Until the”splash” counterspells arrived in Invasion and Apocalypse (Absorb, Undermine, Mystic Snake, and Suffocating Blast), blue’s primary strategy simply didn’t work in multiplayer. It probably still doesn’t, but at least now it has a fighting chance.
If you stick to mono-blue, the program is the same always: You bounce, you slow down, you control, you steal, you slither into the win.
While not many new cards are on this list (and no Invasion block cards are in the top 10 at all), no other color was re-evaluated as thoroughly as blue under the new rating system. Propaganda’s stock fell a bit, and some cards (like Cowardice) shot right up there. As subjective as these animal ratings can be, they do force me to be more consistent. I think that gives readers a better sense of what really influences multiplayer games, and for how long.
25. LIVING AIRSHIP
[3U, 2/3 Creature. 2G: Regenerate.]
Similar cards: I believe Ghost Ship was the last substantial blue flyer to regenerate.
A purely defensive card in early group play, the Airship sends a viable signal that attacking you is not worth the effort. It then transforms into a decent attacker for the late game. So simple, and so elegant.
Enhancements: Awakening both untaps your regenerator, and the mana to regenerate it.
Countermeasures: You don’t need to kill it; you just need to roll over it with, say, a Cradle Guard. I find that many players see a good blocker like the Airship, and even with extra resources don’t bother to attack. This can be a mistake: If you can get the Airship to regenerate (and therefore tap), the next opponent’s view of the board will change.
[1U, Kicker 1R, Instant. Return target creature to its owner’s hand. If you paid the kicker cost, Jilt deals 2 damage to another target creature.]
Surprise – another splash slot! Jilt is just too good to ignore, and in multiplayer you have a great opportunity to make up the natural card disadvantage that every other card in your deck suffers. Use it to save your own creature and burn an early annoyance; or in the mid-game to ruin an attack, or in the late game to push through for the last bit of damage on that final opponent.
Enhancements: Imagine this: Someone puts down a Royal Assassin. You put down an Aether Flash, one turn too late. Later, another player (or maybe the same one) puts down Hidden Horror, which takes two from the Flash. You bounce the Assassin, and do an additional two to the Horror.
Countermeasures: How about a high-toughness creature you can play at instant speed? Fleetfoot Panther and Simian Grunts.
23. UNNATURAL SELECTION
[1U Enchantment. 1: Choose a creature type other than Wall. Target creature becomes that type until end of turn.]
A boutique card, Unnatural Selection only works in very specialized decks, and with the following enhancements (and probably no others):
Enhancements: Extinction and Engineered Plague can put negative pressure on your opponent’s creatures. Coat of Arms can put positive pressure on your own creatures. And while you can’t turn other creature types into Walls… You can turn your Walls, like Sunweb and Shifting Wall, into something else so they can attack.
Otherwise, you’re just waiting for someone to play out duplicates of a single card, so you can turn one into a legend. I saw Gary do this once to a Thunderscape Familiar. It just made me want to cry.
Countermeasures: I’m not certain you want to metagame against a deck built around such an unusual card. If you’re the particularly peculiar type, you could build your own deck around Unnatural Selection, which honestly is the most consistent defense against itself. But if having your creatures targeted with such an innocuous ability is bothering you so much, just play with Yavimaya Barbarians, Bloated Toads, and Gumas. (Gumae?)
22. PSYCHIC BATTLE
[3UU Enchantment. Whenever a player chooses one or more targets, each player reveals the top card of his or her library. The player who reveals the card with the highest converted mana cost may change the target or targets. If two or more cards are tied for highest cost, the target or targets remain unchanged.]
Another boutique card, and boutique cards lose a bit across all elements because they work so inconsistently. The potential for fun is certainly there.
Enhancements and Countermeasures: There’s a whole series of cards we all think of when we think of high converted mana cost: Draco, Aura Mutation, Pyromancy, and so on. While you’re playing with such expensive spells, you might spare a thought for Dream Halls. Most opponents will do well enough with a straightforward, rigorous deck capable of withstanding the occasional minor setback.
