Hello everyone. Today I want to discuss the key concepts for blue control mirrors, and where my extended testing has taken me so far. I’m going to take a different approach than I normally do in this article, since I posted a Facebook status recently that asked what the most important things to keep in mind in blue control mirrors are. There was an abundance of answers from many men wiser than myself, and I thought it would be interesting if I took the best answers and elaborated on them. Most of them I was familiar with, but I also learned some interesting things that I will definitely keep in mind for the future.
Blue control mirrors are very important because the blue decks are often tier-1 in a given format, and if you are comfortable playing the blue mirror, you can gear your deck more towards beating other archetypes. I am very comfortable when playing against opposing blue decks, so my decks include less anti-control cards and more cards that fight aggro and combo.
Here are some of the important factors to keep in mind when playing the blue control mirror:
- How much mana do their threats cost to play?
This is a very important thing to keep in mind, which will require you to be aware of the cards they play. The key cards to remember in 4cc, for example, are Cruel Ultimatum, Cryptic Command, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Be aware of if your opponent is able to, or close to able to cast any of these cards. It seems obvious that you don’t have to play around Cryptic Command when they only have 1UU open, but be aware of the possible Jace the following turn. It would also be devastating if you tapped out in the face of six tapped mana, only to have your opponent cast Cruel Ultimatum the following turn. Simply take some time and figure out what your opponent can do with their mana on the following turns.
- What cards are worth fighting over?
Carlos Romao used this strategy to win the World Championships in 2002. The common maneuver in [card]Psychatog[/card] mirrors was to counter the card drawing spells. He innovated his play by only countering the cards that actually affect the board and win the game. Carlos identified that cards like [card]Fact or Fiction[/card] and [card]Deep Analysis[/card] are not the important cards in the mirror, so he left them alone. We can still use this concept today by determining what cards are the most important to counter and what spells you can actually let resolve. Each game of a blue control mirror revolves around certain cards because there are only so many things that can win the game in each deck.
- Your opponent will respect the possibility of a counterspell, even if you don’t have it.
Bluffing counterspells can be a very effective strategy because your opponent needs to be aware of the consequences. If you run out a [card]Cruel Ultimatum[/card] in the face of 1UUU, bad things are going to happen. There is sometimes no choice but to do it, but making that play will probably lose you the game. You may think they are bluffing, but it’s difficult to tell for sure. It may be the right play to not cast your [card jace the mind sculptor]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] because you want to make the opponent think there is a [card]Cryptic Command[/card] in your hand. All you have to do is make a play one turn to signal a counter, and they will respect it. Do you see Wafo-Tapa run out every threat he has immediately, or do you see him dance around and make sure to not give his opponent any value out of their cards?
- Decide which spells you will counter before passing the turn so that you can take an appropriate amount of time to think when they play spells.
This is something that takes some time to master, and I have certainly not done so. Don’t confuse this with stalling because their turn will take less time to make up for it. The real reason this is good is because you’re masking what is in your hand. The opponent thinks you are in the tank about a sorcery speed spell to cast, but you are actually debating what to counter with [card]Mana Leak[/card] and [card]Cryptic Command[/card]. I don’t see many players act like this in control mirrors because it’s not intuitive, so you will have a big advantage in doing so.
Clock management is very important in the blue control mirror. You only have so much time in a match, so there’s not much time to decide what to do. I generally finish control mirrors with about ten minutes left on the clock because of some simple rules and familiarity.
- Decide who has the inevitability in the matchup.
This is more important when building your deck, but can also be used in game play. The control deck that has unbeatable late games will often be better against other types of blue control. In the case of Tron vs. NLB for example, Tron had gigantic late game threats that could not be stopped by [card]Counterbalance[/card]. The end game would always go to the Tron deck because there was no way for Next Level Blue to fight their big threats. If you have some sort of card advantage engine, then the late games will go to you. It’s true that most blue decks have not had inevitability in the last couple years, but a new engine will slip through the cracks and you will be ready.
