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Fun Cubed – Drafting Blue

Blue in many ways feels like the grandfather color of Magic. Blue has been around the tournament scene prominently since the first tournament decks of the early 90’s. Blue has played the leading role in the competitive Magic scene throughout the game’s history, most notably defining how a “control” deck should perform. Blue single handedly built the control corner of the triangle that makes up now familiar Rock, Paper, Scissors style metagame. The initial power level of the color made for a standard that the game couldn’t live up to in the long term and nowadays is most often showcased in the Type 1 format. While cards like Ancestral Recall and Time Walk are shining examples of Blue’s imbalance from day one, the cornerstone of Blue’s power is still permission.

Blue

Permission at its very core is the ability to simply say “No” to anything your opponent is trying to play. So from the beginning Blue has an answer to every type of potential threat in Magic, outside of lands. While each color in the pie has strengths and weaknesses, including natural abilities to deal with particular cards or card types, Blue circumvents these inherent limitations with permission. Black for example has the ability to kill creatures, force opponents to discard cards, destroy lands, and gain additional strength through the loss of its own Mage’s life points. While on the other hand Black has great difficulty dealing with artifacts and enchantments. Cards like Gate to Phyrexia and Quagmire Druid are examples of ways Black can combat its own weaknesses but these cards are slow and have drawbacks, much like most cards that bend the boundaries of the color pie. Meanwhile Blue doesn’t suffer this disadvantage because there are so many cards that can counter any spell regardless for type printed on them.

As the game evolved, fewer Blue cards were printed that outright countered any spell as the game became more balanced. Initially the R&D answer to balance out counter magic was to either make the phrase “counter target spell” cost more mana or make counter magic in the vein of cards like Mana Leak, simply to give an opponent an opportunity to not have a spell counteRed under the right circumstances. Nowadays we play in a standard environment where your choice for a two mana counterspell comes in the form of Negate, Remove Soul, or Flashfreeze, not quite on par with spells from a decade ago. These new situational counters are very balanced in the way that every other color is balanced in its abilities to deal with particular card types better than others. Of course in the Cube format these rules don’t apply, and you have access to the larger library of counter magic printed, making for overpoweRed Blue mages in draft every time.

Originally in the conception of the game Blue was the magic “of the mind,” which meant Blue magic was about mental manipulation. This encompassed not only counter magic but also cards like Sleight of Mind and Magical Hack, as Blue could manipulate spells as they were played and permanents in play. Of course without pointing this out I don’t think many of you out there would even associate Blue with cards like Mind Bend, Spectral Shift, or Glamerdye when describing the elements of that make up Blue. Popular belief is that Blue is the magic of counters and card draw, and maybe theft. It speaks volumes to the game and the dominance of the color that the majority of players can quickly answer the question of what Blue does in magic with this statement, completely ignoring the “mental manipulation” aspect. I remember when I met Richard Garfield at an event and I asked him when he thinks of a magic card, really what card springs to mind as the essence of the game. May it just be the first card he’d think of or what he feels defines the game for him his answer surprised me quite a bit. “Magical Hack.” Just like that, a statement without question and without long thought he told me about how the card really defined the game for him. The subtlety of the card really defined not only a color but the game for him. While his answer was enlightening to me about how he viewed the game, in the back of my mind I was laughing about how the game’s creator could be caught up on a card so narrow and weak in game play. I wouldn’t say the initial design of Blue was flawed, but its obvious that Blue was the color that needed the most managing for the sake of balance after the game’s first release. To this end Blue makes for a powerhouse color to play in cube. While not the easiest color to wield as it requires more decision making and harder ones to make on a turn to turn basis, permission is still king in Cube. With all of the all-star counter spells to pick from, every from of Control Magic to play, and plenty of card draw to help combat potential card disadvantage Blue is without a doubt the best color in Cube.

The potential first picks in Cube are plentiful, spanning cards like Forbid, Treachery, Keiga, the Tide Star, and Capsize. Cube limited bombs for Blue are great but even first picking a card like Counterspell can turn into a great deck in draft. The general draft strategy for Blue is to take the counterspells and then find win conditions. Sounds simple, and in a lot of drafts it’s not difficult to do. The difficulty comes in putting those cards together in a deck and finding a way to win games with them. Blue can support three players in an eight man draft easily, with potential for all of them to run Blue as a primary color. Remember that Blue is two thirds spells and only one third creatures in Cube, so more often than not win conditions for the Blue drafter come from another color. Not to say I haven’t seen plenty of mono-Blue decks, normally winning the game on the back of cards like Rainbow Efreet, Morphling, or Masticore, but more often than not, Blue buddies up with either White, Black, or Red to make for a formidable control strategy.

Archetypes

Starting with the classic White/Blue control deck we see the classic permission plus board sweeping combination that has been popular in various formats over the years. All those expensive White board clearers are high picks when drafting this archetype, Akroma’s Vengeance, Austere Command, Winds of Rath, and Martial Coup are all shinning examples of great spells that clear the board when the Blue mage doesn’t want to spend counter magic on creature after creature from your opponent. I’d avoid lower casting cost White and Blue creatures when I draft this archetype and value artifact mana higher. Often times I’ll draft an off-color signet over cards like White Knight when playing this control strategy. Thankfully, all the White/Blue gold cards in Cube lend themselves very well to this archetype with staples like Overrule and Windreaver. White’s spot removal is also the best for control decks with Swords to Plowshares, Exile, Judge Unworthy are all great additions to the counter magic foundation of a Cube draft deck. If you’ve ever played constructed decks like Mirari’s Wake, Cloudpost control, or even Story Circle Blue/White then you’re familiar with how to draft this control archetype in Cube.

