Close to the Edge: Mono-Blue Cube Overview

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A look of utter disgust hits your face. As you recover from the shock, you slouch your head forward, holding it in your hand, wide-eyed. You shake your head from side to side, so appalled at someone having the nerve to even think of that. You're aware you may never be able to come to terms with it, and you decide to click on the link only out of morbid fascination.

That might've happened just now. Or...

Your eyes light up like a kid's on Christmas morning. Almost unwillingly, a grin begins to stretch across your face; one that may be described as "creepy" by someone sitting beside you. You think of how you'll never feel forced into Mono-Red or a green ramp strategy. You'll always have your old friend or something like it somewhere in your deck, as your safeguard against the monsters, countering them as they're being cast. You need to know the specifics, and you click on the link joyously.

I've never seen someone react to the fact that I've made a Mono-Blue Cube in any other way. Only those two options exist. It's a shame that two-thirds of people go for the first one, because what started out as just a curiosity-fuelled experiment has blossomed into an actually extremely fun draft format. There's ramp, midrange, combo, control, aggro... any broad strategy you can find in a regular cube exists here, albeit looking drastically different. There are also a few narrower ones that you could never even dream of drafting normally. It's surprisingly varied, and the only constant is knowing your opponent has something when coloured mana's untapped.

I got the idea and started work on this back in August, when someone came to my local card shop with what he called his "Mono-Brown" cube—a cube that contained almost all artifacts, with many weird and wacky strategies available. After drafting that a couple of times, it got me thinking, instead of excluding all the colours, what if I included only one in a cube? The idea of cubing always intrigued me, but I'm a guy who likes to do things in a unique way, and regular cubing seemed too much of a "solved format" to really make it seem like my own creation. I've also found that many players, including myself, are simply overwhelmed when they open a cube pack, and don't know what to take, what to draft, or really what to do at all. I figured that limiting it to one colour would take away most of that uncertainty, and I chose blue for a few reasons:

  1. I guessed it was the only colour that had good control, combo and aggro strategies, the first being obvious, the second being decks reminiscent of the one's in Urza's Block, and the third being Merfolk.
  2. It would probably lead to the most interaction out of all of the colours due to the counterspells.
  3. "Mono-Blue" just sounds more exciting to people than mono-black, white, or, god forbid, red or green. Marketing and presentation is an important aspect of cubing, because even if your cube is awesome, if no one knows that, it might was well be terrible.
After many months of advertising, adjusting, testing, collecting most of the cards and sadly proxying the ones above $30, I was recently able to unleash this beast upon the world in mid-December. It's been drafted a few times since then, and all of them have been amazing experiences. I bet even the naysayers among you are now all itching to hear more, am I right?

But one last thing before we get into the main part of the article: as many (fairly annoying) nitpickers have pointed out, I can't technically call this a Mono-Blue cube. It also includes artifacts, lands, and a few hybrid cards. What matters, though, is that there is no logical reason to play any non-blue basics. While the name may not be technically correct, I've found that it's catchiness makes up for the occasional complaint. It's certainly better than anything else I could call it.

