(This conversation happened over AIM.)
Ted Knutson: Do you remember when Kyle Boddy used to write articles?
Ted Knutson: Boy, I sure do...
He sure has a way with words, that Ted Knutson. When I was trying to get my picture replaced as my Featured Writer icon, he had this to say:
Ted: the difference was minimal
Ted: you are still a tall, goofy azn
Me: but i look FAT
Me: (i am fat of course)
Me: (but this wasn't helping)
Ted: you are also vain
Charming, isn't he? [I have my days... - Knut, motivational speaker]
Anyway, I've been meaning to write about mono-Blue in the new Standard environment, but I've been quite busy as of late. I was on the Starluckcasino.com Carnival Cruise with my girlfriend for a week and also went to Canada for Spring Break with college friends, so I haven't had a lot of time to focus on Magic. That said, I'm back now and I can finally give some attention to what is my favorite archetype/deck of all time - Mono-Blue Control!
Now that Affinity got the full axe in Standard (which surprised even me - I knew that the lands were getting the cut, but not everything), we have a more diverse and open format in which the question "Does this beat Affinity?" no longer has to be asked. This is probably a good thing overall, allowing for future deck innovation and the ability to be free of the "best deck" syndrome, where everyone is playing deck X or a deck that beats deck X.
As a refresher, here's a list of mono-Blue that I was playing when I was trying to reach a Constructed rating of 1900 (which has now fallen so far it's embarrassing):
The cards that we can cut pretty easily from both the maindeck and the sideboard are Relic Barrier and March of the Machines, both being quite unnecessary given that both Affinity and KCI are obsolete. Annul is also something we can look at cutting, since its main focus was countering cheap artifacts from the Affinity deck, but is still possibly something we need to focus on given the existence of cards like Aether Vial, Solemn Simulacrum, and Mindslaver.
We can safely assume the format will shift towards something much slower, and thus probably more control-oriented. Black/Green control, White Weenie, various Tooth and Nail builds, Big Red, mono-Blue and Blue/x control, and various Green/x decks will be strong factors in the environment, most with contingency plans if their initial onslaught is blunted (Eternal Witness being the most prevalent of these). Because of this, we can probably add more counterspells that are more expensive, since the average goldfish rate of most decks will increase due to Affinity not being in the format. Rewind and Last Word are both strong contenders for the slot.
There is also the question of which Betrayers cards we want to run in the deck, if any at all. Threads of Disloyalty has a strong possibility of being a key card against White Weenie and Big Red, Genju of the Falls threatens to make Stalking Stones and Blinkmoth Nexus redundant, Quash gives the deck a permanent answer to Tooth and Nail recursion with Eternal Witness (and also serves quite well against Beacon of Creation), and Disrupting Shoal raises the question of free counters being viable in Standard, despite the awkwardness of its alternate casting cost.
After playtesting a few versions of the deck with various Betrayers cards added, and focusing on what was popular in the local metagame, I've decided on this initial list:
This deck has game against all the decks in the new Standard that I can envision/have tested against. Let's take a look at some of the specific card choices for the deck:
This card has been missing in action since the Mirrodin Block format (thank god that's over with), and has come back to help accelerate mana in our deck. Most people can't see the need for this card, asking why the mono-Blue control deck needs mana acceleration of all things! The mono-blue deck is looking to achieve dominance in various ways, not the least of which is mana and lands in play, which is why it runs six card-drawing spells and 26 lands (which both Mike Flores and I agree should probably be 27). By playing this on turn 1 (your only first turn play), you are able to ramp to Vedalken Shackles + activation mana one turn earlier, and get to the Inspiration flashpoint one turn earlier as well. This helps keep your Condescends working and allows you to protect your threats better, and provides you with a discard outlet for Thirst for Knowledge as well. [27 is insane, and while Flores has already admitted he's a little nutty about mana, Kyle has yet to do so. - Knut]
This card gets the nod over Last Word because it serves a relatively decent purpose, allowing you to untap your lands and activate Vedalken Shackles or cast a draw spell in addition to countering a threat. Sometimes you'll be able to counter two spells in a single turn due to the untapping of the lands ability as well. I don't find this card all too exciting, but you want additional countermagic in the deck, and this is probably as good as it gets right now.
Thirst for Knowledge vs. Inspiration
Due to Wayfarer's Bauble, I believe we can run four copies of Thirst for Knowledge over four copies of Inspiration. You also want to be drawing cards as quickly as possible against most decks in the format and getting to crucial counterspells as soon as possible, making Thirst for Knowledge a better choice overall. I initially thought with the departure of Affinity that we could safely run four Inspirations, but this has so far not proven to be the case.