With similar to the White/Blue archetype is that of Black/Blue. Having more overall removal than White, Black commonly trades board sweeping spells for more spot removal and some additional card advantage. The Black/Blue drafter is commonly the only player in the draft who has to worry about decking him or herself since these allied colors both have access to card draw. I’m still avoiding drafting creatures in this archetype as removal is more prevalent in the form of Damnation, Barter in Blood, or Decree of Pain. Finding win conditions in Black/Blue is again similar to that of White/Blue, as a single late game finisher often comes down to win the game after the board has been cleared a couple of times with removal and counter magic. Psychatog is the shining example of a Black/Blue win condition but Visara, Ink-Eyes, or even a late game Grinning Demon can go the distance once you have control of the game. Still valuing the artifact mana high is important when drafting these cards, but not as important in Black/Blue as when paired with White, as Black has cheaper answers to early game threats so relying on expensive spells on get back into the game isn’t as important.

Red/Blue might be my favorite color combination to draft in Cube. Counter magic and burn spells is a winning combination. With the ability to never have to play a spell during your own turn you have twice as many instant speed answers in this archetype. Burn spells often deal with early game threats, or if you can draft enough, become aimed at opponents before the finisher gets cast in the form of cards like Earthquake. I’m also not afraid to draft more creatures when playing this color combination as the board sweepers are simply variations on Earthquake and since they much very differently from cards like Wrath of God I’m confident in casting my own creatures onto the field when playing this archetype. Even cards like Ball Lightning play well in this deck, where instead of being an additional high power attacker like in most aggressive decks it acts like double Lightning Bolt to your opponent’s face or Fireball for five as you chip away at your opponent. Thirst for Knowledge into Fiery Temper is one of those classic plays I associate with the control deck that’s Red/Blue based. I don’t value the mana accelerants as high when playing this color combination as your early game answers are very cheap to cast and you have more access to X mana spells. While the gold cards of this color combination are on the whole subpar, something like Prophetic Bolt fits so perfectly into this deck. Being able to refill your ammunition with card draw while having counter magic backup makes this archetype one of the most formidable in draft and simply be able to win games.

The only two color combination that breaks free from the control strategy that Blue is known for is that of Green/Blue. This color combination takes the most advantage of the abilities of Blue’s creatures like Ninja of the Deep Hours and Tradewind Rider where other decks cannot. Certain Blue cards play much better in this color combination as it plays best as a tempo card advantage strategy. Cards like Memory Lapse and Remand come together with the cheap efficient beaters of Green for a much more aggressive curve. Also the need for early Green and Blue mana in the deck makes those single colored mana commitment spells higher picks during the draft to keep you from missing plays early in the game. The deck often plays like the old school fish decks of type 1 where small creatures chip away at your opponent while you maintain card advantage and tempo with cards like Man-o-war. Since Blue doesn’t have as many creatures as any of the other colors trying to play any aggressive strategy is difficult. Thankfully when paired with Green you’re more likely to be able to play an aggressive Vendilion Clique or get your Ninja of the Deep Hours into play on turn two. A curve of Jungle Lion, Remand, Call of the Herd, Mana Leak is strong enough to combat most Cube decks. Lorescale Coatl is a shining all star and perfect example of how a deck like Green/Blue is played. Playing early creatures while keeping card advantage with Blue makes the deck type formidable when you get the right cards.

Thankfully for the Blue drafters in a pod, the four or five color control players aren’t as interested in hacking your counter magic, as the majority is double color commitment and 5CC players are far more inclined to stay closer to single colored spells. While drafters of other colors have potential to lose many powerful spells to the 5CC drafters, Blue gets to see cards like Counterspell and Cryptic Command go right past other control players and end up in their pools. When just splashing Blue, those multi-color control decks look to pick off cards like Thirst for Knowledge, Stroke of Genesis, and Covenant of Minds. The card draw from Blue lends itself well to these gets as they rarely have that heavy color commitment while still keeping card advantage against aggressive strategies.

Overall Blue is arguably the best color in Cube as permission goes unchecked in this format. So trying to be critical of its draft strategy isn’t as important as simply taking the Blue cards in Cube, meaning you’ll have the capacity to win in draft just by taking the tools of the color. It’s hard to draft Blue and not end up with an above quality card pool to build a deck from. Making sure you have more than two win conditions at your disposal is important as I’ve seen it be the downfall of Blue drafters in the past. I had a friend recently draft a Cube deck that won on the back of Aeon Chronicler and Morphling. The now infamous “A Maro and a Morphling” deck ended up 2-1 since my friend decked himself in one game while trying to get either of this win conditions online. I’ve also seen the power of Blue lead one drafter to play a 60 card draft deck as he couldn’t decide what spells not to play. When you decide to take that first pick Control Magic in your next Cube draft think about how Blue plays in Cube and how your picks should reflect that. Following up that first pick Control Magic with a card like Soltari Champion or Silvos, Rogue Elemental might not end up making for the best deck. Hopefully armed with this information you’ll be a better Blue drafter in Cube, or at least hack one of those counter spells when faced with a weak pack in your next draft. Until next week this is Tristan Gregson hoping your top decks are live and your lethal damage always resolves.

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