Old School Blue

Over the years, Richard Feldman has written some excellent articles often discussing variations of decks that are ahead of their time. Today is no different, but to truly get your attention on what Richard thinks Mono-Blue should look like for this Regionals, we will post the following three lines:
The Win Condition

3 Proteus Staff (Win Condition #1-3 of 4)

1 Goblin Charbelcher (Win Condition #4 of 4)

Sean McKeown recently wrote an extremely strong (Premium) Standard article, entitled “The Objective Best Deck in Standard.” In it, he went over how each of the different Standard archetypes did in the Philadelphia Last Chance Qualifiers, and explained how a non-Tooth and Nail deck actually had the highest match win percentage overall, weighing in at 58.6% match win rate.

Mono-Blue Control was not that deck.

MUC pulled an embarrassing 44.4%, ranking it below even tier two decks such as B/G Death Cloud and R/G Beats. Wasn’t MUC tier one at some point? What the hell happened to that deck?

If MUC is sucking right now, I think I can demonstrate why using one card: Troll Ascetic.

It’s commonly accepted that Troll Ascetic is just bad news for MUC. Using only Blue cards and artifacts, a Troll on the table is almost impossible for you to remove. You can’t Shackle him, can’t trade Stalking Stones for him, can’t realistically even Oblivion Stone him away. Your best bet is to come up with a four-toughness blocker, or maybe to try and race him somehow.

Except oh wait – MUC is filled with #!@$%ing countermagic! What the hell is he doing resolving?

If three-mana creatures that can be countered by spells or abilities are giving mono-Blue decks fits, to the point at which one of Spire Golem’s main selling points is that he steps in front of the Troll, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong with mono-Blue.

Obviously when the Green player goes “turn-one-Birds, turn-two-Troll” on the play, there isn’t much you can do – but when a supposed game-breaker is only strong against you under the most perfect of circumstances, and countermagic fodder the rest of the time, it should not be as much of a cause for concern as it is.

Let me relate to you my first encounter with Blue permission decks. I was introduced to competitive Magic in 2002, the Year of the Psychatog. Having just gotten into the competitive environment, I had not yet grown out of my “Net Decks are the Devil!” phase, which was not improved by the fact that I did not really know what I was doing yet in terms of deck design. These two factors led to several creations which were basically random aggro decks with ugly mana curves and silly, out-of-place “tech” cards that did almost nothing. I played these decks online using Apprentice.

Apprentice presented me with a variety of opponents and a diverse array of decks, including Frog in a Blender (one of my top ten favorite deck names of all time), Opposition, Trenches, Braids, and Madness.

Oh, and Psychatog. Holy crap, Psychatog. Holy crap did I ever get all smashed up by Psychatog. Holy crap, that deck.

Playing against Psychatog as my first competitive Magic experience was…fun?

Me: “I cast Birds of Paradise!”

Tog: “Mmmm..okay. That resolves.”

Me: “I cast Call of the Herd!”

Tog: “Counterspell.”

Me: “I flash it back!”

Tog: “Resolves. End step, Repulse the token.”

Me: “I cast Spiritmonger!”

Tog: “Force Spike. End step, Fact or Fiction.”

God, what a pounding. Playing against Psychatog when all I had was a bunch of 3+ casting cost threats was nothing short of miserable.

I would keep waiting and waiting for the Tog player to tap out so I could resolve my big fun Spiritmonger, but he never would. Whenever he’d started tapping lands in his main phase I’d sit straight up in my chair with excitement, thinking, “Is he going to do it this time? Oh man – what a fool! Come on, keep tapping those!”

…Of course it would turn out to be a Nightscape Familiar or a Psychatog, increasing my chances of imminent destruction and decreasing my chances of ever resolving another threat before I was dead.

Now maybe I’m biased because of this early childhood scarring, but if you ask me, a blue-based control deck that taps more than three mana in the main phase to do anything other than win the game had better have a damn good reason for it. On that note, here’s another fun fact from McKeown’s mono-Blue analysis:

12 of the 16 MUC players at the tournament were running Thieving Magpie. (Note the tapping of more than three mana in the main phase.) These guys had an appalling 37.5% win percentage – worse than White Weenie, Blue/Green Control, and even Blue/Green Beatdown. Yes, you read that right. If you brought whatever the hell Blue/Green Beatdown is to the LCQ (and by the way, you’re my hero if you did), in all probability you did better than you would have with MUC featuring Magpie.

