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Enabling Blue-Based Tempo, or “Blueggro,” in Your Cube

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If you've ever built a Cube or you Cube draft regularly, you've probably noticed how much flashier and more powerful the Blue cards are compared to other colors. Whether you're resolving Fact or Fiction, Control Magic, or Mulldrifter in a commons/uncommons Cube, or Ancestral Recall, Bribery, or Upheaval in a powered Cube, it's clear who the real leader of the color pie is. Not only does it have access to all these powerful spells in the main list, but there are quite literally hundreds of Blue cards that are easily good enough for inclusion just waiting on the sidelines. This makes adding and removing Blue cards from the Cubes of all shapes and sizes extremely difficult, and also part of the reason why different Blue strategies never see the light of day.

Cube theory has come a long way in the last couple years. We've seen a shift away from lists that are essentially a culmination of the most powerful cards Magic has to offer, and gravitation toward supporting strategies that enable a balanced limited environment. Because of this, as Cube designers, we can introduce new strategies that would have otherwise not worked several years ago. One such strategy, which I've been pushing in my Cube for the last year and a half, is Blue-based aggro, or as I've dubbed it, "Blueggro." This particular archetype involves winning via little, Blue creatures while playing cards that provide card advantage or tempo.

If you look at each color as being defined by the individual power level of the cards that make it up, you might not be interested in pursuing this strategy. After all, Cloud of Faeries just isn't in the same league as cards like Control Magic or even Ancestral Vision. I think, however, that it's important to try and take a more holistic view when considering the contents of your Cube. I see each color for the archetypes it enables, which allows me to give it an identity and add cards that play to its strengths. Some Cube designers have attempted to add piecemeal aggro elements to Blue, only to find it didn't work well for them. I initially took a similar approach, and I realized later it was misguided. You really need to take a top-down approach and revamp your entire Blue section rather than adding little bits and pieces before you can really see the benefits of enabling this strategy. It's not unlike any other strategy or archetype. As you add and remove cards to enable that strategy, some decks get better and others get worse. The biggest problem was that after people added these cheap, efficient Blue flyers, they found their control decks didn't have any need to draft these cards. So you had to decide between playing a control deck or playing a Blue aggro deck.

I will often see people who say they run Blue aggro because they've decided to cut a few control creatures and add in cards like Welkin Tern, Carnivorous Death-Parrot, Rishadan Airship, Conundrum Sphinx, Serendib Djinn, and so forth. While those cards are fine and dandy, they aren't what make the strategy really tick. When I first decided to add the Blue tempo/aggro strategy, I looked at it as adding "Blue aggro." This meant we were trying to build aggressive Blue-based aggro decks. I added a ton of efficient one- and two-drop flyers like Spindrift Drake and Carnivorous Death-Parrot. We tried this out for a while, and it just didn't feel right. It is also probably why a lot of people didn't like it when they tried it in their Cubes. I then realized that it was less about adding the aggro elements and more about adding in a tempo/mid-range strategy. The trick wasn't to make Blue into a bad version of another color, but to add in the elements to make Blue aggro feel like its own beast. You don't have the explosive starts of Red aggro, or the Anthem and 'geddons that White aggro gets. Instead, you end up with a deck very similar to the Fish decks in Legacy: a lot of cheap creatures that do something, coupled with evasion and disruption. These creatures had to do more than just act as a subset of Blue only for one deck, though, and needed some value in the standard Blue decks. Creatures that tend to do well in these kinds of decks are either very efficient or, more importantly, generate card advantage or tempo. While dorks like Welkin Tern and Rishadan Airship are fairly good beaters, they aren't particularly exciting or important to the Blueggro strategy. Furthermore, they aren't very good in control lists. That isn't to say that they shouldn't be included, but they should only make up a fraction of the Blueggro in your Cube.

If there's any one rule you need to stick to when enabling Blueggro in your Cube, it's this: You absolutely, positively, must have at least a 50 percent or better creature-to-spell ratio. That's right, folks. Those 25/45 splits aren't going to cut it. If you cannot abide by this rule, the strategy will not work nearly as well.