21. BLIND SEER
[2UU, 3/3 Creature (Legend). 1U: Target permanent or spell becomes the color of your choice.]
Similar cards: Tidal Visionary can change permanents’ colors; Vodalian Mystic can change spells’ colors. Neither is nearly as useful as Urza in disguise.
Of course, we all know one of the major themes in Invasion block was color play; and this is a defining card for that theme. The white portion to the Hall of Fame had far too much color-play in it, and Blind Seer matches up well with most of it. It’s also a good card in its own right, and in other interactions, such as:
Enhancements: The Invasion bears are natural choices, as is Voice of All for greater flexibility. But why not use the Seer more aggressively, in a black or red deck, to negate the overdone protection from those oft-besieged colors? You can also use with Teferi’s Moat, or Crusade, or Magistrate’s Veto, or any one of a hundred color-hosers ranging from Perish to Light of Day to Anarchy.
Countermeasures: If the Seer deck contains multiple protection effects, it’s probably easier to stop those effects. If the Seer deck contains protection-hosing effects, then it’s probably easier to get rid of the Seer.
20. FOG BANK
[1U, 0/2 Creature. Flying. Fog Bank does not deal or receive combat damage.]
Similar cards: The bank has built-in Gaseous Form, a creature enchantment that’s rarely worth it, but looks a lot better when incorporated into a cheap, flying wall.
One of the best early drops in the group game, the Bank is flexible enough to fit into both aggressive and control strategies. It’s a great card to have eight or twelve copies of, since you’ll have multiple decks running two to four of them at any given time.
Enhancements: Since they are vulnerable to burn and other removal, you should expect them to be targets as more aggressive players try to open the game up. This is a good time for Misdirection, Liberate, and other removal-thwarters.
Countermeasures: The green mage will trample, the red mage will burn, the white mage will Plow, the black mage will Terror, and the blue mage will play his own Fog Bank, so they can just stare at each other.
[3UU Instant. Return all lands to owners’ hands.]
Like many of the cards low on blue’s list, Sunder is very specialized in its function. Having land cards in your hand (or an opponent’s hand) is only desirable in very specific situations. But it also serves as an excellent countermeasure to otherwise unstoppable spells – Obliterate, Acidic Soil, Armageddon, even Natural Affinity if it’s being abused.
Enhancements: Blood Oath/Sunder decks have been tried with moderate success. You might also try a little fun with Dirtcowl Wurm, and/or Storm Cauldron, and/or Horn of Greed. (Also a very nasty follow-up to a fourth-turn Viseling – The Ferrett)
Countermeasures: Just play Spellshapers. If it really bothers you, play Land’s Edge.
18. WASH OUT
[3U Sorcery. Return all permanents of the color of your choice to their owners’ hands.]
Wash Out actually taught me a bit about the timing between first main phase and combat phase. At the Invasion Prerelease, I had Wash Out in my hand, a Zanam Djinn and Treva the Renewer (tapped, with his Shackles) on the board, and there were something like two other blue creatures (mine) and four green creatures (his) on the board. I announced my intention to attack, and he announced his desire to tap the Djinn with his Thornscape Apprentice (which now tapped him out of white mana).
Checking in with a judge, I learned that I could now resume my first main phase and play sorceries. So I could Wash Out green, which would not only wipe out his army, but bring Treva back to my hand and get rid of the Shackles in timely fashion. (My Shoreline Raider could also attack with impunity that turn.)
I bring all of this up since Wash Out is the kind of sorcery you might want to play before your attack phase, and you should know that when you pass priority in your first main phase, you only slip right into combat if no one does anything. If you expect someone to do something, you might in some special situations want to wait before casting the Wash Out…
Enhancements: Sway of Illusion is the natural complement. And like Sunder, why not play a Blood Oath, if you know someone’s holding five black enchantments?
Countermeasures: Without the color manipulation, artifact decks are unwashable.
[3U Instant. You may return two islands to your hand instead of paying the casting cost. Tap all creatures.]
Similar cards: Breaking Wave, a sorcery that can be played as an instant, taps all untapped creatures and untaps all tapped creatures.
