Monomania - All Things Considered: Blue
( Blue Sun's Zenith | Art by Izzy Medrano )
Drowning in Options
Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Monomania. In this article series we examine and analyze all things mono-colored in Commander, placing a heightened focus on ramp and draw packages. For about a year we’ve been challenging staples and misconceptions about the color pie. Today, we surge forward with our holistic examination of each each color on its own.
In my last article, I covered red and stated that, although I think mono-blue is perhaps more functional and more inherently powerful than mono-red, I do not enjoy it nearly as much. Now that we’re taking a magnifying glass to blue, I have the chance to elaborate.
I don’t dislike mono-blue. In fact, I very much enjoy how the color rewards patience, astute threat assessment, and abstract thinking. Mono-blue frequently tests my skills as a player and achieves a satisfying balance of difficulty and power. I have, however, come to avoid building mono-blue over the last couple of years for two reasons. First, my playgroups absolutely despise the color. Second, I’ve found that most blue decks I build feel pretty similar to each other. They all ramp with mana rocks, draw cards, and try to assemble a specific group of cards that will ensure victory.
Mono-blue is extremely efficient, and while this efficiency makes blue decks feel buttery smooth, it also seems to limit their variance. There are only so many times that you can win with Laboratory Maniac before it becomes stale. Yes, there are exceptions: generals such as Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive, Jalira, Master Polymorphist, and Patron of the Moon, for example, lend themselves toward archetypes that are uncommon in the color. Even so, they may still find themselves winning with one of blue’s ubiquitous two-card combos at the end of the game.
At this point, I’ve dismantled my mono-blue decks in favor of other options, but I don't begrudge anyone who enjoys the playstyle of blue. Perhaps I have a shallow understanding of the color. Maybe you all can correct me.
Without further ado, let’s look at the tools available to mono-blue in EDH.
There are a few pertinent ramp cards in mono-blue, but I want to keep this section short in order to cover more ground in card advantage. Most of these ramp options are relegated to particular strategies or archetypes, but they are all fairly powerful within those archetypes.
Many of the ramp options in this color reduce the costs of particular card types or abilities. Etherium Sculptor is the blue cousin of Foundry Inspector and Jhoira's Familiar, and it should see play in any artifact-focused mono-blue deck. Jace's Sanctum is another favorite of mine. I find myself playing this card in blue decks that aren't even firmly planted in the spellslinger archetype but that do have a significant number of instant and sorcery spells. Cost reduction is my favorite form of ramp, especially on an enchantment, and the scry triggers are actually fairly significant. In a similar vein, I'm also a big fan of Curious Homunculus. If only it were also a Wizard. For commanders that have activated abilities that cost colorless mana, Training Grounds is the best card in your deck. Play this card with commanders such as Memnarch. Finally, High Tide belongs in every mono-blue deck, especially in decks with a sharp focus on instants and sorceries. This card is in my top five of non-Dramatic Reversal instants to plant on an Isochron Scepter.
Drawing cards is an inherent part of blue’s identity and has been since the very beginning. As such, there is a glut of card advantage options available to any mono-blue player—far too many for me to cover in this article. Instead of discussing every option, I will try to cover broad categories of card advantage and cards that I particularly want to highlight. To everyone despairing over the price of Rhystic Study, fear not and try out some of these cards.
First of all, blue has a suite of cards that simply increase the number of cards you draw per turn, a la Phyrexian Arena, that are exclusive to the color, and, in particular, has access to several cards that allow all players to draw an extra card each turn, a la Howling Mine. Of these, Dictate of Kruphix is my go-to choice; flash is extremely relevant on this card since it gives you the power to gain the first advantage. Other examples of this type of card draw include Mind Unbound, The Magic Mirror, Kumena's Awakening, and Well of Ideas.
Next, there are several high-costed Sphinxes and their kin that provide card advantage on a body. Consecrated Sphinx and Nezahal, Primal Tide are the poster children of this effect, but other examples include Sphinx of Uthuun, Sphinx of Enlgihtenment, and Inspired Sphinx. These cards can be particularly good with generals that can take advantage of the body or abuse ETB effects, and that's all without diving into Sphinx tribal.
Finally, Isochron Scepter[/el[ is my wild card pick of the week. Most people only think of this card as a combo piece, but in reality [el]Isochron Scepter can be an incredible card advantage engine on its own. In a long game, sticking Counterspell or Impulse on this Scepter can generate near insurmountable value over time.
