Friday, 8 March 2019
Unblockable Blue .dec
Now I have always loved a mono blue aggro deck but they have always really struggled to compete. They put up a great game against midrange, control and combo but they tend to get battered by the other aggro decks. There are several reasons for this and they have historically spanned all iterations of aggressive blue decks. One is the classic lack of suitable removal that makes cards like Mother of Runes, Deathrite Shaman and Grim Lavamancer a monumental headache. The other was simply lack of playable one drops. You can barely scrape together four decent blue one drop beaters and they typically have poor synergy with each other. A white deck can pack 16 comfortably and still have no cards weaker than those the blue player scraping four together has to run! Well, if you can find a way of empowering the 1/1 unblockable suitably then you vastly increase the quantity of decent one drops blue has on offer which solves the biggest issue it currently has. Especially as this also has a high chance of making all the one power fliers in blue that much more likely to scale up as well.
Here is the list I ran with in my attempt to take advantage of the cheap evasive blue dudes. There are loads of subtle direction changes and tweaks you can make and a bunch more you simply should. I will cover those and provide an improved list after.
Sigil of Sleep
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Jace, Cunning Castaway
Thassa, God of the Sea
Hall of Triumph
Master of Waves
Bident of Thassa
As you can see from the list there are two ways I have tried to take advantage of the unblockable guys. One is simply to increase their effectiveness through buff effects. Blue is light in this department and so we have had to lean on artifacts a little. I even considered both War Horn and Sunken City! The latter is horrible but it is some devotion at least... The other exploit is with effects that trigger on (combat) damage to players. This includes the aura buffs and a few other exotic permanents.
So the cards I would cut are fairly easy. Bident of Thassa was complete overkill. I don't need the card draw, I am getting that from cheaper things and I am trying to race anyway, I shouldn't be getting card advantage from my top end. Even the force through damage aspect of Bident is useless as my guys are all unblockabe anyway! Bident seems nicely on theme but it just isn't what you need either. Jace is nice in this list but he probably has to go. He is a bit slow and perhaps a bit too fair on the power levels. He forces you to play a game of blockers and protecting and that isn't really what you are good at. I like Jace in this list but I am pretty sure that is a bias, I am sure the best versions of this deck wont run him. Or at least they won't run that Jace if they do!
Cloudfin Raptor is a potential cut. Judge's Familiar would be better for sure, you could run both but Raptor is certainly wrong if over the Familiar! Raptor isn't able to grow with loads and adds less than you expect. I kind of autopilot played Raptor as it is the best aggro blue one drop in a general sense. Normally you just need it but this list really doesn't. Dive Down was another potential cut. You just don't need the protection. Sure, they can kill your buffed dork but you are probably still ahead on cards and mana. Spell Pierce would have done more and even that feels like it is going to be annoying having to hold up mana. This is certainly more of a Daze and Force of Will kind of deck in that you really can and want to spend your mana proactively and not be holding it open sat on reactive cards. I think Spellskite would be superior to Dive Down as it is more disruptive, can do so at no mana's cost once in play and has decent defensive application in a race. Mostly though I learned you don't need as much protection for your dorks as you do in the standard version of this deck. Just make stuff and attack and things go pretty well! The other easy cuts would be the UU creatures. You don't need the devotion that badly and they are just a bit awkward and low powered. Surveiling Sprite is likely better than Thalakos Seer as it affords much better defensive capabilities and even Sprite seems a bit meh.
I looked at running both Merfolk Trickster and Harbinger of Tides as both are decently high power and high tempo dorks. The usual burden of the UU cost is turned into a perk in this mono blue devotion deck. The issue I have with these cards is that they are not unblockable in any way and thus fail to really act as threats. At that point you should just be playing things like Vapor Snag and Grip of the Roil.
Everything else I was more of a fan of and would have to be well persuaded before cutting. I guess that isn't true, I would fairly happily cut a land from this list, perhaps even two if we are replacing one of them with Gitaxian Probe! The deck operates on few mana fairly well, has a big of dig and draw it gets online cheaply. It also has loads of very cheap low value cards so flooding is pretty devastating. The risk reward balance for this list very much pushes you towards being greedy on the mana base and I didn't really take that into account in my first build. Having the Bident made it better to curve out a bit more and it obscured the problem of too many lands as well by overdrawing. Cutting it and lands is a good plan.
What else is up for consideration to replace these suggested cuts? What directions can we go in? Firstly True-Name Nemesis is probably an auto include although not definitely. He is fairly pricey and doesn't do much to protect you against mass removal which is your biggest concern against slower decks. I didn't bother running him as he is uninteractive tedium that no one enjoys yet everyone is familiar with how it plays. On the too powerful to not include front we probably have both Jitte and Force of Will as well. I can't see either of these being bad in the list. Force will simply help all round in all matchups providing tempo, disruption and protection. Jitte will have a nice high floor while really helping your game against the treacherous aggro matchups. Sword of Fire and Ice would also perform very well in this deck as you can reliably connect with it and thus have it act as removal. Part of the point of making this deck however is to find ways in which I can move away from these blue tools and not have to rely on having them. Certainly I start to get unhappy about playing Bloodforged Battle-Axe in the same list as Jitte or SoFI and I really don't want to have to cut it. Battle-Axe was great and quickly got out of hand. It is exactly the sort of buffing tool this list wants. It is the Pack Rat Bonesplitter! What makes it somewhat preferable to Jitte and Sword is low risk. The cost of the card is sufficiently low that you can use it more easily past disruption and even if you fail it is not quite such a savage blowout. It is especially strong against artifact removal as you can easily ensure you have multiple in play.