Mono-Blue CubeMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures (138)
1 Adaptive Automaton
1 Aeon Chronicler
1 AEtherling
1 Ambassador Laquatus
1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
1 Archaeomancer
1 Augur of Bolas
1 Blightsteel Colossus
1 Braids, Conjurer Adept
1 Briarberry Cohort
1 Chancellor of the Spires
1 Cloud of Faeries
1 Cloudfin Raptor
1 Cold-Eyed Selkie
1 Conundrum Sphinx
1 Copper Gnomes
1 Coralhelm Commander
1 Cursecatcher
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Delver of Secrets
1 Dewdrop Spy
1 Draining Whelk
1 Drift of Phantasms
1 Drowner Initiate
1 Dungeon Geists
1 Duplicant
1 Elite Arcanist
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Enclave Cryptologist
1 Errant Ephemeron
1 Ertai, Wizard Adept
1 Faerie Harbinger
1 Frost Titan
1 Geralf's Mindcrusher
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Gomazoa
1 Grand Architect
1 Hammerhead Shark
1 Hedron Crab
1 Horizon Drake
1 Illusionary Servant
1 Illusory Angel
1 Inkfathom Infiltrator
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Inspired Sprite
1 Jace's Archivist
1 Jushi Apprentice
1 Kederekt Leviathan
1 Kuldotha Forgemaster
1 Laboratory Maniac
1 Lighthouse Chronologist
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress
1 Looter il-Kor
1 Lord of Atlantis
1 Lullmage Mentor
1 Master of the Pearl Trident
1 Master of Waves
1 Master Thief
1 Master Transmuter
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Merfolk Assassin
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Merfolk Mesmerist
1 Merfolk Sovereign
1 Merfolk Spy
1 Merrow Harbinger
1 Merrow Reejerey
1 Metalworker
1 Minister of Impediments
1 Mothdust Changeling
1 Mulldrifter
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Nightveil Specter
1 Nimbus Naiad
1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
1 Overtaker
1 Painter's Servant
1 Palinchron
1 Patron Wizard
1 Pestermite
1 Phantasmal Bear
1 Phantasmal Dragon
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Phyrexian Ingester
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Platinum Angel
1 Plumeveil
1 Precursor Golem
1 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Puresight Merrow
1 Raven Guild Master
1 Riftwing Cloudskate
1 Riptide Director
1 Sage of Fables
1 Sand Squid
1 Sea Drake
1 Sea Gate Oracle
1 Sea Scryer
1 Seasinger
1 Serendib Efreet
1 Shapesharer
1 Signal Pest
1 Silvergill Adept
1 Skywatcher Adept
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Spellstutter Sprite
1 Spiketail Drakeling
1 Spire Golem
1 Sprite Noble
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Stern Mentor
1 Stonybrook Banneret
1 Sygg, River Cutthroat
1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Temporal Adept
1 Thada Adel, Acquisitor
1 Thalakos Deceiver
1 Thassa, God of the Sea
1 Thistledown Liege
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Vaporkin
1 Vedalken AEthermage
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Vexing Sphinx
1 Vodalian Knights
1 Void Stalker
1 Voidmage Prodigy
1 Wake Thrasher
1 Wasp Lancer
1 Waterfront Bouncer
1 Welkin Tern
1 Wurmcoil Engine

Instants (82)
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Annul
1 Archive Trap
1 Blue Sun's Zenith
1 Boomerang
1 Brain Freeze
1 Brainstorm
1 Broken Ambitions
1 Capsize
1 Careful Consideration
1 Commandeer
1 Complicate
1 Condescend
1 Counterspell
1 Crippling Chill
1 Cryptic Command
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Daze
1 Delay
1 Deprive
1 Dismiss
1 Dispel
1 Disrupt
1 Dissipate
1 Dissolve
1 Dizzy Spell
1 Dream Twist
1 Evacuation
1 Exclude
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Flash of Insight
1 Flusterstorm
1 Foil
1 Forbid
1 Force of Will
1 Force Spike
1 Frantic Search
1 Gainsay
1 Gush
1 High Tide
1 Impulse
1 Into the Roil
1 Logic Knot
1 Long-Term Plans
1 Mana Drain
1 Mana Leak
1 Meditate
1 Mental Misstep
1 Miscalculation
1 Misdirection
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Negate
1 Opportunity
1 Pact of Negation
1 Peek
1 Peer Through Depths
1 Piracy Charm
1 Pongify
1 Psionic Blast
1 Psychic Barrier
1 Rapid Hybridization
1 Ray of Command
1 Remand
1 Repeal
1 Rewind
1 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
1 Steel Sabotage
1 Stroke of Genius
1 Swan Song
1 Syncopate
1 Telling Time
1 Think Twice
1 Thought Scour
1 Thwart
1 Turnabout
1 Vapor Snag
1 Vision Charm
1 Visions of Beyond
1 Wheel and Deal
1 Withdraw

Artifacts (58)
1 Aeolipile
1 Aether Spellbomb
1 AEther Vial
1 Ankh of Mishra
1 Basalt Monolith
1 Black Lotus
1 Black Vise
1 Bonesplitter
1 Brittle Effigy
1 Caged Sun
1 Candelabra of Tawnos
1 Chalice of the Void
1 Coalition Relic
1 Coat of Arms
1 Codex Shredder
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Extraplanar Lens
1 Gilded Lotus
1 Grafted Wargear
1 Grim Monolith
1 Grindclock
1 Grindstone
1 Howling Mine
1 Isochron Scepter
1 Keening Stone
1 Knowledge Pool
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Memory Jar
1 Mind Stone
1 Mindslaver
1 Mishra's Helix
1 Mortarpod
1 Mox Diamond
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Nevinyrral's Disk
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Powder Keg
1 Pyxis of Pandemonium
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Runechanter's Pike
1 Sands of Delirium
1 Sapphire Medallion
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Skullclamp
1 Smokestack
1 Sol Ring
1 Strata Scythe
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Tangle Wire
1 Thran Dynamo
1 Time Vault
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Voltaic Key
1 Winter Orb
1 Worn Powerstone