This idea of a 50/50 split goes against everything we've known about building Cubes in the past five years. Typically, every color gets about a 50/50 split of creatures to spells. Green gets more; Blue gets less. I believe this method of Cube construction is becoming dated, and the color and creature-to-spell ratio constraints are not conducive to building a healthy limited environment. Because of this, we should be exploring ideas outside the norm, which not only leads to new archetypes and strategies, but also breathes new life into old cards. It just so happens that one of these harebrained ideas turned out to be a really great change for our group and has enabled far more decks than it has hindered. If you're worried about your control decks being impossible to draft, I wouldn't worry too much. I have nearly a thousand drafts under my belt since I've implemented this change, and I honestly don't believe the number of control decks has gone down. They may play out a little differently, and those late-pick counters and draw spells are much earlier picks since there are less redundant effects in the Cube to make room for the creatures. You will also find there are far fewer three- to five-kill-condition control decks floating around as they start replacing draw spells with cards like Enclave Cryptologist and Jushi Apprentice, and Control Magic effects with Old Man of the Sea or Gilded Drake.

The second rule in enabling Blue aggro is to trim the fat(ties). Most of Blue's creatures are control-oriented, and they are also some of the most powerful creatures in the Cube. While Blue may not be well-known for its fatties in each individual set, they do tend to get a good one every few years, and all of them are included in many Cube lists. Palinchron, Meloku, Keiga, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, Aeon Chronicler, Draining Whelk, Frost Titan—these all encompass basically the same role in every Blue deck, and are fairly interchangeable. They are powerful finishers who take over the game and generally provide you with either huge card advantage or are next to impossible to remove. There is no reason to include all of these in your list, since their redundancy and their place as just the finisher in the Blue control decks leads to them going later than they probably should. Cutting the number means that the Blue control decks may have to actually choose a finisher over a good counterspell or card draw spell.

I don't want clunky cards like Sphinx of Jwar Isle or Palinchron in my Blue tempo decks, any more than I want Welkin Tern or Flying Men in my control decks. It's a difficult task to find which creatures are good across both archetypes, and truth be told, I don't know that you can always have your cake and eat it too. On the other hand, I think there are some sleeper cards I ran prior to pushing Blueggro that have been great in both control and more aggressive decks. I will get into this more when I get into individual card discussion. The first place we look to add Blue creatures is in the Blue creature section, and removing clunky, control-only finishers is a great place to start.

The last rule is less a rule for enabling Blueggro and more a Cube-construction "best practice." Just because a card is good or a good Cube card, it doesn't mean it's appropriate for your list. To use an extreme example, you don't typically see cards like Sol Ring or Ancestral Recall outside of powered Cubes, and you don't find a lot of Pauper Cubes running Library of Alexandria as an uncommon because it was technically printed as a U1. I believe Blue has a number of things it does extremely well. It bounces, counters, and has cards that generate card advantage and card quality. What has happened over the years is that Blue continues to get more and more cards that have the same effects, which has blurred the line regarding how many of that effect are really necessary in Cube. This leads to issues of redundancy, where taking a large number of Blue cards will always lead to a good deck since they all do basically the same thing. If your Cube has too many of an effect, there isn't any reason to make hard decisions in the draft portion, as you will always see more bounces or counters as the draft goes on. You can just take the most powerful card in a vacuum and expect to fill your deck out in later packs. Herein lies the true benefit of pushing Blueggro—having the appropriate number of effects in your Cube will create more tension and, I believe, a more rewarding Cube drafting experience.

Now that I've outlined the guidelines for enabling Blueggro, let's take a look at some of the cards that really make the archetype work. The list below was taken directly from my current Cube list. The non-tempo cards have been edited out.

