Underdog's Corner - Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice

Present Day Artifice

Hello, everyone! Welcome to a new edition of the Underdog's Corner! Today you are in for a treat, as I get to cover one of my personal favorite legends from Commander 2018, as well as a commander that I am actually building in paper! I've carefully watched the numbers on EDHREC and I have been waiting and waiting to write this article... so give it up to your underdog for this installment: Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice!

By the Numbers

If you missed the previous article, I discussed the potential and hidden power of Gyrus, Waker of Corpses. I had a feeling that Gyrus would be one of the underdogs of the set based on community feedback, and that feeling turned out to be correct. Gyrus currently is the third least played commander from Commander 2018, with only 15 decks on the site. However, to my shock, Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice actually comes in as the second least-played commander with 12 decks, leading Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor. For myself and Scot, the writer of The Knowledge Pool, we were both shocked to see the numbers be so low for Tawnos; I immediately started brewing Tawnos upon his spoiler, and I haven't looked back. Normally, you would find the decklist for this series at the end of the article, but today is a special occasion. Here is my current iteration for my Tawnos deck.

”The Artificer Hero We Needed”

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Commander (2)
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Artifact Creature (13)
Artifact (23)
Instant (8)
Enchantment (2)
Sorcery (6)
Planeswalker (3)
Land (34)

Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice

Let's tackle the exact reasons why I'm so excited for Tawnos.

Even before we get to his rules text, we can rejoice in his mana cost. Tawnos is a two-drop commander, which means that we can recast him once without a problem, and as the game goes longer, it's not unrealistic to cast him a third or fourth time. Often there can be worry about our commanders needing to survive around the table to make an impact, but with haste, Tawnos can circumvent those issues in the mid-game. Now let's get to the real excitement:

{U}{R}, {T}: Copy target activated or triggered ability you control from an artifact source. You may choose new targets for the copy.

Tawnos can copy any artifact triggered or activated ability (that isn't a mana ability). We've seen this effect before, but never combined into one card. If you didn't notice, we are running all three of Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient. Rings of Brighthearth, and Strionic Resonator. I am a big proponent of redundancy, and the fact that we have two extra pieces to copy activated abilities and one to copy triggered abilities is phenomenal. These definitely check the 'redundancy' box for me.

With so many artifacts with so many triggered and activated abilities, we have a lot of cards to choose from. Thankfully, Scryfall.com exists and can help us find cards we want to include. While it's not perfect, we can use these parameters to narrow our search:

[id<=ur t:artifact (o:: or o:"at the" or o:when)]

This search will find every artifact in Izzet colors with an activated or triggered ability. Many mana rocks without additional abilities will end up in this search, but there are a few complications we will run into if we want to exclude those from the search. If we want to exclude all mana rocks from this (about 140 cards), we just need to add an extra parameter. Take not that this will exclude cards like Mindstone:

[id<=ur t:artifact (o:: or o:"at the" or o:when) -o:"add "]

For the most part, those parameters will serve our purpose and give us a clear idea of the effects we can include.

The Good, The Bad, and the Realistic

  • Good: What accolades Tawnos earns with versatility, he pays for in both number of uses and mana intensiveness.
  • Bad: Tawnos can only copy one ability per turn cycle, barring untap shenanigans or Illusionist's Bracers. However, despite this 'limitation,' the one activation is often still impactful.
  • Realistic: Casting and activating Tawnos in the same turn is both color-prohibitive as well as mana-prohibitive. We'll need to keep this in mind as we go about planning our turns.

The Value of Combo

Let's be blunt. Tawnos is likely going to be viewed as a combo commander because of Paradox Engine. I've seen several people lump Tawnos into that category already, and I don't think that's totally fair. Regardless, he's going to have that scarlet letter, so be aware of that.