Initially I wanted to run this card in the maindeck, but with the popularity of Black/Green Death Cloud decks in my area it became much less feasible due to large amounts of spot removal. That said, it still serves an excellent purpose in the sideboard when decks will take out their spot removal. You can safely cast it on turn 4 (or better yet, turn 3!) against most decks after you sideboard, knowing that it will live until the critical untap step. If you untap with this guy on the board, there's no real reason you should lose. Bring it in game two in most matchups, with the exception being Big Red, and if you go to a game three, take it out / leave it in depending on how you think they are going to sideboard.
I'll tell you this right now - the matchup against White Weenie is not very good in game one if they are running Lightning Greaves. Luckily, most White decks aren't running the Lightning Greaves for some ungodly reason, making your Vedalken Shackles absolutely ridiculous. If they are running the Greaves, your only shot is a sideboarded Oblivion Stone getting active.
Bribery vs. Duplicant
The addition of Wayfarer's Baubles to the deck makes this mono-Blue deck much more pro-active, especially because your crappy counterspells can't always keep up with the denser and more expensive threat matrices you'll face against non-Affinity decks. Likewise with Bribery, you want to cast it as quickly as possible to get the best threat from your opponent's deck and start attacking with counterspell backup rather than waiting to get some sort of card advantage with Duplicant. Vedalken Shackles and your card-drawing spells already do a good enough job of generating card advantage.
I've heard a lot of people say that they are losing to Tooth and Nail with mono-Blue, and I can't even fathom why this is the case. They said that Boseiju is killing them, but in sanctioned matches I was allowing Tooth and Nail to resolve, just to see what would happen. Typically they'd get Kiki-Jiki and Sundering Titan, so I'd steal the Kiki-Jiki with Shackles and Bribery them for Eternal Witness. Temporal Adept permanently keeps them off Tooth and Nail mana, and ensures that they will never assemble the Urzatron. It's also very useful in the mirror match and against other Blue-based control decks.
While I don't particularly like this card, and never have, it serves a fairly useful purpose against Black/Green control decks (getting all their Cranial Extractions, Death Clouds, or Beacon of Creations), Blue/Green (Beacon of Creation, additional hard counter against their counterspells), and obviously Tooth and Nail.
There are also some cards I evaluated and want to keep on the rail, but I'm not wholly convinced of their importance to the mono-Blue deck. They are as follows:
Threads of Disloyalty
This card is really only good against White Weenie, and if they run Lightning Greaves, it's not even that good. You won't be taking control of Eternal Witnesses, and I can't see it being great against mono-green, either. It's something I'll continue to consider as the format develops, however, because it has the potential to be very good.
This card requires you to play a variety of spells to complement it effectively, and I just can't see running it, even with Wayfarer's Bauble ramping your mana up, making the retail price a little more feasible. I am sure I'll test two copies in the deck at the local store just to see how it works overall, but I can't see making it a permanent addition to the deck.
I hate Boil just as much as the next Blue mage, but until mono-Blue proves itself to be one of the best decks in the format (which I believe to be an inevitable development), it's something that will have to wait. As soon as people start packing Choke and Boil, I'll have plenty of copies of this in the board to make for hilarious situations.
Keep this one in mind if the mono-Green and the White Weenie decks get overly popular. Initially in my first list, I eventually decided that Oblivion Stone solved the beatdown problem a lot better than a reactive counterspell card.
While much better against Tooth and Nail (my favorite play in draft is casting turn 2 Eye of Nowhere on the play on your opponent's only land), it does not warrant replacing Echoing Truth as the primary bounce spell in the deck. Echoing Truth too often wrecks opponents by bouncing multiple creatures, not the least of which are Beacon of Creation tokens. The mono-Blue deck already has a very favorable matchup against Tooth and Nail, so why hedge the bets against that particular matchup?
Genju of the Falls
While I initially tested the mono-Blue deck with no Keiga and with a pair of Genjus and the manlands as the only win conditions, I couldn't get the hang of it. I would tap way too much mana every turn just to attack, and I think there's something fundamentally wrong with that. Casting a dragon on turn 5 or 6 and smashing their face just ended up being a better plan overall, so I upped the count of Keigas to two and omitted the Blue Genju altogether. It's probably a good sideboard card if control decks are prevalent, however.
Overall I think that this deck is one of the best decks in the format. It is extremely tight and difficult to play, however, and there are multiple decisions you have to make every single turn. Luckily with the banning of Arcbound Ravager and his goons, it becomes slightly easier to play. Just make sure you don't walk straight into Boil after sideboard, and you should do just fine.
That concludes this article on mono-Blue for now, but I plan on taking this version of the deck to a few sanctioned tournaments and collecting real data on it, along with matchup reports that will all see print in my next article. As always, if you have comments/questions, feel free to shoot them at my in the forums (I will definitely respond - I didn't in my last article because I was on the cruise) or email me at kyle dot boddy at gmail dot com.