The Colors Of Pauper: Blue
Pauper is a format where only commons are allowed. Pauper at its core is the basic level of Magic and the colors all fill specific roles while maintaining specific weaknesses. This series examines the place each color holds in the color wheel of commons Magic. Check out white from yesterday.
Blue has the reputation of being the historic best color in Magic. Most often associated with control blue has shifted from the ages of draw-go to more tap-out styles from instant speed everything to sorcery speed about half the time. It has some of the weakest creatures from a combat perspective but they tend to make up for it in other aspects like being avalanches of card advantage or evasive. Blue is also the only color with consistent countermagic that appears at nearly every point on a mana curve. Blue is the color of card draw and library manipulation and gets a large number of these cards at common which allows Island-wielding mages to overwhelm opponents with sheer quantity (and let's face it quality as well).
Card draw selection and library manipulation:
One of the most alluring aspect of blue is its near stranglehold on drawing cards at common. Sure other colors have some cantrips and ways to gain card advantage but blue has the overwhelming abundance of card draw. Cards like Deep Analysis and Compulsive Research are commonly played even though they are sorcery speed simply because they can dig deep and get you the cards you need. Think Twice sees play as a way to gain long term value. Mystical Teachings is a long-time staple and Forbidden Alchemy should follow suit. Accumulated Knowledge is new to the online scene but should catch on once the card finds a way into circulation.
Preordain and Ponder are both banned in Modern but they are fair game in Pauper and help blue decks set up draws and filter away chaff. Brainstorm however suffers due to the lack of strong fetchlands. Even so the advent of Delver of Secrets and decks that shuffle more (thanks to Teachings) has increased the popularity of Brainstorm and its potency cannot be underestimated.
Combined this means that blue can run fewer threats and answers and can still reliably draw into them. Additionally it can run a more specialized set of answers and through the benefit of seeing more cards will not be hindered.
Blue can say no. Blue can say no: to everything (Counterspell) to just creatures (Exclude) to just spells (Negate) on turn one (Daze and Force Spike) turn two (Mana Leak) turn 12 (Condescend) and at the most important points on the mana curve (Prohibit). No other color can say no to as many things with such brutal efficiency as blue. Because counters are inherently reactive blue does not have to tap out on its own turn to deal with a threat but at the same time lacks that option. Similarly once something hits the board blue has to jump through hoops to get it off.
Blue does however excel at taking things off the board for a turn at a time. From the cheap Unsummon and Vapor Snag to the cantrip Repulse and the dominating Capsize blue can take things off the battlefield. However those same cards are likely to appear the next turn.
The problem with bounce is that unless you are winning that turn taking something away just does not cut it. At the same time many creatures in Pauper have strong enter-the-battlefield effects (Mulldrifter every creature in MBC) and getting a rebuy on these cards is not a great idea unless you are planning on winning right away.
Capsize is one exception. When combined with the Cloudpost engine Capsize creates a situation where over time every permanent on the opponent's board will be bounced forcing them into the early stages of development. Temporal Fissure serves a similar role and thanks to the Storm mechanic allows the combo deck to go “Upheaval you” and win with things like Mulldrifters. Finally Snap gets the nod often because it is ostensibly free thanks to the Urza's Block untap mechanic.
Blue has long been typified as one of the spell colors (along with red). Blue is the color of Draw-Go of not tapping out on its own turn. Spells like Fact or Fiction and Teferi Mage of Zhalfir typify this in regular Magic. In Pauper this comes into play in a number of different ways.
First and foremost are counters and card draw. While drawing cards has shifted more to sorcery speed recently cards like Think Twice and Mystical Teachings still see heavy play. Counters by their nature are instants (surprise surprise). Bounce tends to fall into this category as well.
However blue has access to numerous creatures that mimic instants either through flash or reduced cost. The most obvious are Pestermite and Spellstutter Sprite as they play a tempo game and double as a counterspell respectively. Spire Monitor sees some play as a Teachings target as 3/3s are legitimate threats in Pauper. The final two however are not free per se but are functionally so: Errant Ephemeron and Spire Golem. The Golem is perhaps the single most important creature in Pauper because it can come down for free and leave up mana for protection. Ephemeron can be invested in early again with UU up and comes into play after an investment of time. Along these lines Cloud of Faeries also makes use of the untap mechanic to be “free” (although it can actually generate mana thanks to Ravnica bouncelands).
Faeries Turtles and Mulldrifters:
Blue's creatures are not known for their robust power and toughness. Rather they are either small and evasive with a drawback something that gums up the ground or like Mulldrifter a source of card advantage.
Faeries are the small foot soldiers for blue. While Faeries do make up a significant portion of the early drops the best ones (Spellstutter Sprite and Pestermite) toe the line between Faeries and Mulldrifters as they have more to them than simple points of power. Phantasmal Bear and Delver of Secrets are perhaps the most recent example of aggressive creatures in this vein. They are not being played for any other reason than to deal damage—a rarity in blue. Zephyr Sprite Cloud of Faeries Looter il-Kor and other small attackers fall into this role.
Turtles are rarely played in Constructed Pauper. While Spire Golem has the stats to qualify it also has the added benefit of being free. Sea Gate Oracle and Steamcore Weird both fit the bill but again have added bonuses that make them approach Mulldrifter status. Dream Stalker occasionally sees play as a defensive stand out. Weatherseed Faerie and Sea Sprite straddle tribal lines as they are played as a way to stop the Goblin assault.
Mulldrifters are well Mulldrifters. They come into play and draw cards counter spells or affect the board. Mulldrifter is perhaps the most played as the raw power of two cards cannot be understated. Sea Gate Oracle provides a nice bonus as does Steamcore Weird. Spellstutter Sprite and Pestermite while not card advantageous provide a nice tempo boost. Man-o'-War fits the bill. Ninja of the Deep Hours while it does not create a bonus when cast is usually used to reset such a creature.
What blue does: Everything. Blue can stop cards before they hit the battlefield and can take them off with bounce. With a wide variety of cheap creatures it can play beatdown. With free threats counters and draw spells it is the premier control color. Library manipulation? Well that slots right into combo. Blue is the jack of all trades and a master of a few to boot. It was not until the advent of Delver of Secrets that blue beatdown became a viable strategy but it exists now. Before Innistrad blue was relegated to the control role but this is no longer the case.
What to look for: Cheap counters cheap creatures and cheap ways to draw cards and manipulate the library. If a card is slightly undercosted blue will pounce on it. For aggressive decks blue will want Faeries (if only to power up Spellstutter) and ways to draw cards without losing tempo. For control a way to draw cards counterspells or any cheap threat is the way to blue's heart.
Eyes should be kept open for removal as well. While blue does have access to cheap bounce and cards like Narcolepsy and Piracy Charm to deal with creatures there is always room for improvement
Blue's top 10:
- 4 Cloud of Faeries
- 4 Delver of Secrets
- 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 3 Phantasmal Bear
- 4 Spellstutter Sprite
- 1 Stitched Drake
- 16 Island