Hi everybody, some of you might remember me from my win last year at GP San Diego with Eggs. That result qualified me for Pro Tour San Diego in May, where I got 27th on breakers to miss Silver by one point. Needless to say, I am ecstatic to have re-qualified for the Pro Tour at GP Phoenix.
The weekend started off great. I flew to Phoenix on Friday with two of my best friends—shoutouts to Michael Boland and Marina Fagundes—and we listened to DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s new single “Turn Down for What” a bunch of times on the plane. (If you haven’t seen the music video you’re doing it wrong.) The site hotel turned out to be insane. It was without a doubt the tallest hotel I’ve ever stayed in, with over twenty stories, and Marina nabbed a killer third floor room by the pool for cheap. Some friends had a room on floor 22 and it was fun to watch the city as we zoomed hundreds of feet upwards. When we left to find food our waiter was so laid back that we were pretty sure he was on drugs, but he told us about a big party downtown, so all was forgiven. After losing an $80 roll for dinner I was ready to play a GP.
Mono-Blue’s goal is to turn on Thassa, power up Master of Waves, and use a tempo spell or two to help your small creatures beat down. While many of your cards are not individually powerful, when drawn in a good mix they combine for a formidable offense. Big thanks to Sam Pardee and Josh McClain for working on the following list, although Josh lost faith in the God of the Sea and played Esper.
The core of the deck is a pile of blue creatures:
Although some of these creatures are not even good in draft, I would not consider cutting any. It’s important to have more threats than the opponent has answers, or at least deploy threats faster than the opponent can respond. Judge’s Familiar is an important role-player that’s especially good against control, Burn, and Mono-Black Devotion, depending on their draw. I have seen others try a Galerider Sliver or two to give Mutavault flying, but the owl catches enough curses to make him superior.
Mutavault is sometimes punishing when trying to cast Nightveil Specter or multiple blue cards, but without it we would have have to play at least 24 lands anyway, making flood an inevitability. Mutavault really shines against control and Mono-Black, where an additional threat is invaluable.
28 creatures and 24 lands leaves us with 8 flex spots. Candidates include:
Bident is a perfect fit. Adding 2 devotion and upgrading all your creatures into Ophidians gives you a huge advantage. Even the activated ability is sometimes relevant. However, it is a legendary, noncreature 4-drop, so more than two maindeck would be ambitious. We had two main, one sideboard for quite awhile because it is so good against control and Mono Black. Eventually we found the third too slow against Mono-Black since their plan is often to race, but against control the first Bident often eats Detention Sphere or a counterspell, and they present little pressure. In the end since we were only bringing it in against control, we cut the third Bident for a better card in the matchup, Jace, Memory Adept.
Domestication is fantastic against Mono-Black, the mirror, and red or white creature decks, but blank against control and just okay against GR Monsters. Additionally, there is a limit to the number 4-drops we can play. We decided on one maindeck, one sideboard, but could see playing two maindeck if Mono-Black and Mono-Blue continue to terrorize.
I like one Nykthos maindeck. When it works, it’s overloading Cyclonic Rift, dumping your hand on the table, and making your team unblockable. It’s also useful to have 25 lands against control when boarding in counterspells and Jaces.
Cyclonic Rift and Rapid Hybridization allow you to cheaply answer your opponents threats without giving up tempo. Bouncing a Pack Rat token, Detention Sphere, Chained to the Rocks, or alternatively everything on their side of the table is often enough to swing a tight race. Rapid Hybridization is an interesting card, killing every creature in Standard for less mana than any other removal spell. The Frog is mitigated by Tidebinder Mage, Domestication, Frostburn Weird, and Cyclonic Rift. Sometimes it’s great to Rapid Thassa or your own guys in response to removal spells against control, Mono-Black, and Burn (especially against Detention Sphere, Bile Blight, Searing Blood, and Warleader’s Helix). Rapid creates some interesting scenarios in the Burn matchup. After a few blowouts in testing, my Burn opponent stopped attacking into the threat of Rapid on my turn one Bird with his turn two Ash Zealot. Only against control is it bad, and even there has its uses. I decided on one in the board for the matchups where it’s really excellent: GR Monsters, Burn, and the mirror. (Also of of note is that I’ve never Top 8’d a GP without Rapid Hybridization in my deck, so it must be good.)
