Commander is a more powerful, established format these days, and the average deck is simply much stronger than it was in the early years of Commander precons. While that may have pushed designers in the past to keep pace, The Brothers’ War features the perfect, powerful character from Magic’s 30-year history to lean on: Urza. And while Urza’s Iron Alliance is a strong deck in its own right, we are going to upgrade it to make it even better.
MEET THE COMMANDER
This is not the first time we’ve had a chance to play with Urza in the Command zone. Many Commander players are already well-acquainted with this influential planeswalker, whether he was going by his real name at the time or not.
So while this new Urza, Chief Artificer does maintain the power level and artifact theme we’d expect for the character, perhaps the most exciting part of the card is simply the color identity. He has fought against many of the multiverse’s great evils, but Urza is no benevolent Gandalf figure.
His list of crimes is long and his history of moral compromises to achieve his ends even longer. While his cards in The Brothers’ War are blue/white (to balance out the red/black alignment of Mishra), it’s no accident that one of them is named for “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell.
Finally, getting an Esper-aligned Urza card is cool not only because it acknowledges the character’s darker side, but because it opens up a ton of black-specific artifact synergies and useful gold cards from older sets for our deckbuilding!
Another signature trait of recent Commander precons is they commit fully to building around the featured commander choice, and Urza’s Iron Alliance is obviously no exception. It’s worth pointing out that the brand of artifact synergy offered by our Chief Artificer is so delightfully generic you could probably plug and play any kind of Esper artifacts commander into the list — or even something like Breya to add a fourth color.
Even so, I assume most players who buy a deck named after Urza, from a set themed around Urza, will want to keep Urza in the Command Zone. He certainly matches any alternatives for raw power and consistency! His token-creating ability can bolster the army of a creature-heavy artifact deck, or provide the entire army for a creature-light build.
Artifacts are simply the most effective mechanical subtheme in Magic history. Just between mana rocks, artifact lands, cheap baubles and miscellaneous tokens, you can already assume the Constructs Urza creates will be among the biggest bodies on the table.
This leaves us with a ton of potential slots for other great payoff cards, even if they themselves don’t necessarily add to our artifact count. Wizards of the Coast clearly agrees with me, having already stacked the precon with spells like Indomitable Archangel, Shimmer Dragon and Alela, Artful Provocateur.
When you find yourself with a wide-open theme and zero concerns around playability, it’s up to the individual to pick one game plan and keep their deck building focused. The high-level decision here is whether that game plan should be artifact-creature beatdown or more generic value and combo.
It’s probably a preference call, but the first route does take full advantage of Urza’s affinity for artifact creatures; getting him into play sooner and keeping him there by nullifying commander tax. It’s this route which the stock precon deck list shows off, leveraging the combat potential of artifact creatures both for raw damage and resource generation.
New Card Review
Urza’s Iron Alliance and its corresponding Mishra precon feel like they were designed to be a curated, complete play experience — a point driven home by giving the whole deck the retro-frame treatment. But there are still players who buy these decks to tear them apart for singles after a game or two, mostly for any new printings. So, I’ll quickly review each of those cards and their impact beyond the context of this deck:
Tawnos, Solemn Survivor
The main alternative commander choice included in the precon, Tawnos’s ability to freely clone expensive artifact cards already makes him a desirable inclusion. Throw in the chance to sometimes recur such cards from the graveyard and the fringe combo potential gained by creating artifact versions of nonartifact creatures in the process, and you have an exceptionally powerful two-drop.
Sanwell, Avenger Ace
Urza may have created the original Power Armor, but The Brothers’ War is a conflict of automatons, not pilots and vehicles. Still, those mechanics have become a popular and prominent facet of artifact design in 2022, and Sanwell is a nod to that.
The card underwhelms me in the stock precon, but for aggressive, mono-white lists whose options for card draw are limited, it seems like a welcome addition.
Scholar of New Horizons
Speaking of additions for mono-white — hot damn, this is a sweet card. There have been justified gripes around Wizards of the Coast putting “catch-up” stipulations on White’s ramp, but remember: you can activate this in response to cracking fetches or at any other time you’re temporarily down a land, making it pretty easy to end up ahead!
