Have you ever been out in the middle of the ocean? It’s exciting and horrifying at the same time.
It’s kind of weird that this could literally be anywhere.
Looking out into the vastness of the waters that surround you can be thrilling or nauseating depending on your point of view, but it’s always been a big draw for me. It’s fun to walk on the Atlantic shore and think "if I swam for 3000 miles, I’d get to Spain." That kind of thing always works for me, and I always think of it when I look out across the water.
I miss the beach.
Today I want to expand on blue. Blue is the color of control, and it’s been associated with that stereotype since the early days of Magic. Counterspell became the archetypal card of the color in 1993, and in the minds of most little has changed since.
But I think there’s more to blue than that and so do many others. Travis Woo, a perennial and prominent brewer, crafted up a fun and aggressive tempo-based deck that has been popular in Modern Daily Events on Magic Online over the last few months. Mono-blue is a successful archetype in both M14 Draft and BTT Draft too.
Although blue is the color of the day, there’s a particular card I’d like to bring to light.
I love Krakens. In fact, I love the whole suite of sea monsters that have gotten a couple bizarre tribal-ish cards devoted to them over the years. There’s just something fun and Timmy-ish about big blue monsters, and Tromokratis is no different. To be honest with you, I had completely forgotten it existed. Of all the neat cards Born of the Gods brought us, it didn’t get a word of mention (and perhaps rightfully so). Tromokratis is not a very good card. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place.
Last Monday Jason Moore published an article about Standard Pauper, and it got me thinking. What could a budget deck look like right now? Perhaps Tromokratis at a measly $.49 could play a role in a budget blue control deck? Tromokratis is difficult to block, and you can’t mess with it during combat, so maybe there’s a chance for it.
After building about a dozen Standard Pauper decks (thanks for giving me the bug for another format, Jason), I finally regained my focus and looked to craft a cheap mono-blue Standard deck with Big Gulp on top. With a cheap vessel, maybe I could sail out to sea with a fun brew.
Budget decks in my opinion aren’t about making watered-down versions of more expensive decks; budget decks are about starting from the ground up and using inexpensive options. Because of this, I feel like monocolored decks are a great place to start when you’re building on a budget. What you lack in diversity you make up for in simplicity. As for this list, it is a fairly typical-looking control deck with a couple tricks up its sleeve.
Six creatures isn’t a lot, and only three are high impact creatures. Frostburn Weird is such a house on offense and defense. It’s one of those funny cards that has impacted every sub-format of Standard since it came out; Mono-Red Aggro played it n Block Constructed, and it’s even got a place in Standard Pauper.
The other three singletons provide a bit of diversity in your win condition. Prognostic Sphinx feels like Aetherling Lite, and in a way it is. It does come down a turn earlier, and the ability to protect him with a manaless activation is very convenient. On the attack, it scrys for three. That’s a free Mystic Speculation during every attack. What this means is that the Sphinx can help you find an answer, which is something Aetherling has never been able to do.
Oh, shh! Here it comes!
Oh hey, Aetherling, didn’t see you th—I mean, how are you? Aetherling is still the champ of won’t be messed with win conditions. Just know that the moment you resolve it in game 1, he might be hated out of 2 and 3.
Then we have Tromokratis. He’s big, he’s soft, and he’s impossible to block profitably. What could go wrong?
As is the case with many true control decks, the permission instants and the power sorceries carry you from turn 1 to turn resolve that win condition with countermagic up. Dissolve is the best Cancel in Standard (which also has Cancel if you’re wondering), and the mono Island land base make it an easy choice as your primary counterspell. Quicken, which is one of the format’s few cycling cards, thins your deck and smooths your draw. There are several sorceries in the deck that also function well with Quicken. A set of these makes sure your opponent’s end step never goes to waste. Speaking of which, Divination is cheap and efficient. That card’s just never bad.
Nullify. Now there’s a neat one.
Most decks these days wouldn’t dare play a counterspell that costs all blue mana. Mutavault or nonblue sources throw enough of a monkey wrench in that plan. However, for you, Mr. or Ms. Mono-Blue player, this is a great option for the two mana counter. Creatures still dominate the format as win conditions, and the ability to counter an Aura brings a lot of value to the Remove Soul variant. Boon Satyr? Nullify! Underworld Connections? Nullify! Chained to the Rocks? Nullify! In this deck, Nullify is a strictly better version of Standard’s Essence Scatter, so load ’em up with confidence!