The remaining 4 of the 16 MUC players did not play Magpie. These guys had a 54.85% win percentage, the second-best in the entire tournament, and even better than Tooth and Nail.


You know, the only time 2002 Psychatog ever tapped more than three mana in its main phase was for an Upheaval. That was allowed, because Upheaval would win the game, and after you’ve won the game it doesn’t matter how tapped out you are.

Thieving Magpie? Doesn’t look like Upheaval…doesn’t smell like Upheaval…probably isn’t Upheaval.

Tell you something else 2002 Psychatog did, it most certainly did not cower in fear at the mention of any three-mana, Sorcery-speed threats like Troll Ascetic. In fact, there happened to be a creature similar in many ways to the Troll back then – Spellbane Centaur. Even at the height of popularity of the Psychatog variant ZevAtog (which ran both Repulse and Aether Burst, if memory serves), and even when the Centaur was played in infinitely faster decks than what we have in the current Standard environment (U/G Madness, anyone?), the Tog decks just shrugged him off and kept winning.

Jumping back to the present, I was watching the replay of a Premier Event top 8 on MTGO awhile back. The matchup was MUC against 5-color Green, and the MUC player had just tapped three for Vedalken Shackles against a board of two Forests, a Swamp, Mountain, Birds of Paradise. “Ooh, risky,” I thought. “He played that with only two mana to spare, so his only counter here is Mana Leak. Then again, if the Green deck doesn’t have another land in hand he won’t be able to pay the extra three.” Then a look of absolute horror washed over my face.

“Wait, what’s he tapping more mana for? He’s not stealing those Birds in his main phase, is he? What?! What are you doing? Stop that! Ctrl-Z, Ctrl-Z!”

Guess the Blue player thought he was being clever by snatching the Birds in his main phase – that way, of course, his opponent wouldn’t get mana out of them after untapping for his turn. It was just like a Stone Rain!

Then his opponent made the clever play of untapping and using his two Forests, one Swamp, and one Mountain to cast Boil for four Islands. It was just like a Boil!

Tapping out in the main phase, folks: friends don’t let friends.

Now I started working on a Blue deck of my own around the time the successful MUC lists from French Regionals rolled in. While many people saw Magpies popping up in a few scattered top 8s and started building decks around them, I did the opposite. I built the Blue deck of my nightmares. More draw-go and less tap-myself-out-go.

Frankly, the reason I’m writing this is that the draw-go deck, which started out as an experiment, has proved its worth to me so quickly that I have already committed to taking it to Regionals. Even without a full season of testing behind it, its results so far have convinced me it will be a better choice than my old standby, Tooth and Nail.

I figured I should also write up a primer for the archetype (sub-archetype?) before the day of the tournament gets too close. With luck, I might even nab some converts from existing MUC or old-school Blue players before June 25.

The Deck

Before I go on, though, I feel compelled to caution readers that this deck is not for the faint of heart. If you dislike playing permission-based control in general, or are particularly put off by the idea of saying “untap, draw, go” for several turns in a row, then stay away! This deck is slower and more methodical (which, to some, translates into boring) than anything else I’ve played in Standard – but then again, there haven’t really been any hardcore permission decks around since Affinity came along.

That being said, let’s get to it!

Structurally, the deck is similar in most respects to your average MUC deck. The skeleton looks like this:


Mana Sources: 25

Countermagic: 14

On-Board Threat Removal: 9

Card Draw: 8

Win Condition: 4


Foil for Boseiju: 4

Extra Card Draw: 4

Extra On-Board Threat Removal: 3

Extra Countermagic: 2

Foil for Boil: 2

I’m going to assume you already know how mono-Blue decks work in general, so instead of slamming a new decklist in your face and saying “go try and digest all that, then after you’re good and confused I’ll explain why I did all this,” I’d rather introduce the cards that set my list apart first.

I’ll start with the cards in the maindeck.

The Mana Fixers:

4 Serum Visions (Card Draw #1-4 of 8)

4 Condescend (Countermagic #1-4 of 14)

2 Aether Spellbomb (On-Board Threat Removal #1-2 of 9)

I included these first in order to explain why I’m only running 25 mana sources. Most MUC lists have between 26 and 28, but with this much Scrying and Cycling power, I have a pretty solid ability to control the flow of lands from the top of my library in the early game. When I cast Serum Visions on turn 1 or Condescend on turn 2 or 3, I will already have a pretty good idea of what your mana needs are based on what is in my hand. If I have enough land to keep myself supplied for the next several turns already, I can Scry away any extras I find in the top two cards. If I need more, I can Scry away the non-lands to make sure I keep making my drops on time.