I think Jace is lackluster in the main. You only really want him against control, the mirror, and small red or white creature decks. You just have to mise game one against control so I don’t think it’s worth the hedge of maindeck Jace.
Two weekends ago Sam Black 8-0ed the standard portion of the SCG Invitational with 2 Syncopates in his maindeck. I tested one Syncopate the week before Phoenix, but it didn’t seem to fit the gameplan. I usually want to tapout every turn, and even if I don’t have a spell I want to attack with Mutavault or make my creatures unblockable with Thassa. Sam Pardee and I were considering how many Mana Leaks we would play in Mono Blue if allowed, and concluded maybe zero. However, 8-0ing the Invitational is impressive, so maybe Sam Black is on to something I am not.
Why No Detention Sphere?
Splashing white for the best removal spell in the format that also happens to add devotion seems great on its face, but I don’t think it’s worth it. Mono-Blue is similar to a white weenie deck, and tries to curve out just as hard. Adding tapped lands and cutting Rapid Hybridization and Cyclonic Rift for more three-drops reduces your tempo advantage over most of the format. Also, while Detention Sphere provides a better answer to some threats, it makes others like, Stormbreath Dragon and Mistcutter Hydra, much more serious. If Burn remains a real deck, it is also worth noting that adding shocklands and cutting Rapid Hybridizations is not a good place to be.
The remainder of the sideboard is dedicated to beating control. Game one is hard to win if the control player draws reasonably, so it’s important to have an extensive sideboard plan for games two and three.
After board the plan is to counter all of their threats and resolve Jace, Bident, and Thassa. Because our creatures are so much worse than their threats, it’s often right to let removal spells resolve and save counterspells for Jace, Elspeth, and Revelation. When sideboard Archangels were common, it was fine to leave in two Rapid Hybridization. Similarly, bring back in Domestication against Nightveil or Brimaz, but Last Breath makes Domestication sketchy at best against Archangel. Jace, Memory Adept has come and gone from the sideboard, but I was very happy with the inclusion this weekend. I only played against two control decks, but each time Jace, Memory Adept was instrumental to my victory after sideboard.
Remove (on the play)
Remove (on the draw)
Frostburn Weird is much worse on the play because Tidebinder Mage makes him a risky turn two play, while Judge’s Familiar can counter Gainsay on Thassa or Nightveil Specter. On the draw, it is likely the opponent will have already played Tidebinder Mage on turn two, making red less of liability.
Mono Black, BW Midrange, Br, etc.
(Or maybe a Domestication)
Depending on their build you may want to board in Domestication.
Again, depending on their build you may want another Domestication.
Sam Pardee, Jeff Tangsombatvisit, Ed Chow, and I played this 75. We all made Day Two, Sam and Jeff finished X-3.
Rounds 1, 2, 3: Byes
(2-0) Round 4: GR Monsters
(2-0) Round 5: BW Midrange
(2-0) Round 6: Esper Control
(2-1) Round 7: BR Aggro
(2-1) Round 8: Mono-Black Devotion – John Stern (Featured)
(2-0) Round 9: Mono-Red Devotion
(2-0) Round 10: Br Devotion – Eric Froehlich (Featured)
(2-1) Round 11: Bant Control – Dimitri Butakov (Featured)
(1-2) Round 12: Mono-Black Devotion – Brandon Bercovich (Featured)
(2-0) Round 13: Uw Devotion – Valentin Mackl
(1-2) Round 14: Mono-Black Devotion – Robert Berni
(2-1) Round 15: Mono-Black Devotion
At this point we’ve all seen plenty of Standard matches, so I’ll just go over a couple of interesting plays.
