By Carlos

And finally we come to the mono-blue deck. I have not been looking forward to building this deck, because blue and I have had a pretty hit-or-miss relationship in this format. It’s not that I don’t like the color; just the opposite, actually. Blue does a lot of awesome things, and brings a lot to a deck that no other color is capable of. The problem is that the color is really powerful and tends toward broken shenanigans that can be seen as “against the spirit of the format.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely fine with combo existing in the format. I love building and playing combo decks. That doesn’t mean that I want my blue decks to devolve into “Mind over Matter plus Temple Bell. Good game?” Let me reiterate: I have no problem with other people who play decks that do these kinds of things, but as a deckbuilder, it just doesn’t do anything for me. Neither does sitting back on a grip of countermagic and just answering everything that anyone tries to play.

That means that I love all the things that blue can do as a support color. Drawing cards? Awesome. Mulldrifter is one of my favorite cards in recent memory. Countermagic to protect my stuff? Yes! Cryptic Command is my second favorite blue card (behind Gifts Ungiven). That said, I hate having to use blue to actually win a game, because all your ways to win are about preventing people from playing the game. Tidespout Tyrant, giant guys backed by countermagic, locks, infinite combos, and nonsense like that isn’t really what I’m interested in doing.

These are some of the common mono-blue decks that get played an awful lot. You’ll notice theme here: they’re either combo-control decks, prison decks, or awful. That’s what I hate about this color. The individual cards may not be terribly offensive, but the sum-total of the effects is really, really obnoxious. It’s hard to build a blue deck that’s not broken without intentionally building it to be awful. Here are the good decks:

Arcum Dagsson – Prison
Azami, Lady of Scrolls – Combo Control
Memnarch – Mono-Blue Control/Steal Your Stuff!
Sakishima, the Imposter – Mono-Blue Control/Steal Your Stuff
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – Combo/Control

You’ll notice that there’s a lot of control here. It’s what blue’s good at. Still, before I really start looking into what these decks DO, I have a request to make to all the people playing mono-blue decks. Can we PLEASE stop pretending that blue only has card draw, countermagic, and control magics? I mean, I’m fine with people playing with all those cards, but I’ve played with a few too many people who act like they’re the first person to think that it might be good to put a bunch of control magics and counter spells in the same deck. I promise there are different things you can do in blue, just try to meet me halfway.

Now, more seriously, we can learn from this that blue is a combo-tastic color. These decks are all built to abuse the general to the fullest, which is powerful because the blue deck essentially gets to start with a piece of its engine in its hand. When you’ve got two-card combos that win the game, and you always start with one in your hand, it can be pretty hard to lose sometimes.

What I get from this is that if you want to build a more casual or “fun” blue deck, you either need to pick a weak general, or build around a non-general theme, so that you lose some consistency. This is definitely a place where I’m going to pick the flavor or theme of the deck over power. Blue can do a lot of cool things, but it just so happens that most of those things are way overdone and not fun for anyone at the table, even the person who’s comboing off. Also, because of my personal vendetta against the decks that just run 20 counterspells, 10 clones and 10 control magics, I want to avoid those kinds of cards as much as possible. You obviously can’t avoid them altogether since they are some of the better cards that blue has to offer, but you can certainly cut back on the number of similar effects that you want to run.

Here are the generals that I considered for this particular deck. Most of these are awful, and I would never consider playing them outside of a hilarious theme deck. There might be one or two reasonable ideas for a real deck in here, but the vast majority of these generals are just worse versions of another deck, which is something I generally can’t stand to build.

Aboshan, Cepalid Empress
Hakim, Loreweaver
Higure, the Still Wind
Kaho, Minamo Historian
Llawan, Cephalid Empress
Lorthos, the Tidemaker
Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
Patron of the Moon
Reveka, Wizard Savant
The Unspeakable

So…there are a lot of bad ideas here, but let’s go through some of them quickly, since I’m sure I’ll want to come back to some of these. Unfortunately, Blind Seer didn’t make the cut here, but there are still some reasonably interesting things going on. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Aboshan, Cephalid Empress. Go! Go! Cephalid Tribal! Question of the day: how many non-changeling cephalids are there in magic? Only fifteen, which is pretty unfortunate. It’d be really hard to build a tribal deck out of this that’s not fundamentally based on things like Alter Reality and Artificial Evolution. It could be reasonably powerful, but your fundamental strategy is going to be to stop people from doing stuff with creatures while you….do….what exactly? Beat down with 1/2 cephalids? Seems weak. I’m sure there’s something awesome to be done here, but I don’t know what it is just yet.