This sounds a bit riskier than just playing lots of land, but I guarantee it works. Now that I have gotten good at using Scry to manage the flow of land from my deck, I am consistently blown away by how infrequently this deck mulligans. 25 mana sources is a pretty sizeable count to begin with, but I can keep a mana-heavy hand with Scrying effects in it because I know I will not have to worry about topdecking more and flooding.

On the flip side, even those less common land-light hands can be keepers if they have Serum Visions in them; Visions is even better than Brainstorm at helping me make land drops. Even in the unlikely event that there are no lands waiting for me in the top three cards of my library (all of which Visions lets me look at), I will have cleared them all out of the top of my library, and can begin searching for a topdecked land starting with the fourth card down instead of the first, as I would using just normal draw steps.

Whenever I do take a mulligan, it feels almost dirty now – I’m just not used to it any more (even after being a Tooth and Nail player!), because this mana-fixing package is so strong. Whenever I playtest, I log brief summaries of the games in Word documents so I can go back and look for trends later on. At one point after a five-match playtesting session, I realized I had not logged a single mana problem of any kind for the blue deck. That has never happened to me before.

The Draw Magic:

4 Serum Visions

4 Thirst for Knowledge (Card Draw #5-8 of 8)

No Thieving Magpies here.

Provided you are running enough artifacts (my list has 14 total), Thirst For Knowledge (TFK) is the best instant-speed draw spell in the format. That instant-speed part is essential to a draw-go strategy, as it lets you wait until the opponent plays a spell you do not need to counter (usually because he is out of big threats to play or decides to “test the waters” with a less important spell), at which point you make use of the mana you saved by not countering it to quench your Thirst and refill on counters.

Serum Visions, on the other hand, is cheap enough that its Sorcery speed is not a big deal. Any time you have an extra mana available in your main phase (such as turn one, or when you have a four mana available and are holding Hinder), you can fire off a Visions to stack your upcoming draws.

The effect of Scry, by the way, seems to be generally underrated because it does not generate explicit card advantage. This is misleading, because since it counteracts dead draws, it frequently generates virtual card advantage by letting you use your draw step to put a “real” card in your hand rather than a dead one. In the late game, once you have locked down the board, a bounce spell will do literally nothing. The only way it will ever have any use is if another threat sneaks into play because you were holding the bounce spell in the first place, instead of Shackles, another counter, or another draw spell to find one of those two. The same is true for any mana sources over the eighth, except for maybe manlands. (Even if they still technically “do” something, if their effect is for all intents and purposes irrelevant to the game, you might as well consider them dead.)

Gaining virtual card advantage by hiding dead cards from your draw step may not be as sexy as explicitly having more cardboard in hand than your opponent, but it is still card advantage, and it is still important.

By the way, when testing my deck against the “mirror” – the winning MUC list from the Paris Regionals, which only played two Scry effects – my playtest partner’s earliest comment (after I 2-0’d the first match) was, “I should just switch decks right now. You’re going to win all of these – I can’t keep up with Condescend and Serum Visions.”

It’s more important than it looks, folks.

The Win Condition:

3 Proteus Staff (Win Condition #1-3 of 4)

1 Goblin Charbelcher (Win Condition #4 of 4)

Whoa! What’s all this?

For those of you unfamiliar with this combo, the following paragraph explains it. The rest of you, feel free to skip it.

Here’s how this thing works. My deck has no Creature cards in it – none at all. However, let’s say I have a Blinkmoth Nexus, an animated Stalking Stones, or a Shackled creature in play. I target that creature with Proteus Staff to “transform” it, then I flip my whole library in search of a Creature card that isn’t there. Once I run out of cards, I use the “put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order” line to stack my entire deck. I put the Charbelcher on top, then the remainder of my nonland cards below it, then the lands on the bottom. I untap, draw and play Belcher, and aim it at my opponent’s dome for 20+ points of damage and the win.

I actually think it is the usual Keiga, Meloku, and/or Bribery package that keeps traditional MUC from playing draw-go as effectively as it would like to. Those all cost five mana or more to play, meaning it takes eight or nine mana and a Hinder (or even nine or ten with a Rewind) before these decks can safely play a win condition without walking into, say, an entwined Tooth and Nail with an extra Urza’s Tower open to pay for Mana Leak and Condescend.

