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From the Ground Up: Blue

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Once again, the full Cube is on GoogleDocs.

Once again, we start with the easiest thing to do—the tribal cards.

Merfolk – Ambassador Laquatus, Coralhelm Commander, Cursecatcher, Enclave Cryptologist, Frostwind Invoker, Halimar Wavewatch, Inkfathom Divers, Leech Bonder, Lord of Atlantis, Merfolk Looter, Merfolk Seastalkers, Merfolk Skyscout, Merfolk Sovereign, Merrow Reejerey, Rootwater Hunter, Sejiri Merfolk, Silvergill Adept, Skywatcher Adept, Stonybrook Angler, Streambed Aquitects, Waterfront Bouncer

The easy ones – Coralhelm Commander, Merrow Reejerey, Merfolk Sovereign, Lord of Atlantis, Enclave Cryptologist, Merfolk Looter, Silvergill Adept, Sejiri Merfolk.

I feel that these require little explanation. I then went down the list of mono-Blue Merfolk and tried to pick out ones that I liked. A few cards automatically jumped out at me—Merfolk Seastalkers, Waterfront Bouncer, Stonybrook Angler. All three of these cards are consistent with my goal of allowing Blue to control the tempo of the game, as they have board-affecting abilities that are semi-permanent (bounce and tapping) as opposed to permanent (removal).

The next thing to look at, as far as the Merfolk were concerned, was some efficiency. I found Halimar Wavewatch and Skywatcher Adept to be solid creatures for their cost, so I included them as well. Streambed Aquitects is also an okay-sized dude with relevant tribal abilities, and thus I decided that it would also make the cut. As far as the rest of the Merfolk are concerned, I had basically two packages that I was deciding between at this point.

The mill package – Drowner Initiate, Ambassador Laquatus, Drowner of Secrets, Grimoire Thief

The “utility” package – Cursecatcher, Leech Bonder, Inkfathom Divers, Rootwater Hunter

I ended up going with the “utility” package for a couple reasons:

1. I don’t really like milling as a strategy in Limited for the following reasons:

a. It tends to be noninteractive.

b. It’s very hit-or-miss, and requires a very large commitment.

2. I always want to diversify my available effects, and choosing the mill package would commit me to putting a couple mill spells in as well in order to reach the point where the strategy was viable.

Despite my not being a fan of mill, I wanted to represent it, because it is a legitimate alternative win condition. Thus, Ambassador Laquatus ended up making it anyway, because I felt it was the most reasonable one to make it by itself. I then rounded out the selection of Merfolk with two flyers—Merfolk Skyscout and Frostwind Invoker. At this point, the selection was getting thin, and I had a couple more directions I could go—I could add more Islandwalkers like Deeptread Merrow, or I could add some of the Island-transformy dudes like Reef Shaman. In the end, I ended up with Merfolk Skyscout and Frostwind Invoker because I felt that they would be more reasonable cards on their own. Frostwind Invoker is sort of weak, though, but I don’t really see that great of a replacement option. I suppose I could replace it with another of the mill cards, but my concern there is that mill cards like that in general require critical mass, because they aren’t powerful on their own. Thus, I feel that Frostwind Invoker is still better than that.

I actually want to move on to Blue spells next, because that’s the way I built Blue. I feel that Blue is a spell-based color, so I wanted to get that down right away. Let’s once again take a look at some categorizations.

Duh – Brainstorm, Bribery, Control Magic, Counterspell, Cryptic Command, Deep Analysis, Fact or Fiction, Future Sight, Impulse, Jace Beleren, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Jilt, Mana Leak, Mystical Tutor, Opportunity, Opposition, Ponder, Preordain, Probe, Propaganda, Remand, Repeal, Treachery

The remainder:

Counterspells – Condescend, Essence Scatter, Exclude, Forbid, Remove Soul

Bounce – Capsize, Repulse, Rushing River, Unsummon

Other – Diminish, Eel Umbra, Fool's Demise, Frozen Solid, Rhystic Study, Turnabout, Unstable Mutation, Worldly Counsel, Zur's Weirding

Knowing that I wanted both Jaces, I was shooting for roughly ten counterspells and three draw spells. Counting both Jaces as draw spells would bring that number up to five, which is exactly where I wanted it. That would definitely give Blue the ability to draw cards, but at the reduced rate that I wanted. These were definitely the two categories I filled out first, as I feel that they make up the core of Blue.