Hakim, Loreweaver seems like he could be really, really fun. Traumatize yourself, suit him up with Eldrazi Conscription, go to town? Seems good. I just don’t know how I feel about building yet another deck that scoops to graveyard hate AND spot removal. That seems like a poor decision. I mean, you could always back it up with countermagic, but it still seems like you’re a little all-in on a pretty shaky gameplan. Maybe someday Hakim, maybe someday.

Who wouldn’t want to build Ninja tribal with Higure? Besides, I’ve got a pirate-themed commander deck, so it would only make sense to build the foil, right? Unfortunately, there are only 8 non-changeling ninjas in the entire game, and only half of those are blue. That’s not nearly enough to build a “real” deck, and it’s not even enough to be a real theme. Maybe later, if they ever revisit the Ninjutsu mechanic, which seems unlikely, as unfortunate as that is.

Kaho, Minamo Historian is a trap. Don’t fall for it. It seems pretty good right? “All the best blue cards are instants, and I get to pick the best ones in my deck! I’ll grab a way to bounce/protect Kaho and be fine! Maybe even tutor up High Tide + Twincast and combo off sometimes!” That’s all well and good, but nine times out of ten, you’ll cast Kaho, tutor up your best answers, just to eat a removal spell to the face. I tried building this deck. I tried playing it for the longest time. I have NEVER untapped with an active Kaho in play, so eventually I just started using her to thin my deck of the worst instants I was running. But then I realized that I was only playing those instants because my general was Kaho.  Awkward…

Now, Llawan is a legend that came to my attention at the last Legacy event I went to. Merfolk has never been a real deck where I played since everyone’s running Engineered Plagues, but Llawan is just a beating sometimes. This could be the basis of a hilarious deck that deals with changing colors, and running as many pseudo-Painters Servants as possible. Still, that’s a little gimmicky for me, and after all that work all you’ve accomplished is assembling a multiple-piece combo that stops people from playing creatures. Seems sub-par for a creature-based combo that’s vulnerable to all the removal ever.

Lorthos, the Tidemaker is actually a general that doesn’t get nearly enough love. Notice that when he deals damage to a player, he can tap ANY eight permanents, not just ones that player controls. Lorthos is pretty efficiently costed, can lock a player out of the game, and is just a beating if he resolves. Also, he’s an Octopus.

Honestly, I’m genuinely surprised that Meloku doesn’t see more play. This has been one of the best win conditions in both standard and extended at various points in time, and is one of my all-time favorite cards in Cube Draft. It’s an absurdly resilient win condition, gives you more ways to abuse Mind over Matter, since you can fill your hand, and gives you an excuse to play Skullclamp in a blue deck. Sounds good to me. The problem that I see is that it’s a pretty slow clock when you’re trying to deal with multiple players, especially since you’ve only got the one land drop per turn. You’d have to add some sort of combo to the deck to pump out tokens more quickly, but I’m not completely sure what the best way to go about that would be. All I know is that I’m excited for Grand Architect + Meloku.

Patron of the Moon is one of a few good interactions with Meloku. But he also interacts well with card draw. This is one of few ways that blue has to ramp that doesn’t involve artifacts, which makes it uniquely immune to a bunch of the hate that gets thrown at blue decks in my metagame. Add a way to abuse landfall and Amulet of Vigor, and go to town with this guy. The problem that I see is that you’re going to have to play some sort of prisonish tempo deck to stall until you land Patron and then have a big combo turn as quickly as possible, which is kind of what I wanted to avoid. Definitely expect to see me come back to this one!

Reveca, Wizard Savant is one letter off of being my favorite general. You see, my girlfriend’s name is Rebecca, so I’ve been pretty tempted to get a Reveca altered to have a different name and resemble Becca. But what exactly do you DO with Reveca? Well. Freed from the Real and Pemmin’s Aura spring to mind, and those seem pretty sweet. I’m not totally sure what else you could do, just that it would definitely involve Thornbite Staff and Basilisk Collar, but I think there’s some untapped potential here.

And lastly, The Unspeakable. Really, the name means that it’s unspeakably bad, but come on; it’s named The Unspeakable. That’s all kinds of awesome. Unfortunately, the Arcane mechanic was one of the worst things ever printed. That’s not to say I don’t love the mechanic to death, because I do. I played Arcane combo in standard for awhile, and I’ve got an arcane-themed combo deck in the works for a future article. That said, a 6/7 for 8 that gets you back bad cards doesn’t really seem like what you want to be doing, even in this format. Maybe if you wanted to build mono-blue spirit tribal?

