So, How the Heck Do I Play This Deck?
In some respects, this deck is like a mono-Blue prison deck. It is more proactive than the Buehler mono-Blue deck, but by turn 4, it will feel very similar.
Let’s look at the mana play first. The deck is designed so that you optimally get a Mox and two Islands in your opening hand. You are likely to get some search/draw with 4 Impulses, 1 LoA, 1 Time Walk, and 1 Ancestral.
Your ideal game plan goes something like this:
Mox, Island, with Mana Leak or Powder Keg, with Misdirection or Force of Will to back it up.
If you are using the Chalice version, turn one Chalice for one is one of the best plays you have.
Play another Island. Ophidian (or not)
Play another Island, Draw a card with Phid (if you played one)
By turn 3, you want to have four mana sources in play for triple counter: one 1U counter, one UU counter, and a pitch counter or you want the third Island so you can have Mana Drained a two-mana spell on your opponent’s turn and now play an Ophidian with double counter backup if you don’t have a 1U counterspell.
If you have a choice between playing a Phid with double counterbackup or a Back to Basics, 99.99% of the time play the Phid. Even against Keeper. Phid spells game against those decks just as much as B2B does, but it must be answered now, while B2B tends to do its damage in the medium to long run. If you don’t have a Phid, try to Impulse into one and play it rather quickly with optimal counterspell mana up.
However, it is important to realize that it is okay to sacrifice one of the goals of this deck: being able to counter as many spell as possible each turn if you can sneak a very early Phid into play. There are two fundamental questions this deck has: should it play a turn 2 Phid? And should it play Back to Basics or Phid? I think, for the most part, the early Phid is generally the right play because it is better to get it into play early, then try to find an opportune moment later.
Once you have the Phid engine going, taking control of the game is not difficult. Use your impulses at this point to almost exclusively get countermagic unless you have such an abundance that you really need an Island instead. By this point, you are in full blown permission mode. You will Mana Drain, Mana Leak, and generally counter them into oblivion until the kiss of death with Back to Basics or Morphling. The idea with Chalice is to just slow the game down. Most Type One decks use one casting cost spells like Brainstorm to fix their decks – optimize their hands, adjust their mana, and generally power out the best threats. Chalice for one will shut that down. Another good series of plays is to drop Chalice and then Wasteland them as much as possible.
How to Use Impulse or Accumulated Knowledge Correctly
One note: using Impulse can be tricky. Take this situation:
Your opponent is a Tog/Control Slaver player going first and you have Impulse in your hand:
Tog: Underground Sea, Go.
You: Mox, Island, go.
Tog: Volcanic Island, go.
At this point you want to play Impulse on their turn to fix your hand. The problem is that Tog and Control Slaver are voraciously mana hungry and will likely want to Mana Drain your Impulse to slow you down in the process. So what do you do? In this narrow situation when they say”go.” You will want to say:”On your first mainphase, I play Impulse.” Why? Because if they Drain your impulse, they will get inefficient use of their mana drain mana on their second mainphase and have to mana burn. If you try the same play a turn later, they will be able to use their third land and then Thirst for Knowledge or Intuition. In those scenarios, I advise that you play Impulse on their end-step instead. It would go like this:
Tog, Underground Sea, Go.
You: Island, go.
Tog: Volcanic Island, Go
You: Island, Go.
Tog: Island, go.
You say: On your endstep, I’ll play Impulse.
This is not a hard and fast rule of thumb, but an important concept to keep in mind for playing around Mana Drain. These small plays can make or break matches in Type One.