The best time to Ensnare is at the end of your last opponent’s turn. Like Thieves’ Auction and a few other red cards above, Ensnare hurts those players to your immediate right the most.
Enhancements and Countermeasures: Creatures that can still operate abilities when tapped, such as Hate Weaver, Skyshroud Elf, and Masticore, work best in a snare.
16. ARCANE LABORATORY
[2U Enchantment. Each player cannot play more than one spell per turn.]
As with several white spells in the Hall, the”rattlesnake” element of Arcane Laboratory is asterisked, since it often reduces the capability for retaliation in the first place. But if you forced me to assign a number there, it would be a low one, since the Lab can’t threaten much of anything on its own.
The zero rating on pigeon is a bit harsh: For the first few opponents, you gain a bit from the ability to play instants on their turn as well. But after about three opponents, the Lab suffers in usefulness as your ability to control the board with it disintegrates.
Enhancements: Almost every other permanent you cast ought to have a (cheap) activated ability; that way, you can stay frosty throughout the game without casting spells. Urza’s Blueprints, Ertai (either version), even lands like Quicksand are all helpful supplements to an Arcane Lab strategy.
Countermeasures: Token generators like Verdant Force, The Hive, and Breeding Pit will allow you to get troops on the board without casting additional spells every turn.
[2U Instant. Each player discards his or her hand and draws cards equal to the greatest number a player discarded this way.]
The more players there are, the more likely someone will have six or seven cards in their hand when this is played. They won’t care to lose those cards, but at least they’ll get them back – and everyone else should be rather happy on balance.
Enhancements: Black discard mages look at this, and Megrim, and see one of the few instant-speed sources of damage at their disposal.
Countermeasures: If you know someone has this in their deck, and you suspect that it is in or close to their hand (remember, it’s restricted), play out your hand as aggressively as you can. Otherwise, you’re depending on recursion like Regrowth and Volrath’s Stronghold.
14. DISTORTING WAKE
[XUUU Sorcery. Return X target nonland permanents to their owners’ hands.]
Both flexible and powerful, Distorting Wake is a one-shot game changer. Its effect doesn’t last too long… But for at least one round, you are free to impact the board nearly completely. You can make it easier for players to attack, or harder; make the game slower in overall pace, or faster.
Enhancements: As with most bounce, those cards with (a) kicker opportunities, (b) fading, and/or (c) comes into play abilities are all viable choices.
Countermeasures: Your options are limited. Untargetable creatures, so many non-land permanents that the blue mage cannot hope to pay X, or Aluren to get your creatures back at instant speed are all possibilities, but remote ones. Note that the Wake cannot target lands like Shivan Gorge, Gaea’s Cradle, or Rishadan Port (which can tap the blue mage’s third island during their upkeep).
13. LEGACY’S ALLURE
[UU Enchantment. During your upkeep, you may put a counter on Legacy’s Allure. Sacrifice Legacy’s Allure: Gain control permanently of target creature with power no greater than the number of counters on Legacy’s Allure.]
Similar cards: Dominating Licid and Overtaker are creatures that continually threaten your opponents’ best creatures. Empress Galina is even more threatening… But only to legends. All of these cards are based on Control Magic, which has spurred many spin-off cards ranging from Rootwater Matriarch to Dominate to Treachery.
One of the few, real threats blue can make is to seek control of a precious creature. When that creature can be used to block another player’s creature, things get even better. Legacy’s Allure threatens to take progressively larger creatures, at instant speed. Having two or three of these out gives any player a warm, fuzzy feeling.
Enhancements: If some creatures are out of reach, you could try power-sinking spells like Dega Disciple or Fevered Convulsions.
Countermeasures: Pump your creatures with Consume Strength, and/or put out reasonable bait (e.g., Cradle Guard), and keep the Avatar of Might in your hand until the coast is clear.
12. SHOVING MATCH
[2U Instant. Until end of turn, each creature gains”tap this creature: tap target creature”.]
Similar cards: Jolting Merfolk is a creature which gets four (fade counter) shots total at tapping.