Unlike these bulkier finishers, Proteus Staff comes down as early as six mana with Hinder (seven with Rewind), and allows you to continue playing land drops after you’ve gotten it into play until you have a high enough land count to be able to play and activate Belcher in one turn after going off.

The Staff-Belcher combo is also a three-turn clock, counting the turn you play it. On the first turn, you play the Staff, leaving mana open to counter things if needed. On the second turn, you pay to activate the Staff, once again leaving mana open to counter. On the third turn, you untap, draw the Belcher, and tap out to play and activate it for the win. Three turns is always faster than Keiga, faster in almost every situation than Meloku, and always at least as fast (and sometimes faster) than even Bribery for Colossus.

This combo also has a few other random perks. For one, opposing Briberies are completely dead against you. More importantly, though, all of the combo pieces are artifacts. This means that if you draw an extra Staff early on, you can ditch it to Thirst For Knowledge. You can even pitch the Charbelcher if you really need the extra cards for explicit card advantage, and then just win slowly with the Staff by stacking your deck into perfect draw steps of “Thirst For Knowledge, Perfect Card 1, Perfect Card 2, Artifact” or whatever works best for your particular situation.

Incidentally, from here on out the deck will be referred to as “Proteus Staff-Go.”

Moving right along…

The Countermagic:

4 Condescend

4 Mana Leak (Countermagic #5-8 of 14)

4 Hinder (Countermagic #9-12 of 14)

2 Rewind (Countermagic #13-14 of 14)

Next up on the Missing Cards List is Time Stop. Time Stop is an interesting maindeck choice (though admittedly less popular these days) because it is really only somewhat strong against Tooth and Nail, and at least eighty times worse than Rewind against every other deck. If Tooth and Nail entwines a Tooth and Nail using Boseiju and you Time Stop it, you are usually only buying yourself a couple of extra turns. Time Stop doesn’t remove the Boseiju itself, meaning you are not countering any further Plow Unders, Sylvan Scryings, Reap and Sows, or any other Sorceries. Thus, if your opponent has Divining Top in play, or another Tooth in hand, the game-winner is going to come through anyway in a couple of turns, barring a miracle draw of your other Time Stop.

Maindecking Rewind instead acknowledges that you will not beat Tooth and Nail in game one if they assemble the Urzatron along with Boseiju, so the best way to fight them is to counter everything in your power that will get them to this point. A Boseiju in game one is not that common; if they are to fetch it from Sylvan Scrying, they must cast the Scrying turn two on the play, or else it will most likely be swatted by Mana Leak or Condescend. If they do get Boseiju down, Rewind still takes out Witnesses, Mindslavers, and Oblivion Stones while leaving your mana untapped during your opponent’s end step to Thirst, so you still have the “out” of racing to set up your combo before they manage to locate both Boseiju and Tooth. This strategy has worked for me on many occasions; in fact, my maindeck matchup with Tooth and Nail is close to 50-50 because of the crunch-time speed of the Staff-Belcher combo.

The On-Board Threat Removal:

4 Vedalken Shackles (On-Board Threat Removal #3-6 of 9)

3 Boomerang (On-Board Threat Removal #7-9 of 9)

2 Aether Spellbomb

People know why Shackles are in here – no sense beating a dead horse – but the combination of 3 Boomerangs and 2 Spellbombs is a less common sight.

This five-card package comprises in a blue deck what I like to call “the bounce slot.” The purpose of the bounce slot is to defend the Blue player from random losses to cheap threats. Since you cannot play with Force of Will, there are some number of cheap threats (most of them start with “Slith,” “Genju,” or “Umezawa’s”) that will slip under your shield of countermagic. These threats are so strong that if you do not have some mechanism, no matter how janky, for quickly removing them, they will kill you before you have time to go out and search for one.

I consider Boomerang quite janky (playing something with a card advantage count of -1 in a deck that thrives on card advantage is not why I get up in the morning), but unfortunately it is the best card for the job. I play two Spellbombs because running 4 Boomerangs in the maindeck causes me to draw two copies more often than I would like (since I’d like to do it not at all, ever), and because since the Spellbombs essentially have Cycling: 2, I can up the size of my bounce slot to five cards total without drawing dead too often against decks like Tooth and Nail, Beacon Green, and the mirror, where creature bounce tends to be fairly irrelevant anyway.

