This deck is bad.
It doesn’t do anything.
Look, the problem is it’s fair, and every other deck in the format is doing unfair things.
It should be called Do Nothing Blue.
Seriously, this deck is so bad.
These are all things I said about the Mono-Blue Control deck that I piloted to the Top 8 of the SCG Cincinnati Legacy Open.
What can I say? I was wrong.
Let me give you a little back story.
(Caution: the following section includes large amounts of name dropping. Deal with it.)
This iteration of Mono-Blue Control, lovingly called Athens Blue by those in the know, is brought to you by the Legacy think tank that is Chris Kronenberger, John Sava, Terrell Boaz, and a few other members of the Athens, Ohio Magic Community.Â And with my recent Top 8, a win at SCG Open: Louisville by Kronenberger, and four straight SCG top 32s by John Sava (which is arguably the more impressive statistic), I think that the deck has more than proven itself to be a top-tier deck choice.
Let’s talk matchups. If an opponent has to attack to win, they’re in trouble. If they have no basic lands, they’re in real trouble. If they have to attack with nonbasic lands, I typically just enjoy my bye. Lands, B/W Discard, and Merfolk are the best things to sit across from. U/W Stoneforge and Zoo are by no means byes, but they are quite favorable. Combo decks with counterspells, such as Hive Mind, High Tide, and Painted Stone can be difficult if they draw many of their counterspells but are typically in MUC’s favor. Non-counterspell combo decks like Elves or Belcher are good as well, particularly those that run a lot of one-drops. The worst matchups are Dredge and Burn. But nobody plays those decks. Or at least that’s what I thought…
The bottom line is that Mono-Blue Control has no atrocious matchups but doesn’t have any insanely good matchups either. The deck is basically a stack of 1-for-1s with a scant few ways to gain card advantage/selection and some windmill slams for certain archetypes. MUC takes advantage of some sweet spots in the metagame, namely being impervious to Wasteland and the ability to use Back to Basics, utilizing Energy Field as a result of not having to worry about your nonbasics dying to an uncounterable source, and using Vedalken Shackles as an endless source of card advantage against much of the format. Those three cards, backed up by the endless stream of 1-for-1s and the six win conditions (not counting Shackles), are why the deck functions at all.
If you play well, know your deck backwards and forwards, and know your opponent’s deck better than they do then you can win any round. And as someone who has been playing Magic since I was twelve, I played with many of these cards in Standard. I also play much more Legacy than your average bear; I play a ton of EDH; and I Cube at least once a week. I know the cards, and I know the format. And knowing is half the battle. So if you are that type of person then this might be the deck for you.
With that said, I never liked the deck for several reasons. I mean, it was brewed up by a bunch of my idiot classmates from Ohio University. Energy Field? What does that card even do? It looks like a complete pile. Also, I don’t like running control at long events (eight or more rounds) because I don’t have any time in between rounds to rest or go to the bathroom. It doesn’t look like it runs enough win conditions. It’s usually boring and mechanical to play, and in a long tournament that can wear you down.
So why did I play it? It’s what was available Saturday night.
(Caution: the following section includes more name drops. So sue me.)
Saturday night, after scrubbing out of the Standard Open 0-2, I went out to a bar called The Cock and Bull English Pub with a large crew that included Sam Stoddard, Matt Kranstauber, Drew Levin, Mark Sun, Gerry Thompson, Kaitlin Lindberg, Chris Barna, J.R. Wade, and others. It was a great night, with me consuming five shots, three beers, and a vodka bomb in about two hours. The highlights included seeing how many sweetener packets J.R. and I could fit into Mark Sun pocket, theorizing about Cube, and Gerry and Drew reminding me of a particularly bad article I wrote about Extended Burn a few years ago here at Star City Games.
At some point in the evening, I commented that I couldn’t get the dealers to trade me four Imperial Recruiters for my offer, and I failed to get the cards I needed for Chris Andersen Elves with Vengevines, so I was deckless. Drew offered to ship me his U/R Control list, which I gladly accepted. Sadly, his text never made it to my phone (the convention center killed cell phone reception), so I was still sans deck.
Terrell decided to battle with Four Horsemen, so I took his copy of MUC and got ready to battle.