Sorceries (33)
1 All Is Dust
1 Ancestral Vision
1 Braingeyser
1 Call to Mind
1 Deep Analysis
1 Devastation Tide
1 Enter the Infinite
1 Fabricate
1 Gitaxian Probe
1 Ideas Unbound
1 Increasing Confusion
1 Legerdemain
1 Memory Sluice
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mind Sculpt
1 Personal Tutor
1 Ponder
1 Portent
1 Preordain
1 Serum Visions
1 Shape Anew
1 Show and Tell
1 Sleight of Hand
1 Temporal Fissure
1 Time Spiral
1 Time Stretch
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
1 Tome Scour
1 Undo
1 Upheaval
1 Windfall

Lands (27)
1 Academy Ruins
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 Buried Ruin
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Contested War Zone
1 Desert
1 Faerie Conclave
1 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Maze of Ith
1 Mishra's Factory
1 Mishra's Workshop
1 Mutavault
1 Quicksand
1 Rath's Edge
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Remote Isle
1 Riptide Laboratory
1 Rishadan Port
1 Shelldock Isle
1 Strip Mine
1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
1 Tolaria West
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Tower of the Magistrate

Enchantments (17)
1 Bident of Thassa
1 Claustrophobia
1 Control Magic
1 Curiosity
1 Eye of the Storm
1 Flood
1 Leyline of Anticipation
1 Meishin, the Mind Cage
1 Mind Over Matter
1 Omniscience
1 Power Artifact
1 Propaganda
1 Sensory Deprivation
1 Standstill
1 Take Possession
1 Treachery
1 Veiled Serpent

Planeswalkers (5)
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Jace Beleren
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Karn Liberated

This is the current list of 360, but it changes a fair amount. At the moment, I'm fairly happy with it, but I'm always on the lookout for underperforming cards, or just cards that no-one's performing with at all. The cube is powered, and I personally believe that it'd be a mistake to try and go without. The counterspells prevent things like Sol Ring and Black Lotus from being too broken, and without them, one of the largest archetypes loses a lot of support.

Because the cube's limit to one colour, some things just don't show up as much as they usually do. Removal in particular is hard to come by, and the removal spells that exist, while overcosted, are actually all decent picks. Psionic Blast in particular can even be a first pick, as it's the only spell that can burn someone out effectively. Artifact removal is also hard to come by and overcosted, forcing me to get creative with the cards I put in (though it is pretty sweet to steal someone's Blightsteel Colossus with a Master Thief off a Show and Tell).

Another facet that's a product of the whole thing being blue is just the sheer number of counterspells that are in it, and how their ubiquitous presence warps the whole format. Cards like Pestermite get miles better because of it, since you'll constantly get games where the first few turns just consist of playing Islands and passing. This can make games a very skill-testing and cerebral affair. Knowing if it's better to cast Conundrum Sphinx now or to hold up Mana Leak for another turn can be the difference between winning and losing. Once something is on the board, it largely stays there.

Now for the archetypes. These are what prevent the cube from just being everyone fighting for everything. Most of these were artificially created, but they're now all pretty much organic, changing from deck to deck with some cards proving themselves to be much better than I expected. Eight distinct archetypes are supported, and I'll go into detail on each one:

The most basic of all the archetypes, and the one that is the easiest to see. In practice, though, it's one of the hardest to draft. Counterspells are the backbone of this archetype, but how many is too many? Is this three-mana hard counter better than this two-mana soft one? Which is better, Ratchet Bomb or Evacuation? These are only a few of the many questions a control pilot will have to answer while drafting, deckbuilding, and playing. The lack of good answers to anything onboard makes it so control drafters have to value bounce spells higher than they otherwise would. Dealing with troublesome artifacts is especially problematic, so you should also keep an eye out for cards like Legerdemain or Steel Sabotage. All of these ins and outs make for a tough archetype to be successful with, but it you know the cube and deck type well, you'll be well on your way to crushing more inexperienced players in the longest, most drawn-out way possible.

A slightly more forgiving archetype than pure control. This deck focuses on playing evasive threats that are small, have flash, or both, and eventually winning with them while staying safe behind a curtain of countermagic. I describe this archetype as more forgiving because your creatures give you some answers to smaller on-board threats; additionally, bounce spells are things you actively want to play rather than being forced to, as you value tempo as well as card advantage. Anyone who remembers playing Delver or Faeries fondly will feel very familiar with this strategy.