My favorite card advantage package in mono-blue is the set of cards that plays with the graveyard as a resource. First of all, Compulsive Research, Thirst for Knowledge, and Thirst for Meaning are all extremely powerful cards: each allows you to pitch unwanted cards to the graveyard to potentially get wanted cards into your hand. I'm even known to play Careful Consideration in several decks. If you build your deck with a critical mass of these looting spells, you can also include two of my other favorite draw spells in blue: Deep Analysis and Chemister's Insight. Once you have a sufficient number of cards in your graveyard, Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise also become extremely effective. This package is competent and allows you to gain card advantage, sculpt your hand, and take advantage of abundant graveyard synergies in the color all at the same time. Because blue is historically one of the colors with access to powerful flashback and Delirium effects, these cards can form the base of a powerful card advantage engine .
Blue card advantage can also play into aggressive strategies with cards like Coastal Piracy and Bident of Thassa, both of which are perfect for commanders such as Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive. In a completely different direction, blue also has a potent, artifact-centered card advantage package that includes cards like Thoughcast, Sai, Master Thopterist, Vedalken Archmage, and One with the Machine. And what would this article be without the classic pay-X-draw-X effects? Blue Sun's Zenith, Stroke of Genius, and Pull from Tomorrow are good cards for decks that produce a lot of mana in one go, and they can also be part of casual combos with infinite mana and Laboratory Maniac.
This is why I am truly bored by mono-blue. Last time, speaking on mono-red, I mentioned that the true strength of the color is how many interesting avenues it has to win. Blue, on the other hand, is the opposite. There are a few independent win conditions, but the color is most effective when pursuing one of its combos.
Chief offender among blue's combo crew is Laboratory Maniac. I am bored by this card at this point and it can't fool me even disguised as Jace, Wielder of Mysteries or Thassa's Oracle. Once upon a time, Lab Man was a fun and unique win condition, but after years of abuse, I don't like playing with or against him anymore.
Expropriate is the one-man-band of blue. Like Insurrection, this is blue's "Win the Game" button. I really like this card, and I hope that it gets reprinted in the near future.
Finally, Capsize is the perfect card to include if you can get access to infinite mana. Sure, you don't win on the spot, but there's a good chance your opponents concede immediately when you bounce all of their permanents.
My personal favorite easy-include combo recently has been this one. Each of these cards is good on its own, so I rarely feel like I'm in the Combo Piece Waiting Room. If you do manage to assemble this combo, you get infinite extra turns. Be careful, though, because that's all that this combo gives you: once you get the machine running, you do not draw a new card during your draw step. On each of your extra turns you'll draw Time Warp and you will need a way to accrue value in other ways during your extra turns in order to actually win from that point. Case in point, I have lost games where I've assembled this combo.
There are so many combos that it's hard to keep track of them all. Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal. Grand Architect and Pili-Pala. Palinchron and Phantasmal Imagine. Deadeye Navigator and Peregrine Drake. Even just to produce infinite mana, blue has so many options. These combos can be exciting, but they have become rote and stale in the last year or so.
As usual, I want to use this space to address a few cards that I believe are underplayed, undervalued, or both. Because blue has so many options for card advantage, it may seem futile to try new things, but some of these underutilized tools do have their compelling use cases.
Keep Watch is the real deal. At first, I added this card only to my creature-heavy decks, but I slowly realized that it is pretty good in all of my blue-inclusive decks that play at instant speed. How many times have you seen an EDH player attack with five or more creatures? In my meta, it occurs at least a few times each game. In most pods I've played in, players attack with three or more creatures almost every turn. Is three cards for three mana at instant speed a good deal? It's an incredible deal. If nobody in the pod is playing creatures, then the card has a very low floor, but that ceiling is so worth it. How is this only seeing play in 906 decks?
Hieroglyphic Illuminations has grown on me over the years. This is essentially a modal spell: one mana for a cantrip or four to go up one card in hand. This isn't the most efficient spell in terms of mana, but the flexibility has earned it a spot in plenty of my decks over the years.
Finally, I can't believe that Flow of Ideas isn't more widely-played. Yes, six mana is a lot, but it in mono-blue this is almost guaranteed to be an incredible rate. These big card advantage spells in the same vein as Overwhelming Intellect and Recurring Insight aren't for everyone, but they can fill a vital role in some mono-blue decks, propelling you through your deck at a blistering clip.
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So what do you all think? Is my distaste for mono-blue misplaced? Where would you place blue on a power ranking of the colors on their own. If you frequently build mono-blue decks, do you also find that they grow stale fast? What are your go-to win conditions for the color? Please let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear some fresh perspectives on my least-favorite mono color. I hope you all are staying safe and taking precautions right now.
Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.