Seriously, I Top 8’d a major tournament with a last second borrowed deck. How lucky!
Let’s cut to the action:
Round 1: Matt McCullough playing Reanimator
The coverage staff decided to give me a first-round feature match, which I still don’t get. I thought that maybe Matt was a known player before we started, but after a quick chat, he was just as surprised to be there as I was. I mean, I know I was somewhat known several years ago, but even then you’d think they could have gotten someone good at Magic on camera.
So anyway, Matt won the die roll. I put Matt on Zoo before we started, so I kept three land, Energy Field, Back to Basics, Spell Snare, Counterspell. Turns out I couldn’t have read him worse, as he was bringing Reanimator to the table. He went turn 1 Thoughtseize my Spell Snare, turn 2 Ponder into an Entomb, turn 3 Exhume on Iona, Shield of Emeria. Later he got a Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur out of the bin, and we were quickly on to game 2.
I brought in Llawan for his many enormous blue creatures. O-stone is one of my few outs to a resolved Iona. The others should be somewhat obvious.
Game 3 was also long and drawn out and involved my playing a lot of blue spells and not actually being able to find a win condition. We went to time, and on turn 4 of turns he reanimated an Inkwell Leviathan, which I let resolve. He asked if I would concede to him, and I showed him the Llawan that was on top of my library that I knew about thanks to Sensei’s Divining Top.
Record: 0-0-1, 1 point.
Round 2: Spence Donaugh playing Merfolk
Wow, Reuben. You must hate playing Merfolk. It’s got to be your worst matchup. I mean, they have Lord of Atlantis. How do they lose?
Well, actually this is one of MUC’s best matchups. While they have Lord, I do too… in the form of Vedalken Shackles. I also have Energy Field, which most Merfolk decks have literally zero answers to, maindeck or sideboard.
In our first game, Spence exploded Smurfs onto the board, but I resolved an Energy Field that he couldn’t counter. Eventually, I played a Vendilion Clique, and he couldn’t draw a Coralhelm Commander to block me, and I got there.
A quick note: It looks like you should bring in The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale here, but that is incorrect. You only bring Tabernacle in against decks without Wasteland.
Game 2 was a bit more interesting, in that he got me down to 6 before I resolved Llawan with a Shackles on the board. He scooped.
Record: 1-0-1, 4 points.
Round 3: Chris Allpress playing Belcher
So I sat down, and five minutes later we were shuffling up for sideboarded games.
Yep, he got me turn one with the god draw: Gitaxian Probe to see that I didn’t have Force of Will or Mental Misstep. Then he dropped Lion’s Eye Diamond, Simian Spirit Guide into Rite of Flame into Pyretic Ritual into Seething Song into Goblin Charbelcher, then sacrificed LED to â€˜belch me to death.
Magic is fun sometimes.
This was a case of needing to get six cards out of the deck, so I brought in some loose cards that might be relevant instead of stone cold dead. I mean, how relevant is keeping his one land tapped with Back to Basics?Â I’ll tell you: about as relevant as Shackling a Goblin token from Empty the Warrens. The Relic came in because I thought Ill-Gotten Gains might happen, plus it draws a card. Tabernacle can deal with pesky Goblins.
So game 2 I was able to bury him under an avalanche of counterspells, and I was able to attack him for three with Clique for the win. I also played The Tabernacle this game in the hopes that he would think twice about going for an Empty the Warrens turn.
Game 3 was a long and drawn-out affair that involved an interesting interaction that I didn’t notice before. I had an Energy Field in play while he had eight Goblins and a Charbelcher in play, while I had Oblivion Stone and Energy Field. I ended up with eight counterspells of varying types, and I said the phrase “pass the turn.” It is ruled that that sentence means that I passed priority, and since Chris passed it as well, I would go to my discard step, making me discard and giving him a window to kill me.
This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening. This isn’t happening…
Turns out, it wasn’t happening. Since the discarded card would put a card in the graveyard, the second ability on Energy Field would trigger. This meant that there was a stack for me to respond to! Thanks, weird Magic rules! So I did that, wiping the board. I spent the next several turns looking for a win condition, but sadly the game ended with me having a full grip and twelve Islands and my opponent hellbent with a lonely Taiga.
