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The Brothers' War Commander Deck Upgrade: Urza's Iron Alliance


The Brothers' War Commander preconstructed decklists have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We're going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to make TWO upgrade lists:

  1. My regular $30 upgrade list.
  2. Since all the cards in these decks are completely old-border, I'm making a special old-border only upgrade list as well!

Let's begin!

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Urza's Iron Alliance is an Esper Artifact Creatures deck that focuses on, well, Artifacts, specifically Artifact Creatures: the deck is loaded up with artifact creatures that fulfill everything the deck needs, from ramp (Etherium Sculptor), to card draw (Thought Monitor), to removal (Noxious Gearhulk), and more. You then beef up those artifact creatures with anthems (Tempered Steel) or poop out scaling beaters (Digsite Engineer) and pummel your opponents to death with your robot army.

If you want an Esper Artifact deck that wins by building a supercharged robot army, then Urza's Iron Alliance is for you!

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The Precon List

Before we talk upgrades, let's take a look at the stock list to see what we're working with:

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Urza's Iron Alliance is all about one archetype: Artifacts, specifically Artifact Creatures. The precon knows this and has the numbers to back it up: I count 62 cards that are either artifacts, create artifacts, or support artifacts. Of these, 35 cards are artifact creatures or support artifact creatures. With more than half the cards fitting into the main theme of the deck, it's safe to say the precon is properly focused.

Choosing Our Commander

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There are four potential commanders found in this deck: Urza, Chief Artificer, Tawnos, Solemn Survivor, Alela, Artful Provocateur, and Sharuum the Hegemon. All have their strengths and weaknesses:

  • Urza, Chief Artificer is the face commander and certainly the most obvious leader for the deck, being the only one that directly supports artifact creatures by giving them menace and producing one each turn (often called a "karnstruct"). While he's capped at only producing a single karnstruct each turn, these things get HUGE in an Artifact deck, and giving your board menace is fantastic to enable lethal attacks. Affinity for artifacts means he'll almost always just cost 3 mana, even after recasting him a couple times, so he's very reliable (unless someone Vandalblasts you into oblivion).
  • Tawnos, Solemn Survivor is the other new commander. He cares about artifact tokens, copying the ones on board or making new ones from the graveyard. He doesn't specifically care about artifact creatures like Urza does (though he works just fine with them) making him a bit more open-ended. While I like him as part of the 99, he's a bit too slow for my tastes as a commander, since he requires more setup and more mana to get going than the other options. 
  • Alela, Artful Provocateur is the other creature token option for the deck. She also supports artifacts, produces more creature tokens than Urza, and is overall a stronger commander (what a surprise for a Brawl commander!) but in the precon she's held back by the fact that her tokens aren't artifacts and don't get support from the deck's anthems such as Tempered Steel and Steel Overseer. She's a great commander but you'd need to retool a lot of the deck for her to be better than Urza here.
  • Sharuum the Hegemon is the strongest commander of the three in a vacuum, being the only one that would qualify for proper CEDH tables if built for it. Sharuum is a combo machine, easily enabling infinite combos such as Phyrexian Metamorph + Disciple of the Vault for infinite pings and so much more. Despite being an artifact creature herself however, Sharuum's combo goals do not mesh well with a precon focused on artifact creature combat, so you'd need to do a massive overhaul to the list for it to fit our favorite Sphinx properly.

I think the best commander for a $30 upgrade to the deck is Urza, Chief Artificer. The other two commanders are great but would require way more card swaps to be worth changing to. Plus Urza is new and cool!

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Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses

Now that we've glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let's take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 finisher; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Urza's Iron Alliance and how it compares. I count:

The ratios look great at a glance: solid amount of mana, draw, removal, even some graveyard hate! There are also lots of powerful synergy cards here that support the artifact creature theme, with staples like Etherium Sculptor for ramp, Wire Surgeons for recursions, Bronze Guardian for the double whammy of finisher + protection, and so on.

There are quite a few stinkers though: cards like Etched Champion might fit the deck's theme but are just too weak to be appealing. We have plenty of cards we can swap out during upgrades.

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Upgrade Goals

I have some specific goals when upgrading Urza's Iron Alliance:

  • Increase the focus on artifact creatures
  • Add a couple more explosive ramp cards
  • Add stronger board wipes
  • Add stronger burst draw

We're doing two upgrades for this one:

  1. My usual $30 upgrade.
  2. A budgetless old-border only upgrade.

The $30 upgrade is jam-packed with power despite the budget constraint, thanks to the immense card pool Artifacts has to work with: we have powerful ramp engines with Chief Engineer, one-sided wipes with Their Name Is Death, and mass recursion with Brilliant Restoration. These cards can rocket you ahead of games with little effort.

The old-border upgrades is harder to match a $30 budget so I didn't bother. Instead, I add 10 cards that are upgrades you'll want for power without worrying about the actual budget costs.

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$30 Upgrades

Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile and may be different at the time you read this article.

Here's how I'd swap in $30 worth of upgrades. If you want to upgrade on a smaller budget then just makes less swaps:

Additions:

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Cuts:

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The deck is now much faster thanks to the introduction of powerful new ramp, stronger removal, and easier to go wide thanks to more token creature production with Mirrodin Besieged and Efficient Construction. I've also added Sakashima's Will and Masterful Replication which can turn your entire board into karnstructs, crushing all your opponents with 10/10's or larger.

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Old Border Upgrade

Here are 10 old-border cards that pump up the deck. I left out the super egregious cards like Metalworker and Mishra's Workshop (look at its price for a laugh), which honestly I recommend just proxying if you want them.

Additions:

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Cuts:

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Similar to the $30 version, the ramp is far more explosive, with everyone's favorite Artifact Overlord, Urza, Lord High Artificer being the most obvious and most powerful addition.

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Mishra Precon Upgrade Coming Soon!

Come back in a couple days for the next precon!

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