Reasons to Love Non-Combo Mono Blue
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Welcome back to another installment of Reasons to Love! The title may have tipped you off, but this installment is a little different. In our previous articles on white and red, we were taking on a whole color that people often avoid or undervalue. This time, though, we're taking a look at a color that many people already love. However, many players think of blue mostly in terms of combos. In an attempt to moderate that mentality, this article will eschew discussing combos in favor of mono blue's many other strategies.
We will begin by taking a look at the many commanders that could head up a non-combo blue deck. Non-combo does mean we will be winning with combat damage, but there are still a wide variety of possible archetypes and deck types available.
Let's start with the obvious culprits. Every color has voltron commanders that aim to beef up with some sort of buff, whether it’s equipment, auras, or +1/+1 counters. So why play blue voltron commanders over other colors? My main answers would be that blue is one of the best colors for evasion, and that blue has counterspells, which are the undisputed king of protecting voltron commanders from removal. Oneirophage is a good example that checks multiple boxes. It’s an evasive threat that grows with no mana investment, so it’s easy to hold up protection. However, blue offers other voltron incentives too, such as built in hexproof or card advantage.
Similar to voltron commanders, blue has another category of commanders that are able to kill opponents all on their own (often in as few as 3 hits). However, these don't necessarily need auras, equipment, or +1/+1 counters to help build them up in the same way as the voltron commanders. The below commanders can start taking huge chunks out of opponents as soon as they are able to attack. Cryptic Serpent and Qumulox reward some of blue's usual themes of spell slinging and artifacts, but make incredible commander damage threats because their cost reductions allow them to be cast for as little as two blue mana, even if they have been removed multiple times. That makes it much easier to redevelop your win condition while still holding up interaction to stop other players from winning.
Meanwhile, Syr Elenora and Callaphe move in the opposite direction, forcing your opponents to spend additional resources any time they attempt to remove your commander. Callaphe even stretches away from traditional blue themes, rewarding you massively, not for spells or artifacts, but for other blue permanents. This enables a unique deck filled with enchantments, utility creatures, and mid-sized creatures that can hold their own in combat-heavy pods.
Moving away from commander damage, let's start taking a look at decks that focus on building up several different threats at once by proliferating +1/+1 counters. Over the years, we have seen a huge number of keywords related to +1/+1 counters, including amass, adapt, evolve, explore, fabricate, graft, kicker, megamorph, monstrosity, proliferate, and undying. Blue may have only had a few commons with each of these abilities, but that adds up to a large number of deck building options when you look at all the different keywords together. There is also quite a bit of overlap between +1/+1 counter synergies and blue's artifact themes, like with modular creatures. The whole point of these distributed-threat strategies is to limit the amount of damage that a single targeted removal spell can do to your board. They also give you more flexibility so that you can both attack and defend in a single turn, or can attack multiple players at once to close out the game quicker.
Even without proliferation, blue's artifact focus can make for some formidable decks. Esperzoa allows you to constantly replay artifacts with abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield. This can create the base for a midrange deck capable of winning with tokens, +1/+1 counters, or even commander damage. Meanwhile, Skilled Animator and Animating Faerie can play aggressive tricks, quickly creating large beaters out of baubles. For example, you could animate an indestructible artifact for a threat that’s difficult to remove.
Whirler Rogue is my personal favorite of this group, though. It can create a deadly army of thopters with flicker or bounce effects while also making creatures with combat-triggered abilities unblockable, making for a great grindy midrange deck. The rogue also synergizes with equipment, allowing equipment to tap to make the equipped creature unblockable
Blue also has two very well represented tribes, each with multiple viable commanders. Merrow Reejerey and Slinn Voda can helm some nasty aggressive or ramp-focused merfolk decks, respectively. Meanwhile, there are a slew of ways to build blue spirits, including control with Kiri-Onna and midrange with Sire of the Storm. Both of these tribes also have a good amount of evasion in combat, such as islandwalk or flying. That allows them to get damage through, even when boards are clogged with larger threats.
We've already looked at one example in Merrow Reejerey, but blue has a plethora of commanders that allow you to tap down opponents' creatures for risk-free combat. Some of them can even tap down creatures during opponents' turns to prevent attacking, as well. These can make for some very flexible midrange decks, with the larger and more evasive commanders also offering a potential win condition.
As a last note on commanders, I wanted to touch on two interesting oddities. I'm sure many of you are aware of how powerful Murmuring Mystic is, with its ability to turn a deck of lands and counterspells into a win condition. However, Coveted Peacock is more of a hidden jewel, allowing you to send the biggest threats on the board elsewhere while you chip away at your opponents. Both of these emphasize approaches to control decks that are entirely unique to mono blue.
The Rest of the Deck
Now that we've taken a look at the Commanders, let's discuss some of the themes that are readily available in the 99. Since we're focusing on non-combo wins, we will be focusing particularly on mechanics that can aid either combat or some of the above commanders' specific game plans.