I asked for the concession, but he declined and I was okay with that. If my opponent almost punted the game five minutes earlier like I did, in the heat of the moment I wouldn’t concede either. Such is life.
Record: 1-0-2, 5 points.
Hey, five points won the United States their group in the last World Cup. If it could get Landon Donovan and company to the knockout stage, maybe I could too. All I had to do was win six more rounds in a row.
Hopefully, I didn’t choke against Ghana in my next round like the U.S. did…
Round 4: Bobby Kovacs playing 40ish Lands
How many lands does 43 Lands play now? Just asking.
I’d seen Bobby around all sorts of tournaments, but I didn’t think I’d ever played him. I understood from mutual acquaintances that he was a pretty darn good player.
Unfortunately for Bobby, if Merfolk is one of the best matchups for me then Lands might be the best one. They rely on one-mana spells (Exploration and Manabond) to fire on all cylinders; otherwise they run like a nose guard that has just recovered a fumble. Also, they attack with manlands, and as I noted earlier that’s pretty good for Team Back To Basics.
The first game went a little something like Mental Misstep your Manabond, turn 3 a Back to Basics. I sculpted his mind with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and eventually removed his library from the game. Not particularly close.
While Shackling a manland is neat (and yes, you do keep the land at end of turn if you keep it tapped), they’re unnecessary. They also aren’t blue for pitching to Force, which can be randomly relevant. The other five cards are better.
Game 2 took a while because I couldn’t find a win condition, but I stuck two Back to Basics eventually (for Krosan Grip protection), and, after a long and hard fought battle utilizing a Zuran Orb to extend the game a lot longer, I pulled it out with Clique.
Record: 2-0-2, 8 points.
Round 5: Lukas Parson playing Merfolk
Wow, Reuben. You must hate playing Merfolk. It’s got to be your worstâ€”
Weren’t you here earlier!? Pay attention.
Same as before.
The Shackles interaction where you keep the land came into play this game, as I had Shackles and took a Mutavault. Eventually I grinded it out with Energy Field in play, and since a Wasteland would put the Mutavault in his (not my) bin, it wouldn’t trigger my enchantment. This game was mine as well.
Round 6: 3-0-2, 11 points.
Round 6: Bernie Wen playing U/W Stoneforge with Standstill
Basically, U/W Stoneforge is a control deck, but if it plays against a control deck that is way more controlly, like let’s say MUC, then it’s a bad aggro deck. Also, they have Mishra’s Factories and Wastelands. Not good for them, very good for us.
This game took a really long time, so I told Bernie while we were shuffling up that I promised to not slow play.
Metamorph was for opposing Batterskulls and whatnot.
Game 2 took a long time and eventually went to turns, and we drew it, making me the 1-0-1 winner. I prefer to win the 2-0 way, but a win is a win.
Record: 4-0-2, 14 points.
Round 7: Aaron “Swindy” Swerdlow-Freed playing B/W Discard
Swindy, as he prefers to be called, and I headed to the feature match area. I think it was his first feature match, so he was pretty excited. Too bad he ran into a wall of hate.
The reason B/W discard is good is because it’s like Team America without counterspells. Team America is a good matchup, and this one’s better. Back to Basics and Vedalken Shackles both end this matchup quickly, and the fact that all of Swindy’s relevant spells cost two means I get full value out of my Spell Snares. The B/W game plan against most everyone is to play 5-6 spells per game and win. With the number of counters MUC runs, that game plan rarely pans out.
Game 1 he won the die roll. I Mental Misstepped a Thoughtseize, Spell Snared a Bitterblossom, Counterspelled a Vindicate, Force of Willed a Dark Confidant, allowed a Sword of Fire and Ice to resolve, played a Vedalken Shackles, and killed him with Jace’s ultimate ability without allowing another spell to resolve the rest of the game.
Record: 5-0-2, 17 points.
Round 8: Tim Morrison playing U/W Stoneforge with Visions
Tim and I go way back, and he’s one of my favorite people to see at Magic tournaments. He was one of the main people I worked with on the Protean Hulk deck from Extended season a few years back. He also Top 8ed a PTQ that same season with Burn, which I referenced in an article that I… you know what, let’s forget I brought that up.
