Feature Article – Sullivan Library: Tenth Edition Blues

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Ask the Magic player on the street about the deckbuilding history of Adrian Sullivan, and it’s likely they’d say he was a lover of the Island. Indeed, Control decks spring from him like wine… but with the release of Tenth Edition shaking up the aether, just how do the traditional (i.e. Blue) control archetypes fare in the deluge of new cards? What trickery and subterfuge is now available to the water-mage? Adrian reveals all…

One of the things that I’ve been accused of from time to time is being a filthy Blue-lover. According to some, I’m in love with counterspells, and am at heart a Blue mage. (I always want to introduce these people to those that swear up and down that I’m a filthy Red mage, forever in love with my burn spells).

The truth of the matter is that, like most deckbuilders, I build my new decks on the backs of those decks that I’ve built in the past that I’ve felt really good about. There are a few Blue decks in there, of course.

Now is certainly a time where it can almost seem silly or useless to move towards running a mono-colored deck. There are so many incentives to running multiple colors right now. I’m not sure if Standard has ever had so much ability to fix colors in its decks. Between the Ravnica duals and Karoos, the painlands of Tenth, and Time Spiral’s “alternate reality” duals, it is so easy to fix colors. Why on earth would you even want to be a mono-colored deck?

The first reason is to take advantage of some of the funkier land out there. Previous to Tenth, the existence of Desert, Quicksand, and Mouth of Ronom as potential colorless ways to handle creatures was out there, but it becomes really hard to include these cards if you’re also having to consider the possibility of supporting other colors. When you move into whether or not to include the possibility of lands as a killing mechanism (or even a primary killing method), it becomes incredibly problematic if you still want to support another color and you’re also trying to find the room to fit in Faerie Conclave.

The most common Blue control decks can be broken down, generally, into these categories:

Ophidian Decks
Stasis Decks
Draw-Go Decks
“Big Blue” Decks

There are many more Blue control archetypes to consider, and many different variants of Blue aggro-control, but the vast majority fit into these categories. Ophidian decks, whether they run the actual Ophidian or some variant like a Magpie, generally run out a card draw engine and protect it until overwhelming advantage is achieved. Stasis decks need not actually include Stasis, but will generally include some kind of locking mechanism that keeps the opponent from playing the game that they will assemble and protect until the end of the game. The modern variant would be Pickles. Draw-Go decks often have few to no non-land finishers and massive amounts of counterspells, with a decent smattering of board control. While not mono-Blue, most people would probably say that Dralnu decks play out incredibly similarly to classic Draw-Go. “Big Blue” is one of the lesser known of the major Blue archetypes, but essentially is a mid-range Blue control deck that runs minimal counterspells, and generally achieves control of the game via a combination of overpowering board advantage, often on the back of big, Blue creatures, and creature-stealing effects. While not a perfect fit, Andrew Stokinger’s Wizards deck is a reasonable, recent approximation of this archetype, though it is better fit by the “classic” Big Blue cards like Wall of Air, Control Magic, Mahamoti Djinn, and Air Elemental.

Tenth brings a ton of cards to the table for all of these archetypes. Here are some of the newly available cards to take note of, and the role that they can fit.


A lot of Blue decks function incredibly well in a world of perfect information. If only we knew whether or not our opponent actually had something that we wanted to stop, we could decide whether it was more important to tap out and cast a spell, or to counter or not counter a specific spell. As an incredible cheap cantrip, all of the decks that need to decide whether it is safe to tap out or not can make great use of a card like Peek. If only Telepathy was a cantrip, it’d be seeing play… but since it’s not, we have to rely on our temporary Glasses of Urza for an effect like this. For my money, I’d rather be casting a spell like this than wasting my time casting a Think Twice (a classic example, to my mind, of a highly overvalued card).


While generally something that you’d be more likely to see in various aggro-control decks, Unsummon also has a great deal of utility in the Big Blue style, given a particular metagame. With enough Griffin Guides and Moldervine Cloaks, a card that can so cheaply limit the damage of an enchanted creature as well as pull a valuable creature’s bacon out of the fire of Damnation or Wrath of God can often have a home.


In a counterspell war, this one is usually as strong as Muddle the Mixture (which, heck, you can run!). Twincast also has the exciting bonus of being able to suddenly pull out creature elimination spells on an opponent. Versus a Lightning Helix or Incinerate, it can be quite the bees knees, helping you eliminate an actual on-board threat and hopping you up a little in the life department. This can be actually incredibly backbreaking against opposing card draw, where you’ll often get a copy of their Compulsive Research, Harmonize, or Tidings, and then follow back with a newly drawn counterspell. All of that said, a Twincast is useless if it doesn’t have something to copy, and in many matchups your opportunity to actually find a target for the spell could make it useless. This can be, however, a very reasonable sideboard card in many matchups.