Another example of a deck with inevitability is the [card]Mystical Teachings[/card] based deck because it can continue to flashback it’s namesake card and get more copies. The deck can constantly generate more card advantage at the end of the game with the massive amounts of mana available to it.
- Understand who is/when it is appropriate to be the beatdown.
If you are playing the blue control mirror, there is always a point where it becomes clear who is the beatdown player in the match. In the case of Faeries vs. UW control or [card]Reveillark[/card] for example, [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] was a great way to beat down. The only way to beat Faeries with UW was to be as aggressive as possible because the matchup was so slanted against you. Faeries plays a core set of cards that are fundamentally advantaged against other blue control decks, so you had to fight before they set up their strategy. It is for this reason that I have chosen to include Kitchen Finks in all of the 4cc lists that I have recently built. There are some bad matchups for 4cc, and Kitchen Finks does much better at fighting them than Wall of Omens.
- Be patient.
This is the most important point, so I saved it for last. One person always blinks first in the control mirror, and they often lose unless they have a sick read on their opponent. I spoke on this subject in an earlier article of mine as well because it’s the most important part of the control mirror. The first person plays a [card jace the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] and it gets [card mana leak]Mana Leaked[/card], and the opponent resolves his Jace during the next turn and wins.
The control mirror is all about being two steps ahead of the game. The idea of running out the Jace into two untapped mana should rarely be considered in the early game because it’s the best way to lose on the spot. The same scenario occurs in blue mirrors for all formats, but the cards change. In Extended, you don’t play a sorcery speed spell into 1UUU because they are going to counter your spell, draw a card, then play something on their turn. This is why most people think control mirrors are so boring and why things never happen in them.
The reality is that a lot is occurring in the blue control mirror, but not in the way we are used to. In the Cruel Control mirror, for example, it’s best to wait to cast your threat with [card]Cryptic Command[/card] backup because you must assume that the opponent will have one as well. The opponent may also have another counter such as a [card]Mana Leak[/card], so that also must be taken into consideration. That, in a nutshell, is the reason these matchups go so long.
When playing the blue control mirror, you should always be prepared for the worst possible scenario. This is done by checking the amount of cards in your opponent’s hand and the mana they have available each turn. If they can counter your spell, be sure to respect that. If you are behind in the matchup, or if your opponent has inevitability, play aggressively. Think about what cards threaten your gameplan before they are cast in order to mask your hand. Make sure to stay two steps ahead at all times because you don’t want to be left wondering how it went so far downhill in a single turn. If you put this advice into practice, then you will find blue control mirrors to be a lot easier.
I want to also give something to those of you who are just looking for the latest tech, so here is an update on my Extended testing. In the beginning, I was a supporter of 4cc, but it has not been performing as well lately. The amount of aggro decks is dwindling because of the popularity of 4cc, so it’s not as well positioned as it was at Worlds. However, the unexpected happened and this deck appeared at the top of the standings of a Magic Online Daily Event recently:
Now this is my kind of deck since it plays out like a normal Blue White control deck. I am not sure how well positioned it is in this current week because Faeries is the dominant deck at the moment. The only bad matchup Faeries has with the currently played decks is Jund. The aggro decks have left because 4cc has taken them out of the picture. This makes way for combo decks that crush control decks, but will get wrecked by Faeries. Now Faeries has become the dominant deck and the aggro decks will return to pick up the pieces of our winged friends.
I would not recommend this UW deck until that occurs. It will demolish the creature decks and has pretty good game against opposing control decks because of the Jaces and Vendilion Cliques. Sun Titan is also a very powerful win condition that gets value even if it gets removed. I think that the original list was a little sloppy and made a new version
I don’t like the full transformational sideboard because the deck is pretty well-known at this point. Spell Pierce acts as Coralhelm Commander because you can cast Kitchen Finks or Vendilion Clique and still be able to counter the Cryptic Command they respond with. Spell Pierce is actually the best way to get your aggro plan online early. It is also another way to stop Bitterblossom from resolving in the early game.