What we ultimately chose to replace the poor cards with depends on what we want to beat, especially when we fail to have the premium blue and artifact things. Beating the control and combo decks is generally just a case of throwing in countermagic, and not even that much. This list is all about cost so high effect one drop cards like Flusterstorm, Spell Peirce and Snare alongside the viable free ones are where you want to be. Cryptic Command is unusually bad in this list, although still a fine inclusion. It is normally so good in aggressive decks because it fogs an attack of theirs while letting you force through some damage of your own and really turn the tide in a race. This list has no need of help forcing through damage. The clear problem with this plan is for the most part it is making your deck worse against the creature matchups. Countermagic isn't great against creature decks, especially ones that don't hit creatures! Also especially against those using cheaper dorks.
Beating the midrange creature decks is very easy and can be done handily with a spot of bounce. This is well aided by a smattering of the more general countermagic too. Pierce, Daze and that sort of thing. Beating the token and weenie decks this way however is a total non-starter. Really you have two options. Either you accept those as likely losses or you directly hose them. Sadly direct hosing trashes your other matchups, isn't all that much fun and is still quite hard to do. Legacy's Allure was a decent way of getting some nice early tempo and disruption on the aggressive decks that wasn't dead in other matchups quite as much as most other hoser cards are. Good though it was it isn't close to enough to help with the go-wide lists out there.
With this being such a new deck concept to me and not one that is really mirrored in other formats I need to do more experimenting and testing to know what directions and balances of stuff are sensible. I think the next step is to build the most powerful (and most boring) all round build with a selection of the crutch cards like Jitte and Force of Will in the list. I think that will give me the information I need in regards future directions I can take the deck. While blue aggro lists might be a little polar in their matchups they do at least have the advantage of being highly tuneable. This comes with many perks but it does make the discovery phase of any sub-archetype that much harder.
Before wrapping this up I want to have a quick look at some of the more interesting cards in the deck that I liked and would try and keep in my various future builds. Throne of the God-Pharaoh was a nice touch and is better than War Horn would have been in several ways. Obviously it is cheaper but it can also work for you when guys are not attacking. Yet another strong synergy card to go with Grand Architect! Throne also works with vehicles nicely but I think I would rather empower it with Mothdust Changeling! It is not that vehicles are bad for this deck, more that they scale poorly with global buffs and equipment and this list is leaning on those things a little hard already. The loss of power on your dorks from Throne versus War Horn matters little as your damage output is the same with both and there isn't blocking going on.
Master of Waves is another big standout. Obviously the card is well known for being the main payoff for a blue devotion deck but he is that little bit tastier than usual in this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly you have a couple of Anthem effects meaning that even if Waves is dealt with the tokens can remain in play. These anthems also really helped scale up Mausoleum Wanderer, frequently it was at 2 or 3 power thus making it a much harder disruptive tool. Another thing going for Master is simply that this deck has vastly more blue one drops than any other blue deck I have managed to create. This means that this list has the highest chance of curving into a turn four seven devotion Master. Master is just more value more quickly in this deck than others. He goes so wide that you don't care about any lack of evasion. He puts up such a massive wall that you can easily and safely race. Based on how desirable these attributes of Master are I think Rogue Refiner is probably worth a slot in this list. He has some synergy with the unblockable gimmicks but is mostly just a nice reliable way of getting a good amount of stats and bodies onto the board without any phaff. Here is my revised second generation unblockable blue aggro list;
Sigil of Sleep
Throne of the God-Pharaoh
Thassa, God of the Sea
Hall of Triumph
Master of Waves
Force of Will
Based on the recent PT (or MC or whatever they are now) win by Autumn there might be better ways to take this build. By lowering the curve and reducing the Anthem cards and other quirky support stuff and just replacing it with good old fashioned permission suddenly this list resembles a cube version of Autumn's deck. Obviously Pteramander should be in and would be improved with the higher spell count too. I first wrote this before Ravnica Allegiance was out and so the card wasn't a consideration at the time. I will certainly retry this archetype in a manner better resembling the standard version and see if that is a better way to take this general plan. It may not be sufficiently different in performance, feel, nor even cards included, to merit another article on the matter so I thought I should at least mention it here. Turns out it is a very hard deck to play and so it might actually be amazing but I am too poor at it to realize that potential and thus deem the deck less noteworthy. It is much more of a control deck than this iteration despite both leaning on Curiosity effects. A rare case of heavy card overlap in two different class of archetype.