Blue/Black Control used to be my favorite Constructed archetype. It probably still would be my favorite had such a thing as a tournament-viable Blue/Black Control deck existed within the past few years. Ravnica Block holds out hope for just about everyone as each color combination, no matter how obscure, will get a shot at greatness. It still, however, remains to be seen whether U/B Control, will be able to make any impact on Standard.
The inspiration for this article came long before Ravnica’s spoiling, back when happy visions of Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and Dark Confidant were dancing like sugar plums in my head. O, to be young again!
When you get down to it, building an Erayo deck is endlessly frustrating and sometimes feels like an exercise in futility. On the one hand, if you want Erayo to consistently be something other than window dressing, you have to surround it with cheap spells that help you find more cheap spells. You have to coat the Soratami Ascendant in a crunchy, Mind’s Desire-esque shell. It’s just a pity that, unlike Mind’s Desire, Erayo doesn’t win you the game. Heck, the moment Erayo becomes useful is the moment it ceases to be a 20-turn clock. If all the other cards in your deck are lands and one- or two-mana library manipulators, you’ll be lucky to survive long enough to deck yourself.
The Erayo Affinity deck that Patrick Higgins played at Regionals was really just Aggro with an “oops, I’m playing Control” twist. Nowadays, even the lowly Frogmite has gone the way of the Arcbound Ravager, and if you want to play a lot of spells each turn, you’ll probably have to pay mana for them. It’s clear that the building of a Standard Erayo deck will have to start from the ground up.
Currently, though, I’m in love with Circu, Dimir Lobotomist. I was shocked to see Circu and Glimpse the Unthinkable at the top of Ben Bleiweiss‘ “Ravnica cards to trade for at the Pre-Release” list, not because they aren’t good but because I’m uncertain how good they are together. It’s easy enough to look at Circu as a milling card, and there’s no guarantee that it will ever be anything more than that. Nevertheless, in a Standard deck including Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize, removing one or two cards each turn from your opponent’s library with a four-mana, 2/3 creature is distinctly underpowered. This doesn’t mean that Circu has no place in a milling deck, just that I value it more highly on other, more interesting grounds.
Although the comparison can be stretched too far, Circu has much in common with Erayo. The two cards can even be played together. Assuming a game goes long enough, the pasty-faced Circu just smacks of card advantage in a way most reminiscent of Meddling Mage. A flipped Erayo may not win the game for you all on its lonesome, but with Lobotomist back-up and a fair dose of counterspells and crowd control, it will make it very difficult for you to lose. The primary problem for Erayo-centric Control (besides opposing beatdown decks) is that although Erayo’s Essence may well counter a lot of spells, it usually won’t counter those spells you most want it to. Circu’s abilities subtly supplement the legendary enchantment’s effect. Even if you don’t get extremely lucky and remove some key card from the game with Circu, even if you only get moderately lucky and remove something insignificant like Hand of Cruelty, any Hands of Cruelty drawn in the future will not only be dead cards, they’ll be dead cards that fail to make other spells in your opponent’s hand come alive. This is, of course, making the large assumption that you control a flipped Erayo, and the relative merit of decks which support both Erayo and Circu is far from cut-and-dry.
It’s worth noting though that even if some spells that are great with Circu (like Cranial Extraction and Eradicate) are lousy alongside Erayo, most of the spells that make Erayo tick (like Muddle the Mixture and Telling Time) work excellently with Circu. Also, even when Erayo is nothing more than a puny 1/1 flyer, Circu is the ultimate lucksack card. Sometimes, it’ll do no more than strip lands from your opponent’s deck. Other times, it’ll snag Dragons and other sundry gifts never to be given, cards which your opponent depended upon to win.
In my past articles, I’ve unwittingly pigeon-holed myself into being a perfectionist when it comes to completeness, and although perfectionism isn’t always terribly fun to read, I hope, at least, that it’s informative. I’ll compile a list of the Standard possibilities for a U/B Control deck including either Erayo or Circu. Afterwards, I’ll go through each card on the list, do a bit of analysis, and assess playability across a range of deck types. While these analyses are based on testing, time constraints have limited this testing’s extent, and not all decks considered have been tested equally. That said, today, we’ll be looking at: U/B Erayo, U/B Circu, and U/B Erayo/Circu. More rogue, deck-warping builds like those containing Kami of the Crescent Moon will not be considered here.
