Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blue: "WotC, why hath thee forsaken me?"

The following post contains a discussion relating to the competitive M:TG standard format. For the vast majority of readers it will consequently be of no interest, so if you are among them, please don't waste your time.

It's no secret that blue is the, uh, red-headed stepchild of the current standard environment. Bant (mythic) is playable, spread 'em exposes jund's Achilles' heel, open the vaults has a consistent(ly small) presence, and UW control is around, but they collectively play second-fiddle to the jund, white weenie, and naya.

Alara Reborn clearly indicated that Wizards wants multicolored decks to dominate, but several mono-colored builds are still viable. White, of course, has white weenie. Black has vampires. Red has red deck wins. Even green has eldrazi elves. The only color that simply cannot go solo is blue.

As mono-blue control is my traditional M:TG home--in the early 2000s, before I went on hiatus, it and mono-black hand/land destruction were my two competitive decks--I find this lamentable. My shroud control build (running Deft Duelist, Wall of Denial, and Sphinx of Jwar Isle in addition to most of UW's standard suite) has served me well, but I'm clearly an exception to the rule.

As one who is empirically-minded, I wanted to back up that assertion with data, so I analyzed the standard top 100 card list (based on a meta-analysis of sanctioned tournaments), post-Worldwake. The following table shows each color's representation:


Lands are categorized based on the mana they produce (or in the case of fetch lands, the mana sources they are able to indirectly produce). Gold cards are assigned fractionally by their colors (Putrid Leech is .5 black, .5 green; Rhox War Monk is .33 white, .33. green, .33 blue, etc). Four of the top 100 are colorless (Tectonic Edge, Everflowing Chalice, Basilisk Collar, and Dragon's Claw), explaining why the percentages do not add up to 100.

Blue actually gets an artificial boost by the list's indifference to placement among the top 100. The first blue card does not come in until roster spot #34 in the form of Misty Rainforest, and the color comprises four of the bottom ten slots. That is, a full third of its representatives just barely squeak in.

Despite jund's dominance, white is the most heavily represented. It is the only color able to do it all--deal with spot threats (be they creatures, enchantments, or planeswalkers), engage in mass removal, gain life and prevent damage, provide both defensive chumps and beatsticks--the color's only weakness is its near-absence of card advantage (Knight of the White Orchid, Ranger of Eos, and Stoneforge Mystic being notable exceptions). White's strength helps carry blue in the forms of UW control and open the vaults. If white and blue were antagonistic colors, the standard format would essentially be a four-color game.

Rize of the Eldrazi might herald a serious return for blue, though. All is Dust promises the mass removal blue so severely lacks. The mono-blue control I used to run would not have been viable without the assistance of colorless gems like Nev's Disk and Mishra's Factory. If the absurd eldrazi monsters get any play (although I'm skeptical they will due to slowness off the starting block, especially with the surging popularity of naya allies), the relative shift toward the late game will work in blue's favor. Furthermore, both Jace and Mind Control generally provide great answers to them.

Here's hoping for blue's rebirth!


Alleged Wisdom said...

Personally, I am glad that your two favorite deck types are no longer viable. They are not fun at all to play with or against. Games should involve some kind of interaction and strategy, and mono-blue control and land/hand destruction operate by simply stopping the opponent from doing anything. That is boring, and drives people away from the game.

Top Arguments said...

Didn't know if you knew, but Microsoft's new project pivot has magic cards as one of the default data sources. If you haven't had a chance to play with the cool visualization stuff too much, I highly suggest you give it a shot.

You may not solve any more mysteries, but it will be worth the coolness.

Audacious Epigone said...

Alleged Wisdom,

That's a valid point, and a complaint that can now be extended to the entire legacy format. But one or two truly viable counterspells could make blue a serious color again without threatening the kind of utter lock down that mono-blue administered in its heyday, instead of the color remaining the perennial dalit. Creature inflation has increasingly pushed the standard environment in an aggro direction, yet blue's creatures are still the least efficient.

Top Arguments,

Interesting. I had no idea (and still don't really have any idea why, though it sounds neat).

The Asian of Reason said...

I want to get back into MTG. Wondering if it's worth the investment of time and money.

I read on a previous post of yours that MTG is a game that requires a high IQ, as compared to poker.

I think it's one thing to copy a build from the metagame, but another to create unique and original builds that eventually become ingrained in the standard metagame. Would you say the latter requires a significantly higher IQ?

That's the sad thing about MTG, you don't really gain much of a competitive advantage from inventing builds, as others copy them, the genius of the original inspiration and mathematical analysis behind the build is lost.

Once a set is released and the quants have all finished determining the state of the metagame, MTG is essentially a game of chance and match-ups, which is why at that stage, I find it quite boring.

Alleged Wisdom said...

Audacious Epigone:

Things come and go. A couple years ago, blue Faerie decks were winning everything, by combining good aggressive flying creatures with enough control to stall out an opponent. Control decks are much less painful to play against if they kill you quickly, and Wizards knows this and carves out a place for control sometimes. I'm sure blue will have its time soon enough.

The Asian of Reason:

I recommend getting back into the game by playing drafts or sealed deck games. It sounds like you would enjoy that much more than constructed games.

Limited games are much more skill-testing and varied; you have to constantly adapt to what the card pool throws at you. The randomness definitely works in favor of intelligent players.

It is easy and cheap; just spend a couple hours reading about the format, show up, pay $20, and start playing.

Goji Berry said...

really this post is excellent.
I am glad that your two favorite deck types are no longer viable. They are not fun at all to play with or against.
thanks for sharing.