So, out of all these options, I wanted to pick something that was fun; a little more unique than the more standard “build around me and protect me with countermagic” blue generals that are becoming more and more prevalent. So, what I decided to do was to build around a card IN the deck, and then find a general that fits the theme. The card I wanted to build around is one I’ve wanted to build a deck around for the longest time: Quest for Ula’s Temple. I mean, come on, the card is hilarious and awesome! Leviathans, Octopi, Serpents, what more could you want from a deck? So this deck is going to be built around cheating giant Denizens of the Deep into play, which should be hilariously awesome. The general? Lorthos, obviously; who better to play Poseidon than a Legendary Octopus?

The problem with decks built around a single card is that if that card is dealt with in some way, you’ve got no backup plan. So, there are two ways to deal with that in this particular deck. First, you don’t want all of your creatures to be Lorthos-sized. You’ve got to have a curve so that you can actually run out creatures and buy yourself time to set up. Second, you’ve got to have multiple mechanisms of getting your Leviathans into play. Quest for Ula’s Temple on its own just won’t do it. Take a look:

Cheating Guys Into Play
Quest for Ula’s Temple
Copy Enchantment
Aether Vial
Copy Artifact
Sculpting Steel

Tutors
Dizzy Spell
Muddle the Mixture
Drift of Phantasms
Fabricate
Trinket Mage
Transmute Artifact
Tezzeret, the Seeker
Merchant Scroll
Mystical Tutor

Card Selection
Sensei’s Divining Top
Brainstorm
Ponder
Preordain
Serum Visions

So these are the key pieces of the “engine” such as it is. The goal here is to find and resolve either Aether Vial or Quest for Ula’s Temple. Obviously, Quest is more powerful since it gets active faster, doesn’t care about mana cost, and triggers at the end of each turn. Quest requires some library manipulation, hence the cantrips. You want to hold onto those as long as possible so that you can use them to set up Quest triggers.

You’ve got ways to copy both Quest and Aether Vial, and tons of ways to tutor up various pieces. Merchant Scroll for Dizzy Spell, transmute for Quest. Transmute an artifact into an Aether Vial. These are all reasonable plays which, while not impressive, allow the deck to function at a reasonable pace. The real trick here is how to get more counters on your Quests and Vials faster. Fortunately, Scars of Mirrodin Block has brought an awesome mechanic for all decks that are struggling: Proliferate!

Proliferation
This is the real meat of the deck, since the proliferation ties together some themes in the deck. Proliferate effects give you a mechanism of ramping up Quests, ramping up Mana, and controlling the board. Here are the proliferators and the cards with counters of various types:

Contagion Clasp
Contagion Engine
Thrumming Bird
Steady Progress
Fuel the Cause
Voltaic Key
Rings of Brighthearth
Lux Cannon
Everflowing Chalice
Coalition Relic
Blue Mana Battery
Saprazzan Cove
Saprazzan Skerry
City of Shadows

This section seems pretty straightforward. All the artifacts with Proliferate (sans core prowler), all the blue cards with Proliferate, and a bunch of ways to abuse them. Storage lands and mana artifacts are actually just awesome with proliferate. You start casting spells for free, ramping up your mana, and you can actually just cast multiple leviathans more often than not. The only one of these that I’m really iffy on is City of Shadows, since there aren’t going to be too many creatures you want to remove to it, but there are always wraths and the like in Commander games, and you only really NEED one counter on it to start proliferating it up.

I think the most important question remaining is: what creatures are you going to be playing with your Quests and whatnot? Unfortunately, blue has shifted to having Sphinxes be the giant creatures of choice these days, so there actually aren’t terribly many leviathans or octopi that are on par with the power level of things like Sundering Titan and Consecrated Sphinx. There are a few good ones, but other than that you have to start reaching to the REALLY bad guys, like Eater of Days and Jokulmorder. Here’s a collection of serpents and whatnot that tries to balance power, flavor, and mana curve:

Deep Sea Kraken
Isleback Spawn
Tidal Kraen
Grozoth
Inkwell Leviathan
Segovian Leviathan
Stormtide Leviathan
Thing from the Deep
Kederekt Leviathan
Giant Octopus
Benthic Behemoth
Dreamwinder
Harbor Serpent
Sandbar Serpent
Serpent of the Endless Sea
Shrouded Serpent

So, it’s actually pretty difficult to find Leviathans that don’t have either islandwalk or islandhome. Man those mechanics were awful. It might be worth making space for some Spreading Seas or something similar so that you can justify running some of the islandwalkers, since those tend to be more powerful, but can’t really do anything against non-island decks.

This much of the deck takes up 48 of the slots in the deck. The only thing that’s really left here is to fill out the rest of the deck with utility and lands. For utility, we want a little more consistency, protection, and generally powerful plays. Control Magic, Counterspell, and a few additional tutors should fill that out pretty well.