The Standard card pool offers us:
Kamigawa Block: Cranial Extraction, Disrupting Shoal, Eradicate, Exile into Darkness, Gifts Ungiven, Hero’s Demise, Hideous Laughter, Ideas Unbound, Kiku’s Shadow, Nezumi Graverobber, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Pithing Needle, Quash, Reach Through Mists, Rend Flesh, Rend Spirit, Sensei’s Divining-Top, Sickening Shoal, Twincast, Veil of Secrecy
Ravnica: Clinging Darkness, Clutch of the Undercity, Consult the Necrosages, Darkblast, Dark Confidant, Dimir Cutpurse, Dimir Guildmage, Dimir Machinations, Dimir Signet, Last Gasp, Lurking Informant, Mark of Eviction, Moonlight Bargain, Muddle the Mixture, Necroplasm, Nightmare Void, Peel from Reality, Quickchange, Remand, Telling Time, Wizened Snitches
The staple bounce spell looks more appealing now than when Echoing Truth was around, but I’m not sure that it has a place in any of these decks. Erayo-based decks really would’ve preferred Unsummon to remain in 9th Edition. Two-mana, after all, will probably be close to the top of U/B Erayo’s curve, and decks running Circu will choose Clutch of the Undercity over this more efficient option. Hopefully, your opponents won’t be playing Jitte, and it does seem as if this legendary artifact is, like George Galloway, rapidly departing from the mainstream.
Status: A possibility in all builds but not ideal in any of them.
This is being underrated at the moment. Besides its only being playable at sorcery-speed (which removes it from Erayo consideration), this Aura is just as good at killing Elves as any other piece of Black removal barring Darkblast, and it’s arguably the best option available against opposing Dragons. For more discussion, see the commentary on Last Gasp.
Status: Highly playable in Erayo-free Circu decks.
Clutch of the Undercity:
Clutch of the Undercity is a bad card. Delivering three damage to the dome isn’t the first priority of a Control deck and could even be a disadvantage when you consider that the spell can’t favorably be used to save one of your creatures. I’ll run Clutch of the Undercity anyway. Clutch of the Undercity can Trasnmute for Circu, Cranial Extraction, Eradicate, Hideous Laughter, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, and, I’ve heard tell, Elvis. The four mana slot happens to be the most crucial in Circu decks, and even if this sub-par bounce spell is merely used to find the Lobotomist himself, it’s still worthwhile. Taking a toolbox approach and aggressive sideboard with four mana spells is also something I’d like to look into in the future, but limited time precluded sideboard testing.
Status: A staple for Circu decks.
Consult the Necrosages:
If the four mana region contains a Circu deck’s engine, the three mana slot holds its nuts and bolts, and Consult the Necrosages comes under stiff competition. First of all, it needs to be understood that no one would be talking about this card at all if it weren’t multi-colored and didn’t trigger Circu twice. Anytime after the early game, the discard ability is next to useless as only an idiot holds onto important cards while Circu’s in play, and if you net anything, it’ll probably only be extra copies of what Circu has removed from the game. One could complain about sorcery-speed card drawing, but that’s really all we have in Standard. If you want to run a Circu deck with a lower than usual mana curve, Consult the Necrosages should be a consideration, but in the end, it might not be better than just another counterspell or piece of removal.
Status: Somewhat playable in Circu decks.
Cranial Extraction is always beautiful and is particularly so here. While Cranial Extraction doesn’t exactly duplicate Circu’s function, it certainly compliments it. It removes problem cards like Kodama of the North Tree, the Dragons, Sensei’s Divining-Top, and opposing Cranial Extractions, cards that must be dealt with. It also helps against Dredge strategies. Obviously, if a Green deck has North Tree in its opening hand, U/B Circu will have trouble playing Cranial Extraction first, but with Clutch of the Undercity acting as a tutor, anything’s possible. More worrisome though is what happens when an opponent snatches away your Circus with her own Cranial Extraction. This is probably the best argument for U/B Circu running counterspells and mana acceleration.
Status: Must be present in some quantity in Circu decks.
