When I last wrote on UB Thopters in Modern I was high on cards like Glint-Nest Crane and Fatal Push, and uncertain on whether Whir of Invention was too mana intensive to find a home in the deck. Seven months later and I’m currently on a list with no copies of Push or Crane, and a full playset of Whirs. That’s Magic, right?
This dramatic reversal is partly due to metagame changes, but mostly due to how much space there is to brew around the Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek core. The deck naturally includes elements of combo, prison, and control, and you can focus on any of those archetypes as the backbone of your strategy.
After much testing I’ve had the most success with a build that focuses on quickly assembling the combo, as seen in my current list below:
This build has lots of tutors and cantrips to dig for the combo quickly, alongside a high count of low CMC artifacts to consistently enable Whir of Invention for a combo piece by turn three. As necessary, the deck can detour to instead deploy silver bullets like Ensnaring Bridge or Grafdigger’s Cage, and if the combo is slow to materialize or gets disrupted we have Tezzeret as our contingency plan.
The move to a combo-centric build means we want three blue sources on turn three more often than not. Mox Opal, Talisman of Dominance, and Chromatic Star can cover up a few non-blue sources in the deck, but not many and not consistently. As a result we have cut all copies of both Darksteel Citadel and Ghost Quarter, leaving behind a single Academy Ruins and Inventors’ Fair as our non-blue-producing utility lands. A single swamp also makes the cut as a non-blue land, providing a way to shave some damage in the early game versus burn, and improve our ability to cast black spells under a Blood Moon.
Perhaps the most significant addition to the deck is the single copy of Time Sieve. For a long time I dismissed this card as a classic example of “win-more”, as it does nothing if you don’t have thopter-sword combo already on the battlefield with access to five mana. It turns out there are many decks in Modern that can win through a slowly building Thopter army (Taking Turns, Valakut, Vizier Company, etc), and others may draw an out if given several draw steps to try. So being able to just whir for a Time Sieve and take infinite turns, gain infinite life, and deal infinite damage is surprisingly relevant, and a bargain at the cost of one card slot.
Ultimately UB Thopters is a deck that’s very good at winning game one, but struggles to be effective in games two and three. Virtually every deck in Modern sideboards some sort of artifact hate and some sort of graveyard hate, and the thopter-sword combo is vulnerable to both. We cannot board out the combo without gutting the deck, so we make an attempt to fight through it. Stony Silence is public enemy number one, and the reason we splash green for Abrupt Decay (which can be tutored with Muddle the Mixture!)and Maelstrom Pulse.
Recognizing that we likely won’t win post-board games by funnelling everything towards a fast combo, we increase our generic interaction with cards like Thoughtseize and Damnation, increase our “plan B” planeswalker count, and bring in matchup-specific high impact whir targets like Ethersworn Canonist and Witchbane Orb. These cards give us a fighting chance, but there are no free wins after game one.
Which brings us full circle to the criticism I myself laid on the deck last time around: why not just play Lantern of Insight control? To the extent there is a rational competitive reason, I would say that UB Thopters is less reliant on Ensnaring Bridge since it can chump block and go infinite, and that as amazing as Ancient Stirrings is, Whir of Invention is also extremely powerful as it always gets what you want and at instant speed. That doesn’t mean there is, or ever will be, a meta where UB Thopters is a better competitive choice than Lantern, but it is at least a plausible reason to sleeve up Thopter Foundry over Lantern of Insight.
Until next time, good luck getting your infinite turns off while your Taking Turns opponent fumbles around with Howling Mines!