The card-draw proved to happen very quickly. Fact or Fiction and Deep Analysis immediately were dropped into the pile. At that point, I had essentially three options for the final card-draw spell—Opportunity, Jace's Ingenuity, Ancestral Vision (note, Gifts Ungiven is not a draw spell). As much as I like Vision, it was the first to get cut, because Suspend 4 is a lot to ask if you draw that card in the midgame or later. Even though it only costs mana, this inability to get the cards any time soon was a huge strike against the card. In Constructed, you can control your ability to see the card early (when it is strongest), by running four copies. In Cube, you have no such control; thus, top-decking it later becomes a real concern.

Opportunity and Jace's Ingenuity are very close, and so I don’t really feel that one is better than the other. I ended up going with Opportunity because it is in a different place on the curve (I don’t feel that there’s a huge difference between a 4-mana and 5-mana draw spell in Limited), and because I feel that it is slightly more powerful (because it draws one more card).

Then I turned to counterspells. Remand, Counterspell, Mana Leak, and Cryptic Command were immediately dropped into the pile. Then, I took a long, hard look at two of the most powerful counters ever printed—Force of Will and Mana Drain.

They are both conscious omissions. Here’s why.

Mana Drain has the same problem as the really good mana rocks—it produces game states where only one player is playing the game. It often doesn’t really matter much what you Mana Drain, as long as it costs between 3 and 5 mana. Often, that extra mana that early in the game will simply rocket you way far ahead of your opponent.

Force of Will was a less clear-cut. I mean, I could have easily included it, but I’m not a fan of free spells, and Force of Will pretty much tops that list. I feel that this card is unnecessary because I’m not allowing players to do anything particularly broken, and thus having all my counterspells cost mana is not a relevant restriction.

Having dealt with those, there was a group of counterspells that I took a look at—cheap conditional counters. These were headlined by Spell Pierce and Spell Snare (and I suppose now Mental Misstep). In the end, I felt that these types of spells were too ineffective in a Limited environment due to their natural restrictiveness and the fact that Limited decks tend to be looser than Constructed decks. Thus, none of these counters made it.

Other cheap, soft counters (headlined by Force Spike), ended up not making it as well for similar reasons. The difference between 1 and 2 is huge, as is the difference between 2 and 3. I felt that 3 was the bare minimum for a soft counter, so Rune Snag, Miscalculation, and spells of that nature were out.

Really, the main group came down to essentially the following—Arcane Denial, Dissipate, Dismiss, Faerie Trickery, Rewind, Remove Soul, Essence Scatter, Exclude, Condescend, Forbid, Spell Burst.

Forbid versus Spell Burst was my selection for a long-game counterspell that could be used multiple times. I felt that the Buyback cost on Spell Burst was simply not restrictive enough in the late game, so I went with Forbid.

I also definitely wanted to focus the Cube more on creatures, so I decided focusing the counterspells on that area would be a good way of doing so. Thus, Remove Soul, Essence Scatter, and Exclude all made it in. Condescend was my final selection, as it is a spell I think doesn’t get enough love. It is actually quite good. The library manipulation, combined with being live in all phases of the game, ends up producing a card that gives you excellent value. With the recent increase in planeswalker count for the Cube (I went to ten monocolored ’walkers after Garruk, Primal Hunter was printed), however, I am considering cutting either Essence Scatter or Remove Soul for Dismiss, which was originally in the Cube, but was a casualty of having a different card selected over it (Zur's Weirding).