You can use the Match to either aid an attacker (wait until attackers are declared, cast the Match, and use your creatures to remove blockers) or a defender (by playing the Match before attack phase is entered). You can also use it toward the end of your last opponent’s turn, to get an effect similar to an Ensnare (above).
Remember that creatures with summoning sickness technically also have the ability… But they can’t use it.
Enhancements: Horseshoe Crabs and Morphlings give you the most bang for your buck. Goblin Medics are efficient shovers. Nail a tapped creature with Shackles, Paralyze, or even the awe-inspiring Death Stroke!
Countermeasures: Ensnare, in response to the Match.
11. ALEXI, ZEPHYR MAGE
[3UU, 3/3 Creature (Legend). XU, Tap, Discard two cards from hand: Return X target creatures to owners’ hand.]
Similar cards: Evacuation, which simply returns all creatures to owners’ hands, and Curfew, which forces every player to pick just one creature to return to their hand. Waterfront Bouncer is a well-known mini-Alexi.
Better than Evacuation because she’s selective, better than Distorting Wake because she can do it at instant speed, and better than both because she can do it over again, Alexi is the cornerstone behind bounce decks. You shouldn’t try to do it without her. You need to do what she does more than once in a one-hour long, seven-player game.
Don’t forget that Alexi can save your own creatures, including herself.
Enhancements: Warped Devotion is my latest thought.
Countermeasures: If you think someone is ready to use Alexi, save the four mana you need for Congregate. If you’d rather see the creatures dead than return again, be ready with a Fault Line, or have a False Prophet on the table and a Shock in your hand.
[1UU Instant. Buyback: choose and discard two cards. Counter target spell.]
Similar cards: There are only four other cards that, on their own, provide reusable permission: The two versions of Ertai, and the two Stronghold spellshapers (Machinist and Biologist).
Rattlesnake: 1, then 8 after buyback
Spider: 8, then 1 after buyback
The”gorilla” and”plankton” elements depend heavily on what you are countering: Forbid looks very different when countering a Plague Wind than it does when you’re countering an Awakening.
Forbid is not an inexhaustible source of permission, but it does last long enough to stop the two or three largest threats to your game plan. Until Apocalypse came, Forbid was the only multiplayer counterspell worth its salt. It’s still the only choice in mono-blue.
Enhancements: Using Hesitation, you still are accepting card disadvantage; but it’s a bit better – three to get two, instead of two to get one – but your”rattlesnake” rating goes up considerably.
You can also enhance Forbid through your choice of discards. Try Coffin Puppets, or enchantments in preparation for a Replenish, or ditch lots of creature cards and then lay down a Necratog. Tournament players used Shard Phoenix as terrific complement to Forbid.
Countermeasures: While you may want to counter your own spell to fizzle Forbid’s buyback, a saner option would be Quash, or Null Brooch.
[1UU Instant. Buyback: 3. Return target permanent to owner’s hand.]
Similar cards: Temporal Adept, Tradewind Rider, and Time Elemental all have recurring bounce capability for permanents.
Rattlesnake: 1, then 8 after buyback
Spider: 8, then 1 after buyback
Capsize gets the nod over Forbid partly because it helps you deal with threats at a more leisurely pace, and partly because the capability exists (through various infinite loops, most of which involve Memory Crystal to shorten the buyback cost) to return every single permanent on the board to owners’ hands.
Enhancements: Beyond infinite loops, you can use Capsize very flexibly, both to bring back your Mystic Snake, or to save a chump-blocking utility creature like Bone Shredder.
Countermeasures: Fizzle the target, through any means available: Sackable permanents, direct damage, color protection, however. It’s worth the investment of a card not to have Capsize as a continual threat.
[U Enchantment. All other players play with hands revealed.]
Similar cards: Wandering Eye is a 1/3 flyer that exposes all hands, including your own.
Information is critical to the blue mage, more so than for any other. Knowing what you can counter, where to reinforce your defenses, and how you can set opponents against each other is all good. I had this card placed even higher last time; but I’ve relaxed a bit. You still do need a path to victory, or at least a way to stop others’ paths to victory.
The”rattlesnake” number depends on what other players reveal.
