My last article was about Scourge of the Skyclaves... and it still opened by acknowledging that Modern's general narrative currently revolves around Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Yes, Uro is everywhere, and Modern players seem up on the fact that it's incredibly strong—if they aren't playing it, they're finding ways to beat it, or more often just losing to it. But how come? Is Uro so broken that Modern can't adapt? Or are players simply skimping on options that will restrain it effectively? In this Spell Spotlight, we'll discuss the elements that make Uro a Modern staple, look into which decks run it, and assess our counterplay options.
Just what the heck is Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath? And what makes it special enough to deserve a Spell Spotlight? To make sense of who's playing Uro, and to figure out how to beat the card, we need to understand the three dimensions that make it so darn good.
Stapled all over Uro are Magic's three magic words: "Draw a card." When players cast Uro from the hand, they draw a card. When they escape Uro from the graveyard, they draw a card. When they turn Uro sideways, they draw a card. (YOU get a fur! YOU get a fur!) If Uro manages to attack a couple of times, we're talking about a pretty insurmountable heap of cards.
But wait, there's more! For each "draw a card" trigger Uro resolves, the Titan also gains pilots 3 life. (YOU get a jet!) This kind of value is less exciting on paper, and perhaps harder to quantify than card advantage, but in some matchups is even preferable to drawing. Take Burn, for instance. That deck wants as many of its cards as possible to deal 3 damage. Against Burn, gaining 3 life is like drawing a card—a great card: a free Counterspell! All that lifegain makes it very difficult for aggro decks, the very strategies generally poised to punish durdly value strategies, to overcome Uro. Additionally, it can be tough to justify fitting lifegain into the mainboard, for the simple reason that there aren't many lifegain cards that are great when the lifegain isn't relevant. Uro is one of them, making life much harder on damage-minded players while it's legal in the format.
As though all that wasn't enough, Uro also dumps lands into play from the hand. This effect is Uro's smallest, and many shells using the creature consider it icing on the cake; perhaps they've opened a land-heavy hand, in which case the incidental ramp gets them closer to making additional plays (which likely include escaping Uro). But ramp is also central to certain play styles, which have gotten a massive boost with Uro in the picture. When the ramp part of the effect is the one that's most desired, you know the card is an utter bomb in your deck.
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath certainly lives up to its name on the power/toughness side of things: it's massive. 6/6 is bigger than any reasonable creature in Modern, as those tend to cap at 5/5, with larger sizes reserved for six-mana haymakers such as Wurmcoil Engine or the original Titan cycle. And stats are as important in Modern as ever (read: more than in most nonrotating formats). Gurmag Angler? Tarmogoyf? Reality Smasher? We used to fear these big-bodied behemoths, but Uro makes them look like a bunch of chumps. And act like a bunch of chumps, when it comes to blocking. To beat Uro in the red zone, players often have to throw multiple creatures in front of it, compounding its multitude of card advantage dimensions.
So you've double-blocked Uro and gotten it off the table. Now what? Elementary, my dear Watson: it just freaking comes back! Escape lets Uro return again and again for more red-zone fun, be that walling all your swingers or punching holes in your defenses. And every time it comes back, it triggers, burying its resistance in cards, life, and maybe lands (and therefore, maybe Zombies—no small quotient of Uro decks pack Field of the Dead). Uro simply cannot be dealt with by regular means; peeling it from an opener with Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek only accelerates its battlefield terror, while burning removal spells on the 6/6 merely buys a tiny bit of time.
All that high praise does indeed translate into numbers. At the time of writing, Uro is one of Modern's most-played cards according to MTGGoldfish, and its second-most-played creature, losing out by just 1% to Skyclave Apparition (we said Death and Taxes was coming back—and we meant it!). But the card isn't dominating because a single deck featuring the card is dominating. Rather, Uro finds itself in a plethora of strategies hungry for the raw power it provides.
By now, Modern boasts its fair share of decks built around Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath:
These are the big Uro decks, meaning they play very heavily into the Uro plan. When David mentioned going after Uro specifically, these are the decks he had in mind; effectively attacking that angle should cripple each of the above strategies. Leading the pack is Omnath Ramp and its offshoot Omnath Copy-Cat, the latter of which packs a combo to improve its linear matchups. But otherwise, these are straight-up value shells, aiming to two-for-one as much as possible en route to a flashy finish turns after games have been functionally put away.
Many other decks simply splash Uro as a package or plan:
- Niv-Mizzet Reborn
- Through the Breach
- Aetherworks Marvel
- Amulet Titan
- Bant Stoneblade
In terms of archetypes, the decks that can or want to splash Uro are wildly diverse: we've got midrange, tempo, combo-control, aggro-combo, pure combo, and prison all vying for the Titan's favor. My favorites in this list are Infect, which once ran a set of sideboard Tarmogoyfs as a fair Plan B, and Jund, whose pilot gave in to that old adage, "If you can't beat 'em...." But also note the host of power-crept combo strategies centered around Aetherworks Marvel or Through the Breach, which leverage Uro's sheer strength to win themselves games of Modern in a format that's otherwise outgrown them.
