At Pro Tour 25th Anniversary earlier this month, I played Mono-Blue Storm.
How Does This Deck Work?
This is primarily a combo deck, though it can assume the control or even the aggro role with some particular draws. The main engine consists of landing an Inspiring Statuary so that your Baral’s Expertises and Paradoxical Outcomes are almost free. Then, you get an Aetherflux Reservoir into play (either by hardcasting it or by playing it through Baral’s Expertise), and you play several cheap artifacts to gain enough life to kill them with Aetherflux Reservoir. This is your game 1 plan against most of the field, though it’s also possible to win with just Sai, Master Thopterist and/or Karn, Scion of Urza.
How Good is This Deck?
I believe this deck is very powerful, but inconsistent. The main issue is that you have a lot of cards you want to draw one copy of, but not multiples. For example, you’re really looking to draw a Sai, Master Thopterist and an Inspiring Statuary, but those cards do almost nothing in multiples. You also can’t have a hand that’s flooded with Ornithopter and Mox Ambers, or a hand that’s flooded with Paradoxical Outcomes, Karns, and Commit // Memory. You need a combination of all of those things for your deck to work. Every deck needs some amount of this (B/R can’t draw all Glorybringers and Hazorets, for example, and Mono-Green can’t draw all Ghaltas and Heart of Kirans or all Llanowar Elves), but this effect is even more pronounced with mono-blue. That said, when your draws are good, the deck does something that no other deck in the format is equipped to handle.
How Are the Matchups?
I believe that Mono-Green is a bad matchup. The only one other than very fast Mono-Red, which is not very popular right now. They are fast, their threats are hard to block (Steel Leaf Champion, Ghalta, Rhonas), and they have main-deck disruption in the form of Thrashing Brontodon. They can also sideboard into Manglehorn, which is very good versus you, and will often do so because, as a mono-green deck, they don’t actually have many good cards to sideboard. A deck like B/R can also side in, say, By Force, but usually won’t because the opportunity cost is so high (there are a lot of good sideboard cards they could be playing instead), but that’s not the case for mono-green.
Against Mono-Green, Karn is very good. They often cannot kill your blocker and kill Karn in one turn (which red can easily do), and you almost always end up making at least two Constructs. Those Constructs can block Steel Leaf Champion (and often survive combat), and they can even outgrow Ghalta in the right games. The more Karns you play in your deck, the better you will be against Green. Since we only had two, I think Green was our worst matchup.
I think B/R is a bit of a coin flip that can be slanted either way depending on how they construct their deck. The most important cards for them that are not automatic 4-ofs are Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Abrade, and Cut // Ribbons. If they have a huge number of those, then I believe they are slight favorites in the matchup. If they have a normal amount of them, then I believe that Mono-Blue is slightly favored.
It might seem weird to play a deck that has an even or worse matchup against the top two decks in the field, but the thing about Mono-Blue is that it just crushes everyone else. Grixis is an easy matchup, control is a very easy matchup, and decks like Turbo Fog are almost byes. Dave William’s list, for example, sideboards in 15 cards against you. Other Turbo Fog decks didn’t go to this great a length, and as a result you could almost never lose to them.
So, if you’re playing Mono-Blue, you’re banking on the fact that the two most popular decks won’t be that popular. You don’t really mind playing against B/R every round, but you don’t want it to happen either, and this is not the deck I’d choose if I knew that it was going to be the case. If you expect a modest amount of B/R and Mono-Green (comparatively speaking, say, a combined 35%, for example), then you will probably have a good matchup percentage versus the total field. When B/R and Mono-Green are 60% of the field, which is what happened at the PT, then maybe you’re not so good.
Why 1 Glint-Nest Crane?
I think that Glint-Nest Crane is very good in this deck. It’s an early blocker, it digs to your important pieces, it costs only one with Statuary, it protects Karn, and it can be returned for value with Paradoxical Outcome. The only reason there is one Crane as opposed to, say, three, is because you have to start cutting artifacts for them, and then they become worse. We found that one was a decent number, but couldn’t make room for more. But I believe that playing three Metalspinner’s Puzzleknots and zero Glint-Nest Cranes is a mistake. You should play two and one.
Why do you board Glint-Nest Crane in versus Grixis?
It might seem weird to board in what is usually an anti-aggro card versus a control matchup, but Glint-Nest Crane is actually good versus Grixis because of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Their best way to win is to resolve a Siphoner and then 1-for-1 you for the rest of the game, and any combination of two of Crane, Thopter token, Sai, and Ornithopter (other than two Ornithopters) puts a halt on that plan. Finally, Crane is a good way to protect your Karn from Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. It only stops one attack, but that means another Construct, and that’s good enough.
Why don’t you board in your counterspells versus Grixis?
In testing, we found that we were diluting our deck too much, and making our main game plan too weak if we cut all of the Cranes and Ornithopters for Counterspells. Paradoxical Outcome is your best source of card advantage versus them, and you need stuff in play for it to do anything. They have removal and discard, so you don’t want to be topdecking counterspells, especially since the counterspells don’t actually counter everything important. Rebuke and Commit are still good, though, since they counter anything.
Since we were adding Cranes, we wanted some high impact artifacts we could search for. My original attempt was to splash green and play Lifecrafter’s Bestiary. It was a bit odd with only 12 creatures in the deck, but it works really well with Crane and Ornithopter, and especially well if you’re Craning into Ornithopter. Adding a couple of Forests and some Spire of Industry wasn’t a big cost, and the deck already had four Renegade Map and four Prophetic Prisms to fix your mana. Besides, you were getting some value out of it even if you didn’t have green mana or a creature to play, as the scry was very relevant in those matchups.