Enhancements: You really need the other decks revealed to show some strong cards. If they do, that’s all the enhancement you need.
Countermeasures: If you sport a modest deck with some slow and steady beatdown, you have the least to fear from Telepathy. Many decks with powerful instants shouldn’t mind others knowing what they have, either: Every Bolt is a Super-Seal of Fire. But you do have to be more careful to leave your mana open when it’s not your turn.
[1UU Enchantment. Whenever you successfully cast a creature spell, you may pay 1 to return target creature to owner’s hand.]
Ranging in reputation from innocuous pace card to horrible combo contributor, Equilibrium is a flexible form of control that allows for a bit of aggression – after all, you must be playing a few creatures in that deck, right?
Enhancements: Cards like Gilded Drake and Mystic Snake cannot bounce themselves – but they can still bounce each other. Aluren is the famous combo, to build a rigorous utility deck with lots of instant-speed solutions to a lot of problems.
Countermeasures: Beyond your own utility creatures (e.g., Monk Realist) that the blue mage won’t want to send back, all you really want is a darn Scour.
[2U Enchantment. Whenever an opponent attacks you, he or she must pay 2 for each attacking creature.]
Similar cards: The vastly inferior War Tax, with adjustable mana requirement, which will turn against its controller in multiplayer and beat you all by itself. Play Propaganda, not War Tax. Also, Collective Restraint has a Propaganda-styled effect that will work better for you if you’re playing three or more colors.
Long-time standard bearer of the blue list, I dropped this enchantment from its habitual #1 spot both to make players think a bit more, and also because its influence lies primarily in the early game, where other cards’ influence – even those with similarly strong”rattlesnake” elements – extend for longer.
Sixth on the list is still not shabby at all, though. And Propaganda still belongs in the vast majority of decks that can afford it. More than any other blue card, it gets better with each additional opponent you have.
Enhancements: For additional mana tie-up, put out Pendrell Mists. No Mercy along with Propaganda asks the question,”Who wants to spend two mana to destroy one of their own creatures?” The best enhancement, however, may be just another Propaganda. Multiple copies of this card give your strategy more staying power.
Countermeasures: As with so many creature-focused cards in the Hall, alternate paths to victory – burn, milling, etc. – simply don’t care about this sort of enchantment. Even creature decks can often just wait for the late game and pay the mana requirement.
[3UU Instant. You may remove a blue card in your hand from the game instead of paying Misdirection’s casting cost. Target spell with a single target now targets a legal target of your choice instead.]
Similar cards: Of course, Misdirection is the alternate casting cost version of Deflection, which gets second billing here due to Misdirection’s first-turn defense capability. Silver Wyvern is an impressive flyer with built-in Misdirection protection.
Spider: 11 (It goes to eleven – Nigel Ferrett)
A true”comfort card”, Misdirection wants you to tap out as much as possible, because it just can’t wait to send that Congregate, Urza’s Rage, or Agonizing Demise somewhere else. As long as you have it in your hand (with another blue card), 99% of the targeted spells out there cannot touch you…and you’re the only one who knows it.
Enhancements: Lots of small casting-cost blue cards that have conditional value or redundancy with multiple copies (e.g., Vision Charm, Soothsaying) are good fodder for Misdirection. Don’t play with untargetable creatures: With favorable creature enchantments like Armadillo Cloak and Quicksilver Dagger out there, you might want to give one of your own creatures a boost.
Countermeasures: Arc Lightning, Dead Ringers, and in many circumstances, Flagbearers.
[3UU Enchantment. Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, return that creature to owner’s hand.]
Similar cards: Sunken Hope automatically forces the active player to return a controlled creature to owner’s hand.
Easily the biggest beneficiary of the rating system, Cowardice has amazing game-changing potential. About as risky as blue gets, this expensive enchantment gives all players the ability to mess around with the bounce dynamic.
Enhancements: Jolting Merfolk and Defender en-Vec made for some interesting Masques Block decks with Cowardice. I would also look to Unnatural Selection, Rhystic Deluge, and Wishmonger. Enhance your entire army with untargeted effects like Fires of Yavimaya (for the haste, then sack it to bounce the nasty of your choice if you’re in a jam), Overrun, and Dark Triumph.