While the above decks fail to make full use of an Uro-centric gameplan, they also do better in the face of hate targeting the creature, as they've got plenty else to do with their time. As such, Uro can often serve as a potent diversion, attacking opponents from a unique angle while the primary gameplan is assembled.
Strategically speaking, it's difficult to hate out Uro with just a gameplan. The aggro-combo strats that have historically kept Modern's durdly decks in check can't quite manage to get under Uro's lifegain and board presence, which buys opponents enough time to stabilize. And there's little hope of out-grinding the Titan, which lets pilots draw multiple cards each turn cycle, in turn filling the graveyard back up via interaction so it can be escaped again and again. If there's no going under it, and no going over it, the best way to deal with Uro is to hate it out with... well, dedicated hate.
The most effective way to deal with Uro is to hit 'im where it hurts: the graveyard. That crucial zone is a required limbo for Uro to pass from the hand to the battlefield, and while opponents may well break even on cards along the way, doing so still costs them 3 mana. Uro's a lot less menacing if it never gets the chance to act as an engine.
Cling to Dust: The one card here that didn't make "Modern Top 5: Graveyard Hate," on account of it not having been printed yet. While Cling only hits one card in the graveyard, it's a maindeckable option for all its utility; it can gain life or cantrip, and pilots often have the choice. At one mana, that's a bargain for a spell that also grants incidental graveyard hate to multiple decks in Game 1. Hitting Uro with Cling takes it out of the picture for good, forcing opponents to locate another copy of the Legend if they want to bring it out.
Surgical Extraction: What if you want to remove the possibility of encountering Uro from the game entirely? Modern's got a card that makes that happen for the low, low cost of 2 life. Surgical won't work until opponents have gotten Uro into the graveyard, making it somewhat situational; even Cling can be cycled into something more immediately useful should they fail to find the Titan. But Extraction provides a significantly permanent effect, rendering decks built around Uro unable to function close to their usual level.
Grafdigger's Cage: My personal favorite of the three for dealing with Uro, Cage is narrow enough in its effect that it won't necessarily impact players who run their own grave-based effects. That happens to be most of them, as more definite answers to the graveyard like Rest in Peace are becoming increasingly uncommon. Cage still packs a punch against Uro, and also hoses cheat-from-the-deck spells such as Collected Company; with the artifact in play, opponents literally have no hope for escape unless they draw into some very specific removal cards. And with their draw engine hampered, the odds of that happening are even less likely. Cage's best feature, though, is how low-maintenance it is: whenever players have a generic mana to throw around, they can just slam the permanent and watch opponents squirm under its effects.
Simply removing Uro is all fine and dandy until it's escaped again the next turn. And it still nets pilots a draw, some life, and perhaps one more land drop each time it pops up. That's why players have been turning to removal spells that deal with specifically Uro better than the rest.
Path to Exile: Modern's most no-questions-asked removal spell again gets its time in the sun with Uro around. Players can Path Uro in response to its sacrifice trigger when opponents deploy it on from the hand, giving it no chance to draw a second card or escape from the grave. But hitting Uro once it's escaped can also be preferable in some game states, as now the Titan has cost pilots a whopping seven mana as well as 5 cards in the grave. And for what? Two lousy draws and six life? The key with Path is how flexible it is, as the instant also deals with most recursive/enormous creatures and only costs a single mana. Of course, that mana happens to be in the format's worst color....
Aether Gust: Another popular option is Aether Gust, an unassuming two-drop that frankly deserves its own Spell Spotlight. Gust is superb against Uro because it takes it off the battlefield without plopping it right back into the graveyard, meaning opponents need to invest another 3 mana to prep the Titan for escape, and ensuing battlefield presence. Gust can also hit Uro either pre- or post-escape depending on the game state. While it's less useful than Path in other matchups, it does rock the house against Prowess (often costing them multiple cards' worth of damage) and hold down the fort against Rock (where it tops Tarmogoyf). The ability to hits spells gives it incidental utility in some combo matchups, forcing decks using the likes of Scapeshift, Past in Flames, and Through the Breach to wait one more turn before going off.
Unlike Oko, which was axed relatively soon after its introduction to Modern, Uro has had time to warp the metagame in subtle and obvious ways alike. Hate it or love it, Uro has now cemented itself as a pillar of the Modern format. Do you run Uro, or play to beat it? Or just sit on the format's sidelines awaiting a ban? Drop your experience in the comments, and don't leave home without your hate!