Wall of Air

In the right metagame, this card can be kind of a beating. As anyone who has ever swung into a Wall of Roots will tell you, a five toughness can often be a real pain to have to try to push through. Add to that a tiny point of power, and often an aggressive player will be forced to avoid attacking altogether. An old friend of mine, Ben Kellerstrass, used to joke that he loved playing against Hypnotic Specter back in the day. He’d just hide behind his Walls of Air, and then Control Magic the Hippie a bit later. This card is mostly seen as a weapon for a deck like Big Blue, and occasionally, in certain specific metagames, the right environment will make it a useful general card. For a number of Stasis style decks, Wall of Air can help buy the time that you need to be able to set up a lock.


Here is one of the big ones… Clearly, Persuasion is no Control Magic, but it’s no Dream Leash either. Dream Leash was always a solid way to handle problematic cards for a number of decks, but it seemed to generally be a way to handle creature more often than it was another Annex. For the creature-stealing purpose, Persuasion is just a better Dream Leash. Take Possession might do the job in a way that can be harder to deal with, but it also isn’t going to happen as often, and when it does, it is just so likely to be able to steal your turn. This could see effective play in a Big Blue style deck or an Ophidian Style deck.

Time Stop

An incredibly powerful spell, Time Stop nonetheless is heavily limited by its incredibly expensive cost. Despite this, Time Stop does a number of things very well. If some kind of massive event is happening (like, say, a Dread Return causing a huge trigger of Zombies to explode on the board via Bridge from Below), a well-timed Time Stop can throw this problem into the gutter. As a simple counter, Time Stop is not exactly the greatest, so we really must look at it as a potential answer to numerous hard-to-answer events (the Demonfire, the big set of triggers, etc.), or as a pseudo-Time Walk. With this in mind, this is most likely to be useful in an Ophidian deck that is looking to find Time Walks to further outdraw an opponent, or as a specialized answer in either an Ophidian deck or a Draw-Go deck. Big Blue decks would rather just spend that kind of mana on some kind of massive effect. As a contributor to a lock-mechanism, it is a fairly expensive tool, and seems underpowered compared to a Walk the Aeons or a Time Stretch, and incredibly hard to get recycling into a deck (Research and… Riftsweeper?). In a heavy Bridge from Below field, this could simply be an excellent weapon for those players to bring in.

Arcanis the Omnipotent

What can I say about Arcanis the Omnipotent? At six mana, he’s a Char-able, Hit-able, man. Even if an opponent doubles up on cards to kill him, they’re likely to be happy. But if they don’t…

Arcanis is one of those cards that is just a complete and utter beating if he’s allowed to live. Who can spend this kind of time on him, though? An Ophidian deck is generally not going to want to spend its time doing something like this. A Draw-Go deck is also unlikely to want to open itself up to such a potentially devastating turn. A Big Blue deck that spends this kind of mana on something will usually get more mileage out of a harder-to-kill threat. Arcanis is one of those guys that just doesn’t really have a great home in mono-Blue. He fit so well in this year’s U.S. Championship-winning deck specifically because he could be tutored directly into play, and as a singleton, wouldn’t otherwise generally clunk things up for the deck. His pedigree is generally a history of being “cheated” into play, with either reanimation and haste, or some other combination. There are probably a number of fantastic places for him, but it’s not likely that they’re in mono-Blue.

The place where mono-Blue really seems to get its toys, though, is in the colorless department.

Faerie Conclave

Wow. Man-lands are back. Only Stasis-style decks won’t be rejoicing at the return of Faerie Conclave. Draw-Go loves the ability to have more land, and not have that land be useless in the late game. Big Blue likes the ability to have uncounterable threats. Ophidian decks don’t win nearly as much from having access to this card, but they have always benefited from having flexible potential threats. In my humble opinion, this is the second-best of the man-lands coming back (behind the ridiculous Treetop Village), but only just barely. The raw power of Treetop is unquestionable, but Conclave fits into the niche of a Blue-control deck more than any of the other man lands actually manage to fit into their respective niches.

Pithing Needle

Holy crap. I never expected to see this card reprinted. For a number of colors that have limited answers to the cards that are out there as a nature of their color (Black’s inability to handle artifacts and enchantments, Red’s inability to handle enchantments, and Blue’s inability to simply break something), Pithing Needle steps right on in there and completely turns off the problematic card. While there aren’t an incredible amount of cards that are needing to be answered by Pithing Needle right now, this is still a huge weapon that can grant just a ton of virtual card advantage by nullifying whatever. A Stasis-style deck might use this to protect itself against a threat like an Aura of Silence, but the rest of the decks are likely to use this to simply deal with difficult-to-answer cards that might spring up in the metagame.