It also seems silly to not include four Preordains because they find Cryptic Command in the late game and Mana Leak in the early game. This card should be a four-of in every blue deck that does not have merfolk, and I may be proven wrong about it not being included in that deck. Adding the extra Preordains also allows me to cut the fourth Sun Titan because Preordain helps find the three that are left. It seemed silly to include so many Sun Titans because they’re usually best in the late game, and there will usually be one in your hand by then.
I think the sideboard can give this deck a respectable Faeries matchup because of all the ways to stop Bitterblossom. My prediction is that this will be a front-runner in the coming weeks and it’s definitely at the top of my choices from GP Atlanta.
My other main choice for Atlanta is the deck that I have been talking up so much: Faeries. My list is pretty basic because there is not much that I can see changing.
It’s hard to say what will happen in three weeks since this may be the best or the worst deck to play in Atlanta. Aggro may run rampant, or the rest of the decks will dominate and I can win every match. Time will tell which one of these two decks I will play. The PTQ season will begin soon as well, so there will be an abundance of new information. At this time, we only have Magic Online daily events to gather information from.
You may notice there are a lot of different cards in the deck that perform similar functions. Agony Warp and Smother, while similar cards, each shine in different situations. The same came be said about Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. There are some matchups where the life loss is too much, and I only want three Thoughtseizes for that reason.
Vendilion Clique is a great creature, but four is too many due to its legendary status. Spellstutter Sprite is good when you have a Bitterblossom in play, but you are usually winning those games already. I would prefer my deck to be geared towards winning the games that are not already going in my favor, so I cut one. It is still decent because it’s a faerie, and it can counter Preordain and Thoughtseize from the control decks. There is only one Jace, the Mind Sculptor because I don’t want too many four drops in the deck. There is plenty to do with my 25 lands, due to the seven man lands and Tectonic Edge.
Surprisingly, there is also a deck that I’m considering that does not play Cryptic Command. It’s another boogey man from the standard format.
This Jund deck was performing very well, and I’m pretty sure my girlfriend Tatyana is going to play it in Atlanta. It was the best deck that did not have Cryptic Command, and was able to win games against every deck we threw at it. Demigod of Revenge was not in the original lists, but it is the real deal. When Kitchen Finks, Wall of Omens, and Wall of Tanglecord show up to slow the deck down, Demigod takes it home.
I chose to play Jund Charm in the sideboard over Volcanic Fallout because it gives you a way to remove the graveyard. Fallout is also not very impressive against Faeries when their sideboard includes Wurmcoil Engine and Wall of Tanglecord. If I don’t want Volcanic Fallout against Faeries, then I might as well play Jund Charm. Another sideboard card that I am considering is Slave of Bolas because you can steal Wurmcoil Engine and get the tokens from it. Wurmcoil Engine is the best creature against this deck, so I may need something to specifically deal with it.
When making your gauntlet, be sure to include decks that you may not play with linear strategies. It’s easy to figure out how your Jund matchup plays out, but how about the Summoning Trap matchup? Decks that focus on one thing should be tested against the most because you probably don’t have a lot of experience playing them or playing against them. The decks I would advise adding to your gauntlet include: Summoning Trap, Ooze combo, Pyromancer Ascension, UWG Scapeshift, and Elves. There are a lot of archetypes that fall into this category and you will probably not play against all of them, but I can assure you that you will face some of them, and there is no telling which ones. Be prepared for them all so that you can give yourself the best chance to win a PTQ and do well at the GP. Don’t forget to test against 4cc because I’m sure it will be popular at your next PTQ as well as at GP Atlanta.
Well, that’s it for this week. Be sure to let me know what you thought about the format analysis and regarding the discussion of blue control mirrors in the comments, and if I should do more matchup analysis in the future.
Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.