Whelming Wave touches on the sea monster super tribe of Krakens, Leviathans, Octopuses, and Serpents. Although that normally means nothing, you do have one creature that dodges this Evacuation. Nah, it probably won’t come up. Still, Whelming Wave is an exciting card, and your lack of creatures means you’ll rarely be punished for drawing it. And it can buy you time to develop your hand or counter the creature that your Dissolve missed. Curse of the Swine is another neat sweeper; in fact, Whelming Wave afterward for maximum effect!
Cancel makes it as Dissolve numbers five and six, and Opportunity comes in as the draw spell of choice for a counter deck. Two copies of Divination stapled together and sped up, this spell will put you way ahead in a world where you don’t have access to Sphinx’s Revelation.
Uncovered Clues seemed like a nice additional Divination, as it had 28 targets to hit when cast. Stolen Identity is a nice alternative way to defeat your opponent. For maximum effect, cast Stolen Identity on something with haste, like a Stormbreath Dragon, and then swing and hit them to get another one! Well, we can all dream. Syncopate slides in as a one-of to counter any turn 3 spell on the play, and the land comes easily enough for this deck to realistically counter something late game. Who knows, you might need a spell that exiles too.
The land base is purely copies of Island. To keep this deck budget friendly, we can’t play anything else without drastically increasing the cost.
From the sideboard, Negate comes soaring in if creatures are few and far between. Ratchet Bomb is still a super answer for anything blue can’t normally deal with. As an added bonus, the low level of permanents in this deck prevent you from two-for-oneing yourself very often. Likewise, Pithing Needle is a great colorless answer for a lot of noncreature permanents and creature activations. Gainsay is nice, but the plethora of counterspells means you don’t necessarily need a whole playset of it.
Staff of the Mind Magus is a funny one. Blue decks have trouble scraping back from an aggressive opponent’s first wave. Being mono-blue, this artifact essentially reads, "when you play a land or cast a spell, you gain 1 life." Maybe that’s still not good enough, but I think it’s a good practice to look at a card within the context of the deck, not just by the words printed on it. A single Dispel can protect a creature investment or stop a powerful Sphinx’s Revelation for just one mana. Swan Song is potentially better, but the lack of creature answers makes it a particularly troublesome card.
I had some of the pieces on Magic Online, and it was less than ten tickets to get the rest, so I went aboard and cast off into the sea of Standard powerhouses.
She fared . . . all right.
I went a little overboard (wink) with the counterspells and a little light on the win conditions. Tromokratis was not very good, but it did get there one game. Most of the matches I lost weren’t against aggro but midrange and control strategies. The deck is fairly tricky to play correctly, and there were several instances post-match when I realized where I’d made a mistake in play.
On the plus side, if you were to buy this deck in paper on StarCityGames.com, you’d be spending around $40. That’s all 75 cards, with Island at a quarter each. Not too bad, but my inner cheapskate wasn’t satisfied. I felt I could do better.
This card has always fascinated me. If it’s supposed to work with cipher, why does it trigger on the second spell? It will have already been blocked or have hit them. Maybe that wasn’t the idea, but being released right alongside the mechanic befuddled me. It wasn’t long before this landlubber went back into the doldrums.
I decided to pull it out of limbo and see what I could do with it from a budget perspective. Faerie Impostor, who combos with itself, could easily activate the Specialist every turn. The Impostor is also a nice cheap Welkin Tern, so its evasive ability could be helpful in aggression too.
Let’s follow this current.
- 4 Judge's Familiar
- 2 Nivmagus Elemental
- 4 Faerie Impostor
- 4 Blistercoil Weird
- 4 Cloudfin Raptor
- 4 Incursion Specialist
- 19 Island
Here we have a deck that’s full of fun and synergy in a quick interesting package. Blistercoil Weird is brimming with potential, and this deck might give it a bit of playtime. I especially like the interaction with multiple instant casts in a turn after casting a Retraction Helix. Cloudfin Raptor evolves to a 2/3 at its largest, but that’s still all for one mana. All of the cheap creatures can easily get it to this level on turn 2, making it an effective little Bird Mutant. Faerie Impostor provides an evasive fighter and Incursion Specialist synergy. Judge’s Familiar protects your fragile team and beats down evasively too. Nivmagus Elemental can turn those awkward reactionary spells into real punch.
