UR Wizards Deck Tech
After putting no less than seven decks in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dominaria, red is back on the menu in a big way. Mono red and red-black are the flavours of choice, but if you enjoy playing decks outside the mainstream (or perhaps can’t afford a full playset of Rekindling Phoenix) then I’ve got just the spicy brew for you.
Ever since Wizard’s Lightning and Wizard’s Retort were first leaked online I’ve been focused on building a competitive Standard wizard deck. After two PPTQ Top 8s and consistent tweaking I’ve settled on a build that’s undeniably competitive but also won’t break the bank.
The key when building a deck from scratch is to know what kind of deck you’re building. If you’re playing control then you’re going to need removal spells, card draw and a way to win the game, but are less interested in cheap creatures or direct damage spells. Meanwhile aggressive decks are going to care more about curve and want cheap, efficient cards. If you know what your plan is, then you can narrow down what cards best reach that goal.
The first thing I did was to identify all the playable wizards in Standard:
In the aggressive camp were Soul-Scar Mage, Ghitu Lavarunner, Siren Stormtamer, Spellweaver Eternal, Adeliz, the Cinder Wind, Nimble Obstructionist,
What immediately stood out was the number of playable 1 drops, which signalled a potentially aggressive deck. Another important factor was that Spirebluff Canal plays far better in an aggressive deck than a defensive one, since untapped mana early is more important than late. I picked my favourite wizards, added all of the burn spells in Standard and started jamming some games.
Something I swiftly identified was that Wizard’s Retort doesn't work well in the same deck as Wizard's Lightning. Playing prowess creatures like Soul-Scar Mage, Spellweaver Eternal and Adeliz, the Cinder Wind means you want to cast spells on your turn to get the extra damage in. Holding up double blue severely impacted the deck’s speed and wasn’t accomplishing the core strategy.
Another thing I found was that the deck would quickly run out of steam. Even with 4 Chart a Course the deck wouldn’t be able to close out games. Siren Stormtamer was a particularly poor performer, attacking for only 1 point of damage and with an ability that was scarcely relevant (protecting another 1 or 2 mana creature is hardly good value; its best use is definitely against Settle the Wreckage).
Since the deck was skewing more red in favour of Wizard’s Lightning and the two good one drops (Ghitu Lavarunner AKA Goblin Guide and Soul-Scar Mage AKA Monastery Swiftspear), I decided to replace Siren Stormtamer with Standard all-star Bomat Courier as a test. I never went back.
With the cards flowing once again I was still in need of a finisher. Too many times I would drop the opponent low, but run out of threats and be unable to punch through. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is a scary card, but on its own it does very little. So I turned to another piece of mono red tech; Hazoret the Fervent.
Hazoret has always been a fantastic finisher in red decks and she continues to shine as the perfect top end in a deck filled with cheap creatures and burn. The wizards curve is even lower than mono red, which makes the likelihood of a turn 4 Hazoret even greater. I run the full playset in the main and I believe this is the biggest difference of the deck from other wizards lists and the key to my success. I have won so many games on the back of Hazoret alone; she is just that good.
(It’s worth noting that Hazoret the Fervent is also fantastic against RB and mono red decks, since neither has many good ways of removing her. The double black on Vraska’s Contempt has mainly kept it out of the RB sideboard and Hour of Glory is at most a 2-of.)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is also very good in the deck, but there’s a limited number of 4-drop slots in the main which is why she ends up in the sideboard. Sticking to your plan when deck building means you sometimes need to cut higher impact cards to help overall consistency; in this case replacing Chandra with a cheaper card led to a higher win percentage.
While most wizards lists are centered around Adeliz, the Cinder Wind and casting a bunch of cantrips like Warlord’s Fury, I have always preferred decks where the cards all function well on their own. Relying on having two, or even three specific cards makes your deck far more vulnerable to disruption or bad draws. Instead I prefer to play cards that will impact the board immediately on their own such as Shock, Hazoret, the Fervent, Bomat Courier, over cards like Warlord’s Fury and Riddleform. Luckily Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is still a threat on her own (and very threatening if you can start double-prowessing your wizards) and Opt is a useful cantrip that can help with mulligans and finding your top end, so I was able to keep the synergy without sacrificing card value.
The deck is focused, aggressive and cheap to build. But it also has access to a sideboard card that I believe gives it a key edge over mono red; Spell Pierce.
Against control decks Spell Pierce is essentially a 1 mana Counterspell, because by the time they have enough mana your deck is probably losing anyway. Paying 1 to counter Settle the Wreckage and trigger prowess feels broken. Spell Pierce is also a fantastic answer to Karn, Scion of Urza and any other planeswalkers that can make your life difficult. It’s still a situational card and as such I only have them in the sideboard, but it’s probably your most important weapon and one of the best reasons to play blue.
This was the decklist I submitted at the Axion Now PPTQ on Sunday 3rd June. Since I’m Australian I nicknamed it “Wizards of Oz”.
Wizards of Oz
I ended up going 4-1-1, drawing into the Top 8 in the final round. My matches were:
UW Control 2-0
Mono Black 1-2
RW Midrange 2-0
UW Control 2-1
Esper Control 2-1
A slow start plus a few key Negate’s from my opponent meant I lost 0-2 against UW control in the first round of the Top 8. RB was definitely the deck of choice, but somehow I didn’t face a single list. The deck ran very smoothly, with no mana screw and only a few floods and has currently made 2/2 PPTQ Top 8s, so there’s definitely a lot of potential.
Here was my sideboarding guide for the deck, both On The Play (OTP) and On The Draw (OTD) where applicable and what you can expect to see out of their sideboards.