At this point, I turned to library manipulation. Mystical Tutor, Brainstorm, Ponder, and Preordain quickly were dropped in the Cube and Impulse and Worldly Counsel joined shortly thereafter (Worldly Counsel because it supports three- and four-color strategies). The final slot went to Probe, which is a powerful card-advantage spell only when the Kicker cost is paid, but a reasonable card-filtering spell otherwise. Given that the Kicker cost requires Black mana, I was okay with having another “card-advantage spell” in that sense. This ability to consistently generate card advantage in U/B decks allowed Probe to beat out Thirst for Knowledge, which has similar properties in my Cube.

I now moved onto Blue’s second major ability—bounce. I knew that I wanted to have a slightly higher bounce spell count, because my Cube is tempo-focused, and because bounce is such a good way to control tempo, I decided to up the count there. Repeal and Jilt were the only two bounce spells that I was sure were making the cut. Repeal because I think it is the best bounce spell ever printed, and Jilt because I feel that it has an underrated role in a lot of formats. I believe the card would still be Standard-playable today. It is very good at generating large amounts of value because of its ability to be played with and without Kicker. Into the Roil proved that 1u/2uu bounce spells are still viable, and I feel that Jilt is significantly stronger than that card.

The other major options included Capsize, Into the Roil, Rushing River, Boomerang, Eye of Nowhere, Unsummon, Repulse, Echoing Truth, Chain of Vapor, and Wipe Away.

I ended up picking Rushing River because of its strong ability to be used offensively, as well as Capsize for being Capsize. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about this inclusion, as I feel that being Capsize-locked is no fun, but I think this is less of a problem in Limited than in Constructed. I did feel the need to include a 1-mana bounce spell, and Chain of Vapor versus Unsummon came down to the fact that I felt that offensive Chain of Vapor was too likely to backfire. Because the cost to chain it back is just to sacrifice a land, going to bounce your opponent’s blocker is very likely to get your own big attacker bounced as well. I felt that for offensive tempo decks, this was an unacceptable situation, so I went with Unsummon. It’s possible that the sorcery-speed Unsummon from Innistrad will end up replacing Unsummon proper, but the flexibility of instant speed does account for many of Unsummon’s defensive uses, which is not insignificant. The final slot ended up going to Repulse, which is one of my favorite bounce spells, as at this point I didn’t see any real compelling argument for one spell over any of the others.

Let’s look at the rest of the Blue spells: Bribery, Control Magic, Future Sight, Opposition, Propaganda, Treachery, Diminish, Eel Umbra, Fool's Demise, Frozen Solid, Rhystic Study, Turnabout, Unstable Mutation, and Zur's Weirding.

At this point, I was looking to diversify the effects present in Blue spells, as up until now they have been rather focused. When I was building the Cube, Dismiss was also in the Cube at this juncture. The last major area where I felt I needed to include some Blue spells was Blue “removal.” Of course, the major avenue of this is going to be stealing your opponent’s men. I chose Control Magic and Treachery for this department. To add to that, I chose Frozen Solid and Diminish, which are unique Blue “removal” spells as well. I felt that between the bounce, counterspells, and four “removal” spells, Blue had an adequate number of ways of dealing with opposing threats.

Then I got to uniquely Blue cards that were all relatively powerful—Bribery, Opposition, and Future Sight. I felt that all three of these cards needed to be in there both because they were very good and because they were unique, and thus attacked tactically from different directions. This is true of Rhystic Study, Propaganda, Eel Umbra, and Unstable Mutation as well. At some point, I had Sleep in the Cube, but further review determined that Turnabout serves a similar purpose while having other uses as well.

In the end, I ended up cutting Dismiss for Zur's Weirding because I wanted the latter card and I felt that going from ten to nine counters would not really hurt much. I wanted countermagic to be a relevant and large part of Blue’s defensive suite, and going down to nine counters still makes that true, while providing a card that is completely unique in how it controls the flow of the game.

