Blue is Dead!

Posted in Learning Curve on August 13, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

The reports of blue's death have been greatly exaggerated.

I just got back from Berlin, where I was covering the Magic World Championships for the Sideboard. Going into the tournament—which was the first to feature post-Core Set Standard—blue was expected to be a non-factor. Without Counterspell, Memory Lapse, Mana Short, Opposition, Merfolk Looter, and Force Spike it was expected that blue could not keep pace with aggressive Zombie decks, black-green creature recursion decks, reanimator decks and so on.

Mirari's Wake

Going into the final day of Worlds, there were four of the Top 8 decks that featured blue permission (countermagic). They were all Mirari's Wake decks with blue, white and green mana. The green is for Mirari's Wake and Moment's Peace. The white is for mass removal such as Wrath of God and the occasional spot removal spell—Chastise or Wing Shards. The blue is for—what else?—countermagic and card selection/card drawing. I saw at least one Wake deck over the weekend that ran copies of Rewind, Mana Leak and Syncopate—it's hard to keep the blue mage down.

View the Top 8 Standard decks from the 2003 World Championships here.

The four players with Wake decks all opted for slightly different ratios in their counterspell cocktails but they all ran at least five counters in the main deck. World Champion Daniel Zink only chose to run four Mana Leaks and one Circular Logic main—another Logic was within a Cunning Wish's reach in his sideboard. He ran zero copies of Stifle. Runner-up Jin Okomoto featured four Mana Leaka and two Circular Logics with two more in the board. He also had three copies of Stifle in his sideboard. Semifinalist Tuomo Nieminen ran four Mana Leaks and two Circular Logics. He had one copy each of Logic and Stifle in his sideboard. Finally, Jeroen Remie was the only player in the Top 8 to feature Rewind—two copies with another on the side—as well as only three copies of Mana Leak. He had one Stifle in his maindeck and no copies of Circular Logic anywhere to be found.

Circular Logic

Including Top 4 competitor Dave Humpherys' blue-green Madness deck that ran four copies of Circular Logic in the maindeck along with two Envelops and two Mana Leaks in the board, there were five decks in the Top 8 that could be deemed control decks or permission decks. Humpherys' deck is what is known as an aggro-control deck. This means it exerts early pressure and uses inexpensive countermagic to allow the game to go on long enough to win. With Wild Mongrels and Aquamoebas the deck can usually keep one blue open for Circular Logic to foil a Wrath of God or Moment's Peace.

The Wake decks all leaned more heavily in the direction of Mana Leak to control the speed of the game. With Wake requiring three colors of mana for optimum performance, Mana Leak operates off of one blue and can set an aggressive deck back enough turns to wrest control of the game away from the aggro player—usually via Wrath of God.

All four of the top Wake decks were creaturless. Traditionally, the Wake decks have finished their opponents off with Exalted Angel, but the advent of Decree of Justice gave them a virtually uncounterable victory condition. As long as the card is cycled for soldier tokens—remember, the Wake deck is capable of generating tremendous amounts of mana with a Wake in play—only Stifle can stop that ability from resolving.

Both the Wake deck and the blue-green Madness deck will rotate out of Standard late this fall when their key components from Odyssey block are relegated to Extended and other older formats. Maybe at that point there will see less blue as people have predicted.

Aside: Fun and Games

One of the great conflicts in Magic's history has been regarding cards that say “counter target spell.” While control players profess to enjoy playing the "permission game," they have frustrated other players looking to play with more offbeat decks. One of most players' complaints about blue is how little fun it is to play against. I would like to use that as an awkward segue into the broader topic of having fun while playing Magic (after meeting my theme week obligation in the paragraphs above).

I have been covering high level Magic tournaments for the Sideboard over the past year and I have an opportunity each time to interact with the players and discuss their philosophy regarding the game of Magic. I have seen an increasing emphasis on having fun with the game from Magic's top professionals. Mattias Jorstedt, who had three straight Top 8 Pro Tour finishes coming into Worlds this weekend, credited his success this season to a resolution to have fun with the game. Going into Pro Tour – Houston, Mattias was not qualified for any more Pro Tours and was considering retiring from competitive play.

He went into the tournament playing a deck he enjoyed—Aluren—and did not allow himself to get stressed about his performance, win or lose. He ended up making the Top 8 and assured himself a spot on the Pro Tour for the next year. He followed it up with another Top 8 in Venice before winning Pro Tour – Yokohama a few months later. Did his more relaxed attitude play a role in his success? Mattias certainly thinks so.

So does his first opponent in the Top 8 at PT Venice, Tomi Walamies. Two years ago, Tomi was about to retire from professional Magic before he played in Pro Tour – New Orleans. He finished second and was back on track for another year. Over that year he did not follow up with a solid performance all season and actually had to qualify for Pro Tour – Venice on the basis of his DCI rating. Again, he thought it would be his last Pro Tour. He made the Top 4 and is back for another year. He does not believe that it a coincidence that his best two performances came after feeling there was nothing to lose and vowing to enjoy what he believed would be his last significant tournament.

Germany's Peer Kröger.

At Worlds this year I thought it was very interesting that three of the eight players in the Top 8 talked about having fun or credited their success to a fresh perspective after a brief time away from the game. I was especially impressed with Top 8 finisher Peer Kröger. Peer was once one of the game's top players with multiple PT Top 8 performances in the mid '90s. When he could not keep up with pressures of the Pro Tour he stepped back. Not from the game but just high-level Magic. He continued to play casually with his friends and at Prereleases. He writes about Magic regularly and the game has remained a part of his life.

When World's was scheduled to be held in his hometown of Berlin, Peer knew he wanted to get back on the Pro Tour for at least one more tournament. He played a deck that he enjoyed at German Nationals with little regard for whether or not it was the right deck to be playing. The deck was Reanimator and when he had to choose a deck for Worlds he chose the same one despite the suggestions of more serious players. Although Peer is qualified for the next year of Pro Tours it is unlikely that he will attend any other than the upcoming Team Pro Tour, and is going to that one just because he is playing with some friends and will incorporate the tournament into a vacation in the States.

His was a refreshing perspective on the game and reminded me of what makes me love this game so much. It can provide you with a variety of experiences based on what you want to get to from it. You can play with creatureless or with enormous creatures, with counters or without. It can be a friendly experience on a Friday night with some friends or a serious tournament against the world's best players, but if you are not having fun you are doing something wrong.

Brian may be reached at

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