After Rend Spirit, this is probably the most playable of the three mana removal spells. The question is, “What creatures can you remove with Dark Banishing that you can’t with, say, Last Gasp?” Dark Banishing is usually great at getting rid of large creatures, but at the moment, the largest creatures I can imagine being played are Kodama of the North Tree, Kokusho, Keiga, Grave-Shell Scarab, Meloku, Moroii, Helldozer, Gleancrawler, Mindleech Mass, and Myojin of Night’s Reach. All of these except Keiga and Meloku can’t be targeted by Dark Banishing.
Status: Barring Quickchange, not in this metagame.
This spell has style, and it irritates that I just can’t find room for it in my decks. It shows a lot promise with Erayo, but usually, I’ll be willing to pay that extra mana for Last Gasp. The Dredge ability is decent (especially when you have a Divining-Top you don’t need anymore), but these kinds of decks will only rarely want to use it in the early game when it is most powerful.
Status: A possibility for Erayo decks.
At first glance, Dark Confidant appears to be Erayo’s little slice of heaven, only without all the clouds. Combined with Blue’s ultra-cheap library manipulation and Sensei’s Divining-Top, Dark Confidant is a cheaper Phyrexian Arena on wheels. Sure, sometimes the Wizard will punish you for drawing Hypnotic Specter, but other times, it’ll lap up Swamps and Islands like they’re warm milk mixed with honey (and further down the line, mixed with yet more metaphors). Dark Confidant’s trouble is that, in Control decks, this little card-drawing machine threatens to kill you before you can kill your opponent, no matter how much you’re spinning the Top.
Additionally, it seems as though many armchair deck-builders are forgetting the ubiquity of painlands and Watery Grave when discussing the merits of Dark Confidant and Moroii. This isn’t to say that Dark Confidant has no place in an Erayo deck, just that it’s far from an auto-include in every Black deck of the day. In any case, unless you plan on never casting Dark Confidant until you have Sensei’s Divining-Top in play, the Wizard’s inclusion means that Dragons (of both the Keiga and Kokusho varieties) are out. To me, Keiga and Kokusho are the best things since sliced heaven, so it’ll take a lot of convincing to stop me from running them in U/B decks. Again though, Dark Confidant is spectacular in a dedicated Erayo deck; it might even be the card that makes the deck possible. With oodles of library manipulation and few cards costing over two mana, Dark Confidant will only occasionally lose you more life than the damage it deals to your opponent.
Status: A must in Erayo decks but questionable elsewhere. I might like it in Mono-Black Aggro, but that isn’t an archetype I’m considering now.
Hampered only by its lack of evasion, Dimir Cutpurse is one of the sauciest creatures imaginable and is sure to find a place in U/B Aggro. Even though both Circu and Erayo decks prefer their sauce a bit thinner than Dimir Cutpurse, the creature’s clearly too good not to consider, especially in a Circu deck filled with creature removal. For Circu’s sake, it’s multi-colored as well.
Status: A possible threat card across the board.
There are two things Dimir Guildmage has going for it: It’s a 2/2 for two mana, and it’s multi-colored. The last of these only matters in Circu decks (decks which run so few threats that they have no place for all but the most exceptional 2/2s).
Status: Not our cup of tea, especially since the sorcery-speed abilities prevent our playing countermagic.
It seems as though some people are still under the impression that milling is card advantage. Even this kind of selective milling isn’t worth wasting a card on. If I want to mill away an opponent, I’m looking for either repeatable effects or massive effects like Traumatize.
Status: Anyway, I’m not interested in milling away an opponent.
Dimir Signet/Fellwar Stone:
Some Circu decks will want acceleration, both to rush out Circu himself and to beat opponents to Cranial Extraction. Considering the prevalence of Pithing Needle, most decks should run a split of Dimir Signet and Fellwar Stone. Dimir Signet is usually slightly better, but the difference is negligible. While Dimir Signet can produce mana of the colors you want, you won’t always want mana in both of those colors (in the case of Muddle the Mixture and Kiku’s Shadow for example), and the Signet won’t ever let you cast Sleight of Hand on turn 2. Conversely, there will be times when Fellwar Stone produces nothing but White mana.
Status: Suggested for Circu decks.
Disrupting Shoal: This is only a consideration for pure Erayo decks. Even there, it will be fairly useless outside of flipping Erayo.
Status: So long as Sickening Shoal is around, Disrupting Shoal is unwanted.