Combining Tawnos with the Engine and nonland permanents that can generate {U}{R}, we generate infinite untaps. Normally, that alone requires at least four pieces on the board, as well as a fifth to push the engine towards a win condition, and that's not including a spell that's needed to initially turn the wheels. This combo can and will win, but it also requires a lot of setup and a large mana investment in a vacuum if we're planning to play and win with Engine in the same turn. Once we get into this situation, nearly anything in the deck can be used as a win condition, so I won't cover them all in detail.

Beyond Paradox Engine and Sands of Time (credit: Tomer from CFB was the first person whom I saw mention this), Tawnos isn't really a combo piece himself, realistically. I'm sure there are plenty of six-part convoluted combos where he's integral, but those are not the focus of this article. With that said, the current iteration of my Tawnos deck is indeed focused on winning via artifact combos, but even if Tawnos himself isn't a part of them, he isn't just going to sit idly in the command zone.

C-C-C-Combo Maker!

Normally, one of my biggest gripes with building combo decks is that many pieces are fairly useless or low-impact when played without their other pieces. Tawnos has found a unique home in my heart, as nearly every combo piece has utility with Tawnos and the rest of the deck beyond going infinite. Not only does this make the deck unpredictable and dangerous, but it also adds a measure of consistency. I'm going to briefly cover a few of the known combos.

Rings of Brighthearth + Basalt Monolith

Oh, the memories. In my old Roon of the Hidden Realm deck, this was my very first infinite combo while I was still new to the format. As we already covered, Rings of Brighthearth adds redundancy with Tawnos, but it also is part of two-part combo with Basalt Monolith. If you've never seen this combo before, let me break it down. Note that we need to mana available to start this combo.

  • Tap Basalt Monolith for {C}{C}{C}.
  • Use the {C}{C}{C} to untap Monolith.
  • Use that two floating mana to copy the untap trigger with Rings.
  • Untap Basalt Monolith. In response to the untap trigger on the stack, tap for {C}{C}{C}.
  • Untap Basalt Monolith. Repeat.

This loop will generate infinite colorless mana (as well as infinite untaps for people who enjoy Mesmeric Orb).

Modern's KCI Combo

For those of you who despise playing against this deck in Modern, you may want to skip to the next section. For those who have never seen this combo before... buckle your seat belts. I didn't initially intend to include this combo. In actuality, this combo existed with my first draft of Tawnos, because each piece was an artifact I simply wanted to play in the deck, and all of them have function beyond their very beautiful (and convoluted) infinite combo.

So how does this medley of cards create an infinite loop? If you want to know how this works in-depth, I would highly recommend this article, which covers the rules and steps in extensive detail. For the time being, I'm going to walk you through the basics:

  • Scrap Trawler, Myr Retriever, Pyrite Spellbomb, and Krark-Clan Ironworks on the battlefield.
  • Cast Mox Amber.
  • Sacrifice Trawler, Retriever, and Spellbomb for mana with Krark-Clan Ironworks.
  • We have 6x {C} in our mana pool.
  • Scrap Trawler's ability returns Myr Retriever and Pyrite Spellbomb to our hand. Retriever returns Trawler to our hand.
  • Cast Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever. We have {C}.
  • Cast Pyrite Spellbomb.
  • Sacrifice Trawler, Retriever, and Amber to with Krark-Clan Ironworks.
  • We have 7x {C}.
  • Pay for Pyrite Spellbomb, we have 6x {C}.
  • Scrap Trawler's ability returns Myr Retriever and Mox Amber to our hand. Retriever returns Trawler to our hand.
  • Cast Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever.
  • We have {C}. Repeat.

Each loop of this combo will generate one colorless mana, and once demonstrated will generate infinite mana. After that, it's only a matter of repeating the combo, but rather than sacrificing the Spellbomb to KCI, we will sacrifice it to its own ability, to draw our entire deck. It's a very complicated combo with many interchangeable pieces, so I highly recommend checking out the previously linked article to get a firmer grasp on it, as I gave the barest of explanations. If you have questions about it, I will do my best to answer them in the comments!