That doesn’t even account for all the fun interactions with “remove a counter” cumulative upkeep cards, Sagas, undying/persist… The sky is really the limit.
March of Progress
This is proof that not every card needs a lot of text to be powerful or interesting. Read carefully and don’t try to use this on non-creature artifacts — but the Overload mode should still be game-ending.
A solid recursion engine and another weapon for the rapidly-growing arsenal of black artifact-graveyard decks. The higher casting cost makes me feel like you’re meant to reanimate this, which fits that playstyle well.
Wire Surgeons feels like a slam-dunk combination with most of the cards from the recent Necron Warhammer 40k precon — if you can stomach the clash of card frames and art styles.
This follows a design template I never really see working out: the post-sweeper consolation prize. At least this cares about any nonland card hitting the graveyard (though not tokens), which is great for artifact decks running Baubles and Eggs.
Plus, Powerstones are a more potent reward. They may come in tapped, but simply generating enough game objects on ETB can let cards like this combo off in the right deck.
More of a cute throwback card, continuing a lineage which is now three-quarters throwback cards. There is some novelty in being able to convert any kind of counter into +1/+1 counters (or flying counters), but novelty is mostly all it offers for six mana.
Kayla’s Music Box
It’s probably just because the existing baseline for in-color staples is so much lower, but it feels like every white card here is an absolute banger. Kayla’s Music Box reads like a streamlined version of Sensei’s Divining Top, which is some of the higher praise you can give a card.
It’s slightly harder to go infinite with this due to the mana cost on activation and the fact it exiles rather than draws you a card, but it’s far from impossible.
Believe it or not, our final exclusive is ANOTHER incremental value engine for white decks! This one is even more fundamentally modest, although you can at least trigger the draw ability several times per turn cycle with sacrifice outlets. If this is what you deem filler, at least it’s high-grade filler.
The first step to adding cards is making room with cuts — something that can be tricky with the overall quality of these precons! At least we can use our choice of game plan to guide us, trimming the cards that don’t do as much to generate artifact creatures and pump them efficiently.
- Alela, Artful Provocateur
- Sanwell, Avenger Ace
- Sharuum, the Hegemon
- One with the Machine
- Urza’s Ruinous Blast
- Noxious Gearhulk
- Filigree Attendant
- Darksteel Juggernaut
- Chrome Courier
A more extreme or high-power approach to upgrading this deck would also cut the expensive creatures for cheap artifact token generators and interaction, relying on Urza’s Construct tokens and the various synergy payoffs to threaten foes. But I suspect cards like Bronze Guardian and Ethersworn Adjudicator should be plenty threatening for most tables.
When looking for cards to add to Urza’s Iron Alliance, I would keep in mind we already have a lot of spells that multiply in value for every artifact creature we control. I feel like we can trust those effects to win us the game, which means our new cards just need to ensure we can make a lot of small artifacts quickly and easily.
- $1 or less additions: Efficient Construction, Mechtitan Core, Thopter Foundry, Rootborn Defenses, Sram’s Expertise, Myriad Construct, Masterful Replication, Dovin, Grand Arbiter, Sly Requisitioner, Clown Car.
- $10 or less additions: Forsaken Monument, Mirrodin Besieged, Sword of the Meek, Kaya, Geist Hunter, Mechanized Production, Soundwave, Sonic Spy, Song of the Worldsoul, The Mightstone and Weakstone, Ruthless Technomancer, Grim Hireling.
- $10 or more additions: Urza’s Saga, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Smothering Tithe, Pitiless Plunderer, Anointed Procession, Arcbound Ravager, Eldrazi Monument, The Meathook Massacre, Mycosynth Lattice, Urza, Lord Protector.
THE GLORY OF ANTIQUITY
I’m used to having the Commander precons that accompany a Standard set come out with a ton of new mechanics, but Urza’s Iron Alliance is a change of pace. The homage to classic Magic here is deeper than just the retro frames.
By sticking to the tried and true theme of “artifacts matter,” Wizards has created a precon that not only stands on its own as a powerful deck, but can serve as a base for any number of more specific artifact builds. And all of that while providing perhaps the most story-accurate rendition of an Urza deck: his ambitious and amoral pursuit of perfection, his mastery of artifacts and his inexhaustible robotic armies.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.