Fish is probably the most successful deck in the metagame and even with lots of hate, you can’t be more than just a slightly favorable matchup against it – it’s that good. It just so happens that this deck is full of hate, and largely immune to Fish’s mana denial strategies. Mono-Blue Fish would run this deck over with Lord of Atlantis and small men, but U/R Fish is absolutely reamed by Back to Basics. There mana base is something like this:
4 Volcanic Island
2 Faerie Conclave
4 Mishra’s Factory
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Strip Mine
Add Back to Basics to the picture and you not only take out half of their offensive force, but you slow down the game immeasurably stealing massive tempo from the tempo deck. Fish needs to reuse its Volcs to make Grim Lavamancer good and plays lots of small men. Turning their lands into Lotus Petals virtually assures that the game will go favorably to you. You will then be in a position to counter 90% of the small men they play – even without Back to Basics you can do this. Chalice of the Void is perhaps as strong, if not stronger, when cast on turn 1 with one counter. Chalice will stop Grim Lavamancers and Curiosity and after sideboarding will also stop Red Elemental Blast. It will also stop Stifle and Gorilla Shaman. Just remember to break a fetchland immediately, since they will try to Stifle you if they get an opportunity to do so.
If those cards weren’t strong enough, Morphling is virtually game over and can pick up any stragglers that slipped through your mana denial and counterspell net. Ophidian has a similar function, although if you can start drawing cards with the snake, that is ideal. Wastelands help you keep them mana light if they try to keep some mana untapped while you have Back to Basics down. This will significantly harm their long term plans. Wasteland is also useful for nailing an untapped Mishra’s Factory which is preventing your Phids from drawing your cards.
Four Color Control
The most game winning card here is Back to Basics. This card singlehandedly nullifies 4cC, as it doesn’t even run a single Island anymore. Chalice of the Void at one will stop all cards that would be able to murder Ophidian or Back to Basics except for Disenchant and should easily permit you to seal the deal. 4CC can’t deal with a resolved Morphling and Exalted Angel loses that battle as well.
Workshop Aggro-Prison: Stax, 7/10, etc.
For Chalice builds of Mono-Blue:
If you are playing first, Chalice of the Void for zero and/or one is quite powerful. Against Stax, Chalice for zero will ensure that no brokenness occurs on their turn, be it Draw7s or other silly plays. It means, at best, all they can do is play Mishra’s Workshop and a three-mana artifact. Ideally you can follow it up with Back to Basics to lock them out of the game. Under less ideal conditions Wasteland or just countermagic works fine. The most dangerous card is Goblin Welder, because in the long game they can cast a large man who can be returned to play with Goblin Welder. For this reason, if Goblin Welder resolves, try to win with Morphling – you can usually do so before they get enough mana to recover.
If they play first, and if they play Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere, your best play is to Wasteland their Mishra’s Workshop and then slowly build up your mana base. Once you hit three mana if they haven’t capitalized, you can take the game back by Mana Draining into something like Back to Basics.
After sideboarding, bring in Energy Flux. The Workshop decks with more creatures will try to pay for their men, which makes them perfect cards to steal with Domineer and Control Magic. One unresolved question is when to board in Blue Elemental Blast. If you are playing second against Stax, Chalice may need to come out for Blue Elemental Blast.
For my latest Build:
Workshop decks can be extremely explosive. If they go absolutely nuts on your before you can do anything, suck it up and realize that they will steal a game every two matches or so by doing that. The wisest course of action is just to scoop up and go to the next game saving time. Back to Basics and Energy Flux will win you enough games to seal the match.
Control Slaver/Meandeck Titan
The most important play you can get against these decks is Chalice of the Void for one as soon as possible. Back to Basics may be more or less effective depending upon the number of basics they run, but Wastelands will be effective. Having a high basic land count means that, more likely than not, their Volcanic Islands will be Volcanic Lotus Petals. If they resolve a Goblin Welder, don’t fret. You can still easily win this matchup.
There is only one problem: they have inevitability. All your mana denial, draw, and countermagic can’t stop that fact. Eventually, no matter what you do, the game will get into a position where they will either discard a very large artifact man, or they will cast it, you will counter it, and then they will use Goblin Welder to weld it in and trump your Morphling (say if it is Pentavus, Mindslaver, Memnarch, Sundering Titan, or Platinum Angel, the result is the same). Why? Pentavus beats Morphling in almost every way. It can attack in and lose nothing and create men to block. You’ll be taking three damage a turn and won’t be able to do any damage to them. Memnarch can steal your Islands until your Morphling is useless. Sundering Titan can be Weld in and out to destroy all your mana and make Morphling weak. Platinum Angel will stall until Mindslaver comes up and permits them to kill Morphling by pumping its power more than its toughness.