Beyond those combos, there are many others that that will pop up that involve KCI, Paradox Engine, or Rings of Brighthearth. Many of them will be five or more pieces, but nonetheless they'll pop up occasionally.

Tutoring the Missing Links

You may have noticed a common trait among the three combos discussed so far: they all create infinite mana. Unfortunately, generating infinite mana means nothing if we can't use it effectively. Luckily for us artifact fans, we're a bit spoiled for options. Hangarback Walker, Walking Ballista, and Retrofitter Foundry are all great options for mana sinks. Ballista is the most proactive of the bunch as it will win the game instantly. Retrofitter is the next best bet, generating an infinite number of 4/4s, a humming swarm of 1/1 Thopters with flying, and/or a skittering mass of 1/1 Servos. Whatever is needed, the Foundry will supply it. Hangarback Walker is definitely the hardest to use, as we need a sacrifice outlet to get our mass of Thopters, but at worst it can sit on the board as an infinitely large robot.

All of these combos require multiple pieces that can't sit in the command zone. Once again though, artificers have options. They literally can engineer the outcomes they need. Say hello to the lovely trio of Trophy Mage, Treasure Mage, and Trinket Mage. Each of these are able to find combo pieces depending on the situation. If we glance up through the last section, we can see that Trinket Mage finds at least five pieces (and there are more), and Trophy mage can find at least three. Treasure Mage may be the most limited, but don't underestimate what it's able to find if combo isn't an option.

The Value Menu

Beyond combo, which many view as a boring way to win, Tawnos basically has a PhD in value. This pedigree is the main reason I wanted to build him in the first place. Let's take a look at what value we can expect from Tawnos.

What's The Draw?

One of the first ideas that came to mind was copying abilities of artifacts that sacrifice themselves for card draw. Among Mind Stone, Commander's Sphere, Hedron Archive, and other cards like the previously mentioned Pyrite Spellbomb, we have plenty of artifacts that can sacrifice themselves for value, which Tawnos can double. This is the first spot where we can notice the influence of a previous article, where I wrote about Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient. The amount of joy I take from copying a Hedron Archive's ability to draw four cards is unmatched. I used to joke, when there were more ways to produce Clue tokens in the deck, that it was "Four-Mana-Draw-Two" tribal. Cashing in our artifacts for card draw in a pinch is great, and with plenty of ways to recur artifacts, we can keep the train rolling.

Speaking of drawing, I want to quickly highlight two cards. One is beloved by many for its versatility, and the other is one of my favorite nonartifact cards in the deck.

Trading Post does it all, and it pulls double its weight in this deck. Copying any of these abilities with Tawnos just feels good. Make two Goats? Draw two cards? Get two artifacts back? Gain eight life? Really, it's this type of versatility that makes Tawnos sing. I really hope Wizards continues to print these "modal" artifacts, like they recently did with Retrofitter Foundry, because they are some of the most fun things this deck can do.

Next up is a pet card, The Antiquities War. One mistake I always make while playing this card is that I always think the draw trigger digs only four cards deep. Nope! It digs five cards deep. Even if this Saga never reaches its final chapter, drawing two artifacts out of ten possible cards is fantastic selection. It's an absolute engine, and I would definitely recommend you give it a try. Also, if this card is allowed to reach the third chapter, turning four to five artifacts into 5/5s becomes a massive threat very quickly. You'll be surprised how many artifacts happen to be on the board if you play this on curve.

Cheat Day

If we want to go "bigger" with our value, we can try our hands with two options that give our opponents plenty of chances to stop us. Kuldotha Forgemaster and Master Transmuter both suffer from a lack of haste, but if they are allowed to wheel and activate, our opponents are in for a bad time. This is even more true with Tawnos factored in. As I mentioned before, Tawnos is a tad mana intensive, but these two cards offset those issues since their abilities cost very little. With Kuldotha Forgemaster, this could spell the end for our opponents, as tutoring two artifacts into play gives us access to just about every infinite combo in our arsenal. With Transmuter, our options are limited to just our hand, but there have been plenty of times in testing where I've cheated twelve mana's worth of artifacts onto the board, all while protecting the Transmuter and resetting another artifact like Voltaic Key. Both of these cards will likely be top priority for removal, so be prepared to include ways to protect them until activation.