By the way, I have heard it mentioned that Echoing Truth might be a good candidate for the bounce slot over Boomerang. Truth’s main advantage over Boomerang is that it can kill Insect and Illusion tokens en masse, but that is not what the bounce slot is for. Insect tokens come from Beacon of Creation, and Illusions come from Meloku. Those cards cost four and five mana to play, respectively; they won’t be slipping under the kind of counter shield a draw-go deck will be putting up, so bouncing them is not something you need to worry about. Besides which, Boomerang takes out Genju of the Spires (almost certainly the strongest anti-blue card in Standard; I’ve lost almost as many games to this card as I have to Troll Ascetic, Pithing Needle, and Boil combined) without requiring the additional card advantage and mana investment required by the “Echoing Truth the enchantment” play.

It’s the flexibility of “Return target permanent to owner’s hand” that you are after – these cards are your contingency plan, after all – and the very relevant “non-land” restriction plus the downside of having to bounce one’s own Shackles against regular MUC make Truth a very poor candidate right now.

The Mana Base:

15 Island (Mana Base #1-15 of 25)

4 Blinkmoth Nexus (Mana Base #16-19 of 25)

3 Stalking Stones (Mana Base #20-22 of 25)

3 Chrome Mox (Mana Base #23-25 of 25)

Everything below Island is relatively unexpected for a mono-Blue list. The full compliment of Nexuses is a lot less common these days, though four is definitely the right count for this deck. Nexus is the fastest way to get a Proteus Staff target – it only costs one mana to become a creature, compared to five from Shackles and six from Stalking Stones.

Even aside from that, Blinkmoth Nexus is a superb blocker because you always have mana open on your opponent’s turn. With three open mana it is a 2/2 flying defender, enough to dissuade people from attacking with topdecked Slith Firewalkers, Suntail Hawks, and even random (though often significant) Sakura-Tribe Elder beats. Games with MUC tend to go long, and these extra points of damage can add up – and if you have a Nexus untapped, they simply don’t.

If you can afford to lose it, Nexus will also trade with Hearth Kami or Viridian Zealot, paving the way for a Vedalken Shackles or Proteus Staff later on. Even better, if your opponent deems his Kami or Zealot too important to attack into your Nexus, it will save you two damage a turn merely by remaining untapped.

The lack of a fourth Stalking Stones really comes down to the reality that this deck never wins with manlands. That being the case, there’s no reason to tempt fate to hand you random lack-of-blue-source mulligans when more Stones aren’t helping you out anyway. In all honesty, you could really play with only two Stones and be fine, or play it “safe” and go back up to four if you wanted to, but as of writing this I still have three weeks of development to go before Regionals, and three is the count I would recommend.

Now the three Chrome Moxen must look really random. In this deck, Mox is not about acceleration as much as it is a handful of minor utility effects:

*Mox is a mana source without being a land. When three Moxen are in your library instead of three lands, your Charbelcher shot can do up to three more damage. This can become relevant in those ridiculously long games in which you have drawn half your deck and are close to having too few nonland cards left in the deck to Belch for lethal in one shot. Having the Moxen gives you an extra couple of draw steps (and therefore entire turns) before your Belcher goes un-lethal, which can often be all the breathing room you need to finish setting up. Mox’s non-land property is also nice in the event that White Weenie sides in Aether Vial and uses it to bring in an uncounterable Hokori, since Hokori’s untap restriction only applies to Lands.

*Mox is an Artifact. The fact of the matter is, I do not want to cast TFK unless I have an artifact to pitch to it, because the difference between “draw three, discard two” and “draw three, discard one” in terms of card advantage is the difference between Inspiration and Reach Through Mists.

*Mox is not an Island! Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will be Boiled or Choked. It’s a rare occurrence, but when this does happen, successful recovery is all about having one blue source so you can still keep afloat with things like Mana Leak, Condescend, TFK, and Serum Visions, while you work your way back into the game.

*Mox is still a Mox. As grumpy as it might make you to play a spell that requires card disadvantage to function – and hell, I’m still grumpy about Boomerang – at the end of the day, Chrome Mox still does all the things Chrome Mox has always done. It’s not like it’s a Soul Foundry or something – your investment of an extra card still earns you all the benefits associated with advancing your mana curve by a full turn for free. Mox still lets you Condescend or Mana Leak a first-turn Genju or Divining Top when you’re on the play, it still lets you pull out from under a pile of land destruction when your Ponza-playing opponent starts hitting you with LD before you have the mana to counter it, and if your opponent has no must-counter spells early on, the Mox lets you cast TFK as early as turn 2, making sure your hand is fully stocked by the time they do start playing business spells.