Mind Stone

Again, holy crap. Mind Stone flies in the face of a lot of the valuable, two-drop countermagic, making it a likely turn 3 drop, but it still has so much power. Powering out a turn 3 Thieving Magpie against the right opponent can pretty much end the game. Draw-Go decks like to have mana that can serve some other purpose when there is too much of it. The biggest winner, though, have to be the Stasis and Big Blue decks, who can accelerate into their threats early, and then later on get rid of them when they actually need to do something else. This is a huge win for mono-Blue (among others).

Crucible of Worlds

Another “holy crap” moment. Blue has so many potential disposable mana sources that Crucible could effectively mean an endless supply of Quicksands, Mouth of Ronom, and the return of cards lost to Careful Consideration or Compulsive Research. Crucible also makes Faerie Conclave be an endlessly available threat. This is a great potential inclusion in Draw-Go.

Steel Golem

Here is a card that helped put Draw-Go on the map. A 3/4 is pretty damn huge on turn 3. While you might not be able to play another creature unless he is dead, you might not actually care. Unless he is Pacified (or some other card like Faith’s Fetters neutralizes him), you’re going to have a huge monster holding the fort very, very early. Phyrexian Ironfoot can do much the same trick, with its own plusses and minuses, but Steel Golem’s ability makes him much more able to go aggressive if you need to keep your mana available. This is only a win for Draw-Go, and it might be superceded by the Ironfoot, but it still seems like something to pay attention to.

Sculpting Steel

Not only is Sculpting Steel a sneaky way to replicate your Steel Golem, but it can also be used to replicate that Icy Manipulator, Mind Stone, Pithing Needle, Locket of Yesterdays, Howling Mine, Coalition Relic, Serrated Arrows, or otherwise copy-worthy cards. Very narrow, there still might be a very powerful slice for this deck in an artifact heavy mono-Blue deck.

Razormane Masticore

And here we go, perhaps the best card for all of the non-lockdown mono-Blue decks in Tenth. The Masticore might not be able to regenerate, but he is big. And he hits things on the face. Draw-Go and Ophidian-style decks ought to be able to supply the cards to feed this guy, and a Big Blue deck ought to be able to hold onto the table long enough to kill someone with this guy (and their other friends). While he may not want to get Hit, he’s still big enough that it will take a decent amount of work to actually get rid of him. Mono-Blue is always looking for ways to actually hold the table, whether it be with Nevinyrral’s Disk, Powder Keg, or the good old fashioned Masticore. This guy does the trick pretty well.

These days, most people probably haven’t seen a classic Big Blue deck. I looked everywhere I could via the Google, and couldn’t find any of the lists I was hoping to. Frown. This is the only list I could find of it, from Erik Lauer in 1997.

15 Island
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Thawing Glaciers
4 Sky Diamond
2 Fellwar Stone

4 Counterspell
4 Force of Will
1 Dissipate

4 Wall of Air
4 Ghost Ship
1 Air Elemental
3 Mahamoti Djinn

4 Control Magic
4 Ancestral Memories
2 Browse

Modernizing this style list for the current Standard would give us something like this:

While this deck could be very susceptible to a heavily antagonistic anti-artifact deck, currently, it doesn’t seem that such a deck actually exists in the metagame. Dark Confidant is a clear problem for the deck as well, but this can easily be rectified with the sideboarding of Piracy Charm and Serrated Arrows.

The essential essence of the deck, though, is to produce mid-range threats. This is not a deck that I’ve played more than a few times, and it certainly isn’t anything I’d hawk off as the next most powerful deck in the Standard, but what it does do is show off the potential for how the new cards in the format can be applied to mono-Blue. Persuasion and Razormane Masticore work very well in conjunction with each other to help tie up creature wars of all sorts. Mind Stone is a potent weapon for a deck like this, which runs very few “actual” counters, preferring to build up mana to play some big threats. The single Crucible works well in the late game as a means begin recycling the used-up land, and can provide a never-ending stream of threats or answers in the right matchup.

The basic plan for a deck like this is to be able to play monsters that are problematic enough for an aggressive deck to push through, and steal or negate anything that is too much to deal with. Versus the more controlling decks, the plan is to simply overwhelm their answers with reasonable threats. In both cases, the countermagic in the deck exists solely to help out the basic plan of the deck and provide disruption to an opponent’s answers. The permanents are going to be your own answers, generally, and the counters are there to be saved up to stop the most problematic plays that the opponent might throw, rather than as a means to take care of their threats in general.

As is always the case with the slightly-explored formats, it’s always exciting to brainstorm about what is possible in the new world of the game. I hope that this article has given any of you would-be mono-Blue players an idea of how to think about Tenth’s impact on your new decks!

I’ll most likely see some of you this weekend at the Madison PTQ. I’ll be slumming it, cheering on my friends.

Good luck, everyone!