Artisan Brewery: Aggressively Choosing Blue

Howdy all, welcome back to Artisan Brewery! After a hiatus due to *gestures broadly at the world* we're back, and ready to tackle the next in our cycle of contradictory mono-colored decks: Mono-Blue! For those just joining, or those who have forgotten, when we went into our mono-white deck, we noted that its main strengths were the ability to quickly populate a board with small creatures, the ability to gain large swaths of life, and the ability to be fairly controlling, and sought to build a deck that didn't focus on any of those traits. The plan here is to follow a similar pathway with mono-blue, the (arguably) most feared and hated of the mono-colors, and also widely considered one of the two strongest colors in Commander.

In order to do this, the first thing we must ask ourselves is, what is mono-blue's biggest strength? Well, that's an easy one: control. Whether using cards like Counterspell, or Force of Negation to ensure the opponents' strategies just never happen, or using tempo-based spells like Reality Shift, and the ever-popular Cyclonic Rift to make other players' efforts feel pointless, Blue excels at controlling the game. It uses the stack more frequently and efficiently than any other color, and we'd be hard pressed to find a decklist online that wasn't heavily filled with instants. So, in short, Blue likes to take away other player's options. If we're going to build a deck without using that particular trait, the perfect commander can only be one that gives our opponents options: Braids, Conjurer Adept.

Braids is a card that fits into the "group hug" bracket of cards, allowing every player the ability to get benefit from a single spell. Most players who use this as their commander back it up with removal spells and effects that tap the things their opponents put into play, but not us. We'll use it expressly to allow everyone, yes, everyone in the game to put cards they want on the battlefield, and to Tizerus with the consequences! But let's not think that Braids is the only card available to us to give our opponents some options, because it's certainly not. There are a few more, and we're going to play them all.

Losing Control

When it comes to giving our opponents choices, there are three main categories for these choices: cards that benefit some or all players, cards that don't expressly benefit anyone but are fair in their consequences, and cards that solely benefit ourselves regardless of any choice. We're going to explore these three areas together, in order.

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First up are strong choice-giver that benefits everyone — but we are of course choosing ones that should benefit us more than our opponents. A perfect example is Tempt with Reflections. There are several creatures in our deck that typically only benefit ourselves, like Nadir Kraken, and this will not only allow us to gain even more benefit from them, but will also give extra help to any opponents who need it. This can hopefully gaining us some political favor. In the same way, Minds Aglow allows us and our opponents to draw cards, and Game Plan gives someone the option to help us pay for brand new hands for all, which can also lead to more options for everyone to put onto the battlefield with Braids.

Next up are the cards that have, theoretically, fair consequences. Eye of Doom is a beautiful example. This card gives everyone the same choice when it enters the battlefield: pick something to destroy. This allows each player to try to destroy something they find troublesome, blow their own card up to gain additional value (ie: Solemn Simulacrum), or they can pick something indestructible of theirs simply to not make any extra enemies at the table. Teferi's Realm is very similar, allowing each player to choose something to phase out that would benefit them the most. Sidenote: We should be aware that Teferi's realm also has the potential to slow down the game significantly, so we need to exercise caution when casting it.

Fact or Fiction is the quintessential example for last type of choice-giving. Our opponent make a choice, but the result is still always beneficial to us. This is also one of the only instants we're running in this deck, but not the only spell that lets an opponent (or all opponents) make choices affecting us. A good example of another would be Order of Succession, which lets each player take a creature controlled by the player to their left or right, depending on our needs and whims. This card also gets around effects like shroud or hexproof, as its wording states "each player chooses a creature," not "target" creature, so everything is fair game for this spell. Echo Chamber is another great example, as we get a creature no matter what, but one of our opponents chooses which one and can give us a copy of their worst creature if they so choose. Even if they do, however, it still fits in with the second half of our strategy, which we'll get too shortly. Meanwhile, let's talk about Sphinx Ambassador. On the surface, it doesn't seem like we're giving an opponent much of a choice, but that's not quite true. We're giving them the choice of which card to name, and in a typical EDH deck, the odds are very high that they'll guess wrongly, especially if we keep a straight face. Fact or Fiction would be the final example, which we've seen above, so we won't go into it twice.

Turning to Hostility

Earlier in our discussion, we identified that the Blue's primary strength: controlling the game. Offering choices to our opponent, to reverse blue's normal direction of taking away choices, is only one possible avenue for our deck's antithesis. One of the other main aspects of control is patience and a tempered pugnacity. What control, and especially Blue control, is almost never known for is aggression. Blue is recognized as the least aggressive color in Magic, but that doesn't mean it can't be. There are a surprisingly high amount of cards that feed into this, considering it's rarely how we see Blue played, so we have a solid base to choose from. The two main types of aggressive strategies we'll focus on will be tokens, and, to a lesser extent, anthem effects. Additionally, we'll take a gander at some cards that reward us for attacking or doing damage, such as the Sphinx Ambassador we mentioned above, so let's get started.

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One of the first things we should look to add are cards that either create tokens independently, or ones that can continually add tokens when we accomplish a certain task. A notable example of the latter is Talrand, Sky Summoner, which is likely to net us a hefty amount of flying friends. We don't want to put all our eggs in one basket, so we should also strongly consider Murmuring Mystic to create even more flying friends, albeit not as powerful as the tokens from Talrand. There are some more typical examples, including enter-the-battefield based ones like Alirios, Enraptured, and Whirler Rogue, which can help us give some of our creatures an opening to our opponents, or even gain us some political favor with one. We've also got a particularly fun self-multiplier in Chronozoa, which makes more and more of itself whenever the vanishing counters are gone. If left alone, it can create quite a headache for our opponents.