• On the draw against EFro playing Br Devotion in Round 10, I played turn one Judge’s Familiar to his turn two nothing. I had the option of casting Frostburn Weird or Judge’s Familiar on my turn two. Given his slow start, he was very likely to have a Lifebane Zombie, so I went with Judge’s Familiar. Everything went according to plan—his turn three Lifebane whiffed, and I used my Judge’s Familiars to draw a bunch of cards with Bident two turns later.
• Game one against Valentin Mackl playing Uw Devotion in Round 13, he led off with Frostburn Weird, Thassa, and Tidebinder Mage, while I played the exact same progression one turn behind. After playing my Tidebinder on turn four, I passed with mana up for Rapid Hybridization. He untapped and played Master of Waves before attacking. At this point I had two options: Rapid Master, depriving him of a bunch of Elementals, or Rapid Tidebinder in order to turn off Thassa for the turn and unlock my Frostburn Weird. Master is a huge trump, and not casting Rapid on it given the option is unusual. However, in this case I cast Rapid on his Tidebinder to preserve my life total. On my turn I was able to Nykthos out some creatures, make my Thassa unblockable, and because of my high life total, Valentin was unable to kill me on his turn.
“My deck is so much worse [than the version without white], I just didn’t have time to test…” Valentin lamented while we sideboarded for game two.
The next game also involved an unusual sequence after Valentin Domesticated my Tidebinder Mage. Normally it’s best to Cyclonic Rift my Tidebinder and recast it on my side of the battlefield. However, given I only had four mana, I decided to Rift his Domestication and cast a different Tidebinder to turn on Thassa immediately. He was able to recast Domestication next turn, but at only 4 life it wasn’t enough to stop my unblockable beats.
• I played poorly versus Dimitri Butakov in Round 11, but was able to win anyway. I’d never played against Bant Control before, but it played out differently from Esper. In game two I should have tapped out for Bident on turn four, but I chose to leave up Negate and Gainsay instead. He used his turn five to cast a Mistcutter Hydra for 2 and leave up mana for Last Breath on my end step. This sequence of events put me in a position where I needed to beat a Kiora ultimate with Jace, Memory Adept, which I probably would have, but Dimitri topdecked an Unravel the Aether to remove Thassa and killed my Jace with a Kraken. I had a Negate in hand, but in order to turn on Thassa I’d needed to tap out for Bident.
Game three was also very interesting. He was able to ultimate his Elspeth and I was able to ultimate my Jace, Memory Adept to draw 20 cards. Bewildered by drawing 20 and feeling the pressure of time in the round approaching, I made a series of mistakes that mostly involved valuing counterspells too highly. In the end I was able to topdeck enough devotion to turn on my Thassa and win on turn five after time was called (whew), although I felt very stupid.
• In the Top 8 I ended up playing against both of the players I’d lost to in the Swiss, Brandon Bercovich (Bay Area represent!) and Robert Berni. In the swiss, Brandon stole a second Island off my deck with Nightveil Specter to win the match by casting Domestication on the last possible turn, so it was justice when I ripped a Swamp off his deck on the last possible turn and cast his Gray Merchant to win the quarterfinals. It’s unusual to knock your opponent’s deck for a game-winning topdeck, but I knocked the hell out of Brandon’s deck and got rewarded.
At GP Sacramento earlier this year I’d played against Robert Berni in Theros limited. My deck was insane, featuring 2 Hythonia the Cruel and 2 Triad of Fates, but he beat me with a Whip of Erebos I had no way to answer. Needless to say, I was terrified of losing the finals to his Whip once again. Although I was lucky enough to avoid this fate, I was not lucky enough to win.
One money draft later (I never got paid, gimme twenty, you know who you are) and we were flying back—all in all a great weekend.
Thanks to all my homies and especially Sam Brownlee for lending me Mono-Blue online.
See you in Philly!
@pseudo_nathan on Twitter