So how do you beat this inevitability? By recognizing that simple fact, also recognize that their inevitability is extremely slow. The only way it can be sped up is with Tinker – which you must counter. In the meantime, it is not difficult at all to simply play Morphling and win before they can achieve sufficient mana.
Of the better decks in the format, this is probably the most difficult matchup for the earlier builds of this deck (version 3.0 or earlier). 90% of the time, a game one resolved Psychatog is probably game. If you tied up the game early with Chalice and Back to Basics and they still slipped Tog into play, then they probably don’t have much steam and must rely on draws to deal damage. If you can get Morphling and a few turns of blockers into play (like two Phids) you can still win that game. Therefore, with the Chalice builds, your goal, in game one, is to tie up their mana, and above all, keep Psychatog off the table. Don’t play too conservatively in that hope though. Chalice for zero is the best you can do and follow it up with Wastelands. That should sufficiently slow the Tog deck down to do some real damage. One thing you will need to assess is the number of Islands they may be running. Some Tog decks have two, others have one. Back to Basics is much stronger the fewer Islands they have. If you can slow down the game enough with your early resource denial and then lock it down with Back to Basics and Ophidian, you can win the game.
For my most recent builds, your Accumulated Knowledges will blow them out of the water and take them by surprise. Your Powder Keg will deal with any resolved Tog and you can clean up by playing the normal control game. Your Wastelands will keep them mana light and you will win if you simply keep drawing more cards than they do. Version 4.0 has a favorable matchup against Psychatog. Whichever build you use, Back to Basics is a bomb against Psychatog and will eventually win you the game so long as you can survive the Tog itself.
After Sideboarding, Tog will board in multiple Red Elemental Blasts. This makes getting Chalice for one into play far more pressing. I suggest bringing in 3-4 Control Magics for two Morphlings.
These decks vary in what they may be attempting to do, but one thing remains certain: Chalice for zero and Chalice for one is devastating. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a simple Duress is very unlikely to shed your hand of all of your usable countermagic. In addition, Wastelands and Back to Basics are just devastating. In some testing against my LongDeath deck, Back to Basics is possibly next to Chalice in terms of being game breaking. Some Tendrils lists may run basic lands, but Back to Basics is still incredibly difficult to deal with. At the least, it slows the game down, creating tempo and virtual card advantage which permits the mono-Blue deck to draw more answers.
Against this deck, almost always, the correct number to Chalice for is zero. I have had to learn this the hard way. But Chalice for one will certainly be appropriate for the second Chalice. The combo player’s best shot at winning will be to do so before the mono-Blue player has dropped a single land.
Keeping a Dryad off the table for as long as possible is quite important. An early resolved Dryad could go the distance, although its not nearly as threatening as Psychatog – particularly if you manage to get Chalice for one and/or Back to Basics into play. Both of those cards will prevent the Dryad from growing. The restriction of Gush has meant that they have few ways around Back to Basics and most of the means by which they grow their dude is cantrips, countermagic, and cards like Night’s Whisper or Accumulated Knowledge. Counter the draw and the Dryad will grow too slowly to be a real threat. After sideboard, Control Magic will have the Dryad on your team.
If you see these decks a lot, it is not a bad idea to use Domineer in the sideboard. Domineer is an excellent tool which mono-Blue did not have at its disposal in 2001. However, given that resource denial element of this deck is so potent: Chalice, Wastelands, Back to Basics – and after sideboard you get Control Magic and the gamebreaking Energy Flux, I think Propaganda is probably just as good.
WS: Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Emerald, Juggernaut
You: Island, Mox Pearl
WS: Play Taiga. Goblin Welder. You Mana Leak the Welder. Tap Workshop and Mox, Su-Chi. Attack with Juggernaut. You are at 15.