Exile into Darkness:
I haven’t had the chance to test Exile into Darkness, but I can imagine it being an excellent, reusable Circu trigger against some decks. Unfortunately, Circu tends to strand a lot of cards in opposing hands, and it’s unclear just how frequently you’ll get Exile into Darkness back in your hand. This looks best against White Weenie, but there, wouldn’t you rather just run Hideous Laughter? [Not with Glorious Anthem running around in every decklist, no. – Knut]
Status: A possible sideboard card for Circu decks.
The centerpiece of Kamigawa Block’s most dominant deck looks as though it could benefit Circu decks. In the already overstuffed four-slot, however, what do we take out? Already, Muddle the Mixture and Clutch of the Undercity can tutor for most of the deck’s spells, and while they don’t yield card advantage, they can both do things on their own when it comes down to it. Erayo might find Gifts Ungiven useful as a method of restocking the hand for a mid-game flip, but this will please neither Dark Confidant nor the mana “curve”.
Status: Best in highly redundant Circu decks but probably not even good enough there.
I can’t imagine many matchups where Hero’s Demise wouldn’t be useful, if only because it can kill most of the creatures your more general removal can’t. This isn’t Kamigawa Block, however, and the best creatures won’t always be legendary. Gleancrawler, Helldozer, Grave-Shell Scarab, and Moroii are all fat, non-legendary threats that laugh-off Hero’s Demise, Eradicate, and Dark Banishing. Nonetheless, when it comes to killing Meloku, Keiga, and Kokusho, nothing does the job better. I can’t, at the moment, think of a deck that doesn’t have some targets for the spell, and even if those targets are Isamaru, Hound of Konda or Hokori, Dust Drinker, you wouldn’t be able to kill them any more cheaply than with Hero’s Demise.
Status: Perhaps deserving of a single, tutor-able copy in Erayo and Circu decks.
A useful piece of any Circu toolbox approach, Hideous Laughter is yet another circumstantially powerful card stuck in four mana limbo. There are a heck of a lot of decks – more than most people think – that won’t be too bothered by Hideous Laughter. By the time you can cast it against a Green deck, all those Elves may well have already done their work. Besides cleaning up against White Weenie, the bottom half of U/B Aggro’s curve, and G/B Hypnotic Specters that have already been working your hand like an overused (No, seriously. I won’t stoop that low.), Hideous Laughter is merely Sickening Shoal fodder. Weenie decks may well be prominently on display in the near future though.
Status: A must for Circu sideboards and a toolbox 1-of. Depending on the metagame, this could be very powerful.
In a Circu deck, Hinder works a lot like Time Ebb, and these two spells can be expected to clog the three-mana slot of Circu builds, sometimes pushing out other reasonably powerful archetype cards like Consult the Necrosages. It’s important to note that timing rules dictate that you play another spell before your opponent redraws her countered spell if you want to remove it (this assuming that you chose to place the spell on the top of the library).
Status: Amazing with Circu, but mana constraints and sorcery-speed removal could be a thorn in Hinder’s side.
When your opponents play Hypnotic Specter against your Circu deck, you won’t have to feel too bad. You might have trouble dealing with Dragons, but Specters are something you can handle. Tragically (yes, in the classical sense), this means that your opponents will probably be able to handle your own Specters too. Neither U/B Erayo nor U/B Circu has much room for finishers, so those that you play need to count. This holds true for Dimir Cutpurse as well, and playing either of these creatures is deck-warping in the sense that they require either that you play more removal or something like Veil of Secrecy.
Status: A possible threat for all of these decks.
I haven’t tested Ideas Unbound in U/B Erayo yet, but I sure want to. One problem with Ideas Unbound is that even if you have the mana to play the cards you’ve drawn, it doesn’t stand to reason that you’ll have the opportunity to play them to any good end. After all, a good portion of your spells will usually be countermagic.
Status: This definitely deserves consideration in removal-heavy U/B Erayo builds.
It’s a sorcery with double-black in the costing cast, but Kiku’s Shadow is most versatile of all Black’s Standard removal spells (except for Putrefy of course). The only relevant creatures it won’t be able to handle are Kodama of the North Tree and Meloku. There are also opposing Circus and so forth, but those kinds of utility creatures are easily manhandled by your lower-end removal.
Status: The best removal available outside of Erayo builds.
