Standardizing Standard: Mono Blue Control
By HKKID on April 27th, 2005 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
Mono Blue Control. It's great to just let the name hang in space, generating a mental image of a deck with eleventy billion counter spells, and a trio of Morphlings. Sadly, the days of Morphling were long gone by the time I began playing Magic, so to help me with this article I've recruited a former Pro Tour regular to help me out. His name is Jeeves.
It's nice to be back on the Magic scene again. Finishing last place in two consecutive Pro Tours embarassed me to no end.Well thanks a lot, Jeeves. Now that your credibility is shot to hell, why don't you tell us what the important components of a Mono Blue deck are?
Mono Blue has five important components, spanning all three important stages of its game plan. The components are: mana, counters, creature control, draw, and win conditions.And what are the three stages of its game plan you just mentioned?
Phase 1, the early game. Short of a few select "pitch" counters, permission costs mana. This means early on, before a solid mana base has been developed, blue is very vulnerable and numerous creatures and spells may resolve. The goal of the blue player here is to make it out of the early game without taking too much damage, both in terms of falling behind in board position, as well as life lost. An example of a great early-game spell is Mana Leak.
Phase 2, the middle game. The middle game of a blue deck often extends well into the "late" game that most other decks in the format were planning for. Your goal is to overwhelm the opponent with card advantage, and use countermagic to keep anything you cannot handle from resolving. An example of a good middle-game spell is Vedalken Shackles
Phase 3, game over. In Standard the "game over" phase is easiest defined as the soonest you can possibly cast a Meloku and protect it. From a more abstract viewpoint, the game over phase begins whenever you establish a dominant board position, with the intention of protecting that with your countermagic until it kills your opponent.
Thanks Jeeves. That's not really informative enough for a full article, so why don't we talk about some specific cards? Say Jeeves, would you mind listing all the interesting and maindeckable counters in Standard for me?
Sure thing.Well that's quite a list there Jeeves! I'll stop typing for a few seconds, so all you readers can go click on Thoughtbind. Back with me? Good.
Countermagic for is always worth a second look, and Disrupting Shoal is no exception. Tapping out for a Thieving Magpie or a Meloku with countermagic in hand often translates into a win. Disrupting Shoal is also is the ONLY way to handle a turn 2 Troll Ascetic when on the draw, and quite nifty when fighting a counter war. Sadly, it's almost impossible to hardcast the Shoal and hit anything meaningful, and the draw spells are not exactly spectacular. Personally I'm not sold on it unless Troll Ascetic is seeing a lot of play locally.
Mana Leak is the best early game counter in Standard. It's the most mana efficient of the "soft" counters, and is critical for stopping early game threats. Unfortunately it loses a good deal of its power as the game progresses to stage two and three, espescially if you are facing an opponent who is willing to play around it.
Supporting the Leaks as your other "quick counter" is Condescend. Library manipulation is a real bonus, but what makes Condescend constructed worthy is that it is a desperately needed source of turn 2 permission, and unlike Mana Leak, it's usable in the mid or late game.
Between Mana Leak, Condescend, and Disrupting Shoal, you will want a minimum of 6 counters. That minumum number should be increased by about .5 for each Disrupting Shoal you are using.
The cheapest unconditional hard counter in the format is Hinder. As an added bonus, the spell you are countering gets moved to somewhere Eternal Witness can't find it. Hinder is really the backbone of your permission core, and using less than a full set is a grievous mistake.
Given the very wide range of available targets, I'm quite suprised that Thoughtbind doesn't see more play. It's a three mana hard counter, and it stops everything from Auriok Champion on down to Zo-Zu, and most of the alphabet in between as well. With roughly the same range of targets as Disrupting Shoal, the big question is: do you want to sacrifice card advantage for faster counters, or sacrifice your turn 1 tempo for a more solid mid game counter?
Along with Hinder the other workhorse counter is Rewind. It stops any and every threat dead in its tracks while untapping lands so you can do stuff like counter more spells, play Thirst, or activate a Stalking Stones.
Despite costing approximately 6.2 billion mana, Time Stop is fast becoming a staple in mono blue. The appeal is threefold. First, it stops stuff that can't be otherwise countered. Boseiju, Obliterate, et cetera. Secondly, it acts an an overpriced Time Walk (or an underpriced Beacon of Tomorrows), stopping an opponent's attacks for a single turn. Thirdly, you can tap out for it with little risk. Tapping 6 mana for a Condescend is often just asking for trouble, as you never know what else your opponent will cast now that you (probably) just tapped out. With Time Stop, that is rarely an issue, since if it resolves your opponent won't get a chance to cast whatever unpleasant suprises he is holding in hand.
BOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRIIING! We all get the point. I'm the blue mage. You casta the spells, I counter 'em. Eventually Ima gonna draw a big fat threat, and kill you dead. Biatch! Lets get to the good stuff already.Since you're the master of brevity then, why don't you cover creature control Jeeves?
Well, your opponen't ain't gonna just roll himself over on his back like Mary Kay Letourneau around a ...*Ahem*. Jeeves, there is no way the editing department is going to let us publish the article if you finish that sentence.
Booo. Anyway, you get the picture. Stuff is gonna get past the counters and you gotta deal with it. Kill it, steal it, or just bounce it all away.What Jeeves lacks in depth, he atones for in accuracy. Kill, steal, and bounce are the three primary methods of dealing with resolved spells.
Oblivion Stone is the only option in the kill category. It takes out everything on the table, but can be set to leave your stuff behind. The instant speed activation is very nice, as is the fact that friendly Stalking Stones won't need to be given counters. The big downside to Stone is that it costs a TON of mana to use, and won't deal with the most troublesome creature in the game (Troll Ascetic).
Blue has a large number of choices for the "steal it" option. Vedalken Shackes is the top dog, and the real reason mono blue is playable. It's a reusable source of creature control, and the only real out when dealing with a Sword of Fire and Ice. Ironically, the fewer creatures your opponent uses, the better Shackles becomes. It's much more effective if you're stealing a saucy creature like Kokusho, The Evening Star rather than a mere Wood Elves.
Other options for stealing include the five-mana sorcery Bribery and its Mirrodin twin Acquire, as well as Threads of Disloyalty from off the sideboard for dealing with those weenie decks. These are all fairly bad against other decks with blue however, because Echoing Truth has a habit of making them backfire.
As far as the bounce option goes, blue really only has two effective bounce spells: Echoing Truth and Boomerang. They both have advantages. If you are using them, Boomerangs work much better with Isochron Scepters because of the ability to stall the opponent on land. Boomerang is also nice enough to leave things like your Vedalken Shackles around when playing the mirror.
Echoing Truth is best when facing down decks with large amounts of token creature generation such as Beacon of Creation and Meloku.
Yeah yeah, what he said. Now when it comes to card drawing in T2, we're *blessed* by the fact that there's not a lot of options, which makes choosing the correct card easy. Jeeves got that one dead perfect. The only other card draw spell even worth mentioning is Serum Visions, but time and experience has shown that Visions really don't pull its own weight.
Thirst for Knowledge is the best card drawing spell in the format. It's best with cheap artifacts like Mox or Bauble, but it's just fine even if all you discard is a pair of extra lands. There is no excuse for playing mono Blue without TfKs.
The backup card draw is usually Thieving Magpie. There are plusses and minuses here. The big minus is that Magpie takes four mana on your turn. This is a HUGE problem, since it essentially means you're probably going to have to take a huge risk and tap out at some point. The plus is that once a Magpie gets started, it's an almost guaranteed extra card per turn for no further mana investment. THAT wins games.
Jushi Apprentice is like a version of Thieving Magpie that is friendly to get started, and harder to use. It has half of the initial mana investment on your turn, making it much easier to play safely, but then to get any cards you have to spend a whopping per card, and that can be troublesome.
Last but not least on our list is a spell or creature that can simply end the game. In the old days, it was Morphling. The old days are gone however, and the new version is called Meloku, The Clouded Mirror. The five mana isn't a huge drawback, since you probably will win the game if you manage to untap with one in play.
The token army quickly helps you to establish a dominant board position. They block everything, and fly over your opponent's ground-pounding head to deal the fatal blow. As a nice side bonus, they protect Meloku from untargeted removal like Barter in Blood, and give you perfect cards to discard to a Nezumi Shortfang.
The only other win condition worth considering is Spire Golem. The big advantage to the golem is you can often cast it while tapping few, if any lands. It is an artifact (and thus more vulnerable to removal than Meloku), but no more so than the commonly used Vedalken Shackles.
Moving right along to the manabase:
Awww, gimmie a break. Mono blue. Play Islands. Stalking Stones become creatures at instant speed to apply pressure to your opponent. Wayfarer's Bauble accelerates, and Chrome Mox is out 'cause card disadvantage sucks. You think too much. Just give 'em a deck, and and let me go home. We're not doing matchup analysis for this one because the article is plenty long enough, and I don't want to miss my Jerry Springer reruns.
Blue skies, smilin’ at me
Nothin’ but blues skies do I see
Bluebirds singin’ a song
There’s nothin’ but bluebirds all day long
By HKKID on April 27th, 2005 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now