Ultimately, we decided that Lifecrafter’s Bestiary was too cute, and the green wasn’t as free as we’d like, so we added Treasure Map. Treasure Map turned out to be excellent against control, Grixis, and the mirror. It’s a cheap artifact that has a high impact in the game and that does everything you want done in those matchups. It’s also a good combo with Karn, Scion of Urza, since it gives you three artifacts when it flips, and it allows you to cast Nezahal, Primal Tide on turn 5 by itself. Treasure Map overperformed in the tournament, and I think I’d like a third in the board moving forward.
Tips and Tricks
Aetherflux Reservoir math can seem a bit complicated, but you should still attempt to do it rather than just cast spells and hope it works out.
If Reservoir is already in play (i.e., it’s the start of a new turn), then you gain life equal to n * (n+1)/2, where n is the number of spells cast. So, for example, if you cast 7 spells, you gain 7*8/2 = 28 life.
Important breakpoints to know are:
- 8 spells – 36 life – this is the amount that kills them if you are close to your starting life total
- 10 spells – 55 life – this is the amount that kills them no matter where you started
If you played Reservoir that turn, then the math is a little more complicated (unless you just played Reservoir first, in which case you subtract 1). It involves figuring out the number you’d have if you had cast all the spells that turn, and then subtracting from the amount of life you gain when n is equal to the number of spells you cast before Reservoir.
For example, imagine you cast two spells, then Baral’s Expertise, then you put Reservoir in play, which means that you’ve already cast four spells this turn. You’re going to cast nine spells total. The math therefore is:
So you gain 35 life total.
(Or you can also just brute force it and do 5+6+7+8+9, which isn’t that hard either.)
The key point here is: do the math. Don’t just hope that things work out. I had games in practice where I thought I was going to kill my opponent, ended up at 49 life, and then they killed Reservoir on their turn, whereas I could just have waited a turn to go off had I realized that I was short.
- The card played with Baral’s Expertise counts as being cast, which means that it makes a Sai Token and works as a spell for Aetherflux Reservoir.
- You almost never want to play Mox Amber and Ornithopter before you have to. If they have a 1/1 attacking you, or you have an Inventors’ Fair you could turn on, it’s still usually better not to play them and wait for Sai, Reservoir, or Outcome.
- You can use Prophetic Prism to add black mana for Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot.
- Against U/W, their only important card is Teferi. Until they have access to 4 mana, you can just jam spells into their counterspells. When they reach 5, then you want to slow down to make sure that you can counter Teferi. Then, when they approach 8 mana, you want to start jamming again, since they’re able to pay for Metallic Rebuke.
- Baral’s Expertise can (and often should) bounce your own permanents.
- Karn cannot be bounced with Baral’s Expertise (it only bounces creatures and artifacts), but it can be bounced with Paradoxical Outcome. If you have Statuary out, it’s not hard to bounce Karn and replay it in the same turn, making many Constructs.
- As a general rule, if I have no 2-drop, I’ll always play Zhalfrin Void on turn 1 so that I can look for a turn-2 play. If I already have a turn-2 play, I’ll often play the Void on turn 2 so that I have extra information on what I want to dig for.
- The midgame Outcome is a great source of card advantage because replaying things is good for you too. So if you cast Outcome and bounce, say, Crane, Prism, and Ornithopter, you’re actually getting a 5-for-1, since Prism and Crane replace themselves. This is especially good to do when you are being attacked and can chump-block before bouncing your creatures back to your hand.
- Don’t play a land early in your combo turn. You might draw into Zhalfrin Void and it’s often preferable to play that. If you are going to pass the turn without making a land drop, it’s usually worth sacrificing a Renegade Map for it, even if it’s the middle of the game. If you do draw Paradoxical Outcome, you’ll usually have plenty to do with the mana.
- The aftermath part of Commit // Memory is very important for this deck. Due to having Inspiring Statuary, you can out-mana your opponent by a lot, and get to a spot where they can play two of their seven cards in a turn and you can play all of them (and that’s if you don’t kill them this turn outright, which you almost always do if you already have Reservoir in play).
- Aetherflux Reservoir is not only a combo card—it also gives you a ton of life. A turn-4 Reservoir is a very good play against most aggressive decks. Post sideboard, people usually bring in disruption, so you want cards that do something rather than cards that just delay the game, which is why you side it out most of the time.
I don’t think I’d change anything in the main deck at this point. There are not many flex slots, and I like the mix that we have. If I were to change anything, it’d be minus one Karn for plus one Baral’s Expertise.
In the sideboard, I’d also make minimal changes. I liked Treasure Map enough that I’d want a third, but I’m not sure what to take out. I think the one Nezahal can probably go, though it is quite good in the mirror and the U/W matchups (it’s not that fantastic versus Grixis). Having Maps also makes Nezahal better, since it’s easier to cast. You could also cut a Negate for the Map. I don’t think you need infinite counters post-board versus anyone, and Map is good in the same matchups anyway. I’d probably just cut the Nezahal for it, though.
I think this is a pretty good deck, and I recommend it moving forward if you expect the metagame to adapt heavily to the PT. Turbo Fog was the breakout deck of the tournament, and U/W Control won everything, so if people move in this direction, then Mono-Blue is pretty reasonable. If they start playing Grixis to beat Turbo Fog, for example, then you’re also good. If you expect the exact same metagame as the PT (a lot of B/R and Mono-Green, and not much of anything else), then I’d probably rather play something else.