Earlier this year, Martin Müller unleashed Mono-Blue Prison onto the world with a Top 32 finish at Grand Prix Manchester. I then did the same at Grand Prix Costa Rica, documented my findings in a deck guide, and I still believe that the deck is viable.
Today, I have 10 reasons why you might want to run Mono-Blue Prison at upcoming Standard tournaments.
For reference, here is my latest list.
So why should you play this deck in September?
1. It Does Something Unique
If you’re tired of midrange-y Tireless Tracker grind-fests, then Mono-Blue Prison will allow you to play a completely different game. You get to durdle around while making land drops, gaining life, drawing cards, nullifying your opponent’s attacks, and seemingly accomplishing nothing at all. You’re never destroying an opposing permanent—you just make their cards ineffectual.
A while later, you get to win out of the blue. What you are building toward all game is a game state where you have 2 Jace’s Sanctum and 8 Islands in play and two 6-mana win conditions in hand. Assuming that you’ve just bounced your opponent’s board with Engulf the Shore, that’s lethal—either you get 2 attacks in with a 12/12 Island, or you get at least 10 Zombies and a turn to attack with them.
There is no other deck in Standard quite like it.
2. It’s Your Last Chance to Play the Deck Before it Rotates
On September 30th, Kaladesh will be released, and on that date, Dragons of Tarkir and Magic Origins will rotate out of Standard. I’ll break down all rotating cards in more detail next week, but for Mono-Blue Prison specifically, it means that you lose the following cards:
That’s a lot. The entire core of the engine will rotate out of Standard, so if you were ever interested in trying out Mono-Blue Prison, it’s now or never.
3. It’s the Ultimate Budget Deck
At the time of writing, all spells in the main deck can be bought for as little as $40 in the ChannelFireball.com store. The only cards that cost more than a dollar each are Part the Waterveil and Day’s Undoing.
4. Day’s Undoing is One of the Best Graveyard Hate Cards in Standard
Day’s Undoing was originally in the deck to refill your hand and to force your opponent to shuffle back all their creatures after an Engulf the Shores. But now that delirium and Emrakul strategies have cropped up, Day’s Undoing has increased tremendously in value.
What’s more, Day’s Undoing is a sweet way to beat Fevered Visions from the burn deck that has gotten popular lately. Since Day’s Undoing ends the turn, there won’t be an end-of-turn step for the damage triggers to happen.
5. Take Inventory was Printed
Eldritch Moon offered a new cantrip in Take Inventory, which is perfect for the deck. It only costs a single mana once you have Jace’s Sanctum on the battlefield, and thanks to all the card draw and scry effects, you can quickly find the 3rd and 4th copies.
There is a bit of an awkward tension with Day’s Undoing, but you view that from multiple perspectives. On the one hand, you may have empty graveyards often, indicating a Take Inventory for one. On the other hand, there is the potential to cast 8 Ancestral Recalls or better over the course of a game.
I like to think of the glass being half full—or even more optimistically, I like to mathematically redefine the concept of “glass” to comprise only the good half—so I cut a number of Nagging Thoughts, Pore over the Pages, the 24th land from the original list, and added 4 Take Inventory.
6. Orbs of Warding is Great
This card should have been in the deck from the start, but neither Martin Müller nor I ever thought of it. It only crossed Müller’s mind when we were testing for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon.
What Orbs of Warding offers for the deck is mainly protection from Dromoka’s Command and Transgress the Mind. Losing Jace’s Sanctum or Part the Waterveil was quite annoying, but you don’t have to worry about that anymore—Orbs of Warding is on the table.
Besides that, you often face 5 or more creatures at the same time. In those situations, Orbs of Warding can complement Prism Ring and Hydrolash to keep you alive for a long time. Note that the creature damage prevention effects of multiple Orbs of Warding are cumulative.
The list that we tested for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon only had 1 Orbs of Warding, but due to the rise of UR Fevered Visions, I added a second copy. Orbs of Warding stops Thermo-Alchemist and all direct damage spells, so it can be hard for them to beat.
7. Spell Queller is Beatable
I have to say, when we arrived in Sydney, I wasn’t convinced that Mono-Blue Prison was even worth trying. It was an excellent (and thoroughly underappreciated) deck before Eldritch Moon, but the introduction of Spell Queller seemed like it would make the deck much worse.
Mono-Blue Prison relies on Engulf the Shores to stabilize the board against decks like Bant Company, and Spell Queller is a particularly punishing answer. If your opponent exiles one of your Engulfs, then the only way to get their Spell Queller off the table is with another Engulf, which means that the leaves-play trigger allows you to cast… an utterly useless second Engulf on an empty board. Even worse, your opponent now has Spell Queller back in their hand to counter new Engulfs in the future!
It seemed like a nightmare scenario, and I theorized that Mono-Blue Prison was dead. But I was wrong. In our Sydney testing house, Martin Müller stubbornly picked up the deck, found someone to jam Bant Company against him, and hardly dropped a game!
As it turned out, to counter Engulf the Shore, the Bant Company player has to hold up 3 mana at all times. In other words, they have triple Stone Rain themselves (without even knowing if you are actually holding Engulf). If they do that, then they can’t generate much pressure, allowing you to contain their attacks with Hydrolash, Prism Ring, and Orbs of Warding. Eventually, once you find 2 copies of Engulf the Shore, you can successfully resolve one and take control from there.
It does get worse after sideboard when they gain Negate, but the Bant Company matchup was much better than I had anticipated. Although none of us ended up on Mono-Blue Prison at the Pro Tour, that was because we felt our delirium/emerge decks were more powerful—not because of a perceived poor matchup against Bant Company.
8. Thalia, Heretic Cathar is Embarrassing Against You
Thalia may not be a regular inclusion in Bant Company anymore, but she still sees a lot of play in decks like Bant Humans. If there’s any deck that’s good against Thalia, it’s this one—Mono-Blue Prison has no nonbasic lands and no creatures that would enter the battlefield untapped, reducing Thalia to a laughable Goblin Roughrider.
Thalia, by the way, was one of the reasons for cutting the black splash. I also felt like there was less of a need for Dragonlord Silumgar as there were fewer copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Nahiri, the Harbinger around, but the key reason for ditching the splash was that I didn’t want to allow Thalia to tap my Sunken Hollows.
9. The Sideboard Creatures Offer a Change of Pace
After a long, grindy, brain-exploding game 1, it can be nice to board in a faster clock. Thing in the Ice in particular is a sweet alternative win condition. It’s excellent against creature-heavy decks who board in Negate and/or board out Declaration in Stone. It’s not as impressive against BW Control because they will still have some creature removal after sideboard, but it could still come in handy to attack planeswalkers.
The latest addition to the transformational creature plan is Docent of Perfection. It’s a Horror, so it doesn’t get bounced by Thing in the Ice, and it can easily build up a lethal board within a single turn. Especially with a Jace’s Sanctum on the battlefield, it is not difficult to chain cantrips and rack up those Insectile Aberration tokens.
As a note, we considered Curious Homunculus for the sideboard as well, but since it gets bounced by your own Thing in the Ice and is poor against Liliana, the Last Hope, it didn’t make the cut in my latest build.
10. It’s Competitive
I don’t think the deck sees much play overall, but on Day 2 of the recent Standard Grand Prix in Rimini, there were 2 players (Stefano Ferrarese and Paolo Pidutti) on Mono-Blue Prison, reminding us that the deck is for real.
Although they didn’t fare well enough to make it to the Top 32, their Day 2 appearance indicates that Mono-Blue Prison is a serious deck. If you like doing something unique and competitive, then don’t miss your last chance to do so!