My name is Daan Pruijt, and a little more than a week ago I won the Dutch National Championship playing Mono-Blue Storm to a 8-0-1 record. I’ve been playing Magic competitively since Lorwyn block and I’ve had some minor success, playing a few PTs and Top 8’ing a GP. Most of my success has been within the Netherlands though, winning Nationals this year after finishing 2nd last year. I also won it twice during the time when Wizards discontinued official Nationals for a while, because in the Netherlands the community just kept on organizing a national championship anyway since it’s one of the best tournaments of the year.
Mono-Blue has been getting some more attention lately in articles, streams, and this great Reddit thread. I’d like to share my insights.
Over the past few years I’ve developed a reputation for playing off-the-wall decks. So when people found out that I was playing Mono-Blue, I got some responses like, “Of course you would play the weird artifact deck!” This has been a somewhat strange experience since I used to be more the sort of player who would play the best deck du jour. For this tournament, I did try a lot spicy brews, including this one.
I didn’t find anything great, but then while watching Gabriel Nassif stream with Mono-Blue Storm, I noticed that there were a bunch of people whose names I knew actively debating the merits of the deck. This included Julien Henry, Raymond Perez Jr., and some other guys who did well with it in the MTGO PTQ. I got the sense that something was brewing here and the deck might be real indeed. When I tried the deck, it felt powerful, and so I decided to play it at Nationals.
This deck is weird. I’ve had multiple people come up to me during and after the tournament to ask what it was all about. Here is my take:
The deck usually wins through a combo finish by playing a flurry of spells: bouncing your own cheap artifacts, drawing a ton of cards, gaining a lot of life, and winning with Aetherflux Reservoir. Even so, I think calling it a pure combo deck, or Storm for that matter, is a misnomer. It also draws on elements from control decks, playing multiple counterspells and more interaction than a lot of traditional combo decks. But it also has what I would call elements of a prison archetype, as Aetherflux Reservoir and Sai, Master Thopterist invalidate a lot of cards.
So what does this mean for the style of play this deck represents? Well, the way I see it is that you usually win by not dying. While that may seem like a nonsensical thing to say, it’s an important concept to grasp for this archetype. In my experience, your main focus does not have to be to kill them ASAP, but to get set up in a comfortable and safe position behind some Thopters gaining some life. From this position it is usually very difficult to lose, since you just out-“stuff” them, and if you ever draw another big draw spell you instantly win.
This is my updated list that I would play if I had a tournament this weekend. The main difference between this list and my list from Nationals is that I moved Karn to the main deck.
There are a ton of cards worth considering for this deck, but there is no space to discuss all of their merits and flaws here. If you want to read more, there is a nice discussion here.
I would, however, like to discuss some of the more controversial cards in this list:
Sai, Master Thopterist
Sai is really the card that propelled this archetype into the spotlight. And while Sai isn’t really controversial, most lists I’ve seen only play three while I chose to play the full set. Though he is a legend and not a necessary piece of the combo, I feel Sai is just so powerful and important that I’d rather draw too many than too few.
Karn, Scion of Urza
Karn is a star in in this deck, and he is BFFs with Sai. He fits the plan of out-stuffing people by making gigantic Constructs while costing effectively 0 with a Statuary in play. I thought long about trying him in the main deck, and this tweet by Dustin Stern convinced me to do it. He is particularly great against mono-green, but getting to make multiple Constructs in the same turn when combined with Paradoxical Outcome feels dirty against any deck.
I saw this card mentioned in a stream somewhere (I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly where), and decided to try it. It is mainly great against Mono-Mreen, where it really shines. The first time I played it I used the same Mage to bounce the same 5/4 three times after returning it to my hand with Paradoxical Outcome. I was sold. It’s also solid against red decks, resetting Bomat Courier and trading for a Scrapheap Scrounger, though you never want too many.
The Antiquities War
Kevin Grove, last year’s champ and my friend, suggested this because it was the one card he, playing R/B, was most afraid of. They have no way to interact with it once it hits play and it threatens to kill them two turns later. Suddenly they have to be very quick to kill you, which they might find difficult to do as they often board in a lot of slower interactive spells like Duress and Doomfall. The same goes for new Grixis decks.