The more I play with Sickening Shoal, the less I like it and the more I like Last Gasp. Unless you’re willing to bite the card disadvantage, Sickening Shoal costs five mana to do what Last Gasp does for two. As an instant, Last Gasp is preferable over Kiku’s Shadow in Erayo decks and counterspell-heavy Circu constructions. The real competition for Last Gasp comes from an unexpected source, the criminally underrated Clinging Darkness. Against Elves, Watchwolf, Hypnotic Specter, Dimir Cutpurse, and just about everything in White Weenie besides Hokori, these two removal options are about equal. Last Gasp, however, has the advantage of actually killing cards like Circu and Hokori. On the other hand, Clinging Darkness can greatly disable monstrous creatures that are otherwise prone only to Kiku’s Shadows and very large Sickening Shoals. Certainly, there are few better means of disabling Kokusho. On a more tricksy note, Clinging Darkness has synergy with Mark Eviction: By playing both auras on the same creature, you can truly take it out of the combat equation (though at the steep cost of three mana per turn), and if, at some point, Circu or Cranial Extraction either removes the bounced creature from the game or makes it unplayable, you’ll still have your Clinging Darkness around to let you start the process all over again.
Status: Last Gasp is superior to Clinging Darkness in countermagic-heavy decks and Erayo decks. In testing though, I’ve been extremely happy putting Clinging Darkness in Circu decks that do most of their business during the main phase.
It’s a neat ability to have, especially on a multi-colored body, but the activation cost means that it just isn’t worth it. If the top card of your opponent’s library is something you want to remove with Circu, you might not have any mana left to remove it with.
So far as general countering goes, Mana Leak is still the best counterspell in Standard. In U/B Erayo and U/B Circu though, Muddle the Mixture is not only a hard counter for the spells you most want to stop (the spells threatening your keystone creatures), but is also a tutor for either Erayo or removal. Despite costing one mana more, Hinder is at least thematically superior to Mana Leak in these decks.
Status: A good all-around counterspell that is less useful now, in the halcyon days of Green acceleration, than ever before. This might have some place in one of our decks, but I suspect those slots would be better devoted to removal or other coutnerspells.
Mark of Eviction:
Mark of Eviction is an odd card. If you’re looking for an old-fashioned, Prairie Home Companion-style bounce spell, this aura just isn’t going to cut the heaven. Unlike Unsummon of days of yore, Mark of Eviction lets the creature it targets hit you once before vaulting it back from whence it came. And then, next time around, after the creature has been re-cast, Mark of Eviction lets it attack again. There are three reasons we’re looking at this truly mediocre form of bounce at all, and those are Circu, Erayo, and Clinging Darkness. Obviously, Circu likes it went you play one mana spells every turn, and if you take the advice given above (see Last Gasp’s entry) and enchant the Marked creature with Clinging Darkness, Circu will be just ecstatic. Erayo, meanwhile, loves the chance to counter an extra spell each turn. Without Clinging Darkness, Mark of Eviction loses much of its appeal, simply because a deck like U/B Circu can’t afford to take damage from opposing threats every other turn.
Status: You need to build your deck around this feller.
Although Moonlight Bargain is a great card, none of the decks we’re considering are right for it. It costs too much mana for Erayo and too much life for Circu. There may well be some debate on this point, yet U/B Circu is not a deck which puts enough pressure on opponents or gains enough life to make Moonlight Bargain reasonable.
Status: I’d rather play Gifts Ungiven alongside Circu, and honestly, I wouldn’t even do that.
Muddle the Mixture:
This is the best new counterspell we’ve seen in ages and is especially powerful in the decks we’re looking at today. Its countering ability aside, Muddle the Mixture can Transmute for Erayo and most of your creature removal, even a lone copy of Hero’s Demise to shoot down a particularly dangerous critter. Even on purely counterspell-y level, a U/B deck probably has more use for this than for Mana Leak. This baby stops everything that might want to kill Erayo or Circu short of Myojin of Cleansing Fire and Channeled Ghost-Lit Raider and Jiwari, the Earth Aflame.
Status: Whether it’s Kiku’s Shadow, Cranial Extraction, Final Judgment, or Gifts Ungiven you’re after, Muddle the Mixture is your only man. Just like a pint of plain.
Necroplasm is getting far too much hype at the moment. Disregarding any potential “combos” with Hunted Horror, this is just a slow, fragile White Weenie slayer. In the White Weenie matchup, Necroplasm’s recursion will only rarely be of any use; after all, it’s a full six turns before the Ooze kills two-drops twice. It should be recalled that the decks this is best against are also the decks most like to run Jitte.