The “other” creatures—Aeon Chronicler, Aethersnipe, Air Elemental, Amoeboid Changeling, Aphetto Alchemist, Augury Owl, Brine Elemental, Cetavolver, Clone, Cloudskate, Crookclaw Transmuter, Errant Ephemeron, Fathom Seer, Gilded Drake, Horned Turtle, Impaler Shrike, Ixidron, Keiga, the Tide Star, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Lighthouse Chronologist, Mahamoti Djinn, Man-o'-War, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Mistform Wall, Morphling, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Plaxmanta, Riftwing Cloudskate, Sea Sprite, Shoreline Ranger, Snapping Drake, Spiketail Hatchling, Stormscape Battlemage, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Vedalken Mastermind, Venser, Shaper Savant, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Wall of Frost, Welkin Tern, Willbender

Aethersnipe, Aphetto Alchemist, Man-o'-War, Riftwing Cloudskate, Spiketail Hatchling, and Venser, Shaper Savant are there because they help control the flow of the game while beating down, and thus support aggressive tempo decks, which is an archetype I want Blue to be a big part of. Normally, that deck beats down with flyers, so I added in some additional beaters—Snapping Drake, Impaler Shrike, Cloudskate, Welkin Tern, Errant Ephemeron. I also wanted an “Air Elemental” (5-mana 4/4 flyer), because I like that body in Blue. After looking at the available options, ironically, I chose the original, mainly because I’m not a fan of the way Djinn of Wishes plays out in Limited. The inherent randomness associated with the card is not something I like. Plaxmanta is the final card I added to really push this strategy.

Impaler Shrike ultimately made the cut over Mulldrifter due to strategic flexibility. Mulldrifter has a lot of tactical flexibility, but is ultimately a rather inefficient beater, which removes quite a few strategic options. Impaler Shrike is much more efficient, being 3 power for 4 mana, and also gives you the option of drawing cards. In general, I think it is a more skill-testing card than Mulldrifter, and given that it provides more strategic options as well, it ended up making the cut over its “better” Lorwyn brother.

I also wanted some “walls” to help support typical “walls-and-flyers” type decks as well as control decks that simply wanted early defense. Horned Turtle–type creatures are a big part of this, so I went with the original and Mistform Wall (creature types are relevant in my Cube, after all). Calcite Snapper, probably the best “Horned Turtle” variant, has a number of strikes against it that I don’t like.

  1. It has Shroud, which means your opponent can’t interact with it. This is a downside.
  2. 1uu versus 2u is a real big deal. 1uu is not particularly splashable; 2u is more doable.
  3. It’s a little too offensively potent for my tastes. I wanted my Turtles to be defensive creatures, thus the 3-mana 1/4 body needs to actually be a 3-mana 1/4, not a 3-mana 4/1.

After dropping those two in, Wall of Frost rounded out my “walls” in Blue.

I now went to my “big creatures” suite, and I came up with the following group—Keiga, the Tide Star, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Aeon Chronicler, Mahamoti Djinn. Mahamoti Djinn was honestly the biggest surprise of the group. I was looking for a 5- or 6-mana flyer, and when I looked, I was honestly surprised to discover that there really wasn’t a much more efficient creature than Mahamoti Djinn. Sphinx of Magosi is the only one that is technically more efficient, and the 3uuu cost on that knocked it out immediately. There are a number of cards that are similarly efficient, but why put extra text on a card when a French-vanilla dude will suffice?

I decided that I wanted a couple copy creatures as well, and I chose Vesuvan Shapeshifter (because of its interactions with Morph triggers), and good old-fashioned Clone (mainly because I didn’t see anything much better at the time. I could replace Clone with Phyrexian Metamorph, and honestly probably would if Metamorph didn’t cost Phyrexian mana. Clone is not an effect I want outside of Blue, and thus Metamorph is off-limits because you don’t actually need Blue mana to cast it.

With Vesuvan Shapeshifter in the Cube, Brine Elemental and Fathom Seer had to go in, because those interactions are very powerful, so those two got dropped in the pile. From there, I went on to looking at “unique” Blue creatures to provide some more tactical and strategic flexibility.

A number of dudes jumped out very quickly—Gilded Drake, Ixidron, Lighthouse Chronologist, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Vedalken Mastermind, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Willbender. This group of creatures comes at the game from a variety of different directions. Vedalken Mastermind in particular has interesting interactions with creatures that have 187 abilities (of which there are a number in my Cube), as well as having interactions with Evoke. Mastermind made me think about the Mulldrifter cut again, but ultimately I felt that the card had other uses, so it stayed. It’s proven to be an interesting fringe playable, which is exactly what I want out of it. The combo with Faceless Butcher (and I suppose Fiend Hunter post-Innistrad) is very powerful.