Creatures

1CC

Cursecatcher

Hapless Researcher

Enclave Cryptologist

2CC

Coralhelm Commander

Looter il-Kor

Spiketail Hatchling

Spellstutter Sprite

Cloud of Faeries

Voidmage Prodigy

Waterfront Bouncer

3CC

Vendilion Clique

Serendib Efreet

Pestermite

Mistblade Shinobi

Horizon Drake

Wake Thrasher

Man-o'-War

AEther Adept

Vexing Sphinx

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

4CC

Ninja of the Deep Hours

Thieving Magpie

Venser, Shaper Savant

Lu Xun, Scholar General

Sower of Temptation

Glen Elendra Archmage

5CC

Mulldrifter

Sun Ce, Young Conqueror

Riftwing Cloudskate

Spells

1CC

Force Spike

2CC

Standstill

Memory Lapse

Miscalculation

Daze

Remand

3CC

Crystal Shard

Equilibrium

4CC

Opposition

5CC

Tezzeret the Seeker

Force of Will

Misdirection

Gush

You're probably playing many of these cards already, so you might be asking yourself if adding a few of the more unconventional cards will really make a difference. Remember, it's not just about adding the tempo cards to the Cube; it's about getting that creature-to-spell ratio as close to 50/50 as possible. Think of it this way: How many White Weenie decks do you think would be played if you had a 30/70 split of creatures to spells? Without the critical mass of creatures, the creature decks are very difficult to draft. It'd take another 3,000 words to go in depth on why I think the cards above are good in Blue aggro, so rather than go over them in detail, I will go over my top five creatures and top five spells for enabling Blueggro.

Top 5 Blueggro Creatures

  1. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner – Kira is the queen of Blue tempo decks. She essentially forces your opponent to two-for-one himself if he's playing targeted removal. There are many scenarios where she gives all of your creatures pseudo-shroud. She is evasive and a nice play before or after loading the board up with dorks. She has a ton of utility and is good in both aggro and control, and is an excellent addition to Blueggro.
  2. Man-o'-War/Venser, Shaper Savant/Riftwing Cloudskate – I really like all of the bounce creatures. On the surface, they're fairly unexciting, but they're essential in overwhelming your opponent with card advantage and tempo. Turn-three Man-o'-War is a great follow-up to your opponent's early creature drops, especially if you can follow it up with something like Crystal Shard or a techy play like Rishadan Port + Spiketail Hatchling. While the first turn you get to play a 2-power creature is pushed back a turn or two, your creatures are much more abusable, and coupled with cards like Equilibrium or Opposition, you can completely overwhelm your opponent with tempo.
  3. Pestermite – Creatures with Flash are very important to the Blue creature strategy. One of my favorite decks is U/W equipment. I like to pick up as many early drops and Flash creatures as possible, along with good equipment like Sword of Fire and Ice, Mask of Memory, and Umezawa's Jitte. The first time you get to resolve one of these creatures EOT and then equip and swing, or drop a 'geddon, you will wonder how you ever lived without them. The 187 ability is also top-notch. Being able to tap an opponent's land in his upkeep or an attacker in the beginning-of-combat step, or even surprising him by untapping a blocker when he thought he could otherwise swing unabated is quite powerful.
  4. Ninja of the Deep Hours/Mistblade Shinobi – Some of the best cards for Blueggro are Mistblade Shinobi and Ninja of the Deep Hours. These are cards that need context more than any others to show how good they are. It's all about incremental card advantage (CA). Ninjitsu allows you to reuse your ETB creatures and generate CA at the same time. I have been known to pick these guys in the first four picks. I almost never let it leave the pack if I don't think I'll get it back on the next way around the table. U-tempo isn't about flashy plays; it's about solid plays. You win your match by playing dorks, generating CA, and disrupting your opponent, and before he knows it, he's facing lethal damage. People very rarely play around Ninjitsu, giving these guys a high rate of success.
  5. Spellstutter Sprite – Sprite has a number of useful applications. For one, he is a 1/1 with Flash. Just like Pestermite, this can be extremely useful for those turns when you have an active piece of equipment out and want to keep mana open to counter. He counters more often than you would think, nabbing Top, Brainstorm, Duress, Innocent Blood, StP, and in the case of powered Cubes, Moxen and cards like Ancestral Recall, making him incredibly versatile. There are times when he counters 2-mana and even 3-mana spells thanks to Glen Elendra, Faerie Conclave, Mutavault, Clique, and Pestermite.