The spell list came about after a lot of refinement, but this is the set I feel happiest about. Quicken appears in this list too, and it can power the Specialist all by itself if it draws another spell. Triton Tactics is great for making your creatures more combat friendly, and it protects your team from the likes of an untimely Anger of the Gods or Drown in Sorrow. Note that it can provide an additional two untaps for the Blistercoil Weird shenanigans listed above. Retraction Helix, a functional reprint of Banishing Knack, offers a really cheap Disperse in most every instance. Just make sure your potential tap target doesn’t have summoning sickness! Mizzium Skin, which was in the sideboard for a lot of testing, seemed too relevant to leave out. It’s another one-mana instant to keep the chain going too.
The copies of Island have no purpose but to provide mana, and with the deck’s curve at a lofty two, I think we’ll be fine with this number.
The sideboard looks similar enough to the Big Gulp Budget deck from before, but it has a couple cipher spells that take advantage of the more aggressive package. Staff of the Mind Magus gets even better with a pair of Faerie Impostor in your hand. Who says blue can’t have Thragtusk?
This one was much more my style and performed better in local testing. Yeah, I got this one in paper for the rock bottom price of $29.80. This lines up with StarCityGames.com pricing, and that means you can have a deck and sideboard for less than the cost of a playset of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
I had one more test of the budget plan. Tromokratis didn’t hold water in Standard, but since it is legendary, it might slide right into a Commander deck. As a budget commander, can I build a whole deck based around him for under $100? Would it be worth playing? This could turn the tides on the way we think about Commander! (Okay, I’m done now.)
Commander Tromokratis – 84.22
Tromokratis (Foil) – 1.99
Creatures (36) – 36.17
Lorthos, the Tidemaker – 1.49
Sealock Monster – 0.25
Isleback Spawn – 0.49
Deep-Sea Kraken – 0.99
Kraken of the Straits – 0.25
Shipbreaker Kraken – 0.49
Tidal Kraken – 0.99
Grozoth – 0.99
Inkwell Leviathan – 1.49
Kederekt Leviathan – 0.49
Marjhan – 0.49
Stormtide Leviathan – 0.75
Trench Gorger – 0.49
Harbor Serpent – 0.15
Sandbar Serpent – 0.25
Serpent of the Endless Sea – 0.15
Sliptide Serpent – 0.49
Vodalian Serpent – 0.15
Shapesharer – 1.49
Diluvian Primordial – 0.49
Tidal Force – 0.99
Fathom Seer – 0.25
Thassa’s Emissary – 0.25
Chromeshell Crab – 0.49
Cryptoplasm – 0.49
Cephalid Retainer – 0.49
Llawan, Cephalid Empress – 1.49
Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor – 0.49
Empress Galina – 2.99
Artisan of Kozilek – 1.99
Nullstone Gargoyle – 0.49
Draining Whelk – 1.99
Clone – 0.49
Solemn Simulacrum – 2.99
Memnarch – 4.99
Spells (11) – 10.49
Cackling Counterpart – 0.75
Wings of Velis Vel – 0.25
Inundate – 0.99
Whelming Wave – 0.75
Rite of Replication – 1.99
Counterspell – 0.99
Evacuation – 1.25
Blue Sun’s Zenith – 0.75
Time Stop – 1.25
Gather Specimens – 0.49
Forbid – 0.99
NCPs (16) – 26.38
Leyline of Anticipation – 1.25
Semblance Anvil – 0.99
Swiftfoot Boots – 0.99
Sol Ring – 5.99
Sky Diamond – 0.25
Omniscience – 3.99
Spreading Seas – 0.99
Flooded Shoreline – 0.49
Bident of Thassa – 0.49
Quest for Ula’s Temple – 0.49
Rhystic Study – 1.99
Extraplanar Lens – 5.99
Crystal Shard – 0.99
Chronatog Totem – 0.25
Crystal Ball – 0.25
Everflowing Chalice – 0.99
Lands (36) – 6.38
Take a look at that—an entire Commander deck under a bill! There’s even enough money to get a foil commander and a pack of Dragon Shields! Bear in mind that some of these cards are a bit banged up, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.
For those of you who haven’t bought Commander staples in a while, a lot of them have gone way down in price. Being blue in commander gives you access to awesome bounce spells like Inundate and the now relevant Whelming Wave as well as nice copy abilities like Shapesharer, Cryptoplasm, and Rite of Replication. Even high value staples like Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum have come down enough in price that you don’t need to shuffle your one copy between three Commander decks.
Being on a budget is a lot of fun when you’re deckbuilding; it forces you to be creative and challenges you to understand the entire pool of cards. Even if you’ve got Magic money flowing out your ears, it’s still fun to limit yourself sometimes. You never know what’ll wash up.
Do you have a fun budget deck idea? I know there are some razor-sharp deckbuilders out there who play highly effective, low cost decks with their friends at their shop!