to go to the dome makes it bad in a race situation.
One question that is fairly common from players is sideboarding advice. While some general guidelines from a person who has play a deck before can be helpful, writing down strict sideboarding rules is often detrimental to your performance.
In a format that is as wide open as modern, various deck lists often have small changes to them that could make certain cards better and others worse. Because of this, I will only provide a few general rules of thumb I apply when boarding/playing against a few of the more popular modern arch types — these are not hard and fast rules.
You want all the removal you have access to in this match up. [card]Spell Snare[/card] is awful — board it out. You want [card]Remand[/card]s on the play and [card]Spell Pierce[/card]s on the draw. Always kill the mana dork. If your seven card hand can’t prevent a turn two [card]Birthing Pod[/card], mulligan.
Do not try to [card]Blood Moon[/card] the pod deck.
This match is a perfect example of why we want all of our removal to have the option of going to the dome in our main deck. In this matchup we are essentially a burn deck game one. In games two/three we can board out our poorly-positioned removal in favor of more counter magic and land disruption.
Against this deck we essentially want to execute a “protect the queen” game plan. By that, I mean we want to stick a single threat and ride it until they provide an answer we are unable to counter. Getting yourself two-for-zero’d by an [card]electrolyze[/card] is the quickest way to lose this match up.
[card]Blood Moon[/card] and [card]Spreading Seas[/card] are good here. Bring them in.
On the draw I often take out most all of my two mana counter magic in these match ups in favor of more removal. That being said — never board out [card]Spell Snare[/card]. Having a hard “No” for target [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] is big game.
Whew! I feel like I’ve composed a book on URx Fae! Hopefully you’ve learned as much from reading this as I have from accumulating the knowledge it took to write it. If you are interested in seeing how various matches play out with this arch type — check out the archive on my twitch channel. If you are interested in watching some live action, I’m streaming Modern on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. You can always find the latest details on stream times on the before mentioned twitch page.
Have any questions on something specific that I didn’t cover above — feel free to drop a comment below.
~Jeff Hoogland (@JeffHoogland)