Top Five Blueggro Spells

  1. Opposition – Oh, Opposition—the original "all-in" tempo card. I've had this in my Cube since long before we pushed Blueggro, and I really was only able to get it to work if I saw it early on in the first pack. Now that Blue has twenty to thirty more creatures, Opposition almost never sticks around past the first five picks regardless of the pack. For the price of 4 mana, you get reusable disruption on a grand scale. With just a couple creatures out, you can make combat difficult for your opponent, tap down his mana in his upkeep, or even do things like tap down a Winter Orb to allow your permanents to untap. Before, this card was used mostly in token decks alongside Cloudgoat Ranger or Deranged Hermit. Now Blue can dump all its early drops and seal the game up with a Wake Thrasher or weenies with equipment.
  2. Standstill – I had Standstill in my list long before I pushed Blueggro and have always been a fan of it. The real power of Standstill isn't in that it provides card advantage. It's that it almost always results in multiple turns where your opponent does nothing. Knowing this, you can use Standstill to keep questionable hands filled with land knowing that by the time it gets cracked, you'll have the answer you need. Since we started pushing more aggressive Blue strategies, Standstill has become a top pick among my group. Seeing decks with Vial, cheap dudes, equipment, man lands, and Standstill feels an awful lot like playing Merfolk in Legacy and is a top-tier strategy in my Cube.
  3. EquilibriumCrystal Shard has long been a great card in Cube lists, able to abuse cards like Eternal Witness, Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, and so forth. Equilibrium doesn't usually make the cut in most lists, just because Blue doesn't have access to the creatures necessary to keep it active. Now that I have a 50/50 creature-to-spell ratio, I am finding Equilibrium to be a high pick. It allows my tempo decks to throw it out early and swarm the board while bouncing opposing creatures. It also provides some late-game reach by abusing 187 creatures and using creatures with Flash to provide huge combat blowouts and tempo swings.
  4. Daze/Force of Will – Most Cube lists run these cards already, but I feel it's worth mentioning how important I think it is to draft these when drafting an aggressive Blue deck. You want to maximize your mana and your cards to get the upper hand as soon as possible. If your opponent ever gets to resolve something like a Yosei or Meloku or even a Wrath, you have your work cut out for you. That being said, having access to free counters allows you to set up the huge "I win" turn by getting in a big swing and letting your opponent think it's safe to cast his WoG or Deed and crushing his dreams.
  5. Gush – I am a big fan of Gush in regular and aggro lists. I look at Gush as a turn-four or turn-five play after you've put some pressure on the board. Gush ensures that you always have the fuel you need to keep your dorks swinging. I can't tell you how many games I've won when I didn't have a fourth land drop and Gushed to grab some extra cards and ensure that I get that critical fourth mana at the cost of a little tempo. If you haven't tested this card, I encourage you to give it a try.

Now that I've outlined what I feel are some of the best enablers, let's look at a typical Blue section and see where we can make cuts and additions to enable the archetype.

Typical Blue Section: 19 creatures (32%), 41 spells (68%)

Creatures

1CC

Enclave Cryptologist

2CC

Gilded Drake

Looter il-Kor

Waterfront Bouncer

3CC

Man-o'-War

Serendib Efreet

Vendilion Clique

Willbender

4CC

Glen Elendra Archmage

Sower of Temptation

Thieving Magpie

Venser, Shaper Savant

5CC

Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Morphling

Mulldrifter

6CC

Keiga, the Tide Star

Sphinx of Jwar Isle

7CC

Palinchron

9CC

Inkwell Leviathan

Spells

1CC

Ancestral Vision

Brainstorm

Force Spike

Mystical Tutor

Ponder

Preordain

2CC

Arcane Denial

Counterspell

Impulse

Into the Roil

Mana Leak

Memory Lapse

Miscalculation

Remand

3CC

Capsize

Crystal Shard

Exclude

Frantic Search

Forbid

Jace Beleren

Psionic Blast

Repulse

Thirst for Knowledge

Tinker

Vedalken Shackles

4CC

Control Magic

Cryptic Command

Deep Analysis

Dismiss

Fact or Fiction

Gifts Ungiven

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

5CC

Bribery

Desertion

Force of Will

Misdirection

Tezzeret the Seeker

Treachery

6CC

Upheaval

xCC

Condescend

Repeal

This list is the aggregate result of about fifteen Cube lists I have found on the Internet. Some lists were much bigger, and some were much smaller, but in general, the creature-to-spell ratios were about 30/70 across the board, give or take a percentage point or two. Anyone can look at that number and tell that if Blue wins, it will probably not be doing it in the attack step without some serious help from another color. Where do we start? Let's review the rules I used when constructing my Blue section:

  1. 50/50 or better creature-to-spell ratio
  2. Trim the fat(ties)
  3. Cut redundant effects

Knowing that we want to end up with a 50/50 or better creature-to-spell ratio, let's take a look at creatures that might not work well in Blueggro. Based on this list, there are only a handful of creatures I wouldn't want in my deck, and none of them cost 5 mana or less except for Morphling. The good news is that we don't have to make any cuts.