Wayfarer’s Bauble, on the other hand, is a no-go for this deck. It costs far too much mana for what it does. With the addition of the Chrome Moxen as artifacts #12-14, I now have enough artifacts to feel secure that my TFKs will reliably find one that can be pitched, so that selling point is not as strong as it was before deciding to play the Mox.

Furthermore, accelerating from two to four mana is not something a blue deck is hugely interested in (unless you’re playing Nassif’s Turbo-Magpie deck), since in order to activate the Bauble you have to come up with two mana on turn two, turn three, or turn four – the turns in which it is usually most important to have countermagic ready. Worse, if you need the Bauble to make you next land drop, you might be forced to let a threat resolve in order to do so. That’s no good for anyone.

Finally, the one-mana starting cost is actually relevant in this deck, because it is competing with turn 1 Serum Visions, turn 1 Aether Spellbomb, and turn 1 Mox-with-Mana-Leak-mana-open, nine cards in total. All in all, Wayfarer’s Bauble compares unfavorably with Basic Island in this deck, which is what I have opted to play instead.

Now for the sideboard. I’m going to organize this section by matchup, so you can see specifically why I have included the cards I have.

The Tooth and Nail Matchup


+4 Boseiju, Who Shelters All (Foil for Boseiju #1-4 of 4)

+4 Inspiration (Extra Card Draw #1-4 of 4)

+2 Rewind (Extra Countermagic #1-2 of 2)

-4 Vedalken Shackles

-4 Mana Leak

-1 Boomerang

-1 Stalking Stones

The most important part of my entire sideboard are the four copies of Wasteland, Who Shelters All. Tooth and Nail is a deck that revolves around a nine-mana Sorcery to beat a deck full of countermagic. Ordinarily a blue player would respond to a Tooth and Nail with entwine by fanning out his hand and saying, “here – pick a counter.” Boseiju changes that.

It baffles me why people would play four copies of Temporal Adept – a card which I went off around when I was playing Tooth and Nail almost every time it entered play later than turn three, and sometimes even on turn three if I had Divining Top in play – when they could instead play four copies of a zero-mana answer to the only problem card in the matchup. The fact that Boseiju produces mana for you if necessary (allowing you to cut a mana source as part of your sideboarding plan) is just the icing on the cake.

Inspiration and Rewind are straightforward – more hard counters (and draw magic to find more hard counters) are always welcome against Tooth and Nail, and Vedalken Shackles and Mana Leak are abysmal in the matchup. Leak becomes dead in a big hurry as soon as the Urzatron is assembled, and Shackles has at most two possible targets – the dazzling choices of a 2/1 Eternal Witness or an 0/4 Vine Trellis.

I am proud to report that post-board Tooth and Nail is this deck’s best matchup. I don’t know how traditional MUC fares against it these days (I’ve heard Nassif did well against it with his turbo-Magpie strategy involving 4 Wayfarer’s Bauble and 4 Chrome Mox, but unfortunately we can’t all be the best Constructed player in the world), but I played Tooth and Nail in dozens of tournaments on MTGO before the Affinity ban, and in all that time I never lost a single match to MUC – even running only one Boseiju for defense (and not even in the maindeck). This sideboard strategy seems to help the Blue deck just a smidge.

The MUC Matchup


+4 Inspiration

+3 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

+2 Spectral Shift (Foil for Boil #1-2 of 2)

-3 Boomerang

-2 AEther Spellbomb

-3 Chrome Mox

-1 Rewind

I haven’t tested this matchup as much as I’d like to yet – turns out people don’t jump at the opportunity to play multiple matches of the mono-blue mirror…who’d have thought? – but so far the thing that has stood out to me most is the value of Inspiration in the matchup. Casting it on your opponent’s end step puts him in a bit of a pickle. If he doesn’t counter it, you pull ahead on cards, and will be more likely to win future counter-wars. If he does counter it, you might have enough mana to resolve a Shackles or a Proteus Staff, either one of which can be a game-breaker in the mirror.

Playing against Thieving Magpie, by the way, is awesome. If they’re lucky, you’ll just counter it and then untap and force through a Staff since they’re tapped so low. If they’re unlucky, you’ll let it resolve, then untap and force through a Shackles since they’re tapped so low, then you’ll steal it and beat them down with it.

Spectral Shift is in because the only permanent you care about removing is Shackles, and while Boomerang plus countermagic is a one-for-two if you want to fully eliminate your opponent’s ‘cuffs, Spectral Shifting Island to Forest takes them out without requiring an additional card.