Status: Inferior to Hideous Laughter.
I could think of worse possible finishers, and it’s nice that this could be Transmuted with Muddle the Mixture. Still, the G/B decks against which the Rat is best are well-equipped to kill it the moment it lands on the board. Additionally, Nezumi Graverobber would be one of the few Pithing Needle targets in the deck. None of this changes the fact that there’s no better answer to Dredge and that, out of the sideboard, the Rat could always be called up by a Transmuting Muddle the Mixture.
Status: Our U/B Control decks don’t have enough slots for something this fragile maindeck, but you can bet your daisies (all two of ’em) that Nezumi Graverobber is a sideboard necessity against G/B and Gifts.
Night of Souls’ Betrayal:
Like Hideous Laughter, Night of Souls’ Betrayal has been getting more press than it should. Yeah, it kills infinite Elves, but by the time you get to drop it, those Elves may already have pumped out a real threat. Mind you, Night of Souls’ Betrayal also makes those huge threats a bit easier to kill, but I’m not sure this is enough.
Status: A possible sideboard or toolbox card against Weenie and Green strategies.
One of the cards Circu truly hates to see is Sensei’s Diving-Top. In pure Circu decks, Cranial Extraction gives us an out against the omnipresent artifact, but when Circu and Erayo work together, Cranial Extraction is simply too expensive. Enter Pithing Needle.
Status: A must against Umezawa’s Jitte and Sensei’s Divining-Top in U/B Erayo/Circu.
This presently unplayed counterspell is a tempting sideboard option, but as every MUC player discovers in testing, you can counter all the spells you’d like, but that won’t stop Ghost-Lit Stalker. Nevertheless, Quashing Cranial Extraction sounds, at least, amazing, and I could imagine a very counter-heavy Circu deck keeping a couple of these hidden away in the sideboard.
Status: Probably unplayable on account of its costing four mana but could be a sideboard one-of for the toolbox.
The only reason to play Quickchange would be to power-up Eradicate. You’re getting a lot for six mana when you try the two cards out together, but threats worth spending six mana on are usually threats 1) that your B/G opponent has been able to play long before you’ve reached six mana or 2) that are protected by countermagic. You could do much better than playing a Cycler. Unlike Mindbend, Quickchange won’t even help you kill Hand of Honor prior to the endgame.
Status: Highly unlikely and only as a compliment to Eradicate in high-end Circu decks.
Colorless mana is death to this deck, and the usual “counts more as a spell than a land” argument doesn’t apply since, in Circu’s and Erayo’s eyes, Quicksand isn’t a spell at all.
Status: Sadly, no.
Assuming a flipped Erayo, Remand actually results in card advantage, which is pretty good considering that it’s also one of the best spells to use to flip Erayo with. This is a top-notch time-buyer and, in a focused Erayo deck, better than Mana Leak.
Status: A must-have for Erayo. In the mid-game, it will even be better than Muddle the Mixture.
Rend Flesh/Rend Spirit:
There are lots of Spirits you’d like to Rend and quite a bit of Flesh as well. That doesn’t mean that a card which can do only one or the other is incredibly good. Almost always, Hero’s Demise will be better.
Status: There’s superior overly-limited Black removal to choose from.
This and Dark Confidant make U/B Erayo work. A lack of library manipulation and shuffling in Circu-centric decks causes Divining-Top to be less impressive there. When Erayo and Circu get together, Divining-Top is likewise a no-no since you’ll be aiming for Pithing Needle naming the Top. I’d be more likely to play this if it weren’t colorless.
Status: A necessity in U/B Erayo.
Sickening Shoal sits awkwardly as both a spell that costs nothing to cast and a spell that wants you to run expensive spells. In Erayo decks, you have to try to think of it merely as a flipper, not as brilliant removal. Sickening Shoal does get better as the game wears on and you accumulate more mana, but used as such, it’s just a worse Disembowel. The threat of a large Sickening Shoal in the early game is a sad necessity, especially since you really don’t want to be tossing away your finishers too often. The tall and the short of it is, Sickening Shoal is will rarely kill opposing monsters without the sacrifice of one of your precious Dragons, and it’s a pretty bad deal as a killer of two- and three-mana creatures as well.
