Blue cards haven't had the best time in Modern over the past few years. While it has been a support color in various iterations of strongly performing decks – older strategies like Temur Scapeshift and Green-Blue Infect, or more recently something like Grixis Death's Shadow – a proper, dyed-in-the-wool blue deck hasn't ruled the roost in Modern for some time.
This seems to be changing, however. Even before the Jace unban, White-Blue Control was putting up strong performances – but now that Jace has been unleashed on the format, blue is definitely the new black as a continued cycle of innovation and refinement gives us a new perspectives with every weekend's results.
Last weekend, blue decks of all kinds had a pretty good time of it, which is broadly indicative of the direction Modern is heading. So many decks are rough and raw, still finding their feet in a format which also seems to be finding its feet after a wonderfully tumultuous couple of months.
Today, we're going to examine some of the blue decks that put up the numbers over the past weekend and investigate as to whether they've got the staying power to help put blue back onto the map in a major way. Let's get to it!
White-Blue Control has, as mentioned, been a real contender in Modern since people began to take a more tap-out approach with the deck, fuelled in no small part thanks to Gideon of the Trials. At GP Kyoto, Top 4 competitor Akira Tanaka continued this movement towards tapping out each turn with his take on White-Blue Control, featuring a scandalous zero copies of Snapcaster Mage!
The days of draw-go with white-blue seem to be well and truly behind us. The threats in Modern are too diverse and too powerful to hope to play a purely reactive game plan, and for this reason, Tanaka is looking to get on the board and pressure the opponent while still controlling the overall shape and texture of the game.
I'm stunned that we're at a point where zero copies of Snapcaster Mage are appearing in a White-Blue Control deck, but tragically it makes perfect sense. The inclusion of so many creatures, planeswalkers and enchantments means that old mate Snip-Snap just won't have the tools he needs to have a real impact – you can't flashback Detention Sphere!
On a personal level, I don't like this move away from an instant-speed game plan. I wish blue decks had the technology and the breathing room to sit behind countermagic and removal, cleverly utilizing flash creatures and instants to win games just like Richard Garfield intended. However, that's not the case – you've got to be proactive and get in the game early.
Tanaka seeks to do that with a robust creature suite that is topped off by Dragonlord Ojutai, of all things! Quite aside from the rather cute coupling with Minamo, School at Water's Edge, Ojutai is a total house that should win you the game after connecting just once. It doesn't have the elegance of Snapcaster's 10-turn clock, but you can't always get what you want.
In all seriousness, this seems to be the new direction for White-Blue Control. Spreading Seas and Detention Sphere paved the wayl an increase in creatures and planeswalkers was a natural next step, and we may yet see further permanent-based technology crop up in Celestial Colonnade decks moving forward.
Splinter Twin is dead, long live Splinter Twin! Modern mages don't seem to be ready to give up on the dream (perhaps they never will be), and James Mellish scored a Top 16 performance at the weekend's SCG Modern Classic with this take on enlivening the old scourge of turn-four tap-outs everywhere. It's not quite Exarch plus Twin, but it's pretty darn close to it!
It's nice, at least, to see that we're back to a proper number of Snapcaster Mages – the full four copies are perfectly suited to this type of deck, as it doesn't seek to tap out except to deploy a game-winning permanent. Kiki-Jiki, JTMS and the mighty Blood Moon are the only cards that might cause this deck to do anything other than play good old-fashioned draw-go.
Kiki-Jiki is a poor man's Splinter Twin, let's not make any bones about it – but this deck isn't all-in on the combo finish, having a pleasingly diverse range of ways to get across the finish line. This deck is packed with disruption and can take a more defensive posture to grind through a long, hard slog before finishing things off once and for all. Or, it can cast Blood Moon on turn three and enjoy the free wins. Nice.
This configuration takes a more tempo-oriented approach to winning games with cards like Remand favored over Mana Leak or Logic Knot (or even Cryptic Command, for that matter) – it would be interesting to see if a "bigger" version of the deck could cut the mustard. More permanent answers, more removal, more lands; I suppose this compromises the tempo-based nature of the old Twin combo, however.
There's a lot to like in this deck, and it's another example of a sorcery-speed five-drop being used by a blue deck to (hopefully) win the game then and there – although there's no doubting that this deck should be faster than its white-blue cousin.
Jund decks are just all the best cards in three colors ram-jammed into a deckbox, but why should red or white have all the fun with Rock decks? Sultai hasn't exactly been a major player in Modern recently (or at all, really), but Jesse Clevinger also found himself in the Top 16 of the SCG Modern Classic this weekend with a broad collection of the most powerful cards in Modern. Oh, and Nissa, Steward of Elements.
Bob, Goyf, Scooze, Liliana – these threats have a proven track record against the Modern field, and are well-supported by all the usual suspects: Inquisition, Push, Decay, etc. However, I really like the fact that players are looking for new ways to exploit the strength of these cards with the unorthodox inclusion of various blue cards. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Snapcaster Mage are obviously excellent, and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Nissa, Steward of Elements are worthy experiments.
The addition of Serum Visions to a Rock deck can't be overlooked. Jund plays exceptionally well off the top of its library in a drawn-out grindfest – imagine having access to a cantrip in those situations! Clearing dead discard spells or lands from the top of your library and digging closer to real threats is a real incentive to include blue.
Countermagic out of the board is an excellent option to have, too - I'm surprised at only a single Ceremonious Rejection, as the card shines against Tron decks of all kinds as well as giving a leg-up against Affinity. I'd look to include more countermagic; I like Disdainful Stroke, and you can never go wrong with Negate. Finally, Ashiok seems terrific against creature-based decks and in any Rock-style mirror.
I don't know that Sultai is better than Jund. It's not as clear-cut as you might first think, however, and this list still looks as though it could bear improvement – there's no doubting that BBE is a powerhouse inclusion in Rock decks, but JTMS might be just as good in the same situation!
Finally, we come to a terrific deck from a wizard with a terrific name – Riley Curran had an excellent weekend at the SCG Team Open, playing Bant Company to a Top 16 finish. Bant Company is another deck with extremely flexible numbers. Aside from the set core of mana dorks, Collected Company and now Jace, it's anyone's guess as to what might fill out the rest of the starting 60.
Creature-based blue decks have been touted as the best shell for Jace, the Mind Sculptor – and this may, in fact, end up being the case. Blue creatures like Reflector Mage and Spell Queller do a perfect job of defending a Jace, and the threat of instant-speed creature-based interaction thanks to Collected Company is just huge.
Although this list plays the equally well-named Knight of the Reliquary, it's not moving in on the Retreat to Coralhelm combo. Instead, this version looks to grind 'em out with some honest, home-cooked Magic – almost all the value engines in this deck double as respectable threats that can win games in their own right. Tireless Tracker, Voice of Resurgence, Scavenging Ooze – these cards all demand answers.
Just as with Sultai, we have Baby Jace making an appearance, and just as with Sultai, there are some terrific blue cards coming in from the board. Unified Will is such a beating against opposing blue decks - it does a very good impersonation of actual literal Counterspell – and transitioning to a slower, more controlling deck with things like Negate and extra copies of Jace is a great option to have.
Overall, blue decks are slowly but surely entrenching themselves into the Modern landscape. I don't think any of the lists we've looked at today are perfect, which indicates we still have a lot of exciting new things to see from blue decks as Modern continues to develop. Perhaps the most positive takeaway here is that all of these decks are quite different in their approach to winning games of Magic - blue isn't a one-dimensional support color any more!
- Riley Knight