Our second step is to trim the fatties. This particular Blue section has four 6-mana and higher Blue finishers and two 5-mana Blue finishers.

While I love big, dumb flyers as much as the next guy, seven finishers is way too many. Blue has some of the best control magic effects at its disposal as well as often being played alongside big-mana artifacts like Sundering Titan or Myr Battlesphere, so these guys shouldn't be missed. As far as I'm concerned, Meloku and Keiga are not candidates for removal. Morphling is extremely mana-intensive and Inkwell Leviathan, though fun to cheat into play, is simply not in the spirit of our new Blue strategy. My suggestions are:

Morphling

Sphinx of Jwar Isle

Inkwell Leviathan

Palinchron (optional)

+ Pestermite

+ Cloud of Faeries

+ AEther Adept

+ Coralhelm Commander

Blue Section Revamp Status – 23 creatures (38%), 37 spells (62%)

Now comes the tricky part. Your first instinct is to want to hold onto the cards in your spell section for dear life. Just remember that you can always switch it back if your group doesn't like Blueggro. Let's look at the effects Blue does best:

Counterspells

Arcane Denial

Condescend

Counterspell

Desertion

Dismiss

Exclude

Forbid

Force of Will

Force Spike

Mana Leak

Memory Lapse

Miscalculation

Misdirection

Remand

Control Magic

Bribery

Control Magic

Treachery

Vedalken Shackles

Card Quality/Card Advantage

Ancestral Vision

Brainstorm

Deep Analysis

Fact or Fiction

Frantic Search

Gifts Ungiven

Impulse

Jace Beleren

Mystical Tutor

Ponder

Preordain

Thirst for Knowledge

Big Utility

Cryptic Command

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Tinker

Upheaval

Tezzeret the Seeker

Bounce

Capsize

Crystal Shard

Into the Roil

Repeal

Repulse

Other

Psionic Blast

Our mission is pretty straightforward here. We need to cut seven cards to make room for seven creatures. We then need to cut a few cards to make room for some more noncreature Blueggro cards. In this case, I added three tempo cards, but I suggest adding more as you get more comfortable with the strategy. Here are my suggestions:

Desertion

Dismiss

Exclude

Frantic Search

Mystical Tutor

Impulse

Ponder

Preordain

Tinker

Capsize

Into the Roil

Repeal

Psionic Blast

+ Cursecatcher

+ Spiketail Hatchling

+ Spellstutter Sprite

+ Voidmage Prodigy

+ Mistblade Shinobi

+ Wake Thrasher

+ Vexing Sphinx

+ Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

+ Ninja of the Deep Hours

+ Lu Xun, Scholar General

+ Opposition

+ Gush

+ Equilibrium

Blue Section Revamp Status – 30 creatures (50%), 30 spells (50%)

What we've done here is replace a number of expensive counterspells and wishy-washy cards like Ponder and Preordain with creatures. I tend to start with the cantrips first because they're the very definition of a safe pick and are part of the reason why Blue is the fallback draft color to begin with. By replacing them with Blue creatures and tempo cards, we've fulfilled our 50/50 ratio and have given the tempo deck the tools it needs to consistently draft one to two decks per eight-man draft.

Adding Blueggro elements to your Cube does some really great things by enabling new decks and breathing life into existing archetypes. You will find that the competition for drafting the good control cards gets pretty fierce as you see less and less of them passed around the table. You will also find crowd-favorite decks like U/G aggro and U/B aggro get drafted with much greater frequency. As you fine-tune your new Blue section, you can add or remove cards that don't work for your group, but I strongly encourage you to keep the three rules in mind when building to promote Blueggro. I hope you and your group give it a try!

Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Leave your feedback in the comments here, or you can contact me:

Follow me on Twitter: @kstube

kranagami at gmail dot com

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