Status: A star Erayo-flipper and decent user of redundant four-mana Black cards. It may be heretical, but I usually prefer Clinging Darkness, Last Gasp, and Kiku’s Shadow.
Sleight of Hand:
Even though this isn’t the ideal replacement for Serum Visions, it’s all we have. There’s not much to complain about with a one-mana Erayo and Circu trigger that offers minute card selection while replacing itself. Some Circu decks will have better users for their mana though, especially if they’re counter-heavy.
Status: Necessary in Erayo decks and good if unexciting elsewhere.
Instant-speed makes all the difference. Enough has already been said about this card by others. In any case, you’ll never go wrong with Telling Time.
Status: A staple in some numbers across the board.
Time Ebb is probably even better than Hinder in a Circu deck although, admittedly, a good deal of the reason for this is because so many of the good Circu cards are countermagic-impeding sorceries like Time Ebb. Even without Circu around, Time Ebb will usually represent a significant tempo gain and, as a non-Black spell, can remove such pests as Hand of Honor.
Status: If you’re playing Circu, there’s no reason whatsoever not to play a full set of Time Ebb.
I can imagine many occasions when an Erayo deck would appreciate Twincast, but I’m not sure that the mana and removal/countermagic/finisher balance could support it. Twincast is more interesting in Circu decks where it could do twisted things with the likes of Cranial Extraction and Time Ebb. In either case, I haven’t tested it.
Status: Doubtful, but I wouldn’t rule it out.
Veil of Secrecy:
Veil of Secrecy may appear to be the odd man out in this list of power cards and poor removal, but in a deck running Erayo and/or Circu as well as creatures like Dimir Cutpurse and Hypnotic Specter, the instant virtually guarantees card advantage. The tutoring ability on Muddle the Mixture combined with Muddle’s aptitude at countering Final Judgment means that Veil of Secrecy will never really replace the true counterspell. Against removal-heavy opponents, however, you’ll need more than just Muddle the Mixture to protect your creatures. What we have to ask is, “Is Veil of Secrecy better than another real counterspell?” Probably not, yet its aiding of Hypnotic Specter and Dimir Cutpurse could push it over the competition.
Status: Definitely playable but not quite worthwhile unless you have some creatures you’re depending on to deal combat damage.
That, my friend, was a really, really large bundle of cards we just looked at. I feel like I’m doing my Mono-Green article series again. Those analyses were a mix of the theory which shaped my testing and the results of this testing. I have not, obviously, had the chance to create tuned versions of any of the deck types in question, and the deck lists given below are not thoroughly tested on account of them all having been more or less altered since the initial testing phase.
The previous notes concerning individual cards are so extensive that I’ll limit my analyses of the decks themselves to only what did not appear above. First off is:
4 Sensei’s Diving-Top
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Telling Time
3 Sickening Shoal
4 Muddle the Mixture
2 Last Gasp
2 Hero’s Demise
4 Dark Confidant
4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
3 Hypnotic Specter
2 Yukora, the Prisoner
This deck requires that you flip Erayo as soon as possible. I wouldn’t suggest it in fields with much Aggro, but it has some game against Control. Now that Isochron Scepter has rotated out, and it’s safe for Wizards to make cheap, strong instants again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the block added a lot to this deck. So many low-end, low-mana spells means that, as far as Underground River is concerned, you’re not getting much bang for your plummeting life total. Self-inflicting pain to cast Cranial Extraction is far more palatable than doing so for Remand. Nevertheless, some normally wimpy spells truly shine here. Besides Transmuting for 43% of the cards in your deck (including the vital Erayo), Muddle the Mixture offers protection for Erayo while it’s in either creature or enchantment form.
Here, Dark Confidant is hardly a liability at all, even if you don’t have Divining-Top around. Yukora, the Prisoner can hurt sometimes, and I’ve never liked playing with this particular Demon, but it’s certainly less painful drawing Yukora with Dark Confidant than it is drawing Kokusho.