Ixidron is a creature that I don’t see enough of in Cubes. It creates a lot of interesting board situations because frequently it is by far the largest dude on the table, but it shrinks as the board shrinks. Still, it is pretty effective as Blue “removal.” I mean, it doesn’t target and it turns your opponent’s best guys into 2/2’s. The other creatures in this group, I feel, are far more standard fare.

At this point, I was looking to fill out the rest of the creatures, and I’ll just go through them all one by one.

Amoeboid Changeling – Messes with the “creature type matters” subtheme in my Cube.

Augury Owl – Very good curve-smoother, and I felt that it couldn’t hurt to give Blue a little library manipulation, which I felt that it was light on to begin with.

Cetavolver – Same reason as the other Volvers.

Crookclaw Transmuter – Sort of a unique effect; I didn’t have a power/toughness-switching card yet in Blue, and being a 4 mana 3/1 flyer with Flash pushed it over the edge.

Morphling – How can you go wrong with Superman?

Ninja of the Deep Hours – I needed a ’phid, and I chose this over Thieving Magpie. I like the Ninjutsu on this card a lot. I never really liked Magpie as a ’phid. It’s a good card, but I like this not having evasion. That means the player has to work for his cards.

Sea Sprite – I wanted an anti-Red creature in Blue and one in White, and this ended up being the best option I found for Blue.

Shoreline Ranger – This is, I feel, the second best of the cycle from Scourge. Twisted Abomination is in my Cube as well because it just performs so admirably. Early, it becomes a land; late, it’s a dude with a reasonable, if inefficient, body.

Stormscape Battlemage – Once again, this is included to help multicolored decks, since it has one very relevant Kicker while the other is kinda relevant.

Chingsung Chang

Conelead most everywhere and on MTGO

Khan32k5 at gmail dot com

Appendix

Blue

Ambassador Laquatus

Coralhelm Commander

Cursecatcher

Enclave Cryptologist

Frostwind Invoker

Halimar Wavewatch

Inkfathom Divers

Leech Bonder

Lord of Atlantis

Merfolk Looter

Merfolk Seastalkers

Merfolk Skyscout

Merfolk Sovereign

Merrow Reejerey

Rootwater Hunter

Sejiri Merfolk

Silvergill Adept

Skywatcher Adept

Stonybrook Angler

Streambed Aquitects

Waterfront Bouncer

Aeon Chronicler

AEthersnipe

Air Elemental

Amoeboid Changeling

Aphetto Alchemist

Augury Owl

Brine Elemental

Cetavolver

Clone

Cloudskate

Crookclaw Transmuter

Errant Ephemeron

Fathom Seer

Gilded Drake

Horned Turtle

Impaler Shrike

Ixidron

Keiga, the Tide Star

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Lighthouse Chronologist

Mahamoti Djinn

Man-o'-War

Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Mistform Wall

Morphling

Ninja of the Deep Hours

Plaxmanta

Riftwing Cloudskate

Sea Sprite

Shoreline Ranger

Snapping Drake

Spiketail Hatchling

Stormscape Battlemage

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

Vedalken Mastermind

Venser, Shaper Savant

Vesuvan Shapeshifter

Wall of Frost

Welkin Tern

Willbender

Brainstorm

Bribery

Capsize

Condescend

Control Magic

Counterspell

Cryptic Command

Deep Analysis

Diminish

Eel Umbra

Essence Scatter

Exclude

Fact or Fiction

Fool's Demise

Forbid

Frozen Solid

Future Sight

Impulse

Jace Beleren

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Jilt

Mana Leak

Mystical Tutor

Opportunity

Opposition

Ponder

Preordain

Probe

Propaganda

Remand

Remove Soul

Repeal

Repulse

Rhystic Study

Rushing River

Treachery

Turnabout

Unstable Mutation

Unsummon

Worldly Counsel

Zur's Weirding

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