If we want to improvise a bit, we can also include these spell-based tutors. Whir of Invention is a powerful, instant speed, into-play tutor that should be included in basically every blue-based artifact deck. In fact, 29% of artifact decks currently play it. That might sound low, but considering that four of the top eight artifact commanders don't even have blue in their mana cost, I'd say it's very impressive! Passing turn with all our mana untapped and a few artifacts on board prepares us to surprise our opponents with whatever fits the occasion.

The newly minted Saheeli's Directive was designed more with its namesake Saheeli, the Gifted in mind, but it still pulls its weight plenty with Tawnos. In testing, the ability to cast this for X=6 or more is trivial. There's a chance to be blown out with this, but the potential upside of generating a massive board advantage is worth the risk.

If you want more redundancy with these types of effects, Muzzio, Visionary Architect is a great include that I need to test again.

Making an Impression

Let's talk about Bosh. Bosh, Iron Golem is my favorite artifact in this deck. Why? Because he deals a lot of damage very quickly. He's simple, and I like that. Copying his ability with Tawnos? It's downright mean. Even beyond the Golem's ability, we have a 7/6 trampler. That alone will bully some players, and then we have the option to sacrifice Bosh to his own ability and copy it. That represents up to twenty-three damage being thrown around in one turn. Once you start combining that with other synergies in the deck, it gets a little out of hand. I love Bosh, and you should too.

Beyond him, we have cards like Combustible Gearhulk and Scuttling Doom Engine that can threaten life totals, plus Wurmcoil Engine and Myr Battlesphere to bring a mass of tokens into the fray. Lastly, we have Memnarch, who will slowly take everything important away from our opponents. Sometimes I feel like the top end of this deck isn't powerful enough, but slow and steady wins the race, right?

Missing Pieces

Before you tell me that I should include X and Y card, and ask "Where is Z card?", please note that this decklist has gone through many iterations in the past several weeks. Where some cards are omitted due to budget (Mox Opal), many of the other cards were likely swapped in and out while I have been testing. My current vision of the deck is only that: my personal deck at the moment. By the time this article has been published, it's likely to have been changed again. However, I do want to talk about several of the pieces that are currently not included, but are incredibly useful if given the proper build and strategy.

Mycosynth Lattice is a powerful card, and it's likely known as part of a three-part combo with Darksteel Forge and Nevinyrral's Disk. Additionally, it adds a lot of layers of complexity, as everything is now copy-able with Tawnos, and many combos open up when mana restrictions no longer exist.

Scrap Mastery should be in the deck, but I haven't found a good cut for it at the moment. Really, I could probably cut anything, and it would be right at home. This will almost always be one-sided in your favor, and with how many sacrifice outlets are available in these colors, we should always have a critical mass of artifacts after it resolves.

If you want more combo pieces, look no further than Blasting Station and Salvaging Station. These will end the game in short order if left unchecked with a Flayer Husk lying around.

Pieces of the Puzzle

That is it for this week, everyone! I hope you have enjoyed a brief overview of why I am so excited about Tawnos! Beyond what my list does, I think Tawnos deserves way more attention, as he can be built in so many ways. Myr-Tribal is an option, durdle-facts is more than okay, and he also makes cards like Tamiyo's Journal and Azor's Gateway much faster than they have any right being. He's a Swiss-Army Knife, and he can do it all. Give him a second look, because he has so much versatility and plenty of room to make a deck that is all your own. I love this card, and I hope you give him a chance.

Thanks for joining me in the Underdog's Corner!

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