You definitely want a decent number of extra counters from the sideboard. Negate is Negate—not much to say. The Defeat is a nod to Sai in the mirror and to Torrential Gearhulk out of control decks. Unwind is here to spice things up. I dreamed of using it in conjunction with Statuary to create a mana ritual of sorts to protect my own stuff from their countermagic and to still have mana to do things. This came up during the tournament when I cast Memory with only 1 mana left. They Negated, and I was able to Unwind to win. Another cute play it enables is to counter Mox or Map to actually net mana during a combo turn. I got to do this in the semifinals where it got me to the crucial 4th mana to play Reservoir.
The Flame of Keld deck is a problematic matchup as you’re ill-equipped to deal with their speed combined with reach. Given enough time, you might be able to set up a Reservoir to stay out of danger. The Compass’s role is to provide time, especially combined with Outcome and Expertise. Fun story: I decided to play this card the morning of the tournament, but I had only brought one. I cracked seven Dominaria packs to find a second but couldn’t get there, so I had to play a Fountain of Renewal instead during Nationals.
Falling behind on mana is the easiest way to lose both the mirror and versus control decks, so as a follower of the Frank Karsten school of Magic, I like to put a land in the sideboard. In any matchup where I board in the counterspells I also want another land, as making my land drops makes it much easier to protect my big spells with countermagic. Falling behind on mana is the easiest way to lose both the mirror and versus control decks.
The sideboaring seems to be the main point of contention for this deck, as both the cards being played and the sideboard plans vary wildly between players. I’ve seen people board out as many as 4 of the 0-mana artifacts in certain matchups, but I like to keep most of them in against most people in order to keep the core of the deck functioning. I dislike going overboard on sideboarding with these decks, so my main rule of thumb is: when in doubt, don’t board in another card. The cards I’ll look to first to board out are Glint-Nest Crane and Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot, as they are the least instrumental to the main plan, even though they are important role-players.
This matchup is close. Play/draw matters a ton obviously and the faster they are the more difficult this becomes. Aether Meltdown serves as a decent way to slow them down, thought it is not great here as most of their guys are quite small anyway and drawing multiple meltdowns when they go Bomat Courier into Kari Zev is just shameful. I prefer to bring in Exclusion Mage.
I like this matchup over Mono-Red as the plan—not dying—is easier to execute, though some black-red decks are basically Mono-Red anyway, so tread carefully. Try to gauge what version they are on, and sideboard accordingly. This is how I would sideboard against the slightly slower versions. Metallic Rebuke is better here as they have more high impact big cards, so consider keeping in more, especially on the play. Meltdown is much better against the Heart of Kiran lists and is a solid answer to Scrapheap Scrounger.
Pre-board Steel Leaf Champion is a beating. You have a few ways to bounce it, but if they manage to protect it with Blossoming Defense you’ll be in trouble. Rhonas, the Indomitable can cause issues because it trumps your 1/1 blockers. Ghalta…. well, if they power out Ghalta early you might just be dead.
After sideboarding, this matchup improves greatly. Karn is the main plan post-sideboard, though I like keeping in one Aetherflux Reservoir.
There are a bunch of flavors here, but the plan is the same: take out some of the things that buy you time and low impact cards like Ornithopter, and board in more high impact cards. How good this matchup is varies greatly on their build, but you have all the tools required to put them in a difficult position.
Black-Based Midrange (Grixis, U/B, …)
There are a lot of variables here, and I’ll probably board pretty differently depending on what I see from games 1/2. These are good matchups, but Glint-Sleeve Siphoner backed up by Abrades, Duresses, and Negates is a powerful strategy against this deck.
I don’t want many more counterspells, but Jace’s Defeat is very nice against Nicol Bolas and Torrential Gearhulk.
The mirror has been becoming important, especially online. Countermagic is very important and usually the player to resolve a big Paradoxical Outcome first is the one that wins.
Two weeks ago I think this deck was a great choice and I had a blast playing it, but I saw some Frenchies tweet about their less-than-stellar results with the deck at Nationals. I expect to see a lot more of this deck going forward. As people get to know how to play against it more it might lose a little bit of power, but at the same time this deck takes a while to master (I, for one, was still discovering new lines and tricks up to and during the finals, and I feel as if I’m just scratching the surface). There is also a lot more innovation possible, as evidenced by the variety of deck lists out there. What to think of a list with the full set of Moxen in conjunction with Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, for example?
I hope you enjoyed my first article here, and I’m excited to hear what you think about it!