If you want to draft aggro, this is what you go for if you're shooting high. A Merfolk deck that gets the right density of them can be nigh-unbeatable, especially if backed up by cheap counters and broken cards like the Swords. On the other hand, if they just don't get opened, or if two or more people are forcing it, everyone can just end up with a bad aggro deck--non-evasive Merfolk are fairly lame. But if you like drafting Mono-Red in normal cubes, I think you'll be able to find happiness with this deck. It's got the risk, it's got the reward, and it certainly has the good beats.

Flier Aggro
The less ambitious aggro strategy. Unlike Merfolk, this deck's power level is fairly consistent—a Horizon Drake is an Illusionary Servant is a Sea Drake. Don't go thinking this is an easy strategy to beat, though—if you're unprepared, what just looks like a mere Core Set Skies deck will come flying over and crashing through your skull. These little beasties are ones to be feared and respected, and they've already won over at least one of my regular drafters.

Tinker/Show and Tell/Academy Artifacts
When someone says they've drafted a "combo deck" in this cube, 80% of the time, it can fall under this broad category. Decks here can range from glass cannon turn 1 Blightsteel Colossus decks to engine-y, resilient, combo-laden Tolarian Academy artifact decks. But whether they're smashing face with an 11/11 infect or untapping a Time Vault with a Voltaic Key, these decks can be downright dangerous and deadly if you don't have counters aplenty. This deck alone makes Annul a maindeckable card, and warrants Shape Anew's and Master Thief's inclusion. No doubt do these decks warp the metagame around them, but to tell the truth, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Blue burn, but better. These decks prey on the natural card-drawing tendencies of many decks in this cube, and can be very powerful if the right cards are opened. There are mill cards like Mind Sculpt that can outrace aggro, and slow, inevitable mill cards like Pyxis of Pandemonium that give control decks fits. A well-drafted and constructed mill deck can be the bane of most any deck at the table, but a poorly-drafted one can crash and burn extremely quickly.

High Tide/Storm
On a rare occassion, this deck gets opened like magic, and someone is gifted with a fun and powerful combo deck that rewards play skill a lot more than a simple Tinker/Show list. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten, the namesake card just gets opened too late, or there are less than eight people at the table and not all the cards needed are opened at all. Trying to draft it is a risky proposition in and of itself, but the rewards can be great. Think of it like normal storm decks in the MTGO Cube. If you consider all of those trainwrecks, you won't much like this deck either; on the other hand, if you're the guy who's always snapping up Tendrils of Agony, I think you'll be very happy to get this deck whenever you can.

When I first made the Cube, I didn't even consider this to be a viable archetype. "Wouldn't they just counter your big dude?" I thought, as well as said to the people around me. But when it all came together and people other than me started drafting it, the results proved me wrong. To my astonishment, "overloading" their counterspells with threat after threat was actually a good strategy to a downright scary degree. The fact that many of the counterspells in the cube are soft counters makes this deck even more dangerous, as decks playing them are faced with a lose-lose proposition: "Do I counter their ramp spell now, and only delay the inevitable whammy-slam, or do I let it resolve and have my counter become potentially useless?" This question may sometimes be infuriating, but I am still happy to say that if you do like drafting green ramp strategies, then you'll be happy to know that there's a successful analogue here, as well.

Those are the main archetypes, but there are also a few other cards thrown in that can make for less-seen strategies or just simply plan Bs in other decks, cards and combos like:

Painter's Servant + Grindstone and Time Vault + Voltaic Key are the two most potent combos in the entire cube, capable of a win on turn 3 with no other nonland cards. The downside about them is that the pieces are all unplayable without the other half, and that they're both too fragile to support building a whole deck around them. One counterspell shouldn't make you scoop on the spot, and spending precious turns Mystical Tutoring for Fabricate are turns your opponent gets to set himself up for the inevitable plays. However, if you have three or four of the two-card combos listed, it may be worth it to just play something akin to a weird combo-midrange deck, just trying to force through one of them. If they counter the first, search up the second. That strategy is only conjecture, though; I've never seen someone actually try it out.

In conclusion, I've seen most, if not all, of the main archetypes drafted, and a lot of varied builds leading to success by many different pilots. The matches I've played are some of the most skill-rewarding and intensive ones I've ever had, and every time I come away from a draft, I feel more knowledgeable than when it began.

Look forward to part two of this article soon, where I'll recap a recent draft that went down, and go into why some of the decks were successful and others weren't. I'll see you all then.


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