On that note, we are also skipping many control deck staples, such as the majority of bounce spells and counterspells. This is based on the idea that most players are already familiar with those parts of blue decks. However, if you would like to read more about them, we have an older article all about counterspells that might interest you.
Counters Counters Everywhere
Taking a look back towards the beginning of the article, +1/+1 counters were one of the major ways blue commanders could build up their own power or create several other large threats. Thankfully, the commander doesn't have to be the only card in a deck making that happen. Blue has more access to proliferation than any other color, along with a variety of other cards that build up or spread around counters.
A more unique aspect of blue is its access to large hexproof creatures. Green has a few, but they tend to have very low toughness, giving them limited usefulness in combat unless paired with some major buffs. Blue's untargetable creatures tend to be larger (on average) and have more balanced stats than green's. These are great for midrange or control decks that need some hard-to-interact-with bodies to help stabilize the board. With some auras or equipment, they can also become a terrifying win condition.
In support of large creatures and commanders, you usually need large amounts of mana. While blue isn’t known for ramping, it still does a pretty good job of it with artifact mana sources, especially in decks with existing artifact synergies. There are still a few ramp gems that are unique to blue, though.
As promised, we will be avoiding counterspells that mainly act as removal, but back in the voltron section we mentioned that one of the main perks of blue was being amazing at protecting your commander. The below counterspells are some of the best of the best for that specific purpose. Some of them are dirt cheap, some replace themselves, and some just get stronger because you have big and expensive creatures in play. There are also many instants or auras with flash in blue that grant hexproof and toughness boosts, which can help your creatures survive both targeted removal and board wipes.
Another stereotypical blue theme is drawing cards. Most people are used to seeing blue draw used to find more removal or combo pieces. However, some draw spells work particularly well in creature-centric decks because they draw cards based on the number of attacking creatures, the number of creatures in a tribe that you control, or the cost of your largest permanent (i.e. largest creature). These are great includes for decks that don't have as much room for typical draw spells, allowing them to draw many cards with one spell to make sure they have the resources to finish the game. Even the versions that only consider your opponents creatures are more useful to blue combat decks, since you can clog up the board and either force an opponent to attack elsewhere, or force them to attack you with more creatures at once.
Blue also has repeatable draw in the form of creatures that draw you a card when they deal combat damage to an opponent. These are nearly useless to combo decks, but are incredible tools for combat-focused midrange decks. After all, if you can keep your opponents' creatures from blocking, you have a consistent way to chip away at life totals and gain card advantage. These creatures go incredibly well with any commander that can grant evasion or tap down blockers, such as Whirler Rogue or Kapsho Kitefins.
Speaking of evasion, you don't always need it in the command zone. Blue has a plethora of cards that give creatures evasion, many of which stick around, replace themselves, or can be replayed later. These are useful not only for combat-triggered abilities, but also for getting big beaters through a congested board state.
We touched on artifact themes in the command zone above, but it's also important to remember that blue can also pack some great artifact payoffs in the rest of the deck. These range far and wide, from efficient beaters to recursion.
Trinket Mage Package
While we're on the subject of artifacts, I would like to mention one of my favorite pet cards in PDH. Trinket Mage is often included in artifact decks, but I think it should be considered in just about every blue deck in the format. It offers an incredible amount of versatility, allowing you to find exactly what you need. That includes grave hate, voltron pieces, removal, ramp, protection, and even lands. Dizzy Spell can even be included for redundancy, since it can tutor up many of the same cards. Not every Trinket Mage package has to be huge, but I feel like my decks benefit greatly, even when there are just a handful of tutor targets in the deck.
Now that we have a lot of puzzle pieces spread out on the table, let's take a look at the bigger picture. We set out to show that non-combo mono blue decks are worth playing. That covers a wide variety of decks, including voltron, token, +1/+1 counter, and control strategies. We have seen that blue has answers to the typical threats these decks face in other colors, thanks to counterspells and hexproof spells. We have also seen that blue has the card advantage to recover from a bad fight or board wipe. We have even seen that blue has the tools to prevent and break through board stalls with vigilance equipment, evasion spells, and tap down effects.
So if blue has all of these abilities in spades, why aren't players flocking to the color for anything but combo? I think one part of the answer is preconceived notions from regular EDH, where combo is king and the gap between blue and other colors' combat capabilities is larger. However, the other reason is that non-combo blue is a bit slower to set up its win conditions. In voltron, tokens, and midrange, that can give you just enough time to become the archenemy or get run over by aggro. In control, it can make the game feel too long and grindy. However, these problems can be mitigated with good politics and careful play. If you're willing to give up a little speed to play blue, you'll find yourself repaid with an incredible amount of mid- and late game consistency.
Lastly, here’s a few of my favorite mono blue decks, which helped inspire me to write this article. As always, thank you for reading!
- Paul (Scarecrow1779)
@PDH Home Base