The Green Beacon Matchup


+2 Culling Scales (Extra On-Board Threat Removal #1-2 of 3)

-2 AEther Spellbomb

I don’t doubt that my sideboard strategy will be much different for this matchup by the time Regionals comes around. Currently, this is only a somewhat favorable matchup that comes down to how much hate the green deck is packing. Culling Scales takes out Pithing Needle and Birds of Paradise, bounces Divining Top back to their hand where you can counter it, and sometimes takes out the odd Wood Elves or something before it goes away.

That being said, the draws on the part of the Green deck that beat this deck are so explosive that Scales is too slow to stop them; right now it just helps shore up the close games, makes sure you can still use your Shackles in the face of Pithing Needle, and things like that.

This is a matchup I will be testing extensively between now and Regionals, and like I said my sideboarding strategy here is far from a sure thing, but unfortunately I am on a bit of a clock to submit this article. The longer I wait to send it in, the closer we get to Regionals, and the lower the chance that anyone will have time to give the deck a shot.

The Ponza Matchup


+2 Spectral Shift

+1 Boomerang (Extra On-Board Threat Removal #3 of 3)

-2 Rewind

-1 Vedalken Shackles

First off, don’t freak out about cutting a Shackles in this matchup. Ponza doesn’t have anything to steal until the midgame anyway. Four Shackles was required against Affinity, is good against Green Beacon, White Weenie, and the mirror, but it isn’t even good at all against Tooth and Nail. There is a middle ground in there, and it is Ponza. Super-early guys like Genju and Firewalker refuse to be stolen by Shackles; Firewalker grows faster than you can keep playing Islands, and Genju will kill you before you can get out enough to steal him. You have to counter early Zo-Zus anyway, because if he resolves he will beat you up with his symmetrical ability even if you control him.

Once you reach the midgame, though, Shackles is all gravy. Fresh Firewalkers will be small enough to be snatched, Blinkmoth Nexi will start wanting to come in, and even Genju can end up being legal targets once you have had time to make sufficient land drops.

Since the early game is where red decks beat you, you’d much rather have a fourth Boomerang than a fourth Shackles, so in it comes.

By the way, all you mono-blue players out there, if you are playing any Spectral Shifts in your board, please only play two. Two is plenty to trade with Shackles in the mirror (it’s not just an anti-red card, remember), and red decks are typically not going to try and Boil you until the late game, by which you will have had time to draw into one of your two. If they are not holding Boil, are not running Boil, or are beating you down with non-Boil threats that require immediate attention, drawing multiple Shifts can end the game in disaster.

Again, two is enough for you to find one in the late game, and you typically do not need Shift in the early game anyway. Your opponent will be tapping out every turn for threats – stuff like land destruction, Zo-Zu, and the like. But if he’s tapping out every turn, you’re totally safe from Boil – the only time you need to keep mana open to answer to that card is when your opponent ends his turn with four mana untapped.

It is for this reason that in every post-board game against red, you must keep two mana open at all times when they have four open, regardless of whether or not you are holding (or even playing) Spectral Shift. If you don’t, you may quickly find yourself Boiled right out the game. Since fewer and fewer MUC players these days seem to be running Shift, some red players may get cocky (or better yet, may be new to red and may not even be aware that Shifts exists) and try to Boil you when you have two mana open. If they do this, and you happen to be holding Shift, then mise! You won. If not, you can just Mana Leak it (or Hinder it or Condescend it – remember, if you aren’t holding Shift, you still need to keep an appropriate amount of mana open to at least counter Boil) and go about your business.

In any case, this scenario will not be coming up until the late game, so go with two if you are going to play any at all. Personally, I’ll be playing it specifically because I expect some number of red players at Regionals will get careless and walk right into it, giving me a welcome free win in a very lengthy tournament.

The White Weenie Matchup


+2 Culling Scales

+1 Boomerang

-2 Rewind

-1 AEther Spellbomb

Realistically, there are only two cards in WW that will beat you, and those are Pithing Needle and Jitte. Even silly Chrome Mox draws can be shut down by Vedalken Shackles, but Needle and Jitte are some of the few resolvable cards that can shut down Shackles. The trick to this matchup is answering their answers with Culling Scales and Boomerang.

Unless they have too much pressure on the board, sometimes Culling Scales can end up being even better than Shackles all by itself. Unless there are too many Chrome Moxen in play gumming things up, Scales will mop up everything on the opponent’s board except for Hokori and Nexus, Pithing Needles and Jittes included. If White Weenie were a more important force in the metagame, I would probably play three Scales, and might even maindeck some – it is definitely one of the strongest available cards for the matchup.