Goblin Chainwhirler and Walking Ballista both punish X/1 creatures, while Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer can attack planeswalkers and are hard to remove. Heart of Kiran plus Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Karn, Scion of Urza present a quick clock combined with card advantage.
On the play you can afford to keep in Bomat Courier for some extra cards, but it’s too slow on the draw. Kari Zev’s Expertise is a good way to get Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer out of the way. Spell Pierce does double duty against Heart of Kiran, removal spells and planeswalkers.
OTP: -4 Spellweaver Eternal, -1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, -2 Opt, -2 Shock, +1 Abrade, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +4 Spell Pierce, +2 Chandra’s Defeat
OTD: -4 Bomat Courier, -4 Spellweaver Eternal, -1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, +1 Abrade, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +4 Spell Pierce, +2 Chandra’s Defeat
THEM: Hour of Glory, Chandra’s Defeat, Glorybringer
After game one they will probably have seen Hazoret, the Fervent and will have answers in Seal Away, Cast Out, Authority of the Consuls, so it’s nice to switch threats with Chandra, Torch of Defiance instead. Expect them to bring in Lyra Dawnbringer which you’ll need to either save two burn spells for or bounce with Blink of an Eye.
Bomat Courier is one of your most important cards; consider mulliganing until you find one. Save your Chandra, Torch of Defiance until you have Spell Pierce backup or have forced them to tap out for a mid-combat Settle the Wreckage.
Your advantage here is that your burn spells do double duty with prowess creatures. You’re killing their threats but dealing bonus damage in the process. Remember to keep the pressure on and save your burn spells for their threats. Again Goblin Chainwhirler trades up against Spellweaver Eternal and you can often expect them to go bigger with Glorybringer after sideboard.
Their only answer to Hazoret, the Fervent is Soul-Scar Mage plus a burn spell, so keep that in mind and keep hands with Hazoret if you can.
OTP: -4 Spellweaver Eternal, -2 Shock, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +2 Magma Spray, +2 Chandra’s Defeat
OTD: -4 Spellweaver Eternal, -2 Bomat Courier, +2 Magma Spray, +2 Chandra’s Defeat, +2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
THEM: Magma Spray, Glorybringer, Chandra’s Defeat
GB Winding Constrictor
This deck more than any abuses Walking Ballista, so those X/1’s are out again. This is a difficult matchup since their midrange threats often out-value ours and they have good removal and early blockers.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is excellent here since it can help you grind out a win. You still want to keep in some Hazoret, the Fervent though because they can’t Vraska’s Contempt them all. Save your 3-damage spells to deal with Winding Constrictor and remember Soul-Scar Mage plus Shock also does the trick. Keeping a hand with some cheap burn spells is recommended to deal with a turn 1 Llanowar Elf.
OTD: -4 Bomat Courier, -4 Spellweaver Eternal, +1 Abrade, +2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +2 Blink of an Eye, +1 Spell Pierce
OTP: -2 Bomat Courier, -4 Spellweaver Eternal, +1 Abrade, +2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +1 Blink of an Eye
THEM: Vraska’s Contempt, Thrashing Brontodon, Fatal Push
Shock is your most important card in an opening hand to take out Llanowar Elves (or Abrade on the play). It’s important to take a hit from your own tempo to stop their busted starts, since a 5/4 Steel-Leaf Champion on turn 2 is really going to ruin your race.
Soul-Scar Mage is amazing in this matchup since with a single Wizard’s Lightning it can take out a Steel-Leaf Champion. You need to be constantly chipping in for damage so they are forced to keep their big threats back to block and you can burn them out. Often Hazoret, the Fervent will be on blocking duty while slowly dealing the final points of damage via discard.
Kari Zev’s Expertise does a lot of work out of the sideboard; Thrashing Brontodon is the best target since you can often sacrifice it to blow up their own vehicle or sometimes Verdurous Gearhulk. Bomat Courier gets blanked too quickly by their creatures but can be replaced by more cheap burn spells like Magma Spray.
OTP: -4 Bomat Courier, +2 Magma Spray, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise
OTD: -4 Bomat Courier, -2 Opt, +2 Magma Spray, +2 Kari Zev’s Expertise, +2 Blink of an Eye
THEM: Thrashing Brontodon, Prey Upon, Aethersphere Harvester
It’s clear from the number of times I’m sideboarding out Spellweaver Eternal that it’s the weakest link in the deck, mainly due to the prevalence of Goblin Chainwhirler and Walking Ballista. However it’s important to keep the wizard count high enough for Adeliz, the Cinder Wind and Wizard’s Lightning and there’s currently no good replacement in the 2 drop spot. Fingers crossed that MTG 2018 brings Stormchaser Mage back into Standard!
Choosing to run Abrade over Lightning Strike was a decision I made to interact favourably with Heart of Kiran and God Pharoah’s Gift in game 1, but depending on how the metagame evolves could easily be swapped back and forth. I found myself rarely sideboarding in Magma Spray and that’s 2 potential sideboard spots for something else. In the past I have experimented with Kefnet’s Last Word as an answer to midrange decks, but Blink of an Eye seems to be doing a similar job, with the added bonus of being able to free a Hazoret the Fervent from Seal Away or Cast Out.
Outside of Hazoret the Fervent and Chandra, Torch of Defiance the deck is dirt cheap to build. While Hazoret doesn’t really have a replacement, you can swap Chandra for Vance’s Blasting Cannons quite easily.
The ratios of the maindeck (lands, creatures, spells) feels very balanced but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. If you like what you see I encourage you to sleeve up some wizards and let them work some magic at your local tournament.
As always I’m keen to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any personal results from playing the deck. Until next time, may your wands be always at the ready!