Utility
Treasure Mage
Cryptic Command
Dismiss
Homarid Spawning Bed
Gauntlet of Power
Corrupted Conscience

Treasure Mage mostly finds contagion engine, but that’s definitely enough. You could fit Steel Hellkite in the deck if you wanted to, and it would be a pretty powerful target, since you really don’t have any way to deal with things once they’re on the table, and you’ve got limited countermagic.

The two counterspells are the best ones in the format, as far as I’m concerned. They’re definitely not splashable, but drawing a card makes it less awful to go 1-for-1 with people, which is really important in this format.

Corrupted Conscience should be Take Posession or Dominate or Treachery, but I just love the idea of poisoning someone to death with all the proliferate effects. If I were to play this deck, I’d do one of two things: either run Corrupted Conscience until I poisoned someone to death, or keep a tally on the card of how many people have been poisoned. Either way, it’s hilarious and totally worth the slot to me.

Lastly, Gauntlet of Power is a powerful way to ramp out your leviathans, and Homarid Spawning Bed is a unique little gem that doesn’t see nearly as much play. This card is actually just awesome, gives you a way to dodge removal, swarm past blockers, and do all kinds of cool things. Turning Leviathans with crippling upkeep costs and whatnot into a bunch of little guys is more than reasonable, especially when you can Anthem them with Gauntlet of Power.

There are two things that I considered here that are worth mentioning. Firstly, Grand Architect. Architect is also an anthem for Homarids, but also lets you ramp out your artifacts even faster. It seems like it could be really powerful. Secondly, Extraplanar Lens. I HATE this card so much, and it honestly baffles me that people consider is a staple. There are decks that want this kind of effect, sure, but more often than not, it gets destroyed before you get a chance to really use it, and when it does, you can get blown out really hard. Keeping a 3 or 4 land hand with Extraplanar Lens is a really risky proposition, and I’m tired of getting crippled early game because someone has artifact destruction.

The last batch of cards here is a concession to an archetype that I think is pretty awesome, and has really broken out in legacy recently. Is it really a Leviathan-themed deck without a High Tide?

High Tide
Turnabout
Twincast
Time Spiral
Mind’s Desire
Blue Sun’s Zenith

Here’s a pretty crazy way to “combo” your way into a ton of mana and just hardcast a bunch of leviathans. It’s certainly not as powerful as the legacy deck that just wins the game, but it’s definitely powerful enough to be worth including. Each of the cards on their own is reasonable as a way to cheat on mana or provide some additional utility, but if you hit a combination of these cards, you can have some pretty absurd turns.

Last but not least, there’s got to be some kind of mana base to back all this up. Minus the two storage lands and Saprazzan Skerry, here’s what I think is a pretty reasonable mana base for this deck:

Thawing Glaciers
Scrying Sheets
Maze of Ith
Deserted Temple
Vesuva
Strip Mine
Tectonic Edge
Mouth of Ronom
Academy Ruins
Tolaria West
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Seat of the Synod
25 Snow-Covered Islands

This seems pretty standard to me. You’ve got a bunch of ways to make sure you hit your land drops, a few extra shuffle effects, some fetchlands to ramp with Rings of Brighthearth if that ever comes up. I think the biggest discussion point is the snow mana base. Nine of ten mono-colored decks are improved by using snow-covered lands. Mouth of Ronom and Scrying Sheets are really powerful cards that don’t see nearly enough play. I couldn’t fit it in here, but Mouth of Ronom plus Crucible of Worlds is a pretty good for card advantage. Scrying Sheets plus library manipulation makes sure that you draw gas for the rest of the game, and helps you dig deeper for cards that actually do something.

I mean, honestly, it’ll cost about $10 to build a reasonable snow-covered manabase. It’s DEFINITELY worth it. I finally added snow lands to my Kemba deck about two weeks ago, and the deck has been running much, much better since then, just off of Scrying Sheets. If you’re really too cheap, ask your group if they’re okay with you just having Scrying Sheets and saying that all your basics are snow-covered. Odds are people won’t care; it IS a casual format after all.

So, that’s all I’ve got for Lorthos, the Tidemaker. I’m pretty happy with the deck, since it doesn’t do any of the things that I hate about blue, and seems like it’s a pretty reasonable deck. There are definitely some powerful plays that the deck is capable of, and I can see it winning a fair number of games. Besides, you get to play with LEVIATHANS! How awesome is that?

Next week, I’ll be wrapping up the mono-colored decks series with a mono-brown deck. I’m not sure whether or not I’m looking forward to it yet. I know I’m NOT looking forward to building the mana base, that’s for sure. In the meantime, if you’ve got any comments or criticism, a deck you’d like looked at, or even just a question or two, I’d be glad to hear from you!

Carlos
cag5383(at)gmail(dot)com