Anyway, here’s the final list:

Playing the Deck

Playing this deck reminds me in many ways of playing Mind’s Desire.

If a player does not understand the deck at all (i.e. he likes to needlessly tap himself too low to counter things on a regular basis), it will be very unkind to him. If he knows what he is doing (that is, he knows how to play draw-go style control), it will be solid for him. But like Mind’s Desire, there is an additional 10-20% in every matchup that is decided only by a player’s complete mastery of the deck.

Sometimes Mind’s Desire is just easy. If you know what you’re doing pretty well, you can set up a Desire for six or seven with a solid draw, go through the motions, and just win. But it’s not always that easy. There are those few games when you just bury your head in your hands, crank a lemon into your thinking cap, and beat your brain to death trying to figure out how to come squeeze through a big enough Desire for you to have a shot at the game. Sometimes you figure it out, and the deck rewards you with a W. Those players who have mastered the deck will figure out these puzzles with such consistency, the deck will be a merciless killing machine in their hands. But with less experience, less playtesting, maybe even less talent – the deck will fizzle out, and the player will go home empty-handed.

For Staff-Go, the simplest of these brain-mashers occurs when it comes time to figure out whether or not you need to “go for it.” Say you’ve drawn a glut of land against Tooth and Nail, and have run out of counters. You’re holding Proteus Staff with Nexus on the table, though, and now you have to figure out how best to win. If Tooth’s hand is full of duds, you can just tap everything, stack your deck with a lethal Belcher on top, and say “go” with no mana untapped. and just let them do their worst. (If “their worst” is Mindslaver, you obviously lose, which is something you will need to factor in.) The worst brain-masher, though, is when the game has gone on for so long that you no longer have enough nonland cards left in your library to Belch for 20. When this happens, you will still use Proteus Staff to reorder your library, but you will have to come up with an emergency stack on the spot. You thought type 1 Doomsday stacks were tough? Try doing that with three times as many cards, plus land.

Again, I should really stress that these situations don’t come up very often. Maybe once every ten to twenty games or so (and I pulled that number out of thin air, so don’t quote me on that). But when these situations do arise, the fate of the entire game can come to depend on the way the pilot chooses to handle them, and that can be rough.

On the other hand – hey! Some people like the challenge.

You might notice, by the way, that I never posted any win percentages. This was done for two reasons. First, this deck took me so long to nail down on a conceptual level, it was only very recently that I got a list together that I could start running through the gauntlet. I have a bunch of random Word documents lying around, with summaries across the top like “Went 4-1 in another 5 match set against Tooth and Nail. Cut both Time Stops from the board to help out matchups that actually need it.” But since these are testing sessions, the build was constantly changing between each session.

When I first started experimenting with the deck, White Weenie was rising so rapidly in popularity that I was actually maindecking three copies of Culling Scales. Now that the popularity of that deck has fallen back to roughly where it was, the Scale count has gone down to two, and only in the board. In order to post meaningful win percentage data, all the data needs to have come from the same list.

The second reason I didn’t post any is that win percentages in this format (and with this deck in particular) can be completely nullified by even the slightest change in the opponent’s deck composition.

Consider the following:

White Weenie without Pithing Needle is a bye.

White Weenie with sideboard Pithing Needle is manageable.

White Weenie with maindeck Pithing Needle is hard.


Mono-Red with sideboard Boil and no Genju is a bye.

Mono-Red with sideboard Boil and sideboard Genju is manageable.

Mono-Red with sideboard Boil and maindeck Genju is hard.

The Green/X decks are even worse. How many people are playing Choke these days? Does anyone sideboard Boseiju to force through spells like Death Cloud and Beacon of Creation? Is that contingency even worth testing against?

Since a difference of one card can potentially knock a 60-40 matchup down to a 30-70, I would be hard-pressed to come up with numbers for you for all these different scenarios. Since the whole purpose of posting win percentages is for a deck designer to try and convince the reader to play his deck, I’ll just say this instead:

For all the reasons I’ve explained thus far in the article, this MUC variant has a great deal of strategic superiority over the established lists. It makes the most of the inherent strength of a permission-based blue strategy, and does not “plug holes” to try and fix matchups with cards like Temporal Adept and Bribery. It plays blue control to the best of its ability, and plays it against every deck. If you are currently playing MUC, or have been considering giving the archetype a shot, I would strongly suggest giving this list a try.

See you at Regionals!

Richard Feldman

Team Check Minus

[email protected]