Countermeasures: While you won’t be able to use Rolling Thunder exactly as you intended, you can still affect the board strongly. Or heck, just use it to burn the cowardly mage out. Spiritual Asylum prevents your creatures (and lands, if that means anything) from becoming targets for bounce. Green and blue each have many untargetable creatures.
3. REINS OF POWER
[2UU Instant. You and target opponent each untap and gain control of all creatures the other controls until end of turn. Those creatures are unaffected by summoning sickness this turn.]
Similar cards: Reins is an army-wide Ray of Command.
Reins of Power offers massive potential card advantage, even without the combinations below. A well-timed Reins can put another player’s army at your disposal for”smart” blocking assignments.
Enhancements: Anything that lets you sack creatures at instant speed (or even sorcery speed) is doable. Altar of Dementia, Goblin Bombardment, Fling, Reprocess, Ashnod’s Altar, and Dracoplasm come most quickly to mind.
Countermeasures: As much as the blue mage wants to sack your creatures after he steals them, so you might want to be able to sack them before he does so. If your creatures don’t naturally sack, consider Claws of Gix.
You might also consider keeping the number of creatures you control to a manageable minimum.
[1B, Enchantment. Players skip their untap step. During your upkeep, you may pay U. If you don’t, sacrifice Stasis.]
Similar cards: Embargo is another, inferior enchantment that has you lose life rather than slowly tapping islands. Rising Waters is an enchantment that echoes elements of both Winter Orb and Stasis.
Hated nearly unanimously among casual players, Stasis is the embodiment of all that is evil about control. I still get the occasional reader who asks,”How can this card be good in multiplayer? Once you play it, everyone wants to kill you!” (Question asked, question answered.) With the introduction of more alternative casting cost cards, and a new Stasis-ready land in Forsaken City, there are more and more possibilities with Stasis than ever before.
It is a rude card. Play it sparingly. But do play it, at least once, to see how and why it works.
Enhancements: Thwart, Rescue, Ensnare, and Forsaken City are the most recent excellent additions to a Stasis deck. Otherwise, use the huge complement of blue (and white) cards that say”tap” or”untap” in the text, from Stormscape Apprentice to Serra Angel.
Countermeasures: Turnabout the Stasis mage’s lands right before his turn. Play Sunder. Force untapping creatures to tap with Thundermare or Shrieking Mogg. Red mages will probably have a lot of latitude in how they deal with the Stasis mage, because most of their fellow players will forgive a great deal if everyone’s trying to get rid of either the enchantment or the player.
1. ZUR’S WEIRDING
[3U Enchantment. Players play with their hands revealed. Whenever a player would draw a card, instead reveal it. Any other player may pay 2 life to put that card into its owner’s graveyard. If no one does, that player then draws the card.]
I’ve balked in the past at putting the Weirding first, since it requires a rather specific deck to win… But you know, just about every blue card in the Hall demands a pretty narrow path to victory. Blue has very particular cards, focused on very specific strategies. I felt it was time to celebrate that, rather than penalize it.
With most of the informational advantage of Telepathy (though you do have to show your own cards as well), and the continual denial power of”counterspells” whenever you want them badly enough to pay two life, the Weirding does need a companion card or two to finish the lock.
Enhancements: Cheap lifegain like Fountain of Youth, Braidwood Cup, or Silent Attendant works bets. While I’ve never heard of anyone playing the Weirding with Lich, or life drain (e.g. Death Grasp), I suppose it could be done…but can you expect your opponents to allow you access to these cards, if the Weirding is already out?
Countermeasures: Cards that allow you direct access to your library (e.g., Survival of the Fittest, Demonic Tutor, etc.) are most helpful. Howling Mine can put a lot of life pressure on the blue mage. If you’re lucky enough to have a Disenchant as Zur gets weird, you might choose this enchantment as the target… Or you might instead look to get rid of the lifegain artifact, if you feel you can outlast everyone else…
NEXT WEEK: We close out the Hall with lands, and the much-anticipated gold cards.