Point is he’s a big teddy bear, and I love seeing him at events again now that I’m back into competitive Magic after a few years finishing school.
But today was not his day. Like I said earlier, Wastelands and Mishra’s Factories. Not great against me.
In Game 1 he suspended turn 1 and turn 4 Ancestral Visions, the first of which resolved, but it doesn’t matter. He was mana flooded, and he scooped.
Game 2 he had Stoneforge Mystic fetch him up a Sword of Fire and Ice, but I was able to land an early Shackles and take it from him before it was relevant. He scooped early again. His tournament didn’t go as planned, and I understood his frustration. But Tim’s loss was my gain.
Record: 6-0-2, 20 points.
With a win, I’d be in Top 8. After starting 1-0-2, I was one of three remaining undefeated players in the room. I had been telling people all day that I couldn’t lose… I just had a tough time winning.
So we got ready for yet another feature match against a familiar opponent.
Round 9: Chris Tolley playing Painted Stone
You may remember (but probably don’t) I played this deck at Grand Prix: Chicago a few years back and nearly made Top 8 before getting stomped by back-to-back ANT (Ad Nauseam Tendrils) decks to knock me out of contention. So this is a deck that I’m fairly sure I know better than my opponent. I asked if he was playing Gambles and said he chose not to this time around. Not particularly relevant to the matchup, but I was curious because I love the deck and Gambles in particular.
In the first game he played a turn 1 Grindstone and another one later on, as well as a Blood Moon turn 3, which actually turned out to be significant. Later in the game, I activated my Oblivion Stone to clear the board. The next turn I attempted to use my Scalding Tarn to play a Sensei’s Divining Top, which obviously doesn’t work without Blood Moon in play. I got a game play warning, untapped my Tarn, tapped an Island, and the game moved along. Jace eventually went the distance, and we were on to game 2.
This was another case of not having enough to sideboard in and too much to take out. My choice was either Llawan to bounce Painter’s Servant (which always names blue) or Phyrexian Metamorph. Luckily I chose Metamorph because it won me what was probably the best way to win a game of Magic, let alone to get into Top 8, I’ve ever had.
Game 2 was pretty long and difficult, but I will cut to the penultimate turns. The game state got to such a point where Chris had a Grindstone in play and drew an Imperial Recruiter with six mana available. I had a lot of lands, but only a single card in hand. He decided that, instead of tempting fate to see if I had a counterspell, he’d run the Painter’s Servant out with the Grindstone on the board, but with only one mana remaining untapped. He passed the turn.
Yep, I killed him with his own combo.
Record: 7-0-2, 23 points.
Of my four feature matches (including Top 8), this was the one that wasn’t on camera!? Now that’s a bad beat.
The crowd went wild, and Chris was a great sport about the whole thing. I was freaking out, and he was cool as a cucumber about just being beaten by an absurd play that knocked him out of Top 8. He’s a great guy, and I respect him a lot for that.
In fact, all of my opponents were wonderful throughout the day. Legacy seems to be a friendlier format by nature.
My Top 8 match against eventual co-champion Nicholas Rausch’s pretty awesome Manaless Dredge deck can be read here.
I don’t think the matchup is as bad as he thinks it is (he said it’s his favorite matchup), as Tabernacle and Propaganda are game enders, but he managed to hit double Cabal Therapy in the first two turns both games, which tore apart my game plan. I was also unable to dig into Energy Field or sideboarded cards with several turns to do so with Top and double Brainstorm both games. But you can’t win them all.
All in all, I think that Athens Blue is a solid choice for the foreseeable future. The fact that two Dredge (one manaless and one not) and a Hive Mind made Top 8 means folks will be preparing for combo. The Zoo decks (one blue and one not) mean that aggro is of concern. Junk Depths and NO RUG are a combination of the two. My lonely MUC deck was the only real control deck in the Top 8. No U/W Stoneforge, no Standstill, no nothing
This move away from true control has been a noticeable trend for about a month, and I think that players will notice this and move towards decks that have better combo and aggro matchups.
Specifically, they’ll look at B/W discard and Merfolk.
I wonder what deck has a good matchup against those two…