Sift Through Sands - Pharika/Umori and Zur

Wes Stuckey • February 23, 2023

Enchanted, I'm Sure

Hello, everyone! Life's crazy, so am I, and I'm back with another installment of Sift Through Sands, which focuses on how similar cards operate in different decks. Understanding how cards play well together in different builds lets us utilize them to their fullest potential. Sprinkle a bit of jank and a whole lot of budget hipster nonsense, and you've not only understood the series, but you've had fun building, too!

This week, I'm aiming my sights for some ridiculousness. The two decks presented today are entirely enchantments (please don't play Tranquil Grove), helmed by two underappreciated commanders: Pharika, God of Affliction (complete with her potion) and Zur, Eternal Schemer.

Our Picks

Ah, Pharika, the unloved of the Theros pantheon. Haters say things like "Where's the card advantage? 'Under that player's control'? Why would I give away tokens? What if they're not playing a graveyard deck?" and so forth.

Despite these complaints, Pharika is the only legendary Golgari enchantment creature (I hear DougY formulating a list now), making her a prime choice for Umori's Companionship. An all-enchantment deck, with graveyard focus? Seems fun!

On the other hand, the latest Zur provides an extremely powerful gameplan of turning our enchantments into deadly and dangerous beaters, ones that our opponents won't be able to touch even if they wanted to.

Both of these decks can generate massive advantage from all nonland cards sharing a type. Let's check out Pharika!

Snake Potion

Commander (1)
Companion (1)
Creature (15)
Enchantment (48)
Land (35)

Check it out on Archidekt!

Playing Pharika/Umori

The graveyard is our greatest resource in this deck, and self-mill fuels it best. Crop Sigil, Nyx Weaver, and Out of the Tombs move us there effectively early game, allowing us to utilize Pharika and our other token-producers, such as Bearscape (a real highlight here), Aphemia, the Cacophony, and Necrogenesis. Simply enough, the strategy here is to fill the graveyard, sift through what we don't need, and reanimate what we want, making tokens all the while.

Card advantage and ramp are unconventional when they come in enchantment form. Apart from staples like Enchantress's Presence and Eidolon of Blossoms (who loves Pharika's snakes!), Rowen and Protection Racket are fantastic pieces. Our ramp comes in strange forms as well. Courser of Kruphix and Gaea's Touch help us with lands, while the unbelievable Sanctum Weaver taps out for tons of mana. The versatile Shigeki, Jukai Visionary backflips to find lands, and can be used as nifty reanimation in a pinch. And, of course, Umori, the Collector waits for us by Pharika's side when we need it!

Once our mana is situated and our graveyard is filled, reanimation with Forbidden Crypt, Gloomshrieker, and Holistic Wisdom let us find the win. Nylea's Colossus makes things absurdly large at instant speed with Pharika, while Death Pits of Rath turns our swarm of critters into deadly beasts. Weaver of Harmony, which is a welcome sight to our Sagas, and Oath of the Ancient Wood boost creatures as we attack with deathtouchers and other tokens.

Pharika is a midrange deck, where most of the cards are disposable in the graveyard and the strategy is to gather an army. Zur, on the other hand, is Esper, and offers a more control-oriented build. Let's take a look.

Zur Thing, Man

Commander (1)
Artifact (2)
Creature (10)
Enchantment (51)
Land (36)

Check it out on Archidekt!

Playing Zur

Zur is a slow burn. Without access to artifacts, ramp in this deck is iffy at best, but establishing a defensive position and using some symmetrical effects help deflect our opponents' ire. Oath of Lieges, Sunblade Samurai, and the now-affordable As Foretold work hard in this deck. Creating a fort with Lightmine Field (which is extremely nasty with the threat of Zur), Alseid of Life's Bounty, and control pieces like Frozen Aether, Dream Tides, and Spreading Plague keep the board sparse (apart from our enchantments).

Specifically targeting archetypes helps us maintain control of the board. Stony Silence and Energy Flux hate artifacts, Vile Consumption makes token players weep, and Life Insurance keeps our pace with aristocrat decks. Getting card advantage from weird sources, like Jacob Hauken, Inspector, Induced Amnesia, and the flexible Monastery Siege, keeps us moving as we play more and more enchantments.

Victory comes with animation and with bringing anthem cards like Ethereal Absolution, Dictate of Heliod, and Crescendo of War to life helps us swing through. Other targets, like Hatching Plans and Attunement, encourage aggro, and self-animating enchantments, like Opal Champion, Opal Titan, and Veiled Sentry, become dangerous with deathtouch, lifelink, and hexproof. Archetype of Courage, Archetype of Imagination, and Heliod, God of the Sun add to our keywords and help us win.

An Enchanted End to an Enchanted Evening

Running only cards of one type is a challenge, as plenty of removal takes out every enchantment while leaving other permanents intact. Ashiok's Erasure can only hit so many Cleanfalls. The same goes for creatures and artifacts. However, the steadily increasing card advantage we gain from all our nonland permanents sharing a type is something to be reckoned with.  The power of usual enchantress pieces, like Eidolon of Blossoms, protective cards, like Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea and Destiny Spinner, and removal, like Doomwake Giant, become exponentially better in builds like these.

When building an archetype based on a single card type, going as janky as to use Umori is fun. When you consider adding cards outside of the chosen type, you have to analyze how using a slightly worse enchantment over an instant or sorcery may strengthen the deck overall, due to synergy alone. Making deckbuilding decisions like that makes decks unique and fun, if not better overall.

Thank you all for reading! I'm happy to be back at it with Sift Through Sands, and the next installment will be just as janky as this one. I'd love to hear about your Lord Windgrace and Umori planeswalker deck! Have you ever tried running a deck with no nonland permanents at all? Let me know! Until next time.

The untenable Wes Stuckey is the jankiest Magic player to roam the streets of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (their first brewed deck was Blind Seer "old cards"). By day, they work in circulation at one of the city's many great libraries. By night, you can find them slinging spells, running campaigns, and listening to music with friends and the cat.