Things get more problematic when we try to build an Erayo/Circu fusion deck:
3 Pithing Needle
3 Sleight of Hand
4 Telling Time
2 Last Gasp
4 Muddle the Mixture
4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
4 Time Ebb
4 Circu, Dimir Lobotomist
2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Keiga, the Tide Star
Although cheap card selectors are great triggers for both Erayo and Circu, they don’t exactly help you win the game, a particularly salient point when you consider that this deck only rarely flips Erayo without help from opponents. You have to play this more as traditional Blue Control. Hinder and Time Ebb, the ultimate Circu-helpers, make their appearances here, but unless you either have Circu out or need to use it to survive, I don’t suggest playing Time Ebb aggressively as doing so leaves you prone to all sorts of shenanigans during your opponent’s turn. Some Hinder and Remand could be replaced with Kiku’s Shadow (make sure to tweak the mana if you do), permitting you to cheat a bit on tapping out during your own turn, but this makes flipping Erayo even more difficult. Even if this deck has more trouble flipping Erayo than its predecessor, the simple threat of a flipped Erayo will often keep opponents playing fair. I, personally, would think twice about setting up my weenie rush if I was looking across the table at an Erayo and an opponent with some open mana and a full hand.
Again, the lack of Sensei’s Divining Top is due to Pithing Needle, your own weapon against opposing Tops. Divining Top is this deck’s greatest enemy; you don’t want opponents using your Circu to get rid of their libraries’ excess land. It’s also worth noting that, without the Top, the deck includes no cards with activated abilities.
Attempts to create a U/B Circu deck took me in a few different directions. The idea behind this first build is to abuse Circu as thoroughly as possible, hoping to gain massive, crippling card advantage:
U/B Circu v. 1
4 Telling Time
2 Dimir Signet
2 Fellwar Stone
4 Muddle the Mixture
3 Kiku’s Shadow
4 Time Ebb
4 Circu, Dimir Lobotomist
4 Clutch of the Undercity
4 Cranial Extraction
2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
1 Keiga, the Tide Star
A deck like this is willing to give up on one-drops entirely since Pithing Needle doesn’t trigger Circu and Sleight of Hand does very little besides triggering Circu. The presence of mana accelerators in the two mana slot points to this deck’s significantly higher curve and explains part of how the deck can run without Sleight of Hand’s land-sifting work.
Although less impressive here than in any of the other decks we’ve considered, Muddle the Mixture can still protect Circu or Transmute into removal or mana. Including Clutch of the Undercity means that you’ll rarely be lacking either Circu or Cranial Extraction. Part of the sideboard could be made into a four mana toolbox (Night of Soul’s Betrayal, Hideous Laughter, Eradicate). The combination of bounce and Cranial Extraction also acts as a rather convoluted method of getting rid of Umezawa’s Jitte.
A deck like this shows a lot of promise. Its core of countermagic and Cranial Extraction gives it power against Gifts while Kiku’s Shadow, Hinder, and Time Ebb are all strong against Green/x Aggro decks. Although weak against weenie decks in Game One, aggressive sideboarding could make Games Two and Three very competitive. It will always be tough to know what to name with Cranial Extraction, but in absence of any better ideas and assuming your opponent can produce Black mana, go for opposing Cranial Extractions since they can, simply wipe you out. Afterwards, get to work on things like Kodama of the North Tree and the Dragons.
Below is a rather more aggressive and removal-heavy build:
This build attempts far less Circu-tricks than the last one. As mentioned previously, Veil of Secrecy can serve a dual role in this kind of deck by both protecting Circu and ensuring that Dimir Cutpurse and Hypnotic Specter slide past defenses. In any case, assuming that Dimir Cutpurse and Hypnotic Specter aren’t themselves the target of removal, the deck’s creature destruction spells and Time Ebb ought to ensure that you net considerable card advantage over the course of a game. With less real disruption besides its creature-based discard, this deck could have problems against Control. Also, the presence of Dimir Cutpurse and Hypnotic Specter make Hideous Laughter much less pleasant.
It’s important to remember that Circu requires protection. Once an individual Circu card leaves play, all of the permanents it had banned are suddenly fair game again. So, even if counter-light Circu builds appear more consistent and powerful on the surface, they’re not necessarily the best choice.
Circu-inclusive Combo decks and more traditional milling strategies might be viable, but I haven’t looked into these at all. As for what I’ve tested so far, I don’t believe that any of it is capable of surviving in an Aggro-dominated field, but some of it looks pretty nasty against Control and Aggro-Control. Considerable work still needs to be done on all of the deck types presented here and special attention paid to Mark of Eviction tricks, a realm I’m desperately interested in but had decided was too peripheral from the focus of general U/B Erayo, U/B Circu, and U/B Erayo/Circu decks.
Good luck with the most evil guild in town.