You: Island, Propaganda
The drawback to Mishra’s Workshop is that you can’t use the mana to pay for an attack. In a sense, Propaganda had the same effect upon the game state that Domineer would have. You would be using Domineer to essentially stunt their development by taking away one of their early attackers. When you follow Propaganda by either another propaganda, or, by Energy Flux or Back to Basics, they will be unable to attack you at all. Wasteland is also effective in that sort of situation.
Goblins, Food Chain
In testing, this is the matchup that has surprised me the most. I thought, at the outset, that it would be something unwinnable for mono-Blue. Back in 2000-2001, Mono-Blue had great matchups against the aggro decks of the day. Most of those aggro decks were designed to beat keeper and featured lots of small 2/1’s, and plenty of misdirectable burn. If you could play an Ophidian and defend it, or play a Powder Keg, you could wipe their board. Morphling was the finisher.
The problem with Goblins today is that this deck doesn’t feature efficient men. This deck is designed to deal with an environment that is miles away from the metagame of 2001. The downside to that is that the diversified mana costs make your Chalice for one play much weaker. The upside is that the increased mana curve helps your deck enormously. Every time they spend three mana to play a spell that you can counter with Mana Leak, you are getting tempo. Goblin Matron is not an efficient Goblin. Neither is Goblin Ringleader.
I would suggest that you consider Chalice for zero as a good play. Food Chain has a weak mana base and more often than they would like, they get imbalanced draws with mana acceleration like Mana Crypt and too few lands. Additionally, if you can Wasteland a Taiga, that would be extraordinary. In my testing, you can pretty much keep almost any important threat off the table. Without Goblin Lackey, there is almost no way they can get Siege-Gang Commander into play. Additionally, they will be unable at any point to try to combo you. At most, a few stragglers may slip by, but Ophidian cleans up most of them.
I think the card that worried me the most is Goblin Piledriver. Fortunately, I didn’t realize how weak he was until I was playing a game where one resolved. He is only a 1/2 and if you keep all but one other Goblin off the board, he is only a 3/2. Even if he manages to grow, the Phid can block the remaining Goblins and return the Piledriver to normal size. Why isn’t this a problem? Because I have found that one power over many turns is very, very rarely sufficient to race one of your two Morphlings. It is not difficult to find a Morphling and play it and win before they do at that stage of the game.
After sideboarding, I would bring in Propagandas and Blue Elemental Blasts. Propaganda is cumulative so that, if you can protect it, it will do them in. The difficult issue is what to sideboard out. Study the Food Chain variants in your area and see how much Red Elemental Blast they will bring in. If they bring in quite a bit, their threat density will decrease, and your Chalice for 1 play will be much more powerful. If they don’t bring in many or any at all, I would sideboard out Chalice of the Void. Don’t forget, Propaganda is cumulative and ruins Piledrivers.
Other matchups can be frustrating – like the particularly odious U/G Madness – but you have the tools to compete. Propaganda may slow them down sufficiently that you can get another Propaganda in play to stop them from attacking you altogether when combined with Back to Basics, Chalices and Wastelands.
Recognize that mono-Blue has weaknesses, but also recognize that the metagame isn’t prepared for the return of this deck. Most of the players who play Type One are relatively new to the format and won’t be prepared to play against this or have the experience to know what the deck does. Enjoy mono-Blue while you can, because if it’s as good as I hope, it may not be good for very long.
In closing, I’ll leave you with the list I’m playing at Gencon (barring any last minute tweaks) just so you aren’t confused by the many decklists in this article:
SmmenenBlue for Gencon 2004
By Stephen Menendian
3 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
1 Library of Alexandria
1 Strip Mine
1 Black Lotus
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
4 Mana Leak
4 Accumulated Knowledge
1 Time Walk
1 Ancestral Recall
3 Powder Keg
4 Back to Basics
4 Control Magic
4 Energy Flux
3 Blue Elemental Blast
As it stands, I’m sending this article in half a week before Gencon starts, as a result, this list is subject to change at the final event (although the sideboard probably won’t). I’ll let you know how everything went in my tournament report.
Steve dot menendian at gmail dot com