As always, we want versatility, which means that we'd want a wide array of token generators. Whether through equipment, such as Moonsilver Spear, equipment that copies itself like Bloodforged Battle-Axe, or even something that depends on our own graveyard like Rise from the Tides, we want to keep our options both many, and varied. A unique, and to our eyes underplayed, example would be Stolen Identity. Since we're planning on creating a wide amount of creatures, the ability to create even more of a powerful body like Desolation Twin would do nothing but help us. Thopter Spy Network is another self-enabling card, as well as a draw spell. With our high level of instants and sorceries, we'd be remiss not to play Shark Typhoon, which is another way to get maximum value from each of our spells. A special favorite that we'll put into the deck is Day of the Dragons. We're planning on having a large amount of flying creatures as part of our plan, and this will simply make them bigger, creating a faster clock for our opponents to deal with.

In addition to making the tokens, we also want to make them as strong as we can. Some of these we've already seen, like Bloodforged Battle-Axe, but we also have access to more generalized options. Master of Waves does double the work in this deck, not only bringing a massive amount of creatures with it into play, but also making each of them stronger. Grand Architect is another great example, boosting all of our Blue creatures, and using the Thopters we can create elsewhere to activate equipments or Eye of Doom. Using our large supply of non-creature spells, Soulblade Djinn can turn an attack into lethal damage under the right circumstances. And the most impactful option we have is a classic: Coat of Arms. This is a perfect fit for our deck, because the majority of the ways we create tokens create the same types of tokens, which only makes them each stronger.

Powering it Out

One of the things that we haven't addressed yet is how we plan to cast all of these spells. While blue isn't specifically known for its ramp, there are still plenty of ways we can get additional mana. Some of these are oft-seen artifacts such as Sol Ring, Gauntlet of Power, or Caged Sun, but they're not the only type of artifact ramp open to us. There are cards that cheapen costs for us, like The Immortal Sun, Sapphire Medallion, and Heraldic Banner, or it could be a small, focused one like Sky Diamond. Notably, a lot of these have more than one purpose, such as The Immortal Sun allowing us extra card draw, as well as giving our creatures extra power and toughness, or Heraldic Banner increasing the power of our chosen color of creatures.

Some of our lands also help increase our overall mana count, like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, which is a staple of mono-colored decks, and it's easy to see why. Our devotion to blue will be quite high in most circumstances, giving us enough mana to more than make up for the activation cost. In a similar vein, but different execution, Myriad Landscape is perfect for a mono-colored deck due to its restriction of the lands we search for having the same type. Coral Atoll is another good option, giving us the same mana count as the Ravnican bounce lands, and in some cases we stand to benefit from returning a land to our hand, using Mystic Sanctuary to get an additional spell back to our hand.

Digging Deep

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Now we come to our usage of one of Blue's most common actions: drawing cards. Some of these we've already seen, but there are a handful that deserve some special attention. Day's Undoing is an excellent example, allowing us to play most or all of our spells during our main phases, and as the last action of our turn, rebuilding our library and refilling our hand. Borrowing 100,000 Arrows is an excellent choice as it's not very likely that we'll be the only deck playing creatures, and as long as an opponent has at least three tapped, we're getting a great deal for the mana we're putting into this spell. Keeping in line with our desire to cast multiple spells, Comparative Analysis plays very nicely, giving us a discount when we're able to play another spell that same turn.

This is a good place to bring back one of our favorite draw spells, Recurring Insight. While six mana may be a lot for a draw spell, when we take into account that we're drawing off our opponents' hand sizes, it stands to be nothing short of a bargain with our total draws most of the time. When paired with Minds Aglow, Day's Undoing, or Game Plan, it stands to do reason we'll be sitting pretty with a decent size hand. Incidentally, this situations like this are why we're going to also put Reliquary Tower into our mana base, to make sure we don't draw ourselves into a corner. The other notable draw spells we'll take a look at are Blue Sun's Zenith, which will allow us to not only draw whatever we can afford, but can also force an opponent to draw more than they have, and Chemister's Insight, which gives us the same value as an extra card in the deck.

Bringing it All Together

The largest of the strengths we see with this deck is its ability to rebuild in the event of a board wipe, thanks heavily to the card draw mentioned above. We also stand a good chance of dealing large amounts of damage all in one go, and most of that will be unblocked due to our tokens mainly being fliers. On the flip side, we're running very little removal of any type, so we'll be relying heavily on timing when using Supplant Form, as well as bargaining or other political maneuvers with Eye of Doom. As a result, this is a very "go with the flow" deck, which means we'll basically just have to worry about our own spells and not stress too much about our opponents'. The biggest thing we'll have to keep in mind when piloting this deck is not to over commit, and risk putting ourselves in a bad position if our opponents have a timely board wipe. We'll need to be patient, and keep an eye on the open mana at the table when choosing our attack targets.

That wraps it up for this round, up next is Black, which will be another interesting challenge. Feel free to provide feedback, or ask any questions in the comments. 'Til next time!

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